Hachette Book Group sales rep Julie Isgrigg took what she calls a “nontraditionalist path” through the book industry. Before landing at HBG, she spent years at Borders and in indie retail marketing at Baker & Taylor. When she became a rep, she says, “I’d never worked for a publisher before, but I knew a lot about books and customers.”

Isgrigg’s career began in 1999, at Borders headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich., where a keen eye for typos on the corporate website earned her a copyediting position. She moved through the ranks, editing email newsletters before becoming the merchandising manager for borders.com, “picking all of the titles that we featured on our most prominent pages.”

She left in 2010 as Borders’ end drew closer. A few months later, a former Borders colleague recruited her to B&T’s Charlotte, N.C., office. B&T needed a digital merchandising manager for Blio, its e-book app, and Isgrigg stayed with the company even after Blio ran its course. “I spent five or six years managing the sales reps and immersing myself in the indie bookstore world, doing inventory and promotions, getting to know the stores, and doing trade show planning with the regional associations,” she recalls.

B&T closed its retail division in 2019, but Isgrigg had found her footing. Longtime HBG sales rep Judy DeBerry—a NAIBA rep of the year and three-time PW rep of the year nominee—was retiring, and Hachette was hiring. “They took a chance on me,” Isgrigg says, and she dove into visiting stores and taking notes. Her relationship building paid off during the pandemic, she says, because “I didn’t see any of those buyers in person again, except for my two most local stores, until midway through 2022.”

Now, Isgrigg sells to indies and museum stores from Maryland to South Carolina, mostly in North Carolina and the D.C. area. She serves 60–75 accounts, from tiny stores to Politics & Prose and the Smithsonian. “In my mind it’s almost a bookstore synesthesia, a color or texture I associate with every store as I’m catching its personality and getting to know the staff,” she says.

She calls on the literary nonprofit Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, N.C., which hosts reps to pitch book club picks: “They stress diversity in the representation of authors and characters, and they ask you to bring an author to interview,” Isgrigg says. “They’ve built this trust with an audience that shows up—it’s remarkable.” She also stops at Main Street Books in Davidson, N.C., whose owner, Adah Fitzgerald, is “starting to get much more high-profile events because of the reputation she’s built.”

Isgrigg’s sales instincts lead her to favorite book picks, too, including Nathaniel Ian Miller’s The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven. “I just loved that book—it had a twinkle in its eye—and I started sending out a bunch of ARCs,” she says, in addition to creating handwritten shelftalkers. “I found a few buyers who read it and became handselling champions. They helped get the book on the Indie Next list, and the Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, N.C., ended up selling hundreds of copies in hardcover because they made it a staff pick.”

Isgrigg brings evident enthusiasm to her sales role. “Like all the other finalists and anyone who’s doing this job, I love books to my very core,” she says. “This job feels like a ministry in many ways. I know we’re not in the business of saving lives medically, but I do feel like there’s a calling, whether it’s in publishing or bookselling or writing or marketing.” She finds a kind of fulfillment in connecting publishers, booksellers, authors, and readers: “I just pinch myself that I get to do this every day.”

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