Book Publishing Operations: Sales Calls

27 Oct

As our publishing operation has grown from one sweaty guy (that is, me) desperately reading books about publishing as fast as possible in an old out-of-the-way conference room to where we have four full-time employees and a raft of graphics and editorial interns (plus student workers), one of the things that’s happened is that at various points along the way I’ve done—out of necessity—just about every publishing-related job—with the exception of actual page layout—there is: acquisitions, development, production management, budgeting and budget reports, contracts, marketing, distribution, fulfillment, and so on. Finally, yesterday, I broke into the last big frontier: sales calls.

Needless to say, out of all the different things I’ve done the last three and a half years, some I’ve been more suited to do—either by inclination and/or ability—than others. After all, by training I was a college English teacher for about ten years so the editorial end is what I have the best background for. At the same time, I find graphics design—book covers, catalogs and other marketing/promo pieces—to be endlessly fascinating. And, to be honest, anyone who knows me also knows that tromping around on campuses showing up unannounced to bust into faculty offices looking to pick up adoptions isn’t really who I am by nature.

Part of this comes from the fact that I’m inherently more of a behind-the-scenes production guy rather than a front man. But an even bigger part comes from having dealt with a lot of textbook reps when I was teaching. For better or worse, the textbook sales reps I came into contact with almost never had a teaching background and, at the same time, no real experience with or knowledge of the subject matter of the books they were pushing. Plus, most of them had that manic over-the-top go-getter ABC (always be closing) attitude that seems to have come from watching Glengarry Glen Ross way too many times. That approach probably works well somewhere sometimes—after all, that’s why it’s the approach—but I’ve never known many, if any, faculty members who like it all that much.

So, all that being said, yesterday morning I loaded up my briefcase with catalogs and desk copies of books and headed over to McLennan Community College on the other side of Waco from TSTC to enter this brave new world. The first instructional department I went to the DC (department chair) was in his office and so, after a deep breath, I knocked on his open door and said hello. It was just as I expected; it was just as I would have acted myself: as soon as he saw my briefcase he realized I must be a book rep and he immediately recoiled. Recoiled! (At least, this is the way I remember it.) I wanted to shout, No! I’m one of you! I’m not one of them! But I didn’t. Because I couldn’t. Because, truth be told, for whatever I used to be in the past, now I am one of them: a textbook rep.

Of course, all of this says a lot more about me than it does the DC. He was a perfectly nice guy—it turns out he’s in my wife’s book club and we talked some about The Five Dysfunctions of a Team that they read last month that was sitting on the floor of his office—and pleasantly receptive to the book I dropped off with a catalog. But, by the time I went outside—and even though it was chilly morning in the ‘30s and I was wearing a light button-down shirt—I was still drenched in sweat. But, so what? As I tell folks in the office, we’re in it up to our necks now to get financially self-sustaining as soon as possible and because this has to be done—more sales calls to generate more adoption sales in particular—I’ll do it.

(But I am looking forward to the point where we are generating enough sales we can justify hiring our own sales rep . . . and I can move on to the next task that needs to be done.)


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