Como Sales is an independent company of publishers sales representatives. We represent publishers to trade bookstores and book wholesalers on the East Coast. Como was founded in 1966 by Murray COhen and Jock MOore. We have represented countless publishers over the years, but our longest relationship has been with Workman Publishing.
Our ownership and structure has changed many times and the latest iteration occurred in 2015 when Como was bought back from Workman by one of our reps, Maureen Karb. At the time Workman was our last remaining line and we were essentially "house reps". Since then Como has returned to our roots and we have added 10 additional publishers to our bag. Our reps have been awarded "Rep of the Year" twice already in our respective regions. We celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2016 and we look forward to working with independent bookstores for another fifty years or more!
Read on if you are interested in hearing more about our long history in the publishing industry.
A Brief History of Como Sales
Charles M. Collins & Adele Herman (Historians)
Act 1: A Literary Milieu
The 6 story building that housed the modest offices of Como Sales, at 799 Broadway, was one block west
of New York's legendary Book Row that ran from 14th Street to Astor Place with second hand bookshops
lining both sides of 4th Ave. It was a book lovers paradise. Going further back in time, circa 1896,
799 Broadway was a hotel frequented by artist , writers, and poets who were drifting over from the
more fashionable (and considerable more expensive) West Village. But to spice things up with a
bit of melodrama, several rooms in 799 were conscripted by then police commissioner Theodore
Roosevelt as an operations base in a manhunt for a particularly heinous New York serial killer.
The story is told in Caleb Carr's 1994 novel, The Alienist. Given its history, 799 became a New York
site receptive to supernatural experiences, sightings of ghostly apparitions, strange sounds emerging
from the darkness of its labyrinthine sub basement, but I digress.
It was in the early 60's when I first met Jock Moore. I was working at the Imperial Bookshop, NYC .
Jock was selling Penguin Books which he unabashedly took credit for bringing to America. This was the
first of many extraordinary claims I would hear about from the times he sold books to the royalty in
Scotland to the famous writers and publishers with whom he hob nobed, to the contributions he made
to the British navy during WW2. Yes, Jock was a great recounter. He reminded me of a character out
of Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers. His stories were entertaining and amusing, but difficult to separate reality from fiction. I often encouraged him to write a book, but that never happened. During Jock's monthly sales calls, I heard a lot of stories with a lot more to come after I left retail to become a Como.
When Jock started Como Sales, he had already brought over Brian Hill and had hired Peter Redding from England What ever induced him to join up with Murray Cohen I'll never know. Murray was my Avon rep. I was still working in retail. I think of Murray as shuffling to my desk, briefcase in hand, and looking most unhappy. He would simply hand me the covers for next month's Avon releases and an order form. I don't remember him ever smiling. I'll never know, with Brian and Peter in the wings, what Jock saw in Murray. Talk about the odd couple. Well, in those days, you never really needed to sell. It was all genre buying. Each month Avon would have a romance, gothic, mystery, war, science fiction, western. Simple. I wrote in my figures, handed him the order , and wished him a nice day. I don't remember Murray ever thanking me for my business.
By now I'm sure most of my readers have put together the first two letters of their last names , Cohen and Moore, to form Como. The publishing industry was changing with the advent of the paperbacks. . Now these were more sophisticated , and a good deal more expensive than the fifty and seventy five cent mass market paperbacks. These books required some degree of familiarity and salesmanship. The rep protocol had to change as well. Now it was impossible to walk into a store whenever it struck your fancy. Appointments were mandatory, discount structures changed as did merchandising strategies. Meanwhile I was growing tired of the retail business. I needed a change, and almost like magic, this change came about.
Act 2: The Changing Tides
I was between jobs, and not feeling very good about it. when I received a
telephone call from Brian Hill. It had been awhile since I last spoke with him,
but Brian had heard from another rep that I was unemployed, and he, Brian,
thought I might be interested in joining Como. Murray and Jock had split, and
Brian was leaving to take a job with Sher, a New Jersey book distributor who
promised a partnership in the company. Jock, or maybe I should say Gentleman
Jock, gave Murray the opportunity to solicit his accounts regarding his future
relationship with them. All were unanimous in their desire to stick with Jock,
and I did too. I became a core Como, but not without a degree or irony. During
those early 60's, I had put together three paperback anthologies for Avon: Fright,
A Feast of Blood, and A Walk With The Beast. They sold well and were reprinted
twice. And now, after those long years in retail, I would be working for my
publisher via Como. It was a nice feeling, and perhaps that's why Jock hired me in the first place.
