What do reps need to get the job done?
Requirements vary from publisher to publisher, depending on the size and nature of the list, but here are some suggestions for estimating what will be needed to equip a staff of independent reps.
We need a new catalog for each season (ready no later than December for Spring and in May for Fall) with new titles presented separately (at the front of the catalog, i.e. “frontlist”) and a concise review of the complete backlist (including title, author, price and International Standard Book Number (ISBN), and Universal Product Code (UPC), retail sales policies and discount schedules, a list of sales representatives with addresses and phone/fax numbers, and a bound-in order form. All preferably 8 1/2 X 11 inches for convenient filing, stacking, carrying and mailing. Remember that a sales catalog is a tool. Layout should be simple with clear presentation of essential information, room for a buyer to annotate quantity, subject classification and notes, and on a paper that can be easily written on in pen, pencil, or felt-tip. Wandable ISBN/Bar Codes are a plus. We advise against weird sizes or a designer’s idea of a “different” look. Keep it practical. Illustrations in full color are effective if you can afford it.
We prefer a three-part (white-yellow-pink), No-Carbon-Required , 8 1/2 X 11 inch form or multiple thereof. New titles should be listed separately in the order of their presentation in your catalog, backlist titles alphabetically by title, including title, author, price and complete ISBN. Include your retail discount schedule, returns policy and returns address, other sales and advertising policies briefly stated on the reverse side of the last (pink) copy (left with the customer) if there is no room on the front. Give us room in the bill-to and ship-to space to use a rubber stamp (Sized approximately 2 X 3 1/2 inches). Provide a separate space for writing special instructions.
Self-addressed, postage-prepaid order envelopes sized to comfortably fit your order form are essential. If you want and need to have orders forwarded promptly it is important to supply order envelopes as specified. It is not that reps are too cheap to pay postage! It takes time to go to the post office, stand in line, and get the right amount of postage. Pre-paid envelopes can be dropped in any mail slot.
A jacket proof, book photography, or other visual representation of new titles should be sent to each rep before the beginning of a new season. A finished book and extra jackets should be sent to reps to signal that the book has been shipped to customers.
Send heads of groups copies of invoices and credit memoranda for shipments made into each territory monthly with full payment for such net shipments for the month. Include computer print-outs of sales analysis and account information when available. Supply Electronic Data on disk or by internet if your reps have compatible systems. Sales Meetings. Publishers employing independent reps usually hold their sales conferences in New York City during the first two weeks in December for the Spring season and the first two weeks in May for the Fall season. Sales meetings at BEA in Chicago are discouraged.
Scheduling is often difficult because of conflicts for a specific day or time. Publishers need to understand this problem and be flexible about meeting some reps on a one-to-one basis, scheduling more than one meeting, or presenting their lists to representatives of a group rather than the entire force. Allow adequate time to present your list but bear in mind that the soul of successful sales conferences is brevity!
A series of long sales conferences can hold a sales group in New York for as much as two to three weeks. Per diem allowances or fees by the publisher for reps attending their conferences are a welcome form of compensation to offset the substantial costs of being in the city. Some publishers are now making excellent use of videotapes to introduce their far-flung reps to a new or interim list. Inability to attend your sales meeting is not a signal of lack of interest or enthusiasm. There may just be unavoidable conflict with the meeting of another publisher.
For several selling seasons NAIR has worked with WordStock to supply reps and rep groups with the new titles for their several publishers on disks that can be down-loaded to both WordStock and many DOS-based (IBID etc.) computer inventory control systems. Reps instruct us as to the publishers they want on their disks and we supply them to reps (with considerable rushing about to get information on 15,000 new titles from over 250 publishers) at the beginning of the season. Publishers are billed at the rate of $2.00 per ISBN for data entry. Reps pay $3.00 for each diskette. Many large (and small) customers make use of frontlist-on-floppy disks and some require them at the time of the sales call to assure accuracy in adding titles and purchase quantities to their systems. Publishers have been very cooperative in their support of FRF and we urge you to participate if you receive our invoice or our request for information.
The use of laptop computers by independent reps for preparing and transmitting purchase orders by fax to their various publishers and for keeping and analysing sales records is increasing. Software for independent reps is already available and being rapidly developed and expanded in its usefulness. NAIPR foresees very widespread use of the technology by its members within the next few years. It will soon be necessary for publishers to be able to supply their commission reps with new title information and backlist information, regularly updated, in a machine-readable format for downloading to laptop systems. We hope to achieve some standardization for this task and ask all publishers to keep this future need in mind as they develop their electronic data processing systems. Access by e-mail and the use of websites to communicate information is also helpful to reps, who are often difficult to reach by phone and buried in mail.
Successful selling on commission is a two-way street for publishers and independent sales reps. What works, works for both. The end result is an economical, professional sales force compensated in direct proportion to sales generated for the publisher. If you are small but have reached critical mass in production of new titles and an on-going program, or if you are a publishing giant but need now to reach into the nooks and crannies for additional sales volume, a commissioned sales force can work for you very profitably. Just be sure that you are ready to sell your line through independent reps and select them carefully for the long pull.
The practice of selling on commission has a time-honored place in the publishing industry. It works well for many publishers and it will work for you, too. We urge you to employ independent sales representatives . . . an indispensable and effective element in marketing your books.