From the Desk of Rachael Levay: Sales Conference

As part of a series of guest posts from the desks of UW Press staffers, Marketing and Sales Director Rachael Levay walks us through her recent sales conference trip to New York City:

Sales conference happens twice a year, like clockwork. The University of Washington Press announces our new forthcoming titles twice a year, Spring and Fall. That announcement includes a great deal of internal work, the final step of which is sales conference, when I meet with our sales representatives in New York City to discuss the list and our sales opportunities.

Our U.S. reps are based at Columbia University Press and I meet with them in person at their offices. These meetings are a crucial part of the announcement process because we get the opportunity to talk about the books in depth, ask questions, and share ideas for non-traditional sales. (And meeting in NYC lends a touch of that three-martini lunch, Algonquin table, Bennett Cerf era of publishing.)

IMG_2161Our reps, Catherine Hobbs (sells the Mid-Atlantic), Conor Broughan (Northeast), Kevin Kurtz (Midwest), William Gawronski (West), and Brad Hebel (New York City), have worked with books for decades and bring a wealth of experience to our lists. They also sell books for at least a dozen university presses, which means that a visit from one of our reps is highly appealing to buyers at independent bookstores as they can see lists from a dozen publishers at once.

Because our reps also work with so many other university presses, many of my colleagues from other publishers are in town during the same stretch of time, which allows for the opportunity to get together and talk more about what’s happening in publishing. Luckily this year, two of my favorite colleagues (Brian Halley, Senior Editor for University of Massachusetts Press, and Emily Grandstaff, Sales and Publicity Manager for the University of Virginia Press) were in NYC at the same time so we were able to talk about trends we’re seeing in academic fields and in terms of sales.

Preparation for sales conference is mostly a mental exercise—we publish approximately 75 books a year and distribute another 250 or so, which means there are a lot of books for which I need to know not only what the book is about in a sentence or two, but also its unique sales opportunities, where the author is from, what bookstores the author has recommended as sales outlets, what the editor suggested for sales possibilities, and what backlist books might also pair well alongside the new title to keep those older titles fresh.

In addition to bringing catalogs for our reps, I also prepare “tip sheets,” which are just what they sound like—a one-page document that synthesizes all the info I prepare for this meeting, but also shares our marketing plans so that reps can know where we’re pitching to media and when, advertising plans, and when direct mail plans will send either through snail mail or email. This can help buyers see where the strongest trade investments are being made at our end and ensure they can meet demand.

Luckily our reps are a friendly bunch! What might be a stressful meeting is in actuality an enjoyable and fun get-together—we’ve worked together long enough that before we get down to business, we always spend a few minutes sharing baby pictures, talking about recent travel, and chatting about the current state of publishing. Our reps have a particularly enjoyable point of view—they can tell us what’s happening on the ground in independent bookstores all across America.

Our Spring 2016 list is particularly interesting in that we have a very strong trade list—a number of titles that will resonate not just in the Pacific Northwest but also on a larger scale. Books like Warnings Against Myself and Unpleasantries will have traction on a national and international scale, which is always fun for our reps—it’s a challenge in the best sense of the word to have books that can be sold into any store in the country. There’s also an exciting range of academic books in new disciplines and within new series, like Power Interrupted (Decolonizing Feminisms) and Indian Blood (Indigenous Confluences), that will appeal to buyers at venues with a highly educated and social justice emphasis customer base.

Our distributed art titles are also very popular. In addition to independent bookstores, our reps work with museums all around the country and one of our strengths is our art books. This year, we have two excellent copublications, Endeavouring Banks and Bhupen Khakhar, both of which will have significant appeal in these markets.

We part knowing that the real bulk of the work is still ahead of us—actually selling the books. Announcing them and working through sales conference is always a daunting task but it’s energizing to reach the point at which it’s time to start hitting the pavement, or the email as it’s increasingly become, and see how those back orders start to shape up!