Tuesday, July 7, 2020

God, I love books.

Books are selling like crazy at Pegasus Books. Basically at double the pace of last year. Which is a good thing since Marvel and DC are rolling out comics out a slowly, especially for this time of the season.

Anyway, I'm very busy trying to reorder books each week from four different sources. It's a lot more work than ordering from just Ingrams, especially since I have to cross-reference availability, make sure I'm getting the best discount, and weigh that against the postage and how long it will take to show up.

Not sure if this is going to be feasible if it's going to take hours and hours to do every week. But I'm hoping that I'll be able to make the process routine eventually. Right now, it's trial and error.

On the other hand, book nerd that I am, I hugely enjoy ordering books. Sabrina has been ordering games and comics for years now, so I haven't had that challenge. Until recently, book ordering for me has been more of an off-hand affair, when I finally decided to take it seriously. I don't think the doubling of sales is any accident, but simply a matter of paying real attention. Even more encouraging, there is no micro factors that are probably going to affect this trajectory. (Macro factors--well, that's a minefield of danger...)

A lifetime of heavy reading, and beyond that, a curiosity about books whether I've read them or not, is paying off. (Much as the miscellaneous but voluminous superficial knowledge I've gained has helped in my writing.)

No shortage of tourists. This was my instinct, despite what all the "experts" on TV were saying. I think yesterday was maybe a little slower than it could have been because every other store but one on my block was closed. This is inexplicable to me, because a few of them have mentioned that times are tough, nevertheless they remain closed on Sundays and Mondays--in the summer. All I can do is shake my head.

And then there is this morning's headline in the Bulletin that Gov. Brown is threatening to close us down again.

Anyway, I'm enjoying being at work, and selling books, and talking to people and being engaged. I don't regret the seven years I spent with my head in my writing, but this is a refreshing change.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

What looks like a surge is really just the pinnacle.

Over the years there have been many times when I've let myself think that Pegasus Books might be on the verge of turning a real profit. Not just paying the bills (including a modest wage for me, which the IRS counts as profit), but actually some cash left over.

***Warning--this is totally in the business weeds.

Every...damn... time, that possibility has receded before my disbelieving eyes.

No more. I've come to recognize that there is a inevitable pattern to it. Whenever I reach that point where it appears a profit is possible, it is actually a sign that things have probably reached a peak and the downhill slope is imminent.

The danger is that you spend too much at the peak, which means you get a high flow of material coming in after sales have already begun to drop. I've never figured out why this happens--perhaps the surge creates competition, or people are most eager just before they stop, or expenses like rent and utilities rise. All I know is that it is a consistent pattern.

The only real way to make extra money is to siphon it off on the way up--but the drawback to that is that you inevitably slow the growth. Whatever is fueling the growth will usually soak up all the cash, unless you are willing to forego the growth, which I have never been willing to do.

In hindsight, this has kept me in business, but has kept me from being terribly profitable. So if longevity is my goal, then supporting the growth curve is a good idea. I've learned that you can only survive a steep drop in business if you are operating at a significant level above survival.

That is, say you need to earn $XXX to stay in business, (breakeven point) and you spend all your cash on pushing it to $XXX times 1.5. What this does is gives you a cushion for a drop of a third. However, you haven't set any money aside for reserves. This sounds bad, but if you budget correctly, you can weather it.

On the other hand, let's say I need to do $XXX to stay in business, and I gently push it to $XXX times 1.25. Meanwhile, I take profits by not growing as fast and high as I could. But the problem is, if there is a drop in sales of a third or more, I'm in the hole with no real way to get out of it. The breakeven point isn't achievable, except by drastic cutting.

What about the cash? By my calculations, the cash profit--if you managed to hold onto it and not spend it on something else--will never be enough to cover the shortfall.

So the trick is to recognize when you are peaking and start looking for the inevitable falter.



Monday, June 29, 2020

Makes life interesting....as if.

In my second week of ordering from PRH. (Penguin/Random House).

It's a pain in the ass, seems to take inordinate time, the search engine sucks, I don't know if what I'm ordering is in stock, I don't know when and how it will ship or how long it takes. I don't know if the split shipments are going to cost.

Meanwhile, I haven't seen or heard anything from Scholastic Press. I tried setting up an account online, but got no response. I'll try again in a few days, but I'm starting to suspect that this will be more of a 2 or 3 time a year order, and that I'll do it with the rep.

As you all know, I've always maintained that time and effort = money. So I have to figure out if all this extra time and effort is worth the extra discount. Right now, I'd say no. But I'm hoping this will settle down, that I'll figure it out, and it will become routine.

One thing's for sure--books are selling. We are a full-on bookstore at this point, even carrying non-fiction. The non-fiction section is in the beginning stages, but I can see it expanding. Once that happens, well--that makes me a full bookstore.

After all, every bookstore has to make selections. The fact that my selections are quirky, well that just makes the store interesting to people. (I get a ton of compliments...)

I was in one of the local ABA model stores, and I was told that the ABA newsletter is going to stop coming out in physical form. Opening the pamphlet, and it's clear to me why all ABA model bookstores look the same. They're all ordering the same recommended material.

In a sense, my bookstore is a backstock store. That is, I concentrate on books that have already come out and have a history. Seems much safer to me.

Then again, a local bookseller told me how many of the new John Bolton books he ordered and it sort of floored me. (Not that he actually got the books...that seems to be a big problem with new bestsellers. They aren't always readily available, which is weird. Obviously, the big boys are getting them first.)

Though I've been carrying new books for a decade now, in some ways I'm only beginning. I mean, I was pretty lackadaisical for a long time, just getting the low-hanging easy stuff. Now I'm challenging myself to fill out the store with material that people see as bookstore-ish. ("fill-out" is a bit of a joke--I'm already packed.)

Still, it makes life interesting. Because, you know, not enough stuff is going on....

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

"In the Midst of Chaos, there is Opportunity." Sun Tzu

Our book sales are nearly double last year this month.

When I first started doing new books about fifteen years ago, I was ordering the low-hanging fruit. Favorites, cult books, classics, tangential to comics, requests. My new book ordering was at first meant to be a supplement to my used books. I had gotten tired of never having the titles come in used that people were asking for.

Within a few years, new books were outselling used books 5 to 1.

I removed the used books completely a couple years ago, making more room for new books and graphic novels.

I've always treated books in my store as more or less a continuum. Hardcovers or softcovers, comics or graphic novels, trade paperback or mass market paperbacks, art books, children's books, fiction, non-fiction if interesting. I tried to blend them all together. Stories--some with lots of words, some with lots of art, but all stories.

For about 5 years, I was bringing books in kind of from a distance. That is, I was home writing most of the time and would lift my head to order books here and there, whenever convenient. I kept expanding the bookshelves wherever possible. I wasn't really bearing down, but nevertheless, book sales continued to increase.

What I've found is this: Good books sell and keep selling. So every time I find an evergreen book, one that will sell every time I order it, it adds to the overall effect. One by one, I've been adding books that seem to have constant demand. All of this works because of the foot-traffic in downtown Bend, especially the tourists.

Because of the popularity of young adult graphic novels, I've been paying particular attention to young adult and kids books of all kinds. 

In the last year I finally decided to pay more attention to brand new books and bestsellers. I'm still a little careful there--I will order two or three of a bestseller that fits my brand (i.e. the new Hunger Games prequel), and maybe just one of other hardcover books. I'm still not trying to carry every new bestseller that comes out, but I try to have a good sampling.

Since I started working two days a week last fall, I accelerated the process, paid much more attention to what I was doing. This meant also coming in at least one more day a week to put books away. Book sales started to increase under the attention.

When we closed in April to put down new flooring, I shifted things slightly to make a little more room for new books. What's more or less happened is that the increase in new book sales have more than compensated for the decrease, due to disruptions and/or competition, in sales on other product.

In the chaos, I've had time to rethink how I'm doing things.

In the last month, DC comics has decided to distribute their comics under new distributors. This has more or less thrown the entire market into chaos. It forced me to take a closer look at what I was doing.

For one thing, I've been ordering all my new books from a distributor, both for convenience and speed. However, I can get a 10% better margin by ordering directly from the publishers. Over the last week, I've been transitioning--ordering books as usual from the regular distributor, but whenever possible going direct with the publishers. So far, I've set up accounts with two publishers--who probably account for a good 40% of my overall book sales.

If this works, I'll set up accounts with a couple more of the Big Five publishers--who between them own the lion's share of new books.

It's been a time-consuming process, and frankly, I probably wouldn't have done it if DC comics hadn't pulled the rug out from under us. I'll actually save money buying DC graphic novels from my new accounts, and while that is happening, I'll save money on a goodly percentage of my other books too.

So thanks, DC, for throwing things into chaos. I doubt you'll like the results, but it's going to be good for my store.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A business owner will expand to his level of incompetence.

There's an article in today's Bulletin about a gardening business in an out of the way location that has had great success. So the guy is going from one employee to four and moving to the Old Mill District.

Part of me wants to shout: "Don't do it!"

But NOT growing is heresy in America. (Of course, he may succeed, and it may be exactly what he wants--but that wasn't my experience.)

