Category Archives: Bookselling

Momentous day

Twice a year, I experience a major moment of accomplishment at work. That is the day I finally get all the assigned textbooks onto the shelves of the campus bookstore. Today was that day. Since this was also the first regular class day, it was none too soon.

Openly, and without fear or favor, I shall identify my biggest problem. It was Harper Collins Publishers, which owns, among its posse of subordinate religious houses, Zondervan and Thomas Nelson. I sent a lot of orders their way this fall, and I can’t fault HC for promptitude in delivery. The books came with dispatch (though they could improve their carton sealing procedures. One box was split open, though no books were lost).

The problem was their billing. Usually in this life we complain that bills come too soon. “The bill’s here already?” we say. “I just took delivery!”

But it’s different in my wild and crazy world. If I were like those bloated capitalists who run the average bookstore, I’d pause from lighting my cigars with $500 dollar bills to slap the suggested retail price on every book, then sit back and rake in the obscene profits. But at the schools of the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations, we just add a small percentage markup to the wholesale cost, and pass the savings onto the customer. If we get a good deal, the buyer gets the benefit. That’s how we Free Lutherans roll.

But I can’t do perform that process if I don’t have the full cost of each book order. Many publishers include an invoice in the carton, or state the total cost (including shipping and handling) in the packing list. Harper Collins, however, does not do that. Their invoices finally arrived in the mail today, and I was able at last to price all our new books.

Then I performed some librarian magic to get the seminary dean a copy of an old journal article he wanted. Before I checked it out, I didn’t even know I could do that.

I need a medal. Some kind of an achievement award.

I’ll take a donut. Anybody got a donut?

Small talk

It’s one of those nights when I don’t have anything worth writing. Whatever follows is guaranteed, certified piffle.

I did read another book, but it’s one in a series I’ve been following and reviewing for a while. You already know what I have to say about these books. A Skeleton in the Closet is the seventh in P. F. Ford’s Dave Slater series, about a small town detective in England. What can I say? Like the others, it’s lightweight but likeable. I estimate the Dave Slater books at about the intellectual level of a TV series – an American TV series. Which means they’re entertaining, but they won’t change your life. In this one, a colleague dies in an explosion, and Dave must delve into this person’s personal life, which turns out to have been full of secrets. At the same time, he’s under pressure from what in America we’d call Internal Affairs. In all contemporary fiction series, there’s a moment or two – or several – when certain cultural boxes must be ticked, in order to satisfy the commissars. This is a story where author Ford ticks off one of them. Upbeat and cheerful, good entertainment even with the social freight.

A Skeleton in the Closet

Classes begin at school next week, and I’m in the final throes of setting up the bookstore for fall textbook sales. Nearly done now. Tomorrow should finish it. My main thought as I survey the shelves of required textbooks is, “I ordered too many. I always do. Will the sales of books previously in stock cover the loss?”

God bless instructors who assign books we already have plenty of.

On the writing front, I’ve found my way at last after a long stretch wandering without a map. I feel keenly the fact that a few faithful readers have been waiting patiently for this book for years. All I can say is, I’m bringing it as fast as I can.

Book pitch: ‘Writing Speculative Fiction: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, Teacher’s Ed.’ by Lelia Rose Foreman

Writing Speculative Fiction

My friend Lelia Rose Foreman has written a text book, Writing Speculative Fiction: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, Teacher’s Ed. It is aimed especially at home schoolers teaching high schoolers. An excerpt from my novel Death’s Doors is incorporated, with my permission.

Autographing eBooks

In our last post, we looked at a new problem for Californian booksellers who hope to attract buyers with autographed editions. Though I didn’t say it then, the law appears to apply outside the state as well as inside, because it defines Californian dealers as being in or from the state. It’s like original sin. The stain of being born in California can never be removed in this life.

I don’t know whether the law applies to digital book editions, but if you’ve been thinking eBooks wouldn’t have this problem because they can’t be signed, allow me to open the door of enlightenment for you. Authors can sign eBooks.

Two sites allow authors to list their eBooks and offer them for signing. Autography.com allows customized signing pages in their cross-platform app. You can sign an eBook remotely or at a book signing. Autographed pages can even be shared on social media. Authorgraph.com offers a similar service with less customization. In fact, it doesn’t appear to be actually signing eBook, but a page associated with the it. Readers can request signatures from authors who are using the service and can buy books through the site.

Has anyone developed a digital autograph book for fans to collect signatures on iPads? I’d think there would be a market for it, except in California.

California Wraps Book Signings in Red Tape

A new law in California, if enforced, would make book signings at local bookstores extremely tedious on both readers and booksellers. A bookseller with three stores in the San Francisco area has filed a suit against the state this month to argue the law, which was promoted last year by actor Mark Hamill, will crush his stores. He’s capitalized on signed books and book signings over the last several years as a unique feature of his business. He hosts roughly 700 of these events each year.

