Here, for instance, is a true story, which occurred about six years ago. A well-respected New York editor, puffing his pipe as he reads the New York Review of Books, comes across an essay he finds fascinating. Hmmmm! he thinks, reaching for the phone. Two minutes later he has its author on the phone.
"Dr. Windbag," the editor says, "This is Walter Cardigan, I'm an senior editor at MultiMerge Inc. here in New York, and I've just read your penetrating article on the socioeconomic implications of our national obsession with coffee, and I believe this could be a very important book!" At which point Prof. Windbag indicates that Sir Andrew is representing him; and Cardigan--moving with uncharacteristic speed--manages to coax a three page proposal on the subject, for which the Wylie Agency extracts the modest sum of $275,000. Windbag's credentials are impeccable, his comb-over is, when shot from the left side, barely noticeable, and it turns out Chip McGrath (then the editor of the NYBTR) had studied under him at university. All signals go! ...until Cardigan gets to sales conference, and discovers that the reps are finding CAFFEINE NATION: The Semotics of the Coffee Bean tough sledding. He raises a hissy-fit, the reps wind up demoralized--both due to the hissy-fit, and to the fact that a senior editor thought this clap-trap, which they'll ship 6,250 copies, to be worth $275,000.
So I guess we have Walter Cardigan to thank for the ever-widening schism between editorial and sales. Because the shift, though gradual, is now nearly complete: Where I work, editors simply don't attend sales conferences any more. We used to--indeed, we used to present our own books. Then we moved to a modified editorial presence--a select crew of editors, along with the marketing and publicity team, would participate in the presentations of their books (and other authors' too) on a rotating basis. In time we stopped being invited altogether.
Why? One explanation is that reps feel inhibited to say what they really think about a book, or a jacket, or a title, or an announced first printing (etc) if the editor is in the room. (Ever hang out with sales reps? Shy & retiring they ain't...) Another reason is that some editors are better presenters than others, and some have a better sense than others of the sort of info that reps actually need. (I don't dispute either point, by the way--although wearing a marketing hat by no means guarantees a terrific stage presence).
Above all, though, I suspect it's a matter of expense: as MultiMerge has grown, and with it the number of employees, the costs of sales conferences has risen. The response has been to limit attendence; and so a smaller team--publishers, associate publishers, publicists, marketing managers--present the books, while the editors stay home.
Now let's go back to the old saw about editors' heads being in the clouds: if this is true, is providing said editor with a feather pillow really the best solution? In my opinion, a better way to save money than to exclude editors from sales conferences is to sack those editors so clueless and disconnected that they lack the skills to present a book compellingly in the first place! The truth? From the very instant an editor has an inkling she might want to acquire a manuscript or proposal she's reading--long before she's even gotten other reads or spoken to the agent or made an offer--she is already thinking about how to sell the book, about who its readers are, about comp titles and covers and so forth. For me, anyway, the process of falling in love with the writing of a book is inextricably linked to the process, at the earliest stage possible, of formulating its "pitch." If it's good, I'm selling it before I've even bought it...
Are editors trained in sales per say? In terms of selling to accounts, the answer is, in most cases, no. On another level though, a huge percentage of an editor's daily energy goes into selling. Convincing an agent that you're the right editor for him to submit such-and-such a project. Convincing other overwhelmed editors that the thing is so good that they'll actually be glad they set aside their other work to read a chunk of yours. Convincing a publisher that you have a vision for how to publish it, that it's worth $X+6 that you'd like to offer rather than the $X-4 that she wants you to pay [editors often lose that argument, by the way--such is the nature of a publisher's job]. Upon its acquisition, convincing key in-house people to read the book in the dreaded manuscript form (prior to bound galleys), and likewise finding potential blurbists to do the same. At launch (the first in-house presentation of the new season's books to the heads of sales, marketing, publicity, subrights, etc), finding a way to convey what's remarkable about the book in 90 seconds or less, to a group of people who, by day's end, will have heard perhaps 300 such presentations. Then there's the title information sheets (which sales use in the field) and the flap copy, the proper "presentation" of the author (overseeing author photos, shaping talking points, in some cases media training)...and so on.
ALL this energy and expertise we put toward pre-selling the book, from inception to publication--yet when sales conference itself rolls around, we're left off the invite list. For a couple of years now I've been telling myself that this sort of thing is cyclical, that the pendulum's due to swing back. Now I'm not so confident.
It's obvious that I see this as a short-sighted view. If the problem is that the editors are clueless about the realities of the marketplace? All the better reason for them to be there, to have to hear their books taken to task for being poorly positioned, for sending mixed-messages that make them hard to sell, etc. If the problem is that sales reps feel inhibited to speak up in front of editors, then institute a gag-order: editors are to listen and learn, but not rebut.
If I were a Publisher--if that were my job, to run a company--I'd insist that every editor go out on the road with a sales rep for a few days every year or two. Sure, it's a pain in the ass for the rep--but, again, we'd institute a gag order. The editor sits in on the sales call, listens, but doesn't get to say a word. When the buyer says "Pass" on three of the editor's own titles in that particular catalog; when the rep gets nine seconds to begin to pitch something before the buyer's eyes glaze over and she shakes her head--hard lessons much needed. Call it educational by humiliation.
Yesterday I riffed about how authors were in some cases discouraged from developing any sort of relationship w/ other members of the houses that publish them. This is, ultimately, to the detriment of the book's chances of success. The same is the case--moreso, in fact--through this artificial, institutional division between sales and editorial.
"Writing is considered a profession, and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy."
PRACTICAL MARKETING [Courtesy Zornhau, 2005]
"They should put the 1st couple of pages up in subway adverts. Having read them several times, you'd feel compelled to try the book - if it was any good."
PLATE OF SHRIMP [Courtesy Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, circa 1984]
"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don't realize that there's this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I'll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."
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- ▼ February (16)