I've been enjoying my store lately. My one store. I've had four stores, five if you count the Bookmark, and it wasn't always an enjoyable experience. It often wasn't even a profitable experience.

I have my own variation of the Peter Principle: A business owner will expand to his level of incompetence.

I was sort of reminded of this with this new street closure proposal. "You'll be able to move stuff to sell onto the street," they told me.

I'm sorry--I have a store that is functioning very well right now, Thank You Very Much. A store that is designed for one person to maximize the space and time. It's been finessed down to the smallest details. It's still manageable, but even more importantly, it's still enjoyable.

Whatever makes you think I want to expand into the street? How would I keep track of that? What would I do, move stuff in and out each night? Would I have to leave my post at the store and go out to help people? To clean and straighten, and...?

...well, like I said, the store is designed for exactly what it does. Designed by decades of experience.

So you open a store and you talk to your customers and they appreciate your knowledge and experience and reward you with business. What do you do? You expand and become a manager of multiple employees, who no matter how good almost never match your dedication and experience.

It took me 30 years to find Sabrina, who took responsibility for the store and who managed it with dedication and honesty and knowledge. Before that, it was a constant turnover (which was my own fault in many ways--management is not what I wanted to do.)

Two stores isn't just twice the work, it's three times the work. Three and four stores are even worse--unless you are very skilled at management and technology and that's what you WANT to do.

If what you want is your own business, somewhere fun and yours--then expanding isn't always the best idea.

Unfortunately, most people only learn this by doing it.

If I had one piece of advice for beginning small business owners it's this--beware burnout. Be careful how much you take on. Keep doing the things you enjoy, even if you can make more money doing what you don't enjoy. Keep it fresh and manageable.

Then you'll be there for the long haul. 


Saturday, June 20, 2020

It's a cra-cra world.

Again, plenty of things to talk about, almost all of it better kept to myself.

It's a cra-cra world right now. People are lining up like lemmings for the Tulsa rally. Some kind of deathwish cult.

I personally think anyone who denies scientific reality should be forced to live without any of the benefits of science. No machines and no medicines. After all, they don't believe in science.

Instant karma?

The difference between this and the mass gathering for protests is one small but major thing: Wear a Fucking Mask!

And just so you know this ain't all tilted politically, I'm pissed at the health experts who at first said masks didn't work. I think they suspected masks worked and said it anyway. By the time they reversed course, it had become politicized.

And if they were worried about people taking all the masks away from health workers, they could have fucking said so--wear a bandana, or a cloth mask, and we would have understood it.

All in all, the 38% who still think Trump is great proves what I've always thought but could never quite quantify. A third of all people are either crazy or stupid.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Do writers have big egos?

Maybe...just a little.

It kills me that Hollywood has thrown tens of millions of dollars around for supernatural Donner Party movies that either suck or were never made or disguised as something else, when there was a book out there that I think would have been perfect as a movie. Ready made, if you will.

"Led to the Slaughter: The Donner Party Werewolves," by Duncan McGeary.

I also think "Tuskers" could be a fun "Tremors" kind of movie.

"Snaked" would make a great creature/disaster movie.

You know, in my humble opinion.

I'm not sure about the cinematic possibilities of my other stories, but these three are pretty straightforward plots that wouldn't have to be trimmed down all the much.

I guess I need to be playing the lottery a lot more, because that's the only way these movies would ever be made.

So yeah, writers have egos. (But are also fragile and you could easily puncture my pretension with a harsh word...so please refrain.)

Friday, June 12, 2020

This blog has gotten harder and harder to write because so many of my opinions are probably things that shouldn't be aired publicly. Mostly because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

The store is doing very well--but, as I joke, I still want everyone to feel sorry for us...

I'm stuck on trying to decide what next to write--and I've taken so much time trying to decide that I literally could have written a book--any book--by now...

It's hard to stay vigilant about the virus. I remind myself to wear my mask and clean my hands regularly, and I'm still mostly staying home when I'm not working.

I've gained 10 fucking pounds, and I'm eating poorly and not exercising and I'm going to keel over at any moment. But an asteroid is probably going to wipe us out anyway.

Speaking of earth-destroying asteroids--the media. I've decided that there is so much access to everyone's opinions online that everything is just blurring. And yet...I'm addicted.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Interesting times in the comic biz.

Had a really bad dream last night.  Usually I'm alone in some nameless city, lost, no job, no friends, no family, trying to find a place to hide.

It's weird how things can be going so well in my life and yet I have these horrid dreams. I think these dreams are warnings not to get cocky and to be nice.

I'm having to take a step back in my opinions, basically. This really is a time to listen and absorb, to meantime, take care of the basics. The store is doing surprisingly well. In fact, I think we'll come out of this essentially unharmed. I'm out the money I spent on the flooring, but that was an investment.

I've become one of those old guys who talks about how I've lived in Bend my whole life, and how my store has been around for 40 years, and the "good (bad) old days." But I really am proud of it. Not just that we've survived, but that we continually improve. That's the hard part--not just limping to the finish line but thriving.

I do hope the store can get passed along.

I keep thinking I'm going to get back to writing, but then another disruption comes along. As I posted a few days ago, DC comics (30% of the market) has changed distributors. As I posted on one of the retailer forums, "Name one tangible benefit from this development." Three days later, I'm still waiting.

It's going to add costs and complications, but that's sometimes the way business goes. More alarmingly, it puts the rest of the industry in jeopardy, and I'm not certain the industry as a whole is strong enough to withstand it.

I'm always fascinated by people's reactions to these events. What comes out from the outside observers, the customers and creative people, is a certain hate for Diamond Distribution. I think this is mostly because some retailers have so continually complained about our distributor that everyone thinks they are horrid, when in fact, they are pretty good. (A little secret--I believe some retailers use the distributor as their whipping boy, "Oh, I don't have that comic because Diamond shorted me" or the like. Which is sad, because when I legitimately need the explanation, I think the customers wonder if I'm lying. I try to never lie.)

But the same people who hate Diamond, generally hate comic shops in general. We're all the "comic book guy" stereotype. These people would like for nothing more than that comic shops and Diamond distributors to be swept away.

Here's the thing: There is nothing that will replace them. No one has the money or interest to come in and save the day. I suspect instead that the monthly comics model would essentially disappear as an industry (maybe survive as some sort of boutique type business) and be replaced by graphic novels only, distributed by book publishers and wholesalers. This would represent a significant but not fatal percentage of our sales.

But for most "comic" shops, as well as for most creators, it would be the end. This isn't hyperbole--we may really be reaching the buggy whip\ stage of our devolution. Oh, well. The comic industry has been dying since it began, (From millions of sales for single issues, to hundreds of thousands, to tens of thousands, to thousands....) so it will probably keep limping along.

We'll just keep continually adjusting, as we always have. We were on course for a record year in March, and I'm hoping that we'll still have a decent one.

Friday, June 5, 2020

DC Comics has Jumped the Shark.

I usually don't talk about industry complications on my blog because it's not my customers' problem how many hurdles I have to jump to get their product so why burden them?

I had a big pile of poo land in my lap this morning. My response was to laugh--that slightly hysterical laugh when things become too much. DC has decided to leave Diamond Distribution and force comic shops to order from our biggest online discounter competitor.

So what? Just a different distributor. In the case of comics, it's huge. It's a very fragile business at the best of times. This is a potentially disastrous turn in the road.

At the same time, all my business decisions in the last few years have been in preparation for just this sort of event, so --while it's very, very inconvenient--we'll probably be able to negotiate the situation without too much damage. I'm not so sure about most comic shops.

A little background.

Comics are a very marginal business. Not a whole lot of money is generated, despite the popularity of the movies and TV shows. Spider-man is huge--Spider-man comics, not so much. In some ways this has protected us comic shops. The big chain stores haven't been able to take our business away because it's too much work and too risky for such a small reward.

But outsiders rarely understand this. They wonder why we aren't selling more comics (even if you ask them, "Have YOU bought a comic lately?") So every time a Disney buys up a Marvel or a Warner Entertainment buys up DC and then are themselves gobbled up by an A.T.&T, the new overlords almost always try to ween the market away from comic shops. It simply makes no sense to them that Batman can make billions of dollars in the movies, but they can barely generate a small uptick in the source material.

Usually they try to put their product in the mass market. There's a pretty common misapprehension, even among comic readers, that comics abandoned the grocery stores or newstands or whatever. (Ancillary postulate, that they abandoned the "kids.") The truth is the opposite. The mass market abandoned comics, and the direct market stepped into the breach.

So the new overlords make a deal with Barnes & Noble or Walmart, sometimes even giving them "exclusives" (oh, how I hate exclusives.) But here's what happens:

Barnes & Noble or Fred Meyer or whoever will order a block of comics. So maybe 20 Green Lanterns and 20 Batmans and 20 Supermans. What they don't understand is that currently (and these numbers are always changing based on writers, artists, storylines, etc.) they'll sell 3 Green Lanterns and 15 Batmans and 3 Supermans.  There is no way for them to know this except--well, by being a comic shop whose job it is to know.

Huge wastage follows, and either the comic companies or the retailers give up.

It's happened over and over and over again. Because, frankly, it can't happen any other way. Comics are hugely dependent on very specialized knowledge.

