Interview with a Bookseller: Karen Hopkins of Random
Karen Hopkins is a publisher’s rep for Random House. She
has been a rep for 27 years, starting with Bantam but becoming a part of the
Random House team as the publishing industry went through mergers and
acquisitions. Her territory has four states – Arizona, Colorado, Utah and
New Mexico – and she works only with independent book sellers.
Karen is shown at right with Barack Obama at a sales convention where he
was talking about his new book.
Victoria: Tell me about
your job. What does a rep do?
Karen: My job is to learn the new titles – through
manuscripts and readers’ copies – and to sell them.
Victoria: Why do you work
only with independents?
Karen: The reps who deal with the chains are all based in
Victoria: How does an
independent bookstore make decisions about which books to buy?
Karen: The role of the rep is to find the right books for
the right store – the role of the store is to find the right book for the
customer. I know my accounts – I know the stores. We build relationships and
we know which titles will work.
Victoria: How do you
manage with hundreds of titles? You can’t
read them all.
Karen: You’re right - if I sold every single title and
spent five minutes on each book, I would have to spend five days in each
store. So we have to approach it differently. Oftentimes we will compare a
certain title with others that the bookseller has been successful with - for
example, we will compare a new author to an old one, or say, this is another
book on China. I can tell a lot from the flap and from a few paragraphs, or
from samplers. I also go to sales conferences; I listen to what the editor
and the marketing people have to say about the books.
All of us in the book selling business are in the business
Victoria: How do you turn a
book into a bestseller?
Karen: If you’re working with independent booksellers, it
can be like lighting a match. Independents get the excitement going for a
book and then it ignites sales everywhere across the country. They are a
powerful part of getting a book to explode in sales. You have to have them
read it, give them an advanced reading copy – have them get excited about
it. Once one of them is excited about it, the rest will pick up on it too –
they’re all connected, they all know each other. After it makes it in the
independents, the chains will pick up on it too.
Victoria: How long does it
take a book to get into the store?
Karen: At Random House, we have three seasons a year, so,
from the time that I visit a store, it takes an average of four months. Some
reps working for different publishers or publishing groups visit their
clients only twice a year, so for these books it takes six months.
Victoria: What do you do when
you don’t like a book?
Karen: I’ve been humbled to see books that I didn’t like
make it to the bestseller lists, and books that I did like not do so well.
So I know that my opinion isn’t the only one. Seriously, a book that makes
it on to the shelves has already had an author dedicate years of work to it
and an editor who thought well enough of it to buy it.
So if I haven’t read or liked a book – and I might not, if
it’s not my style of book, and people know what kind of books I like – I
will jot down and tell booksellers what the editor says about it. Or if,
say, the rep from North Carolina really likes it, I’ll note that too. None
of us would ever go in and say that we didn’t like a book. Of course, if we
really love it, we will say that.
Victoria: What are recent
trends that you’ve seen in the publishing world?
Karen: Lately there’s been a big push to find the next big
book – the next Da Vinci Code. Some of the publishers have been
putting a lot of resources into this, spending a lot of money on relatively
unknown authors. I don’t think, though, that it’s a trend that will
continue. Of course, we all hope that we will find the next hot book. I
applaud the publishers for trying.
Victoria: What are trends
that you see in the future?
Karen: Just this morning I saw that Waterfront – connected
with Random House – is going to develop internet sites for the books devoted
to health and wellness. This will allow readers to receive personalized
content and access to interactive tools. There will always be a place for
the printed word, but we are moving more in the direction of online,
digital, and so on.
Victoria: What would advice
would you give aspiring writers?
Karen: Join a writing group, and meet often with your
colleagues. Even though it can be hard, you need to learn to take criticism.
You need to be part of a group so that you can network. Most importantly,
find a good agent. You can do little in this industry without an agent.
Victoria: Thanks so much,
Karen, for sharing your insight and expertise with us! Questions or
comments, please write to
Grossackva at Yahoo dot com.
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