Sunday, September 27, 2020

Such a problem.

I dreamed last night that I got a huge load of games from some distributor and I wandered around a fictitious store (I often have dreams of stores whose layout is completely different than mine) trying to find room for them. I was worried about theft of the miniatures.

Woke up, worried about the store.

Believe it or not, the worry is that we are getting TOO busy. I'm getting ready to pull the trigger on a game order that will probably add to both our sales and our workload.

I mean, of all the things to complain about!

See, despite all my warnings to everyone else about burnout, I underestimated the time and energy it would take to keep book sales up. Book sales doubled and then kept growing. I spend a lot of my hours at the store assembling book orders, a couple of evenings a week doing orders, and an afternoon a week stocking them. I mean, that doesn't sound like much, but it's more than I was doing before.

Our manga sales are way up, and last week I found about a dozen books that weren't written down; which was either an oversight or they were stolen. Trouble with manga and anime is that there is a little bit of history of that. Despite our openness, we really don't have that much trouble with theft, but when we do, it's because we're super busy.

Along the same lines, we are suddenly selling more Pokemon and Yugi Oh than were were selling before, probably because Wabi Sabi isn't around to take the bulk of sales. 

Without me even noticing, our Funko Pop toys stock is down from previous levels, maybe by half. Meanwhile, because of the slow restart from my comic distributor, and because I'm working at the store and can offer people deals (I know what I paid), I haven't been able to get enough toys to fill the shelves completely. This should take care of itself as the supply begins to increase.

A lot of this is happening because I've become more involved in the store and I'm in control of the budget. Or rather, the budget is in control of me...

It's fairly easy to see areas where we can still grow. So now I'm wondering if maybe we shouldn't. I mean, maybe we should just keep up with what we're doing for now. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, but no major moves. But then, I think about all the normally slow months, and it's hard not to pursue as much business as we can get. It also may be this plague, ironically, that is making us so busy and when the plague is gone, business will decrease.

The devil's bargain is that I may need to come into the store more to help, especially at Christmas. Maybe open early and stay late, work the first couple of hours, overlap for another three or four hours, and then let Sabrina finish it off. 

See what I mean about it being easy to add to the workload?

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The more action and monsters, the better.

I've got the beginning of my new story, and I've got the end statement. Now all I need to do is write all the action scenes and monsters inbetween. Those are the marching orders, and knowing this editor, I have a pretty good sense that he means it. The more action and monsters, the better.

Again, I'm not expecting to succeed. For one thing, my set up of a thousand words, only the last hundred words is action, which I suspect won't cut it. I'm trying to decide if I'm going to be willing to make changes I don't believe in. 

When I was writing Snaked, I thought the first critiques were right on. But the further asks for modifications kind of warped the novel a little more than I wanted. That was as much my own fault for not figuring out a way to make those changes efficiently, but still...

It's funny. In all my writing, I've really only had this one editor request changes. I'd pretty much come to the conclusion that either editors like a story or they don't. 

Like I said, I thought the changes improved the book overall, except a couple at the end. 

Anyway, I'll let this story become what it becomes. I really want it to be science fiction, but just reading about gravity and space elevators was enough to make me wonder if can do it in a way that would meet the standards of S.F.

Best Sellers Sell the Best Because They’re Best Sellers

 The title to a New York Times article about the head of Penguin Randomhouse. It struck me as an accurate and concise assessment of how the publishing industry works. 

Sometimes when I talk to aspiring writers in my store I realize that I sound utterly cynical. Whereas, I think I'm just being truthful. I mean, that really does seem to be the way it works. 

 Best Sellers sell the Best Because They're Best Sellers.

I tell young writers to get a second opinion and admit that I'm reducing the chances down to basics.

I read an interview once with Russell Wilson, Seattle quarterback, about his unlikely ascent. He said, to paraphrase, "Well, someone had to reach this point. Why not me?"

I liked that comment, but I can't get onboard with the optimism. 

You might be able to increase the odds of success through promotional efforts, but--to me--it's a demeaning process for a small chance. Early on in my store, I decided against what I call "wearing the gorilla suit" to promote my store. I would let the store stand or fail based on the inner dynamics of hard work and persistence. So be it. 

But I recognize that I also lucked out in the end by being in Downtown Bend. When we first moved in, it was a pretty sad place. It took half of my career before it started turning up, and I was at least smart enough to hang in there until it did.

So the success of the bookstore didn't depend on promotional efforts--it needed to be in a High Street location.

Unfortunately for writing, there is no easy way to find the equivalent of "High Street," where the customers find you on their own. There are venues that do the same thing as being in a high traffic location, but you can't just buy your way into them (pay the rent); Bookbub, for instance, is well worth the cost, but it's nearly as hard to be selected there as it is to be published in the first place.

I can see the route that an aspiring writer should probably take--and even in hindsight, it's a despairing process.

I've taken to telling aspiring writers to just publish themselves and be damned. At least you get the joy of writing and the results. It may not be lucrative or make you famous, but you'll know what you did.

