Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Old Favorites.

I'm really enjoying today, a day off at home. Linda is off doing errands, so it's Buddy Jasper and me. It feels good, peaceful.

I was thinking about the "back list," because of another article by Kristine Kathryn Rusch about how mainstream publishers are neglecting those titles. Of course, I often make the same contention about most bookstores.

But "back list" isn't descriptive or singular enough to define the phenomenon. After all, any book that has been published is a back list book, eventually. 

So this morning, I came up with the phrase, "old favorites." I mean, I could say perennial or evergreen titles, but that's vague. Classics is a subcategory, so are quirky, or even "cult" books. 

Old favorites it is.

I often get requests for a back list book. Now usually I can tell if the book I'm being asked for is something that maybe only the person asking wants--or whether it has a wider appeal. (If nothing else, I can look at the publishing date, how many copies are in stock, and the selling number on Amazon.)

On the assumption that someone's favorite is somebody's else favorite, I usually order such titles for the store. Only rarely do they not sell, and I'm never sure if it is the person who requested it. I absolutely love it when it becomes one of the old favorites.

In a sense, my job as a bookseller has been to ascertain which books have a continued following. Each book I add that is an evergreen seller adds to the base sales. 

Bestsellers are something different. "Front List" is the terminology for those, and most of the action is the first week or two. Now, for almost a decade I ignored these books. First of all, they were hardcovers, which is a harder sell (--or so I thought.) Secondly, they were always a guess. They may be bestsellers elsewhere but not in my store.

But in 2018, as I came back to work, I decided to take the plunge. I quickly ascertained which bestsellers I can sell and which I can't.  But even the ones I sell, I usually only sell one or two, sometimes more. So I'm now refining the process to those that sell within a week or a month, which keep selling, and when I should stop ordering them and wait for the paperback. 

I'd say only a small percentage of these bestsellers become "old favorites," though they remain familiar with customers for a few years and still have a chance of selling to someone who missed the original wave. 

Oh, and by the way, I don't return books. I get a higher discount, and besides I can usually unload a book at a large discount to a customer if I really want to get rid of it. They were bestsellers at some point, so they become back list, if not old favorites. 

I will admit--books sell better when I carry bestsellers. It adds an aura to my store. 

But I believe a good back list is what distinguishes my store. The more books readers recognize, the more they think my store is the kind of store they like. I'm sure that mainstream stores dazzle their customers with new bestsellers, but they seem to always be using their budget to move onto the next thing, and then the next. After all, that's the model that movies, games, TV shows, and music takes.

But, then again, Netflix also gets a ton of business from backlist. 

In fact, if you want to know what to carry in your bookstore, you could do worse then paying attention to what the streaming services are doing. 

Mainstream publishers and bookstores? Sometimes I think they are clueless.

A few years ago, after I sold a ghostwritten book to a major publisher, I was given a reference to a big-time agent.

"What sort of books do you write?"

"Mostly horror, but..." 

"Horror doesn't sell," he said, closing the door.

Only later did I think, "Hey, tell Netflix horror doesn't sell! I don't think they've gotten the message!"

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Congrats, Mike.

Once upon a time (1980) I walked into a tiny little store on Greenwood Ave, Bend, Oregon, and met the very tall owner, Mike Richardson. I'd just published my first book, and we spent a lot of time arguing about SF. Because I had free hours, I started working for him.
A few years later, he moved to Portland, started a comic company called Dark Horse comics. I bought the Bend store from him.

Congrats, Mike. You did it.…





Curse you, Santa!

I was doing great guns business yesterday when around 4:00 it just seemed to shut down. 

Dead quiet.

Turns out, Santa was putting on a free show at the Tower Theater.

Curse you, Santa!!

Yes, you heard me. I've gone against Santa. But, hell. He ain't no less commercial than I am, right? And while I'm at it, Screw you other reindeer! Who wants to be part of your reindeer games anyway?

So of course I'm kidding. (not). I mean, at least I'm aware of the Grinchiness of such a statement and am vaguely ashamed of myself.


Saturday, December 18, 2021

I'm a storekeeper. That's my job.

Customers often ask if I sell online or do mail order. When I say no, I can see in their eyes that they think I'm missing out on sales.

Here's the thing, if I have time away from the store to do those things, then it means I've not created enough person-to-person business in my store. To me, if I'm doing my job correctly, my work shift will be filled with selling product already in my store to customers who are already in my store. 

I'll admit, there have been days, weeks, even months and years, where that wasn't happening. But it seemed to me that any time I took away from trying to create business outside the store was just making it harder to get there. 

I admit, if things had ever gotten bad enough, I would have gone online. But the store has been doing relatively well as long as "online" has existed. So I've concentrated on making the in-store even busier. Create the atmosphere, get the inventory, reorder what sells, display them properly, keep the store clean and organized. Be knowledgeable about my product.

If there isn't someone in the store, then it gives me time to straighten, to order, to clean, to rearrange more attractive displays. Do the basics and do them well and the day will go by fast. Concentrate on my job INSIDE the store and make it work. 

If I'm successful, I don't have the time or energy to spend looking for business outside the store. To me it's a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more time I spend looking for business outside the store, the less time I have to make the store itself works--which then forces me to spend even more time outside the store, and on and on. 

But the opposite is also true. The more time I spend trying to make the store work, the less time I have to spend online or elsewhere.

Does that make sense?

As I've always tried to point out, it's my opinion that as many stores go out of business because of burn-out as because they don't make enough money. The entrepreneurs are given the myth that they should work 80 hour weeks, that they should do everything the customer wants. That not only should they run their store--which as I'm trying to make the case, should be a full-time job all by itself--but do the extra things. Hold promotional events, go to conventions, open early and stay open late, have constant sales, sell online and through the mail. But all those things are distractions from doing your basic job better.

The weird part is that, given time, concentrating on the basics should in the end create as much business as one person can handle. And that's all I'm looking for. I'm not interested in being a manager, of taking all the work home. I'm interested in a full eight hour day: doing all the things that make the in-store work. 

I'm a store keeper. That's my job.

I suppose the road to success is relative. But I know that the road to personal satisfaction came in keeping things to basics, refining them constantly, and just making it all work.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Nimbyism for everyone.

Interesting how not just homeless camps in Bend are being opposed these days, but just about any new subdivision seems to have opposition. Nimbyism for everyone. But I wonder how these people think Bend got the way it is.

Pretty constant question at the store is how I feel about all the changes. Well, the short answer? I moved the Redmond. heh.

So, the traffic is a little much, I admit. The elitism is offputting to me: membership clubs downtown and gated communities, but overall, I think that Bend becoming a bit more cosmopolitan and diverse is a good thing. Though we will need to get a handle on the homelessness problem.

The truth is, we just aren't a small town anymore. 

I was talking to another downtown merchant a couple of days ago. She thought we'd been around about the same length of time, though I'm pretty sure I was here at least a decade before her. I didn't disabuse her of the notion. We talked about how downtown has changed, and I said, "I've gone from stocking the cheapest version of a book to the nicest version of a book."

"That's it exactly," she said. 

I suppose the downside of that is that people perceive downtown as too expensive, but the truth is--they thought that way long ago, long before the biggest changes happened. In other words, the impression was there before the reality. So there wasn't really as much of downside to going upscale as people think.

