Category Archives: Bookselling

Survivor’s report

Photo credit: Erik Patton

Above you see me this last week, at the Festival of Nations in St. Paul. The Festival of Nations is a celebration held annually to rejoice in the rich diversity of our community.

Can you speak the words “rich diversity” without that intonation that implies quotation marks? I know I can’t. I’ve tried.

It’s not a bad event, and my sales (more on those below) were pretty good. But it’s grueling. It just involves sitting around, but you sit around in a windowless, echoing concrete cavern, and Friday and Saturday are twelve-hour days – ten to ten. It wears on an old man.

We had an example of rich diversity at a nearby vendor’s stall, where a gentleman was selling “Ojibway Beadwork.” Another Native American came over and insisted he had no right to make or sell what he was making and selling. Wrong tribe or wrong designs or something. The offender packed up and left, saying he felt unsafe.

You may extract what moral you will from this story.

But I did pretty good business. Saturday in particular was excellent – at one point I had a line of three people waiting to buy Viking Legacy (the book I translated, if you’re new around here). This occurred – of course – just as I was sitting down to eat the Chinese meal I’d brought from the food section.

It’s not true that I’d rather eat than make money. I produce this anecdote as proof. My sesame chicken was cool by the time I got to it, but I made sales.

I really think we’ve got great possibilities in Viking Legacy. Again and again I had the experience of explaining the book’s theme (the influence of Viking democracy on our own democracy today) and a kind of light would go on in people’s eyes and they’d reach for their wallets.

My investment in stock was expensive, but I made it all back and took in a fair profit.

Capitalism is good, as every Viking will tell you.

A day in the bunker

Day One of the Festival of Nations is done. This was the easy day – 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Tomorrow and Saturday will be roughly 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday wraps it up for good at 6:00 p.m.

Today and tomorrow morning were/are student days. The place rings with the laughter of children, and the ennui of teens.

When I say “rings,” I mean it. The River Centre is part of a complex (adjective) complex (noun) comprising the Excel Energy Center, the Roy Wilkins Auditorium, and probably a couple other institutions I never noticed. What the River Centre appears to be – mostly – is the basement of the whole thing.

I am not a sun worshiper. I wear a hat for shade when I go outside, and never wear shorts. In general, I prefer to spend my time indoors, away from the sunburn and insect bites.

But a day in the River Centre drives me to consider nudism.

(Not really.)

It’s not only the artificial light – I expect they replaced all the fluorescents with LEDs long ago – but the sound of the place. The reverberations of noise off the bunker walls. I’m too old for this.

However, I recently invested in a stock of Viking Legacy (the paper version is available from Saga Publishing, even though Amazon only carries the Kindle version. For some reason). I’m eager to recoup my expenses. Even at the expense of voluntary incarceration.

Sold 3 copies today, plus one of West Oversea. I consider that OK for student days at the Festival. I don’t expect to sell a lot of copies to kids.

Tomorrow should, I hope, bring serious sales. I seem to recall I’ve had good sales in the past (it’s been a few years).

One high school guy came by and told me he already owned the book. And he hadn’t bought it from me.

I didn’t ask him what he thought of it.

Raising my profile

I clicked over to the Amazon listing for The Elder King today, and was delighted to see that I already have 6 reader reviews, all glowing.

Thanks to everyone who took the trouble write a review. It does matter, and it is appreciated.

It occurs to me that I could appeal to madness of crowds, and ask for promotional tips.

What methods would you suggest for a writer with not too much money to draw attention to his work?

We all know, of course, that the better the advice, the less likely I am to take it. Because really useful promotional techniques generally involve a degree of chest-puffing, arm-waving, and horn-tooting that’s simply beyond my capacity.

But at least you can say you tried.

Beautiful Bookstores in London

Here’s a bit of Monday tourism via desk for you: London’s prettiest, most picturesque bookstores. The image below was taken in Liberia, which prohibits using your phone like this, so images like this are subversive acts of rebellion. Notice the reflective ceiling multiplies the store’s bookish enchantment. You can see more of this wonderful little place in the 360 degree image on their website.