My books turned out way better than I expected. That's was more than enough incentive for most of the time I was writing. I think, in some ways, I got it out of my system. I did what I set out to do.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Focusing on books.

 I think avoiding Facebook isn't going to be as hard as I thought. It turns out I spend most of my time online reading articles, and then just checking Facebook in-between for a little dopamine boost. Fuck that.

Twitter and Reddit have been removed from my Bookmarks and I'll miss them not at all. Besides it gives me more time to write here. 



The store continues to do extraordinarily well. It's late September and daily averages are still really high. I'm not sure how long this will continue. If it's due to books, it may not decline as much as it usually does in the fall.

So it turns out that carrying a product that has a wide appeal results in higher sales. Fuck me--I should have known that. I've known that for years but didn't go to the obvious solution. I think part of me was fooled by all the press about how bad bookstores were doing.

 I also didn't want to detract from what we were doing, so it was a slow morphing process--finding room for a bookrack here, a bookrack there. Closing the store for two months and laying down new flooring allowed me rearranged a little more, and suddenly more than half of the store--more if you include graphic novels--is books. 

But the biggest failure was not understanding the unique situation of being in Downtown Bend. We have succeeded in what every shopping district craves--we are a special destination, especially for tourists, but also for locals. People coming in my store aren't shopping for a specific book: if they were, they'd be more likely to find it at Barnes and Noble, and even more so, at Amazon.

No, they are Downtown for the unique experience. Something to do, places to see. And when they come in the store, they see books and they don't question it. I'm a bookstore. And because I'm very carefully curating what I've found sells or--based on that experience--what I think will sell, we're getting people to open their wallets.

A real irony is that the same people who were the scourge of my store, "young families," are now my best customers. Again, this is a special circumstance in that young adult graphic novels are very much in vogue, but even if the popularity wanes, I've had a chance to stock my store with other young adult material that will have perennial appeal. 

I just keep ordering more books, improving all the time. Don't think we've hit the peak yet. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Time to quit wallowing in it.

 "The Social Dilemma." On Netflix.

OK. I knew most of this stuff, but it was still alarming. I was already feeling unsettled by the state of the world. I think it's time to change my viewing and browsing habits.

I'm going to try to go to Facebook only twice a day, once in the morning and once at night, and try to limit it even there. Twitter and Reddit I'm going to stop completely. No great loss with Twitter and Reddit was always a time waster.  

I'm going to make Qwant my browser.

I'm going to stop watching MSNBC. I'm annoyed with them already for showing so many Trump speeches and almost nothing from Biden. Plus, I always feel terrible after watching.

So my news from now on will be PBS, the Bulletin in the morning, my online newsites, Slate, Huffington Post, and the Daily Beast--no click baiting! Yes, I know they are slanted in the direction I want, but it isn't a sledgehammer effect like listening the Rachel Maddow for an hour.

It's probably time to subscribe to the New York Times and/or the Guardian. (I've been annoyed with the Times since the Iraq war--I felt misled by their reporting. But given the alternatives...)

It's just time to quit wallowing in it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

End of writer's block?

I've had a bit of writer's block. It's not that I don't have ideas...I have lots of ideas, but I'm torn about which of them I should write. In other words, I'm trying to make them count. 

Of course, if I would just pick one and write it, it would get done. Waiting in indecision isn't getting me anywhere.

One thing that happens when I'm like this, is sometimes I just purposely choose to do something I wouldn't have ever thought to do.

For instance, Geoff at Cohesion Press, has a series of weird military anthologies that has hooked up with Netflix for a cartoon series. The more action packed the better, with as many big monsters as possible.

Ordinarily, military isn't my thing. Nor are big monsters.

But damn if a premise didn't immediately come to me. A really terrific premise, in my opinion. I went to read the specs for the anthology, which also wanted a "holy" element, and damn if my story didn't call for it. So there you are. I'd watched some of the Netflix cartoons, so I have a pretty good idea of what they're looking for. 

Monsters and action I can write if that's what I know I'm going to write. 

I have up to ten thousand words, so I can fit a nice story within that. 

Wrote the first thousand words this morning, setting it up. (Yes, it probably should have an action scene to start out, but I really like the way I did it.)

From this point on, I'm ready for every page to be action...heh. 

I have no expectation that the first short story I ever submit to someone is going to succeed. But I think this story is worth writing anyway.

Monday, September 14, 2020

We humans done fucked up.

 This whole thing has me re-calibrating my feelings toward my fellow humans.

We humans done fucked up. Sorry about that, future generations.

When I was young I suppose I thought most people were good, with a few bad apples. Even then, most of the bad apples I saw as villains in books, not so much real life. I mean, there were super villains like Hitler or Stalin, but the rest of us were fighting the good fight. Right?

As I got older, I realized that it was more complicated, but I still think I thought the glass was half full; everyone had some bad stuff, but everyone had some good stuff too.

