Wednesday, October 28, 2020

A reason for living: I want to know what's going to happen next.


So I was talking to a friend the other day who also had a heart attack, and we were talking about what we were afraid of or not afraid of and I said,

"The biggest fear I have is missing out on what is going to happen next. I want to know how the world changes."

My friend didn't have that reaction at all. He wanted to enjoy life--which I get. Both of us agreed that we hadn't been as afraid while the heart attacks were actually happening as we thought we'd be. 

But afterwards, I thought about my answer and realized it was true. Finding out stuff really is the reason I'd like to stick around, and one of the reasons I know it's true is because it was the same thing that kept me going when I was deeply depressed in my twenties. (I enjoy my life right now, I love my wife and kids and house and business and writing and everything--but what motivates me is finding out things.)

For most of a decade, I had few friends--in fact, little interactions with others at all--which just made me weirder and weirder the longer it went along. The pills in some ways flattened things ever more. I operated and reacted to things not emotionally, but intellectually, in my head. 

But I had my TV and movies and books--and I paid attention to current affairs. And that was weirdly fulfilling. Pathetic maybe, but I found satisfaction even in the darkest times.

Yes, depression does seem to flatten everything--and yet, my curiosity was still strong. When you have as deep of depression and anxiety as I had, ending your life might seem like an answer. But I don't think I ever really considered it. Not even at the worse.

Because I wanted to know what would happen next. 

I don't know about the validity of the Myers and Briggs test or the Enneogram, but whether scientifically sound or not, they certainly seemed to nail my personality. INTJ and a Five, respectively. I'm a loner who loves to gather facts. Loves to learn new things. Strives to find context in everything, looks ahead for dangers and tries to plan accordingly. Not impressed by popularity or brands. Goes my own way, no matter what anyone else says. 

As I get older in the time of Covid, and as I consider my mortality, it's the idea that I'm going to miss all the advancements and drama of the future that bugs me. (I'm optimistic, perhaps.) I have Linda and my writing and all the good things in my life right now, and I love them, but I assume that will continue.

It's finding out what happens next that motivates me to try to stay healthy and live a little longer--knowing, of course, that all the information and context will one day blink out. 

And that's OK. I won't be around to regret it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

I've been rigorous in my diet. I'm shooting for about 1200 calories, with the understanding that if I underestimate or slip it will still be below 1500 calories.

I've been stuck at 185.2 pounds for three days. That seems to be the way of it. Plateau for several days, then a drop. I did wake up this morning with my belly feeling slightly slimmer. Anyway, my determination to get to 175 hasn't diminished, so I'm pretty sure I'll see this through. Should be done about Thanksgiving Day.

For motivation, I have a closet full of nice winter clothes I can fit into at 175.

Store is still doing fabulous. Amazing. What I think is different is that I'm paying each week as I go along. I'm still prone to over ordering, but so far each week has bailed me out by being better than I expected. I suppose I shouldn't count on that continuing, but still, it's a huge improvement in procedure and one I should strive to maintain. (Budget!!!!)

I'm outside on the patio, trying to enjoy the day and keeping Jasper company. (His back is turned to me and he barely acknowledges my presence. He's still pissed about the Monster.) Anyway, I barely sit down and tractor guy comes out and tries to start his tractor. And it doesn't start. I'm restraining a Simpson's like, "Ha, Ha!!!"

Damn. He got it started...


The Monster runs from me, refuses to let me hold her. I've never had a pet who does that. 

So I guess I'll ignore her. Nothing says I have to like the critter. At least Jasper likes me.


The publishing industry seems intent on creating a graphic novel of every license--especially YA. I mean, how the worm turns. We've gone from-- "I won't let my kid read comics" to "Oh, look! A graphic novel of "Slaughterhouse-five!" 

Diamond seems to be offering Independent bookstores a special deal that as far as I know they haven't offered comic shops. So I posted it on a comic discussion page--and no one responds. This seems to happen. I'm not a Name in the comic industry so not much interaction. 

Oh, well. I still subscribe to Groucho Marx's comment: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”


I'm slowly working my way through my short story. It is going to be twice as long as it should be--technically within the guidelines, but pushing it. But I'm just not eager to get acceptance or rejection from the publishing industry anymore. Just writing for my own enjoyment. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

President Obama's memoir is coming.

 I continue to be amazed how well books are doing.

Part of me is kicking myself for not doing this sooner. The offbeat books continue to sell. The "bestsellers" are probably breaking even. I'll sell one, replace it, and then the second book may or may not sell. On average. Meanwhile, I'll sell a bunch of silly or weird or unique books.

