How Did I Get Here?! by @BookMinxSJV
Welcome to a new feature from @TeamBATC! If you’ve ever wondered exactly what we do, other than drink cocktails, eat cupcakes and read, READ, READ, and how we came to be where we are – read on! First up, me…..
This year marks my 34th as a member of the full-time 9-5 treadmill, and my 17th in a profession that, if I’m honest, I didn’t really even know existed till I rocked up with my brand new squeaky shoes and Woolworths pencil case at Waterstones Head Office in 2002 to begin my brand new job as Office Services Manager.
Looking after the envelopes, managing reception, ordering the loo roll etc wasn’t, if I’m honest, my dream job, but as an ex Waitress, ex Cocktail Bar Manager, ex Client Servicing Manager, ex Editor, ex PA, ex Customer Relations Officer, ex Human Resources Exec, and ex Estate Agent, if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that with a modicum of street smarts, adaptability, and downright blagging, most people can turn their hand to most jobs and get away with it…
So, there I was, with my new pencils, squeaky shoes, and three floors of bright, clever, terrifyingly well-educated literary types all beavering away with just one thing on their minds – BOOKS. Teams of people planning and designing and maintaining shops. Hordes of creative types sketching out the images for POS (point of sale) material – the posters and headers and shelf talkers – and adverts and marketing campaigns. A whole floor of bean counters working out how much everything costs. PR teams. HR teams. IT teams. The Board. And then a floor of chaps called Product, surrounded by (and swimming in) shelf upon shelf, row upon row, pile upon pile, of books. And I was hooked. Led by a notorious fellow called Scott Pack - Product Buying was where the magic happened.
20 incredible people who chose the books that were put on the shelves of the Waterstones stores up and down the country. The books in the window, on the tables at the front, the books ‘spine out’ at the back, and everything in between. And these people were called Buyers. And that’s exactly what they did. They bought all the books that ended up on the shelves from the hundreds of publishers that would come into Head Office, with their little wheelie cases, and huge AI (advance information) kits and SOLD the books to Waterstones. And I had no idea that this was a thing. No idea at all.
So through a combination of badgering, tea making, harassing, lemon drizzle cake making, hassling, begging and pestering, I managed to wangle my way into the team as starting-from-the-bottom Buying Administrator and embarked on two of the most fulfilling, fascinating, hilarious years of my life….
So. I was IN. In Product. And I didn’t have a scooby doo what I was doing! Luckily a team of cracking chaps (Rodney, Peter, Gabrielle, Suzie, Jenny and Scott – I’m looking right at YOU) explained, patiently, over and over again how Product Buying at the head office of the UK’s largest book chain worked – all the in’s and the vast amount of out’s. Visual planograms. The infamous Front of Store Checklist. Core Range grading. Promotional Marketing Agreements. The Weekly Product Bulletin. The weekly sales reports for our Publishing chums… the list of tasks I was responsible for went on. And on and on. The particular needs of our Academic stores. The specialist teams that looked after children’s books. And the different genres within non-fiction. And Fiction. Ah, fiction… of course cookery books and kids picture books and everything else in between are fabulous, FABULOUS I tell you, but with fiction I knew I had found my spiritual home….
So whilst beavering away at the Day Job, I set about ingratiating myself with the Publishing Houses behind the authors I loved the very most – Jackie Collins, Lisa Jewell, Chris Manby, Adele Parks, Bernadette Strachan, Josie Lloyd & Emlyn Rees, Marian Keyes, Catherine Alliott, Freya North, Jennifer Weiner, Cecelia Ahern, Harriet Evans, Jenny Colgan, Jane Green, Katie Fforde, Louise Bagshawe, Mike Gayle, Penny Vincenzi, Sophie Kinsella, Veronica Henry… the list was many and magnificent!
And internally, I worked hard to push the wonder, the importance, the fabulousness of my favourite genre (commercial, mass market, women’s fiction, chick lit – call it what you will) higher up the To Do Lists of the key decision makers in the business – those who could Let Me Make Stuff Happen.
And slowly, slowly catchy monkey, I was given the green light to kick off my Big Fat Strategy Plan that included increasing our core stock range of a Hit List of over 300 titles, launching a Reading Group made up of other fans of women’s fiction who worked within the business, building a community on Waterstones.com (we even had a logo!), asking Marian Keyes to select HER favourite women’s fiction and then rolling out the entire list as a price promoted Shelf Offer across the entire estate, asking publishers for exclusive competitions and content and samplers and previews and interviews…..
And then, my hold-your-breath moment in the sun. My first ever estate wide Offer of the Week. We were going to go hard (or go home) on the film-tie in edition of The Devil Wears Prada. A HUGE order. Advertising in Heat, Hello and Closer. In store POS. All the bells and even more of the whistles. And I crossed my fingers and toes… and you know what? It was our best selling Offer of the Week. EVER.
You know those highlights that stick in your mind, long after the moment has passed? The Big Deal things? A marriage perhaps? A birth? Finding the perfect pair of shoes, in the sale… in your size. Laughing about NOTHING, with your mates, till you pee your pants.
I have a whole library of these types of things from my days at Waterstones. Up there in the mind bank. Amazing, incredibly, fantastic moments like meeting President Bill Clinton… and his team of Secret Service men. Working the midnight opening party at Oxford Street for the launch of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and being in charge of the actual sorting hat! Breakfast with Gillian McKeith. Lunch with Jenny Colgan. Dinner with Janet Street Porter. Cocktails with Big Brother 6. Going to the Nibbies (British Book Awards). Special events with heroines like Marian Keyes. And Lisa Jewell. And Bernie Strachan. And Cecelia Ahern. And Louise Candlish. And Jackie Collins. And Sophie Kinsella. All up there… all on a replaying loop of gloriousness.
And then there are the other things. The littler, but just as marvellous things. Boxes and boxes of Galaxy chocolate turning up – and I have absolutely no idea why. Incredible restaurants and bars. Boat trips. Theatre trips. Parties galore. Learning about books. How they are written. How they are published. How they are sold. Meeting readers and customers. Meeting authors and celebrities. Scoffing ‘family’ packs of chocolate éclairs under the desk to avoid sharing. And the book themselves. Don’t let’s forget the books… four fabulously happy, happy years immersed in the world of books.