A Peek into Publishing: Sales with Lauren Strange

Welcome back to the latest Peek into Publishing! We love showing you around our departments and offering insight into not just entry level jobs, but a wide range of roles. We spoke with UK & Digital Sales Executive Craig in our very first post, and today we wanted to talk with Lauren about the US and international side of sales in publishing.

Lauren Strange, US & International Sales Executive 

How did you get into the industry and into your current role?

My route into publishing was a rather unconventional one. I studied Fashion at the University of Huddersfield and worked at ASOS as a Buyers Assistant when I graduated. After a couple of years, I decided the job and industry weren’t for me and started looking into how to make the shift into publishing. I’d always loved reading and almost studied English Literature at University before I went down the fashion route. 

The problem was that I had absolutely zero publishing-related experience. I started doing research into the industry and applied to numerous full-time positions in editorial, most of which I heard nothing back from. At the time I didn’t realise how important work experiences or internships were to get your foot in the door. 

The first response I received from an application was actually at Watkins. Our science-fiction imprint Angry Robot interviewed me for the position of Editorial Assistant. Unfortunately, they offered the job to another interviewee with much more relevant experience. However, a few days later, the Angry Robot editor emailed me about another opening on the Watkins sales team which they thought I would be a good fit for. I reorganised my CV, sent it off and had an interview that week with the UK Sales Manager and Sales and Marketing Director. It is safe to say that it went really well, and I was offered the job of Sales Assistant by the end of the week. 

A year and a half later and a promotion to US & International Sales Executive, I’m loving my job and the industry! Moral of the story is that even if you think you are completely under qualified for something, try anyway. The outcome might surprise you!

What does your day to day look like as the US & International Sales Executive?

A huge part of my role is working closely with our distribution partners Penguin Random House (PRH) in the US, making sure all of our metadata is correct, chasing materials from the editors for critical deadlines and presenting titles to the sales reps six times a year. By showcasing our titles to the reps from all over the country, we flag the super lead titles (the ones they need to drive sales for) and collect any useful feedback on how to improve them, e.g. having a stronger subtitle or tweaking the cover design. 

There are various reports I run, including the weekly sales reports, reports to track the sales of titles at their 6 and 12 month mark and reports to keep an eye on reprints, flagging any that have low stock in the US to our production team. I also spend time searching for new customers and pitching books to them, negotiating deals, closing and invoicing. For example, I have a contact I work closely with who produces monthly subscription boxes in the US. Today I worked out the quotes for them and sent them through, ready to negotiate or place the order. 

What were you most surprised to learn when you started in sales in publishing?

In terms of the publishing industry as a whole, I’ve discovered just how nice everyone is. Sure, we have the occasional difficult author, but coming from the fashion industry, which is renowned for being … shall we say, ‘difficult’ (Devil Wears Prada anyone?), it’s been nice to work alongside and meet other people at different companies who are friendly, genuine and have a shared love of books.

In terms of sales specifically, I was surprised by how much input we have when acquiring new titles or giving feedback on covers. Our opinions and suggestions are taken into account as much as any other department and it really is a team effort to make the books the best they can be. 

What is the best thing about your job? 

The people! Everyone here at Watkins is great, and I’m very close with my team. Pre-covid we would spend most Friday evenings at the pub and at lunch times we would eat and play Bananagrams together. Post-covid we chat on Zoom a lot and make more of an effort to see each other in person when we can (covid-dependant!). 

What is the most challenging part of your role?

I have a lot of deadlines I need to meet, and sometimes it takes a lot of juggling to make sure everything gets done on time. For example, my US deadlines usually run alongside each other. I could be working on my final deadline for fall (making sure all the covers are feeding out, the meta data is right, the manuscript is uploaded, etc.) and at the same time have a deadline for the lead summer titles for my next round of presentations. 

There are always numerous balls to be juggling at the same time but it makes the days exciting!

What would be your top tip for people applying to work in publishing? 

