Sunday, August 30, 2020

One more reaction to "Astounding."

John W. Campbell was a writer himself, best known for "Who Goes There?" the basis for the movie "The Thing." But in his later career he mostly spun off ideas to writers.

Which got me thinking about story priorities. Obviously, with S.F. the most important factor was the idea itself. It was assumed the idea would be written up competently. Which is why characterization and style in early S.F. is mostly missing.

What are my story priorities?

Making this up as I go along, I can divide them into three: Storytelling, writing, and ideas.

When I talked about this to Sabrina she immediately asked the difference between storytelling and writing.

Writing to me is the word choice, the sentence structure, the style (whatever that is). Storytelling is putting the elements of the story together in a readable way.

So what are my relative strengths?

I think the storytelling itself comes to me relatively easy.

I'm fairly facile in writing--though that is a element that can be improved forever.

Finally, I need a basic story idea, but I'm not pushing to change the world.

Looking over what I've written, and in reading reviews, it's clear that most people like or dislike a book because of the storytelling and/or ideas. Writing comes last.

Of course the writing effects both the ideas and the storytelling in infinite ways--but the readers usually aren't paying attention to the magic behind the story.

This is all pretty rough theory and mostly for my own clarification.

This break in writing has me thinking about how I want to approach my next projects, and I'm still wavering between the two extremes of just getting my stories out there--or taking the time to research, plan, and fully think through a story before I begin writing it.

Basically, I can do the former forever and a day, but in order to take a step upward, I probably need to do the latter.

Problem is--I may never do the latter. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Misfits fitting with misfits.

More thoughts engendered by the book "Astounding."

As much as I love S.F. and Fantasy, I've never been able to settle into the fan community. I mean, I guess for a long time I thought I'd be a natural candidate, but when it came down to it, I felt as out of place among the fans as I did with everyone else.

I couldn't quite go all in. It seemed like everyone else immediately bonded through their shared interests. I remember going to Ore-con after I wrote Star Axe and feeling completely out of place.

I love the subject matter; I read an awful lot of it--I also read about it, which is a different thing altogether. I never saw the need to choose one type of story. I always read in all genres as well as non-fiction. My reading is pretty esoteric.

I'm not putting it down. Sometimes I've envied people who seem to fit in so well, even when it's misfits fitting with other misfits.

Bottom down, I'm a loner. 

So instead, I created a space that I felt comfortable in. Probably much more than most stores, Pegasus Books is a reflection of my interests. Even though I might be able to claim being Chief Nerd, in most ways I have never quite understood my own customers.

I've just managed to hide it well. Heh.

Friday, August 28, 2020

A reckoning.

None of what's happening politically is new--it's just risen to the surface in a metastasized form. Either we'll deal with it or we'll die...or we'll shove it back under the surface until it rises up yet again.

I finished the book I talked about yesterday: "Astounding," by Alec Nevala-Lee, about John W. Campbell, the editor of the above pulp magazine during the Golden Age of S.F. and into the modern era.

The author does a very clever thing: while he profiles Campbell for the entire book, warts and all, he saves the biggest wart for last. The most problematic flaw of Campbell was his racism. It wasn't subtle. I suspect that if that had come up earlier in the book it would have left very little sympathy for the man.

What's interesting to me is how pertinent to the current troubles this book is. What many Republicans are currently saying is just a more disguised way to express the same racism. The reckoning for Campbell has come in the last few years. The "best new novel" is no longer called the "John W. Campbell Award."  He's been banished. Cancelled.

As he should be. That doesn't keep me from reading about him and his influence on the S.F. culture--it just means an award doesn't need to be named after him.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

L. Ron Hubbard was a sociopathic lunatic!

I'm reading "Astounding," by Alec Nevala-Lee, which is about John W. Campbell, his coterie of writers such as Heinlein, Asimov, and L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of S.F.

I already know a lot of this, but this goes into much greater detail. I'm going to probably write about this book some more, because there are all kinds of evocative things in it, but for now--halfway through--I think I can safely say that L. Ron Hubbard was always batshit crazy--a full-on psychopath; a charming, charismatic, lying loser. He failed at everything he did, then lied about it all, made up shit that for some reason others believed even thought it was ludicrous on the surface.

You want to know what it reminded me of?

A certain current president.

Same bullshit, same narcissistic psychopathy, the same amazing phenomenon of gaining followers despite it all.

Same thread of paranoia and destroying everything and everyone around him. Even some of the same type of political extremes.

We really are just monkeys.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The basement of broken toys.

I had to get to the store by 8:00 Sunday morning for the comics to be taken away. 135 long boxes, or approximately 40,000 comics. The roughly 100,000 sports cards are gone too.

