Called "Are Salesreps Human?" the following is an address in slightly altered form made
by Donald Harington, whose most recent book is
The Pitcher Shower (Toby Press, $22.95, 1592641237), at the Toby
Press's fifth anniversary banquet in New York City last December 7 to a
room full of sales reps and other book people:
When I was a kid growing up in the Ozark mountains, the world out
there, and especially out there at night, was filled with scary things;
monsters that we are told in adulthood are just "mythical" or at least
"fabulous" but monsters we truly believed in and lost sleep over.
There was for example, the giasticutus, which the old-timers said was a
cross between an ostrich and a pterodactyl. Since I had never seen an
ostrich or a pterodactyl, I could only imagine with dread what the
giasticutus looked like, so I could stay out of its way.
Then there was the jimplicute, a ghostly dinosaur said to walk the
roads at night, grab travelers and suck their blood. I stayed off the
roads at night.
The snawfus was a huge albino deer with supernatural powers that "can
fly through the timber quiet as a Goddamn hoot owl." If a person should
actually see a snawfus, he's not long for this world. I never saw one,
although I was told that the glamorous blue haze which hangs over the
Ozarks in the autumn is the smoke exhaled by the snawfus.
I may have caught a glimpse, once time, of the side-hill hoofer, which
is similar to a beaver in appearance, but very much larger--about the
size of a yearling calf. It lives in a burrow on some steep hillside.
Always runs around the hill in the same direction, since the legs on
one side of its body are much longer than those on the other side. If,
by accident, it falls down into the flat country, it is easily
captured, since on level ground it cannot walk at all. The female lays
eggs as big as water buckets, and one egg will furnish breakfast for
twenty-five men. "But they taste kind of strong," an old man said
Growing up with all the reports and stories about these fabulous
critters, I was susceptible when my first editor, forty years ago, told
me about a monster called a salesrep. The editor didn't call the
salesrep a monster but painted such a horrid verbal portrait of it that
it was easy for me to imagine a fearsome freak that would scare the
daylights out of any Ozark monster.
"We can't include this paragraph," my editor would say to me, "the
salesreps would be all over us if we tried." Or I would submit a book
proposal, and the editor would say, "If I showed this to the salesreps,
they would crush it flat."
Years after I had escaped from that particular editor and his
terrifying tales of salesreps, I discovered that other editors also
believed in salesreps and believed they were horrifying. "You'd just
better cut this whole chapter," an editor told me, "because the
salesreps would tear it to pieces."
I never met a salesrep, and so I couldn't verify that they had a
supernatural sense of smell that would account for one editor telling
me that certain sentences of mine "stunk to high heaven." Another
editor told me "If the salesreps ever got a look at this, they'd kill
I began to imagine that possibly salesreps look something like the
side-hill hoofer--maybe because of the steep ground they have to
traverse, they have two legs shorter on one side than on the other,
assuming they have four legs, which they would need to cover all their
My good current editor at Toby, Deborah Meghnagi, the eleventh editor
I've had, and my editor-in-chief Matthew Miller have never mentioned
salesreps to me until recently, when Matthew assured me that the
salesreps I'd meet tonight have only two legs, just like everyone else,
and are not to be feared. Maybe they make strange sounds, like
"FROF," "FROF," which I think is just short for "frontlist-on-floppy"
but otherwise they not only speak good English but speak it in a very
So you can understand my delight on this grand fifth anniversary of
Toby Press to discover that all of these salesreps are truly not
monstrous after all. I had imagined they would have names like Igor,
and Beelzebub and Putana and Rothgar. So imagine my surprise to learn
that they have names like Stephen and Bill and Melissa and Don!
Possibly they belong to the NAIPR, which I think stands for "Networked
Artificial Individuals Programmed for Repair," but they are devoted to
the same religion that all of us here believe in--that good literature
is the greatest invention since Noah rigged together an ark to escape a
I doubt that Noah had room for giasticutuses, jimplicutes, snawfuses or
side-hill hoofers on that ark, although he probably had on board a pair
of salesreps, male and female. Because they do multiply.
I should have been able to appreciate salesreps because there is a
single male of the species in the Bible of Stay More, The Architecture
of the Arkansas Ozarks
, which has become the flagship of the fleet of
ten of my books that Matthew is proudly sailing. This novel, despite
its misleading title, attempts to tell the story of One Hundred Years
of Beatitude in Stay More, Arkansas. Shortly after it was founded in
the nineteenth century, by two brothers, Jacob and Noah Ingledew, it
was visited by a young clock peddler from Connecticut named Eli
Willard, who sells the brothers a clock. Six months later Eli Willard
comes back again, to find that the clock he had sold them keeps
impossibly fast time, so he sells them a new model, which, however, is
The new clock compensated for the old one by being as slow as the old
one was fast, and Jacob calculated that he was regaining all the years
he had lost to the old clock. Also, the new clock had a metal chime to
strike the hours in the place of the harsh wooden pecker of the old
clock. The new chime said PRONG, and since it struck only on the second
Tuesday of each month, it was not at all annoying--in fact, an occasion
to be looked forward to.
I suppose that salesreps can be depended on to keep coming back, year
after year. Each time that Eli Willard shows up, he has something to
sell the growing population of Stay More, something either very useful
or utterly worthless--knives, scissors, straight-razors and other
cutting tools, glass for windows, rifles and side arms to be used in
the Civil War, and following the war, a line of elixirs, balms and
unguents, then a line of chamber pots, then whale oil to light their
lamps, the sale of which makes Eli Willard so wealthy he retires to
take a trip around the world, but eventually comes out of retirement
and returns as a Unitarian minister, which the Stay Morons have no use
He is reduced eventually to peddling a line of grooming
aids--toothbrushes, ear cleaners, hair tonics and hand cleaners. It's
the twentieth century now, so no one is surprised when Eli Willard
shows up one day with a big camera and a portable lab:
Everybody noticed something mighty peculiar about his wagon, but it
took them a while to figure it out: there weren't any horses pulling
But Eli Willard's horseless carriage spooks the livestock and he is
sued in court, and stays away from Stay More for many years, until he
finally returns with a circus sideshow billing him as "The World's
A good salesman never gives up selling, right? And Eli Willard, the
World's Oldest Man, is still peddling . . . peanuts. Young Hank
Ingledew, great-great-grandson of the founder of Stay More, observes,
"That there sideshow must not pay ye very well, that you've obliged to
sell goobers on the side."
The old man shakes his head. "No, boy, I don't need to sell peanuts.
I've been selling things all my life, and I just can't give up the
Each of us assembled here tonight is a sales rep in one form or
another. Editors, bookstore people, writers, we are all in the business
of selling books. Even the great illustrator Wendell Minor, who has
joined us, who has the distinction of making covers for each of the
vessels in my fleet, is essentially selling books with his art. I would
not be here tonight if I had not sold Matthew Miller on the idea of
accepting for publication a novel called With
, after it had been turned
down by all the publishers in New York. The email I sent him trying to
get him to read it was the hardest thing I've ever written, nearly
three years ago. He answered promptly but it took him another five
months to read the book and to decide to publish it.
But the sale was made.
May all of you make your sales.
And may all of you continue to enjoy the pleasures of life in Stay More, Arkansas.