Como was (and still is) a publisher rep company. Its mission was to provide representation to those thousand of small press companies out there who had to compete with the big guns; the movers and shakers in the industry. Como acted as surrogate for those publishers who were unable to support house reps. In addition to calling on the book trade in our territories, we also worked trade shows for our clients, displayed their books at the annual ABA extravaganza (now Book Expo), and were paid on commission. Pretty good deal, thought I, although it was occasionally troublesome to receive our commissions in a timely manner. Como was the first (according to Jock----well, maybe one of the first) of such groups that would soon proliferate the country. The Comos covered New York City and state, New England, New Jersey, Washington DC, and the mid Atlantic. I lived in Queens when I first joined Como, so the five boroughs became my territory. That was perfectly fine with me because I grew up in New York, friends and family lived here, and I couldn't imagine I would be happy working anywhere else. How wrong could I have been? A gigantic change was coming at me and I barely saw it.
Jock and Peter Redding covered Boston . One of their accounts was A & A, long time, firmly ensconced Boston book distributor. There was some consideration about moving in on A & A, but ultimately Jock backed down and instead put Peter in charge of the New England territory. Peter was then living in Westchester. He would need to move to Massachusetts, and, with the expansion of my territory, I would need to get a driver's license, and a car. Good natured and obedient to Jock's wishes, Peter found me a rebuilt Ford Fairlane from a garage in Scarsdale where he once worked prior to joining Como. The car cost me $500, and lasted exactly one year, but I walked away with a driver's license, while Pete walked away with his life.
Act 3: All About Jock
The times they were a changing. The publishing business was no longer the
provenance of a few well read intellectuals emerging from the Halls of Ivy. I suspect
this was Jock's background, though I might question his academic exposure.
He knew his literary world was changing, but he made a vigorous effort to retain
that regal Zeitgeist with his biographical stories and his life style. For example,
when I worked in the office (or some might call it work), Jock would already
be ensconced behind his desk. I believe he was there when the building opened.
I would walk in at around 9 a.m. Jock would glance at his watch and greet me with
"Good afternoon, son." and somehow Jock always managed to maneuver our
morning conversation back to Scotland and the selling innovations for which he
took credit. At noon and with very little work completed, Jock would declare
"Lunch time son," and we would adjourn t0 the English pub like restaurant,
Cedar Tavern, a block west of our office. Cedar served the best burgers, had a
charming room upstairs, conducive to mini meetings with some of our smaller
publishers . Jock drank. It was usually Johnny Walker Black. While I did my share
of drinking in those days, I could never start as early as noon. Another of his
favorite places to eat was The Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station.
What a treat it was to have lunch with him in that venue. Everyone knew
Mr. Moore, The would be Mayor of Scarsdale. Jock tipped generously: the coat
check, the bartender, the maitre d', the waiter, and even the chef. When Jock
lunched at The Oyster Bar, it usually meant he would catch an afternoon train to Scarsdale. Scarsdale was and still is a highly upscale village. At first glance you might feel like you travelled back in time reaching a Brigadoon kind of place only this style was English Tudor. You might think Twilight Zone, but for Jock and his wife, Doris, it was a perfect environment.
It crept up on me to be sure. Now that I had a car and license, I was travelling. My territory was opening, books were selling, there was energy meeting new people, famous writers, buyers, attending conventions in such places as Washington, DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, Dallas, Boston, Providence, Atlantic City, dinners, parties, boat rides, fun---and, the best part, I not only loved the job, but all my expenses were covered. I started to love travel, and looked forward to making new friends. I had long past the belief that New York was the embodiment of my world . What a totally different life I would have had were it not for Como. Always look on the bright side of life.
