I Miss Seeing Reps

Josie Leavitt - May 2, 2013

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.

11 thoughts on “I Miss Seeing Reps

  1. Shirley

    I totally agree. My problem is that I put off doing the orders on the computer. When reps come the order gets placed and the backlist checked. The publishers that don’t send reps are always the very last to get ordered. Fortunately, we still a fair number of reps.

    1. Marcia Kaplan

      I know exactly what you mean. I will start an order on line, but then get called away and can’t figure out how to get back in. A total waste of hours of work.
      Some reps still come in person. That is the biggest treat of all. It isn’t like the good old days. I miss the catalogs. The computer is very tiring, and I can’t fold down the page.
      The other day I received an incredible box from Harcourt. It had a pile of middle school novels and a bunch of candy, a stuffed frog and I really don’t remember the rest. But it was like the good old days. I even called the sender to tell him how much I appreciated the box. I read quite a few of the books and found a real connection. Sometimes sorting through a huge pile of novels is overwhelming. A rep can tell you where to begin.
      Love you posts, I look forward to reading them.

  2. Sally Brewster

    Absolutely, positively on target with this blog. Please publishers pay attention!!! I have 3 reps for one major publisher (and that reflects in their sales at our store) and none for 2 of the big guys!

  3. Carol Chittenden

    As Professor Harold Hill says in The Music Man, “Ya gotta know the territory.”
    We’ve learned (more or less) to use Edelweiss, and we have some wonderful telephone reps — but they’ve never seen our store. They can’t possibly see how it’s laid out, what kinds of people work here, the nature of the street and the town. And that means we don’t come to mind for them when they spot a book that would fit well here, despite everyone’s best efforts to put it across. I don’t mind doing telephone orders some of the time, and I don’t envy reps all their road miles and motel nights. But if they don’t see us in person at least once a year, they miss out on a lot of knowledge and rapport that builds sales — and I can see it in the numbers.

  4. Lilli

    A someone who manages a team of seven book sales reps, and has spent a decade on the road herself, thank you for this. It’s nice to know we’re loved and appreciated in an industry that often likes to downplay the importance of our role.

  5. Anna Rallo

    Dear Josie, thank you very much for this blogpost. I work in a bookshop too and from my point of view this is all very true. And nicely (and exactly) put! I’m new here but will lurk again among your shelves.

    1. Bobbi Miller

      Hi Anna,
      I am trying to reach you about an article on a play you wrote for the Pagoda years ago
      in St. Augustine.

  6. Terry Toews

    Thank you Josie – this just made my day.
    As a former indie buyer, and now a field rep & sales director for over 20 years, your comments are spot-on.
    And from the reps perspective, after all the post-sales conference prep, updating Edelwiess, reading arc’s and f&g’s, there is nothing as rewarding as leaving the confines of the home office and sitting face to face with a buyer. It’s like entering the real world again and is definitely the highlight of each season.

  7. lynn lockhart

    thankyou so much for taking the time to write this. I sent out “in praise of my rep” emails after my spring buying sessions because I felt I needed to. The time I have with my reps is important to me, they know our indie chain strengths and focus on what works for us.

  8. Roger S. Williams

    As a former sales rep, turned bookseller, turned sales director (Simon & Schuster) and now literary agent, I am so pleased to see Josie’s post. When I am selling books to publishers, I always have in mind…who is going to be representing my clients’ works to booksellers? I tend to favor those publishers that support the local booksellers by sending reps into the stores. On behalf of my clients, I thank you for your service…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *