This month’s First Friday Club saw Program Manager, Julia Tsalis, sit down with Hachette’s Daniel Pilkington for a lively discussion about book selling, acquisitions and Daniel’s unconventional journey to working in the publishingindustry.
As Head of Sales for Hachette, Pilkington is a strong strategist with a real passion for Australian fiction and a deep understanding of the discovery process for aspiring writers. Our Membership Intern, Lucie Towers, sat in on the session.
Pilkington’s pathway to a flourishing career in the book industry was ‘a little bit unusual’
Pilkington never expected to work in publishing. Leaving school at 17, he started out working in retail at Kmart ‘without any aspirations at all… except to maybe buy a Kombi’. In no time at all, he rapidly rose through the retail ranks, becoming a store manager at Katoomba, then across NSW – eventually earning the Young Retailer of the Year Award.
During work, he would hang out in the book section and passionately sell (‘well, basically just talk about’) books to customers – an enthusiasm which did not go unnoticed. After a chance invitation to an author’s dinner party, Pilkington met a bookseller who, presenting him with a card, said, ‘You should work in books. If you’re ever tempted, give me a call.’
After six months, Pilkington made the leap to publishing.
‘Now, I look after all aspects of sales for Hachette, which includes ebooks, audio – a really interesting part of publishing – and now children’s, which I love, and ties into my personal life. My son is always like, “Where’s my book?!” when I come home,’ he laughed.
The acquisitions process
There are, Pilkington explained, four mains ways a book can come onto an editor or publisher’s radar:
- Agents (the easiest way)
- The slush pile (harder, but it does happen)
- Publishers (publishers will come up with ideas and link a writer with that concept)
- Writing programs (such as the Richell Writers Prize)
But viability is key
‘It’s about what we can do with that project as a company,’ said Pilkington. Publishing meetings consist of questions like:
- What are the comparison authors and titles?
- What are the sales levels that those comparison authors get to?
- What channels are we aiming for – where will we sell it?
- What numbers can we realistically reach?
‘We want to back this up with as many facts and analysis as we can.’
Still, they’re not against taking the occasional risk.
‘We’re not financial bankers, we’re in book publishing,’ Pilkington laughed. ‘We want to push books we’re passionate about.’
Do publishers drop debut authors whose advance don’t earn out right away?
For Hachette, says Pilkington, notions of ‘what makes a success’ are mostly dictated by expectations. If an author’s debut work doesn’t become an instant roaring success, would Hachette still continue the relationship?
‘We don’t acquire something if we don’t really believe in it. We usually sign up an author for a couple of books and think about the long term. If we’ve acquired a book at the start, it means we believe in that author and what they do.’
And if books don’t sell fast and advances on the first book don’t earn out right away?
‘We’ll usually just try something different,’ Pilkington said, ‘That being said, it does get harder. There’s something always a bit interesting about a debut author, so the second book is always hard. But then, you already have some sales history and a first book you can leverage off – so there’s benefits to both.’
Publishers are excited about a ‘vibrant new wave of Australian Fiction’
‘The fact is that Australian publishing is coming up steadily,’ he said. ‘It’s becoming much more competitive too. When there’s a really hot book on the market, there’s more competition – which is great for writers. Australian writers are on fire at the moment!’
Diversity is also a huge part of the publishing conversation, with Western Sydney in particular producing exciting new writers with fresh perspectives (and Hachette, Pilkington says, is taking note). All in all, times are exciting in Australian publishing.
‘I really do appreciate and love working in publishing,’ said Pilkington, ‘and I never, never take for granted what happens in an acquisitions meeting. Because it’s such a privilege to be in that room, discussing these books we love, being so close to these books. It’s a perfect role, a perfect role.’