1 What is your job title and company? And roughly how many people work for your company?
I’m the managing director at Sweet Cherry Publishing, which has nine members of staff. I’m also MD at Books 2 Door, which trades as Bangzo and has 16 employees.
2 What are your qualifications and working background, and when and how did you take on your current job?
I started Books 2 Door when I left university. I had completed an LLB with Honours in Law and needed to earn some money to pay for a legal practice course. It all started off as a bit of an accident: I sold my used University Law Statutes books on eBay back in 2003 when it was a relatively new selling platform. One sold for around £7, but the very next day I spotted a brand new copy of it on sale for 50p in a remainders store! There were six copies in the shop and I took a punt and bought all of them, then sold them for more than £10 each. That led to a business idea and the creation of Books 2 Door, which started off as a publishers’ remainders and overstocks seller.
We focused initially on academic and computing books, which we would sell at computer fairs and online. We became masters of selling books on eBay and Amazon pretty early on, and my brothers decided to join the bookselling business. We worked as a co-operative to buy books from publishers at a better price but kept our business sales separate. It is never good to mix money and family!
Then disaster struck. Print on demand came in and we no longer had fresh supplies of overstocks or remainders of academic books. Our business had to evolve if we were to survive, and we decided to move on to sell sets and series of children’s books. We found our niche and continue to do very well in this area.
At the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2011 we got talking to a book packager and decided to work together on a project to create a box set of children’s Shakespeare stories. It was an experiment; I used freelance editors and teachers to simplify the work of Shakespeare and make it suitable for a younger audience, while the packager worked on the illustrations and put the books together in the format I wanted. We published the first set of books in 2012 and I was sold out of 10,000 sets by Christmas. It led me to get serious with the Sweet Cherry Publishing experiment by taking on a team of three staff to help expand my inventory. Nearly five years on the team has grown to nine and we hope to have 12 by the end of the year.
3 What does your average working day entail?
Running two businesses is fascinating. I get to be involved with the complete lifespan of a book: from acquisition to production at Sweet Cherry and the strategic decisions on how it gets marketed and sold by Books 2 Door. Here I can work directly with other publishers on the sales of their books.
This really puts me in a unique position, as it means I get a genuine taste of the book retail landscape, especially online. I get a very good understanding of what works and what does not, which helps me when it comes to making acquisition-related decisions for Sweet Cherry.
It can be difficult and I have a lot on my plate. I also volunteer as a governor at a local primary school and sit on the Publishers Association’s Council, which has enhanced my understanding of publishing. I feel privileged to work alongside some of the most senior figures in publishing.
4 What do you enjoy most about your job?
One of the most enjoyable parts is foreign rights and international sales. I love visiting book fairs around the world and pitching our titles to foreign publishers. The buzz of making a huge sale to a key client, knowing it will bring in a lot of money for the business, excites me. As Sweet Cherry has grown I have had to delegate these roles to other people within my business, but it’s still great to hear about their successes.
The competitive nature of book retail also stimulates me. We are four brothers in the book retail business, and I love the competitive drive that we have. We always want to do better than each other; the friendly competition we have between our businesses makes it really enjoyable to come in to work every day.
5 What achievements are you most proud of?
Sweet Cherry has recently signed a four-book deal for a series of books by James Dashner, the author of the Maze Runner series. This is a massive achievement for us and shows the direction in which I want to take Sweet Cherry. Books 2 Door now has sales of more than £3m a year, and the four companies that my brothers and I run share turnover of well over £10m. I am extremely proud of my team: I have very little staff turnaround at Books 2 Door, and people have worked there for around nine years on average.
6 What have you experienced in your job and publishing that you didn’t expect?
Coming from a book retail background and treating a book like a commodity, I didn’t appreciate exactly how much time, effort and creativity goes into producing a single book. Now that I am a publisher I appreciate a sales person so much more when they pitch a new book series to the Books 2 Door business. I value the process of publishing much more now.
7 What advice would you give anyone wanting to start or progress a career in publishing?
At Sweet Cherry we tend to have a lot of graduate vacancies, and have had employees moving on to publishers like Macmillan, Oxford University Press, Hachette and Bonnier. The advice I would give to a graduate is to consider doing an MA in Publishing, which will give you a great platform of knowledge of what you will encounter in the industry. If you are still at university, involve yourself with something to do with media, like university newspapers, magazines or radio; that looks good from an employer’s perspective.
Work experience at a publisher looks favourable on job applications too. And do make sure your spelling, punctuation and grammar on these is up to scratch. You will struggle to be shortlisted if your application is riddled with mistakes.