Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Reps Come Calling

My sales reps are eager and even a little excited to talk about their books right now. This may not seem particularly noteworthy. After all, we are hitting the three biggest weeks of the selling year. It's the time to make annual budget numbers, create unexpected bestsellers and see high expectations finally come to fruition. What's interesting is that the reps don't want to talk about what's happening now; they want to discuss the books that are coming out next June, July and August. That's right: the focus is on the big summer novels and the hot presidential race, not what can work for Christmas.

Yesterday, one of my Random House reps dropped by for a friendly visit. We sat down, and he asked me to quickly scan through his summer catalogs as he prepared for sales conference. I must admit that I enjoyed the change of pace -- an escape from the endless receiving of remainders -- and was only to happy to oblige. I'm not sure that my comments helped him out for his sales conference, but the discussion helped me gain some insight into what the second half of 2008 might hold.

Two of his most promising summer titles are political books. Jim Webb, the Virginia Senator who defeated George Allen in 2006, has written A Time to Fight: Reclaiming a Fair and Just America, while Arianna Huffington gets right to the point with the aptly titled, Right is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe. If 2008 is anything like 2004, political books will dominate the summer. We cleared off an entire case of our recommended section, easily our highest turning category, and filled it with political tomes as the presidential election neared. Yes, even the Swift Boat book had its day. I was hoping to avoid displacing my recommended section again next year, but it is starting to seem inevitable.

A few years ago, I wouldn't have thought either Webb or Huffington had a potential bestseller in them. Webb capitalized on Allen's uttering the word macaca and having it shown over and over again on, to pull off a stunning upset. If Allen would have kept his mouth shut, there's a good chance he'd be the front-runner in the Republican primaries right now, and Webb would be a nobody. Huffington was just another kook running for California governor, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger, after Gray Davis imploded. Huffington doesn't look so kooky now that her Huffington Post website has become so respected for its hard-hitting reporting and well-written opinions, in liberal circles. Speaking of California, it hasn't worked out so bad for The Terminator: he has already been reelected. You've got to love America, where every kook has a blog, or at least a four-year term.

Later this week, my HarperCollins rep is actually selling me his summer list. I've never bought a major list in December before, but I thought I'd give it a try. Usually, I'm too concerned about helping customers in the store. But during the last couple of years, the weekday crowds haven't materialized until the second week of December. It's still surprising that the Harper reps are ready to sell the list this early. Most publishers are just heading into sales conferences now. But I've discovered that HarperCollins is in its own time zone. I refer to it as H.T.Z.T. or Harper Twilight Zone Time.

Harper holds its sales conference in mid-November, making the reps inaccessible when you are desperately trying to build up inventory for Christmas and figuring out what to sell. It's the time when I most want to reach the reps all year long. When you finally get in touch with your rep, he's so mired in the summer titles it takes him awhile to come up for air and actually talk about the Christmas releases. Mid-November is also the time that stores like to have the reps come in and prep the booksellers on the hot books for the Christmas season. This year, we held off on our rep night until the week of Thanksgiving so that our Harper rep, a favorite of the booksellers, could participate. That went extremely well, and he was the hit of the party, so I figured I'd just give in to Harper's timetable and do the sales call in December.

I've got to run. The weatherman is calling for snow, but I know better. Here in the land of H.T.Z.T., the surf's up. Hang Ten, Dude!

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