In January, a state law went into effect that would require a record of many details related to a signature on any item sold for over $5. It’s not enough to stand before the author and watch him sign your book, nor can you go to the store the next day to buy a leftover signed copy. If the law were enforced (and so far I don’t know that it has been), a bookseller who sells an autographed book for a Lincoln plus will have to provide a certificate of authenticity with a description of the item signed, date, price, warranty, size of item, size for future editions, number of items signed, number of items intended to be signed in the future, state-issued serial number, and other details. Pawnbrokers are exempt as well as those who sign and sell their own stuff (because no fear of fraud there, obviously). These records will have to be kept for seven years.

One comic book dealer, who says they have authors sign every copy they have for later sale (and no markup for autographed copies), tells California Political Review, “To have to generate and track individual ‘Certificates of Authenticity’ for each and every book (let alone trying to identify potentially hundreds of existing items in our inventory) would make already break-even business even less tenable.”

The penalty for running afoul this law is 10x the value of the item sold plus legal fees.

The law doesn’t target booksellers. It apparently was intended to kill off expensive sales of fake signatures on sports and movie memorabilia. But the law says all autographed items sold for over $5, and once again lawmakers demonstrate that they slept through the course on unintended consequences.

The Process Behind Penny Books

Dan Nosowitz explores the threat and delight of selling cheap used books.

“At some point in the next two to three years, I predict that ‘Go Set a Watchman’ will be selling for a penny,” says Mike Ward, president of the Seattle-based used-book seller Thriftbooks, which sells 12 million books a year.

“We are taking garbage [and] running it through a very sophisticated salvage process in our warehouses, to create or find or discover products people want, and then we sell them at a very, very cheap price,” Ward explains. Garbage isn’t a value judgment: His company, along with several other enormous used-book-selling operations that have popped up online in the past decade, is literally buying garbage. Thrift stores like Goodwill receive many more donations than they can physically accommodate. Employees rifle through donations, pick out the stuff that is most likely to sell and send the rest to a landfill. The same thing happens at public libraries; they can take only as many donations as their space and storage will allow, so eventually they have to dispose of books, too. (For libraries, the process is a little more complicated; they can’t legally sell books, so they essentially launder them through groups with names like Friends of the Library, which sell the discards and donate the proceeds to the library.)

Operations like Thriftbooks step in and buy these landfill-bound books, sight unseen, for around 10 cents a pound.

I’ve still got too many books that aren’t selling on Amazon. It may be time they visit the landfill.

Whose Book Is Funniest in UK?

The short list for this year’s Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction has been released. The winner of this UK literary award  will be announced next month, just prior to the Hay Festival in Wales.  The winner “will receive a jeroboam of Bollinger Special Cuvée, a case of Bollinger La Grande Année and the complete set of the Everyman Wodehouse collection. They will also be presented with a locally-bred Gloucestershire Old Spot pig, which will be named after the winning novel.”

Last year’s prize went to two authors, Hannah Rothschild for The Improbability of Love and Paul Murray for The Mark and the Void. In 2015, Alexander McCall Smith won the prize for Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party. (See this article for a photo of the prize pig.)

“It was impossible to separate these two books, because they made us laugh so much. And between them they produce a surfeit of wild satire and piercing humour about the subject that can always make us laugh and cry. Money,” judge and broadcaster James Naughtie told The Guardian.

Is Publishing Too Liberal?

Publishers Weekly asks, “Is Book Publishing Too Liberal?” They talk to several anonymous industry people about it–anonymous people. Doesn’t that strongly allege the answer to their answer is yes?

“Politics is a dangerous thing to be candid about,” said one agent, who has worked with conservative authors. “It’s now acceptable to ban speech on college campuses; this is the world we live in.”

Marji Ross of Regnery Publishing says many conservative authors are dismissed by mainstream publishers or treated contemptuously. An unnamed literary agent said you can tell the industry is too liberal by the mere fact that you have a few “conservative” imprints and no “liberal” imprints. Liberal ideas are treated as normal and published through the majority channels. (via Trevin Wax)

6-Second Classics, Litbait, and Commas

If you’re familiar with the classic novels featured in these six second videos, you’ll get the joke. Ad agencies have produced several of these quick takes by YouTube’s request in pursuit of a new, flash ad format to be displayed before other videos. At six seconds each, the ads can’t be skipped past.

In a similar vein, The Wild Detectives bookstore in Dallas is trying to “troll people into reading classic books through clickbait.” They call them “litbaits.” Headlines read, “British guy dies after selfie gone wrong” for The Picture of Dorian Grey. The links led to blog posts with the all of the book’s content included. That wouldn’t turn anyone away, would it?

And chalk another one up for the Oxford comma under reasons it is saving the world. A group of Maine dairy drivers took their company to court to win overtime pay. The law defining exactly what was excluded from overtime lists many things, but it lacks one thing: an Oxford comma.

The law states, “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.”

The drivers argued that while they do distribute food, they don’t pack it, so the exemption applies to “packing for shipment or distribution” and not to the distribution. The Circuit Court judge began his decision, writing, “For want of a comma, we have this case.”

The Window Says Welcome, but the Door Says Closed

Family Christian Stores are closing. The company president said they could not compete in today’s market.