There was undoubtedly good stuff in there, but we could never get to it. It was always down the list when things are working otherwise. It's like knowing you could make some money at a second job, but wanting to keep your main job. Anyway, what's done is done. 

It still leaves a ton of junk in the basement, though it gives me a bit of room to look around.

Basically, the basement is full of semi-interesting stuff that has no real value and yet I hate to throw away. Boxes and boxes of broken toys, promos of all kinds, tons of old magazines and price guides, defunct or broken equipment, still a huge amount of books and non-sports cards.

It's probably going to take a couple of weeks to move stuff. The original goal was to make room for all the used books and bookcases. Now I'm seeing that we have lots of other stuff we'll need to move too. The most useless stuff is stacks and stacks of old magazines, Wizards and Becketts, and old price guides. Have no idea why I saved those.

I'm going to dive in on the 1st of September and hopefully have it all done by mid-month for the plumbers.

It feels good to have that taken care of.

Monday, August 24, 2020

There's a reason Google and Amazon own the world.

Turns out, selling a ton of books means spending a ton of time online ordering. I've really only set up with one publisher so far--the biggest, Penguin Random House. I do have an account with Scholastic, which is also important for our store because of their great YA stuff, but I've only ordered once from them.

I get an extra 10% discount by ordering direct from the publishers.

In return, I probably double the time spent on ordering. I don't hate ordering like I do some things, so I'm willing to do it so far. But it certainly gives me pause about setting up with the other Big Three, which would probably account for 80% of our orders. I've had no trouble meeting the minimums shipping for PRH, but it's a laborious process because of their lousy search engine.

My book distributor has just as bad a search engine.

What I end up doing is using Amazon to find a book, copying the ISBN number and then going back and entering it. If I can't find it on Amazon, I'll can always find it on Google.

Ease of use. What a reason for world domination, eh?

Friday, August 21, 2020

Humming right along and then...Bam!

We're getting 14 large boxes of graphic novels today.

What the hell?

So we've been humming along with small orders for a couple of months while sales have been good. Making a decent profit for once. Then BAM!

So this was basically 6 times our normal week's total. In other words, a month in a half worth of orders in one week. Some of it was apparently normally ordered stuff that was building up--without us being completely aware--over the last couple of months. Some of it was a large order Sabrina made of Image graphic novels on sale.

But it obviously got away from us.

So a large chunk of the profits we made over the summer are going out the door in the next week.

Oh, well. I literally turned to Linda last week and said, "This is going too well. Something's going to happen."

We're in terrific shape. And we will be well-stocked, to say the least. Over the next year or so, we'll profit from this order. But damn it it wasn't a cash-flow demolition. We're still coming out of this summer in better shape than we've ever been.

Unless there's something else coming down the road.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

All the things only a storekeeper would care about.

So the Baby Yoda merchandise is finally showing up--and no one seems to care. I ordered them in October, 2019.

Meanwhile, Netflix showing "Avatar: the Last Airbender" and "Umbrella Academy" means that the graphic novel sources are completely sold out everywhere. Come on, you guys, plan ahead a little!

Got about three months worth of reorders in one giant dump this week. Diamond is trying to catch up, I guess.

On the retailer sites there is a crew of guys who are cheering DC on. My guess, most of them are in the southern USA (so never closed down) and are newer-ish owners. Also, accusing anyone who sees trouble ahead as "Negative Nancys). It takes all my willpower not to call them Quislings. "Well, sure, Hitler has invaded Norway, but he's making the trains run on time!" I've seen this in other industries in trouble, including sports cards, pogs, and beanie babies. As soon as problems pop up, some retailers circle the wagons and proclaim "Everything would be just fine if you weren't so negative!" Small satisfaction that these people almost never survive, while those of us who see the problems and try to deal with them---sometimes--do survive. Rather harsh: that's why I'm saying it here instead of on the retailer sites. What none of them seem to realize is that DC comics is likely to really pare down on their releases in the near future, which runs counter to their narrative. 

Leaning back in my chair, staring at the screen in disbelief, raising my palms outward and saying, "Peace out."

Something I'm noticing in the comic business, for some reason. My compatriots are biting the dust. One of the first rolemodels I started following in the comic business died a few years ago; another prominent retailer just had a heart attack; and an online comic reviewer recently passed away. I mean, we're of an age.

I'm finally getting ready to get back to writing. I'm going to finish up my first "Spell Realms" novel, "Castle La Magie."  It's a light fantasy, YA-ish. A fun book, I think. I have several novels that can be adapted to the Spell Realm universe. Just need to finish editing, send it off to my editor, and get a cool cover made.

