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Interview with Becky Stradwick

Becky Stradwick started working as a children’s bookseller in 1997 and worked in a number of Books etc stores before moving to Borders Head Office, where she was Head of Books. She has since become a children’s literary agent with the Darley Anderson agency and is now Editorial Director at Random House Children's Publishing.

Why did you become a book buyer?

I spent a few years working in a bookstore, so becoming a head office buyer was a logical progression. I have been a bookworm since I was tiny so it’s a genuine pleasure to work in an area I am passionate about.

What is a typical day like for you?

Ridiculously hectic! The priority is obviously responding to sales within our stores, replenishing stock when needed. Then there are all the meetings with publishers to decide strategies on new titles, any marketing or promotional plans we may have, possibly any author-related events as well. I also have to deal with a huge number of phone calls and emails from stores, publishers, and quite often authors. My desk is slowing disappearing under piles of proofs and manuscripts…

What is the hardest thing about being a book buyer?

Two things – first, the sheer amount of tasks we have to juggle. Looking after thousands of already published titles, while trying to decide how we stock hundreds of new publications is complicated and demands a lot of close attention and good judgment. And it may sound strange but I have to change the way in which I read – I speed read at least ten fiction books a week for work purposes and I have to remember to change my mindset when I am reading purely for pleasure. And there is never enough time to read all the books that I would like to – I find that very frustrating!

Who decides which books are on the shelves in bookshops?

I head up a fantastic head office team that makes these decisions – the publishers present to us and we use our best judgment, previous sales figures and commercial instincts to decide which books are bought. We also have a team of knowledgeable and enthusiastic Children’s book specialists who work in all our stores; they give us continuous feedback on which books are being asked for and what customers say they really need.

What impact has heavily discounted bookselling had on your sales?

In an increasingly competitive market, bookshops obviously want to offer value to their customers; but I think it’s more important to encourage and foster a love of reading through good merchandising, strong ranges and creative marketing and recommendation. The kind of expertise or depth of range you find in a bookshop is, I think, rare in a supermarket or online, and you can’t beat the thrill of browsing the shelves in a good store. Certainly, a lot of readers feel the same way so I would say the impact isn’t as great as some people might fear.

What have been the highlights in your job?

Too many to count! Going to the Bologna book fair is always my favourite part of the year – I am like a kid in a sweetshop. I love the thrill of reading an early manuscript, falling in love with it and then seeing it become as successful as I know it deserves to be. Having the opportunity to chat to some of my favourite authors has been amazing: meeting Philip Pullman and Alan Bennett was very exciting, and so was the time I visited Roald Dahl’s home and went into the shed where he wrote all his books (which hasn’t changed since the day he died). That felt like a pilgrimage.