Questions for: Chris McLaren

Opinion - Publishing Tuesday, 17 December 2019

The MD of sales and marketing agency Saltway contributes to our Q&A series


Describe your current job in one sentence
Ensuring the most efficient, easiest, effective flow of commerce and information between our client publishers, customers, agents and distributors.

What was your first job in the book industry?
Export market controller for William Collins (now, of course, HarperCollins) - that is giving my age away!

Who has been the most influential person in your career?
Eddie Bell [former HarperCollins CEO, now chairman of Haynes] - sometimes a tough boss to work for, but I learned much about finding the confidence to really go for it from him. Of course, there are many others too who looked after me well and from whom I learned (and continue to learn) much. They know who they are!

How has the industry changed since your first job?
In so many ways, but mainly in that Big Money now easily trumps Big Ideas. Clearly the move from a much healthier spread of independent and small chain retailers to the (close to) monoculture we have now in the UK has made it harder for the smaller (and often more interesting) publishers to thrive - although the internet channels can provide some relief here (as well as throwing up challenges).

What's the biggest challenge in your job?
Ensuring the most efficient, easiest, effective flow of commerce and information between our client publishers, customers, agents and distributors! Publishing is a detail business, and most creatives don't enter the business to concern themselves with the detail of data handling and provision…

What's the best piece of book-related advice you've ever been given?
Turn up (first rule in the selling handbook).

What are the most interesting things you're seeing at the moment in the industry?
Increasing competition has driven a massive improvement in cover and book design.

What do you think might be the next big thing?
There is always a next big thing; however, printed books have always prevailed.

What do you most like doing when you're not working?
Birdwatching (preferably with a small flask of decent malt in my hip pocket).

What is the best book you've read in the last year?
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - possibly the best book I've ever read (after The Water Babies, of course).

What are you reading now?
I'm juggling three books: The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson (learning how this thing works as it gently falls apart); The Wood, John Lewis-Stempel (perfect escapism), and Underland, Robert Macfarlane (few write as perfectly as he does).

How do you like to read: on screen, on paper, or do you listen to audiobooks?
Screens for work and catching up with the news, but for leisure, comfort and peace of mind, nothing beats paper and ink.

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