Making crime pay

Making crime pay

<p>David Shelley was 23 when he was &quot;thrown completely in at the deep end&quot; and made publishing director of Allison &amp; Busby. He&#39;d joined the publisher straight out of university as an editorial assistant, and a combination of staff leaving&mdash;and Spanish parent company Editorial Prensa Iberica&#39;s obvious confidence in him&mdash;meant he was running it three years later.</p><p>He initially &quot;thought it might be a complete disaster&quot;, he admits. &quot;At the age of 23, I didn&#39;t know myself that well. I didn&#39;t know my strengths and weaknesses.&quot; He knew he loved books, but had to learn the business realities of publishing very quickly. </p><p>&quot;On a daily basis I was looking at P&amp;L sheets and writing financial reports,&quot; he says. &quot;I suppose it made me much more business oriented and much more conscious of the financial implications of everything. Otherwise I might just have been happy acquiring books because I thought they were beautifully written.&quot; Not, he adds hurriedly, that beautiful writing can&#39;t make money.</p><p>Over the next five years, Shelley dragged the independent publisher back into profit. He cut its list back dramatically, introduced a line of library hardback crime novels, and saw turnover quadruple to &pound;1m. Unsurprising, then, that he drew the attention of larger rivals, and was eventually poached by Little, Brown.</p><p>He&#39;s spent the past two years as LB editorial director for crime and thrillers, and earlier this year took on the additional role of Sphere paperback publisher. &quot;I&#39;m back looking at the bottom line,&quot; he says. &quot;What&#39;s been nice here is really focusing editorially on a few authors. But it&#39;s also nice to have the other side&mdash;having an overview of something, hopefully trying to make a financial difference to what we&#39;re doing. I get quite easily bored, so it is really nice.&quot;</p><p>Little, Brown c.e.o. Ursula Mackenzie and publishing director Antonia Hodgson came up with the idea of the paperback role following LB&#39;s acquisition by Hachette last year. &quot;It was interesting for us to look at the other Hachette companies and see how they operate, see if there were any lessons to be learnt there,&quot; says Shelley. &quot;Obviously Susan Lamb at Orion has had fantastic success rates, and really within the Hachette group their paperback publishing is second to none. So I think Ursula and Antonia felt it would be good to do something similar here.&quot;</p><p>The role, he says, is about &quot;reinventing&quot; Sphere paperbacks. He&#39;s been spending a lot of time with sales and marketing&mdash;raising expectations, sharing information, and visiting supermarkets to feed back information on cover design. &quot;Basically, my brief is to raise turnover across the board, so it&#39;s however I feel we can best achieve that. Sometimes that means a backlist promotion or sometimes it means looking further down the list to find an author we could do a bit more with.&quot;</p><p>He&#39;s been enjoying getting to grips with the women&#39;s fiction end of the Sphere list. &quot;I have quite dark dreams and nightmares from all the crime and thrillers. I tend to react to things with huge suspicion because in thrillers awful things happen at every turn, so it&#39;s really nice to be reading some women&#39;s fiction.&quot;</p><p>But he remains happy enough to &quot;return to the darkness&quot; in terms of what he acquires for Little, Brown. He&#39;s just paid a high six-figure sum for three titles from Mira thriller author Erica Spindler; it is his first acquisition &quot;for ages&quot;, as he is &quot;quite selective&quot; in what he buys. &quot;I don&#39;t think it&#39;s possible to make a splash with more than a couple of authors a year. So what I try to do is find two new authors I&#39;m incredibly excited about each year and put everything behind them.&quot;</p><p>His backing has helped Jeff Abbott sell 350,000 copies of his two latest novels, <em>Panic</em> and <em>Fear</em>, and Mark Gimenez hit the 150,000 mark in paperback with <em>The Colour of Law</em>. &quot;As time goes on, there are fewer and fewer books selling more than 10,000 copies&mdash;but the ones that are selling over 10,000 are selling more. So it&#39;s about putting a lot behind a few things rather than publishing more and just seeing what sticks,&quot; he says. &quot;Every book matters.&quot;<br /> </p>