Actually there was a life before Como. It didn't have a name, but it concerned Jock and Ian Ballantine. Their intention being to form an alliance to obtain the rights to well known British authors for publication in the US. Jock had already started with Penguin. Ian reminded me of a small elf (no derision intended). He had an oblong face, and spoke with a rather peculiar whine in his voice like someone who had just played a naughty joke. In all due respect, however, Ian was a visionary and a highly intelligent individual. It seemed like a winning team. The titles coming in from Great Britain were spectacular. The money coming in had to be enormous, and therein lay the rub. Ian was reluctant to share the wealth---reason being they had no written contract between them, while Jock insisted that a gentleman's handshake represented a contract. But Ian's more contemporary perspective won out. Of course this resulted in a feud between the two men that went on for many decades with Jock maintaining his trips to England resulted in acquiring the books Ian was publishing; and Ian whining that there was no contract between them. I remember when Jock first told me this story he said he was reluctant to bring Ian on the trips to Britain. Ian was an embarrassment ; didn't know how to relate to British editors. And most of the time Ian was kept in a waiting room while Jock negotiated terms of sale. In short, if it were not for Jock, Ian wouldn't have had any books to sell .
Act 4: Beginning of the Trajectory:
I didn't see it coming, but who would until we travelled many years into the future? But, for now, early 70's, Como was not only surviving the cataclysmic changes in the industry, but diving into the new trend of trade paperbacks. Publishers saw this coming. Mass market companies (our one time livelihood) were being absorbed by giants like Time Warner, Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, Random House, New American Library (formerly Signet Books), Bantam bought Ballantine, while many smaller mass market paperbacks folded and disappeared from the marketplace. Como hung in. While vowing to never take in another partner, Jock did hire Henry Hirsch from Magna Books, a Long Island distribution company run by Jerry Ginzberg, who happened to be Henry's brother in law. It was often said that the book industry was an incestuous business. In any event, Henry was well respected among his peers and had numerous contacts in the field. Without question, Henry was a strong asset for Como Sales and responsible for our enormous growth in the trade, but he was never a partner.
Sam Herman was inducted into the grand halls of Como at 799 Broadway where years before the police were closing in on a serial killer. Sam had heard about Como from, Richard Strug, a neighbor, who was one of Jock's earliest reps. Sam had visions about a book rep's life based on Richie's lifestyle, home early in the day, time off at Christmas, travel, conventions, , and making money. What a life. Luckily, for Sam, Richie decided to move on, but not before recommending Sam to Jock to take over his (Richie's) mid Atlantic territory, and thus Sam Herman became a core Como. This transition occurred just around the time I was hired. Our company now consisted of Jock Moore, ,Peter Redding, Charles Collins, Henry Hirsch, and Sam Herman. We were like a small family who met up with each other twice a year for sales conferences and the annual ABA Conventions (now Book Expo). However, with the expansion of our territories, Jock realized he would have to add a few more Comos to the family. Where other rep groups were scaling back, Jock was moving forward. Bill Hurst was one of them--a natural born bookseller earmarked for Northern Jersey, but Bill, like me at the start, didn't drive. However, luck was with him. He got his license, got married, moved to California, became a principal in Publisher's Group West, and retired early, a millionaire. Next Jock hired Judy Guerra whose husband, Don, was trade sales manager for Abrams. She covered some Jersey territory. Unfortunately Judy was quite outspoken which did not sit well with Jock. A confrontation was inevitable followed by a falling out. She left the company, and I suspect we lost Abrams. But Jock took the credit for being the first sales group in the country to have hired a woman. Other women were to follow. Sam Herman's wife. Adele (aka Delly), had been told by Jock that she would someday become an employee of Como, and she did--first on a part time, 3 days a week basis, and full time two years later sharing the Mid Atlantic territory with Sam. Delly became a core Como. With the addition of Henry's daughter, Judy Hirsch the complexion of Como was slowly evolving, as was the book industry itself. First with the superstores, then the predators expansion: Barnes & Noble and Borders, and Finally Amazon. The new technology was emerging, and the core Comos were beginning to look like dinosaurs.