 I was complimented by a customer yesterday, who told me he liked how, if I have a good author, that I'll carry all that author's books. Well, that's my strategy. I figure that a good author is a good author, and even fans probably haven't read all of an author's oeuvre. 

As far as bestsellers are concerned, President Obama's memoir on November 17, (assuming my preorder arrives in time) will be a test. I ordered 16 copies of the $40 book: this is probably nowhere near what most bookstores will sell. I know one local bookstore that sold 4 times that many Michelle Obama books. But it's a lot of copies for us.

Anyway, when I see how well books sell, and how it fits my own knowledge base, I wonder why I didn't do this years ago.

But the truth is, I know the answer: Because the system wasn't in place for me to do it. 

Oh, I held off for a few years because I didn't want to hurt the Book Barn, who was my neighbor. Again, in hindsight, they weren't exactly friendly with me and I didn't owe them anything, but I'd experienced some cutthroat competitors by then so didn't want to be like that.

But the real reason was that the barrier to entry was pretty high. When I first approached Ingram Distributors, they made it clear that as a "comic shop," they weren't interested in my business. They set a minimum that I simply couldn't do from the start. (That was an idiotic policy on their part--the biggest thing in publishing right now is YA graphic novels.)

Fortunately, Baker and Taylor was willing to take me on. So from there, I was able to build the sales. 

But even then, I was only paying half attention to it. I took the easy pickings, the low hanging fruit. I stayed away from the usual bestseller grind because I realized that I just didn't know enough and didn't have time to learn.

Since I came back to the store in September of last year, I've been paying close attention. And it has paid off. I'm now hooked into the information sources and the supply chain that makes it possible. With plenty of room for expansion. For instance, I'm direct with Scholastic and Penguin Random House, which allows me to order roughly half the books I need at a higher discount. But there are four other big publishers I could also sign up with. 

It's the amount of work that entails that keeps from jumping in. Already, this higher level of books sales means I'm spending at least a couple of extra days a week just ordering and stocking. Adding the other publishers would probably add another couple of days. 

Meanwhile, though I've been very clever in creating space for books, I'm rapidly approaching peak capacity--oh, who am I kidding; I passed peak capacity a long time ago. But I keep squeezing them in. But at some point, I will need to hold to a certain level and just try to improve the quality of the offering instead. 

It's been fun. I'm fully engaged. With Sabrina paying full attention to comics and graphic novels, I don't feel like I'm neglecting my core business.

My next goal is to establish a stronger presence for games--just in time for Christmas. The competition for games had increased dramatically over the last three years or so. All the big chain stores have a strong presence. But we have the room and the income to try to increase our stock, and so I ordered a bunch of games directly from the largest supplier. 

We'll see how that goes.

Toys are finally available at discount prices from Diamond again, so I'm being a little aggressive about that, too. Both of these surges are being paid for by books. It seems like, over time, a resurgent product line will take its turn being the one that supports the other lines.  As it should be.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Duncan Principle.

The Peter Principle is that employees will eventually be promoted to their level of incompetence. 

The Duncan Principle is that business owners will expand to their level of incompetence. 

I have spent most of the second half of my career warning other small businesses not to take on too much work. To beware of burnout. To the point where I honestly believe burnout can be as dangerous as incompetence to a business. That overextending is at least as dangerous as not doing enough.

We're indoctrinated to the idea that we must do everything we can--open earlier, stay open later, open every day, open Thanksgiving and Christmas!, deliver, gift wrap, special order, open for midnight events, open for events of all kinds, offer services above and beyond the strictly necessary, offer services that the customers demand because the customer is always right.

We read stories of business owners working 50, 60, 70, > hours a week. But joyously, of course!

We're told that only the exceptional survive, that you can't be ordinary, that you must over-achieve and keep on over-achieving. 

It's completely expected and completely insidious. 

For the first half of my career, I did all those things. I called it "heavy lifting." It was almost of matter of keeping the store alive through sheer willpower. Then it all crashed down anyway, and I suddenly realized that not only was I not making money--I wasn't happy doing it. I mean, it has to be one or the other.

I decided on happiness. I decided not to chase every dollar.

I also decided that true success was having a store that was self-sustaining without the heavy lifting. That is, where procedures and inventory and atmosphere brought in enough revenue to keep the business going. 

When Linda and I opened the Bookmark, our guiding principle was: "Keep it simple, stupid."

Too much work creeps up on me anyway. I can't seem to help it. 

