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If you love to read, you could join the world of publishing by becoming a sales representative for a publishing company. In this job, you will deal with books by persuading bookstores to buy the ones your company publishes.

Publishers sell books to wholesalers, bookstores, schools, libraries, and, occasionally, to individuals. To do this, a publishing house has a sales department. The size of the department varies according to the size of the company. Larger houses have a sales manager who supervises the company's full-time sales representatives. Smaller houses have a sales manager who supervises work commissioned to sales representatives, who are usually part-time.

Sales reps generally have their own territory, and they are responsible for all of the company's customers within that territory. New sales reps usually are given the least lucrative areas. The representative travels to all the places in the territory that sell books. This may include bookstores, discount stores, and grocery stores. He or she carries samples to each store and shows them to the store's book buyer. The samples include books, book jackets, and descriptions of upcoming releases.

A sales representative makes the most of his or her time with the book buyer. Selling best-sellers is an easy job, but getting a buyer to purchase books by lesser-known authors is much harder. The sales representative must know what kinds of books people in the area want to read. Selling a book on advanced physics might not be profitable in some communities.

Publishers' sales representatives attend sales conferences at least twice a year in the spring and fall. At these meetings, the editors present the books that the representatives will be selling. The goal of these conferences is to get the sales representatives excited about the new books. The conference also gives the representatives a chance to talk about which books they think they can sell. Sales representatives try to strike a balance between which books will sell and which books have merit even though they might not sell as well. They are challenged by the fact that they are often persuading buyers to take a chance on a book that has not yet been published.

Sales representatives have an advantage in their selling because publishers allow buyers to return unsold books—called remainders—within a limited amount of time. A buyer can safely order more books than he or she thinks will sell knowing that the only cost for unsold books will be the freight to return them to the publisher. This is great for the buyer and the representative, but tough on the publishing house. Approximately 30 percent of the books that are ordered are returned unsold. Publishers warehouse them for a time and then sell them to remainder dealers.

Publishing houses may have a special division that sells books to schools, universities, and libraries. Since school orders are often large, the representatives work out discount plans with the customers and help them get appropriate books. These school and library consultants talk with librarians, teachers, and professors to find out their needs.

As you advance in this career, you may become a sales manager or a sales director. Both of these titles mean you will be supervising other members of the sales force.

Sales representatives spend long hours on the road and carry heavy bags of samples. The job can be rewarding, however, because books and booksellers are varied and fascinating. There can be quite a bit of travel involved, and the representative may have a chance to read the books he or she sells.

Education and Training

Many sales representatives learn the job by accompanying an experienced representative in the field. An interest in books is more important than an advanced education. Bookstore owners like to think of themselves as a special group whose service appeals to the intellect in others. A successful sales representative will show the same respect for books.


In spite of predictions that television and the Internet will make the printed word obsolete, people are still reading books. Sales of hardback books were down slightly in 2001, but sales of paperbacks went up. Chain bookstores and online bookstores may be changing the way people buy books, but they are not changing people's interest in books

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