August is a time to reflect on the book-selling process
After the hubbub of Book Expo, the sales meeting grind in New York City, and the rush to get out to major accounts at the beginning of the fall season, the pattern of selling books becomes somewhat automated by the time August rolls around. Reps are far removed from the process in the third month of the fall season, and they do best when they advocate for their publishers in context with the bookstore they are seeing, whether it’s a first time call or a callback. Independent reps who work for a number of publishers have to think outside the box in the month of August. If you have a big territory and simply can’t physically get around to seeing a customer until August, you are still catching them at the tail end. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, and the account is going to buy anyway, but more often than not it’s the smaller retailer the rep is seeing, or a specialty retailer, and reps do best when they model their publishers for these kinds of customers.
To model a publisher’s wares for the smaller or niche retailer is really where the magic of the independent rep shines through. Perhaps there is a sales rep special on backlist titles that the rep can utilize to close an important sale. Reps also use the knowledge gained through selling their publishers’ books during the course of the season, in many different situations, to make thoughtful suggestions during their August presentations. Booksellers stand to gain a big advantage from their independent reps in these late season sessions. Furthermore a publisher might think a particular book is going to be really big in the preseason, but feedback comes back fast from the conglomerate booksellers, or key wholesaler, that there are serious problems with the salability of a given book. Perhaps the publisher fixed the problem(s) with the book, or maybe the book isn’t worth spending time on, but by August independent reps are going to know the most efficient route to making a sale for the publisher in question.
August is also a transition month leading into the fall season where important books begin to ship from publishers’ warehouses, and independent reps begin to prepare for the trade show season. Trade shows are an excellent opportunity for reps to widen their net to accounts that they can see only once a year. August is an excellent time to prime these customers with mailings and phone calls, and in this way the month of August offers its own unique challenges and opportunities for independent reps. It seems there is always something that’s been placed on the back burner during the season, and in August it always seems to come home to roost. In many ways it’s the month of August that reps can use to take stock of their overall situation, when they are not running around trying to play catch up, and to refuel their engines for the holiday season. Maybe the poet T. S. Eliot got it wrong when he wrote “April is the cruelest month;” perhaps it’s August for reps who have to breed sales during the dog days.