My losing bid to be "Rep of the Year".
This is the essay I wrote for the American Booksellers Association. It was required because I had been nominated for the 2017 "Rep of the Year" Award.
A far more worthy person than I won, but I thought you'd like to see it, none the less.
Essay: What do you see as the role of the sales rep? How has your approach to being a sales rep changed over the past five years?
One of my heroes, Carl Sagan, said this about books and it has always meant so much to me, “A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called "leaves") imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic.”
When I was a bookstore owner I would give a little speech to my new employees about why being a bookseller was so important. I would say words to the effect that of all the “products” someone could be selling to another person, a book was so very different and special. When you hold a book in your hand, you are holding the end result of months or even years of another person’s effort and time of giving of themselves. Being a bookseller is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. You have the power to affect someone’s life in a very positive way by recommending a good book. A book can literally change lives.
Now, as a publisher’s rep, I still have that same power and responsibility. My publishers depend on me to tell their story and to tell their authors’ stories to my book buyers. If a biography or novel really moves me then I want to do everything I can to help that publisher and that author get the recognition they deserve in a very crowded marketplace.
I sit at sales conferences listening to editors from the publishers I represent tell us about the books they have helped to mold and create. My mind is constantly thinking about how I will relate what I’m learning back to my bookstore buyers. It’s easy when the book is by a bestselling author; everyone will want to stock it. Those by less familiar or debut authors can present a challenge, but one I relish.
The biggest change in the last five years has, of course, been the introduction of Edelweiss, which certainly has its positives and negatives. I try very hard, given the tools we now have, to make each book look unique to my buyers. I highlight special titles on the list, share bookseller, librarian, and fellow rep recommendations, and sometimes post funny, eye-catching and informative photos. I create suggested orders for many accounts, and review each account’s order before meeting with buyers. I know booksellers are looking at literally thousands of titles from my omnibus catalogs and my goal is to streamline the review process for them.
I publish a popular blog, Advanced Reading Copy, about what it’s like being a rep. I also share photos from my travels, highlight bookstores in my territory, and focus on my publishers’ authors, especially Southern authors: http://advancereadingcopy-jon.blogspot.com/. It’s been quite successful with readers from all over the world, and has more than 85,000 pageviews. I’m currently working on a post featuring photos I’ve taken of every bookstore buyer/owner I meet with in the Southeast. Through my blog I create connections between booksellers, authors and publishers and bring much deserved attention to a culturally rich part of the world: the Southeast.
- Where do you work, how long have you been there, and what territory do you cover?
I work for Ingram Content Group from my home in Asheville, NC (when I’m not on the road). I represent PGW, Perseus Distribution and IPS. My territory is the Southeast: North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.
- How long have you been in the book business?
I started in the book business in 1970 which puts me in the book business for 47 years! OMG!
- What bookstores, publishers, and/or rep groups have you worked with previously?
I was hired as a bookseller for Pickwick Bookshops, a small regional chain in Southern California. It was supposed to be a summer job but I found that I loved it right away. Within 6 months I was promoted to assistant manager at another store. Within a year I got my own store in Riverside, CA. I was the youngest manager (21) in the chain, which by then had been bought by B. Dalton Booksellers.
I stayed in Riverside for a year and was then asked to take over a high-volume B. Dalton in San Diego. I stayed at that store for a couple of years before being offered a brand new store near La Jolla. After a year there Brentano’s lured me to open their new store in La Jolla. A year later Brentano’s experienced financial difficulties and closed a number of stores, including mine.
I and my former wife, Nancy Butler, opened an independent bookstore in the same enclosed mall where the Brentano’s was located. We called it Butler & Mayes Booksellers. We had a good run for almost 10 years and were voted San Diego’s favorite bookstore in a newspaper poll. We tried many things to make our store unique. We carried the largest selection of foreign newspapers and magazines in the county; we “rented” hardback best sellers for our fast-reading customers. We also delivered phoned-in orders within a 5 mile radius. We were also known for our incredible customer service.
Alas, in 1990, big box chain bookstores moved into town and we could no longer compete. We closed the store in 1991 and I took the job as the Southeast rep for PGW (Publishers Group West).
I moved my family to Atlanta and have loved the job ever since. PGW has always had a “cool” reputation thanks to its founder, Charlie Winton. I certainly wasn’t cool but I was quite pleased to be associated with a company with that kind of character. PGW champions small presses and helps so many grow their lists and thrive. PGW also has a reputation for a stellar rep force. We’ve been bought a few times, first by Advance Marketing Services, then the Perseus Books Group and most recently by Ingram. The quality of the people who run and work for our company has always been one of the main reasons we’ve been sought after.
In 2012 my wife and I divorced. Not long after that, recently divorced Linda-Marie Barrett, general manager of Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, NC, and I found ourselves struck by Cupid’s arrow and started to date. In June of 2016 we were married on a hilltop near the Swannanoa River in Asheville.
- Please list any awards that you have received and/or any additional information that you’d like us to have.
I was president of the San Diego Booksellers Association from 1985 to 1988.