Richard McNeace is the hardest-working sales rep in the business, with a massive kit of publishers and an inexhaustible passion for knowledge, art, books, and publishing,” wrote John Evans, co-owner of Diesel: A Bookstore in Los Angeles and Del Mar, Calif., in his nominating letter for the Faherty & Associates rep. “His intelligence and curiosity prepare him every season for understanding and articulating the potential value of his titles and their possible places in your store, while imagining those buyers hungry for what can be found in them.”
McNeace, who calls on bookstores in California and New Mexico, as well as key museum accounts, is marking his 32nd year as a rep. He says that he has always considered himself more of a booksellers’ advocate than a publishers’ representative. In any conflict between booksellers and publishers, he says, he sides with booksellers. “I believe what is best for the bookseller is ultimately best for the publisher.”
An old-school rep who’d rather drive hundreds of miles visiting bookstores than sit in his home office Zooming or marking up Edelweiss catalogs, McNeace mourns many of the changes in how reps now work. He recalls meetings with store buyers that were once like “jazz improvisations: I went with the moment, I read my audience, I reacted, I responded to sudden inspiration.” Now, due to technological efficiencies, he says that he has become “a cocktail pianist on a cruise ship, planning the set lists for the weeks ahead, trying to make sure there is something for everyone.”
McNeace began his book career in 1982 when publishing felt more like a calling than a career path. His first job was at the Brooklyn Museum’s gift shop. A few years later he returned to his hometown, Roanoke, Va., and became a buyer at Books Strings & Things. There he enjoyed meeting with commission reps whose marathon appointments often culminated with a night out.
McNeace remembers one evening in particular when rep George Hopkins stood on his chair and recited Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach.” That was the night McNeace decided that he wanted to be a rep. He joined Yale University Press in 1989, moving on to the Karel/Dutton Group and then Phaidon before joining Faherty in 2005.
While McNeace waxes nostalgic for how publishing used to be, the industry’s two constants continue to sustain him: books and the people who sell them. “Booksellers,” he says, “have been my reason to get up in the morning and head out on the road.”