A Tale of Two Publisher's Sales Conferences, Part One

When I started this blog, I told you I would tell you about what it is like working in the book business. I have concentrated most of the stories about booksellers, book stores, authors, and being a publisher's representative. Here's a bit more about the publishing side of the business. This is to explain to anyone who is interested in books and publishing where the sales conference fits into the whole story of how a book gets published and finds its way into a bookstore. There are many parts in that story (no pun intended), which starts with a person deciding that they want to write a book. And there's a difference right from the beginning depending on if the author wants to write fiction or non-fiction. If he/she wants to write a novel, they pretty much have to write the entire book and then get an agent to "shop it around" to an appropriate acquisitions editor at a publishing house. If the book is to be non-fiction - a study of the high intelligence of booksellers, for example - then the author just needs to write an outline before the agent can shop it around.
Once an author has found a publisher and an editor, then the journey has really started. The editor is incredibly important to a writer. An author will often leave a publisher to follow an editor to another publishing house, simply because the author relies on the editor's input so much.
When the editor feels the manuscript is ready, it's time to put it on the publisher's release schedule. Now is the time to bring in the publicity gurus, and finally the folks who will present the books to the nation's, and the world's, bookstores. That is done at the sales conference. The Perseus Books Group (my employer) has two sales conferences every season: One, which is held on the east coast (this year it was Boston). The other conference is on the west coast, in Berkeley, for  Publishers Group West. PGW is one of three publisher distribution companies, along with Consortium, which is based in Minneapolis, and 
Perseus Distribution, based in New York City, that Perseus also owns. All three of these companies sell many additional publishers books to our bookstore accounts. In all, we hear about, and try to sell, on average, 1200+ new books every selling season.

It was extremely cold in Boston at our conference this year. We all stayed warm though at the Hilton Back Bay,

which afforded me a wonderful view of the Charles River and MIT right on the other side, from my room.

I love this shot showing the juxtaposition between the old Boston and the new.

 I bumped into this beautiful statue of Phillis Wheatley just a few blocks from the hotel. Miss Wheatley was the first African-American poet and first African-American woman to publish a book.

 Inside we get down to business. This is the conference room where we hear about all the new books that will be published in the fall.
 Lissa Warren, VP of Publicity at DaCapo Press (below), tells us about editing and sales conference from the publisher's point of view:

On Editing

"At many presses, a book is edited by the same editor who acquired it. There’s a nice continuity that way, and the editor is able to bring his or her initial vision for the book to fruition. Sometimes, however, it makes more sense for the acquiring editor to hand the manuscript over to another editor for the actual editing.

For example, some acquiring editors are more skilled at finding good books than making good books. They have a nose for talent, and for what will appeal in the marketplace—but they aren’t necessarily as adept at shaping sentences, paragraphs, and chapters.

It’s also not unusual for a senior editor to pass a manuscript along to a junior one for editing, especially if the author already has a few books under his belt and will likely turn in a manuscript that’s already in good shape. A light touch is sometimes all that’s needed.
Occasionally, a manuscript gets farmed out to a freelance editor. This makes sense when the acquiring editor is less familiar with the subject matter. A science book or health book might really benefit from being edited by someone with a background in science or medicine (in edition to editing experience, of course). Specialized knowledge can be a big plus, and in-house editors know this.
And of course the acquiring editor’s workload can be a good reason to give the manuscript to someone else for editing. The best person for the manuscript may be the person who can spend the most time with it."

On Sales Conference
"Da Capo Press sales conference presentations are made by our Publisher, John Radziewicz; our VP of Marketing, Kevin Hanover; and myself (the VP of Publicity). John usually give the editorial portion—a brief description of the book, and also a bit about the author’s credentials to write it. Then Kevin chimes in with our marketing plans for the book, which could be anything from advertising to partnering with the author’s company to tying in to an album or film release (we do a lot of pop culture books). Then I say a few words about what we’ll do to publicize it—radio and TV shows we’ll be gunning for; newspapers, magazines, and websites where reviews and profiles would make sense. Sometimes we already have confirmed publicity. We love it when that’s the case, as do our sales reps. However, since we’re often presenting books that are still being written, it’s hard to have firm media commitments that far out. We do usually know by then to which cities, if any, we’ll be touring the author—so we share that information as well."

Up on the dais, each publisher takes their turn describing their list to us. In between our VP of Sales Matty Goldberg, on the left, and Publisher John Radziewicz from DaCapo on the right, is Editorial Director Amanda Murray and Publishing Director Georgina Levitt from Weinstein Books.

 Before the new books are presented, we go over the publicity for books that we sold from last season and are just about to release. In this instance, it's Mika Brzezinski's latest, entitled "Obsessed".

 Then comes the books that we will sell this season (below, a new biography of Kate Middleton by Katie Nicholl, is in the works).

 Then the folks from Public Affairs take their turn. From the left we have Matty Goldberg again, then Publisher Clive Priddle, Director of Publicity Jaime Leifer, Marketing Director and Senior Editor Lisa Kaufman, Founder and Editor-at-Large Peter Osnos, and Contributing Editor John Mahaney.

The view from the dais.

Here I am with the legendary Matty Goldberg, VP of Sales. He describes the sales conference this way:

"The raison d’etre for sales conference is to familiarize the reps with the books for the forthcoming season: to have the publishers/editors explain the books, give insight into why they bought it, who they think the market is, etc.  We also want the sales folks to think about which books are going to work in which channels and how to maximize those opportunities. 

