I’ve danced around this topic in other posts, but I just need to come out and say it: I miss seeing sales reps. I email with them, we talk on the phone, etc., but I find that my ordering is scattered at best without actually sitting down and seeing a rep. I know it’s unrealistic to think I can actually see a rep for all my book ordering, but boy, it would be great.
I know with the evolution of on-line ordering, reps are probably far busier than they used to be, but I’ve discovered that frontlist ordering isn’t as successful without me interacting with a rep. Sure, I can do online ordering and read all the notes and the supplemental material, but it takes five times longer than just flipping through a catalog and making notes. What I miss about the meetings are the conversations that begin with, “Let’s go back to page 37. There’s a great paperback original about the relationship between two sisters in New Hampshire that I think your customers would love.” The computer doesn’t speak just to me. The computer doesn’t know my store. My rep does.
Reps are vital to the book business. And a good rep can really help a store if you’re paying attention. I love listening to a good rep (there are bad ones out there, though there seem to be fewer of them out there) talk about the books on the list they love. While I might not agree with all of his or her choices, I love that they have strong opinions about books.
Meeting a rep is a richer experience than sitting at the computer looking at entries. The face to face meeting allows a chance to get to know each other and make each other laugh. Frankly, anyone I’ve laughed with is already way more fun than ordering online. Reps have heart and they love books as much as bookstore staffers do. This love cannot be underestimated. Reps and bookstore employees do not make a lot of money, we all know this. When I walk a rep back to her car and she opens the trunk to reveal a season’s worth of galleys (always try to get a meeting early in the season) and starts handing me things, I get excited about all the possibilities.
Meeting a rep for a meal and then placing an order always seems to take less time than the whole computer order. Maybe that’s because it’s harder to eat and order on the computer than it is in person. Books, while a solitary experience, are also a shared one. We read a book and then give it to our friends and urge them to hurry up and finish it so we can talk about the book with them. Reps are just like that. They encourage us to try new books, to read galleys we might have skipped, and to trust them. It’s the trust that is the cornerstone of the relationship.
And as handy as the computer might be, I’d still always rather sit with a person and talk books.