I was genuinely delighted when Penguin Random House agreed to publish my latest food and travel adventure, Fed, White, and Blue. Not just because they are, of course, one of the finest publishers in the world, but also because it felt very much like I was coming home.
A little under thirty years ago, after the good Lord and I both decided that a life in the Episcopalian clergy was not for me, my first “proper” place of employment was as a sales associate in a small, short lived chain of bookshops owned by Penguin Books. It began a happy ten year association with the publisher that saw me move up through the ranks until I had gained the heady title of “Special Sales Manager,” a position which earned me my own little office, with its own coveted little window, in their London headquarters.
The majority of my time during that decade, however, was spent out on the road, as a sales representative for the Penguin Paperback list. It was a period which, even given some of the extraordinary adventures I have experienced in the last few years of travel around the world, still remains one of the most enjoyable of my career, and I still retain the fondest memories of my years servicing a select group of large bookstores in central London.
It was a job which not only tested my ability to consume gallons of tea (or “English Penicillin” as we call it back in Blighty) every day as I met with the managers of the book stores, but also gave me a true insight into the sharp end of the book business, which I think has served me well in my second life as an author.
As a sales person for Penguin, the notion of “author care” was drummed into me from the very beginning. My list of new books to sell each month was sizeable, but I was always well aware that every title I offered up to my customers represented the heart and soul of the author, and often years of hard work to bring the book to fruition. It was a mindset that I never forgot, whether I was selling a new title from a blockbuster author or a niche work from a specialist that would find its home in our midlist. I can promise that I always gave every effort to sell every book, and it is a mindset that I am delighted to say seems to be very much at the heart of the Penguin Random House philosophy today.
I can also say that my time on the road has definitely helped me become a more involved author. Each new book I write is like my new baby, and I, of course, want everybody to admire it and for it to reach the widest audience possible. However, having spent so much time on the front line of book sales, I am also aware what a tough battleground it can be and that there are thousands of new books each month are fighting for the attention of customers.
I also know, after spending nearly twenty years of my life in the business, just how much the publishing landscape has changed. Now, more than ever, making a book a success depends on a joint effort between the authors, editorial, marketing, publicity and the sales teams. It takes, as they say “a village” to produce a good book, and I am thrilled that, with the publication of Fed, White, and Blue I am allowed to be a resident of one of the best villages in the business.
Like I said, it feels like coming home.