Industry Insights: Frances Sleigh
By Elizabeth Oladoyin, Elizabeth Guess, Hannah Devine and Leyla Mehmet
In this issue, we interview Frances Sleigh, Head of Children’s Sales at Bloomsbury…
Tell us a bit about your journey into publishing. Was sales always where you wanted to be?
No, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, beyond working with books. I started first in production on a temporary contract, working on the children’s list at Penguin Random House. I had a degree in Chinese Studies and sold myself in the interview as someone who could easily communicate with the printers in China, only to end up working solely with the printers in Suffolk! When the contract was coming to an end, I really wanted to stay at PRH and work on the children’s list, so I applied for a sales position that was being advertised. I got the job and within a few months realised I loved it.
Sales is sometimes overshadowed by other teams when publishing hopefuls look to enter the industry. Could you tell us about a normal day for you? What is your favourite part of working in this department?
I love that sales is a department that’s really collaborative; you get to work with nearly all departments and across the whole lifespan of a book. We feed in forecasts and thoughts to editorial at acquisition, work with design on covers, align our selling plans with marketing and publicity, work with production and operations on stock and special editions – the list is endless! Plus, we’re customer-facing; we’re always talking to customers and buyers who see the whole books market and that knowledge is invaluable for feeding back into the rest of the children’s team. I could be doing any one of those things (or all of them!) in a day. We also answer a lot of questions and you have to think creatively: has something sold well? If so, why, and if not, why? What sold better, and what can we learn from that?
Do you have any advice for publishing hopefuls looking for their first role, particularly those deciding what part of publishing to go into? What are the main skills you need for working in sales?
Don’t limit yourself to deciding which department you want to work in and only applying for those roles. Some areas, like editorial, are completely oversubscribed. If you can get any job in publishing, you’ll learn about the process of publishing, and if you want to move on and progress into a different department, you’ll have so much more experience and understanding, so your application will stand out.
For sales, I think the main skill is being a great communicator. We spend our time telling buyers and customers about the books and you need to have a flair for explaining exactly why you think a book will work for their market. You also need to then be able to feed that back in a productive way to the rest of your publishing team, so good communication is a must!
Before starting at Bloomsbury, you were at Nosy Crow. What are some of the differences between a small indie publisher and a big publisher? Were there any major challenges you had to overcome?
I think what has surprised me most is actually how little difference there can be. The scale of the whole business at Bloomsbury is obviously much bigger and with that there’s a much greater focus on making sure information is being shared and that decisions are being made by the right groups of people. As a result, there are a lot more meetings, more processes to follow, and a lot more cc’ing-in of people on emails! However, the basic approach and plan of publishing isn’t that different. I’d always recommend anyone starting out to consider a small or indie publisher; you learn so much just by being in a small office, overhearing conversations and having to pitch in when extra hands are needed.
What projects have you worked on that you’re particularly proud of? Why do these projects stand out?
There was a lot at Nosy Crow I was proud of, working there during the time it went from being a small indie to being a mid-sized publisher was a fantastic experience. The company culture really emphasised what an important part each individual was playing in that process, so I felt really proud of the growth we’d achieved.
At Bloomsbury, in October, we’re publishing You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska. She’s a twelve-year-old girl who had to flee Ukraine with her grandma when the war broke out earlier this year. She wanted to tell the world what was happening in Ukraine, so she started keeping a diary, with the intention of getting it published. It’s a really important piece of publishing right now that gives powerful insight into conflict, so I’m really proud to be a part of that.