Personal Libraries

When asked about their personal libraries, these writers said this.

Richard Brookhiser: “The Brookhiser Decimal System depends on memory. Why is volume 2 of My Struggle (Karl Ove Knausgaard) next to Churchill, Roosevelt & Company(Lewis Lehrman)? Because I put them there, and I know that is where I can go to find them. (Sometimes I am distracted by ghost memories of the locations of books I have given away.)” He also loves Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child.

Joseph Epstein: “One [bookcase] contains the works of the authors I most admire along with books about them . . . A bookcase alongside it contains exclusively Library of America books, which look, if I may say so, better than they read (the typeface and leading leave much to be desired), a number of which I’ve not read, and a few more of which I have no wish to read. “

Micah Mattix on his library’s disorganization: “I have developed an attachment to the inefficiency of trying to find that damn Sophocles or godforsaken Gregory Corso. Plus, it reminds me of life — disordered, exasperating, but punctuated by the momentary thrill of finding just the thing you’re looking for. “

Terry Teachout: “Unwealthy New Yorkers can’t afford homes large enough to amass libraries, and while degenerate city collectors keep books in the oven, I’ve never been reduced to that pitiful extremity. ” (via Terry Teachout)

Twitter Mob Turns on Its Own

People who know nothing about the Bible seem to know a few verses, such as “Judge not lest ye be judged,” but the young, bright users of the Internet will want to think those words through and apply them before a social media mob over takes them. Because (sorry for the remedial) Jesus wasn’t condemning judgement in toto. He was saying, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

To put it another way, if you call out people for cultural offenses, you put yourself at risk for being called out for the same.

This week, a YA author, who led Twitter mobs against perceived social injustices, has had the mob turn on him. He participated in this outcry:

[A] campaign based on misunderstanding and exaggeration led the author Amélie Zhao to take the unusual step of agreeing to cancel the publication of Blood Heir, her hotly anticipated debut novel, which was set to be the first in a trilogy. Advance reading copies had already been sent out. But an angry and underinformed subset of YA Twitter decided that a racially ambiguous character in Blood Heir was black, or this fictional universe’s equivalent of black—the character had “bronze” skin and “aquamarine” eyes—and that therefore certain things that character said and did constituted harmful tropes. (YA Twitter has very conservative norms pertaining to what characters of different ethnicities are allowed to say or do.) The fact that Zhao is ethnically Chinese, is an immigrant to the U.S., and had written Blood Heir in part as a commentary on present-day indentured servitude in Asia didn’t offer her much protection.

Now he has pulled his own novel from publication, having run afoul of his own tribe of trolls.

Jesse Singal (quoted above) notes that this outrage may be warranted or at least understandable if it came from readers who had read the books, but this outrage flames up from shallow reviews, tweets, or public comments before books are even released.

“Young-adult books are being targeted in intense social media callouts, draggings, and pile-ons—sometimes before anybody’s even read them,” Vulture‘s Kat Rosenfield wrote in the definitive must-read piece on this strange and angry internet community. The call-outs, draggings, and pile-ons almost always involve claims that books are insensitive with regard to their treatment of some marginalized group, and the specific charges, as Rosenfield showed convincingly, often don’t seem to warrant the blowups they spark—when they make any sense at all.

(via Prufrock News)

Literature Is More than Politics

The Columbia Journalism Review asks, “What’s behind a recent rise in books coverage?The New York Times and other publications are growing (perhaps only on the digital side) and may have expanded their book coverage as a result. It doesn’t quite explain what’s behind the rise other than to say readers want it.

Micah Mattix observes the strongest themes in the reviews that come from these organizations are political. Book coverage may be contextualize short-form reports, but as Mattix says, “If you’re interested in literature primarily for its politics, you’re not interested in literature. And book coverage that always keys reviews to political concerns is a very philistine sort of coverage.”