In the last 3 years I've tripled my new books sales simply by giving them a little more room and attention. Simply be increasing my inventory. For years I heard how bookstores were a tough business, and so I stayed away.

But I could give my comics double the attention and space and inventory and it would barely move the needle. Books, in contrast, reward me for my efforts.

Still, I love comics, and they are still the most significant part of my business, and I certainly have no motivation to move away from them. However, over the last few years comics haven't been doing all that well. We've adjusted to this downturn and our overall sales have been increasing despite it.

Still, neither Marvel or DC have been happy. And they are looking for someone to blame--and that is usually the "direct market" of comic shops.

As I said, the response of the overlords is to try the mass market first. There second, and much more disastrous response, it to try to control the market by having their own distributor. Unfortunately, this splits up an already small market. 

DC has just left their longtime distributor to go with our largest online discount competitor. This is pretty shocking, obviously, especially when the whole market has been weakened by the pandemic.

So what do I do? Do I sign up with the new distributor (who is my biggest online competitor?)

I'm going to go ahead and try to set up an account, but I'm going to be very careful.

Meanwhile, I worry about what Marvel is going to do, and whether my longterm distributor, who is the distributor of every other comic published, is going to fare without the second biggest publisher to sell.

As I said, I've been emphasizing books and games for the last decade or so--without de-emphasizing comics, I should point out, so we are diversified enough to handle it. Unless, of course, everything falls apart.

And that never happens, does it?
Sometimes the best thing to do is just listen.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

40 blankity blank years!

A pretty cool article on Pegasus Books in today's Bulletin.

 https://www.bendbulletin.com/coronavirus/pegasus-books-at-40/article_55b13862-9f7d-11ea-9d08-c7eaf2ccc461.html


How I Lost My Wife

Linda had never shown any interest in sewing or knitting, but one day--long after our two boys left home--she started making a doll. I watched her carefully sew on each strand of hair, draw a face with sparkling eyes, rosy cheeks, and red smile. But she didn't stop there...she was soon knitting an entire wardrobe for the doll.

Finally, she presented it to me triumphantly.

"That's nice, dear. Very cute."

She gave me a satisfied nod.

The next morning, I woke and she had started on the second doll. I stood over her shoulder as she bent over the sewing machine.

"Another one?" I muttered. She didn't answer, simply gave me a distracted smile.

Soon she was at work on her third, her fourth, her fifth dolls, and on and on. They lined the side of the living room walls. Perhaps I should have known there was something wrong...Our ginger cat, Jasper, took a disliking to the dolls and knocked them over whenever he was inside. But he stayed indoors less and less.

I knew where to find Linda, day after day. "Have you eaten?" I asked, as she made a red sparkling pantsuit for her newest creation.

She stared up me dully. There was little life in her eyes. But in the doll's eyes--that was different. In the doll's eyes there was a gleam of malice and an intelligence that startled me.

And then, one day, as I wove my way through the rows of dolls, I found my wife's housecloths laying in a rumbled pile in the middle of the floor.

"Linda?" I called, more and more desperately. But there was no answer.

I picked up her latest doll, and I swear it spoke to me. "I love you," it whispered.

I frantically swept the dolls into a pile, and then with wide open arms, I scooped them up. I took them to my bed and arranged the dolls around me, and then I told my wife about my day, as I always did.

The dolls gazed up on on my face as my wife once had, with different expressions, from love to puzzlement, from boredom to interest.

I hugged them close. "Linda isn't gone," I whispered. "She's never going to be gone."

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Had my appointment with my regular doctor last week, and my cardiologist this morning over the phone.

Both of them are retiring this year. Yeah, sure, get out of Dodge while you can...

No, really, I don't blame them. The medical system isn't what it used to be.

Anyway, all the labs are tip-top. I'm in overall good shape. I asked the cardiologist about how much danger my stent put me in, and he said, in typical doctor fashion, that he couldn't be sure what factors were at play--heart disease or age or ?

"But do I have actual heart disease?"

"Yes...you have heart disease. Sorry, but that's what it is."

I said, "I just need to hear the truth, I can handle it if it's the truth."

But the fact of the matter is I've been sort of thinking that my heart attack was an "atypical" event, that really now that the stent is in, I'm fine. But he explained that these things are progressive, and that yes (Subtext), don't fool yourself.

I probably should try to get back in my habit of walking. One of the problems I've having is that each of my walking spots seem to be shutting down, or getting worse with trash and litter, making them less fun to walk.

I mean, I could walk on public trails, but that isn't the kind of privacy I crave. I guess it's going to be a trade-off...at least, unless I can find a spot of my own.


Meanwhile, there should be an article tomorrow on Pegasus Books in the "Go" supplement magazine in the Bulletin tomorrow. It was originally supposed to be about the intersection of "superheroes" and the "pandemic," but based on the two long interviews with me and Sabrina, I'm hoping it will be more about the store and our history. A couple of hours worth of interviews, and probably a minute's worth of quotations...the way it usually happens.

Hoping it makes us look good. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

No objective critic can subjectively judge my writing. (Or vice versa.)

I think taking so much time off writing has given me a fresh perspective. I'm not saying I was in a rut, but I was definitely tunnel-visioned on each project as I went along.

Mostly, I see even more clearly that I can write whatever I want. The world is my oyster.

Not to say I can succeed at everything I write. In hindsight it's clear that not every premise pans out. In some cases, I just don't have the skill or experience to pull it off. In other cases, there just isn't enough new in the premise to interest people. And finally, there are premises that I think are great, but even before I start to write them, I realize other people probably won't be as interested.

On the other hand, some premises come out even better than I expected.

When I started back up, I gave myself permission to write everything that occurred to me. I don't think this was the wrong approach, and I certainly finished a bunch of books. I learned with each book. But there is limited time, and I need to probably start to narrow it down.

I still want to write my big EPIC TRILOGY--each book a few hundred thousand words long. Put my stake down. That doesn't mean anyone will notice, but they really won't notice if I don't try.

Meanwhile, I'm also giving myself permission to write shorter books. The Eden trilogy will probably all be smaller books.

The biggest thing that has happened is that I've relaxed into the process. That is, I'm not second guessing myself as much. If it feels right, then that's the way I do it. There is no right or wrong way. There is no objective critic who can subjectively judge what I'm doing on a quality scale or vice versa.

Masks are losing.

I haven't been talking about the store because I haven't wanted to jinx it. But things have been going extraordinarily well. Basically, our expenses are down and our sales are up, even though we're only open four hours a day. Pretty much the perfect set-up.

(Of course we're missing revenue from 8 weeks, plus the rather large lump of money spent on flooring. But we could be out all that plus having slow return business, so...I'm grateful.)

I keep reminding myself that in return we are taking chances. The thing that decided me was that I don't think the odds are going to be any better in a month, or two months, or three months...and there is only so long we can go without income. We're trying to take precautions, but...

It's obvious that masks are losing.

Sabrina and I are wearing masks, and using hand sanitizer, and trying to keep our distance, but a good half or more of the people coming in seem to be taking no precautions whatsoever.

Again, I have to measure the risk reward ratio. Deschutes County has had relatively few cases, and no deaths so far. I think everyone has decided that we're going to be living with this danger for a long time.

We'll keep track of what's going on, continue to overtly thank everyone who wears a mask, and try very hard to keep our distance. But I believe--no matter what you think of this situation--that people aren't going to stay cloistered much longer. 
I'm listening to the audio of "Eden's Return."

It's very professional sounding. I've been lucky in my audio books. I experimented with my own version for a short time and realized I had no idea what I was doing. I catch the narrators stumbling a little about once a chapter, but I couldn't make it through half a page. (Not that most people would notice the stumbling...)

Anyway, the story sound pretty good. It's a different kind of book. I think that up to now I've been very focused on action packed storylines. This book has a bit of contemplation as well. I think the contrast between the contemplation and the action is very effective. I don't know. I was feeling my way to a new way of writing, and it works surprisingly well.

Of course, as always, I tend to see how I could have phrased things differently, how I could have expanded some elements, shrunk others. I see all the faults, but mostly it flows really well. Compared to my first two books from 40 years ago (FORTY YEARS?!) which was full of what I considered awkward phrasing and story problems. (Not that most readers seem to notice.)

I guess I'm in the experimental phase of my writing. I'm trying to broaden my approach. It doesn't always work, but it's the only way to get better at this. With 30 books under my belt, I still feel like a beginner.

On the other hand, I can definitely see the maturity that has developed in the 40 years between Star Axe and Eden's Return. (Though, ironically, in hindsight, I still consider "Led to the Slaughter" as probably my most accomplished book, maybe because it was the first book to really come together and I put a great deal of time and effort into it.)


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Sales over the first five days were good enough that I felt I could order all the books we needed. I told Sabrina to do regular graphic novel orders and to go ahead and do a game order. I just hope this level of sales continues. The limited hours don't seem to be hurting much.

We don't seem to be having any problems. Probably half the customers are wearing masks, the others are pretty good about keeping social distance, so neither Sabrina or I have felt overly threatened. No one has made any comments.

I went to the doctor yesterday and all my labs were perfect, right down the line. Probably the first time that's happened--that I wasn't a little "off" somewhere. If it wasn't for that little incident 15 months ago, I'd think I was in perfect health.

