How would you describe your job to a layperson?
The easy answer is that I sell books to Barnes & Noble, but it’s a little more complicated than that! It’s about positioning Random House Children’s Books in the market and making sure that each book has the best merchandising possible. And then once a book is selling, it’s all about trying to maximize those sales. I work with Marketing, Publicity and Social Media to use every tool and opportunity available to drive consumers to buy our books.
When you describe Gemina to the book buyers, what is your hook? What’s memorable and unique about the book – why would they want to sell it to readers?
Well, Gemina wasn’t too hard to pitch to the buyer because the first book, Illuminae, had done so well. It was more of a challenge to position Illuminae when I sold it in last year. On the one hand, it was really unique and Barnes & Noble is always looking for unique formats and different ways of storytelling. This was definitely that. There was nothing else like it in the teen marketplace in my experience. It had all these elements that they were looking for, but on the other hand, it’s the sci-fi genre and that’s a really tough genre in teen.
Really? That’s shocking! Why?
Yes, it is shocking. There are very few teen sci-fi books that have had wide commercial success in recent years. Fantasy, action, adventure, survival stories- all of those are popular for teens, but for some reason sci-fi has been slower to resonate. So the account was taking a flyer with Random House in supporting Illuminae in such a big way, and it definitely paid off. So, when I went in to sell Gemina it was a much easier sales pitch.
Why do you think it performed so well?
It’s a combination of factors. First, there’s the amazing story and unique format. It had a really striking package. It also had great positioning and merchandising in the stores. And you have this amazing author team who were really involved in social media and also really successful on their tour. Then there’s word of mouth combined with a great Marketing and Publicity campaign. So you can’t pinpoint any one thing that made the book a success.
Speaking of amazing social media and exciting special features, readers can pre-order Gemina here, and also see the rest of Marie Lu ‘s unbelievably beautiful and complex illustration of the Heimdall space station!
And when did you first hear about the book?
I know it sounds crazy, but I actually remember the editor’s pitch of Illuminae. I’m going to paraphrase, but basically she said, “I’m not a fan of sci-fi but this book is so much more than that”. I do like sci-fi and had just read The Martian so I was already in the sci-fi mode. It didn’t take a lot of convincing for me to pick up Illuminae after hearing Melanie’s pitch. I think one important thing to note is that when an editor is so passionate about a book and gives such a great pitch it really does affect how the sales team feels about that book and sells it to their accounts. I remember the editor’s pitch for The Book Thief and I heard that presentation over 10 years ago. I remember the pitch for The Maze Runner. I remember these presentations because the editors were so passionate about the books that it seeps into how I feel about them too.
What do you like about Gemina in particular?
Well I think what’s amazing about Gemina is that it could have been a repeat of Illuminae because it’s the same kind of storytelling conceit; It’s told in texts, redacted transcripts and memos. The danger is that it might not feel as fresh as the first book. Also it’s a sequel and uses completely different characters, which is also a little dangerous because readers get invested in the protagonists of the first book and they’re expecting those same characters to be in the second book. When they’re not there, it’s almost like starting the series again from the beginning. But somehow the authors were able to pull it off and Gemina is even better than Illuminae. I think they actually improved upon what they had done the first time. You get just as invested in these new characters. It’s so fast-paced; you just can’t stop turning the pages. I’m so in awe of their writing and imagination and storytelling and how they collaborate together.
How do you work with editorial, marketing, and publicity?
I work with all those groups in the regular course of business- talking to publicity about author events and working with marketing on sales materials and galley mailings. What I find most exciting about working with those groups is when you can create unique merchandising or marketing for the accounts. That gives me an opportunity to really be creative and to try to shape the B&N experience of the book that’s different from the Amazon experience, or the Target experience, or the Indie experience. Here’s one example: I had worked with B&N on B-Fest which was their nationwide teen book festival this past June. One of the items we created was a Penguin Random House ‘Insider’s Guide to B-Fest. And it featured a lot of great content, including a piece from Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.
I was actually in the B&N in Yonkers on the first night of B-Fest and there was this group of teens that were looking in their guides and they turned to the Illuminae /Gemina spread and one of the girls cries out , “Oh my God, Illuminae! You guys have to read this!” That is probably the best part of my job, it was like everything coming full circle. To set up Illuminae last year, to help position Gemina this year, to bring exclusive content to Barnes & Noble, and to get readers excited about it. It was everything that you could hope for as a Sales Manager.
That’s great to hear! Do you have anything else you’d like to share?
I’d like your readers to know that what I love most about my job is being surrounded by people who love books and who love to talk about books. I know everyone says that, but it’s true. Also it’s wonderful to be a part of bringing books to customers. To know that a book reached their hands because of something I contributed is really exciting and rewarding.Follow along: #Gemina, #Illuminae, #IluminaeFiles Follow the authors on Twitter (@AmieKaufman, @misterkristoff) and Instagram (@amiekaufmanauthor, @misterkristoff) Visit the website here: illuminaefiles.com