Then I'm going to write my Epic Trilogy--only I've decided to attempt one big book to start with and see where it leads.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

DC comics is imploding.

It appears the DC comics is imploding.

Warner Brother's is undergoing major layoffs, and a great number of them are with DC comics. It's hard to know what's going on. It's mostly reading tea leaves, but here I go...

First of all, this was presaged by a bunch of corporate gobbledygook jargon from the masters of the AT&T universe. They bought Warner Brothers, taking on a huge corporate debt, just before the pandemic started.

It seems to me that they panicked. Instead of waiting for the whole thing to subside, like Marvel and the rest of the market, they decided to distribute through two online retail discounters. I'd say about 99% of comic retailers thought this was a bad idea and would result in lower sales.

I know I cut back drastically for the simple reason that when I don't know what's going on, it's better to be careful.

A second reason I cut back was that I read the corporate announcements of these changes and they made no sense. None. It sounded like smoke and mirrors and wishful thinking, and most of all, like something that someone with no real knowledge of the comic market would ever say or think.

I have a rule of thumb--if the explanation makes no sense, it is an indication that the thinking is muddled. Muddled thinking never ends well.

How do these psychopaths make it to the top of these corporations causing destruction everywhere they go?

What I think happened is, the new corporate overlords got a gander at how low comic sales are--compared to movies and everything else, and freaked out. They either thought they could somehow force the market to improve--despite have no real knowledge, despite the fact that those with real knowledge of comics have been trying for decades to break through. When this didn't happen, they decided to pull the plug.

Obviously, they think that online streaming is the future and anything that distracts from that must be discarded. Too bad about the hundreds of creators and editors and the two thousand comics shops. Tough luck. It's only business.

I have my doubts that digital will come even close to making up for no comics. The big name characters, especially the trinity of Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman--will still show up in the media--just not as comics. Disney went this way decades ago--it didn't matter if Mickey Mouse and Uncle Scrooge showed up in comics, they had other endeavors to pursue.

It's kind of sad.

We'll see what happens to the comic market from here. Apparently, DC comics accounts for 30% of comics in stores, so that's going to be a hard hit. But comic stores have always been swimming upstream, so this is just another rapids in the path.

In the end, we'll probably do fine, and I predict that the corporate overlords of AT&T will soon move along, leaving wreckage in their wake.

I'll say it again--just because someone runs a big corporation doesn't mean they know what they are doing. It just means they're good at corporate in-fighting.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The customers are are ours, and nobody but ours. Cha, cha, cha!

I decided to dedicate the summer to the store. Partly because the physical changes need to be finished off, partly because of the emptying of the basement, and partly because book sales have surged so much that it requires a couple of extra days per week to order everything.

It's weird, but we're busier than ever. I just posted this on my Facebook:

"Re: Bulletin article on tourists driving to Bend.
Yes...yes they are.
And may I point out, we've had no festivals or street fairs or any of that other stuff going on.
The customers are all ours, and nobody but ours. Cha, cha, cha!"
I'm hoping that the rest of the Downtowners will finally understand that they've been shooting themselves in the foot every summer....Not much hope, really. The entrenched interests are just too strong.  

I always talk about Bend being somewhat isolated. We are far away from interstates or any other metro area. But I also think this makes us a tad exotic--even to people from the valley. ("The Valley" in Bend parlance is everybody west of the Cascades.) 

I always ask where people are coming from, and it's a ton from the valley, but also a bunch from California and Washington, and some from much farther. I'd have to believe this is going to rebound to our favor in the future, too.

As long as the tourists don't ALL move here!

Meanwhile, most of the stores on my block are still closing on Sundays and Mondays. This is totally inexplicable to me--that's 28% of the week they are foregoing!!!

Anyway, it's fun to have this much activity and, at least in our store, everyone is wearing masks--though I still have to remind people to put them over their noses. 

If the Fall nip in the air doesn't arrive too soon, this could be a record summer.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Prepare for the worst...

It seems like the store always does well when the outside world is doing poorly. The Great Recession, the Plague, and so on.

I think it's because all my planning is for those black swan moments, which I expect to occur on a regular basis. As my friend, Wes, put it: "It's not a bug, it's a feature."

When things are going along normally, I'm usually pressing it to the limit. But when I see danger ahead, I start to moderate. I prepare. I cut down on debt and expenses.

If, after all that, sales don't drop as much as I expect, then I start earning unexpected profits.

With the Plague, I planned for a 60% drop in sales. Since I generally pre-order most our product by at least a month, this means that when sales didn't drop that much, we started to benefit. Thereafter, we went into the summer months which are our best months anyway. Product still came in slowly, not so much because I ordered less, but because it hasn't been available.