Tried doing a jigsaw puzzle reorder through my book distributor and they are completely sold out. I may have to go direct with some puzzle distributor another.

I've decided to create a "Duncan's Shelf." These would be the books I've read lately, at used prices. Just one shelf worth of "used" books for the entire store. I suppose I could trade them in, but the used bookstores have become so selective, it's hardly worth the trouble.

The new flooring is great. For some reason the store feels more open even though it's pretty much the same design. Moving a few inches here and there can make a difference. It's also much clearer how much dirt gets tracked into the store. We can immediately sweep it up, but it goes to show how much dirt was ground into the carpet on a regular basis.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Intuition versus logic.

The ever present battle. I'm a great believer in both, even when they contradict each other. My intuition is that people are going to come back. My logic says otherwise. So now I wait for evidence. I plan for the worse, and hope for the best.

About the best I can do and still have a decent store is plan for a 50% drop.

First three days of business were good. I think today will tell the tale.

About 65% of customers wore masks in the first half of the day, about 35% in the second half of the day. I think 50% is probably better than I expected.

I thanked each person who was wearing a mask.

I also realized that I could hand sanitize after every transaction, so that made me feel better about serving my people. So the real danger is to Sabrina and me from people not wearing masks. (I offered to work the first couple of weeks myself--but then, I'm not sure it will be any different in two weeks.)

I try to keep my distance.

The four hours doesn't seem to be a problem. In fact, I have a feeling that we could do that longterm without much damage. But then, in the end, it would look like we aren't serious. Nor would four hours be enough for Sabrina to survive on. So we'll get back to regular hours in June.

This is going to be an interesting ride. 


Friday, May 15, 2020

"Don't do that!:

Setting aside for the moment the risk/reward ratio of opening up, it feels really good. Even after 40 years of this, I’m excited. We are at peak Pegasus!!

I think Gov. Brown has it exactly right--we are trying to measure the boundary between safety and the need to be open for business. This was never going to be an easy equation. But part of my thinking is that it won't get any easier in two weeks or a month. In fact, it might be better to be open now than in two weeks or a month!

I'd say about 70% of the people I saw downtown today were without masks. But then, they are a pretty self-selecting group; the people who are willing to go out shopping in the first place.

The question is--if that equation holds up, then waiting a week or a month to open isn't going to help. But waiting more than another month or two becomes nonviable as a business. I could wish people would be more careful. Hell, it isn't just the masks, but also the social distance.

I was inside a store this morning. The clerk wasn't wearing a mask; I stood 8 feet away in my mask while talking to her. A couple of friends come in and they start hugging each other.

"Don't do that!" I shout, and leave. I mean, I said it in a joking way--but...


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Tomorrow we open.

Tomorrow we open. We are going to start with limited hours during May--12:00 to 4:00.

As we neared the finish line of reassembling the store, I ran out of juice. Just couldn't motivate myself to do another thing. I mean, it's all but done. Just a few things here and there that can be finished during store hours.

One thing I'm really hoping is that we can keep the dust down. That filthy old rug was half dust and I think every footstep probably raised a small cloud.

It's hard for me to see the changes. I have to assume they are there. Sabrina's wife, Ashley, said it was a huge transformation. "I didn't think a flooring could make that much difference, but before when I came into the store, it seemed like a typical nerdy place. Now it's..."

"Professional?" I offer.

She nods. "Professional."

(Great...so we were a typical nerdy place. I always preferred the term, "funky.")

We keep missing the UPS guy. Or he keeps missing us. I'm going in early tomorrow to make sure we take delivery.

So we're off and running. I hope we can do even half as much as normal--which would at least pay for most of the overhead if not for new material.

I'm half wondering if, instead of spending money, I should have asked for it--a Go Fund Me kind of thing, like what Paulina Springs Bookstore is doing. But I really can't ask for money if I don't desperately need it.

But anything you can buy would be appreciated.

It will be fun to be open again. 

Monday, May 11, 2020

Tried to make a shorter day of it yesterday, ended up spending four hours at the store. Had planned on finishing off the west half of the store, minus the counter, but instead spent most of the time cleaning the counter and getting the electronics ready for opening.

Came home and Toby fixed us a Mother's Day dinner. 

I've decided that even if the store is somewhat in disarray, we can still open as long as the visa machine, the cash register, phone, and internet are up and running.

I'm not really aware of how tired I am until I wake up each morning, which seems to be happening later and later. Bone tired, but mentally fresh. Usually I'm mentally tired--writing really takes it out of you.

I'm in an extraordinarily good mood. I really enjoy driving into town. The store is being restored, as good as new--heh--but that's how it feels, clean and orderly. We really do have a lot of inventory, which is making me wonder why I'm so aggressive in my buying. Maybe I should take a step back. At least until I see what happens.

But no--if I see a need or a gap, I almost can't help but go for it. And who's to say that the wrong approach; after all, we're still in business after 36 years.

I'm definitely slowing down, though. I'll chip away at it for the next four days, and if we open on the 15th with a few books on the floor and other books not alphabetized, then so be it. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

All it took was a world-wide plague!

I admit, I'm getting pretty worn down and exhausted. I'm going to go in today but try to limit to a few hours.

Five days left to get it done. I'll have the west side of the store mostly completed by the end of today, which will give me four days to try to help Sabrina on the east half of the store. The layout looks pretty much the same to me, though a little off somehow. It's hard for me to see the changes--though I hope the customers will.

This is going to take a full month to finish. The actually putting in the flooring was probably only eight days, everything else have been moving fixtures, cleaning, and sorting. The cleaning is an extra step, but I'll never have this chance again.

It's hard now to imagine this ever happening under normal circumstances. Weirdly enough, this situation has worked in our favor in almost every way. All it took was a world-wide plague!

I've been able to avoid employee wages (though if Sabrina's unemployment insurance doesn't kick in soon, I may have to help there), two free months rent, and probably most importantly, the availability of both my sons (which under normal circumstances would have been impossible.) I almost don't count the money I've paid them, because I would've wanted to send them money anyway.

Of course, the actual flooring was an big expense, but I think it will be worth it in the long run.

The stimulus money will help pay for most of one month's fixed expenses and if we have the second half of May to earn some money, that should take care of the second month's fixed expenses.

All the pieces just sort of fit.

It feels good, like a good cleaning and organizing does.

The store is really something to be proud of.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Get it done.

Sabrina was expressing some doubt about whether we can get the store ready in time.

I never doubt it. My attitude is, we'll get it done. Whatever it takes. It may end up with some 10 hour last few days, but so be it. You take one piece at a time, and put blinders on, and eventually you look around and you've accomplished more than you thought you could.

I'd originally planned to have everything roughly back in place by the 15th of May, and then if the quarantine lasted another week or two, perhaps paint a couple of fixtures to boot. It looks like the paint will have to wait. I might try staining the cash register counter later on; first thing on closing on a Sunday night.

I'm giving the store a top to bottom cleaning. It's a very good feeling--that feeling you get when you've done a thorough cleaning.

Cleaning the bookcases and there are an amazing number of coffee droplets everywhere. I mean, how does that happen?

I should have the western half of the store done by the end of tomorrow, which will give me 5 days to help Sabrina out on the eastern half of the store. If everything is on shelves even if not strictly alphabetized, that will be acceptable to start with.

The lifting of the quarantine really lifted my spirits. I mean, with a touch of trepidation. But I didn't realize how much the quarantine was weighing on me--or how much the store still meant to me. Frankly, I really enjoy this part of the business.

If we actually do open the second half of May, and we can do at least half business, that will take care of a month's worth of overhead. We're going to be in the hole no matter what, but that will ameliorate the damage. 

The store will probably mostly look the same to regulars, not counting the floor--and who really notices the floor? I keep reminding myself that it had to be done.


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

So my original concern was being closed. It was more costly than I expected, even without rent and wages. Still, I saw that we could probably handle a couple of months of being closed. The money spent on fixed expenses was gone forever, which isn't pleasant, but we could make it through. Three months starts to get harder: four months or more would inflict severe damage.

Despite this, I spent a good chunk of money on new flooring. I did this because I felt the store was an ongoing effort and we would eventually pay for it through expanded display space. Plus, it just needed to be done.

Now my concern is how business is going to be after we come back. I think it's best to plan for the worse. The economy is going to be in dire straights, I think.

It's very hard to spend one's spending habits. A retailer by nature is an optimist, I believe. You have to think you're going to sell stuff that you order. It's hard to step out of current spending habits. You have to take a step back, act as a different person--the cautious pessimist.

In the past downturns I'd always react too slowly and in too limited a way. What you don't want to do is follow the curve downward.

For instance, expecting and ordering for the 10% drop but having a 20% drop; thereby you adjust to a 20% drop but by the time the product shows up, it's a 30% drop; so you order for a 35% drop, thinking you're getting smarter, and you get a 40% drop.

And so on. Losing money all the way.

On the other hand--there is always the danger of creating a self-fulling prophecy; that you'll create lower sales by being too stingy. In fact, in many cases I think stores have over-reacted. Once burned, they become too cautious. If you follow the curve exactly, you are probably creating the very thing you want to avoid. Customers have a sixth sense of when you aren't ordering enough.

