Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mary chats with Sue Grimshaw of Borders

Welcome, Sue Grimshaw romance buyer for Borders, to our Mysteries and Margaritas.

Mary: First before we start with the interrogation… er I mean questions. Tell us a little bit about yourself, Sue Grimshaw, not the buyer of Borders. We’ll get to that.

Sue: I was born and raised in the Midwest. I’ve been married to my husband Bill 19 years.  I am a voracious reader of romance and when I’m not reading I enjoy biking, skiing and just being out of doors.

Mary: Skiing? Let's hope for snow then when you come to Utah! Now, please tell us a little about your hard job with Borders. What is it like reading romance books for a living?

Sue:  Not only do I read as much as I possibly can, but I also spend quite a bit of time at the computer researching trends and analyzing our business.  I am also responsible for marketing, merchandising and promoting the romance genre, which now includes the Borders True Romance Blog ( and our True Romance videos.  They are fun- filled days where I have something to do every minute.  I also have the opportunity to travel visiting conferences (RWA, RT and Romcon) and speaking at RWA chapter groups.

Mary: Do you suggest what books for Border to buy, or do you actually buy the books? If so, how do you select them? I know Romance Sells goes to libraries and book stores, are their other publications?

Sue: It is my responsibility to choose and buy the Romance books for all stores.  (I have another person in my department who works with me on allocating the orders to the stores.) Publisher reps visit us monthly selling roughly 5 to 6 months in advance of the release of a new book. During these appointments, we determine the buy based on review of the author or category trends, promotional ideas and the like.  Sometimes a buy is based on author history and sometimes not.  Publishers usually indicate who they are promoting and then we’ll see if that makes sense for our business. 

Mary: As you probably have guessed, I’m an aspiring writer. I’ve published a few books with small presses, but now I’ve contracted with an agent, I hope to publish with a large press. Most small presses have Print on Demand books, and it’s a struggle to order them in, with the return factor, etc. Do you ever order small press books for Borders?

Sue: Small press is usually ordered through a distributor and it is primarily based on what sort of discounting is offered, returns policies and such. 

Mary: Yes and if there is the POD has not returnable then you cannot order, I've found that out. I have taken many a workshop on marketing, as we all have. A few years ago we had the local buyer from our Utah Borders visit our Utah RWA meeting. He gave us a hand out of what Borders expected to see in a ‘press packet’. I spent a lot of money compiling one and sending to all the Borders and your competitor. I received several rejections-yes from bookstores-implying that my book was self published. Do you consider authors published with small publishers self-published and if so, why?

Sue: Any author published through a publisher is a published author in my book.  Therefore, small publishers published authors are published, not self published.  If an author pays to have her book published, that is self publishing; if an author is published where the author does not give an advance to be published, her book is then considered published.  The challenge we face is the book needs to be available thru one of our distributors. . . and available at a fair market price.  Small publishers sometimes are not as competitive & that is where we need to make a business decision & it maybe to not carry a book.  Very confusing is it not.

Mary: Yes it can be confusing, even for myself who is published with a small publisher. I must say this has been a fun interview . Sue has a blog called True Romance I got caught up in reading everything—for two days—watching her interview with Nora Roberts, etc. Everyone needs to check Sue’s blog out. Sue, how do you keep your blog fresh? How do you consider a guest blogger?

Sue:  The blog has been a lot of fun and I am fortunate that viewers are enjoying the content we offer.  There are lots of people in house that work with me on the format and such and I think the key to keeping it fresh is having guest bloggers.  We are always looking for guests to post, whether an author, reader or bookseller, as everyone has a view of romance and we like to hear from them all.  The goal has always been to create a community for romance readers and I think we’ve done just that.

Mary: Sue will also be a guest Key Note speaker at the Utah RWA annual Heart of the West Conference Out, Out, damned Plot—A conference in five acts. I’m very excited about her visit! Sue when you visit a conference, what do you usually do? Do you listen to pitches at a conference, if so, do you then refer that person to an agent or editor? Or do you only take pitches from published author’s who pitch their book to you for Borders? How do you pick the conferences you attend?

Sue: Typically I’m asked to hold a workshop to talk about the state of the industry and trends and more  -- and of course to promote Borders.  I’ve only listened to pitches once and it is mainly to give authors a bit of practice more than anything. Of course, if something sounds interesting I may take it back with me.  I typically travel once a month either to a convention or chapter group meeting.  In terms of picking the conferences I attend, my travel expenses need to be fully funded. Other than that I will go anywhere.

Mary: With the knowledge you’ve gained over the years in this industry, what advice do you give new authors? And what advice do you give veteran authors vying to keep their place in the spot light?

Sue: I give the same advice to both new and veteran authors:  write the best book ever including creating strong, emotional characters that endear the reader from page one and draw them through the story.  So many times I’ve heard from readers that they’ll follow great characters anywhere.

