Waldenbooks and Borders Book Shops have long been favorites of romance readers and writers alike, due in no small measure to their knowledgeable staff. From “Romance Experts” in many of the stores to the dedicated romance buyer at corporate headquarters in Ann Arbor, the booksellers designated to our genre are both retailers and avid readers, and they are known for spreading the good word about the books we love.
Ellen Clark recently replaced our longtime friend Sue Grimshaw as Romance Buyer for Borders. (Sue is now Category Specialist and Editor at Large at Ballantine Bantam Dell.) Ellen also hosts the Book Chat blog at Borders “True Romance” website, and we’re pleased to offer her a lift in the convertible today. She’s here to dish.
Welcome, Ellen. The Riders have been dying to meet you, eager to get to know you a little better. What are you reading right now?
Angel in My Arms by Stefanie Sloane. This is Stefanie’s second book and it is just as good as her debut, Devil in Disguise. No sophomore slump for her!
There were so many: Madeline, The Secret Garden, Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, The Three Musketeersjust to name a few. So as you can see, even as a child, I was a hopeless romantic.
In your “spare” reading time do you reread books (enjoy “comfort reads”) or are you always seeking the next new book?
Even though I always have a pile of new books on my bedside table clamoring for a read, sometimes I’m just in the mood to re-read a favorite book because I get such an emotional high from the story.
How has book buying changed in the last couple of years? What is different about the decision making process these days?
I don’t think that book buying has changed that much in the last couple of years. I typically buy based on past performance of the author, how the subgenre is trending and if the book is a part of a series. What has changed is how much is bought. The buys are smaller these days due to more customers buying on the internet, ebooks, fewer stores in our chain, and the economy.
Take us through the typical buy. What do you see/who do you talk to? How is the decision made?
I first speak with the publisher rep who sells us the book. We discuss the author’s sales trend, marketing plans, and social media. Then, I give the rep an estimated buy. If the buy is high enough, it will go into a marketing promotion which means that it will get coveted placement at FOS (Front of Store). For debut authors, I look at genre, time period and the planned marketing campaign to decide how much to buy. When a rep is enthused about a new author, I will request a manuscript and will buy more if I think the book will resonate with readers.
What are your thoughts on cover direction and what resonates with readers?
I think covers are hugely important. If a reader isn’t familiar with an author and they don’t like the cover, they won’t even pick up the book and look at the synopsis on the back. I used to see this all the time when I was a bookseller at Waldenbooks. I think sexy covers are great whether it’s the hero, heroine, or both on the cover. I’m hugely fond of kick-ass heroines on covers of paranormal books but that’s not going to be the right cover for a regency. Covers should fit the genre but not be tame or boring.
What do you see as an author’s best method for drawing attention to her book? Print advertising? Online ads? Blog appearances?. Do you feel that FB and Twitter actually gain any new readers, or are authors active on those social media sites preaching to the choir that is already part of their fan base?
I think that all forms of advertising help. The most important is for authors to have a website and a mailing list so that when their new book comes out, it automatically goes out to the readers that have signed up. To sign up subscribers, offer a freebie or write a short story exclusive to the subscribers. For example, Maria V. Snyder wrote a short story and subscribers have been getting a chapter every month.
FB, twitter & blog appearances all help to elevate an author’s name but they shouldn’t consume a lot of time. Authors are going to get new readers by doing social media but I’ve never been able to quantify it. I do know that when Borders.com promotes titles online, we see a spike in sales so expect that with social media too.
What sub-genre do you see trending right now? Do vamps still rule?? Is Romantic Suspense really a hard sell or is that an exaggerated rumor?
Paranormal is still the hottest trend and vamps rule but books featuring other creatures are now much more popular than they used to be. What does miss the mark in paranormals are those where the being is a ghost. Romantic Suspense is not at all hard sell but when a book is practically all suspense and almost no romance, readers like me are let down.
What do you see as next big trend in romance. Paranormal still strong? Steampunk fading quickly? Westerns coming back?
I see the paranormal trend continuing for some time. Steampunk was a minor blip. I don’t think that historical Westerns will come back but contemporary Westerns can do very well.
We love Borders! I love the feel and smell and sound of real, paper books! I don’t want bookstores to disappear. But how are they going to compete with the Walmarts of this world? How is a brick and mortar book store going to make it these days?
I don’t think that brick and mortar stores are going to go away. Yes, there will be continued contractions, but the bookstore is here to stay. While bookstores cannot always compete with Walmart on price, Walmart has little selection so customers cannot buy much there. Online retailers do a great job if you know what you want, but if you want to browse, find a new author, or get a recommendation, you are going to go to a bookstore. That in addition to great customer service, events, and good marketing is going to keep bookstores around for a long, long time.
Well said! A world without libraries and bookstores could send this convertible into a tailspin. Imagine Thelma and Louise times 5. We’ll have none of that. Let’s chat. I’ll send draw one randomly chosen commenter a signed copy of ONCE A FATHER, the prequel to my new book, COWBOY, TAKE ME AWAY.