Personalise your CV to the company you are applying for. I can’t stress this enough – the only reason I was invited to my first interview at Angry Robot was because I drew literal angry robots causing havoc over my CV (using Adobe Illustrator – see an example below). It was eye catching, and even though I didn’t have the experience needed, it got me an interview. 

Now, if you don’t have Adobe or any equivalent, it doesn’t matter. You can still personalise your CV visually to the company you are applying for. For example, do they have a specific colour in their branding? Match the colour and use it on your headings (just make sure everything is still easily readable). Can you grab their logo from the internet and add it onto your CV? What about mirroring the layout of your CV to their website? 

Obviously, this can take a lot of work and even when doing this, you can still get rejected (and I did, so many times), but it only takes one person to say “oh this is cool!” for you to get your foot in the door. 

What’s one Watkins book you’d encourage everyone to read?

Audiobook cover for potions elixirs and brews

Anaïs Alexandre’s Potions, Elixirs and Brews is definitely my favourite. It’s a witchy cocktail book with gorgeous illustrations throughout – very Instagram friendly!

Tell us about an exciting project you’re currently working on?

We are currently working on moving from a three-span year (Spring, Summer and Fall) to a two-span year (Spring and Fall) at PRH. This means getting rid of two of my deadlines every year, and generally making workload for everyone more manageable. The span we are currently working on is Spring 2022, which is when the move is happening, so although it will be better in the long run, it will be a stressful couple of months to get all of the materials ready in time for the new deadlines!

That’s all for this week! We hope you gained a little more insight into our sales department. We wish those of you seeking a job within sales in publishing the best of luck! If you want to learn more about upcoming “A Peek Into Publishing” projects, follow Watkins on Twitter

Top Ten Terms: Sales in Publishing

Hi everyone! Welcome back to our Peek into Publishing blog. We’ve created some different content for you this week with our Top Ten Sales Terms!

So far you’ve met Rachel, Craig and Kieryn, who have given us insights into various publishing departments, and these profiles will continue every other week. However, this week, we’ve asked Lauren and Craig in the sales department to offer you their top ten sales terms they wish they’d known when they first started out working in their publishing roles. 

These terms are useful for anyone looking to work in publishing, not just in sales. They get thrown around during sales review meetings with all departments, so we hope you’ll benefit from learning them! We’ve asked other departments to also curate their top ten terms they want you to know, so keep your eyes on our Peek into Publishing page for more similar insights. 

1. Firm sale

We use this term to signify when books have been sold to a consumer with no possibility of any of these books returning to us (the publisher) in the event of poor sales or excess stock. 

2. Sale & return 

In comparison, this term refers to when books are sold to a consumer with the possibility of returning excess stock. For example, if a consumer overestimates how many sales they can make, so only sell half the number of copies they ordered, they can return them to us if they have a sell & return clause in the contract. 

3. Margin

This is the amount of profit we make after a sale, taking into consideration all editorial, marketing, printing and shipping costs, usually displayed in a percentage format. 

Lets give an example:

Say, for example, a store wants to order 1,000 copies of a £9.95 book at a 60% discount. 

The total amount he would need to pay would be £3,980, but our profit would not be £3,980 because we incurred costs making the book. 

If these costs were £0.92 per copy, 1000 copies would have costed us £920.

Our profit would be £3980-£920=£3060. 

Our margin would therefore be 31% (306/995=0.307).

4. ROS & ROM 

Rate of Sale (ROS) and Rate of Movement (ROM) are both ways of referring to the average number of units sold over a specific time period. For example, if a title sells 15 copies in Month 1, 20 copies in Month 2 and 13 copies in Month 3, the three-month ROM would be 16 copies. This shows us how quickly books are moving. If they have a sudden boost in sales, this will be reflected in the ROM, so we can then calculate the best time to organise the next reprint (see MOH next).

5. MOH 

MOH is shorthand for Month on Hand. This uses the ROM figure to calculate how many months’ worth of stock is in the warehouse if the same buying patterns continue. For example, if there were 100 copies in the warehouse and the ROM was 16, the MOH would be 6. This means our current stock levels would last for 6 months if buying patterns remain regular, so we don’t yet need to organise a reprint. 

