Sunday, February 6, 2011

Having faith in books.

There is a certain amount of faith involved in owning a bookstore.

You need to have faith that customers will buy the "good stuff."

Because, frankly, I don't know how else to order product....except to buy what I think is the good stuff, and keep buying the good stuff, and hope...when all is added up, that enough people have rewarded that faith to keep on going.

On a hour to hour, day to day, week to week basis -- it can be hard to see.

On a individual customer basis -- it can be hard to see.

But when I look at my order forms and see what sold over the last weeks or months-- well, there it is in black and white. The good stuff sells.

Then again, so does some of the (my opinion) mediocre stuff, and so does some of the crap.

I especially see the last two -- mediocre and crap -- sell from the used book area, because I try very hard not to buy that stuff new. Even though -- on the evidence of used books -- they might actually sell.

I figure if I starting buying crap that I think my sell, even though I know it's crap, I enter the territory of guessing, or a 'crap'shoot: once I start buying stuff only because I think someone might buy it even though I think it's junk, I think I'm lost. I have limited room, anyway, I might as well fill it with the "good stuff."

Oh, I buy a few authors new that I don't particularly like because of the demand; but I try to limit that, because if feels -- I don't know -- pandering, somehow.

"It's Your Job To Pander!" I can hear some of you saying. No -- it's Walmart's job to pander, it's my job to show some taste and judgment.

O.K. I do carry some stuff I consider mediocre. For instance, with apologies to anyone who liked these books, or whose kids liked these books; I think the Eragon books are pure dreck. Sorry. But -- there are kids who love them, who are going to keep reading books because they love them. When I recognize that "love" in a kid's eyes -- all I can do is get more of those books, whatever my own opinion.

But it has to be love, or something close to love, that will make me buy a mediocre book for the store...

How can you tell it's the "good stuff?"

It doesn't seem that hard to me. It doesn't have to be something I personally like, for instance -- I just need to know that other people really like it. You can tell by the tone of voice they use describing a book.

Someone starts raving about a book, and I'll pick up my clipboard and start writing them down to order.

Well, not all the time. First I try to figure out if the customer has liked the same kind of books I've liked in the past -- and if they spew out a bunch of books I didn't like, that's not such a good sign. But if they seem to have some discrimination, I'll respond.

I do pay attention to critics -- but there are so many good books being published that I take it another step and ask myself -- do I FEEL it? Is it something that fits my store?

I passed on THE HELP, for instance, because I wasn't feeling it. THE SECRET -- really wasn't feeling it.

I suppose there is a danger of my choices being too masculine -- but when I look out on my display rack that faces the door, I see LITTLE BEE, by Chris Cleave, A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD, by Jennifer Egan, LIKE WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen, and THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO. Most of these would seem to me to be books that would appeal to either gender.

I suppose the other danger is that my choices will be too geeky.

Sorry, can't help that. I am what I am.

But I do read a broad range of books -- in fact, my favorites are mysteries, followed by S.F. and Fantasy, followed by history, followed by mainstream. So...there is a definite tinge of the geek here, but not as bad as you might think. (Sadly, it doesn't take much geekiness to turn off some people --- they see a fantasy book and assume everything in the store is that way -- even though I might be carrying hundreds of classics and new literature...)

I guess I'm hoping that the geekiness, the quirkiness, will be part of the charm. After all, if you are such a broadminded soul that you only read "Literature" then you should be willing to grant me that.

Like I said, you can only hope that people respond. You have to have faith that investing in books that might takes weeks or months to sell, will eventually be rewarded.

No comments: