Questions for: Andrew Johnston

Opinion - Publishing Wednesday, 2nd October 2019

The Quiller MD contributes to our Q&A series

Describe your current job in one sentence
As managing director of Quiller I am responsible for the commissioning of new titles and having oversight of all aspects of the business.

What was your first job in the book industry?
In the mail-order department at Foyles when I was 18, ending up as the buyer for sport and military, which I loved. I was there for two and a half years without being sacked, which was a bit of a record in those days under Christina Foyle.

Who has been the most influential person in your career?
My first publishing job was as a rep for Hutchinson Australia in Sydney in 1975, selling distributed English publishers' books to Aussie bookshops and country newsagents, which was quite a challenge. The sales director at Gollancz, Nigel Sisson, was an annual visitor and set a wonderful example in how to do business with grace and efficiency. When I returned to the UK in 1987 he was then hardback sales director for the Penguin Group, and he gave me my first UK publishing role there pioneering retail special sales across all imprints.

"Best advice - you don't lose money on the books you don't publish"

How has the industry changed since your first job?
The basics are still there - publish the book and then sell it - but the advances in technology mean that we are still selling trade books at the same retail prices as 20 years ago, although still able to make a decent margin. The retail market has of course changed dramatically, with online sales having replaced the old book-club and chain-bookseller models in terms of quantity of books sold, but bookshop and non-trade sales are still the majority of our business.

What's the biggest challenge in your job?
Keeping all of the balls in the air - ensuring that our books are going through production on time while at the same time planning and commissioning new titles for the future.

What's the best piece of book-related advice you've ever been given?
You don't lose money on the books you don't publish.

What are the most interesting things you're seeing at the moment in the industry?
The rise of audio (which we are just embarking on) and the levelling, if not decline, of ebooks and the resurgence of print.

What do you think might be the next big thing?
I'm afraid that inevitably it will be Amazon physical bookshops - a benefit for the publisher, but a big challenge for traditional booksellers.

What do you most like doing when you're not working?
Being out in the countryside at home.

What is the best book you've read in the last year?
Fahrenheit 451 - I've always meant to read it but the typos in the paperback were infuriating!

What are you reading now?
Only time for manuscripts for next year.

How do you like to read: on screen, on paper, or do you listen to audiobooks?
I devour a daily newspaper and prefer to read printed manuscripts - I don't find the time for audio books, but I know that I should. One day...