The Friday Slot - Gillian Mackay, regional manager for Hodder and Headline publishers

I first met Gillian almost ten years ago, when she was a publicist for Faber in London, and I was there to interview one of  her writers, Marie Darrieussecq, about her book, A Brief Stay with the Living. 

About a year later we met up again, when she moved back to her native Scotland to head up Edinburgh publisher Black and White's exciting new imprint, Chroma. Knowing that they were looking to publish new writers, I rather gingerly sent her a copy of my novel manuscript, The Picnic. Very luckily for me, she loved it and agreed to publish it. Chroma doesn't exist any more; I was published as a Black and White title, and Gillian was headhunted to join Hodder Headline as it was then, to work in  marketing. We've stayed friends ever since - a few merry lunches have been had, and she's still someone I go to, to hear about new writing.

I know few people who are spoken of as highly in publishing as Gillian is and it's a pleasure to call her a friend (you'll notice, by the way, that the photo isn't of her but of one of her beloved cats, Molly, sitting beside one of their bestsellers....) 

Here, she has a few things to say about the job she does:

LM: Can you just set it out what it is you do, in your capacity as a Regional Manager for Hodder & Stoughton and Headline Publishing Group?

GM: I'm one of six Regional Managers who cover the UK and my area is Scotland and the North West of England. A big part of my job is making sure information about our titles gets to the book shops, wholesalers and library suppliers in my region. This means lots of driving round the country to visit people and also using social media, email, spending lots of time on the phone and regular visits to the post office (more of that later).

It's also important that it works the other way too. My colleagues in London are keen to know what's happening outside the office. An editor is always eager to hear what a bookseller has thought of a proof copy, for example, or if a specific buyer loves or hates a new jacket design. This month alone sees almost 100 new books published by the companies that I represent, covering all kinds of genres and subjects – from Martina Cole to Michel Thomas to Miranda Hart – and my job is to maximise sales of both new and backlist titles.

My day to day work can vary hugely. One day alone recently saw me going from ticking a checklist of titles in a supermarket to staying in a castle with a best-selling author. I do spend a lot of time with authors, at trade events, bookshop signings, library talks and festivals, and it is one of my favourite parts of the job. 

LM: Can you tell me about your new imprint, Tinder Press, too? What does it want to do, what kind of books is it going to be publishing?

GM: Tinder Press will be a distinct imprint publishing 10–12 titles a year, standing alongside Headline’s existing imprints. Tinder Press has been created to build on recent Headline successes, for example Maggie O’Farrell’s Costa Novel Award winning The Hand That First Held Mine, Sarah Winman’s Galaxy National Book Award winning  When God Was a Rabbit, and  Andrea Levy’s Man Booker prize shortlisted The Long Song.  The imprint will be steered by my colleagues Mary-Anne Harrington, Fiction Publisher, and Leah Woodburn, Associate Publisher, who have a remit to publish extraordinary stories from original voices: books that inspire a  passionate response and will stand the test of time.

LM: How do one-off successes like '50 Shades' work? Can they help your job or hinder it?

GM: As I mentioned, I'm a regular visitor to my local post office. They are a friendly bunch and know that I work for a publisher. On a recent visit I was asked, in a whisper, if I worked for the publisher of ‘that book’. The hairdresser I visit, who says she is not much of a reader, told me she read all three books in as many days (but skipped over the sex bits). When a book comes up that it seems everyone is talking about and has to have an opinion about, it is fascinating. 

I was worked in bookselling in Glasgow when Trainspotting was first published in paperback and I vividly remember its impact. It was hard to keep up with demand as it leapfrogged the sales of any of its contemporaries. When the next delivery arrived, we would have a gigantic pile that would swiftly vanish again. It brought in lots of people who had never been to our bookshop before and we sold thousands of copies from that one branch. Of course, Irvine Welsh has gone on to write many more brilliant books but Trainspotting was a phenomenon.

I hear such similar experiences from booksellers this summer. A very different book and a very different writer but the similarities are that they both brought new people into bookshops and that you find a mix of similar titles and also more challenging projects in their wake. For the former, it is great to satisfy (sorry) the clear market for these books but it is also interesting to see the more complex projects emerge. For example, next month Headline will be publishing the first of the Valentina novels, inspired by the artwork of the revered graphic artist, Guido Crepax. Lots of booksellers have been asking me for proof copies and they arrived in a box from the office this morning. I look forward to being very popular!


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