This year’s PW Rep of the Year award winner, Teresa Rolfe Kravtin, a commission rep with Southern Territory Associates since 2002, owes it all to Faith—or at least a good part of it. That’s because Rich’s department store book buyer, Faith Brunson, former president of the American Booksellers Association and “doyenne of Southern bookselling,” served as her first mentor. At the time, Kravtin had just graduated from college and was working as a Christmas seasonal employee at Rich’s book department in Atlanta, while she tried to decide whether to get a master’s degree in music. But on her very first day on the job, Brunson called Kravtin into her office and told her, “I spent my entire career in the book business. Whether you stay six months or six years, I’ll teach you everything I know, and I guarantee you that working in bookselling and publishing will be worth your time.”
That was the first time that Kravtin thought about a potential career in publishing and bookselling. Throughout the past three decades, she has tried to honor the woman who gave her a start. Kravtin’s generosity in helping booksellers and authors is due to Brunson’s vision of booksellers and publishers working together, from a time when the two were very much intertwined—before houses merged, independent bookstores’ market share shrank, and the publishing business became more of a numbers game.
In her nomination of Kravtin for the award, author and illustrator Elizabeth Dulemba wrote: “I had the lucky chance to be represented by Teresa with three of my books.... I got to know Teresa over the first two. But she really proved her chops on [the third,] The Twelve Days of Christmas in Georgia [Sterling]. She actually took it upon herself to help the author [Susan Rosson Spain] and I [Dulemba illustrated the book] set up book signings all over our fair state two years in a row. I’ve never heard of a rep doing that.” For Kravtin, booking a Georgia tour for Spain and Dulemba seemed like an obvious way to get sales moving for the holiday title—something the publisher wasn’t planning to do. “It was my slow season,” says Kravtin. But obviously it was about much more than filling extra time.
“I’m always pushing publishers when I can, I can’t leave business on the table,” says Kravtin, who got the picture book into the Atlanta airport bookstores as part of the tour. “Just the orders I wrote...we sold upward of 800 copies.” Kravtin also pushed hard for Alabama author Hester Bass’s The Secret World of Walter Anderson (Candlewick), illustrated by E.B. Lewis, which went on to receive the 2010 Children’s Book Award from the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. She plotted out a route for the Wimpy Kid tour through the South to stop in Athens, Ga., when Abrams’s publicity department was having trouble making it work. And her ability to move books is one reason why her name can be found in the acknowledgments to Tom Angleberger’s Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppet (Abrams).
Being a rep has never been just a job for Kravtin, who began working as a sales representative in 1984 for Viking Penguin. She was named a Penguin Regional Representative of the Year and received a rep of the year award from the Southeastern Booksellers Association (the precursor to SIBA) in the 1990s. “Teresa doesn’t just sell books, she effectively markets them as well,” says Elise Supovitz, executive director of independent retail and Canada sales for Candlewick Press. “She’s a social media whiz, connecting to the entire reading community in her territory—to educators, consumers, and booksellers. She even hosts her own Facebook discussion group for Candlewick’s Chaos Walking series. In two words, she’s a renaissance rep.”
“She’s exemplary,” says Michael Jacobs, president and CEO at Harry N. Abrams. “She’s great. Her customers are crazy about her. She’s willing to do anything for them and is invested in them and their success.”
Kravtin talks up independent bookstores on her blog, A Rep Reading (arepreading.tumblr.com), where she also highlights midlist books and reprints stories about favorite authors, like Jon Klassen. “Part of my social media effort is to get the message out [to consumers] to buy local,” says Kravtin. “When I got on Twitter [@trkravin] several years ago, I was getting in touch with teachers and authors. I say to them whenever possible, ‘If you’ve got an indie nearby, they have galleys you can share, shelftalkers you can write. There are a multitude of ways you can mutually benefit.’ ”
She also tweets about news stories like the 25th anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie over the publication of The Satanic Verses. Working for Viking Penguin, she says, shaped her identity as a rep. Kravtin stays in touch with many of her colleagues from the time—a fact that led her to her current job at STA. STA co-owner Angie Smits worked at Viking Penguin in the Rushdie days.
Music, too, continues to exert its pull on Kravtin’s rep view. She’s a flutist who volunteers in the LaGrange (Ga.) Community Orchestra, and she wrote in her awards essay, “I owe my approach to business and my philosophy as a sales rep to my inner musician.... Each bookseller sales call is comparable to a performance. It takes preparation, technique, understanding, and a successful relationship to succeed.” It’s one reason why she’s opposed to the trend of moving booksellers to telephone sales, or, in some cases, no sales. “The theory that booksellers are going to be equally served by someone on the phone is not correct,” says Kravtin, for whom being a sales rep is personal.
Kravtin’s pro-indie stance, her care in preparing for sales calls, and the fact that she never pushes what won’t work based on a store’s demographics have made her highly regarded by her accounts. When it was announced that she was this year’s PW Rep of the Year, SIBA posted on its Facebook page, “No surprise here that Teresa Rolfe Kravtin took the... prize! She’s awesome.” Laura Weeks, owner of Lorelei Books in Vicksburg, Miss., says, “Teresa’s the best in the business. She’s been a torchbearer for booksellers. A lot of publishers don’t make appointments. They just run in the door and swing a catalogue at you, if we receive a catalogue at all. She’s professional. In an industry driven by the numbers, Teresa brings the humanity, and we need more of that nowadays.”
Despite identifying with indies, Kravtin acknowledges that her group is dependent on the combined business of indies, Ingram, and Books-A-Million. As commission reps, she says, “we kind of wonder among ourselves how long we’re going to be around. There have been so many wonderful, knowledgeable, talented sales reps who are no longer working in publishing. STA has been in business since 1976, through many evolutions of publishing. It does say something that we’re the biggest remaining group in the South, and that is due to creatively constructing our business model. We need support from publishers and booksellers to make this work for 38 more years.”