6. Consignment 

Retailers often take a quantity of stock to hold in their own warehouses but only pay for the titles as and when they are sold. This is called consignment.

7. Gross Sales 

This refers to the total amount of sales including returns. So, if we sold 1,560 copies of a recent publication such as Why We Get Mad then we had 60 returns, the net sales for this book so far would still be 1,560. 

8. Net Sales 

We calculate the gross sales by removing the returns, instead calculating the total amount of sales excluding returns. In our example above, the gross sales would be 1,500 for Why We Get Mad by Dr Ryan Martin. 

9. Pulping 

Pulping is the process of shredding of excess stock. We make the decision to pulp for two reasons:

  1. It’s a very old title and we have far too much stock compared to its ROM. If we have too much stock that we know we won’t use, it can incur warehouse charges that amount to more than the book is bringing in. 
  2. It is an old edition and we’re printing a new one with substantial changes. We first try and sell via remainder (see next term), and then we pulp. 

 10. Remainder

If stock isn’t moving as quickly as we’d like, an alternative to pulping is remainder, where we sell excess stock in bulk for a high discount to discount stores. This allows us to move the stock out of our warehouse without pulping them. 

That’s all for this week! We hope you gained a little more knowledge of the sales terms that get used a lot in publishing. We wish those of you seeking a job in sales (and in publishing in general) the best of luck! If you want to learn more about upcoming Peek Into Publishing projects, follow Watkins on Twitter. Next week, we have one of our amazing commissioning editors giving insight into the editorial department, so come back on Wednesday. To catch up on previous posts, see below for insights into sales, marketing and design:

A Peek into Publishing: Sales with Craig Chmarny

Welcome to our first Peek into Publishing post! This is a new initiative where we want to pull back the curtains to the publishing industry and give you insight into different departments and how they work together. We’ve asked a wide variety of our colleagues to write profiles, telling you more about their jobs: the daily tasks, the best bits, the challenges. We hope you find some useful content within these posts and best of luck on your journey both applying to and working within the industry! To begin with, we’d like to introduce you to Craig, who will be talking about sales in publishing …

Craig Chmarny, UK & Digital Sales Executive

How did you get into the industry and into your current sales role?

Craig Staff Profile Picture

After graduating with a degree in American Studies, I worked at Waterstones for a couple of years, which was like a dream come true – I was able to talk about books all day, and the discount wasn’t too shabby either. 

I then worked a random office job before being unemployed for six months. During this employment gap, I thought I might as well give publishing my best, so I attended the four-day “Get Into Book Publishing” course at UCL. It was an incredibly useful course, and I learnt that I wasn’t interested in editorial (the only department people outside of the industry knows exists). 

About two weeks later, I did a two-week work experience placement at Watkins, helping the Marketing and Publicity team with campaigns and social media. I was beyond stoked when they asked me to stay on as a paid intern. My days were spent assisting with marketing, as well as helping out with the Cygnus magazine and learning how to upload eBooks onto the various online retailers (something I still do to this day). 

Just as the internship was ending, I had a chat with the Sales Director, who was impressed with my work and how well I had adjusted into the office, and they offered me a role as a Sales Assistant. I felt extremely lucky to have found Watkins and am incredibly grateful for the chance they gave me to start my career within sales in publishing. In more exciting news, I’m happy to be able to continue to grow as I stepped into my new promotion as UK & Digital Sales Executive in March this year. 

What does your day to day look like as the UK & Digital Sales Executive?

My average day includes checking our metadata on various online retailers to make sure the listings are looking their best and converting sales. I’m a sucker for metadata so I enjoy looking through and making sure it is accurate. I also oversee the eBook production, from sending off the files to be converted, to quality checking and uploading and subsequent promotion. As “Digital” covers both eBooks and audio, I currently manage the upload of all audio files to Audible and other online retailers. However, as our audio team is expanding, my involvement with the audio uploads will lessen and change. My aim is to focus on creating more digital promotions for our audio list, rather than the manual uploads.  

