An Ode to Sales Reps

Josie Leavitt - July 12, 2010

After another delicious breakfast meeting yesterday, (with Deb Woodward, one of the best reps around) I am reminded again how important sales reps can be to an independent bookstore. A good sales rep can act as an extension of the store with the publisher acting as an advocate for you with all publishing departments.
A sales rep’s job description  is to work hard on the publisher’s behalf to sell their books. Good reps make you feel like they’re working for you, not the publisher, and when this happens it’s a lovely, lovely thing. Meetings with good reps — and I feel blessed to only have good reps — should be fun, they should be informative, and the buyer should leave feeling great about their order. I am known for quick opinions and judgments and sometimes this gets the best of me. I love a rep who steers me clear of the “Oh, but it’s a cute bear picture book” fiasco I am about to embark on, and instead makes me read the book about the dog and monk that’s amazing. A rep’s job is tough, but the good ones make it look easy. They know what I’m likely to buy and what my customers are likely to respond to, so when he or she is excited about getting a book in my store, I trust them. And when they say, “You don’t need that”, I happily skip that book.
Reps go to bat for you with the publicity department to try and fight for you in getting authors to come to your store. I have some reps who automatically put in author requests for me when someone great is touring. This kind of inside pressure is often the thing that tips the scale in my favor in securing great authors. Some of my reps help me out even more by checking in with me two weeks before the event to make sure I’ve got enough stock, as sometimes even the most seasoned of us can forgot to order stock. We recently had an event scheduled for a Saturday for a local author’s book launch and by Thursday morning we had yet to get the books we ordered months earlier. I called my rep, somewhat frantic, and said, “Help! What should I do?” She overnighted a carton of the books, at the publisher’s expense, to ensure that I would have them for my event. I know some reps who carry a carton or two of hot books on midnight party release dates, just in case some accounts didn’t get their orders in time.
A good rep can help you navigate co-op. I love my reps because they email and call me with reminders about co-op deadlines that are rapidly approaching. This allows me to gather my info and send it in before I lose the money I’ve earned. They don’t have to do this, since the less co-op bookstores claim, the more money the publisher makes, but they do it anyway.  A few reminder emails can go a long way to make me be a better bookseller.
So, as my fall buying season winds down, I just want my reps to know that I rely on you more than I can say, and I appreciate you far more than you’ll ever know. I hope you all have a great season and I look forward to our next meal. This time, maybe I’ll treat.

7 thoughts on “An Ode to Sales Reps

  1. Carol B. Chittenden

    Amen to that. It took me a long time to recognize the value of a good rep, and I think very, very fondly of those like Dick Altman, Ralph Woodward, Alan Fairbanks, Joan Emery, Chuck Dresner, and others who patiently taught me and many others that part of the business.

  2. Laurel Book Store

    I wholeheartedly agree! Getting to know my store, my customer base, and even what my weaknesses are is so important when working with my wonderful reps. I love the conversations that come up about why I might pass on something or take more than usual of something else. Having a good rep makes me feel like I have someone who can tell me what’s going on with that pub and that I can give feedback about issues and that they actually care. Thank you for shedding light on their role.

  3. Susan Richmond

    Met with a rep last week. I double-booked myself and he had to meet me at my home. What a great guy. I’ve known Kurtis Lowe with Book Travelers West for nearly 10 years and he never steers me wrong. Helpful, responsive and just a nice guy. Thanks, Kurtis. We salute you!

  4. Reynold Akison

    Thank you. As a former Houghton Mifflin sales rep I appreciate your kind, knowing words about the job and the best approach to take when calling on buyers. I was lucky, I had been a buyer first at a bookstore in Boulder, CO. and then at a wholesaler. From that experience I had a good idea of what buyers wanted from a rep and how they liked to be treated. A good sales rep adds something extra to the publisher’s list and image. Regards and have an excellent season.

  5. Ellen Scott

    Even as all sorts of new technologies can do data entry or keep track of coop, there is still no substitute to the buyer/rep relationship in which good books are shared and talked about in terms of the particular store doing the buying. Seeing the rep with his samples in my office so he knows my store is the ideal. Let this be a plea to publishers who have telephone sales reps– send them to regional trade shows to meet their accounts in person or even send them out to work in one of their accounts for a day or two. Nothing can replace the face to face, person to person relationship.

  6. Ralph Woodward

    My daughter, Beth Martin, guided me to this blog and its praise of sales reps (and, in particular, Deb Woodward — no relation but dear to me nevertheless). In my long career in book publishing my fondness for publishers and their reps were powerful motivators but the sheer pleasure of calling on booksellers of so many interests, enthusiasms, and colorful characteristics was the main reward. Thanks to all of you and thanks for your appreciation of us — just doing our jobs!

  7. Debra Woodward

    A belated thank you to Josie for the shout-out. (And to “Uncle Ralph” for his comment!) I just want to add that we–reps and buyers–are a team. As a former buyer I learned from some of the best. And thanks to Kenny at Devaney, Doak and Garrett in Maine for giving me this link so I could share my photo of Josie enjoying her breakfast that day!


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