Of course, I'm still of the opinion that a bookstore needs to appeal to everyone, and having the "nicest" book I can get appeals to everyone. People don't come downtown for commodities--they come downtown for something different, something unique.  

We were never really a mass market paperback kind of bookstore, but we staked a ground in the middle, with trade paperbacks. But, as I said, I now find myself asking if the hardcover version might not be a better choice. For me, it's about the limited space and how to get the biggest bang for the footage. 

So yeah, Bend has changed. Anyone who wanted to live in a town like we were in 1990 in going to be disgruntled. But that was 30 years ago. The changes are kind of peaking right now.

A word of warning. My impression has always been that when things strike me as overheated, it is often just before a retrenchment. Vice versa, when things seem the most down, it is a prelude to an upturn. 

It seems to me that we're a little overheated right now. People have been saying that for years, but I always thought that Bend was growing because people want to live here, not because of any bubble. 

Only recently has it seemed like it might be getting a little over the top. 

But here is where I must paraphrase my favorite all-time quote (from John Maynard Keynes) about business: "(Things)... can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.” 

I've always interpreted this to mean that things aren't always imminent, but they are usually inevitable in hindsight.  

Thursday, December 9, 2021

A majority of one.

Just saw a picture of a "bookstore" and I can't spot a single book in the layout. Nothing but "gifts."

It seems to me that this is the direction most bookstores are going and I don't get it. In my bookstore, the more books I buy, the more I sell. 

Gifts are iffy. They may or may not sell. You usually have to buy them in bulk, at least a dozen of each. Some within that dozen will sell, some won't. That's why I stopped buying most cases of toys a few years ago and look for toys I can buy singly. 

What's more, with gifts you have to have more than a few to sell a few. For instance, our jigsaw puzzles had stopped selling before Christmas. I bought fifty more and they started selling a little. 

If you buy a dozen of any gift item, they start to look really lonely and abandoned somewhere around half of them gone, which in essence forces you to buy another case to fill in the gaps. This is a constant process. 

So if you sell half and buy more and then sell two thirds of that and then sell through an entire batch, you might make money. But more likely that 30 to 50% gap will never get paid for.

Opposed to individual book titles which, if they sell, you can order another single unit, and then another and then another. Same principle, just much less gamble. And books never look lonely, because there are always other books. 

Gifts have a limited shelf-life before they get shopworn. Books have unlimited shelf-life unless a customer actively damages one. Dust and sun and manhandling will make most gifts look less than pristine very quickly. 

So, yeah, give me a choice--as a bookstore, mind you--and I'll pick books every time.  

Opinions? I have more than ever but I'm spouting them less than ever. I'm laying low. But I still think I'm right. I'm a majority of one.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Corporations are people...psychopathic people.

Corporations don't have empathy. Corporations don't allow for human weakness. Corporations will exploit those weaknesses.

Kill Jack Welch. 

Many years ago, probably in the mid-80s, I went through my "young entrepreneur" stage. Most of the advice I read was wrong, but the only way to find out was to try it. Eventually, by trial and error, I learned what worked and what didn't. 

During this phase of my business career, I ran across an interview with Jack Welch. By the end of that interview, I wanted to kill the motherfucker. I'm not sure he was human at all--maybe an alien reptile in a human skin suit. I loathed the man. I mean, I almost never have that reaction to anyone.

And he was the "most admired" businessman in America. An example of his business principles--fire 10% of your employees every year.

Everything was about shareholder value.

Instinctively, I knew this was wrong. I mean, on its face, it was morally and ethically repugnant. But I was pretty certain it was bad for business, too. 

Jack Welch retired with a 417 million dollar exit package, his reputation intact. I saw his reptilian face on the cover of best-selling books. The Cult Of Jack Welch. 

Here's his current reputation from an article today in the Daily Beast about the downfall of Boeing:

"Every attempt to divine how Boeing’s culture went from exemplary to execrable tends to lead to a man who never laid his hands on Boeing, Jack Welch, the infamously bottom-line hatchet man, known as “Neutron Jack” for his ability to vaporize thousands of jobs at General Electric while its CEO from 1981 to 2001 before leaving with a $417 million exit payment. His leadership style, once hailed as a master class in squeezing as much money as possible out of any business, became posthumously toxic. Nonetheless, managers schooled by Welch fanned out to work their magic at other companies deemed in need of it."

It took a long time, but the performance of General Electric after he left has been nothing short of disastrous, and most of that can be laid at Jack Welch's feet. Turns out, short term results don't predict long term success. Who would have thought?  

He died last year. (I didn't do it.)

All those years I hated him when he was considered a success. It's very validating to find that my instincts about him were right from the start.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

My wife is as cute as all get-out. 

She makes me feel good all the time. 

Thank you to whatever deity is responsible. 

I'm a lucky bastard. 

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The 30 year old fantasy addicted Duncan McGeary would be surprised.

Contemplating the short fiction market, with which I am unfamiliar. I never thought of myself as a short story writer, but since the first two stories I took seriously were actually published, and since I'm not yet ready to tackle another novel, maybe I could try a few more times.

Right away, the horror market looks more attractive to me. With SF and fantasy, my impression is that there are trends, that there are certain types of stories they are looking for and other stories the editors are avoiding, based on what's been selling, what's been overdone, and which is new.

Whereas, with horror, I have the feeling that anything goes, as long as it's good. I mean, I would have to tailor the story to the requested perimeters, but the field just seems more open to me.

I had the same impression about the novels when I started. It was more or less random that the first novel I wanted to write was a supernatural Donner Party with werewolves. The people I talked to in the horror field seemed really open to my efforts. Almost by accident, the next story that grabbed me was a vampire story, and then super-intelligent wild pigs on a rampage.

I'd always been a fantasy writer until this streak, but as soon as these stories were accepted--by three different publishers--I decided this was the genre to write.

I figured out that any good story can be turned into a horror novel. For instance, I had an idea for an unstoppable mobster: think Luca Brasi from The Godfather, only one that doesn't sleep with the fishes but keeps on killing.  So I mulled that over, trying to figure how to put in a supernatural element and thought of a Golem. 

Another example. Had an idea of a femme fatale who lured men into camping deep in the woods and then abandoned them to die. Which I turned into a succubus story. And so on.

After that, any idea I came up with had a tinge of horror attached. Even the thrillers I wrote started off that way and only later did I turn them into straight thrillers. 

I'm just not up to date on fantasy and SF. I'd even go so far as to say the my tastes are out of date. I've pretty much disliked most of the award winning books over the last 10 years of so in these fields. Lionized novels that I really didn't care for. 

I'm actually way more up to date on thrillers, since that has been the majority of my reading over the last 20 years of so.

The 30 year old fantasy addicted Duncan McGeary would be surprised.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Elvis was an accident.

I'm reading "Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll." 

I'm at the part where Elvis makes an entrance.

The short version is that Elvis had done a couple of acetates for his Mom, but they weren't anything special. But Sam's assistant, a woman named Marion Keisker, really liked the look and sound of Elvis and finally convinced Sam to give him a chance.

