Welcome back to another Pursuing Publishing post, where I want to uncover more about the different types of roles in publishing. The area we’re focusing on in this post is Sales! Sales is absolutely vital in actually getting books out to the public and making publishing the business that it is, so I was really looking forward to hearing more about what goes on in an average Sales role.
I spoke to the lovely Eleanor Slater, Senior Sales Executive at 4th Estate Books and William Collins Books about her role and publishing as a whole.
What does a day in Sales typically look like?
It completely depends on the day! As well as all the internal meetings and communications we have, Sales is a customer-facing role, so each day will involve emailing and speaking to retailers. Some days I’ll be pitching our upcoming titles to customers, including Amazon, the supermarkets and independent bookshops. On less glamorous days I’ll be collating sales stats, forecasting and putting together internal and external sell-in presentations. Sales get to work closely with lots of departments, including Marketing, Publicity, Inventory, Production and Editorial.
Can you explain your publishing journey and how you got to where you are now?
I knew after graduating that I wanted to get into publishing, so applied to every internship and work experience placement I could find. Eventually, I got an interview to be a Sales Intern at HarperCollins and landed a 6-month internship with the HarperFiction, HarperNonFiction and Avon Sales team. From there I was promoted to Assistant, Executive, and now Senior Sales Executive as part of the William Collins and 4th Estate Division.
What is your favourite thing about your role?
I love participating in bookseller outreach events. Every year at HarperCollins we host an Indies Night for Independent Booksellers as well as several Waterstones Roadshow events, where each Sales team has a stand full of copies of our recent and upcoming titles. There’s nothing better than talking to book lovers about books!
And what’s your least favourite thing?
You can get a bit of excel fatigue sometimes, there’s a lot of grids and numbers involved in Sales!
What did you learn that surprised you about working in Sales/publishing?
Often when people think of Sales they picture Wall Street-esque hard-selling, but Sales in publishing is very different, it’s more about building relationships. I remember the first time I went to a key account quarterly sell in meeting with a colleague, and the first 20 minutes was spent chatting about dogs! There are also several different types of Sales roles within publishing, for example, International Sales, where you work with affiliate publishers and booksellers from other countries (which involves travelling!), or Non-Trade Sales, where you look after ‘non-traditional’ accounts such as Oliver Bonas, book subscription boxes, Museum bookshops etc.
If you could pitch working in Sales in a sentence, what would it be?
You know when you love a book so much that you persuade all your friends to buy and read it too? That’s Sales!
What skills would you personally look for in an assistant?
Being passionate about books and reading is brilliant, but it’s important to remember that a publishing company is a business. I’d look for someone who has a general awareness of the book market: where books are being sold, what sort of books are popular with which retailers, what books are hitting the bestseller lists. Additionally, it’s important to be organised and proactive, with great attention to detail.
If you could go back in time, would you change anything you did in your career?
I’ve only been in publishing for three years so I’m still looking forward more than back! I think if you can, it’s great to get experience across several different departments within publishing to get a real idea of which you’re best suited to.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you would give to yourself/someone looking to start their career in Sales/publishing in general?
Getting your foot in the door can be really tough but don’t give up! My main piece of advice is to tailor your CV and cover letter to the specific role/imprint you’re applying for and do your research. Generic cover letters are transparent and usually won’t get you an interview. Yes, you like books, but why do you want to work specifically in Sales/Marketing/Publicity/Rights etc? Why do you want to work for this specific imprint?
And lastly, for your bookish question – do you have a favourite type of book to work with, and if so, why?
Unlike other departments that work on a selection of books in detail, Sales tend to work across a wider range of titles. My favourite titles to pitch fall into two categories: firstly, books by big brand authors as these basically sell themselves! And secondly, debut or event fiction that I’m really passionate about, as the passion always comes through in the pitch!
A big thank you to Eleanor for providing such useful answers about Sales! Make sure you follow her on Twitter at @nicholsonslater.
And thank you to everyone who’s been following the Pursuing Publishing series and for all your lovely feedback!