Mary: As I mentioned, I watched your interview with Nora, can you tell me what author you’ve met that caused the most butterflies in your tummy? And were you lucky enough to interview that person?

Sue: Nora by far would be the answer to those questions.  I was just exchanging emails with an author and mentioned how much I envy authors and their storytelling.  It just amazes me how someone can put so many words on paper and make them work, obtaining emotional reactions from their readers.  If only I could be that clever . . . !

: And as an author I strive for that success! I see you on Twitter, a lot, do you find Twitter a good marketing tool? Do you use Facebook also?

Sue: Sheila Clover of Circle of Seven introduced me to Friend Feed which links up the social networks. Now I Tweet and FB and who knows what else I’ll do!  It has been a lot of fun and it’s a great marketing tool too.

Mary: Is there anything I’ve not thought to ask that you think would be beneficial to add to this interview?

Sue:  Let me thank you for being so supportive of Borders and for interviewing me today.  Borders is such a staunch supporter of Romance and I am pleased that you’ve given us this opportunity to chat about it.

Thank you, Sue Grimshaw, for agreeing to join me on Mysteries and Margaritas. I know that everyone will have a wonderful time getting to know you!


Debbie Kaufman said...

Interesting interview. I actually had the privilege to hear Sue at GRW's Moonlight and Magnolias a couple of years ago. It helped me gain a valuable understanding early on.

sue said...

Thanks Debbie -- that is very kind :) What amazes me about this industry is how it changes, rapidly. Our readers are always looking for something new which keeps us all on our toes. As my husband would say, 'that's what makes the world go round'. :)

sue said...

Thanks ladies for having me here today -- I'll be running in & out of the office but will definitely be checking back in at M/M, so if you have questions, ask away -- I will respond as honestly & helpfully as I can -- Happy Romance!

Anita Clenney said...

I'm thrilled to see this interview. I just spent an hour last week watching Sue's interviews with Nora Roberts, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and several other authors. It was wonderful.

I've always been fascinated with how books are purchased and who makes the decisions to buy. As a debut author this is a very confusing thing that I need to understand. So I have questions...

1. How you determine which stores need more of a certain title? Do you order a set amount and then when they sell out, the store reorders? For instance, I have a Scottish paranormal coming out next year. Obviously, my local Borders would have more of a market than another Borders since the people here know me. I'm (hopefully) anticipating tons of friends and family rushing into Borders to get it.How does that figure into the purchase?

2. Is it basically in the publisher's lap to sell you on the idea to purchase this book? If the publisher were to fail to approach you for some reason, would my book never make it to a Border's shelf?

3. I'm with Sourcebooks. Are they considered a small publisher as far as Borders is concerned?

Thanks so much for this interview. Even though I have questions, I feel I understand this better than before.

Mary Martinez said...

Sue, Thank you for joining M&M today. We're very excited to have you.

I am in Utah so I'm just logging in for the day and already you've been chatting.

After I have coffee I will probably have a clear brain to ask you a few more questions.

Great interview!

sue said...

Hi Anita! Congrats on being a new author & for writing in the best genre in the industry, Romance!

Scottish paranormal? Can't wait! Since you're a new author, we'll either compare your distro to the sub-genre trend or to another authors trends if applicable. We establish min numbers for promotional placement & then build qty based on the stores sales of romance. & yes, as long as we know where the author resides (which usually the publisher tells us) we stock up their hometown.

NY publishers have corp reps that visit us monthly selling their books. Other publishers have different arrangements, so when in doubt -- email me!

Sourcebooks ROCKS! & is sooooooooooooooo supportive of their authors. Never fear, you're in awesome hands.

Congrats Anita -- sounds like you're on the road to success!

All the best,

sue said...

Hey Mary! Thanks for having me -- I love this site -- I'm going to click thru it all later.

Love blogging -- when I retire that will be my day job :)

Mary Martinez said...

Day job as a blogger? I didn't think of that, but it does sound fun.

My favorite part of blogging is interviewing people to get to know them or hear their stories.

You'll be the rest of the M&M's through out the day. And our readers are a fun group and you have already met some of them.

Kari Lee Townsend said...

This is an awesome interview ladies, and timely. Like Anita I too am a new author. A Middle Grade series with Sourcebooks and a Cozy Mystery series with Berkley Prime Crime.

5 more months and I'll get to walk in a book store and see my book! It's so exciting, and you just made the process a lot easier to understand, Sue, so thanks a million :-))

Donna Cummings said...

Sue, I love your blog -- it's on my daily "Must Reads", and I've discovered a lot of books, and authors, because of it.

Yesterday I had some troubles getting some new release books from my local Borders (they hadn't put them out yet). I was just curious about how new releases are typically handled at the store level. You, and the authors, do so much ahead of that date to get readers interested, so I was wondering if the stores have certain procedures for "release day".

