Welcome Our Guest, Borders Romance Buyer Ellen Clark

EllenClark 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!

BordersBooksCustomers What were your favorite books as a child?

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?

borders eventI 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.

borders window 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.


About Kathleen Eagle

Kathleen Eagle is the award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of over forty novels.
This entry was posted in books, bookselling, Borders Book Shops, Ellen Clark, Romance buyer and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Welcome Our Guest, Borders Romance Buyer Ellen Clark

  1. cindygerard says:

    Welcome to the Convertible, Ellen and welcome to Borders! I have another question for you. How do you generally pick the books/authors you promote on Book chat? Is it via a reader rec, publisher push or an author initiating the contact??

    • Ellen says:

      Typically, publishers requests spots for their authors but I also contact publishers when I have openings. Not many authors know me yet, so when I go to RWA, I’ll be able to sign up many authors. You may not know this yet but your publisher contacted me last week to get you on my blog, so I’m hoping you can do it 🙂

      • cindygerard says:

        LOL – NO, I didn’t know it. Cool. Now it looks like I asked a loaded question:0)
        Looking forward to meeting you at RWA!!

  2. LSUReader says:

    Thanks for visiting, Ellen. I love my paper books and my local Border’s!

    • Ellen says:

      Thank you! I’m so glad you love Borders and I’m thrilled that I was invited to be a guest blogger.

  3. Thanks so much for joining us, Ellen. I have to say, I was sick when my local Borders closed a few months ago. I thought the scheduling of events and the addition of coffee shops was fabulous. I love the feel of being surrounded by books. E-readers have advantages, but they can’t replace that feeling. In our house there are bookshelves in every room except bathrooms. It might take a couple of years, but I have a feeling there will be a new round of bookstore openings down the road. Human beings doing do well in cocoons. We aren’t meant to be isolated in individual boxes gathering gadgets.

    • Ellen says:

      I agree completely about the feeling in a bookstore. Even in my previous career before Borders, I haunted bookstores. I have an e-reader and I buy some books online, but I still find it a delight to go to a bookstore.

  4. lois greiman says:

    Thanks for joining us, Ellen. Valuable information all. I hope you and Borders Books have a long and happy life together. 🙂

  5. Helen Brenna says:

    Hi Ellen, welcome to the convertible today, and congrats on your new position at Borders! I don’t see brick and mortar book stores and libraries going away, either. Those of us who spend a lot of time on the Internet don’t always get that there’s a huge segment of the population who never order things on-line. Kathy phrased it better than I ever could?

    You suggested authors advertise. For category authors, like me, that gets expensive given our books are only on an actual shelf for a month. Since I have three coming out back to back this summer, I bit the bullet and bought ads in a couple places. Do book buyers look at or use Romance Sells to make buying decisions or suggest reads to customers?

    • Ellen says:

      I agree that you shouldn’t spend money to advertise a title with a short shelf life but what you can do is spend time to promote you book online with a blog, network with friends & do a local signing if possible. Good luck with your books.

  6. Quilt Lady says:

    Interesting post Ellen, sorry we don’t have a Borders near where I live but really we don’t have any book stores just one small one and its not much. I usually have to get most of my books on line but that works for me.

    • Ellen says:

      I think that online is a life saver whether you live in a big city or in a remote area. On Borders.com, we have tons of books that are discounted, so it can really pay off if you know what you want.

  7. catslady says:

    I’m one of the readers that visits Border’s True Romance so a very big Welcome! Sadly, my closest Borders closed a few months ago 😦 If I know what book I want, I have no problem ordring online but there are times when you just want to browse. I think promotions (such as contests) are a great way to find new authors. It’s always interesting to hear how the marketing works.

    • Ellen says:

      I remember you 🙂 I think that romance customers are some of the savviest online users and romance authors have some of the best websites which makes it easier to find good new stuff but I agree that nothing substitutes for a bricks and mortar store when browsing and getting recommendations.