Meanwhile, it turns out the tourists not only didn't stay away, they seem to be coming in greater numbers than ever.

This, at the same time that I've boosted the inventory on the product they are most likely to buy--books. Not only that, but I believe that books are considered the right thing to buy during a quarantine, especially for children. We just happen to be in a Golden Age of young adult graphic novels.

The confluence was just right.

I also think people are more willing to spend in my store because I'm steadfastly open and have the inventory they want and...I do believe they have more money in their pockets because they aren't spending it on other entertainment--movies, plays, concerts, and such.

I think we're going to be able to compensate for the months we were closed--if we haven't already.

I'm not taking any of this for granted. I think this Fall could be pretty bad when the tourists stop coming. I also believe that at some point this country will have to take the bull by the horn and close up for a couple of weeks.

At least, that's what I'm preparing for. If not, well, once again I will have prepared for the worse.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Things happening.

So I've been trying to think of how to talk about this.

First of all, things are going very well. Very well indeed. We've done surprising business--tourists are still coming to town and, if anything, are spending more than usual. Every category was up last month except comics. Comics just haven't gotten up to speed yet--less comics coming in means less comics sold.

The plague has affected the comic industry more than the other things we do--and having to adjust to a new distributor for DC comics hasn't helped. Diamond Comics has changed the way they ship, which has quadrupled our postage. I'm not sure this is sustainable in the long run. Right now, we're doing so well in other categories that we're all right, but really--it's cutting into the profit margins on comics in a major way.

Right now, I'm taking a wait and see attitude.

Books have truly taken off. We're selling at basically twice the level of last year. I've set up accounts with three new distributors, giving us better discounts. I'm enjoying the process--I do have a lot of knowledge about books, not just about books I've read. But I'm constantly surprised myself by how many books I've read. I must have spent every spare moment reading when I was young.

Shipping is immediate and free with book distributors, which is another reason to concentrate on them for the moment.

So the big change has to do with the rest of the iceberg.

Our landlord has decided to change the plumbing downstairs. They informed me that I needed to clear out my biggest storage room.

Some of you have probably heard of the legendary "Basement Comics." I also held onto a large number of sports cards and a ton of used books. Mostly this stuff is out of sight, out of mind.

There is value there--if we had the time and infrastructure in extract it. I've been trying for years to think of a way to do so. Just putting them out for sale would mean letting ourselves get "cherry-picked" to death, leaving the vast bulk of the material still there. I let people peruse the comics over the years with the understanding that they wouldn't cherry-pick, but every single person pushed the limit and usually went beyond what I was comfortable with, so about 10 years ago I quit letting people down there.

I've been ripped off over the years because the comics weren't locked away. I've had neighbors (no one currently) and random strangers (neighbors leaving the side door open despite my objections) taking stuff out of there. It was pretty disheartening.

Like I said, there is a lot of saleable stuff down there--if I was internet savvy, if I had the time and energy. But I've devoted my time and energy to making the store work. If I've had any extra time and energy, I've devoted it to making what I'm doing work even better.

The store is entirely functional and sustainable at reasonable effort selling mostly new material, without buying collections. 

Frankly, I'm not interested in the steep learning curve it would take to sell online.

So that said, I decided to approach others about taking all the stuff out of the basement.

I figure I have the equivalent of 175 long boxes (300 ct) of comics once everything was consolidated, or over 50,000 comics. I also have about 25 long boxes upstairs and in the hallway, which I'm keeping.

I've found a purchaser of the entire downstairs comic collection at a price I think works for both of us.

Meanwhile, I probably have a couple hundred thousand sports cards downstairs, which I'm letting someone take--with the understanding that if he finds value in it, he'll pay me later. Years ago, I sold (for next to nothing) 600,000 commons to someone who was going to wallpaper their restaurant. These are mostly 80s and 90s cards, so not worth much in the current market.

I have a ton of non-sports cards too, but I think I might be able to still do something with those.

Finally, I have what I consider a "starter set" for a complete used bookstore. All the shelving and enough books to get going. I figured that once I retired, if I got bored enough, I might do a small used bookstore to keep me busy.

I did offer the books to a guy who has a Powell's sized store in another city but he wouldn't take them for any amount of money--even free. (Not sure whether I would have let them go for free, because of the above daydream.) Used books are a drug on the market right now.

If anyone wants to open a used bookstore in another town, just let me know.

We have a second storage room that is out of the way of the plumbing. With the comics and cards gone, we have plenty of room to store the rest.

It's a bit of a relief. The downstairs has always been nagging at me. This is a nice clean break, and I'm not going to look back.