Wednesday, January 25, 2006
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN…LIVE FROM THE JUNGLE ROOM AT GRACELAND…IT’S THE ONE…THE ONLY…THE ORIGINAL…ROMANCE GUY…ANSWERING YOUR FAQ’S…
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your position at HarperCollins?
Sure. My name is Mike Spradlin. I’ve worked in the publishing business for almost twenty-five years. The last sixteen years I’ve worked for HarperCollins, starting first as a field rep covering Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Northern Kentucky and Western Pennsylvania. Currently my title is National Account Manger (a fancy name for sales rep) and I sell a group of the HarperCollins imprints.
Q. Can you tell us about the role of the sales rep at a publishing company?
Well, we’re sales people like in any industry only in this case our ‘wares’ are books. We have sales reps that sell to independent bookstores, mass-merchandisers and wholesalers, chain bookstores and special markets like museum shops and non-traditional book outlets. We are usually selling to our accounts about 6 months before the books are published. And we’re selling. Working with buyers at all of these accounts and trying to convince them to take generous quantities of our books at the expense of our competitors. It is a buyer-seller relationship, like in any other selling situation. We also have a role in working with the marketing managers at our accounts doing everything we can to get attention for our books in their stores. Then there are detail parts of the job, making sure that orders are received on time, handling shipping and inventory problems. The job is a little like one of those guys at the circus that has all the plates spinning in the air at one time.
Q. What do you enjoy most about selling romance?
I would have to say my favorite part of it is the authors. These are some pretty hardworking, dedicated writers. I’ve had the good fortune to help build the sales of some very special talents. I think that is the most fun thing for me. A lot of our romance authors have published with Avon from their very first book and now ship hundreds of thousands of copies and routinely make the New York Times list. While it’s the writer that has to do all the hard work in writing the book, it’s gratifying to play even a tiny role in their success.
Q. How involved in the publishing process is a sales rep?
Well in my case, it starts nearly a year before the book is published. We meet in New York to review each book before publication. We look at the author, her sales history, the cover direction, and all of the marketing opportunities. Then about six months before the book is published, I sit down with the buyer at my account. We talk about the same things. The track record of the author, what promotions we can put the book in, the placement opportunities. It’s really a collaborative effort and it takes a lot of preparation. Since books are returnable, we need to look closely at what we ship on each title. We try to make sure we have the right number of copies in the stores so that we don’t miss sales, but that we don’t over ship and create returns which are inefficient for everyone. It’s a little bit of art and a little bit of science.
Q. How much reading do you do for your job?
A lot. Mostly though, it’s reading segments of manuscripts to get a sense of a writer’s style. Luckily I’m a pretty voracious reader and can read fast. As I’ve gotten older, retention has become a problem but that’s an issue for another blog!
Q. What do you see happening in the market today for books in general and romance in particular?
I think the book market is in great shape. I’m not one of those doom and gloomers that think we’re in a dying industry. I’ve been in the business for almost 25 years and must have presided over the death of the book at least 10 times. First it was the VCR, then it was the internet, then it was ebooks, then it was Gen X’ers aren’t reading. Hooey! More books are being published and sold every year. If we are raising a generation of non-readers, then someone kindly explain Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket to me. Books are a much more intimate experience than music or DVD’s, which are passive forms of entertainment. Books are one of the few remaining sources of entertainment that require you to engage your mind.
We constantly hear that the industry is in a state of flux, book sales aren’t what they used to be etc. etc. But I think much of that is ‘if you say it enough, people start to believe it’. More books are being sold and published every year. How does that happen? The answer is that we as publishers have to be smart about what we publish, learn as much as we can about the consumer, and publish books that people want to buy. Easy as pie!
As for Romance, I think the marketplace is and continues to be very strong. I think Historical Romance is still the guts of the business and always will be. Some of the Contemporary Romance sub-genres are not as strong as they were a few years ago, but sub-genres come and go and rise and fall in popularity all the time. There will always be a place for well written Contemporary Romance, just like there will always be a place for a well-written Scottish Medieval. I think the rise in the popularity of paranormal romance is a good thing, because it’s bringing new readers to the genre and more people into stores. A rising tide lifts all boats.
Romance is a genre that continually reinvents itself. That is what any ‘business’ needs to do to survive and flourish.
Q. How much influence does the sales department have over book covers?
Well. That’s a loaded question. Somewhere between a little and a lot. We devote a lot of time in meetings to covers and discussions about covers. The reason for that is this; for 98% of the books that are published every year, the plain fact of the matter is that the cover is what is going to sell the book. It is the cover that draws the reader’s eye; it is the cover that convinces the bookseller to put the book face out. So I would say that we in sales are heavily involved in the cover process in the sense that we provide feedback to the editorial and marketing departments both from experience and from our customers. Book buyers for the most part are pretty good judges of the potential for covers. They see a ton of books cross their desks every day and they know what is working in the marketplace.
I would say in my experience that getting a finished cover onto a book is probably the most difficult part of the process. It’s such a personal thing that getting the author, the agents, the editors, the salespeople and the customers on the same page can be daunting. This entire industry is based on taste both in what we read and what we like to see on the cover. It’s hard to bring all those disparate opinions to a single consensus.
Having said that, I don’t think anybody does it better than Avon. Tom Enger, the art director at Avon never ceases to amaze me. I feel we do better covers than anyone. So I’m biased. Sue me.
TUNE IN THIS AFTERNOON FOR CHAPTER TWO OF MIKE'S INTERVIEW WHERE HE'LL SHARE WHAT AUTHOR PROMOTIONS HE FEELS ARE MOST EFFECTIVE, DESCRIBE THE PLEASURES AND PERILS OF BEING ONE OF THE FEW MEN AT THE NATIONAL ROMANCE WRITERS OF AMERICA CONFERENCE, AND ASK YOU A FEW QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR READING HABITS!
Teresa Medeiros, 7:00 AM11 comments