Fuse #8

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Where In the World Is Sessalee Hensley?

Or rather, who in the world is she?

A comment on a recent Longstocking post piqued my interest regarding this woman. You see, author Coe Booth wrote that she knew a YA author who was down in the dumps because Barnes & Ignoble refused to sell his new book. That means a dip in significant sales, no? So I'm reading through the comments and I come to this one from an Anonymous source.
i worked for b&n many years back and learned much about the dark side of book retail so, yes, i knew this could happen.

her name is sessalee hensley and she's the primary fiction buyer for b&n. it is no secret in the industry that if she objects to a cover when she sees a galley a publisher will change it completely in order to assure b&n carries it.
Oh so? Well excuse me, oh anonymous poster, but I've never even heard of this woman. Could a single gal really be so powerful in the biz?

Turns out, absolutely. Mediabistro, for example, had this to say about her:
The most important publishing person you've never heard of is Sessalee Hensley, the chief fiction buyer for Barnes & Noble. Unless, of course, you actually work in book publishing, in which case, you're absentmindedly scrawling her name on errant scraps of paper and praying to the distribution gods that she waves her magic wand over your latest project, stacking it in piles of 200 next to the front door at every store from Bakersfield to Boston.
Ug. I knew that B&N and Borders have enough sway that if they don't like a publisher's book cover they can tell them to change it willy-nilly (in my heart of hearts I believe that's what happened to poor beleaguered A Friendship for Today). The fact that Borders does this, by the way, is hilarious. I guess that since they've such teeny tiny children's sections, a publisher would do anything to be one of the five books presented there. So it all comes down to one gal and one gal alone. One POWERFUL gal. Miss Snark said of her, "Sessalee Hensley is very very smart, and very very seldom wrong."

Her effect on your average everyday writer? Apparently she can make or break you. What I can't quite determine is if she controls children's fiction alongside adult and YA. Does anyone happen to know off the top of their head?

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At 2:12 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Sessalee Hensley is very very smart, and very very seldom wrong."

It's hard to be wrong when you're the only one who gets a say.

One ring to rule them all...

At 7:51 AM , Blogger Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Just checked A Friendship For Today out of my local library. Can't wait to read it but that cover IS dreadful.

At 8:05 AM , Blogger Roger Sutton said...

No, there is someone else who, however, does the same thing at B&N for the children's books. I remember a very big children's editor (in terms of power, not size!) who told me how devastating it could be to have some new book she was hopelessly devoted to, and then hear from the B&N buyer, "you know, it just doesn't work for me."

On a related note, I bought some books in downtown Boston's Borders on Thursday, and when the friendly checkout guy asked "find everything you were looking for?" I, with equal cheer, replied, "well, about thirty percent of them, but I've learned that's the most I can expect from Borders." He said, again with a smile, "it's great that we met your expectations!" Moron. (And, btw, it's not like I was looking for anything hard, you know.)

At 11:44 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well the big history and poli-sci/current-affairs buyer at Barnes & Noble is one of my oldest friends (frenemies?) in the industry: Sallye Leventhal. She managed Stuart Brent Books (leading Chicago indie) back when my wife Chris Bluhm managed the B. Dalton down the block -- at the time when Chris hired me to work in that store. 1979. Sallye rose in the industry to where she is now: one of these few make-or-break individuals who are top buyers for Barnes & Noble. She is to say the least FIERCELY defensive of all things B&N and I simply can't figure out how such a brilliant, politically-correct person can have devoted 15 years of her life to them. Well -- actually, I can. Her argument is of course that B&N has provided fabulous bookstores in places nationwide where there weren't any. And broadened the minds of readers in lots of podunks where the local indies were terrible. She's a terrific buyer, she knows it, she knows that she's a better buyer than most of the other buyers in the country.

UNFORTUNATELY this ignores the reality that there's turnover in tastes, values -- there's local variation... And -- what SHOULD be most obvious -- she learned her craft at a terrific indie bookstore. Stuart Brent Books, which was destroyed by superstores! I think the world needs lots of terrific book-buyers like Sallye and Sessalee -- and they will only emerge from indie bookstores because that's where the jobs are. At Eric Carle Museum Store I have an assistant who works 25 hours a week. Over the past two years, she has learned a TON of what I, the 28-year-industry-vet, know about children's books. She is 23 years old. I am proud that she's planning to stay in the biz. By centralizing the buying jobs in New York, B&N is dramatically reducing the number of people in the country who get to apprentice with someone like me, Mr. Strong Buyer, living out in the boonies.

I'm also happy to say though that last week I spent 3 hours advising and consulting with a 25-year-old woman who's just bought a small book-and-toystore in Northampton, and who intends to enlarge the children's book section of that store, and wants to get involved in the ABA, make a real career -- There are really people entering this business as indie booksellers. Sessalee's and Sallye's influence can, potentially, be countered by a wave of indie bookstore startups. I think it could happen.

At 12:48 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

my dear fuse,

as the original anonymous poster at the longstocking site i feel the need to clarify in light of comments here. when i was working at b&n -- last there 5 years ago but still bearing the scars -- they hadn't had a consistant children's buyer for more than a couple years running.

and while sessalee is primarily a fiction buyer, her stature among the main publishing houses has a trickle-down effect on all the genres and imprints. after a while people would figure out what did and didn't work for b&n and that would have a preemptive effect on the way they would approach covers.

or so said more than one rep from publishing houses we spoke to back then. imagine, publishers no longer having to submit a book for acceptance by b&n before worrying about the artwork. that must be fun for the designers!

ironically, has anyone taken a look at b&n's bargain sections lately? a good percentage of those books are published by sterling -- a wholly owned subsidiary of b&n -- and a lot of their books are UG-LY! funny how they don't apply the same rules to their in-house books as they do the ones they accept from other publishers.

anoymously yours,

At 2:36 PM , Blogger Jennie said...


That is hilarious! He wasn't a moron-- just some poor cashier who has to spend all day listening to people whinge on about things he has no control over.

I wish I had that sort of quick thinking to keep a smile on my face when I worked retail.

At 3:53 PM , Blogger Sarah Louise said...

Never heard of her, and I worked 7 years at B&N, mostly in kids. But it reminds me of the taxi cab conversation between Parker Posey and Tom Hanks in You've Got Mail Parker thinks that Meg Ryan should go into publishing. If she likes it, the book sells.

There I go, on tangents. I loved working at B&N but have heard it got much worse after I left and I actually only realized I loved it the last two years out of seven.

The only thing about working in a bookstore and a library is the books.

At 10:46 PM , Blogger Little Willow said...

Oh my goodness.

Remember those What If . . . books? The modern-ish popularity-school-drama series like Choose Your Own Adventure?

Now there's this series: Date Him or Dump Him? Two titles listed so far, each boasting "20+ Endings!"



At 2:25 PM , Blogger Mark Gisleson said...

You are hotlinking to an image on my blog. This is an unethical practice and rather than remove that image from my server, I would prefer that you take the image and upload it to your own server.

To see why those of us who pay for our own server space OBJECT to hotlinking, see this screenshot.

I am guessing you had a traffic spike on Wednesday, because my bandwidth exceeded one gig on Wednesday, and your hotlinking of this image was the reason why.

You seem to have a great blog, but if you google "hotlinking" I'm sure you'll quickly understand why this practice is held in low regard.

At 12:04 PM , Blogger Mark Gisleson said...

I have renamed that image to stop you from leeching my bandwidth. If you take the new image or any other image from my blog I will report you to Blogspot.

This is laziness on your part. You can host these images yourself on Blogspot. Stealing from strangers is rude, and ignorance doesn't make it any less rude.


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