One of the most salutary lessons any editor or publisher can do is to spend a day treading the shop floors with a sales rep. Because it’s all very well negotiating with agents, commissioning books and working on the editorial nuances of the text, but unless you’ve got a clear idea of what it’s like out there at the coal face – till point? – all that hard work counts for nothing.
I used to be a bookseller many moons ago. When I first moved to London, back in the mid 1990s, I worked at Waterstone’s in Hampstead. The salary was south of £10,000, yet the shop was bursting full of bright and committed booksellers who had a real passion for books. This was in the days when booksellers had responsibility for their own sections and when ‘scale-outs’ of titles chosen by head office was only just beginning. It was a fun place – and a fun time to work. And in terms of publishing, I always think that sort of experience gives you an edge over those who have come in to the business straight from finishing their English Literature degree.
Today it’s all different. The bookshops are being squeezed on both sides: on range by Amazon and the Internet sellers; on price by the supermarkets. It’s all a bit grim. Times have been ‘tough’ on the high street for as long as I can remember. Which is not great, when you’ve got a new list of books to sell in.