  8. Minna says:

    We don’t have Borders here in Finland, but we have our own bookstore chains. Most of them are both brick and mortar book stores and internet book stores, which is quite useful in this part of Finland where they don’t keep quite as big selections (especially when it comes to books in English or other foreign languages, for that matter) as they do for instance in Helsinki.

    • Ellen says:

      Ordering online is great for foreign language books. I have some friends in France who really like US detective novels and so they get a ton of e-books in English.

  9. Leanne Banks says:

    Welcome Ellen! We are thrilled that you’re here in the convertible with us today! I have always loved Borders and am super sad we are losing ours. I know there are still some Borders stores around. Are they concentrated in a particular area? How many Borders stores are there? THANK YOU for visiting!

    • Ellen says:

      We have over 400 open Borders, Borders Express & Waldenbooks stores. Stores closed from all types of locations but typically where rent was too high to support sales.

  10. Hello Ellen,
    Just stopping by to introduce myself to you. I write as Charlene Sands and write primarily Harl Desires. I also write Westerns for Harl. I’m sad to see readers lose interest in them and curious as to why you believe they won’t come back? I also write lots of contemporary cowboys…
    So nice to meet you today!!

    • Ellen says:

      Unfortunately, I have no answer as to why historical Westerns aren’t popular. I’m new to buying the category although I’ve been a prolific reader for years. It’s not just Westerns though . It’s all ‘American’ Historicals, i.e. American Revolution and Civil War as well as Westerns.

  11. debradixon says:

    Ellen– Welcome! We’re all supporters of competition in the marketplace and we’re cheering Borders efforts to reconfigure and become a lean, mean competitor.

    Even though I’m a contributor to this group blog, my romance writing days morphed into my role as President and Publisher at BelleBooks (Southern publisher) and its multi-genre imprint Bell Bridge Books.

    We’re bringing out Jill Marie Landis in a whacky, Hawaiian tiki culture, cozy mystery series this summer (MAI TAI ONE ON) which is so completely different from her Christian historical romances.

    One of the things we love is being able to take on this kind of “outside the box” project with an author. How much of your buying is limited to the “tried and true” and how often can you go out on a limb for something you love or something outside the box? (i.e. read that manuscript and bump the buy in a big way because you have that gut feeling it’s going to resonate?) Shelf space is so tight these days. Heaven only knows how many great books you see that you can’t pick up. So how often do you creep out on that limb.

    What are some books you see coming up that excite you?

    • Ellen says:

      If I love something or I feel that readers will want the book, I can always buy big. Since I can’t read everything :), when the rep is passionate about a book, I will go big on some and wait on others. I do usually listen to my gut. There is no set limit to how often I can go out on a limb but I do have a budget and sometimes I have to cut back.

      Because I’m so new to buying Romance, I haven’t gotten many debuts yet. Two terrific ones are Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison and Devil in Disguise by Stefanie Sloane. I just found out that Sophie Jordan is also Sharie Kohler so I’ll be able to try Sharie as a ‘new’ author. Some of my favorite authors are Lisa Kleypas, Julia Quinn, Lorraine Heath, Christina Dodd, Maya Banks, J R Ward, and Cindy Gerard just to name a few. I’ve been a romance reader for as long as I can remember. The 1st romance I ever read was a Barbara Cartland. I think that probably dates me 🙂 I tend to favor emotionally compelling storylines and stay away from the lighthearted romances. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t go out on a limb for the romances I don’t read, because good romances come from every subgenre.

      Lastly, although I’m new to buying Romance, I am also the buyer for Mystery/Thrillers, a category that I have been buying for the past two years, so we will probably be discussing Jill’s new book since it’s a Cozy Mystery.

      • cindygerard says:

        Okay – now I’m blushing :o( Thanks so much for putting me in such great company

  12. Interesting stuff! I’m always on the lookout for a good historical Western romance, and I’m not finding them. That’s one reason I miss my Borders. I think it’s easier to find what I’m looking for in a real store, especially when my favorite kind of read isn’t getting a lot of play, so I have to go digging.

    Ellen, this has been so much fun, and I’ve learned a lot. We’ve really enjoyed having you front and center in the convertible. Hope you ejoyed the ride–please come back soon!

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