Publishers Group West sales rep Ty Wilson says he’s been in the book industry since the “Rolodex cards and clipboards era.” He started off, in 1984, working the 3 p.m. to midnight shift at a Tower bookstore in Sacramento, Calif., where the Tower chain originated—a plum job for a guy who grew up trawling Sacramento’s used bookstores with his dad.

“I worked at Tower for 19 years, going from clerk to manager to manager-buyer,” Wilson says. “Eventually I became their national adult frontlist buyer and helped set up some stores around the country.”

He handled buying for stores in Asia too, traveling to Singapore, Bangkok, and Tokyo: “For a book person it was a real privilege and adventure. They gave me a store with on-the-job training.”

By 2003, “the Napster writing was on the wall,” Wilson says, referring to the file-sharing site that ushered in streaming platforms and the decline of CDs and old-school record stores, at least until the current vinyl resurgence. (Tower declared bankruptcy in 2006.) Wilson moved to Sonoma, becoming the adult frontlist buyer for six locations of Copperfield’s Books, where he stayed until 2010.

Ready for a change, Wilson found a job on PGW’s sales force, and he didn’t need to abandon what he loved about being a buyer. “I go into a store wearing my rep hat, but I always have my buyer’s hat on too,” he explains. “Because I bought for so many stores, I often had to conjure who the reader would be in locations I didn’t work in daily. Now I’m trying to fit my publishers’ books into the vision a buyer has for their store.”

Wilson attends to a store’s sales figures, manages changes to the sections and clientele, and recognizes that scrolling Edelweiss catalogs can overwhelm a buyer. “If I can give a list some contours,” pointing out titles’ potential appeal in regional markets, “the buyers are going to bring their own sensibilities,” he explains.

He notes that the books he highlights inevitably change between the start and end of a season, as a result of word-of-mouth among booksellers and his conversations with Ingram Content Group colleagues, including senior manager Leslie Jobson and v-p of sales Elise Cannon.

A lover of literary fiction, Wilson was pleased by the success of Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These. “I felt its commercial potential from the first page, the first paragraph, and I encouraged everyone in my sales group to read it,” he says. This spring, he’s especially looking forward to Europa Editions’ The Postcard, by Anne Berest.

Wilson, who still lives in Sonoma, covers a territory from Mendocino to Santa Cruz to the eastern Sacramento suburbs. “I spend a lot of time on 101,” he says, traveling north and south of the Bay Area.

Looking back on his early days as a buyer, he recalls, “When a set of catalogs would come in, I would drop everything. You feel renewed two or three times a year, and it’s still exciting. I still drop everything to go through the catalogs.”

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