Lucy Page is from the west coast of Scotland, but moved ‘down South’ to work in publishing and currently resides in west London. Lucy works in Sales at Scholastic UK as a Key Account Manager. She's been at Scholastic for six years and has worked in publishing for over a decade.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us, Lucy! To start us off, what was your route to getting your job as Key Account Manager?
After finishing university in Glasgow, I was at a loss for what to do next. I’d studied Scots law but unlike most of my class I’d decided not to train to be a solicitor. I knew I didn’t want to do that but hadn’t come up with an alternative! I ended up applying to work for Borders as a night shift worker, replenishing the shelves (it appealed to my romantic slacker image), and from there I ended up as a bookseller at a small branch of Waterstones. By chance I ended up as the children’s bookseller – nobody else wanted to do it – and that’s how I fell in love with children’s books: picture books, chapter books, gripping YA. It was a revelation, and it was so satisfying recommending a book to a customer and then having them come back in for your next pick as they’d loved the last one so much.
At this point at Waterstones, the bulk of the buying was central so we didn’t have a lot of capacity for ordering our own stock, but there was a sales rep who would pop in and see me every few months. I couldn’t believe that her job was showing me all these amazing books from different publishers. She had samples of the books and was really enthusiastic, and I would order a few copies at a time. I thought it was really cool that she got to travel around bookshops with her case of books! And I realised I’d like to do that. I wasn’t quite sure how to make it happen but now had the vague idea of “getting into publishing”.
A friend told me about a job at Oxford University Press working on legal books. I was keen to have a “proper job” (which was completely misguided of me, but I felt under pressure to get an office job and have something different to say when people asked that perennial question: what are you doing now?). And so, I ended up working in Production in academic publishing. Although I liked having my first professional email address (!) and I progressed to Production Editor, my heart wasn’t in it: I knew I wanted to be in children’s publishing. After three years I went back home to Scotland to regroup and then I moved down to London and worked at a small, independent children’s book publisher (selling to US accounts) before applying to Scholastic, to work in the UK trade sales team. I started at the bottom again, as an assistant, but being that bit older, and with a bit of good timing, I managed to work my way up.
Your path into publishing is so interesting, Lucy! So it was your job at Waterstones that inspired you to seek out a sales role in a publishing house?
It was definitely my experience of being a children’s bookseller – I liked the thrill of the sale! I’m also a bit of a frustrated actor, and sales presenting has the element of a performance – you have to bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to hook your customer!
So, you didn’t always know that you wanted to get into Sales? I ask this because none of us know what a job is going to be like until we’re actually doing it.
I always joke that I’m a terrible salesperson – I literally couldn’t sell anything other than children’s books! When you are selling children’s books you are part of something bigger, which is essentially getting books to children, and getting them reading, so there’s an almost noble aim (or so I tell myself) that I’m not sure I’d have if I was selling phones or pharmaceuticals!
Whilst a good salesperson knows that they shouldn’t let their personal opinions about a product affect how they do the job, for me I have to love what I’m selling, and be part of a bigger picture.
There can also be that image of a salesperson being very aggressive and bullish – sell, sell sell! – and although I can slip into that mode if I need to (a bit) what really motivates me is supporting quality publishing and children’s reading and maintaining excellent relationships with my buyers. You don’t have to be one type of personality to do the job – as long as you find something to motivate you the sales will follow.
Before you got into the industry, did you have any preconceptions about what it would be like to work for a publisher?
One big preconception I had was how easy it would be to change departments. I thought once I was working for a publishing company – had got my foot in the door, etc. – I could start in one department (i.e. Production) and then I could move over into sales. This was really naïve of me and I had to completely untangle myself and start again. I know it can happen, but I wasn’t able to do a side-step.
Of course, you can change your mind once you get into publishing and actually see what other roles involve but it can be beneficial if you know where you want to go to begin with.
Happily, I wasn’t wrong about how much fun it is to go to book launches and meet authors – there’s a lovely feeling of camaraderie.
Ah-ha, yes – we’ve posted on this site before about how hard it can be to switch departments. If an individual basically knows they'd like to work in one particular department but accepts a job in another, that can sometimes cause delays in their career progression/complicate things down the line, like you say.
So, having already gone through the interview process, is there one piece of advice you would give to anyone looking to get into publishing and/or sales?
Know the market – go into bookshops and supermarkets and see what books are on the shelves and tables, read industry news, get reading!
If you’re going for sales roles, make it clear that you want to be in Sales and it’s not just a stepping stone to Editorial or Marketing. A can-do approach is good – an assistant role is very varied and busy! It’s also good if you’re comfortable with manipulating numbers and using Excel.
And what are your favourite things about working in Sales?
I love getting insights about customers’ buying behaviours from our retailers and being able to share and use that information to inform our publishing. I sell to a range of customers, from supermarkets to independent bookshops, and there’s such a difference in how they operate and buy books, and what their customers are looking for.
In Sales you can move around a lot, taking on different accounts as you progress through your career, or you keep the same accounts but your buyers change. I really enjoy building those new relationships and watching the trust and nurturing pay off with lots of support for our titles.
As the last part of the chain, I’ve always felt a huge responsibility to everyone that has come before – in sales it is your job to make all the hard work of Editorial, Design, Production and, especially, the author and illustrator, pay off. When you can share the news that a debut author has had their book selected for a big promotion and there’s going to be lots of juicy sales – that’s always a brilliant feeling.
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