Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Da da da da da da da da - Bagman!

A local author visited The Bookshop today, and asked us if his publisher's sales representative had advised us of the former's new book.  This encounter tipped over a fence in my past experiences enclosure and caused a stampede of memories - relating to when I carried out this role for various publishers - to trample over the plains of my consciousness, until they were rounded up by the lassos of (you're quite right, this metaphor has overstretched itself already, and needs urgent physiotherapy).

This strangely persistent species - (Venditionesque Repraesentativum Publica, as it's technically known in Google Latin) - continues to flourish, despite having in recent years come under increasing threat from a number of factors, including centralised buying, the closure of bookshops, diminishing sales budgets and a peculiar mutated virus whose sole target is large black pilot bags.  Still these brave crusaders for literature stride forward by car, train and on foot, undaunted by the thousand rebuffs that their profession is heir to, their eyes glowing with the quenchless  desire to sell that burns deep within their souls.  One of the most formidable types of sales rep. is The Freelance, who often works on a commission-only basis, representing a myriad small publishers and wielding almost as many black pilot bags. The distinguishing features of this creature include hideously lengthened arms and a basilisk-like stare from which, once it is met by a hapless bookseller, there is no escape.  Before the victim fully realises what is happening, they have sat down with the rep., gone through fifteen folders of badly-produced information sheets and ordered books on modelling historical figures with tapioca and epic poems on the history of snuff.

One of the fondest memories I have of sales repping is visiting thriving, intelligently-run independent bookshops, and (these being generally staffed by fewer people) meeting the challenge of performing one's duty on the shop floor.  At Newham Bookshop (hello Viv, hello Jon), I would often find myself balancing a sales folder in one hand, stroking one of the shop's cats that had decided to perch on my shoulder with another, and wishing I had a third to fill in my order form, all this while Viv served customers, answered the 'phone and arranged one of the phenomenally successful author events for which the shop is renowned.

Another experience that comes readily to mind is selling in a particular title from Zed Books on the Taliban, during one of the early modern Middle East conflagrations.  As this book was then the best intelligent short introduction to the subject, I was kept very busy with stock-checking and taking orders from many of the bookshops in my patch, and could often be found in a quiet corner of such an establishment saying, with great intensity - 'Hello, this is David - I have some urgent orders for The Taliban'.  I was never once even slightly arrested.

I could speak of hiding behind pillars in Foyle's, wearing deep camouflage and waiting to ambush elusive buyers, or the many happy hours spent turning my publishers' books face-out on shelves (although, need I add, never, at all, on any occasion whatsoever, concealing those from rival houses) - but I will save these and their ilk for another time.

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