Interview with a Bookseller: Karen Hopkins of Random House
     Victoria Grossack

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 New York.

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 of words.

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.

This article is the sole property of the author. It is produced here with the author's permission.  The unauthorized use or reprinting of an article is illegal, and will be prosecuted at the discretion of the author.


Fiction Fix Home Page

Current Issue

Contact us.

Article Archive

Writers' Guidelines


Privacy Statement



About the Writer:

Victoria Grossack is, with Alice Underwood, the author of Iokaste: The Novel of the Mother-Wife of Oedipus, which, by the way, is an excellent example of a book with plot-driven chapters and cliffhangers. There's exciting news about Iokaste: even the Greeks are reading it! Learn more about Iokaste and other books in the series at Tapestry of Bronze

Victoria was a moderator of a critique group for Coffeehouse for Writers and teaches the From Leaves to Forests and Writing Historical Fiction workshops for Coffeehouse for Writers.