I think we'll have a month or so after opening where being cautious won't be punished by the customers. Hopefully, we can get a good gauge of what we need to do.

Monday, May 4, 2020

I've decided to take a break from renovations for the day. Sabrina's going to go in and do some stuff instead.

I'm just going to sit around and read. Gardening is tempting, but I really need to kick back. I'm certain we can get the store ready in time, especially once we have a deadline. Meanwhile, it'll be nice to get as much done as possible without a deadline. I have vivid memories of the stress of opening and closing stores, spending 12 hours a day to avoid being closed down.

I'm trying to maximize the space without cluttering it too much. One of the things that drives me crazy is that there ought to be space for 6 shelves in each bookcase instead of 5. If the middle brace was just one inch higher up, it would work. Bad designing.

I'm going ahead and putting in six shelves, (actually 5 not counting the base, 7 counting the base and the top.) The average hardcover book is 11 and 1/2 inches tall, so I can utilize 6 out of seven vertically. The shelf just below the brace-shelf is an inch too short, so I'll have to figure out workarounds. I can't waste that extra space, you know?

Whenever possible, I'm swapping out the bookcases we took from Linda's place that were stored in the basement for the ones I've been using. There are two sizes-- 24" and 28". I prefer the 28" ones. The ones from downstairs are sturdier and cleaner as well. We bought a raft of these cases from Stables when we opened the Bookmark. They were very cheap--cheaper than building our own and 25 times cheaper (literally) than buying solid wood bookcases. We waited for half-price sales.

Thing is--I think I'd make the same choice today even if I had the money to buy the solid wood shelves you see in most bookstores. These white laminate bookcases have held up very well, they are easy to clean, they are adjustable, they are modular and can be moved by a simple person. They also tend to brighten up the space considerably. I just like the look and feel of them.

How often do you find something cheap and also functional? And I may lack proper taste, but I think they look good. Besides, who really overtly notices bookshelves once the books are in them?

I think I've got about one more day of rearranging things, then we can start to put product back on the shelves.

I'm kind of enjoying this.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

"Every twenty years, whether it needs it or not!"

I should have the fixtures all roughly back in place by the end of today. Then we have to put all the product back. Not sure how long that is going to take. If we don't get everything absolutely alphabetized, it won't be a tragedy. People will still find stuff.

There is a small possibility we can open on May 15th or so--though I think Deschutes County probably won't be in Gov. Brown's definition of "rural." 

The store is a bit of an uncanny valley to me right now. I mean, the store is roughly the same, but it feels a little off. I'm sure all the fixtures are displaced at least a few inches from where they were--sometimes to the benefit of making more room. (I made a terrible mistake not doing measurements and taking pictures before we started.) I've taken out a few smaller fixtures that didn't add all that much and probably cluttered up the store.

It just feels off.

I think I overwhelmed Sabrina with the changes. Hopefully, when I finish tonight it will look a little more familiar to her.

I've managed not to overdo the exertion, though I go home exhuasted. I used Todd and Toby's physical strength as much as possible, so when it came time to actually move the fixtures back, I was fresh. I've also tried not to work more than about 5 hours at a time.

At this point, I really like doing stuff by myself. I find that when I attempt something and it turns out wrong, I just acknowledge it and change it back. I will spend hours just to move things a couple of inches--because I'm probably going to have to live with these changes for a long time.

Sometimes just trying something wrong actually points out the right answer. But all that changeability is hard to justify when others are standing around waiting.

I'm cleaning everything as I go along, which is taking a lot of time, but also giving me time to mull and plan.

As usual when I make what I consider monumental changes by the time I finish, it doesn't feel like all that much. I question whether it's worth it--and whether anyone will notice.

But it's very true that the carpet couldn't last more than another year or two--and that meant either retiring or leaving the expense to Sabrina, which would have been unfair--especially since this quarantine gave me the least expensive option possible. (It's expensive, but it was going to be expensive whether I did it or not.)

Oh, well. Just need to finish and see how I feel. If nothing else, the store has had a top to bottom cleaning, which it probably needed. The joke I've made to my neighbors is, "Every twenty years, whether it needs it or not!"

Friday, May 1, 2020

Renovation eye-glazing details, which I love.

I originally intended to put the store back together exactly the way it was. For one thing, the store was working well. For another, everything slotted in exactly. I think I may have had a spare five inches on the eastern side of the store (which I used in the renovation to give a bit more space to two corner bookcases.)

Fact is, this is one of my favorite aspects of owning a store. I really enjoy working on the layout, trying to maximize the space to carry product. 

However, once all the fixtures were free floating and I was mulling how to put them back in, I realized that I could make some changes. The basic layout is the same, except for two things.

1.) I had a makeshift shelf I found in the basement that I was using for one of the graphic novel brands. It was about 5 foot wide and probably 5 foot deep, with the base extending outward to no real purpose. I realized that I could take this out, replace it was two bookcases which are only 12" deep, thereby gaining 4' of space. I'd also gain at least a couple of shelves per case. Bonus.

Meanwhile, I have two cases in the middle of the store, one of which is about a foot deeper than the other. If I switched the location of these two cases, I'd gain at least a foot of floor space for one, and probably a couple of feet of floor space for the other.

2.) The other change was that by squeezing the southwest corner by about 3 inches and taking out the poster rack I could replace all the 24" bookcases with 28" bookcases, and add one to the wall. The poster rack hasn't been very active and is only viable if I can buy posters at a discount. Marvel used to have big sales where I could stock up, but they seemed to have stopped doing that. So the rack is starting to get sparse.

I also decided to take a freestanding slatwall rack that really wasn't adding much, and take down two makeshift extensions that were obscuring the view.

So these two changes do a couple of things. One---They make the store slightly less crowded feeling, and--Two--they emphasize the book aspect of the store. Books are by far the fasted growing element of the store and this will reinforce it.

I think overall people are probably going to tell me the store feel more spacious. At least I hope so. 

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Like a housewife rearranging the furniture...

I've always liked rearranging the store. Yes, the store is mess. Yes, it's stressful.

But at the same time, I've always loved this aspect of the store. Making improvements. I'm also able to clean the store, top to bottom, which is satisfying. Mostly though I just love trying to figure out the right arrangement with what I've got.

I pretty much need to do it alone, except for a few heavy fixtures. When someone is there helping, they tend to say, "That won't work," whereas, I'll try something and if it doesn't work, I'll change it back. Which is twice as much work, but since these big changes are infrequent, I might as well get it right.

Most of time, the stress of needed to finish is overwhelming. This time, I'm sort of relaxing into the realization that I have time.

The other thing that happens when I have people helping is that they want to get going. "What do you want to do here?" they ask, and my general tendency is to mull things over. Sit in a chair and think through the ramifications, wait for my subconscious to give me the go ahead. Which obviously doesn't work if someone is standing there tapping their feet.

So I like just puttering around at my own pace. I take on a task, get tired of doing it, start doing something else, come back and do the first task and then the task I left off of yesterday, and so on. I can only keep track of this if I'm by myself.

So...back to the store for the next three days and getting as much done on my own as possible.

What a mess!

The store is an unbelievable mess. I looked at a random stack of books yesterday and realized that they came from completely different parts of the store. Basically, it's gridlock. To move the fixtures, I have to move the product--the move the product, I have to move the fixtures.

Stalemate!

What happens with all complex tasks is that I put blinders on and try to deal with one small thing at a time.

Toby has been doing all the heavy lifting since Todd left, and he more or less needs me to tell him how to finish up. Looking around, I wasn't sure. I made a big mistake by not taking pictures and measurements before we started. So after Toby left yesterday, I wandered around the store and tried to figure it out.

And then I started thinking of improvements. Uh, oh.

What if I replaced that fixture? What if I moved it over there?

The thing about Pegasus is that everything was placed organically over the years--dictated was possible with the measurements I had. The store is literally spaced by the inch--entire displays are possible or impossible because I either have or don't have an inch to spare.

I started measuring things and realized that there were improvements to be made. I have a basement full of bookshelves (purchased from the guy who bought the Bookmark from us--he didn't want the shelves we had.)

It always helps to be alone when contemplating changes. I can try things without anyone second guessing me--and if something I try doesn't work, I just change it back. I like doing that, even if it means dragging up bookshelves from the basement by myself. 

Once I started thinking of changes, the changes started to escalate. The big problem was--they were clear improvements, not small ones, and thus worth doing.

Which means even more chaos.

Toby had told me he'd come back on Friday to finish up. He needs to start looking for a job. I called him up and asked he wouldn't mind coming back on Sunday, giving me three days to mess around on my own. 

I'm going to try to pace myself. Right now, the focus is on the fixtures. I'll deal with the product later. It's a huge mess, but fortunately, I think we'll have time to deal with it all, and it was be a nice improvement on what we had.

Monday, April 27, 2020

How I see the near future for my business.

Trying to figure out how much business we might do after reopening requires that I step outside myself, try to see the situation clearly and objectively.

What do we know?

Well, we know:

1.)  Tourism is unlikely to come back in any significant way, at least for a long time.

2.) Tourism is a large percentage of our summer business, therefore, we have to order in numbers that reflect that drop.