Thanks again for all your support of the romance industry! I'm looking forward to the day when my romances are in your stores. :)

Anonymous said...

Sue, how can we encourage your customers to cross the aisle from romance to mystery? Seems everyone sticks to their favorite section of the store and won't crossover. Suggestions for reaching out to the romance readers?

A mystery author

Terri said...

I'm a Borders convert. Ordinarily I find the prices cheaper than, well, the store that features Starbucks instead of Seattle's Best, even with that other store's membership card--that you have to pay for, unlike Border's card!
Being a book buyers seems like the ideal job to me. I mean, I already do that--just don't get paid for it!
If you need an assistant, please let me know!

Clarissa Southwick said...

Thanks for some fantastic insight into the book selling business. We often see interviews with editors and agents, but interviews with the ones actually placing the books are rare.

Mary Martinez said...

I've thought of a question. A few of our readers have stated they're new authors and had some questions.

Here is mine; If you're at a conference or anywhere for that matter and you meet a new author. She/he tells (a blurb) you about his upcoming book that will be out in X amount of months or maybe even in a year.

If the story strikes as a break out novel. Or you fall in love with the blurb. what would you do? Would you write the name and date of release down so you remember to purchase it for Borders? Or would it have to go through the regular process and you would give it no special consideration?


Liz Lipperman said...

Sue, let me add another M & M welcome. Your answers were so insightful. I've often wondered how decisions were made on each book.

I am a debut author,also,with the first book of my Casserole Lover's Mystery Series coming out in July 2011 from Berkley. I like to think of it as my romantic mystery since that's what I love...a mix.

My question. I grew up in Ohio and plan on returning there for a book signing. (I'm from a large family and they are all still there.) How far in advance should I get in contact with the local bookseller there and arrange this so there will be lots of books to sign?

Again, thanks for stopping by. I wish I could come to Utah for the conference! Are you going to Orlando?

Marie Higgins said...

Hi, Sue. I'm a Utah author, and you can bet I'll be at the conference this Oct to meet you. Recently I signed with a Christian publisher (Walnut Springs Press) for my first Christian romance. Can you tell me how well Christian books sell?


Mary Martinez said...

Liz I wish you could visit the Utah conference also. We do have a great time. Ask Christine.

stanalei said...

Thanks Sue! Thanks M&M! Great interview. Love the information and learning more about the distribution and buying process.
See you at the conference in Oct, Sue!

sue said...

Hi Donna, yes stores are required to insure prompt placement of new release titles on the sale floor upon release day. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen everywhere, however, rest assured it is policy.

Fortunately, most of the stores are very good with execution. Thanks for asking :)

sue said...

Annonymous -- good question! Cross promoting on blogs is beneficial. Obtain author quotes from different subgenres on your new releases too. It is challenging to get readers to try new genres -- once you've found your fav it is hard to change. I'll keep thinking of more ideas :)

Anita Clenney said...

Awesome, awesome interview, ladies. I'm so glad you had Sue here, and thanks so much for the answers Sue. You've helped clear the murky waters.

sue said...

Terri -- being a book buyer is the best of both worlds -- thanks for being a Borders shopper! Make sure you become a Borders Rewards memeber & shop .com for our Buy 4 Get 5 Free paper promo :)

sue said...

Hey Mary -- actually, that happens often & I leave my card with the author to contact me so I am sure we get her new release promoted in our Borders stores. Love to meet new authors & hellp them get the jump start on their careers -- readers love this too :)

Anita Clenney said...

Sorry if this question has been asked already. How much input do the local stores have in what they stock, over and above what you or your office might order for them? Any? Are they allowed any room to change orders?

sue said...

Liz -- you probably want to give the store 2 mos notice so they can get extra stock & then follow up with them inbetween. Congrats on your new release! Always an exciting moment & I know you want to do all you can to promote.

sue said...

Although I am not the buyer of Christian Romance my understanding is that the genre is doing quite well.

Congrats on your being published. I just read Deanna Gist & loved it!

sue said...

Anita -- stores have the option of increasing their stock levels in many ways so if you are doing a signing they can work with you on more qty. Just to note though, budgets are tight, but if they know there are sales the stores will get you what you need :)

Mary Martinez said...

Sue, thanks for dropping back in to answer more questions. What great information.

I'm very glad to know you keep cards from new authors of their new releases. I plan to sell you on my future new release in October. As of yet it's still a fantasy, but I'm determined to have a contract soon.

You'll be hearing from me!

Marie Higgins said...

Sue, thanks for answering my question. That's soooo good to hear!!


sue said...

Well ladies, I will be signing off for now, however, you know where to find me :)

Happy Romance :)

Mary Martinez said...

Thank you, Sue, for spending the day with the M&M's!

Lesli Muir Lytle said...

Great interview and wonderful information.
Thanks guys.