It was like a scene straight out of Oslo Davis’ Overheard: The Art of Eavesdropping
. I was standing in a bookshop, as I so often do, and I heard a question from a customer, “How do all these books get on the bookshelf?”
I wanted to take this customer out for coffee to tell them the full story about how exactly a book gets to stand so proudly on the bookshelf. I wanted to tell them about how much time and thought goes into this question between publishers and sales reps and booksellers each month.
I didn’t end up taking that customer out for coffee, but I did write this article. Because a book’s journey onto the bookshop shelf usually begins with me, a Victorian sales rep, as soon as my alarm rings on Monday morning at 6.45 am.
This week, I’m visiting my stores on the Great Ocean Road. I have to be at Geelong at 9 am, Torquay at 11.30 am and Lorne Bookshop by 2.30 pm. The day is organised into one area of the state because territory management is crucial with the sales rep role. It is not cost productive to be driving from north to south in one day, and time is limited.
My cases are packed with samples and ready to go, every sample in the exact order of my selling kit – the books that my publisher and I want to be on that bookshop’s shelf. It’s the little things that count and I don’t want to waste my time or my bookseller’s time fossicking in a case to find the right book. There is nothing more satisfying than presenting a beautifully crafted cooking, gardening, interior design, or fashion book and hearing the immediate gasp of delight. I try to hide my joy and stay on track, knowing the book will sell in well.
I set off and think about my goals. Achieving sales targets is paramount, however, the job is quite multi-faceted. In order to create a sales opportunity, I need to know my competition. Why would a bookshop buy a Hardie Grant vegan cookbook when they already have five on the shelf? Do they need six? Of course they do because I know the point of difference: my author might have a higher profile and is set to receive publicity… they could live locally… or the format might be quite distinct from the competition. I’m here to offer the bookseller and their customers something different, and onto the shelf it goes.
Cook and Young Geelong is a curated independent bookshop. It’s bookshops like these where customer knowledge is one of the most important functions in my role. My buyer in Geelong wants her shops to be an experience, and I need to help her create that. I am spending her money and I have to do it wisely with confidence and conviction. This is exactly what I do, selling through the list and curating as I go, paying extra attention to the many quirky gift books Hardie Grant publishes and the upcoming trends they speak to. The sales rep is also an information gatherer on all sides and by listening to my customer in my sales calls over the years, I know her demand. In any one of the three Cook and Young shops there will always be something different stacked on the counter.
Time is ticking and Torquay awaits.
I always look forward to the Torquay Bookshop window and today doesn’t disappoint. The bookshop has been forced to demonstrate the worth of stepping through their doors and online retailing has only made this task more urgent. The window shines like a beacon and is always colour coded so you never know if a splash of red, blue or pink will hit you upon arrival. I remember when it was emblazoned cobalt blue with Hardie Grant Children’s title Welcome to Consent and a sight for sore eyes. The theme is green today, and I am welcomed by the many gardening titles we publish. As demographics change so does the bookstore and Torquay is a bustling seaside, dare I say city now. I used to call it a village. I have had to change my selling direction even more now to the city-dwellers visiting and those who have relocated to regional areas. Torquay now sells more high-end cookbooks, interior design as building in Torquay expands, and oh yes, if I still can’t sell surfing books down on the Surf Coast I may as well hang up my hat.
Last call and I nose into Lorne.
Lorne is a mixed bag and the bookshops highs and lows are very weather dependent. That sounds odd, but if there is a heatwave at Christmas, the bookshop suffers as everyone is swimming with the sharks. If the cold change creeps in, which inevitably it will, up they clamber for coffee and books. New age is a cracking category in Lorne and I welcome this with gusto. There are many artists living in the Otways so crystals, horoscopes, mindfulness books are popular. As well as the artists there are also retired doctors, lawyers so coffee table books zoom out the door. It is a haven for Hardie Grant titles and knowing the demographic helps the end result. Lorne Bookshop is also small in its stature, so it needs to be curated and money spent wisely. Children’s picture books, middle grade series flies out the door for all the campers trying to keep their little ones occupied in case of inclement weather. I make sure my customer never runs out of these tiles.
Yes, it is a multi-faceted job, but for me it is the best job. Scooting along the Victorian coastline in the sun to sell books into lovingly maintained bookshops for a community is a dream. Every area is different and knowing the demographic, trends, and competition is crucial to what I do. I’m on the ground informing the bookseller and also reporting back to my own head office on what is working and what is not. At the end of the day, good listening skills are vital. So, the next time I hear a book browser wonder aloud how all these books get onto the shelf, I’ll know exactly what to say.