Business profile: David Headley, co-owner of Goldsboro Books and the head of DHH Literary Agency

Business profile: David Headley, co-owner of Goldsboro Books and the head of DHH Literary Agency

They say that all news is good news and Goldsboro Books—which specialises in signed first editions and is located in London’s famous bookselling street, Cecil Court—has had its fair share of publicity recently.

When J K Rowling was outed as the author behind Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling (Little, Brown), David Headley carried on selling signed first editions of the novel at cover price.

Some declared him crazy for doing so, others heralded his decision—but Headley “would never be able to do anything but sell it at cover price. What else could I have done? We are a bookseller. If I had charged people £1,000 for those books, what would that have looked like? I am a bibliophile, that’s what I am. I don’t see books as a commodity. So I didn’t make a lot of money selling The Cuckoo’s Calling, but from all the publicity I will reap the rewards of new customers.”

In September next year, Goldsboro will turn 15 (Headley opened the shop in 1999 with business partner Daniel Gedeon), but when it opened, “some publishers didn’t want to know. When we opened a lot of people said that we wouldn’t last long. They thought the concept of selling signed books was wrong, but I think they underestimated the passion that Daniel and I have for bookselling, and that is what drives us.

“People are starting to take us seriously now, because we sell a lot of copies. Our ‘book of the month’ sells between 250 and 500 copies, without us having to do anything, sometimes more—with Neil Gaiman (Ocean at the End of the Lane, Headline) we sold nearly 1,000 copies (priced at £30 each).

“We are already £90,000 up on last year—our turnover is growing, people are buying more books from us than ever, and our customer base is growing. We’re going to get rid of the strapline ‘the book collector’s bookseller’ because I think that makes us sound niche, and we’re just not niche anymore.”

Crime in the Court

A big part of the growth in stature of Goldsboro is its impressive events schedule. It runs annual genre events—Crime in the Court, History in the Court and now Fantasy in the Court—that attract 400–500 readers to Cecil Court, as well as book launches. Last year it hosted 46, but Headley will be scaling back this year, “because it really did tire me out. But I’m not complaining, it is all good for business and what I want is to get readers meeting authors; that is how you build up an audience and we want to support authors and build them up.”

DHH Literary Agency

In 2008, Headley established the DHH Literary Agency, which currently has 18 authors on its list, including Paul Doherty, Colin Mace, Sean Walsh and Alexander Hanscombe—the son of murder victim Rachel Nickell, whose memoir Headley recently sold to Simon & Schuster in a six-figure deal. For him the two parts of working life are inseparable, and he says: “If I gave up bookselling I’d give up agenting, because I do see them as working hand in hand. I’m a full-time agent and a full-time bookseller, but it is harder work being an agent.”

DHH Literary Agency agency recently took on Hannah Sheppard—who previously headed Headline’s YA list. She will work alongside Headley, Jennifer Muller and Natalie Galustian. “The four of us are looking for different authors and all complement each other. They all approached me about becoming agents and it’s exciting to grow but I want it to remain a nurturing agency.

“I speak to so many authors who are critical of their agent and say they never hear from them, but I want to build careers, and I’m sure most agents are like that. I want the agency to grow but it is getting more difficult—publishers always say they want something different, but they don’t, they want the same. That’s not exciting.”

Booksellers

Headley and Gedeon have been booksellers for a long time. In 1996 (while Headley was still in sales for phone company Vodafone) the pair started selling books from Headley’s house online, via “a static page with images, where in order to buy a book, a customer would email me, I’d email back an invoice, they would send a cheque and then I’d send the book—that was e-commerce in those days; but we actually grew very quickly.”

Despite things going well for the shop and the agency, Headley says he worries about the future: “I worry about what will happen if we lose our one chain bookseller, I worry about Goldsboro—if paperbacks decline and other indies start to sell more hardbacks, what will distinguish us from them? I worry about all these things and I’ve got a lot of ideas, but ideas need money, so if someone’s got a million pounds . . .”