3.) The store is well stocked. We aren't in catch-up mode, so we can afford to take a wait and see attitude. Once we order, it's nearly impossible to reduce orders. On the other hand, if we don't order, we can always do it later.

4.) Most of our overhead is fixed, so the only way to reduce expenditures is to be careful with the product.

5.) Most sales occur in the top 20% of product (the 20/80 rule). We start by ordering the essential product. The way I put it is this: instead of asking, "Will this product sell?" we ask, "If we don't order this product, will anyone notice?"

6.) It's best to do this kind of moderating early, because playing catch-up is nearly impossible.

With cold clear eyes, I think a a 20 to 30% drop in sales from yearly average is almost guaranteed. That means, the drop will be even more severe during the summer. I believe there will be an initial surge as people rush to get out and try to support their local businesses. But that surge will happen no matter what we have coming in.

But after a month or two, I think it will settle down to reality.

We can monitor from day to day, and adjust upward as necessary. I think this is going to be harder than most people believe, because a huge chunk of money is being taken out of large segments of our society, (for instance, airlines, movie theaters, sporting and entertainment events, etc.) and that has to affect everyone else. Especially in Bend, tourism is important for hotels, restaurants, and shops.

The temptation is to just pick up where we left off, but I can't see that as possible.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Pegasus Books has a lot of stuff.

In putting down new flooring, we had to remove all the product from the shelves and move them, willy nilly. It has really hammered home how much stuff we have.

As a result, there are all kinds of books and graphic novels whose covers I'm seeing for the first time in years. A lot of them are very intriguing. They've all been hidden, spine out, undiscovered for years, even decades.

It has me questioning everything I'm doing.

On one hand, a good rule of thumb is--the more product I carry, the more I sell.

On the other hand, equally valid, is the idea that the more product that is displayed face out, the more I sell.

A couple of years ago, we removed used books completely and replaced them with graphic novel racks where I could show the covers. Sales went up.

So the idea would be to carry just as much product, but show more of it face out--and that isn't possible. In fact, the basic concept of the store is that if a product can be stacked, vertically or horizontally, I'll order it. If it's an odd size, or must be displayed face-out, avoid it. (Except for games and toys, which can be displayed on the walls six feet up or higher.

I don't know that there is an answer, except to continually try to be creative. (A bigger store, of course, but downtown Bend is the gold standard right now. My location has become almost a "legacy" at this point. I don't want to lose that.)

One thing I can do is more systematically change which titles are shown outward on a regular basis. I always have that intent, but in reality, this process is usually pretty random.

I could perhaps winnow out that stuff that hasn't sold for a long time, but that's the stuff which has a strong profit margin--and the whole point of this post is to figure out how to display the "stuff that hasn't sold" in a way that it does sell.

Oh, well. In putting everything back, I'll have a chance to rethink which product needs to be displayed and which can be simply stacked. I'll try to change it out a little--but not too much, because the store was doing very well BC. (Before Coronavirus.)

Don't want to mess with a winning formula too much.


Monday, April 20, 2020

Status.

Well, the money is going out fast. I put some money in the checking account thinking it would be more than enough. Now I'm seeing it is going to be a squeeze. The renovations aren't costing too much more than expected--maybe 15% above estimates--which I'll take.

What I underestimated was the overhead beyond rent and wages. It's about double what I estimated in my head. Which was stupid of me--I just needed to go into last year's taxes to get the real number.

I'm not second-guessing myself on the loans and grants. The grants wouldn't have helped much, if at all; and I'll be damned if I'm going to go into debt.

For our first twenty years of business this would have been a disaster. I'd probably be on the phone asking everyone to please be patient. Back then, I was careful not to have any automatic withdrawals--I wanted to be able to time payments. Now all my bills are automatic, so that money has to be there in the account.

I have the money to weather this. But some of it is tied up in investments that, if I cash them, will have a heavy tax penalty. I was hoping to avoid that.

I'm still not expecting to open until mid to late March, more likely the latter. It could even be later. At least that gives me plenty of time to put the store back together.

We'll need to be careful at first on our buying of product. What really kills me is the thought that most of the big chains who are our biggest competitors--Target, Walmart, etc--are still open and making money. Some of them, lots of money.

Looking around, I really have to wonder how many Mom and Pops have the resources to make it through this. Or, even if they do, whether they have a huge debt load after they open again. There is simply no way to get through this without pain.

All for One, and One for All? Nah.

What follows is probably the thing that makes me the most angry about the business I'm in.

I talk a lot about what an independent fellow I am. I don't belong to any retail organizations. I often feel as if these types of groups breed "in-crowds" and that almost always they result in "group think."

So, admittedly, what follows may seem somewhat contrary to that.

I find myself getting really angry over those shops who purposely seem to join the "enemy"--those forces who don't mean the entire market well. Publishers or wholesalers who make decisions that either go around or even purposely harm the majority of retail stores.

Most often it's a "I got mine" or "It's good for me, too bad for you," type attitude. Even more often, they are just idiots who can't see the harm they are doing. There seem to be a large percentage of these people who are new to the business, who have no context to make such decisions, and who don't care to learn. As long as they perceive it to be good for them, it doesn't matter if it's bad for everyone else.

Well, fuck them.

I use the word Quisling for them. They make me so angry I could spit. The people we are fighting almost always use these Quislings as examples that not all of retailers agree. Which is true--in the same way that climate deniers use the few scientists--usually not even scientists, but under educated TV weathermen--to say, "Not all scientists agree!"

Bullshit.

The last time one of these publisher schemes popped up, a survey of retailers found that 85% if retailers were against it. I have no fucking clue who the other 15% were. People too stupid to be running stores, that's for sure.

But I always hold my tongue while I watch the vast majority of my fellow retailers try to reason with them. Because, like I said, it really makes me so angry that it isn't pretty.

I probably won't print this--I'm just venting.

OK. More Quislings have popped up. So print.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Downtown walk around.


Todd and Toby have pretty much taken over the store and are doing all the work. I think I’ll let them. I’m no good at renovations—I’d probably just get in the way.

Linda and I walked around downtown instead. It was a great chance to look in all the windows. I was amazed by how many businesses I didn’t know. I’ve just lost track.

Dropped into Mountain Coffee and talked to Gordon, the owner. Turns out he reads this blog—or used to read it when I was talking about things other than writing. So we exchanged some gossip and information. Interesting changes happening downtown all over the place.

More businesses than I expected have taken the route of completely closing for the duration, even restaurants.

I think some businesses are being a little casual about letting customers in. I really believe that keeping people indoors for more than a month or so is very difficult. Things are starting to fray, even among those who believe the virus is dangerous. (And I do, very much so.)

Several stores are doing renovations, it looks like, from major to cosmetic. 

I'm just trying to be patient and wait until we can go back to business. We're going to lose money--no way around that. But we can weather it. 




Just be patient. Can you do that?

The comic business is completely shut down. Some stores are selling online, but they have no access to new comics, just reorders. Personally, it looks like 4 times the effort to make 1/10th the sales.

Went and got lunch for the boys, and on the way back found out via phone that DC comics is trying to go around the regular distribution system by selling comics through a couple of new entities. Turns out, the people behind them are the biggest mail order outfits.

So DC wants us to buy from our biggest online competitors.

That’s a big nope.

DC monthlies account for (very roughly) maybe 5% of my total sales. (I’m 20% comics/30% graphic novels/50% books and games.) Problem is, probably a good half of my comic customers buy DC comics, so that’s a worry. But I’ve decided to wait for my regular distributor to offer the same comics. If I lose any customers over this—well, frankly, they aren’t the kind of customers I want.

Look, we’re all hurting. I don’t see why the online competitors should be given preferential treatment. Just wait another few weeks to a month and then distribute to everyone at the same time.

Meanwhile, since DC has proven to be an unreliable partner, I’m going to cut their orders to shelves, and no longer give them an entire rack to themselves. They’ve been declining for years, not to mention my discount with them is actually lower than with Image, Dark Horse, IDW, and Marvel. They will join the other non-Marvel companies as just another comic publisher.

This was a slimy move on their part.

New novels are a better seller right now than monthly comics—which, believe me, I never expected. Plus they are much less risky and easier to do.  

The diversification of the store was—to some extent—because of situations like this. I don’t ever want to be at the mercy of any one product line. In some ways, the fact that I could never completely depend on comics to pay all the bills has been a blessing. It made me look for other answers.

Meanwhile, my regular distributor, Diamond Comics, it looking to restart about mid-May to June 1, which I think is acceptable. I mean, I think it’s going to be impossible for all stores to start at the same time. As long as I can point to a date within a couple of weeks of everyone else, I think most of my customers will wait.

I hope.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Random thoughts, Friday, April 17.

I had a nightmare last night about a pandemic.

Usually, I wake up from that kind of nightmare and breathe a sigh of relief. This time I woke up and thought, "OH."

***

Honestly, Pence and the other cabinet officers need to look seriously at the 25th Amendment again. I mean, they must have had the passing thought, at least. For when Trump has a tantrum, flops on the ground drooling and soiling himself.

***

My God, we have an unbelievable amount of material in the store. We're doing 1/4th of the store at a time, but even clearing out that much is taking two or three days. Putting it back together will probably take even longer. 