Elvis came in to sing some songs, but Sam was unimpressed. 

Marion persisted, so Sam called a couple of his session musicians, Scotty Moore and Bill Black, to spend an evening working on stuff and come in the next day for a recording session. They came in, but after a long session of nothing working, Sam finally called a break.

During the break, Elvis started fooling around, singing a song from a few years before, "That's All Right, Mama," byArthur Crudup. 

Sam poked his head out of the booth and said, "What's that?"

And so a legend is born. 

Thing is, what a random sequence of events! Elvis was trying to sing like everyone else and he ran into the only person in the world that could recognize when he was doing something different. The one person in the world who was soothing and confident enough to show faith in the callow lad.

Once Elvis got a little confidence, he was on his way, but what pops out to me is that Elvis was a fortuitous accident. It so easily might not have happened. 

But, as a writer, the lesson I take out from this is the old William Goldman saying (about Hollywood): "Nobody knows anything."

The early days of recording remind me an awful lot like the current indie writers scene. Back in day, there were regional record producers who would record the local acts and fill the jukeboxes and radio waves. There was a constant stream of musicians coming and taking a stab at it. 

But time after time, songs on the B-side would be the one that really hit. Or a song that was ignored when done by one artist, would be a hit with another artist. 

Sometimes a musician would come in with talent that couldn't be ignored. Howling Wolf and B.B. King were a couple of artists that Sam recorded early on. But most of the time, the cogs in the recording machine were interchangeable.

In the current indie scene there are a lot of writers who are competent, some more talented than others, but trying to get a hit is completely unpredictable. There are writers who are so hungry and persistent that they finally break through--though I have to wonder if there weren't equally hungry and persistent writers who fell by the wayside.

One of the first things I heard when I first started writing was that success in writing depended on "Luck, Timing, and Who You Know."

Everything I've seen since then has only confirmed it.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Been reading and listening to podcasts about Rome. I realized drawing parallels with the U.S. is nothing new, but damn--the last few years have really underlined the similarities with an exclamation mark. 

To be succinct: every chance Rome had to rein in their wealthy and powerful was subverted. In the end, the population fell for authoritarian rule. Frankly, a demagogue from either the Left or the Right was inevitable. 

The Right is the more likely candidate right now; more desperate, more cynical, more cowardly. 

And in the end, the followers won't get what they want.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Thanks, Marvel. Thanks, DC.

I told Sabrina to make Marvel comic reorders from Penguin Random House between Tuesday and Thursday. I usually assemble a book order, including graphic novels, from Friday thru Monday, but we don't want to mix up the ordering carts--which should give you some indication about how complicated their ordering system is.

She just messaged me that she tried to make her first order this week, but it was so complicated and there was few titles available, she gave up. 

We've gone back to Diamond Comic Distributors for our Marvel comics, even though we pay about 7% more, because of the ease of ordering and tracking. We can make multiple orders and they are consolidated each week in our invoice. If we have damages or shortages, Diamond will replace the product.

I got an "Eternals" graphic novel in this week from PRH that was ripped down the middle. To get a replacement I have to take a picture of the damage and then email them. Screw that.

Most comic retailers have blamed Diamond for shipping damages for years, whereas I've always thought they were relatively good at it. But even then, they are very forthcoming in replacing damaged product. Just by reporting it. 

 By the way, none of this was necessary. Thanks, Marvel. Thanks, DC.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Bulletin article on tourism,

Bulletin had an article about the love/hate relationship Bend has with tourism. Basically, the thrust of the article was, "Tourists: can't live with them, can't live without them." As you will see from the following, I've always been somewhat ambivalent about the subject.

Actually, the article was even more contradictory. The people quoted kept saying, "Well, we don't really need tourists. And then, in the next paragraph, "Boy, do we really need tourists!"

Which really sums it up, doesn't it?

I've always been torn by this issue. I come down on the side of, "Welcome to Bend,..now behave yourself."  Which, of course, isn't going to happen. I think the first waves of growth, the people did try to absorb the Bend ethos, but the later ones just overwhelmed it. I mean, it was very annoying to me when Trader Joes came to town and a bunch of people said, "Finally. We've hit the bigtime!' Really? So what you really want to do is have the town you just left?

I always remember seeing people dressing up for a visit downtown for the first time and being impressed. Because downtown was a blue jeans and t-shirt kind of place. Then again, I didn't make a whole lot of money when it was that way. 

I always said, that for the first half of our existence, I could shoot a cannon down Minnesota Ave and not hit anyone. 

Anyway, Bend has always been "poverty with a view," and that has gotten only worse. I always used to say that there is a thin veneer of sophistication in Bend, surrounded by the redneck majority.

I have also always commented on how isolated we are and how dependent on minimum wage jobs, retirement and tourism. The town was designed that way. That's the gamble we made, and for what it is, it was very successful. 

Do we really want to be Klamath Falls?

So growth was necessary just to keep the town alive, Well, now that we've succeeded, I do think we need to take our feet off the accelerator. As those who have read this blog know, I've been saying this about downtown events for years. They are no longer necessary to promote downtown and have become a hindrance instead. For example, the weekend after the recent Fall Fest, we did twice the business without any event at all. 

I recently moved to Redmond, while keeping my business in Bend. For years, I would defend Bend's growth by saying, "Well, the basic outlines are still here. I can ignore Northwest Crossing if I want to."  Linda and I recently moved to Redmond, and I have to take it all back. It is definitely a slower pace of life. It's nice.

It used to be busy or slow downtown, and there is still probably more a swing in seasons than most places, but I'm wondering if we've finally gotten big enough that the slow seasons are ameliorated. 

If you're a restaurant or business downtown, tourism is what keeps you alive. Everyone where else? I don't know, but I doubt it's quite as significant. Of course, we pay high rents downtown for the privilege.

Bottomline, if I could get the old Bend of the slow pace, the uncrowded forests, the fishing on Mirror Pond, the deserted Smith Rocks, and also have the kind of business I'm currently having--well, that would be great. But I'm afraid one crowds out the other.

So I have to come down on the side of growth. People need to make a living, and the lumber mills aren't going to do it.

Finally, it's all moot. You can't stop progress.

Monday, October 18, 2021

The artistic life is a tough life.

If you choose to become a full-time artist, you have my greatest respect--and empathy. It's a very big gamble, most often it doesn't pay off in either money or prestige. 

Even if, by most standards, you succeed. 

I saw this early on with my mentor, the guy who taught writing classes up at the local community college. By any reasonable standard, he was a success. He written dozens of westerns, had written in Hollywood for big western series, he'd been elected president of the Western Writers group. 

But he lived modestly. His wife brought in the income during the tough times. He wasn't destitute, but he wasn't wealthy either. He was teaching adult classes for a few hundred bucks. 

He wasn't Louis L'Amour, but then who is? Louis L'Amour is, that's who.

And he was the successful example. I knew of some local artists who'd spent their 30s and part of their 40s trying to make a living at art and pretty much nearly homeless. 

I had written three published and three unpublished novels by the time I was 30 years old. I had an agent and was actively submitting. The three years had brought in less than sustainable income, to say the least. I was mowing lawns to pay the bills.

