What Makes a Good Book Buyer

Josie Leavitt - February 14, 2013

On Wednesday, I wrote about what makes a good sales rep. Today, I turn my attention to what makes a good book buyer. Buying books is part art, part budget balancing, part good preparation, and part listening to your gut and your sales rep.
– Good book buyers are prepared. They’ve read through and marked up the catalogs before the meeting. If they are lucky enough to get a sales kit ahead of time, they’ve looked at all the materials. Obviously, all the galleys can’t be read, but they can be looked at and shared with staff. Picture books can be read ahead of the meeting. One trick I learned from a fellow bookseller is to read through the picture books and then go through the catalog (or computer) two days later and what you remember is what you should buy.
– Being a good buyer is more challenging in this computer-ordering age. I find it much harder to buy books on the computer, so I really have to focus and set aside the time after work (there seems to be no way to order books at the store without getting continually interrupted). I have yet to develop a good strategy that works as well as dog-earing catalog pages with a note of the number of books to order online. This is my challenge for 2013.
– Buyers should know their store and their customers. A good buyer is one who will order one or two of a seemingly bizarre title because they know a specific customer will love it. Be true to your store. Sometimes this can mean passing on a lot of books. Be firm. Nothing is worse than buyer’s remorse, especially when it turns into a mass of returns six months later.
– Listen to your rep, or read through their Edelweiss notes. No one knows the frontlist better than the rep. They know if someone is a regional author and that knowledge can help sell books. Their notes are chock full of great information.
– Take your rep out for a meal or coffee. Get to know them as more than a rep, but as a person. Often this helps make buying sessions more fun. Be mindful that commission reps often don’t have the expense accounts of publisher reps, so offer to pay for your meal, or better yet, take the rep out.
-I spoke with Nikki Mutch, my Scholastic rep, and she said there are two things she likes to see in a buyer. The first is to be prepared for the meeting. “Know what I sell,” was how she put it. This makes sense. I can imagine nothing more frustrating than a buyer who really has no idea what the kinds of books the publisher is offering. The other thing she said was, “Be conversational when talking about books.” This harkens back to be getting to know your rep. A lively conversation about books can be really fun and certainly makes a meeting more entertaining.
– One other thing to add is, be kind. Book buys can be tense affairs if people are mean or judgmental about the books they’re passing on. Gently say no, if you can. Be firm in your answer, but just as you wouldn’t say ick when hearing the specials at a restaurant, you may think it, but you don’t say it.
– Make a good order. Returning more than 50% of your order six months later is bad for the rep and expensive for you. Really think about what you’ll need, knowing you can reorder as you need it.
– Be thankful for the galleys. They are a treasure.

3 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Book Buyer

  1. Karen Corvello

    When I bought at a mid to large independent store, I always found it hugely helpful to get out on the sales floor and actually talk to customers and handsell books, even if it was only once or twice a week. You get a much different feel for your customers than you do from looking at reports. Plus, it’s fun!

  2. Carol Chittenden

    Points taken. I hereby pledge to be a kinder and more tactful buyer in future. So often the rep is the entire face of a publishing house, and has to receive the entire weight of our frustration with the whole corporation.


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