Things I Wish I Knew: Q&A with Book Sales Rep Vanessa Di Gregorio

The sales department is something that authors usually feel really removed from. It’s something that happens to their book and often they’re not really sure what that department does. I’m so thrilled to have Vanessa Di Gregorio on the blog today. She’s a publishing sales representative with Ambersand Inc. (a sales rep agency) and blogger for PubCrawlBlog which we all know and love. Her role is really unique and I hope you enjoy this interview in the “Things I Wish I Knew” series. You will learn many things, including…the thing about sales in book publishing is that books are returnable. Read on to figure out what that means…

What were your first impressions of being a book sales rep and how did that change as your career grew? 

When I originally decided to work in publishing, sales was the last place I thought I’d end up. As an introvert, the thought of doing all that talking was pretty horrifying. And the more I thought about it, the more awful a job in sales seemed to me. Will I end up having to sell books I don’t even like? Will I have to pretend to have read all the books I’m selling? What if I look/sound like a total idiot?! Will it be all about the numbers? 

Thankfully, I somehow found myself working for a book publishing sales agency (where we represent over 50 different publishers), and my fears were replaced by the giddy feeling of being surrounded by books and people who love to talk about them.

As my career grew, so did my sales territory. Sure, I spend nights away from home, go on long solitary drives in my car to independent book (and gift!) stores, and sometimes sell books I don’t like (which I’m honest about – though I probably sell those books harder than the books I like. And just because I personally didn’t like a book doesn’t mean I think it won’t sell). But I get to balance that with being able to talk about books. A LOT. With people who also love books. And nothing beats that! Book people are some of the coolest people ever, and I’ve made a lot of friends thanks to my job, and seen a lot of cool bookstores. The relationships I’ve developed over the years with book buyers has been the most rewarding experience. Getting to know them and their stores, sending them the perfect ARCs to read so they can hand sell, and helping them curate these giant lists each season has been nothing like what I imagined (but in the best way possible).

What do you wish writers knew about the book sales process? 

The thing about sales in book publishing is that books are returnable. No other industry does this. So while I can lie through my teeth and convince a buyer to take a lot of copies of a book, if it doesn’t sell, I lose that buyer’s trust. And just having copies of a book in a store doesn’t guarantee sales. As a sales rep, I learn what types of books sell at certain stores, and as much as I’d love for stores to take every book on my list, I know they won’t. So doing my job right really depends on my ability to curate my lists to the titles I know will get marketing and publicity (a big driving force in sales), or books I think would work for their market, or books by local authors. And ultimately, even if I think a store should take a book, a buyer can always tell me no. The decision is ultimately up to them – all I can really do is try to steer them in the right direction.

What tools do book sales reps need to make the best case to buyers? 

  • Catalogues remain our number one selling tool. Having ARCs (advance review copies) for buyers also makes a huge difference – if you can get the right book into the right hands, and they love it, that enthusiasm will help sell the book. 
  • Having authors willing to do events with their local bookstores (and even reaching out themselves to stores) makes a difference. 
  • Knowing publicity and marketing plans also help us sales reps make the best case to buyers (even if that marketing and publicity is generated by a writer who is, for example, active on social media).

What are you reading now?

I’m currently reading an ARC of The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi – a lush and beautifully written YA Fantasy inspired by Indian Folklore. 

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

10 thoughts on “Things I Wish I Knew: Q&A with Book Sales Rep Vanessa Di Gregorio

  1. I am still researching agents and publishers to determine the best fit for my manuscript. I don’t find many self-published and Indie published authors in libraries. I think libraries are a wonderful resource and want my book there! Do you have any suggestions to increase the chances of getting a library to carry my book if I self publish or go through an Indie publisher?

    Thank you both for taking the time to help us writers!


    1. Hi Lynn,

      I can’t claim to be very knowledgeable in the self-pubbed world, but with a lot of other self-pubbed books to compete with, and no one else championing your book, you’ll be doing a lot of work once you finish writing (not that all traditionally pubbed authors can just sit back and watch the sales roll in). If you choose to go that route, your best bet would be contacting the right buyers / selectors at your local libraries (and indie bookstores, too!). Keep in mind libraries have budgets, and the onus to market, publicize, and sell your book would be on you. Ultimately, if you can get copies of your book into the hands of the right people, word of mouth will spread. And the more people there are asking their library for a copy of a book, the more likely they’ll carry it.

      Hope that helps a bit!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Lynn,

        You need to decide the course of your book. If you want it to be a part of Book Clubs and Libraries- you should choose traditional route over self pub route. And you need to make that decision at the beginning. Traditional route is lot of waiting, but there is a reason behind it- the end result- your book that comes out after all this waiting and grueling is worth its salt. So, I will suggest, if your aspiration is to see your book in libraries, go for the traditional route.
        All the best.


  2. Strange how the retailer can return unsold stock to the distributor. I never heard of that in any other industry. I guess publishing is a real buyers’ market, and tough for the seller. Thanks for the interview.


    1. Books being returnable is a hold-over from the Depression. Publishers wanted bookstores to carry books, so they allowed books to be returned for credit. It worked – and that practice has been going on ever since.

      It’s what makes sales in publishing a challenge. You can get a lot of copies of a book into a store (chain or independent), but if it doesn’t sell, all those books are returned. Publishers, especially with the bigger chains, don’t always agree to big buys (not wanting to see the stock come back), and so they counter with a number that works for them. Return rates are usually very high with bigger chains, but some independent stores need to be managed the same way.

      Sales in publishing is a bit of an anomaly compared to other industries. Glad you enjoyed the interview, Max!


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