Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fly on the wall

Tuesday, I spent an interesting (if unproductive) hour in a Starbucks.

Sitting next to me was a man who appeared to be a sales rep for Universal Records and another who I assumed was the owner of a record store.

The sales rep gave him a few CD's, they talked music and upcoming concert tours... then the rep pulled out a catalog and talked up a few new recording artists and new titles he had from established artists.

The buyer (record store owner) then took the catalog and flipped through it saying, I'll take one of these, I'll take five of the new XXX. Oh, that's a nice cover, are they any good? (Shrug from sales rep.) Owner: Okay, I'll take one of those. Etc. etc. Until he worked through the catalog.

And from everything I've heard, this is essentially how booksellers choose books, too. Flipping through a catalog with a publisher's sales rep saying, okay, I'll take some of these, one of those, that looks like a nice cover, I'll try one of those, etc. etc. Even for the big chains.

Even if what I saw was simplified, because it was clearly a small business owner who didn't need to be looking up past sales numbers for the bands, and was only buying for one small store, I was witnessing a process not unlike a publisher's sales rep selling books to a bookstore owner.

It made me realize, once again, how authors (especially debut authors) need to recognize that even if our book rocks, the decision for a bookseller to say: I'll take five of that one, or one, or none, depends less on what's between the pages, and more on whether the sales rep has chosen to talk it up, and whether the cover looks good in the catalog, and the personal tastes of the buyer, and even what kind of mood the buyer is in the day he/she makes the order.

Yet another few ounces of out-of-our-control random to face in this business. Yet a reality.

Eye-opening. And for me, a reminder to only worry about the stuff I can control. First and foremost, my writing.

1 comment:

Amy Ruttan said...

Yeah that's basically how booksellers do it. I don't remember who I was talking to, it might have been at Nationals or a talk with a bookbuyer for Target and how they chose books from different catalogues.

So totally not in our control at all.

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