In terms of digital promotions, I’m in charge of submitting our new titles across all imprints (Watkins, Nourish, Repeater and Angry Robot) to digital sales via Amazon, Apple and BookBub. This helps to boost sales by using price promotions as digital incentives.

I regularly attend editorial acquisition meetings and cover meetings, where we all discuss incoming titles and offer our input as to whether we think the proposal fits within our market and will sell well. The cover meetings are always fun to attend, going through which typefaces work or which designs are more eye-catching and will work as a thumbnail.

What were you most surprised to learn when you started in sales in publishing?

Genuinely, I was most surprised by how the departments interacted with each other and how the sales department actually worked. Every department is asked to weigh in with their expertise from the very first proposal meeting, and I regularly work with commissioning editors and the marketing team to create sales material. I also never considered the connection between publishers and bookstores. It’s been a fun journey learning the different aspects of my job. I’m still learning new ways to approach retailers and sell our titles and honestly it’s pretty fun!

What is the best thing about your job? 

Am I allowed to say two things? I can’t pick just one. 

  1. Working with my colleagues – I couldn’t ask for a nicer bunch of folks to work with on a day-to-day basis. 
  2. I still get to talk about books to people for a living. It’s pretty cool.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

There are times, especially leading up to bookfairs and events, when it feels like I’m juggling a million different things and I don’t know what to prioritise first. It’s the nature of book publishing, especially when you have numerous books going off each month and needing to organise promotions on both the frontlist and the backlist. My solution is to take a step back and plan my week, breaking it down into smaller chunks that are achievable.

What would be your top tip for people applying to work in publishing? 

My first tip would be to make sure you look closely at the transferable skills you could have gained from your work experiences, even if they aren’t publishing or office based. For example, working in retail gave me the ability to present in front of people about why they should buy a particular item. 

If you’re interested in certain aspects of publishing, such as audio or eBooks, research what transferrable skills you’ll need to excel in those areas, such as typesetting, how to create an eBook or how to use audio editing software, and work on adding those skills to your toolbelt in your free time.

Also, don’t be afraid to look at other areas of publishing. I know editorial might be the most oversubscribed part of publishing, but each department has their positives, and often you’ll find a home in a department you never expected. 

  • Do you know a foreign language? Look into the rights department. 
  • Have a knack for selling? Look into sales. 
  • Love to talk about books? Maybe PR is for you! 
  • Do you love sprayed edges and fancy cover effects? Hello! There’s production!
  • Like to design and encompass the themes of a book into a single image? You guessed it, there’s design!

The publishing industry is your oyster – go for it!

What’s one Watkins book you’d encourage everyone to read?

I’m a big fan of the Jeff Noon series (A Man of Shadows / The Body Library / Creeping Jenny) published by Angry Robot. If you like a detective story set within a fantastically weird city (one city split in two – one half in constant daytime, the other in eternal night) then these books are for you. The fourth title Within Without releases this month (available from all good bookstores)!

I also love Nisha Katona’s Mowgli: Street Food from our Nourish imprint. If you want to cook some absolutely delicious Indian street food, this is the book for you! (also available from all good bookstores).

Tell us about an exciting project you’re currently working on?

I recently spearheaded the introduction of an extremely useful tool to the Watkins Media team called “Marketing Insights”. This will allow us to keep a close eye on our Amazon listings without having to go into each individual listing. With this tool, we should be able to check stock messaging on Amazon, which titles are having a sales boost and take advantage of these by perfecting our online copy to convert even more sales!

It sounds relatively boring when you’re not knee deep into online sales. Honestly, once you get a job within sales in publishing, you’ll find spreadsheets and cool excel formulas exciting. Trust me. 

That’s all for this week! We hope you gained a little more insight into our sales department. We wish those of you seeking a job in sales the best of luck! If you want to learn more about upcoming “A Peek Into Publishing” projects, follow Watkins on Twitter.

You can also follow Craig on Twitter!

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