When I was hired by Scholastic Book Fairs to be a field merchandiser, I was thrilled at the thought of employee discounts and summers off. What I hadn’t thought of was how valuable my new job would be to my writing career. I visit schools and help them with their book fair which has given me a new perspective of the book-selling business and the whole publishing process. From what I’ve learned, it all boils down to one question- “Will it sell?”
Scholastic Book Fairs works on a slightly different business model than other book retailers. Unlike traditional book stores which might order a dozen books and then reorder from the publisher as needed, Scholastic purchases large quantities of a particular title to stock their fairs all over the country. By doing so Scholastic can negotiate special prices and exclusive covers and in turn, pass those savings on to their customers. If a book doesn’t sell well at Barnes & Noble, you might see a dozen copies on their 60% off table. If a book doesn’t sell well for Scholastic, they’ll have a warehouse full of it. (By the way, get to a Scholastic warehouse sale if you can. They’re fantastic. www.scholastic.com/bookfairs/warehouse.)
Considering the enormous investment Scholastic makes in a title, the selection process is critical. So how does Scholastic pick the books they will carry on their fairs?
They have a book selection committee formed from all levels of the company including the sales team, inventory, category managers, merchandising, supply chain, and field reviewers. The committee reads thousands of book each year that have been submitted from publishing companies. They are judging the books based on the following criteria: attention-grabbing cover; catchy, kid-friendly title; age-appropriate content and text; quality illustrations; topic of interest; and author/character recognition factor. Because their customers are not just kids, but teachers, parents and media specialists as well, they give a priority to books with high educational value.
I’d like to say that the best book always wins, but it doesn’t. There are some really wonderful books that aren’t selected because the content might be too edgy or not timely or there are already too many titles with the same subject matter.
This insight into the publishing industry has helped me as a writer because I don’t take rejections as personally as I used to. I know that when an agent reads my query, she’s asking herself, “Can I sell it to a publisher?” The publisher is asking, “Can we sell it to the retailers?” And the retailers, like Scholastic Book Fairs, are asking, “Can we sell it to our customers?” “Will it sell?” is a very tough question and it’s not surprising that very few manuscripts get a “yes.”