For Cindy Heidemann, a field sales representative for Publishers Group West and Two Rivers (part of Ingram Publisher Services), reps are “enablers”—in a good way, she hastens to add. That’s because sales reps serve, for most booksellers, as direct contacts with the publishers that they represent. Reps have a dual responsibility both to their accounts and to their publishers.
In that respect, little has changed over the decade and a half since Heidemann was first named a finalist for PW’s Rep of the Year. “I found an essay from 2005, when I was nominated, and it was very similar to the one I submitted this year,” Heidemann says. “The sales rep always has to think about what’s best for the account. We hate returns. You have to think about that store and ask, Can they sell that sucker?”
The More Things Change
Many of the biggest changes to the job that Heidemann points as having occurred since she became a rep in 2001—at George Carroll’s Redsides Publishing Services, before moving to Perseus Books Group and then PGW in 2003—have to do with adapting to new technology and new modes of communication, which have affected all of retail. When she began her career in the book business as a cashier at the University of Oregon Bookstore in Eugene in 1977 after graduating from the university with a degree in English literature, bookstores relied on index cards to keep track of inventory and communicated with reps by phone. Old telexes from publishers to the store’s textbook department were still in the store’s files, but the fax machine was coming into its own.
During her nearly two decades as a rep, Heidemann has seen firsthand the impact that the computer and smartphone have had on the book business. Among more recent changes, the Edelweiss platform is the most significant in the past five years, she thinks. Of the 40 accounts that she calls on in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, only two (both wholesalers) have opted not to use Edelweiss. Heidemann was a buyer in the 1980s and ’90s, and she now finds that sales calls are “much more immediate and personal” with Edelweiss, even though reps used to mark up print catalogues. “If book buyers look [at the Edelweiss markups], they kinda know what you think,” she says.
One advantage of Edelweiss—and with booksellers preparing their orders ahead of sales calls—is that calls are shorter and more focused on the store. “Each buyer is so idiosyncratic and different,” Heidemann says, “I can’t say there’s a norm.” Some buyers still like to sit down and review the list with her as they did pre-Edelweiss. But for many others, sales calls offer opportunities to walk around their stores with the rep and talk about their businesses, books, and delayed titles or other publishing schedule changes.
Another difference is the longer hours for the reps. “I don’t think reps worked 40, 50, or 60 hours a week,” says Heidemann. “Before, I don’t think bookstores would have sent orders on the weekend. Now it’s all hours of the day and all days of the week.”
In addition to calling on stores, Heidemann also provides markups and discusses her lists with local media and booksellers groups in the Northwest, including Shelf Awareness and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association. Plus, with the recent proliferation of Little Free Libraries, Heidemann has a new outlet for older galleys. “Little Free Libraries have been the saving grace of reps,” she says. “I drive around and leave galleys at them.”
Heidemann, who was a Goodreads devotee until Amazon bought the site, regards Edelweiss as her blog. Edelweiss allows Heidemann, who makes a deliberate effort to read widely across genres and publishers (including those whose books she doesn’t sell), to share book recommendations. Her accounts have come to trust the “Loved this book” tags that she puts on titles like Sohaila Abdulali’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape. “When I put that book down, I wanted everybody to read [it] and think about their lives,” Heidemann says. “It made me go back and think about when I was harassed and assaulted.” Recently, Heidemann has created a new tag, “Loved this book double,” for Margaret Renkl’s Late Migrations, about grieving and her relationship with nature.
Heidemann’s “love” lists and literary acuity are valued by other reps, as well as by booksellers. Lise Solomon, a commission rep with the Karel/Dutton Group and 2016’s PW Rep of the Year, shared an email in which she asked Heidemann, “How the heck do you have time to read my backlist let alone your books for the next season?!” In her nomination, Solomon also cited Heidemann’s “passion and long years of dedication to powering books into the right hands.” She continued: “[Heidemann] was key with [booksellers] falling in devastating love with What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, a book that was originally going to be on the Consortium list. And I know that I would no way have been able to sell it nearly as well as she has.”
Elise Cannon, v-p of field sales at PGW and Ingram Content Group, also singled out Heidemann as “one of the most voracious readers we know and a tireless champion of our independent publishers’ books.” She added, “When it comes to breaking out a new author or bringing attention to an unsung backlist gem, she is a force of nature. She’s thoughtful, quick with a smile no matter what, and she has an uncanny knack for sending good chocolate just when you need it most. Cindy is a standout.”
The Magic 8 Ball and the Future of Repping
Although Heidemann is not a big presence on social media, she reads other reps’ tweets. As for the next big thing in technology that could affect repping, she doesn’t see it coming from Instagram or Facebook. “I’m sure some people would say doing sales calls by Skype,” she says. “I don’t want that. I want to see people in person.”
Certainly, it’s Heidemann’s personal touch and ability to read a store’s needs that have gained her a devoted following among book buyers, which includes Robert Sindelar, president of the American Booksellers Association. Writing in his capacity as managing partner of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Ravenna, and Seaward Park, Wash., Sindelar calls Heidemann “a master at helping buyers focus on what is important for their stores.”
Heidemann says that as a rep, she uses her “[Magic] 8 Ball ability to see into the future to circumvent possible problems.” She adds, “Bookselling is ever-changing, and we all have to help each other navigate changes in technology and practices.” But what she considers to be the most important aspect of her job, no matter the technology, is “to get the books to the people who can sell them to the right readers.”