Reflections of a retiring sales rep
I don’t feel one bit venerable, nor as old as someone might be who’s been in the same business as long as I have. But it was indeed 1974 when I stepped into Classics Bookstore in the Adelaide Centre in downtown Toronto for my first day working under a manager who also happened to be my older sister! I was sure it was just a Christmas season job. I was wrong – it was the first step in a 37-year career.
I had been connected to the world of books for years before Classics because my uncle was in the publishing business. During his tenure he and my aunt, characters both, had entertained dozens of authors including many of the grand dames of mystery – Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham. My aunt was an avid reader of their books. How well I remember her extensive library of mystery novels dating back to the thirties, each one with dates (sometimes as many as 4) pencilled on the frontispiece to indicate each time she had read it. That library, and my aunt’s expert guidance, was my first exposure to mysteries, beginning with A Surfeit of Lampreys by Ngaio Marsh. I was hooked, and forever in love with Roderick Alleyn. I have never stopped reading and loving the evolving genre since.
I left bookselling for in-house publishing and from there I moved to work as a Publishers Sales Rep where I was lucky enough to hook up with publishing dynamo Kim McArthur, first with Little, Brown Canada and then with McArthur & Company. Under Kim’s excellent leadership, many great Canadian, British and American mystery writers were introduced to Canadian readers and it was a career highlight that I was there to help make it happen.
There is nothing more gratifying than falling in love with a writer’s first book, then being able to convince your booksellers to take a chance on your recommendation. It is even better seeing it sell thanks to the bookseller’s efforts at hand-selling. I’m very proud to have been instrumental in my own small way in the success in Canada of an illustrious list of writers.
Our first and biggest success was Ian Rankin. There was a terrific sense of common purpose and excitement in the Little Brown Canadian sales force as we vowed to get Rankin discovered. Slowly and steadily, over several years and several titles, starting with Strip Jack, we persistently cajoled our booksellers to keep trying him. Rankin’s publisher, Orion, provided us with advance reading copies and multiples of his backlist titles so that we could salt them around to book buyers and their trusted customers. Word of mouth worked its magic and McArthur’s volume discounts helped to position titles prominently. Once we had a good base of readers and after Ian won his first CWA award for Black and Blue, Kim and her marketing team orchestrated a highly successful cross Canada publicity tour. It was very satisfying to see the sell-out crowd at the National Library when he came to Ottawa. We had done what we set out to do!
Rankin was the beginning. Since that first outing I was involved in the Canadian success of such masterful writers as James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, Brian Freeman, and Declan Hughes in each case starting with their debut efforts. I am especially thrilled to have been part of the “discovery” of our own home-grown star, Louise Penny.
There is no mystery to loving this business. It takes hard work and a love of books to end up as I have, with a load of fantastic memories. Of course, it helps to be blessed with having had such talented authors to sell and wonderful people to sell them to.
Bridget Barber has been a freelance sales representative with Hornblower Books in Ottawa since 1984 with 10 years in bookselling and publishing in Toronto before that. She was one of the first women in Canada to be hired as a sales representative in publishing, an industry that is now dominated by women at most levels. Although she is giving up the sales and the attendant travelling, she intends to stay connected to books by working part time in a local bookstore...back to her roots.