I realized when I married Linda and the boys that I had a decision to make.  I realized that chances of success at a writing career were pretty damn iffy. I'd probably spend most of my life working minimum wages jobs and trying to find the time to write and depending on Linda. 

I could have made that leap. I was pretty close to breaking through, based on the responses to my books. (I wasn't getting acceptances, but I was getting very complimentary rejections, which believe me, isn't normal.) 

I mean, I think I would have gotten better through experience. 

But I also had the chance to buy a book/comic bookstore. That intrigued me, frankly. I was ready for a change. But to be honest, I thought it would be a perfect job for a writer.

I then spent the next 25 years hanging on for dear life. Turns out, being a small business owner is no part-time job. Quite the opposite. Writing? Forget about it.  

In the end, I was lucky enough to break away for 8 years in my late 50s and early 60s to write full time. The store was finally functioning correctly and I had a manager, Sabrina, who could do the job of running the store day to day as well as I could. 

I gave up most of my income during those 8 years; got barely enough to pay my share of household costs, but that was fine. I was writing. I was living the dream without worrying about bills. It worked out for me and it turned out that I had a tidal wave of creative energy built up which burst into dozens of stories and books. Good, bad, or indifferent, I was doing my best--better than I thought I could do--and I enjoyed the whole thing. 

I became familiar with a bunch of writer's who had taken the path I hadn't. Who'd gone all in as writers. Many of them were successful by any reasonable standard. They had multiple books by major publishers, good reviews, and fan following.

And at least of few of them were struggling financially as they got older. Because, unless you are Louis L'Amour, writing isn't all the lucrative. It certainly isn't secure. It only takes a few unexpected emergencies to send a creative person into a financial crisis. 

The competition has grown ever greater and payoffs ever less. Unless, you are in the top 1%. Hell, the top 100th of the 1%, considering the number of writer s and books. You know, unless you're L'Amour. 

Meanwhile, there has never been a better time for a writer like me who just wants his books out there, who is satisfied with very modest "success." (I can just hear the professional writers out there saying, "Fuck You!" because I know how that feels when a competitor to my store opens and proclaims they don't "Need" to make the money.)

There are avenues in all the arts that weren't there 40 years ago when I started. But the basic haves and have/nots of the situation haven't changed. I also think this same dynamic is true of ALL the arts. Every artitst reaches that moment when they have to make a choice,

The fortunate ones find a career that is at least tangential to their creative efforts. But even that keeps them from fully engaging.

How's this different from owning a small business? Well, I always felt I more or less had my own fate in my hands with the store. I was in charge, I could make the decisions. Execution was everything and either I made money or I didn't, bottomline.

With creative efforts, it's nowhere near as much in your own power. I read too many great writers who have been ignored and too many horrible writers who have been greatly rewarded to have any faith in that. 

So if I ignore that blue of stress in the first half of my career as a storekeeper, it turned out to be a good decision

But I'll always wonder, "What if."


Saturday, October 16, 2021

 I've been watching "First Reaction" videos on Youtube, mostly about the Beatles.

These can be fun, but they are also really frustrating. There's a contradiction at the heart of these videos. 

1.) The listener has never heard the Beatles songs.

2.) How smart or discriminating can a person be who has never heard the Beatles songs?

So these listeners tend to be either minorities or young, usually both. Either that or they are hiding their knowledge of the Beatles.

So the more ignorant they seem, the more genuine they seem, but also the most frustrating.

The less ignorant they seem, the less genuine they seem, like, really--you've never heard "Yesterday?"

Because of that, they tend not to bring much context to these songs. They tend to blend them with later music, not understanding that the Beatles were more or less the precursors, even the progenitors of much of what they listen to. I mean, I like seeing their surprise and enjoyment, but it is painful when they don't seem to know a damn thing about the Beatles.

Also--almost 100% of these reactions are positive. Not just positive, but actually celebratory about the Beatles, which makes me slightly suspicious. Because all these "First Reactors" are trying to make money. I suspect that they have learned that people who have money--or perhaps baby boomers--are likely to like Golden Oldies, you know?  

So I usually can only watch these videos until the person either says something incredibly stupid or comes across a little too ingenuous. 

Darn. Because it can be fun to watch people discover music. But I think they probably need to be under the age of 12.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Explosion of new businesses?

Jeff R. below was asking what I thought about the following article: 


I don't have any insight except to say, I'm not surprised.

For a generation or more, big business has turned their backs on their employees: shipping their jobs overseas, playing them against each other so they never have to raise wages, pawning off pension and retirement funds in a cynical attempt to dump the whole thing on their employee's shoulders, working their employees harder for less pay, bait and switching job benefits, making them take gig work or part-time so they don't have to pay benefits, asking for loyalty and showing none, and on and on. 

All in service to ever higher CEO pay and stock dividends.

So when these employees didn't come rushing back to take their shitty jobs, big business (and to be fair, small businesses that were also paying minimum wages, overworking their employees, promising high wages for full-time jobs while only offering part-time jobs, and offering zero benefits) acted surprised.

To me, they've compounded their problems by playing a little game of advertising high wages, only to find out when applying that the wages they promised are for "later."

So yeah, what do people have to lose?

Well, a lot, but I'll get into that later. 

Early on in my business career, I read something about how the stress for self-employed people was high, but it was a different kind of stress than the stress that came from working for someone else.  Basically, because the stress was self-imposed and could be managed by their own decisions, the self-employed stress was healthier than the stress of having the same expectations by bosses but no power to change anything. 

We've all been there. 

So I think the time away from their shitty jobs gave a lot of people some perspective. Apparently, many decided to jump into small business.

That's great, right?

Yes, except I don't believe the majority of people are suited for small business. Not because they aren't smart or hardworking or whatever, but because it takes a certain independence that can't be taught. 

The stats quoted in the article, that 20% of businesses fail in the first year, and 50% in the first five years are, if anything, understated. I think it probably leaves out the business that sell out and linger for a few more years. I bet if you stretched that timeline to seven years or so, it would be a whole lot higher.

I have the opposite reaction as the writer of the article about failed businesses. He's willing to entertain the notion that many of the so-called failures weren't failures because they person retired or went on to better things or...whatever.

Whereas I believe that more business fail than are acknowledged. I've yet to hear a small business owner say they closed because they failed. There is always some other reason. But...well, that business is gone...

So I'm of two minds. It's great that they are taking their own fates into their own hands. It's scary because many of them will lose their shirts.

Oh, America. Land of creative destruction.  


I didn't realize it at the time, but I think taking a step back from writing everyday was my way of reorienting. I'd think I may have gotten into a rut, writing had become routine. I don't think it hurt the books, it just changed how I enjoyed the process. 

What this time and space away from writing has given me is a fresh perspective and a chance at a fresh start.

But not yet. 

During my earlier, 25 year break from writing, I was constantly thinking about how to come back. In hindsight, most of what I planned over the years would have been wrong. Most of it would have been overthinking. If I'd come back during that interregnum, I do believe I would have started meandering off in the wrong direction.

Most of these plans were predicated on the old model of publishing: getting an agent, sending books one at a time to publishers, waiting years for actual publication. It was a much slower process, one that really didn't allow for more than one book a year. 