Nowadays, I tend to think that as a species we are at best thoughtless, at worse an existential threat to all living things. We haven't progressed beyond the greedy grasping apes we once needed to be to survive. It's a constantly losing battle with the few wise and generous among us trying desperately to stave off the baser instincts of the crowd.

And we're losing that battle.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The West is burning.

This kills me. 
I wrote a book 4 years ago that pretty much parallels what's happening to the West right now. Did a lot of research and it was clear this was coming.

The key plot element--the insight that made the book work--is being mentioned in the news for the first time.

I have to be vague about it because I sold it as a ghost book for a bestselling author. (Supposedly, the publisher was going to publish something under my own name, but I got ignored for the next two years. Heh.)
I got an advance which was more money than I've ever made. We split ways after that because I didn't want to make the changes they wanted to make. I'd moved on and I was pissed that they'd been so rude.

Anyway, I kept expecting it to come out--and nothing. (Every book by this author hits the Top Ten bestselling mass market books.)

By now, the history I researched is out of date. The publisher has missed the boat, unless they rush it out now.

I'll never understand it.


Monday, September 7, 2020

Sports cards are hot? Oh, Hell, no!

Had a phone call asking for sports cards. I very mildly said, "No I don't do sports cards anymore."

But after I hung up, I said out loud with a store full of people. "Sports cards?! No way, no way ever, uh, uh, ain't going to happen."

It was such a strong naturally visceral reaction that it got a laugh.

So yeah. My reaction to the return of sports cards is rather extreme, considering how little it matters. The store is operating at a very high level right now. Pegasus Books is doing everything I always dreamed of.

Without sports cards.

Maybe it offends my sense of order that such a sham should make a come back. If sports cards are "hot" right now, it's mostly because there was a small surge in interest because of the coronavirus, and thus wiped out the existing print runs.

A simple matter of supply and demand. And here's the thing: supply always catches up to demand eventually. But the original impression can stay in place because of logistics and spot shortages.

If I want to get my ire up, all I have to do is mention sports cards. My reaction to customers asking me is to lecture. Which isn't a good look.

Really, I need to just shrug my shoulders and say, "That's nice..."

Saturday, September 5, 2020

The Hard Sell works, I guess.

I was going to keep track of how many political solicitations I received after making my donations but it's just too much. It'll be in the hundreds, if not thousands.

It goes to show that the "hard sell" must work.

I'm sure it probably works for writers too. Kind of like the guy who stands on the street corner and propositions every woman who walks by. "I get slapped and I get cursed...but I also get laid."

I did the hard sell with my first book. I messaged all my Facebook friends and asked them to "review" the book. I didn't mention "buy" the book, but that was implicit, obviously. I think because it was my first book, people forgave me. I also got a bunch of reviews and fairly high sales at the beginning with helped sales down the road.

But I also realized that I couldn't do it again without being obnoxious. I sort of made half an attempt with Tuskers, since it was a new publisher, and I got a smaller response. (I think I may have tried a couple of more times with people I considered close friends, but the smaller the response, the less reason to be obnoxious.)

I got a couple of people who blocked me for being inappropriate. Fair enough.

I liken it to the cousin who shows up at a wedding and tried to sell everyone on his latest pyramid scheme.

I decided to stop there--I'd announce anything I wanted on my pages as long as I wasn't doing it ten times a day, but I would never directly contact people again.

I still have some pride. 

Friday, September 4, 2020

Innovating to Oblivion.

Interesting review of the book,  "The Innovation Delusion," by Lee Vinsel and Andrew L. Russell. (Wall Street Journal, by way of Passive Voice.)

"America has been seduced by the false charms of innovation, causing us to chase novelty and pursue disruption while neglecting maintenance and infrastructure in both the public and private sectors."

 "... The result is, as the authors put it, an “unholy marriage of Silicon Valley’s conceit with the worst of Wall Street’s sociopathy."

The longer I own the store, the more I think that basic workaday ethic is what makes the world go around, and that all the get-rich-schemes and attitudes are a distraction and detraction. It's putting the promotional cart before the actual workhorse. It's fuzzy, feel-good, sound-good ideas taking the place of the hard work of true progress. We've become further and further removed from Main Street in favor of Wall Street.

Growing up in the 50s and 60s, stores were both stolid and solid. Workaday, unexciting, Babbit-ridiculed boring businesses. And yet these downtown drugstores and clothing stores and hardware stores provided livings for families and employees.

We gave that all away in our chase for cheap and for easy. We gave it away for the Next Big Thing, for Creative Destruction, for a "service economy" (whatever the fuck that is...servicing what?)

Everything need to be shiny now; every store must have an "image," every store spends more time trying to entice people in the doors by saying and showing surface glitter instead of actually--you know--stocking the store adequately, providing steady service, and living within their means.

I'm nearing retirement and this probably just cranky old man stuff, but the longer I'm in business (going on 40 years now) the more I think just running your store like a boring old Babbit is exactly what this world needs.