The good thing is, I do believe we have plenty of time to do it. As long as Todd and Toby are available. 

*** 

Remdesiver, baby. Remember the name. Another reason to hold the virus at bay for as long as possible--a possible effective treatment, along with experiential tryouts. I'm hoping by the time I get it, the doctors will know the best treatment. If not this drug, others.  

***

Casting about for something to watch last night while Todd was here. Decided to show him the "Baahubali," the over-the-top Bollywood movie which I really liked.

Turned out he'd taken Bollywood dance lessons.

Interesting kid. (He's 50, but he'll always be a kid to me.)

***

I keep forgetting to put the phone on speaker when talking to the boys with Linda in the room. It's just not a natural instinct for me. I'm still struggling to remember to carry my phone around with me.


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

In abeyance of the quarantine--mostly.

I'm probably going to get killed for saying this, but I think this social isolation will break down over time no matter what the governors might say, as people venture out to do what they deem essential, taking calculated risks and precautions, just as we all have been doing from the beginning to get groceries. What is deemed "essential" will broaden over time.

I'm using this hiatus in order to renovate the store. During normal times, closing the store to put down flooring using professionals would probably have cost us tens of thousands of dollars in lost sales and expenses. If nothing else, the scheduling would be tricky--and it probably would have required completely emptying the store, which would have been a huge and expensive undertaking.

Well, the tens of thousands of dollars in lost sales is already there. So all I've got are the expenses. Plus, we can lay down the flooring in stages, moving a quarter of the store to one side at a time. It is simply the time to do this, despite the quarantine.

This is a unique situation. Both of my sons are available to help put down the flooring, which even if it doesn't save me money--I insist on paying them--is doing my sons some good while getting the job done. I can't remember a time when both of them could spend more than a couple of days with us at the same time.

Plus, the flooring people were extremely helpful, calling me back immediately, arranging for a measuring, going out of their way to ship the material in a timely manner. If you know anything about Bend, you know this is hard to do. Most commercial building companies in this area are busy, busy, busy--usually with much bigger projects than mine.

So everything is coming together really well.

On the other hand, I did meet with the flooring representative this morning, both of my sons will be interacting with us, and Sabrina is also helping--all of which isn't strictly kosher. We all tried to keep some distance, but it wasn't completely possible.

But I simply can't pass this opportunity to accomplish something while the world stops spinning. Up until now, I've been stricter to most people. I insisted to Linda that we don't interact with anyone for three weeks now. But she's already hinting that she wants to cleaners to come to our house while we're working on Friday, and so on. Her best friend came by in a car yesterday and they were chatting at a distance. After her friend left, I said, "I think you guys got closer than three feet."

The isolation starting to fray around the edges, especially because Oregon has done pretty well.

But in the back of my mind is the warning: Oregon has done pretty well because people have been in abeyance of the quarantine. Vigilance is hard to maintain.

And so it goes. It human nature.


Monday, April 13, 2020

Random thoughts, Monday, April 13.

I'm feeling surprisingly (?) relaxed. Partly because I'm being given permission to act the way I always want to act but feel guilty about doing.

But I also think that despite having been semi-retired for a number of years now, I was still at least partly still in the rat race. Now there are no expectations. I've started reading more, and I'm still contemplating my next book.

***

I think that I'm not that much of a country-western fan, unless you include people like Alison Krauss, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris.

But I've liked people like Willie Nelson, Don Williams, Patsy Cline, Kris Kristofferson, and Dwight Yoakam in the past.

And then there are straight-out country, like Charlie Rich and Mark Chesnutt, who I really enjoy. Hauled out an old CD of Chesnutt's, "Almost Goodbye," to listen to on the drive to Bend. The last song, "The Will," is as silly as it gets, but it still sent chills down my spine.

I don't know. I spent the morning listening to Led Zeppelin 4. Good music is good music.

***

The idea of moving everything out of my store, even if I do it half a store at a time, is utterly daunting. I have a sinking feeling.

But when the alternative is duct-taping the rug together, it's probably time.

***

Didn't sell a copy of "Deadfall Ridge" yesterday for the first time since Sept. 8 of last year. So a good solid seven months of sales. Meanwhile, my publisher seems to be keen on promoting "Eden's Return." So that's cool. Due out on July 20th, available for preorder. Ebook, paper, and audio all at the same time. (That hasn't happened before.)

***

Looks like we're going to start the renovation this week because Toby is going to work next week. He'll probably be here to help for the first half of the job.

It freaks me out. I really don't like the stress, but it needs to be done. I'm just trying to imagine how good it will look. We're going with a commercial-grade rustic gray rustic, which should hide the wear and tear.

I'm going to try to keep calm. I have a tendency to get very downbeat about everything while it's happening. Todd said he'd banish me for morale reasons if need be.

***

So far, so good. The flooring is maybe a bit cheaper than I expected, unless the landlord demands the higher grade, in which case I'm hoping he'll chip in the difference. The original color I wanted appears to be gone everywhere, but there is a partly gray, part tan available, which apparently may be better for color blending overall.

***

Landlord was fine with the base grade, it turns out. So that is in stock and ready to go. The old rule of thumb is that renovations take twice as long and cost twice as much as you expect, but this is about 1/3rd cheaper than I expected, so that's good. 

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Random thoughts, April 11.

Until I got a ginger cat I had no idea there were so many ginger cats.

***

Linda has a doll blank that's lopsided.

"Make one for me," I said.

So yesterday she asked if I wanted to to be a male or female.

"I want Bettie Page."

"I don't have any black yarn."

"Just as well," I said.

***

I'm very glad now that my business model doesn't depend on game nights or Magic tournaments or book clubs or any other social gathering.

I have but a single chair in the corner.

I'm a store and I've always been a store and I will always be a store.

***

On one of the comic forums, someone was speculating about when we'd come back and how it would happen.

Someone else popped up and said, rather rudely, "What's the point of planning when we don't know anything?"

There's always that guy. And it totally mystifies me. That's WHY you plan--because you don't know what is going to happen. If nothing else, what harm does it do to brainstorm? It's not like we have anything better to do.

But me--I constantly speculate about everything, and then I monitor what actually happens and try to compare it to what I thought would happen.

Often, when I speculate about the fate of other stores, it's not because I wish them harm but because I want to check my own guesses.

***

So having said the above, what do I think is going to happen?

1.) I'm betting we'll be allowed to open our stores on June 1 give or take a week or two.

2.) We will still be asked to stay at home if possible, and if you simply must shop, to take precautions. Stores will put in distance markers, or smaller stores like me will simply ask people as they come in the try to keep a distance.

3.) Clerks will be wearing face masks. I'm going have disinfectants at the counter and tell each customer that I will be washing hands between each transaction.

4.) Business will boom for a couple of weeks and then trail off, eventually landing at a lower level of sales. But the possible range here is anywhere from a BOOM to a BUST.

5.) Most businesses will survive but will be wounded, which means they will slowly but surely start closing over the next year or so.

6.) New businesses will not pop up immediately. Those existing business that can stay healthy will have a good head start on the competition. (Cold-blooded, I know, but there it is.)

7.) Costs will moderate--rents, prices of product. There'll be some bargains to be had.

8.) Deaths will start speeding up in the fall. There will be a second round of closings, this time a 30-day national one. (I won't talk about the scary politics of that happening during an election.)

9. People and stores are more resilient than they think. 


Friday, April 10, 2020

Random thoughts, April 10.

Procrastinator heaven and hell.

Heaven because there is so much I don't have to do. (Though the weeds grow apace, and the writing isn't getting done by itself...)

Hell because everything I put off BC (Before Coronavirus) is still not getting done and it needed to get done and I can't do them.

***

Watching "Killing Eve," and one of the main premises is that Eve is supposed to be living a boring life, what with an interesting job and a loving husband and friends. Meanwhile, the assassin is living an exciting life, if "life" it can be called. (She seems to be empty of anything but the most primitive of impulses.)

I've never understood people who go seeking danger. Seriously. Danger will find you--as witness our current situation. Try to find simplicity, and complexity will find you. (Fight the Entropy!)

***

I feel the urge to write slowly but surely coming onto me. I think I'm going to tackle the big one. The Epic Trilogy.

I'd planned to do a bunch of outlining and research before I started, but it isn't getting done. I've written about 30 books just by diving in, so I'm guessing I'll probably have to do that again. Once I have the basic plot down, then I can add research details.

Still not ready, but getting close.

***

Whenever I write a teaser--300 or so words at the front of the novel of a scene--I realize that I'm not the most concise of writers. I mean, in many ways I am--I tend to write straightforwardly, without a lot of extraneous material. But in the style itself, I realize that I used more words than necessary and if I'm forced to shrink the wordage, I usually can.

But part of this is purposeful. Whenever I try to be too concise, I somehow lose the flavor and readability of the prose. I used to call it "going sloppy." It turns out that making every word count is bloodless and cold. Hemingway I'm not.

***

What's the frequency, Kenneth?

When I first started writing, in the late 70s, the rule of thumb for most writers was to release one book a year. At the most, two.

Many writers can write faster than that. (For instance, just 1000 words a day will net you the equivalent of three good-sized, or four moderately-sized books a year.) So they'd be forced to use aliases to publish more books than that.