Once my eyes were opened to the new world of publishing, all those previous plans went out the window. I realized I could write as much as I wanted, whatever I wanted. That freed me to let my creative energy flow.

I was amazed how fast those stories emerged. Once I allowed myself to write every idea I came up with, without self-censorship, the ideas came, or so it felt at the time, in an orderly manner. "THIS" is what I should work on next. THIS" is what I'll do after that."

I only had two rules, after all those years of thinking.

A.) Don't rewrite until the first draft is done.

B.) Always finish the book.

There were some missteps and mistakes along the way, but that was also OK. I allowed myself NOT to publish anything that I didn't feel was up to standards. There was always more where that came from.

In a way, that became the problem. There was always more where that came from--and it would all be of similar quality. It would also probably have about the same impact. That is, I was proud of what I wrote while at the same time acknowledging that none of it was really catching on the way I hoped.

What to do?

Well, I identified a few things even before I took a break.

1.) I need a strong premise, one that is both fun to write but also commercially viable (at least to the extent that can be ascertained.) I was writing everything I wanted, but I knew even before I started some of these books that the premise wasn't something that was probably going to be popular. I told myself not to second-guess myself--that, as the screenwriter William Goldman said, "Nobody knows anything." But it is also true that some ideas are better than others.

2.) I need to research more in advance. I need to have a strong outline of a plot.

3.) I need to give myself more time to write the actual book, though this was the part of the process that needs the least change. I believe once you start a story, it's important to stay there until you finish.

4.) I need to sit on the book awhile after I finish, come back to it with fresh eyes, and then give it a vigorous rewrite. This is something I was trying to do already, but there is always the problem of finding the right balance improving the writing and overdoing it. Once I step over the line, the book becomes a stranger to me: a word-jumble. So rewriting needs to be one very disciplined attempt. 

Work, in other words. 

Aye, there's the rub. I write for fun, not work. I don't write for fame or money, I write because I enjoy it. I'm telling myself a story, and I'm intrigued where it's going. I'm meeting new people, getting into their heads. I'm surprising myself with a felicitous phrase, a snappy line of dialogue, a plot twist that comes out of nowhere.

Work is seeing the mechanics of it all. 

Don't get me wrong. I forced myself to do the rewrites necessary to make the books better. I tried to find that balance between improving and messing it up. 

But I will also admit that I never let it become too much work. And, when I come back to writing, I'm going to have to decide just how much more rewriting I'm willing--or should--do. 

So I'm still sorting this out, but I'm beginning to see how it really will be refreshing to start from scratch again, with a new set of perimeters, and see how it all turns out. 

Friday, October 8, 2021

I predicted a train wreck. If only I wasn't in the train.

Last week wasn't probably the best time to take a vacation, but then again, when you own a business, there probably isn't a good time. It's always going to be inconvenient to some extent.

Anyway, last week was the first week of Penguin Random House shipping Marvel comics. Based on my book orders I was predicting that it would probably not be good. I also had a sense that they were telling us comic retailers what we wanted to hear and then doing things the PRH way anyways. 

Looks like I couldn't have been more spot on.

One more sidenote before I get into it. 

I've always thought that Diamond did a relatively good job of packing comics, all things considered. Maybe because I carry multiple product lines I've always been aware that damages and shortages happen with all distributors. Diamond had (has) a particularly difficult job with comics, which are not only thin, flimsy things, easily damaged, but also have customers who are especially picky about condition. 

The fact that Diamond could have a person who would pick out a single comic and invoice and pack it, to me, was always impressive. They were (are) very good about replacing damages and shortages. They basically take our word for it. 

I keep using the present and past participles for Diamond because, while they still send us most publishers comics, the two largest publishers, Marvel and DC, have gone to new distributors. Marvel and DC represent something like 80% of all comic sales. So you can see how this puts a dent in Diamond. So much so that I worry about them and all the other product I get from them. 

Nevertheless, I can only get DC from one distributor, and while I could continue to get Marvel from Diamond, I would lose a little over 10% in shipping and wholesale savings as well as going from one week payment schedule to 60 days. (While 60 days is harder to keep track of, it does give us a nice safety margin. Though also debt rope to hang myself if not careful.)

Anyway, I predicted a number of problems from PRH. (Especially since the demonization of Diamond made expectations from PRH unrealistically utopian.)

1.) Shipping. Sure enough, the comics came in single flimsy cardboard boxes. Some accounts lost huge percentages of their comics to damage. We got lucky--this week. But the shipping boxes are definitely not going to work and I'm wondering how PRH is going to fix it. I'm holding my breath for next week.

2.) Shortages and Damages. Instead of just taking the retailers' word for it, PRH wants a picture of each damage. Also PRH pretty much said, "Suck it up, sucker" by saying that dings on the corners of comics should be acceptable. Methinks they don't understand the comic collectors! Also, the damages were so extensive that there is no way most replacements are going to be available. 

3.) Accounting. Instead of having one simple invoice with the information we retailers need, they have confusing set of invoices and shipping pages and all manner of other ordering information split into multiple locations and with information that isn't helpful to us retailers. In other words, a dense thicket of info that we have to try to consolidate ourselves.

Anyway, it's a mess. Just one more mess.

So comic retailers are making all kinds of threatening noises--as if they have the power to do anything about it. 

I'm actually wondering if this is worth it to PRH. We are a relatively small industry with relatively high barriers to entry. We have an unruly group of retailers who complain about everything. I wonder if PRH will someday soon say, "To hell with it."

If they don't drop comics completely, I wonder if they'll just make it easier on themselves--for instance, requiring minimum orders of each item.

Finally, I predict that there are retailers out there that were getting less then 50% discounts before PRH gave it to them, who were buying COD or with limited terms from Diamond, who will go hog wild crazy on their ordering. You can build up a lot of debt in 9 weeks of ordering comics without having to pay. This seems to me like a forgone conclusion because--with most comic retailers--you are dealing with wheeler-dealer types who don't always think about the consequences of their ordering gambles. 

I'm actually looking at going back to Diamond. Turns out, my discount from them is 3 percentage points better than they originally offered, plus I have a feeling that my discounts from the other publishers are going to be re-estimated and will probably be based on overall orders. 

It's something to look at. 

Meanwhile, I feel pretty smug in my predictions of a train wreck. If only I wasn't in the train. 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Can't pick the seats until I know where the stage is.

Had a dream last night where I went to a concert. I wasn't sure where the stage was, and I wasn't sure how good the seats were. Linda had a slightly better seat in another part of the auditorium, but I asked the woman next to me if she would move to Linda's seat and let Linda have hers. She agreed. 

(Mmmmm....didn't ask Linda. Wither I go, goest she?)

Then the performer came out. Could see the top of his head. Jackson Browne? He urged everyone to fill the empty seat near the stage, so there was a mass movement.

Then the whole room changed and the stage was in a completely different direction. So again, Linda and I need to move, but she refuses. Somehow, without going anywhere, I'm in my seat alone again. 

The woman next to me says, "I understand you've never been to "so-and-sos" concert before." 

"I have his most famous album," I say, trying to remember the title. 

Then the stage shifts again, and I find I have the worst seat in the house.  Sideways with a pillar in front of me. 

I'm totally confused.