Would You Travel to a Book Town?

A book town is a small town with a lot of books for sale. A personal library like Richard Adams’s wouldn’t count.

Hobart, New York, is a perfect example of how having one bookstore in a small town is nice, but having many bookstores together makes a place special—a destination. Since the 1970s, book towns like it have been springing up all over the world. There are now dozens of them, from Australia and Finland to India and South Korea.

Atlas Obscura talks to the author of a book on forty-five of these literary havens. “After we’ve gone through everyone getting excited about e-books and online reading,” Alex Johnson said, “having something practical and in your hand is something that people are happy to travel for.”

Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

AbeBooks Decision Provokes International Backlash

The Amazon-owned used book website AbeBooks announced their disconnecting from select rare and antique booksellers around the world sparking a backlash from over 250 booksellers in 24 countries. The New York Times reports:

The stores are calling their action Banned Booksellers Week. The protest got its start after AbeBooks sent emails last month to booksellers in countries including South Korea, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Russia to say that it would no longer “support” them. “We apologize for this inconvenience,” the company said.

The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association Book Fair is also dropping AbeBooks from their 2019 sponsors, and one business owner says he will never list his books on the site again.

AbeBooks says their third party payment service is shutting down, so they cannot continue to process sales from certain countries. The way this report reads, if the website had at least made the pretense of finding a way to work with the affected booksellers before announcing it could not, other booksellers may not being protesting now. (via ShelfAwareness)

Iceland run, revisited

Althing
Artist’s conception of me addressing the Icelanders

It’s always nice to be asked back, even when you’re a semi-agoraphobic. So I was pleased to be asked to speak for the second year in a row at the annual “Icelandic Leifur Eiriksson Cod Dinner,” in Bloomington, Minnesota. This gala event (some of the best cod I’ve ever enjoyed) will be held at the Bloomington Event Center, 1114 American Blvd., Bloomington on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 5:30 p.m.

The deadline for reservations was Sept. 30, so maybe it’s too late to get in, unless you’re a popular celebrity like me. But you could contact Steingrimur Steinolfson at sicelander@aol.com and check.

It’s a cool opportunity to plug Viking Legacy, which concerns the Icelandic sagas sufficiently that it ought to interest the audience.

I’m moving a lot of copies of this book. It seems to be very well received.

Hostfest postmortem

Another Høstfest is høstory now (the 41st, they tell me). Everything went swimmingly. I sold all the books I brought (wish I’d ordered more). Had some interesting conversations, and met some interesting people (including a professional storyteller from Yorkshire and an elderly lady from Ringerike who showed me pictures of Halvdan the Black’s grave mound). No drama this year – everybody seemed to get along fine. Which suits me just fine.

Here’s a shot of our “Viking Village.”

Viking Village 2018

And here’s a shot of my set-up. There was actually no Viking Bar, but I was next door to the Big Lost Meadery booth. I will neither confirm nor deny accepting the daily samples they shared with Vikings. Being next to the mead was good for business in any case.

My setup 2018

And this is me looking epic in my personal space. The crowds did overwhelm me at times, but I managed to avoid going berserk.

Lars Walker Hostfest 18

Rode in and out with a friend. Stayed (for the third time) with one of the neatest couples I’ve ever met – people of great hospitality and excellent taste in Viking books.

Thanks to all participants.

Printed Books Still King of the Hill

People still buy printed books in 2018 and appear to prefer them to all other media. The growth of e-books sales appears to have plateaued, but audiobook sales have been climbing rapidly. All other media sales have been disrupted by comprehensive subscriptions offering large libraries of movies, shows, or music for a monthly fee. E-books have these plans too, but they haven’t taken off with readers possibly because the selection isn’t good enough yet.

“There’s another factor that continues to support the sale of physical books: the stubborn survival of booksellers, especially the independents that have endured a series of onslaughts.”

Those booksellers–standing behind Hadrian’s wall against the rest of the world–you have to love ’em.