Today I’m delighted to welcome Dominic Brendon, Audio Publisher & UK Sales Director (Online and Digital) with Simon & Schuster, with special responsibility for Audio sales.
Hello and welcome, Dom. Perhaps you could begin by introducing yourself and telling us something of your career path into your current role?
Hi Sue, thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk all things Audio. A quick CV is as follows. I have now been in the books industry for 30 years. I started out as a bookseller at Books Etc Holborn (remember that book chain? Famous for starting ‘staff picks’) and worked in 7 branches over 13 years, managing the last three – Fenchurch St, Whiteleys and then London Wall. I jumped to the publishing side when Borders took over and it became too bookselling by numbers. I then joined Kyle Cathie (for 2 years) as the sole sales person selling to all customers their wonderful cookery and lifestyle books. The Finance Director and I were the only men and I absolutely loved it, making some life long friends! Next came my jump to S&S where I currently am. I have always worked in sales and still do but added the Audio publisher hat 18 months ago.
Can we take it you’re rather a good cook, then?
I love cooking but I am not sure I could say I am a great cook! I was taught to cook by my wife, who is Japanese, so I am pretty good at most Asian cuisine, but would struggle to cook a roast dinner. Spicy food is a favourite. I cook a pretty mean Thai curry.
Back to the topic in hand. It’s reported that audiobooks now make up over one-third of regular reading and have become more important that Ebooks. Personally, I find listening to a skilled narrator really brings a story alive. Would I be right in thinking that there’s considerably more involved in producing a good audio version of a book compared to, say, turning a print book into Eformat or are they equally challenging in their own way?
Ebooks are still an extremely important part of the list but the creation of Audio is definitely more complicated and more costly. We aim to pair the perfect narrator(s) to each book to bring it/them to life in its Audio format. Unlike other book formats, reviews both positive and negative can happen for the work itself but also the narrator and the production. We partner with 2 brilliant London studios, Heavy Entertainment for our Adult books and Strathmore for our Childrens.
And is there a typical route to a book being produced in audio format? For example is it usually print and/or Ebook first? Can agents approach you directly with a proposal for audio production, where the print/Ebook versions have previously been placed elsewhere—ie can the rights to print/Ebook/audiobook sit in different places?
Many questions here. In most instances and ideally, we want all first formats of an author’s work to publish at the same time. This means any PR or marketing will help sell all formats and the publisher can control how each is jacketed, when the different formats are promoted and assets from the Audio can be used in the campaign. Rights can sit in different places and agents can send us proposals that are format specific but this seems to be quite rare. It does sometimes happen with older works where Audio may not have been covered in the original contracts. This is just my opinion and I am of course biased, but I think it makes the most sense for publishers to control all formats. If Audio only is sold elsewhere then the loyalty is to that format only and not an author’s body of work across all formats.
In your experience, are some genres, story lines or styles more suited to audio? Are some a no go?
Not really, I think most genres work well as Audio. Although Audio has been around for a long time, it has only exploded in the last 5-10 years in its digital format. Back when I first started bookselling, most audio was abridged and on tape or CD. I remember going to the Audio section after a busy lunch once and thinking, wow, we sold a lot of Audio today – nope it was all stolen! Small and expensive so easy to pilfer. Bookshops often kept it behind the till! Today, its all about unabridged and almost all digital.
Now I understand why modern audio covers often display the word ‘unabridged’! I notice Simon & Schuster has its own ‘audio store’ from which readers can purchase a title for download onto various devices. Do you still produce a physical version of audio books on cd, such as are stocked by local libraries and are so useful for those readers who don’t/can’t go on-line?
We do very few on CD now. We have been looking for a manufacture on demand service but during the pandemic even library budgets (what little they have in the UK compared to say the US) went over to digital as libraries temporarily closed.
Are your audio titles also marketed through the big specialist providers operating in the UK, such as Audible, Google and Kobo?
Yes they are. All terrific partners and we love working with all of them.
This being an RNA interview, I must also ask you about Romance! How important is it as a genre for your company?
HUGELY important. S&S has a list of incredible bestselling and up-coming authors in the genre. I am not going to name them for fear of missing any out! I think we are pretty unusual (of course I would say this) at S&S, because a lot of our Romance authors get to know us (in sales and marketing as well as PR) across the company beyond the usual editorial relationship. I am sure it’s to do with our legendary publishing events!
Which I guess have unfortunately been somewhat limited of late. Can I ask about diversity and inclusion, which are high on the agenda for the RNA, as for many other organisations. I wonder how the Agency’s selection of books and authors and narrators reflects these principles?
Yes massively important for us as well, both as our company culture and throughout our acquisitions process and on to Audio reader casting.
What do you yourself read for leisure (assuming you get any!), what’s your preferred format and can you tell us the last published book you read/listened to which you really enjoyed and why?
I am a reading magpie. I love to read fiction (literary and escapist), history, music, biography, sport, crime/thriller, YA, sci fi & fantasy and politics. My reading/listening is probably split 50/50. The last book I listened to that I really loved was Legendborn. Its an S&S YA title that could be elevator pitched as ‘southern gothic meets Arthurian myth with a ballsy heroine, loads of high octane hokum action and a brilliantly intriguing love triangle at its heart’. Tenuous perhaps but could have a romance bic code attached!
What is your typical working day like?
At the moment Zoom zoom zoom zoom zoom…….
Why did I ask! I was also going to enquire what you enjoy most about the job, but having seen the original photo from which your head shot was cropped, I shall re-phrase. Apart from sharing a table with a little known author called Jackie, what’s the best part of your job?
There are many good things including – the books of course, the authors but I would have to say my work mates/colleagues top the list. We are a tight group at S&S! I prefer not to focus on the negatives. Luckily they are pretty rare and anyway, they can always be discussed over a pint after work where they seem a lot less important.
Any anecdotes you can share?
Many, many fun evenings out and some really great dinners over the years. From witnessing Nigel Mansell perform card tricks to hanging out with Billy Idol and his girlfriend—memories and a reminder we are privileged to work in a great industry!
Yes indeed, and thank you so much for sparing the time from that busy world to talk with us, Dom.
For more on S&S audio see:
Dom was talking with Susan Leona Fisher (Website: http://www.SLFisherAuthor.co.uk)