So, waking up, this is a pretty easy dream to diffuse, I think. 

I have agency in what seats I take, but not in what they face. That is, without knowing where the stage is, it is impossible to know where to sit. 

That's kinda my life right now. I'm not sure where to focus right now because I'm not sure where I sit. 

At least, that's what it feels like. I can't really make any major decisions because by the time the decisions take effect, the whole environment could change. So I need to be flexible and let it all sort itself out.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

One of the hardest things to resist saying is: "I told you so."

Guy came in the store yesterday while I was in back and said, "Where's the old guy?"

"Old guy!" I shout. "Who you calling an old guy!"

He was thoroughly embarrassed. Thing is, other than a few aches and pains and some forgetting of names and looking in the mirror, I don't feel like an old guy. But hey, I do have 40 years experience in the comic retailer trade.

Anyway, this is a long route to the main point of this post.

Penguin Random House's first week of distributing comics is next week, and it's looking like a disaster in the making. Apparently, they are shipping in thin cardboard boxes the size of the comics without any buffering. So, of course, most of the comics inside are being damaged. 

If true, this is even worse than I thought,  but I've always had my doubts that PRH was going to understand what needed to be done with comics. I experienced the Heroes World disaster, the small distributor that Marvel bought in the mid 90s to distribute their comics. It was a complete and utter fiasco. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong.

Turns out, distributing isn't as easy as it looks. 

A little history since then. We've been getting our comics from a single distributor, Diamond Comics, for the last 25 years or so. Diamond literally stepped into the wreckage left behind by Heroes World to prop up shaky retailers (including myself) and in my estimation has done an overall good job. I worried at first that they were a monopoly, but I think they handled it well.

But for most of the last 20 years, a lot of comic retailers have complained bitterly about Diamond for every little mistake. Shipping problems, publisher problems, and even retailer problems have all been blamed on Diamond. Worse, I do believe that many retailers have used Diamond as their whipping boy for their own mistakes. I winced every time a retailer would blame a shortage on Diamond when it was their own fault and I've made sure we never did that.

Believe me, Diamond hasn't been perfect, but in most ways they've tried to be responsive to some very malcontent retailers. In that same time, most publishers have shut out the retailers for their constant complaints.

There is one really legit complaint about Diamond and that is that they charge for shipping. PRH doesn't charge for shipping, but on the other hand, we've lost enough off our discount to completely wipe out any possible savings. 

OK. So many comic retailers are just older fanboys. But Diamond has always been willing to immediately replace damaged comics, or shortages, and usually they simply take our word for it. Sometimes the comics aren't available, but such is life. 

Frankly, I have been amazed that there was a system in place that allowed retailers to order a single unit of a single title that was worth probably no more than a dollar to the distributor. That instead of the 200 books a week I get from PRH, Diamond is shipping a couple thousand items that are flimsy and easily damaged. 

But over the years, comic retailers seemed to have become more and more aggrieved, constantly complaining. Publishers are always looking for someone to blame for falling sales and--since they can't really do anything about the comic retailer base (believe me, they've tried, putting comics in every conceivable big box store only to fail)--they blame the distributor. 

In my opinion, when there have been falling sales, it is strictly the publishers own fault. Constant #1s, constant mini-series, one-shots, and crossovers. Constant starting over. Constant raising of prices. Ever growing numbers of variant covers, many not available or affordable to the average customer--or average retailer, for that matter.   

Worse, this constant complaining by the retailers has trickled down to the average customer who blame Diamond for everything. 

So the inevitable happened. First DC decided to go to a different distributor, Lunar Dist. Never mind that the owners of this company are also our biggest mail-order competitors, this change has added to the amount of work and shipping costs as well as making it harder to order DC graphic novels and toys. They did seem to do a better job of shipping, at least at first. But of course, the actual labor of putting comics in boxes is part of the process, and no matter how protected, UPS and Fed Express can still manage to do significant damage. 

Worse, Lunar actually wants photographic proof of damages. Gone are the days when you simply reported to Diamond and they accepted your word.

Then Marvel decided to go with Penguin Random House, the biggest book publisher in America.

I've been ordering books from PRH for over a year now. I rarely get a shipment where there isn't at least one damage--and this is books, which can withstand much more jostling around. It's very hard to get a hold of an actual human when you have a problem. Biggest problem of all--what is supposed to take two days to ship actually often takes two weeks. (I'm hoping that is a Covid problem and will clear up eventually.)

But what a time to take on such a big task! As I said above, my average shipment from PRH for books is 200 units. My average shipment from Diamond is in the thousands. Each of those items have to be picked and packed and itemized. This at a time when PRH is already apparently shortstaffed. 


The ordering system for PRH has been very wonky. Not consolidated, slow, and confusing. OK. I was willing to see that as growing pains. PRH seemed to be listening to the retailers, but I have a feeling they were just nodding their heads and meanwhile planning to do what they were going to do. 

Ironically, I believe it at least as likely that PRH will give up on comics before comic retailers give up on PRH. I can't believe it is worth their time and money and, boy, how they are going to love dealing with malcontent comic retailers. 

We are a different breed of cat than book retailers. 

I have diversified to such an extent that such problems aren't dangerous to my business, just annoying. I really should take a wait and see attitude before I say, "I told you so."

But it's not looking good so far.

Friday, September 24, 2021

I keep dreaming at night of expanding the store. Not sure if these are meant to be nightmares or not. Heh.

Thing is, things are going well enough that a younger and more foolish replicant of me could easily fall into that trap.

What it means is, I'm fully involved in the store. At the same time, the transition out of the store is in the works. I'm realizing that I need to prepare for that day, both so that the store survives without me and for my own state of mind when I don't have the store to think about all the time. 

I was reproducing stats for Sabrina to use and I realized how much less revenue we were producing just three or four years ago. It's really quite astounding how new books have elevated things--just as a new wave of customers are coming in the store. 

I was able to use some of that new revenue to resuscitate toys and card games, both of which are doing much better. We're holding our own on games, despite the dramatic increase in competition and complexity. 

Comics are having one of their periodic upheavals, but we're OK. Graphic novels are humming along at higher levels. 

So all in all, the store is in the best shape it's ever been and I'm slowly but surely increasing the quality of the product. 

What I'm saying is--I'm as involved and interested as I've ever been--at the same time I know I need to prepare to let it go. 


Sunday, September 12, 2021

Give me some of that old-timey twang.

I discovered long ago that I can play just about every kind of music at my store. I've even played Opera music without people raising their eyebrows. The one kind of music I can't play without complaints is Country-Western.

I've always like some country-western music, but I always thought I kinda hated the "Nashville Sound" of the 60's and 70's: the "twang" singers. I liked Charlie Rich back in the day; the closest I got to that kind of music, and always loved Country-rock and Bluegass, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. T-Bone Burnett, Don Williams, Mark Chesnutt, Dixie Chicks, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Alison Krauss, and (especially) Dwight Yoakam.

Johnny Cash is pretty hard to ignore.

But singers like George Jones and (dear god) Tammy Wynette?

Turns out, I love them. I've been listening to the podcast "Cocaine and Rhinestones," which this season revolves around George Jones, and I can't get enough of that music. Damn, I just didn't know.

