Want to be a bookseller? I asked an international sales representative from Harper Collins what it’s like. He’d just gotten back from a month long trip, back in time to watch the Minnesota Twins lose. I caught him during the 6th innings.
12th Street: So how does one become a sales representative for Harper Collins?
Austin Tripp: Well, you start, typically, as an assistant to a rep. There are other scenarios, but this is most usual. I started my adult working life working for a printer making books, and did sales for them, and then moved to New York to be an assistant. I wanted to travel somehow, and this seemed right. It is very corporate though; I wasn’t ready for that.
12th Street: You don’t feel like a salesman yet.
AT: Oh, I do, I am. Just the other day I sold a ketchup Popsicle to a woman in white gloves. Singapore and Thailand are my favorite. The business is great in both, but I like the culture. Both are very different—Singapore is so clean, and while they have atrocious human rights violations, they make decisions over there with the people’s best interest in mind. Thailand is just nuts.
12th Street: So you like the antibacterial hand wash in Singapore offered by the beaten one-eyed slave.
AT: Love it! Seriously: no litter, no spitting, and no durians on public transport.
12th Street: Durians?
AT: It’s a fruit that smells like ass.
12th Street: Aha. So, how much of Harper’s sales goes to Asia, and how does that compare with international sales as a whole?
AT: Asia compared to the rest of the Open Market (outside of US, UK, Canada, and members of the traditional British Colonies) is pretty large. Actually, it’s the largest. It could be an important percentage for a writer, but not their primary concern, unless their book has specific appeal to a country—say you are Malay or something.
12th Street: So, how does Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows do against something like Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska’s Political Establishment on Its Ear?
AT: Great question. Harry Potter is not a great example because nothing else has ever even come close to that book. Scholastic has that bad boy. But, political books can do well. Of course the whole world laughs at us for thinking a 72-year-old man—who we should probably worry about driving a car—and a beauty queen huntress taking office, possibly, but still they read. Also, business books do well in Asia, and kids’ books. We just had an Oprah pick, and the world loves Oprah. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. So, that’s big. All English texts. Rights for foreign languages do get made and sold, but that’s not part of my job.
12th Street: Five countries, and you visit each once or twice a year, for two and a half, to three and a half weeks each. By my calculations, you’re spending a couple of months a year away…how do you cope? Do they put you up in fancy rooms?
AT: That’s part of it. They treat us really nice, and you need that. You’re carrying a lot of stuff, you’re constantly dealing with people where you’re understanding every 3rd word…it gets to be exhausting. I cope by drinking. Also by smoking a lot more than I normally would. What am I saying, ‘cope’…it’s a chance of a lifetime in a way. I never thought I’d go to these places.
12th Street: Did Harpers decide to hire an especially tall guy [6’4”] to tower above the clients intimidatingly?
AT: You bet! No, but I am the tallest person around for miles when I am there. I don’t actually know if customers like that.
12th Street: Are you somewhat of an international man of mystery?
AT: Yes I am—I think you have to like rolling on your own. It can be tough to come home. I went out drinking with a customer over there, and these two 30-something ladies discovered that I was only 25. They started calling me “Baby Bunny” and asked me if I missed my mom. International Momma’s Boy of Mystery.