It was always expected by Jock that whenever a bonus arrived, we gave a little something back in return. For me it was Scotch Pies, and there was only one place in the city of New York where you could purchase the Real Mc Coy, and that was on the upper East side. Thus whenever Jock distributed a bonus check, mine was always characterized as pie money.
For a short but significant time we represented Marvel Comics. Now an old colleague from our Avon days, Stan Stetzer , happened to be the current National Accounts Manager for Marvel. One morning Stan called me into his office. There was something hushed and secretive about his manner, as he asked me if I would like two tickets to a Met's game at Shay Stadium? Well I was never a baseball fan, so I politely declined. "But you don't understand, this is the night Spider Man and Mary Jane are celebrating their wedding at Shay." It didn't take me long to change my mind since Spider Man was my son's favorite superhero, and I felt a live baseball game might get him interested in the sport. It didn't, but he did enjoy seeing Spidy and MJ alive & and in person. I had to leave before the game was over. My son, Chris, was getting bored, and thanks to Stan, I had an invite to the wedding reception , at a late night West Side, disco in the city----Adults only. Marvel characters walked about in costume throughout the evening; the Incredible Hulk being the most intimidating. There was an enormous wedding cake, plenty of food and drink, and a band that never stopped playing. It was a blast.
Now you never knew who might come walking through Como's doors. . It was about 10 a.m. when we had just finished morning tea and head heard a tapping at our door. I opened it, and who should walk in but Stan Lee, the creator of Marvel Comics and Spider Man. Many years had passed since we represented the comic book giant. Maybe Jock and Stan were old friends from the past. I don't know. What did amaze me was the book Stan presented for our feedback. It was a trade paperback of humorous photographs taken of celebrities and political figures in somewhat embarrassing moments with funny captions beneath. First of all the concept was not new. It had been tried before with some degree of success. However, for this to work today would require a all new collection of contemporary images with funny tag lines. Ultimately we turned Stan down. Over the years we had the opportunity to meet with many a one or two book publisher; sometimes the author himself who, knowing little about the ins & outs of the publishing business, took a risky gamble and paid all the expenses to have his book printed. Now he is sitting in a garage full of books, trying to figure out how to transfer them to his local bookstore. It's a highly competitive world out there, appearing to become more challenging with the passage of each new season, New faces, both men and women, were seen at sales conferences and conventions. Jock was growing tired. There were fewer people around with whom to share a beer, or a Johnny Walker Black. I suspect Jock felt it was time to retire the canvas bags; the catalogues; the order forms. At a Como business meeting, Jock offered to sell his shares of stock to Peter, Henry, Sam, , and me. We purchased them In the early 80’s it was like suddenly moving from core Comos to business partners. A few years later we hired Ken McConnell ). He was referred to us by Tom Heithouse who ran Sormani Calendars ( a very upscale line of European art, travel, calendars and old fashioned Advents . Despite a sometimes dour personality, Ken was a diligent worker who had respect for his job and was much loved by his accounts as well as our publishers. We partners all felt Ken deserved to be in our Como hierarchy . In 1982 we offered Ken the same deal we had with Jock. He accepted and became elevated to that envious rank.
Act 5: An industry in flux:
The industry was changing rapidly. Huge chain bookstores were appearing with Barnes & Noble and Borders being the most aggressive (although many in the business would call them predators). The chains had the capacity to order in quantities that met maximum publisher discounts. Most independent booksellers were unable to compete. This climate impacted Como as well. It was a dire time for reps and booksellers to say the least. By cutting our expenses we somehow managed to get through the worst of it. We were taking on more trade books. Despite the doom and gloom of many existing booksellers, there were still a goodly number of optimistic booklovers eager to get into the game. Many of these believed that specialization was the answer. Over time we saw the growth of the niche book stores: cook book book stores, mystery book stores, art book stores, drama book stores, children's book stores, photography, new age, gay and lesbian-----and it goes on and on. These niche stores kept Como alive along with a couple of visionary trade publishers.