A number of publishers have moved away from an in-person conference and have moved to Web-X or phone conferences.  However, I find that putting the sales and publishing people together is quite vital for the process.  Random conversations lead to ideas that help everyone sell in, which just doesn't happen on the phone.  I also think it’s important for the reps to have some interaction as a group, at least a few times a year."

Matty tells this story about one of his most memorable and hilarious sales conferences:

"My first conference at HarperCollins took place in Austin, TX. The site was chosen by the Texas rep, as it was his last conference, and that was a tradition at that house.  If it's your last conference, you get to choose where it will happen.
Another tradition was that he had to give a going away speech, and that made him VERY anxious.  To alleviate his anxiety, he took a tranquilizer and then began drinking…heavily.
The big moment finally rolled around and the entire Harper entourage assembled for the Going Away event.  The rep was given some gifts and then he made his way to the podium.
He spoke for about 10 – 15 minutes and showed no sign of his anti-anxiety remedies.  He finished the speech.  Wild clapping.  A pause of a minute or two…and then he launched back into his speech and gave the entire speech again – word for word.  The attendees weren’t sure if it was performance art or if they had entered the Twilight Zone."

 The incredible Sales Assistant Kayla McDermott  sits at the back and runs the whole show. She is the one who sets up the conference from beginning to end. Here's how she describes the process:

"My favorite part of the planning process is writing the sales conference announcement email to the sales force. I'm sure you've noticed I have a penchant for shenanigans and tomfoolery. 'Ahoy hoy!' 'Don't ever let anyone tell you it's just a feeling, Perseus. It's MORE than a feeling!' (from an email announcing our sales conference in Boston, MA, which also included a video to Boston's 'It's More Than a Feeling'.) and my favorite: 'The Past, the Present, and the Future walk into a bar. It was tense.'

Leading up to that email, though, is a lot of work to do. After picking the host city and hotel comes the overall format of conference, beginning with conversations between myself and VP of Sales Matty Goldberg about the schedule of events, our smaller break out meetings, a talk with CEO David Steinberger at lunch, an operations meeting with the sales force, collaborations between publishers and sales reps concerning systems management and, most important, where's dinner?

Then the planning process is turned over to me, where I begin thinking about: How many meeting spaces do we need? What are the AV/Tech needs? What should we have for lunch each day? Breakfast? Can the hotel give us complimentary wi-fi? How's the lighting in the meeting room? Is the screen size too small for the room? Can the people in the back see the book covers? How much are the microphones? PER DAY!? Where's the temperature control board?

After hashing out the dynamic and logistics of conference, there's the actual information being presented to think about. By a certain date our imprint publishers provide sales grids and tip sheets for the titles they're presenting. I gather, I label, I convert into different formats, and then I send out another email... another FANTASTIC email that includes these documents but also the schedule, group dinner assignments, travel directions/tips, a link to a customized map... and with so much information to circulate to so many people, the only way to keep the madness at bay is to use humor. A joke, a riddle, a hyperlink to a song relevant to our host city (sometimes even two!), anything to get a giggle and a laugh, a chortle or guffaw!

But for all the hiccups and problems, freak snowstorms and hurricanes, missing boxes and "Can you make it warmer in here?"s, a better time was never had than when these fine folks gather twice a year for sales conference."

Below is the amazing Kayla.
This is where we have lunch, just a few steps away from the conference room.

 Typically, on day two, David Steinberger, the president and CEO of the Perseus Book Group (the big boss), will come and give us a "State of the Company" and all around pep talk. He's very good and gets a lot of laughs. You might recognize David as he was recently on MSNBC's 
Morning Joe announcing the nominations for the National Book Award.

 You think we finished talking about the books? Oh no, after all the presentations, we have the "break out" sessions. This is where we discuss book jackets, author tour possibilities, publicity and generally any problems we might see in getting the hoped-for numbers out into the marketplace.

 At the last lunch of the conference, DaCapo Press brings in Corey Taylor, lead vocalist and lyricist of the rock groups Slipknot and Stone Sour. They did his most recent book,
 A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Heaven, which is scheduled to come out next month. 

 Here he is introduced by Sean Maher, DaCapo's Marketing Manager (sorry that you're a little blurred, Sean),
Kate Burke, Associate Director of Publicity at DaCapo
Bob Johnsen, Corey's manager, and John Radziewicz, Publisher of DaCapo.

Here's an image of their last "easy listening" album cover. I listen to it to help me fall asleep at night. 

Things can get pretty silly by the end of the last day.
Here is (from left to right) the ever up-beat Timothy Cheng, Special Sales Manager, unflappable Heidi Sachner, Director of Client Services, ever modest James Chan, National Account Representative, the all powerful Jessica Schmidt, Client Services, and the all knowing Kayla.

Below, the very serious National Accounts Manager Christina Douglas, and the stoic Director of Mass Merchandising Rick Monteith.

Ari Brenman, Client Services, and Jessica Schmidt (who tries to get into every photo).

 Matty and Marty Gosser, ultra hip National Accounts Manager.

And finally, one of our most serious duos, Vanessa Navarrete, Gift Sales Coordinator, and Justin Demeter, Marketing Information Manager.

Next week will be part two, the west coast version of sales conference from PGW's headquarters in Berkeley.


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