Clare Millar interviews Chris Ebbs, Key Account Manager, Online and Digital Sales at Penguin Random House Australia.
What did you study?
I studied a Bachelor of Arts and then a Master of Publishing and Communications.
What is the most useful skill you learned in your degrees? And what was the most enjoyable part of your studies?
I think the most useful thing I got from my publishing degree was the industry experience and exposure. I had this idea that I wanted to work in publishing without really knowing why, so hearing from people who worked in different parts of the publishing industry gave me insight I hadn’t had before. I also had the opportunity to do an internship that counted as credit to my course, which was really fantastic.
I will say that if you can find industry experience without doing a master’s, go for it! I’m not in a position where I’m hiring people, but I don’t think it’s a prerequisite of working in publishing to have a higher degree in publishing or editing (although I’m sure it doesn’t hurt!)
I really enjoyed hearing from people who worked in the publishing industry, but I think the most enjoyable part of uni for me was actually the non-uni part of it. The most important thing I got from that period of my life are the friends I made and the growing up I did during that time.
What does a typical day look like for you? What skills make you successful in doing that?
Working in sales, relationships with customers are key. So I might spend some of my day talking on the phone or emailing with a customer, discussing what we’re going to do with a new release, or how we’re going to do a promotion on an older title. When I asked my boss what makes an excellent salesperson, she said “being a good listener”. I agree that it’s important to be able to listen, ask questions and understand where your customer is coming from, and how you’re going to work collaboratively to sell more books.
I also spend a fair amount of my time working with my colleagues on our strategy for how we’re going to sell more books, and then implementing those ideas. And I spend some of my time doing sales reporting too. While I think building relationships is probably the most important part of sales, it’s also useful to be analytical. You don’t necessarily need to be a maths whiz, but it’s useful to be able to look at, understand and analyse what’s happening in the whole market, as well as sales numbers and other data.
Some of these skills, like building positive relationships and being analytical, are things I already had a natural tendency for. But I honestly think if you’re willing to listen, get along with people, and work hard, you can learn almost anything you need once you start working.
How has your role changed during the pandemic?
Working from home is the most obvious change to my day-to-day, and I really missed the incidental conversations you have with colleagues in the office, whether they’re work-related or not. I hope all office-based businesses can maintain flexibility into the future, though, because it certainly helps with work-life balance, and has a role to play in creating a more diverse workforce.
How does your role fit into the sales team?
I look after most of the ebook and audiobook accounts, so my role looks different to most other people in the sales team. For one thing, I don’t need to worry about stock arriving to warehouses and stores in time! There also isn’t a limit on shelf space in digital stores, so there’s the chance to sell a broader range of titles in ebook and audiobook format.
As a junior member of the sales team, I’m also trying to listen and learn from the more experienced people around me. To go back to the working from home conversation, I definitely missed hearing incidental conversations between more experienced colleagues, as they are such a useful way to learn.
When we met at Voiceworks you were a fiction editor. Tell us a bit about how editorial and sales are different. Would you like to be working in editorial some day?
Well, I’ve never worked in editorial at a trade publisher, so I can’t speak to that too much. But I guess an editor is working closely with each book they work on. Whereas in sales, you’re working less closely with a much broader range of books. You’re given the finished product and you have to work out the best way to sell as many copies as possible. That comes down to knowing which customers it might appeal to the most and making sure you’re putting it in front of the right people.
Never say never about working in editorial, but I’m enjoying sales at the moment and think I still have a lot of room to grow here.
I remember you were always reading advance copies of books! Is there a lot of pressure to read upcoming releases?
I wouldn’t say there’s pressure, although there is certainly an expectation to read at least some of the books we’re publishing. I read to work out which books might be best for my customers, although often that means reading a little bit of a lot of books – not always the most satisfying reading experience. But really, I’m here because I love books, so having access to new releases before they come out is absolutely one of the perks of the job!
Tell us about a frustrating experience you’ve had at work or in your career generally. Or perhaps something you’d like to see improved upon in the industry broadly.
I’m certainly not alone in saying this, but something I’d like to see improved in the publishing industry is the diversity of people that work in it. I think our industry would be stronger and we would publish and sell a more interesting range of books if the people working on those books came from broader backgrounds and reflected the whole of Australia. I’m no expert on this topic, but I’m lucky that there are a lot of people working in this area to listen to. It also seems like this is something that’s been talked about quite a lot, so I’m excited to see the practical changes that will come over the next little while.
What are most proud of in your career so far?
I’m still in the early stage of my career, so the things I’m most proud of are quite personal. If I had to name one, it would be the way my confidence has built since I’ve left uni and started working. Every day a tiny bit of imposter syndrome is chipped away!