Meet Borders Romance Buyer Sue Grimshaw

- by Dara Girard

Sue Screen GrabE1Tell us a little about yourself.

I’ve worked for Borders for more than 14 years, the last eight of those years as a Romance buyer.  I’m married and live in Michigan. In my spare time, when I am not reading, my husband and I enjoy the outdoors — bike riding in the summer and skiing in the winter.  Prior to my career at Borders, I was a cosmetic buyer at K-mart and although buying cosmetics was great fun, buying Romance books is my passion.

How did you get your start as a book buyer?

Over 14 years ago the company was looking for buyers and I thought I’d give it a whirl. I began buying Children’s books and then moved over to Romance.  I’ve always enjoyed reading books with romantic elements, but never thought I was a Romance reader —thankfully I became the buyer for Romance or I would never have known all I was missing

What do you love most about the romance genre?

I love the diversity of the Romance genre: Suspense, Contemporary, Historical, Time Travel, Paranormal and Futuristic — love them all!

Could you describe your typical work day?

Fortunately, my typical work day is not so typical — it’s one of the many things I like about my job.  Mornings are usually spent analyzing the business from the previous day, week and month.  During the afternoons I typically work on marketing and promotions to see how we can better position our books in stores or online to better reach our customers.  Vendor appointment days usually are just that: days spend with the vendor reviewing their lists.

Of course, there is the taping of author interviews for “Borders True Romance,” which is one of our many exclusive and original BordersMedia programs, and doing interviews for the newly launched “Borders True Romance Blog,” a community for Romance readers. As you can see, this is a great job!

What are the major factors that influence your buying decisions Are these different for established authors versus newer writers?

Buying Romance books is quite fun and there are many things that influence the buy.  First I look at sales trends of that author and the genre. New authors are compared to more established authors and established authors are compared to their previous books.  Promotional placement has an impact on the buy. I consider things like how the book will placed in-store, promoted online and whether the author is going promote the book herself.

How much impact does the cover have? Have you ever encouraged a publisher to change a book’s cover?

The cover can definitely impact sales. Suggestions are often made to the publishers regarding cover changes supported by sales trends. Borders has a great relationship with publishers and is typically sought after for opinions on cover looks and treatments.

What are some mistakes you’ve seen in book marketing?

One of the biggest mistakes I see repeated time and time again is a cover that does not depict the story and cover copy that does not clinch the customer.  I won’t give examples, because that’s not nice, but this scenario does happen more often than it should.

Some authors live in fear of the Bookscan numbers.  How does Bookscan work from your perspective?

Bookscan for me is more of a measurement of how Borders compares to the industry. We use our own sales numbers to determine the success of an author’s book.

What gets you excited about a new book or author?

I must admit, I’m a typical Romance customer. I’m usually intrigued by the cover, then the back copy, and more often than not, by a good cover quote from a bestselling author.  Romance experts also update me on books they want me to pay more attention to. I also encourage authors to keep me informed on their new releases — it keeps me on the forefront of what’s new.

What do you wish authors understood about your role?  How about publishers?

Good question. I’d like to encourage authors to get to know the managers at their local stores and keep me informed as to what they are doing. I am here to help them succeed, because if they do well, Borders does well, which makes us all very happy.  The same goes for publishers — I really try to keep myself available and informed so we can all be successful within the industry.

Thanks to Elaine Isaak for the interview questions.

11 comments

  1. Thank you, Sue. Really interesting about all.

  2. Sue was instrumental in helping me sell my debut novel, In Over Her Head. She’s a GREAT lady!

  3. Thanks Dara & team for asking me to post today! As you probably can tell I really enjoy what I do — I could not have asked for a better career. Borders is a superior company to work for & their support of the Romance industry has been phenomenal.

    I hope everyone will have a chance to visit our True Romance Blog noted in the post. Guest Authors visit everyday & we’ve lots of freebies :)

    Today’s discussion is about covers & male models — what we like & don’t like. The topic came about due to a publisher’s request that I review their covers which in turn triggered this discussion.

    Lori Foster will be joining us on the blog tomorrow.

    I hope all is well for all of you & thanks again for the opportunity to post & chat with you all today,

    Sue

  4. It is always fascinating to get an insight into another part of the industry. It is thrilling to know that you love Romance as much as we authors do.

    For the most part the covers and the blurbs rest with the publisher, not the author, and since I feel the cover gods have been good to me, I am happy to leave it that way.

    Do you have a sense that book signings and events at your stores make a huge difference in sales? In other words, do you encourage authors to get out there and promote their books personally in stores? There are mixed opinions about the value of this, so it would be interesting to hear your perspective on this.

    Thanks for a great interview, Dara and to Sue for your frank answers.

    Best
    Ann

  5. Hi Sue~
    Very good information here, and I really enjoy the Borders blog. Thanks for all your terrific work!
    I’m interested in Ann’s question too, about your opinion on the value of book signings, as far as impact on sales.
    Thanks!

  6. Hey ladies! In answer to your questions regarding book signings BGI really encourages stock signings & getting to know booksellers & store personal. After having met the GM’s absolutely inquire about how book signings do at their stores. Romance typically does best with group signings, more than one author as it brings in a larger customer group. Single author signings for Best Sellers and Mega Best Sellers always do well :)

    Borders bookstores are your friends so please feel free to get to know the management there. They are the ones that will help you determine whether signings make the most sense for your book or not.

    Hope this helps :)

    Sue

  7. Hi Sue–
    I’m happy to say that my local Borders is very supportive of me as a romance author. I had a great signing for my debut there last fall and look forward to doing another for my next book when it comes out in December.

    Also, thanks for being such an advocate for romance and for compiling your list of Borders romance experts. I used it to do a mailing for my upcoming book.

    Speaking of promotion, I have a question for you. Several authors have mentioned making shelf talkers and mailing them out to bookstores. Is this a worthwhile promotion? Are Borders stores allowed to put out shelf talkers that authors send to them?

    Thanks!

  8. Hi Gina! Thanks for your questions — Borders stores have a corporate sign package that they are required to implement so unless you’ve received approval thru your local store to display shelf talkers, etc, it probably would not be in your best interest to produce them.

    That said, the expert store list you mentioned above, are stores that have volunteered for the expert program — these stores are eager to receive information, promo materials, etc. that will help them sell your books to their customers. The items experts find most helpful are Arc’s; bookmarks; etc. Items that they can share with their readers groups & customers rather than display in the store.

    Thanks for asking!
    Sue

  9. Sue,
    So great to see you here. It’s always interesting to hear from the “other side” of our business. Goodness knows you’re one of the most valuable assets our genre has. A huge thank you!
    Susan

  10. Here’s an “I’ve been buried in deadline so don’t have a clue what is going on in the world” question. How do I access your fabulous expert list?
    Susan

  11. Hey Susan — absolutely! Just email me :)