I mean, I'm familiar with a lot of it. Apparently I heard more of it as a kid than I thought I did. A lot of it crossed over into pop territory, or at least versions of it did. And some of the songs are undeniable masterpieces, standards that fit in with the best of American music. 

I've always had a soft spot for country-western, but falling in love with the most twangy music out there is somewhat unexpected.

I have to wonder if it's a function of age. Certainly, I have no fondness for the current "bro-western" I hear. The further back I go, the more I like it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Meet the neighbors.

Went to a block barbecue yesterday--well, I missed the barbecue because of work, but came in at the tail end to meet the new neighbors. We're all pretty new to the cul de sac, really. Linda and I have been here for 3 years, 5 of our neighbors are newer than that, with about 3 old timers and 1 renter. The block is now completely built in. 

The new house across the street apparently has been sold for an outrageous amount of money! Yea? If I divide the square footage, it would indicate our house is worth 40% more! Of course, that is all good and well, but if we sold we'd have to find another house for about the same price, right? Heh. As I say to Linda, "It just means the kids will be able to put us in a nicer nursing home when the time comes."

Anyway, all but two of the newer folk showed up, (one seems to be out of town, the other has been a bit standoffish since they moved in). One of the old-timers hosted the event: you know, the guy everyone gets to know because he's so friendly, and two of the old-timers ignored it. Which is consistent with how they've been since we moved in.

I swore that this time I would get to know my neighbors. We don't plan on moving anywhere.

There was a time when I would have avoided the event, but I've come around. I'm finally socialized, I guess. It took a long time--lots of exposure to people at the store, Linda's calm demeanor, and a little help from "mother's little helper" here and there. It was pleasant, and I do like to know who my neighbors are.

Of course, I forget everyone's name if more than a few days pass, so I've asked Linda to write down everyone's name, including pets, so I can study it. Weird, I know. I'm very much a recluse, but I'm trying.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Covid supply chain problems.

I have a saying, "If you have to explain something in more than one sentence, you've lost."

That said, I continue to try to explain to all the manga buyers about the supply chain problems, if only to make myself feel better.

"There are supply chain problems with manga, and it's mostly on the other end of the chain. It's very hard to get. It isn't available from anyone..."

"I just saw a stack of #1 "Chainsaw Man" at Barnes and Noble."

You're a liar, I think. "Go back and see if they are still there. They sell for $30 dollars on Ebay right now."

Kid shrugs, "I've already got #8."

"Uh, did you buy it online? Because I can sell unicorns online." 

Blank look. No one every seems to get what I'm getting to. If I offer them a unicorn online, they for some reason will believe it. Offer it in my store and they're going to say, "Can I see it?"

I turn my back on the kid. But he follows me and shows me his phone, "See? I'm getting it in December."

Long slow burn of a look. "I'm not talking about 5 months from now! I'm talking about now."

Here's the thing I've learned over the years. If you tell someone they can't get something, they don't just see this as advice, of trying to save them from multiple trips to multiple store on a fool's errand. They see it as a challenge. And almost inevitably they'll pull the exception out of their hat.

You can also draw a straight flush out of deal, it happens, but it's not something you bet on in advance. 

Still, they for some reasons seem to think I'm trying to keep them from getting what they want--from elsewhere. (Honestly,  could care less if they get it from elsewhere. More power to them. I'm just trying to warn them that the odds aren't good.)

Oh, well. It's their time and gas money. I really don't like my integrity and honesty challenged, and I really hate to have people think I'm inefficient or, worse, incompetent. I literally check the wholesalers every single day, which I suspect most store don't. 

Anyway, this is just a roundabout way of saying there are probably going to be more and more shortages in the long tail of distribution. I mean, it could clear up, but I suspect it's only beginning. There is a long lead time on these things.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

The supply chain handicap.

One thing I think people underestimate is how much small business's are handicapped by the supply chain. 

It isn't so much that we can't sell the same product for the same or lower prices, as that often we aren't really allowed to sell the same product at all. That is, the hottest product is often not available to us when we need it. 

There are the obvious volume discounts that the big stores get. There are the exclusives they are given. But most harmful is the priority the big stores get in shipping. Either they get it first--sometimes weeks to months before we do. Or they get it when it isn't even available to us. 

I don't think the big boys are more efficient than we are--in fact, I'd make the case that we are tons more efficient than they are. We have to be--plus, we're small enough to pay attention to every detail. The big boys don't need that--they just let their overwhelming size and numbers do the work.

A small example. There was a glowing article on an online news site about a boardgame that is "changing" the world of gaming: Wingspan.

Here's the thing. We've never been able to get that game. Not once. We try every week. 

So here's a game that is so important, according to this article, that is is changing the entire environment of gaming--and we can't get it. 

This is the normal course of events. There were a couple of recent Christmas's where Target and Walmart had completely bought out the complete run of a game. 

Forget trying to get toys if there is shortage. We either never get them or don't get them until the season is long over. Another example is how numbers work in the big boys favor is that when they get cases of toys. In every case, there are the hot toys and the cold toys. Obviously, the hot ones sell first--just like what happens to us. But in their case, they get a rebate for the unsold toys. We get a full wall of unsaleable toys. We aren't stupid--we'd order Boba Fett and Darth Vader and the other hot characters if we could, instead of a bunch of background robots no one wants, but they only put a few of those in every case. 

Another example are graphic novels when a movie is made. To be clear, Sin City sold only in comic shops for year and years. To the extent that anyone even knew what Sin City was, it was because of us. When the movie came out, not a single copy was available the the comic stores for the entire season. 

So the next time you go into a small store and they don't have what you want, please remember it isn't because we're stupid or inefficient, it's because the system is designed to serve the big boys first. 

We are an afterthought. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

Bestsellers are preordained.

I've been actively ordering new bestsellers weekly for about a year now. Most of them sell at least once, some sell many times. The trick is to know when to back off. 

But one thing has become completely clear to me during the process: bestsellers are preordained. 

They are selected in advance by The Powers That Be, and then propagated by lists from organizations like the American Booksellers Association, the book buyers from the big chains, and the recommendations from the media, especially NPR and the N.Y. Times. 

This bestseller status is cemented by how many copies are actually available to buy: even on the advance lists, some books are bulked up and others are pretty skimpy. This becomes even more transparent as the sales results come in. If a book doesn't take off right away, the quantities available shrink also. 

I suppose there are some out-of-left-field winners, but I haven't seen any so far. I believe even such outliers as "The Martian" become preordained as soon as they gain a little ground; that is, the Big Boys pick them up and add them to the "preordained" list. 

How do you become a bestselling author? By paying your dues or having an interesting background story or having credentials that make you part of the "club." The intellectual elite, if you will. I assume that powerful agents and editors are really the ones who decide. As I say, Preordained

I'm not saying this as sour grapes. It's frankly hard to see how it could work any other way. Back in the days when the market depended on small independent bookstores, I believe there was a wider range of "midlist" books that sold well enough to pay off the advance and give the writer a possible career.

But midlist books are vanishing. The bets are on bestsellers each week, which pay for everything else. There is probably much less independent ordering of books nowadays.