The reason I'm writing this is that I can tell that I'm tipping back into bad habits. It's really, really hard for me to forego opportunity. I want to shore up the store every chance I get.

And yet, the store is self-sustaining as it is. Incremental improvements should keep that going. Instead, I'm making decisions that are more substantial than that. I'm trying to remind myself of my own warnings--to cool it. 

I just have to keep reminding myself of that.


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Bookstore sales.

 According to the Census Bureau, bookstore sales were down:

May: -59.9%

June: -35.4%

July: -24.7%

August: -30.7%

This sort of surprises me because our sales have been robust. I mean, we're basically doubling sales every month on books.  The store overall is doing very well. I make the joke at the store that I probably shouldn't say that because I want everyone to feel sorry for us.

So part of this increase in book sales is me finally getting back the store and really giving books a lot of attention. But most of it is due to downtown Bend being extraordinarily busy. At least, it is for us. It completely puzzles me why most of the stores on my block are closed on Sundays and Mondays. There are a ton of tourists wandering around on Sundays and Mondays. What the heck?

I have a feeling that we handled the covis shutdown correctly. We closed completely for the 54 days or so that it was mandated. We didn't try to do any half-measures. We just closed. We renovated the store and it looks much better and I believe we are much more comfortable for the book customers than we were before. 

When we opened, we opened all the way. We required masks pretty much from the start, but other than that, we just flat opened. My reasoning on this was that it was inevitable--that whether I chose to do it in May or in June or in July--it was going to happen. So we might as well make the decision early and at least earn some business. 

What I'm trying to say is that there were no mixed messages. We were closed--and then we were open. No curbside, no online, not appointments...that just muddied the waters, I believe, for a lot of businesses. Just a feeling. 

There a certain tentativeness to other stores that I think is unsettling or off-putting. My feeling is--just be open. Talk to people. Do your business the way you've always done your business. No excuses, no complications.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

 Well, I had to work on Friday; so much for getting my short story done by Sunday. I still have a couple of weeks, which is a long time, to get it done in a timely manner. A couple more weeks to get it vetted.

Sabrina read what I had at the store and she seemed to like it. (Though, what else is she going to say?)


Meanwhile, I found I couldn't fit into my winter jeans, so decided to go on one of my "sandwich" diets. Here's the thing--sandwiches satisfy me for hours, so I space them out--2 or 3 or 4 or even 5 sandwiches, each about 300 calories or so. Hey, I usually have carbohydrates, protein, dairy, and even a little "vegetable" if you include pickles and olives. Heh. 

I'm not moving around much these days, so I figure it is going to take at least a month or two before I can fit into the jeans--and another couple of weeks to start wearing all my winter shirts. (Which I haven't been able to do for years...)

Linda asked why I diet if I'm just going to gain it back, but really, it takes six months to gain it back, when I do, and I often don't quite go back to the same high weight. So I figure it's useful.

And I can wear my winter jeans. 

Feeling hopeful about the election--hope which risks being crushed. If it goes the wrong way, I'm going to dig a hole for myself to hide in--or start making Molotov cocktails. 

The idea that Biden is a "decent" man, versus the despicable alternative. 

Look, I know we're being spoonfed that line, but I think there is some truth to it. I know early on everyone was sort of mocking him for being that way, but I'll give him credit for sticking to his blandness. It turned out to be sort of a perfect antidote to the craziness. Maybe that is just an accident, but then again, maybe he had it right from the start.

I know in my business, I've always tried to plan out using my own instincts, even if it goes against the prevailing wisdom. So I admire anyone who chooses a strategy and sticks to it and is rewarded in the end. 

I've been hard on Biden in the past. His regular Joe act seemed a little phony to me--the kind of phony where the person doesn't even know he's being phony. But underneath that is his genuine intention to be that guy, so credit.

I know I won't mind a little blandness.  

We have a new kitten. Linda's idea, which is pretty surprising. She's a gray, streaked with scuffed white and for some reason she reminds us of a gray wolf--that and she is great at disappearing. A real Houdini. So I work up this morning to find that she has been dubbed, "Wolfini." 

Well, right away, for me that has morphed to "Wolfie," which I really like. A bit trans-species, maybe. Heh.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Needle.

I stalled in my short story, The Needle, because it was getting unwieldy. It was clearly going to be at least 10K words, and there was no way an anthology is going to give a newbie like me that many words.

This morning I woke up and cut 2000 words. I think, if I try really hard, I can keep the story to 5K words, or 6K on the outside. Still probably too many words, but good enough to submit.