B&N sales are slumping. They report having success with educational toys and games, but still need to grow sales in general. The CEO says they are testing many ideas and some newly designed stores are working well. “He said B&N is ‘on the eve’ of developing a new prototype store ‘that we think will carry us well into the future,'” reports Publishers Weekly.

What do you think about the physical bookstores? Are they yesterday’s shopping venue? Will they go the way of Woolworth? What would you like to see in a local bookstore that would attract your business?

My only thought is that if a company like B&N could gain the reputation (reality aside) of having the book you want when you want it, readers would run to that. That may be too much. Perhaps making the shopping process as easy as walking through the store with your smart phone, but complications will always abound there.

But those are big store ideas. Blue Bunny Books in Dedham, Massachusetts, hopes its unique personal touch will sustain it in the shadow of a brick-and-mortar Amazon store. Its customers seem to think so.

St. Petersburg Has a Luxury Library

In St. Petersburg, Russia, publisher Alfaret has opened a Gothic-style library that is more a book-themed experience than a place to read or check out books. In fact, I don’t think you can check out anything from Book Cappela‘s over 5,000 edition collection.

What you can do is pay about £100 for a four-hour visit to study the collection or buy an annual card, making you a “Book Apostle,” for £3,209. Life-long members are also available.

For these prices, you can review Alfaret’s collection of Russian and international masterpieces in leather chairs under the kind gaze of the apostles.

“Book Capella is not a library in the traditional sense, and it is not a museum, although elements of the museum are presented. It’s also not the bookstore, although you can buy our books here. [It] is a new way for people to communicate with rare books,” Irina Khoteshova, the project director, told the Guardian.

The Tribe of Readers Increases

Gallup says a majority of Americans are still reading.

The research group says over a third of Americans are heavy readers, meaning they read more than eleven books in a year, and about half of Americans read at least one but not more than ten books in a year. Only sixteen percent say they did not read a book last year, which is a percentage that hasn’t changed significantly since 1990.

Three-fourth of all readers surveyed said they read printed books most often. That’s far more printed books than they apparently expected to be reading, according to this Book Boon survey from 2013 showing over fifty-seven percent of US readers thought they would be reading mostly eBooks by now.

Maybe great shops around the corner like Blue Willow Bookshop encourage us to keep reading printed books.

I don’t know if we do anything better than other bookstores but I doubt any of them has ever changed out a customer’s vacuum cleaner bag for them. When the Oreck store across the street closed, we had a customer come in distraught because she didn’t know how to change the bag. We have an Oreck so a staffer went out to her car, brought it in, and we changed it. Now that is customer service! We like to think of ourselves as the neighbourhood bookshop with a citywide reach. We do tons of events throughout Houston. We are most proud of our three festivals: Bookworm Bookfest (for picture book and emerging readers), Tweens Read, and TeenBookCon. It’s our mission to connect families to reading.

Lessons in Opening a Bookstore

Ms. Bagnulo said there were two major questions to consider when deciding where to open a bookstore: Which city neighborhoods are in need of one, and which can support one.

“It’s sort of joking, but the rule of thumb is, if the neighborhood can support a farmers market, the neighborhood can support a bookstore,” she said.

Jessica Bagnulo is one of the owners of two bookstores in Brooklyn, New York. They sold 500 books in their opening weekend.

Down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a local publisher is opening a speciality store with rotating literary and local-interest themes.

Nothing in here is set in stone, and that’s why the community curation part of this is so vital,” Easty Lambert-Brown, who owns Borgo Publishing, said of her new store, Ernest & Hadley Booksellers. “If you can provide me a good, rounded set of people that had a major influence on how we think, let me have it! I’m not an expert in all this, and my goal is to learn something here. If I’m not learning from it, I’m just taking up space.”

The Girl with the Bestselling Novel

Why do so many bestselling novels have “girl” in their title? Maybe it was inspired by Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and such. But author Emily St. John Mandel says the trend in titles started before Larsson’s books were released. Perhaps it’s a natural phenomenon. Mandel notes this interesting data point:

The “girl” in the title is much more likely to be a woman than an actual girl, and the author of the book is more likely to be a woman. But if a book with “girl” in the title was written by a man, the girl is significantly more likely to end up dead.

Breathless drama in the library

It’s the roughest week of the year for this librarian.

First week of school. I’ve already done my orientations (a lecture and walk-through for Bible school students, a walk-through for seminarians). I’m training two new assistants (most years I have a junior and a senior assistant, so there’s only one to train at a time. But things happen). And I have a lecture to do on writing academic papers, tomorrow (I’ll be doing that with less practice than I hoped). And I’m putting together an article on the Reformation in Norway, for the Georg Sverdrup Society newsletter, deadline coming up.

Oh yes, I sell textbooks, too.

I’m not complaining. The days go quickly, and I’m not bored.

I also agreed, in a preliminary way, to tutor a seminary student in Norwegian. But that won’t happen (if it happens at all) until next year.

Oh yes, the Viking Age Club will be at the Nordic Music Festival in Victoria, Minnesota this Saturday. I’ll be there if I have any strength left.