Workman is a well established publisher. I don't think there is a bookseller in the industry today who is not familiar with Workman books. One day, a long time ago, there was a tapping on Como's door. Outside was a young man who introduced himself as Peter Workman. He had published a couple of books and was looking for representation. He brought three or four samples with him. They were quirky little books with spiral bindings; Cucumbers in a Flower Pot, Soap, and a third one dealing with flowers. My first impression was these would never sell. The format was different from the traditional trade book, and further, most booksellers were reluctant to stock spiral bound books, because of their difficulty to display. That said, we liked Peter, we liked his presentation, and over the years I learned never to second guess a buyer. So we took on Peter's line, and it was the best move Como ever made. Both Peter and Jock were visionaries. They had a certain sense for what would sell and what would not. Or maybe it's how one of my buyers characterized it: "It's all a crap shoot." But it was not long before Peter Workman became a major publishing talent who seemed to continually garner favorable review attention. Workman's growth was phenomenal: One of Workman's earliest books, Hittleman's Yoga is still in print. Then there was B. Kleiban's Cat, the Lazlo Letters (one of the funniest books ever), Preppie Handbook, the What to Expect When You Are Expecting series, Silver Palette Cookbook (and a whole backlist of amazing cookbooks), and a highly irresistible line of children's book. Peter was an innovative publisher developing such concepts as Brain Quest, and the Fandex series. He also brought forth a major calendar line where again he displayed his unique vision with interactive wall calendars, and the much copied Page-A-Day series. The list could go on for many pages more. Over the years Peter acquired other publishers: Algonquin Books of North Carolina, Artisan (replacing Stewart, Tabori, & Chang) Storey, Black Dog & Levanthal (A distributed line), Highbridge Audio, Timber Press.
Many of Peter's books were humorous, light hearted, fun and games (as I classified them), sort of reflecting his personality. He dressed casually, hosted wonderful parties at ABA, held an annual Christmas party in his office, loved to host author receptions; a generous man ever faithful to his staff and sales reps.
Soon after our start with Workman, we were approached by another fledgling new comer, Running Press, out of Philadelphia, PA started by the brothers, Buz and Larry Teacher. They had a strong list of non fiction to begin with, but I think the book that got them off the ground was a reprint of the first edition of Grey's Anatomy. It was a thick book weighing in at about 8 or 9 lbs. I covered the two New York airport bookshops at that time. Never for a moment did I think the book would sell there thinking most people passing through are looking for the current best sellers or a thriller. it was difficult to envision anyone lugging a near 10 lbs. anatomy book on their flight. Wrong again (and I was once a book buyer!). I got the call from LaGuardia first. The buyer there had put the two copies she had ordered next to the register, and they were gone in a couple of hours. Similar experience at JFK. Long story short, the two airport shops turned out to be my best customers for Grey's Anatomy. Go Figure. Running Press also developed Courage Books, a line of oversized and quite beautiful children's classics, very reasonably priced, and a series of classic mini books---perfect for that inexpensive Christmas stocking stuffer. While far from another Workman, Running Press helped keep Como in business during those tough, highly competitive times.
Finale: Journey's End:
Jock passed away in 1990, Kennedy retired, Henry's health was failing, , Running Press went independent, and once again Como appeared doomed. But not yet. Peter Workman who was always faithful to his reps, bought the Como stock in a most generous move to keep the remaining Comos in business. We would continue selling Workman and its imprint A tsunami was i on the horizon---that of the digital books. It was here, and it was not going away. The entire methodology of selling vanished. It was a new, electronic world in which Peter Redding and I were dinosaurs. We retired within 6 months of each other, leaving Sam & Adele, Sam passed away in 2010. I often think of that morning many years ago when Como had been reasonably successful, and Peter Workman came to our office with three odd looking books, and now, 50 years later, Peter occupies two floors of an office building on Varick Street, owns several publishers, and has published hundreds of books many of which have been on the New York Times Bestseller list, and most having extraordinary longevity. Amazing! Here the trajectory ends. It was a great ride; a little bumpy at times to be sure, but I wouldn't have missed it for anything.
Sadly, Peter Workman passed away on 4/7/2013
"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players."