From this point on in the story, there are three action scenes and the finale. So very straightforward. I figure about 800 words per scene, which would take me to 6500 words. Then I go back and cut stray words wherever I can--say 500 words? I can probably accomplish this in the next two days, then send it off to a couple of beta readers and Lara, my editor.

I'm glad I didn't force through the original storyline, but let my subconscious work on it. 5:30 this morning, I wake up and the words are coming to me. 

I still have a small scene which I really like that maybe isn't strictly necessary, but I'm leaving it in for now. I also do a fair amount of set-up, probably the first 1500 words, which is probably not kosher. But I would probably draw the line at cutting that, because to me the story doesn't make any sense without those details and motivations in place. 

If--as I fully expect--I get rejected, I can go back to the idea of extending the story. Or just put it online for free.

Monday, October 12, 2020

65% of our sales are new books.

When ringing up sales at Pegasus Books, I've taken to asking people where they're from (?)--at least, those people I don't already know.

An interesting new pattern is emerging. 

First of all, there are a huge number of Californians and Washingtonians and other out-of-staters. As I've mentioned, I believe that this is not despite the virus, but because of the virus. I believe we are just enough off the beaten track to attract them, but not so far away that they can't reach us. So that's good. Over the last couple of decades, September has turned into a good month: I think that's because older tourists are still taking advantage of nice weather. 

Anyway, besides tourists, an astonishing number of customers are new residents. And they seem to love us. Like tourists, they come in and see us as a bookstore, and because of that, they are likely to turn into return customers. 

Here's a startling fact. 65% of our sales are books, and just 15% are monthly comics. This doesn't mean I'm neglecting comics--the footprint for comics hasn't shrunk even a little bit. But I've finagled more space for books and games and toys. Even in hinddsight, I'm  not sure how we've accomplished that...

So if I was to go out and ask the average Bendite who's been here for a decade or more, they would tag us as a "comic shop." I'm not ashamed of that, but I am a little frustrated by it. Nothing I do seems to change that impression.

We have a lively and idiosyncratic curated selection of books, but we are also becoming more and more mainstream. We now carry a nice selection of new best-sellers. We've even managed to create a credible selection of non-fiction books, which I thought was out of reach.

So the promising sign is that all these new customers will remember us. And maybe, in another coupld of decades, a few of the old-timers in Bend will come in see what we're dong.

Meanwhile, I'm having a grand time finding those books that people immediately glom onto. That can only increase over time. What fun. I've always maintained that to avoid burnout, I need to reinvent the store on a regular basis. 

Meanwhile, we've just decided to boost our games stock by a substantial amount for Christmas. And somehow, miraculously, I've figured out where to put them.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Saying it out loud.

 For one of the few times in my business life, I've decided to step away from opportunity. 

We are doing amazingly well. I almost hate to say it out loud because I want you all to feel sorry for my little bookstore. But not only isn't the coronavirus not hurting us, I do believe it is actually adding to our business.

So opportunities have opened up for a bit of growth. New accounts with major suppliers.

But I'm already feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the increase in book sales. I'm spending a couple evenings a week doing nothing but orders, then spending an equal amount of time at the store doing orders, and then spending between one and two afternoons a week stocking.

Turns out, when you double your sales on books, you have to work twice as hard. Actually, it seems like much more than that. I don't know why.

This on top of the two days a week I'm working (I know, I know...boohoo...working two whole days!) But I'm very busy in the store while I'm there and I come home pretty exhausted. I sure know it in my bones the next morning.

I've come to the conclusion that people are coming into our store because 1.) we're interesting enough to be entertainment, and 2.) there aren't a lot of other places they can go for entertainment. In other words, business is good not in spite of the virus, but because of the virus. 

That was unforeseen.

It's also possible people are reading more. I'm not seeing the same increase in board games, which is a bit of a surprise, but then people have to gather to play games, so maybe that's it.

Anyway, back to my original point. I've been looking at opening several new accounts that would give us economic advantages in discounts and shipping.

But they would definitely add to the workload. I should also mention they would require initial financial investment--and I'm thinking that, for once in my business life, it might be nice to get a little ahead instead of playing catch-up.

So I've decided--for now--to forego the opportunities. They would add more work to an already stressful time. I will look at it again in the near future, but for now, I've decided to maintain the current system. Believe it or not, that take a great deal of willpower, but when I look at previous times of growth, I've realized that I probably would have been better off not being quite so aggressive, but instead consolidating the growth as I went along. 

Again, a nice problem to have.