My Path to Penguin Random House: PYR Sales’ Trevor Bundy
Everyone has unique career stories to tell. In our new Igloo series, My Path to Penguin Random House, PRH colleagues share how they entered the world of book publishing, what led them to our company, insights into their jobs, and their future professional aspirations.
This week, we’re featuring Trevor Bundy, Senior Manager, National Accounts, Sales, Penguin Young Readers. His path to publishing and PYR featured a number of twists, turns, and detours that are quite unique.
How would you describe the course of your path to book publishing, including prior practical, professional, and educational experiences?
My path to book publishing started with a happy accident. I’m a Midwesterner, and I majored in English at the University of Kansas with aspirations of becoming a novelist. Sometime in my senior year, I had that, “Uh oh. I have to get a real job soon with this English degree,” moment, which I’m sure is familiar to more than a few people reading this. Fortunately, I happened to be taking a course in book reviewing that semester from a professor who did reviews for a few national papers and had connections to New York publishing houses. He encouraged me to consider book publishing, and everything clicked: I could get a paycheck, put my degree to use, get my hands on free books, and have an excuse to move to New York. How had I not thought of it before? That professor helped me land an internship at a tiny independent publisher, and shortly after graduation, I threw everything I owned in a U-Haul with two friends and headed east.
That first job was…tumultuous, but it was ultimately a great learning experience. The company was just the publisher and me, and my internship turned into a paid job about five minutes after I arrived (this was back when they didn’t have to pay interns!). We were distributed by Publishers Group West, which handled sales and distribution, but everything else — editing, design, marketing, publicity – we did ourselves. I got a crash course in every area of the business except for sales, where I ultimately ended up. That job lasted about a year before I was laid off and the company went under.
That setback cued up my next happy accident. One of the novelists I had worked with over that year had a day job at the Time Warner Book Group as a “floater,” which was the slightly unglamorous name they gave to a small fleet of in-house temps. He referred me to an opening, and I jumped at it. (Fun fact: my boss at that time was Nancy Soohoo Facci on our PRH Corporate Services team. Hi, Nancy!) At that time, I thought I was destined for editorial, so it felt like a bit of a detour, but at least I was still in publishing. I spent about a year in that position getting farmed out to different departments in the company – including some interesting stints covering for the executive assistants to both the CEO and the COO – before landing with the Borders team in the sales department. We all took a shine to each other, and that group hired me away from the “floater” program for my first job in sales. Turns out a previously untapped part of me enjoyed the numbers and analysis side of sales as much as the aspiring writer in me enjoyed crafting a pitch.
Over the next six years, I worked my way up in that group. I first took on sales responsibilities for mass market paperbacks (remember those?) and physical audiobooks (also, remember those?). Eventually I became the national account manager selling Little, Brown books to Borders. David Sedaris, David Foster Wallace, Jerome David Salinger…there were many amazing Davids on that list. (Also, hello, Reagan Arthur!) I loved every minute of it. Then, in my last year at what was by then Hachette, as the James Patterson publishing program was hitting the at-the-time unbelievable threshold of 11 books in one calendar year across multiple categories, I became his sales director. In PRH terms, it was like an ISD position, but the “imprint” was just the prolific output of one guy and his stable of coauthors.
Why did you then decide to take a break from publishing and work in a completely different industry?
Three things happened in 2009-2010 that altered my career course: I turned 30, I read a Penguin book called Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford, and my wife became pregnant with our first child. My wife is an attorney, and we were in the fortunate position that her salary made it possible for me to stay home with our son. And I had that ineffable feeling that overcomes people around milestone birthdays that a big change needed to happen right now, before it’s too late!
So, I left publishing and became a stay-at-home dad for two years. Eventually, I started to get stir crazy, because no matter how much you love your kids, care work can be very isolating. But having read the aforementioned book, I decided I wanted to do something in a skilled trade working with my hands instead of going back into an office. My oldest son has serious food allergies, and I was very immersed at the time in understanding where our food comes from beyond the grocery store.
One area of interest interwove itself with another, and I made the decision to become a whole-animal butcher. (This surprised everyone I knew because at that point I had been a vegetarian for thirteen years. But that’s a long story for another forum.) I apprenticed for a company based in the Hudson Valley and then took a job at their butcher shop in Brooklyn. I had aspirations of moving back to the Midwest and opening my own butcher shop there, but then my wife was offered a dream job of hers here in New York. I ended up staying with that local meat company for six years, eventually helping them open a USDA processing facility in Brooklyn and doing all of their animal sourcing from small, sustainable farms in upstate New York and New England. Eventually, though, I came to miss the world of books and decided to find my way back.
What attracted you to Penguin Random House, and what have been some of the highlights of your PRH job and work life here so far?
During my first stint in publishing, Penguin and Random House were both companies I admired from afar, and I had a few friends at both houses from my days selling Borders (there was a lot of sales rep socializing in Ann Arbor back in the day). The fact that I ended up at PRH is less surprising than the fact that I ended up in children’s books. That was a whole new adventure for me, but by then I had a personal focus group of two young readers at home. It felt like the right fit. What attracted me to PRH was, to be honest, it’s size and clout. I’ve been around enough that I can say with certainty: we have the best systems and the strongest lists. Selling is more fun when you have great data at your fingertips and a bag full of excellent titles. Having had my particular journey, which included roller coaster rides with small companies as well as the rocky period when Borders was failing and eBooks were ascendant, working for a big, stable company that makes a product I’m proud to sell—you can’t beat it.
The highlights of my job at PRH have been many. One thing I love about sales is the concrete feedback we get. We hit our number or we don’t. We secure that big promotion or we don’t. I like knowing where I stand and seeing tangible results. And working with Barnes & Noble, we get a lot of chances to make big things happen. Most recently, we can point to two books that hit the New York Times young adult paperback bestsellers list – Last Night at the Telegraph Club and The Fountains of Silence –as a direct result of big promotions my team secured. That’s a great feeling to know we helped widen the readership for those excellent books in a direct way.
How do you view the future, in terms of personal aspirations and career goals?
I think if there’s one theme running through the story above, it’s this: have a core value, and then be open minded on the details. My core career value has always been that I wanted to do work that felt meaningful and made the world better. Books and sustainable animal agriculture have both served that value but never in the ways I expected. I thought I would write books; turns out, I should be helping other writers reach more readers. I thought I would open my own butcher shop and work with my hands; turns out, I was needed on the supply chain side helping farmers find a market. I thought I would always be focused on adult books; turns out, selling kids books is a lot of fun! As for the future, I feel like I’ve come home at PRH, and my goal is to keep working with the great teams around me and help more writers reach more readers. I will stay open minded about the details.
Attention PRH colleagues: If you are interested in participating in the My Path to Penguin Random House series or have someone to nominate, please email email@example.com.