We recently exhibited at the Follett Library Resources/BWI National Sales Conference. We spoke with their sales reps from all over the country. This was the first time I’ve been to this event, and it was fabulous. And although much smaller, it was remarkably similar to any number of trade shows we do throughout the year: 1) We had to set-up our table/booth at an odd hour and make it look pretty and inviting,
2) We spent hours on our feet talking about our books with people who love books, and
3) we spent time joking and working with our colleagues at other publishers. This third similarity is the real topic of this post.
On my first day in children’s book publishing, my young just-out-of-college self was told that no one works in children’s publishing by accident. I kept quiet, but my first thought was that I was there by accident. I hadn’t planned on this career throughout school. I didn’t fully understand that my boss didn’t mean that everyone in the business grew up thinking “I want to make and sells books when I grow up.” What she meant is that children’s book people are good people for whom books are not “widgets” and kids are not “end users.” This is true at every level, and in sales and marketing, in particular.
Children’s book marketing and sales people are – for the most part – friendly and hardworking. And we’ve all worked together in some form or another (for each other, with each other, for each other’s bosses, and so on). As such, it’s a very small and collegial community.
I’ve helped roll posters in other booths, and my colleagues have jumped in to hand out post-its to suddenly very long author signing lines. At the Follett event mentioned above, several of us almost set up a table for a latecomer. At large breakfast events or conference panels, I’ve seen large publishers help small publishers put freebies on the chairs. On “Newbery-Caldecott Morning,” fellow publishers are the first people in the winners’ booths with hugs and hearty congratulations.
I’m told that this is not true in other industries – or even in the books-for-grown-ups world. And I don’t mean to imply that every person in children’s book publishing is a kind and benevolent soul – I’m not that much of a Pollyanna (despite my rose-colored glasses). But the exceptions don’t tend to stay long and don’t reap the benefits of good relationships with other publishers. I also don’t mean that children’s book publishers are not extremely professional and intelligent marketers – we are (after all) FOR PROFIT COMPANIES. That means that we create marketing plans, have proprietary mailing lists, keep company secrets, and in general, want to sell more books than the other guy. But fortunately, none of this means we can’t be friendly competitors.
Maybe it’s because we spend hours together in slow exhibit halls or hotel lobbies or airports. Maybe it’s because we’ve all worked in the same places at some point. Maybe we all know that most of our customers can and do buy more than one book. Maybe we know that we all really work for the kids. Or maybe my first boss was right and we’re not here by accident, we’re here because this is where the good people are….