When I came back to writing there was the thought among some self-published authors that the more books you put out, the better. They were more or less industrializing their writing.

I doubt that that works anymore, if it ever did. Certainly it doesn't connote quality. A diligent writer can probably produce three books a year without a loss in quality.

My first publisher put all three of my Vampire Evolution books out at the same time. I don't think that worked very well. My research seemed to indicate that most ebooks had a selling period of about three to five months. This seemed to get the momentum going.

But my first publisher missed that deadline by simply going MIA. I waited for him to publish the third Virginia Reed adventure and it took him almost a year. In hindsight, I should have published one of the books I'd finished, but he kept promising and I didn't want to step on his toes. As it happened, he only released the ebook.

My second and third publishers decided to go mainstream which meant a much longer lead time. It killed all momentum I'd gain. (Plus, because of returns, slower pay times, and the necessity to publish lots of copies, it killed both publishers.)

My current publisher took on most of my books. (The Vampire Evolution Trilogy and the Virginia Reed Adventures both have separate publishers.)

Once I started publishing new book with Crossroad, the pace of publishing slow down a little, which was probably a good thing. I was probably putting them out too fast.

My feeling now is that putting out a book every six months is probably the best way to go about it. It gives everyone time to find your current book and then anticipate the next one.

So...the most things change, the more they stay the same.




Thursday, April 9, 2020

Random thoughts for Thursday, April 9.

Spent a month trying to finish a book. It wasn't bad, it was just hard to concentrate on. (I don't give negative reviews..._

Yesterday, I picked up "The Rook," by Daniel O'Malley and I'll be finishing it today. Fast, fun, read. I could see the (1st book) writer tricks early in the book, but eventually I sank into it and started enjoying it.

It was also the first time in a while that I read more than a few hours during daylight. It felt right. It's how I should be spending my time during a lockdown. Instead of spending that time online. Because the news is really only about one thing--something I can't do much about.

***

So what's going to happen here is that a lot of businesses that deserve and need a loan, won't get one. And a lot of businesses that don't deserve a loan and don't need a loan, will.

It's the way of the world.

There will be just enough money to spread around to keep a bunch of wounded businesses barely alive. And other businesses that go further into debt. The Walking Wounded.

There will be a ton of fraud on top of that.

Whoopie.

As usual, I'll be on the outside looking in, protecting my own business by being as practical as possible, which is probably the smartest thing I can do.

***

My general rule of thumb for my business is "Keep it simple, stupid."

***That means avoiding entanglements. I don't join clubs or organizations or enter into partnerships or buying clubs or whatever. We don't do consignments.

***That means avoiding complications. We run a cash business. We put out product for sale and we accept payment for it. Period. Almost everything is SRP. Everything is retail.

***That means avoiding schemes. Anything other than putting stuff out for sell and then selling it. No special arrangements for a subset of customers. Everyone is the same.

***That means using our floor space for product. We don't have couches or tables, we don't host book clubs. We don't have game nights. All space is used to display product.

***We don't pre-buy or special order.  When someone requests something from us, we usually just order it and tell them it will be in the store the next time they come in. If it should happen to sell, we'll order another one. No obligation by us or by the customer, but still gets the job done.

***That means not chasing pennies. There are lots of banks and card and phone and insurance and on and on that offer us "savings." What I've learned is that what they give on one hand, they take with another. Find a decent service and stick to it.

***That means keeping everything above board. Pay your bills on time. Pay taxes on time. Keep honest books. Don't try to find ways around paying your employees, or pretend to be somehow a non-profit or work out some scheme where a portion of what you earn goes to charity. You should give to charities--freely, without some convoluted method.

***That means sticking to basics. I'm a store. I sell stuff. That's it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Random thoughts, Tuesday, April 7, 2020.

My mind started mulling over a short short story early this morning. Went back to sleep, and awoke with a clear direction. Went to my computer and wrote it out, with few changes. I thought it was rather brilliant, so I posted it everywhere.

Almost no reaction.

Sigh.

***

It seems that releasing books at a slower pace might be the way to go. Crossroad Press is taking "Eden's Return" seriously. David Wilson's comment was: "It's a solid premise and a great cover ..."

They're submitting it to major publications for review and offering it at a 40% discount on Ingrams. It may not amount to much, but it's being given a chance to shine.

***

I'm starting to think that the best solution to the economy is a re-set. July 1st takes the place of April 1st, and so forth going forward. Of course, it's difficult to figure out all the ramifications; no doubt, there would be unforeseen circumstances, but it seems the simplest way to restart the economy.

Of course, that doesn't take into account everyone who was working in the meantime. Seems like they would get a head start, but so be it.

***

Went shopping last Monday, with the bagger sneezing right next to me. So it's been 8 days. That's long enough for symptoms to start, yeah? Or is it a full 15 days?

Neither Linda or I have had any contact with anyone since then. Linda sewed up a couple of facemasks, but I still have no intention of seeing anyone until April 20, when our two sons will be home to help renovate the store. They're all worried about that, but it's a calculated risk.

***

I hate the incessant bad news...and yet, watching Rachel Maddcow and Lawrence the O'Donnell every night has reinforced how deadly this virus is.

Hero of the Apocalypse

Hero of the Apocalypse.

Yes, me, Duncan McGeary.

Respirators at first. In their hundreds. Convoys of trucks lining up in front of my garage. At first the neighbors were annoyed, but as the pandemic took hold, they cheered.

Then facemasks, in their thousands, piled loosely into cars and trucks--anyone who wanted them.
There was only one catch.

Don't ask where they come from.

I went to bed that night feeling pleased with myself. I was exhausted, for I'd had to move all those respirators and facemasks out of the garage all by myself. But it was worth it. I was saving the world.

Me, Duncan McGeary.

I woke up the next morning gasping for breath. The virus? Oh, my God. Was I to die before I could save the world? Oh, the irony!

But no, my chest is clear. I have no temperature. It's just that there is no air. I throw open the curtains.
Twenty dollar bills, plastered against the windows. Cracks spreading even as I watch. The roof above creaking under the weight.

And I know. My neighbor, Billy, a good man when he's sober. But he's never sober, always drunk, howling at the moon at midnight, hungover and begging for money in the mornings. He must have broken into my garage. He must have put a twenty dollar bill in the device. And five minutes later there was another twenty dollar bill, and five minutes later there was four twenty dollar bills, then 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512...you get the picture.

It's too late. I know this. I'd tried so hard to keep ahead of the curve, taking the respirators and facemasks out of the device when they started to get ahead of me.

Billy must have passed out. What time was it?

Too late, that's what it was. There was no way I can dig my way to the garage. The device will never stop. The house is groaning now. I hear muffled screams from my neighbors.

It won't be long.

I'm no hero of the apocalypse. I am mankind's doom.

Sorry about that.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Yep. The Paycheck Protection Program is a boondoggle.

I hate to say, "I told you so," but damn if this isn't exactly what I expected.

I spent the day wrangling with the banks, trying to get the particulars of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Apparently, it's the equivalent of 2.5 x the average payroll of one month, minus taxes.

It's supposed to last for eight weeks.

How is that supposed to help? Add in taxes and the program is giving you basically two months payroll. It's supposed to also be available for rent, utilities, and mortgage, but I fail to see how there is anything left over for that.

If, on the other hand, I lay my employee off, she will get a minimum of the same amount for whatever length she's unemployed. (By my reading, she actually gets an extra $600 a week, though I wouldn't be surprised if that's B.S. too.)

To qualify for the loan, I have reams of paperwork and proof I need to supply, some on tax forms that haven't yet been done. They want a Profit and Loss statement, plus other particulars that as a Sole Proprietorship I've never needed to do.

So I asked the first banker. "2.5 times my average payroll over too months minus taxes will only pay for my employee for two months. What's the point?"

"Well, some people have bigger payrolls..."

"It doesn't matter how big the payroll is. It's still the same percentage!"

So here's the thing. The way I originally read the program was that they wanted the payroll for a four month period--if I remember rightly, January thru April of 2019. Which they would then give 2.5 the amount for the loan, predicated on keeping employees on the payroll. If we are closed for two months, this would leave money for rent and utilities, plus. (I expected to pay back the unspent amount or roll it over into a regular SBA loan.)

That made sense. It would make the store whole, keep the employee on the payroll, and allow us to open without too much damage. (I still had existing bills from my wholesalers when the revenues stopped flowing.)

I'm wondering if the banks are misinterpreting the measure. I guess we'll find out.

Meanwhile, I was informed by my main bank that the amount of loans they set aside for the program was already gone, but I might be able to qualify for the next amount. He said that a bunch of businesses had already told him that they were simply going to lay off their employees instead of pursuing the PPP.

The second banker informed me that they were servicing existing accounts first. (Not my regular bank, so I'm at the bottom of the list.)

I was also told that the SBA was already overwhelmed, that one bank had already submitted 10,000 loans of which only 5 had been so far approved.

When I called my landlord's property management I was told by the agent that she'd applied and run into the same problem. That she probably wasn't going to go through the program either.

Meanwhile, I'm getting rent relief, so that only thing I really have to worry about is utilities which are the smallest portion of my fixed expenses.

Good job, Congress. You passed a completely useless measure.