From her early career as a jack-of-all-marketing-trades to her present position representing adult titles for Penguin and for PRH distribution clients, Bay Area sales rep Wendy Pearl has had a front-row seat to the book trade.

In college, she says, “I never knew a book sales rep even existed. I stumbled into publishing when I started as a marketing assistant for Pinnacle Books.” Later, she worked as head copywriter at academic Sage Publications in L.A. before moving to San Francisco to manage sales and marketing for an educational press.

Ultimately, her marketing chops led her to a sales rep role at Putnam; she’s been doing that work for 33 years, five of them on the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association board.

“At the start of my career I sold everything—adult, kids, baby board books, puzzles, stationery—from Santa Barbara to Mendocino, and even Hawaii,” Pearl recalls. “It was a large, wonderful territory.” She says she visited almost every bookstore in Northern and Central California in those days.

After Putnam merged with Penguin 25 years ago, Pearl focused on the Bay Area, repping adult hardcover titles. (One of these was Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, and Hosseini recognized her support in the acknowledgments for A Thousand Splendid Suns.) With the 2013 Penguin Random House merger, Pearl was charged with representing major Penguin Group imprints including Dutton, Riverhead, and Viking. “Now my territory is geographically much smaller, and six of my bookstores are within a two-mile radius,” she says.

Though Pearl has “seen a large number of bookstores and different accounts close” over the years, she notes, “I haven’t lost any of my accounts through the pandemic, and I’ve seen a few open up.” When Covid brought business as usual to a screeching halt, she got the word out via FaceTime, phone, and Zoom, and by mailing ARCs to booksellers’ homes. She created custom videos for store email blasts, sent stickers, and wrote handwritten encouragements on bookmarks to flag “Wendy Pearl’s Picks.”

“It’s so exciting to see some of my smaller stores—like Orinda Books, Rakestraw Books, or A Great Good Place for Books—often sell more copies of a book than any other store in the country, including the very largest,” Pearl says. “I credit that to the extraordinary handselling of my booksellers, of course, but I feel gratified to know that I was the one who put that ARC into their hands.”

Working from home in April 2020, Pearl created a video recommending the paperback release of Jessica Francis Kane’s Rules for Visiting; Orinda Books owner Pat Rudebusch shared it, and the store became one of the book’s top sellers, according to Above the Treeline analytics, after selling about 100 copies of the title by year’s end.

The tools of Pearl’s trade have changed over the course of a long career: she used to do inventories on paper to complete a backlist order and made the switch from paper catalogs to Edelweiss markups. Yet the “relationships and trust” she’s built over decades, the sales calls in which she and friends catch up on personal news before shop talk, are the heart of her work.

“I love to incorporate the new innovations with doing things old school,” Pearl says. “I love to build the buzz, taking a book that’s not on the radar and getting the bandwagon going among my colleagues at Penguin. Being a sales rep has been the backdrop of my whole adult life.”

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