Bas Bleu’s readers often ask us: “How do you find all of those wonderful books?” Our answer: With a lot of help from our wonderful sales reps! We work closely with reps from dozens of publishers, big and small, to find the books we think we will be perfect for Bas Bleu. One of our most enduring relationships is with Bianca Miele, Director of Category Sales (Special Retail) at Penguin Random House. Recently, we met up with Bianca at BookExpo in New York, where we discussed changes in the publishing industry, her lifelong love of books, and how she’s sharing that love with her young daughter.
Bas Bleu: How did you get into the book business?
Bianca Miele: My love of books started at a young age when somehow I got ahold of glue and decided to glue my copy of Tom Thumb to my wall, so I could flip through it at night in my crib. Fast forward to many years later, and I started as a clerk in my local Borders book shop in college. After a few years, I decided to pursue a career in publishing, most importantly in sales as I wanted to translate my love of books into something bigger. I answered a newspaper ad in the New York Times for a Mail Order Assistant in Special Sales at Random House. It was just like in Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything…but set in 1998 instead of 1958.
BB: How long have you been working for Penguin Random House? And how long have you been Bas Bleu’s sales rep?
BM: I have been at Penguin Random House for nineteen years! And working with Bas Bleu for seventeen of those years. [Editor’s note: Penguin Group and Random House merged in 2013.]
BB: What was your first impression of Bas Bleu? What are your favorite memories of Bas Bleu?
BM: I always felt that the Bas Bleu catalog was having the perfectly selected book and gift store delivered right to my doorstep every season. My favorite memories are the ones where we have collaborated on proprietary projects [including Tisha, Bas Bleu’s January 2017 Book a Month selection, and A Dark-Adapted Eye, from the 2016 Book a Month package] and had our books featured on the cover of the Bas Bleu catalog.
BB: Penguin Random House sells so many different books. How do you choose titles you think will be a good fit for Bas Bleu?
BM: This is absolutely the best part of my job. I love combing through our list every season for the “perfect Bas Bleu book.” The books I specifically look for are: anything Jane Austen, a cool gift book for the holidays that could be merchandised with other items (How to Tie a Scarf), a unique children’s title where you can pair it with a plush doll/animal, quirky history titles with amazing covers, stationery product that would fit in well for your customers (Q&A a Day), and then fiction and non-fiction that would fit in with your Book of the Month themes and are the perfect little literary gems.
BB: How is Bas Bleu different from your other customers?
BM: I think it is just the way we work together from the beginning of a season to your printed catalog. I feel very much a part of the selections that go into each Bas Bleu catalog. I know that when I write a little note on a galley or send you an email about a book that I am excited about, we have an immediate dialogue about it.
BB: Can you remember any books/authors you were especially excited to see find a home in the Bas Bleu catalog?
BM: I wish I could name them all, but here are just a few: National Geographic’s Amazing Moms, Emma Dodd’s Always, Stick Master Piece notecards, [2016 Book a Month selection] Cassandra at the Wedding, and Parisian Chic.
BB: Over the course of your career, what major changes have you observed in the book business?
BM: Wow, there have been so many changes over the years. I think the biggest one was e-books and people being afraid that there would no longer be printed pages to read anymore. And yet, here we are completely committed to the printed word with people carrying a book with them everywhere. Also, the systems available for getting book information to our customers: customized presentations, the use of Edelweiss collections, and being able to quickly analyze our sales data to have productive conversations with our buyers about their business and book sales.
BB: What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your job? What do you think are the biggest challenges facing booksellers today?
BM: I think our biggest challenge every year is how do we get books into readers’ hands and what do they want to read? We constantly have to think about the next trend and how to get ahead of it—adult coloring books, small gift books, eccentric cooking titles, what will be the “It” trend/category/format that is on everyone’s “must have” list…[all while trying to stay] fresh and innovative with all of our fiction and non-fiction.
BB: Years ago, we worked with a delightful vendor who made one of our earliest bestselling products, the Tote of Quotes. It wasn’t until we’d been working with him for a while that we learned he was your dad! He clearly loved words and language; what influence did he have on your career?
BM: Oh, my dad was a HUGE reader, and he certainly passed his love of literature and the arts onto his daughters. Every year at Christmas, we always received a special book from my dad with an inscription. As I grew older my dad and I could talk for hours and hours about books—he read every genre from commercial mystery to non-fiction. I think we spent a month chatting about Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth. He certainly taught me to try everything and not just stick in my comfort zone of reading.
BB: Which books from your childhood helped to shape the person you are today?
BM: Here are just a few: Dare Wright’s The Lonely Doll books (these would most likely never be published today); The Velveteen Rabbit; everything written by Judy Blume; Ramona Quimby, Age 8; Harriet the Spy; Charlotte’s Web; and James and the Giant Peach.
BB: We were thrilled when you welcomed a daughter to your family last year. How is she doing, and what books do you like to read together?
BM: Violet is absolutely a little reader already. [She’s] just starting to talk, and she selects her favorite titles, walks over to one of us and says “dis dis” (for “this”), meaning “read this book, Mamma/Daddy.” In the rotation right now are: Dinosaur Dance, Dancing Feet, My First Book of Girl Power, and Little Miss Austen’s Emma (in which every emotion must be acted out). Violet is the sweetest little girl, and we have loved watching her enjoy books—reading and eating them!
BB: When you’re not working hard in the book world, what activities do you enjoy?
BM: After books my second passion is dance. When I am not at work (or home), I teach dance and fitness at a local non-profit community center called The Connection. And when there is time after that I get to dance with the most amazing group of people at Studio 509 in Maplewood, New Jersey.
BB: What books are currently on your nightstand? And what upcoming books from Penguin Random House are you most excited about?
BM: Being a relatively new mom I am not able to read as much as I would like, however, I still keep a very active to-read list. This fall line-up is one I am particularly excited about; here are just a few to look out for: Bonfire, American Wolf, Mrs. Osmond, Little Fires Everywhere, A Legacy of Spies, and of course Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust.
BB: No pressure, but is Bas Bleu your favorite customer? You can tell us, really.
BM: We certainly have had a wonderful partnership over the last seventeen years!
BB: Our thanks to Bianca for sharing her experience and expertise…and for being such a great champion for Bas Bleu over the years. We look forward to working together for many more!
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