In one ten minute period, I had the following happen in my store:
A woman asks for WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS and THE LIGHT IN THE ATTIC, by Shel Silverstein. We go to the Shel Silverstein section and I have:- FALLING UP; THE MISSING PIECE; THE GIVING TREE; A GIRAFFE AND A HALF; and DIFFERENT DANCES.
But not the books she was looking for...
Another woman asks for WHAT IS THE WHAT?, by Dave Eggers. We go to the E's and I have: -- A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS; YOU SHALL KNOW OUR VELOCITY; HOW WE ARE HUNGRY; and ZEITOOUN.
But not the book she was looking for.
This pretty much goes on all the time, no matter how many books I carry.
It really points out how many books there are in the world; not just books, but "good" books.
On one hand, it's an opportunity to stock my store with nothing but "good" books. That's a luxury, actually. I don't think most bookstores realize how lucky they have it -- that they have centuries of evidence about which books stand the test of time and which books actually sell.
It isn't always this way. For many product lines I carry, I have a few items that sell and then a bunch of filler that doesn't sell so well. I have to carry the filler to, well, fill in -- to get that extra 20% that makes the whole thing work. (And I don't always know when I order which new product will be evergreen and which are filler. The ones that don't sell, turn out to be filler.)
Sure, the book trade has a whole lot of mid-list product, but you can pick and choose which to carry, based on your own tastes and predilections. And sure the book trade has tons of "new" books that haven't proven themselves -- but I avoid most of those, and wait for evidence of strength.
Anyway, it points to a little bit of a dilemma for me: I have limited space, so I have to be very very picky. It's great, in a way, because I can fill my store with only proven sellers and other books I want to carry. But even amongst the proven sellers, I have to pick and choose.
So here's the choice, as I see it.
Once I identify an author who sells, do I carry a few of his 'best' books and leave enough money to bring in another author who sells, and carry a few of his 'best' books?
Or do I choose one of the two authors and carry a full bibliography of that author's works; not only his or her best known works, but the early unknowns, the off the beaten track works.
(If I had a bigger store, I'd do both...)
So far, I have found the latter technique to be better for Pegasus Books.
Not sure why, but my guess is that the better known books are everywhere -- in every Barnes and Noble and Borders and most indie bookstores. It's the lesser books that I'm more likely to sell, sometimes, because I may be the only guy carrying it.
Of course, by this logic, maybe I should carry just the lesser known books by major authors....except I don't have the guts. But what I'm really saying is, that carrying the lessor known books probably helps me sell more books -- that is, I might sell the better known books too, but this the extra margin I need.
In a way, my new books survive on that contradictory boundary. I survive on that margin between what is so well known that everyone sells it (often much cheaper than I) and those books that are so obscure they never sell.
My job is to discover and pick what books are in that gray area between those two extremes.
4 days ago