I'm influenced as much as anyone else, though I do tend to take a slightly more wait and see attitude to bestsellers. If a book is an obvious bestseller, it will still sell after it becomes obvious--sometimes for a full year or more.

I also tend to order a lot more "backlist" books than most bookstores. I think this because I created my bookstore out of backlist books from the beginning (books that have a solid history of interest) and only later added the gamble of new bestsellers.

Because that's what it is: a weekly gamble, no matter how preordained the books are by The Powers That Be. Not all bestsellers actually become bestsellers, though they have a much higher chance of being so once selected for that spot. I believe that most bookstores on are this rollercoaster, depending on those new bestsellers to raise enough cash to buy the next way of bestsellers.

I mean, this is somewhat obvious, but the full extent of it is a bit of a surprise to me. 

And so it goes.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

"Ready Player Two" is a silly book.

"Ready Player Two" is a supremely silly book. 

I advance that opinion with some hesitation because "silly" is what people said to me about my interests growing up. I think there is a whole range of quality and depth in pop culture.

But there does seem to be some distance between me and other people involved in the pop culture trade. For instance, I decided early on that I wouldn't surround myself with the trappings of pop culture at home when I was inundated with it all day at the store. From my observation, this isn't true of most writers or book, game, or comic store owners. They seem to surround themselves with pop culture wherever they are. 

I was talking to Sabrina yesterday about this and told her that I have always been somewhat "middle-brow." My taste seem to be solidly in the middle between high-brow and low-brow material and I venture into both realms at random. 

I wouldn't say I matured past fantasy--what happened to me was the I realized that I'd fully absorbed most of the tropes and memes of the genre and it was becoming too damn predictable. So I started reading mysteries and thrillers more often, with the occasional "literary" or non-fiction book thrown in.

I also realized that so much of pop culture is "nerd triumphant," which is wish fulfillment, and if you buy into that too much, it is pretty silly. 

At the same time, I've become somewhat allergic to literary tropes. Slow-moving character studies about abuse or drugs or alcoholism or careerism or the holocaust or any number of social problems. Pedestrian writing, lots of telling and introspection, and a seeming allergy to action or movement. Yes, I suppose that makes you a "serious" book when you deal with those subjects, but it doesn't necessarily make you a good writer. 

"Ready Player One" was a nice breezy book and I didn't think about it too much as I was reading it. "Ready Player Two" ups the ante on all the dubious aspects of nerdism and made me squirm a little. I pushed through to the end feeling like it wasn't the triumph the writer seemed to think it was, but a little scary. It made me think if nerds really did run the world, we'd be in big trouble.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

FCBD and masks.

I have no idea what to expect today. We cancelled Free Comic Book Day, but there are probably going to be dozens of customers who didn't get the word. We always have a big turnout even though we don't advertise the event.

I'll need to keep my patience--that plus the mask requirement will probably be a challenge. I'm going to the store to be moral support for Sabrina. I'll wander around straightening and helping wherever I can and given her a full hour off for lunch. If it looks manageable later in the afternoon, I may go home.

Meanwhile, I'm at my lowest weight in a long time--178. Usually, even though I say I'm at 180, the truth is I waver between 180 and 183. Now I'm wavering between 178 and 181. Thing is, I haven't been dieting. I haven't been doing anything different except cutting out sugar. I'm also drinking water instead of calorie free lemonade because the doctor said the body can be fooled into thinking its getting sugar when it gets sweets. 

My last bloodtests said I was borderline A1C, so I quit sugars the day I got that report. The doctor just gave me a strange look and said, "How did you do that?"

 I shrugged and said, "I was only eating sugary stuff because I thought I was immune. If I'm not, I'm not that addicted to it. Now if it was potato chips...."

Anyway, this seems like real weight loss so I'm going to try to build on it and maybe finally get down to the 173 or so that I need to open a whole wardrobe of winter clothing.


I've decided that I'm going to continue writing, but I want a good solid premise before I start the next book. One that I know will be good.

It's funny--I've cut way back on writing for the last couple of years but there was enough in the pipeline that it's all still coming out. I have a new novel coming Sept. 13. I have two short stories included in anthologies. "The Dead Spend No Gold" has just been released in Audible. 

And my ghostwritten book is coming out in a couple of weeks and will probably spend a little time in the Top Ten bestseller list for mass market paperbacks. (But I won't be able to brag about it, except in such general terms that it's meaningless.) I don't know how much they changed the story--but I do know they changed it in ways I won't like. Therefore, I won't read it. I'm going to need to ignore it.  

I'll report on FCBD later...

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

It seems like I spend half my time breaking down boxes, which is onerous until I remember that each of those empty boxes were once filled with books that we've sold. The only thing keeping us from selling even more books is the lack of space. 

Today I added a small endcap fixture, which didn't prove to be as useful as I'd hoped because almost none of the young adult books I hoped to fill it with would fit. (The fixture had been designed for paperbacks, and almost all YA digest are like a centimeter too tall. Arrggh.)


I have to go back tomorrow to finish stocking the books. It seems like I have more or less a four day work week most weeks now. 


The store really, really needs a vacuuming. What's weird is that I'm totally willing to go in and work 4 hours, but going in to spend 1 hour on vacuuming when the store isn't open seems terribly imposing. What's the difference? I have no idea. The hour after work seems extra, but really isn't. All I have to do is go in an hour later in the day. 


Had a guy in who works for an online comic site and he said, "I visit comic shops all over America and this is the best comic shop I've ever seen." 

Thing is, we get this quite a lot. But no one locally seems to know how unusual my shop is. I know my shop is unique in it's approach and presentation, so that really attracts some people. Other people are "eh...where are the back issues?" Or "eh, why don't you have"...some kind of nerdy thing. 

But if you are a pop culture kind of person, I do think Pegasus has a lot to offer. I'm proud of it, at least.

We are still on goal for earnings this summer. It's starting to cool off a little, but that is all relative--it's still sales I would have killed for a decade ago. But it's all relative to how much I spend, and I'm spending at the previous high levels which is making things tight. I'm trying to adjust. 


More or less 3 weeks left of summer. Just need to keep focused on getting through them.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Such a problem.

I tried quantifying how much extra work book sales are requiring right now. I think it's roughly about 8 hours of ordering, 8 hours of stocking, and an hour of breaking down and recycling boxes. 

Fortunately, I'm available to do that. Plus I kind of enjoy it. 

I'd already decided that as long as this surge lasts, I'll dedicate the time to it. Books and graphic novels now account for 2/3rds the total sales at Pegasus Books. We've more or less turned into a bookstore with comics, cards, games, and toys available.

Who'd have thunk it?

I finally got my step tracker back on, and it appears that I take about 9K steps per day when I'm working at the store. I remember back five years or so when it was half that much. But we're so busy I never sit down. If nothing else, I need to constantly put the store back into order after the waves of customers pass through. 

I keep thinking I'll vacuum the store from top to bottom, but there is never time--and the minute I turn the vacuum on, the store fills up with customers. 

Such a problem.

Basically, I'll need to dedicate a couple of hours a week to store chores while the door is locked. 

I'm very grateful that this has worked out. When I first came back to work and decided to go all in on books, I expected a slight increase, not this deluge. I never even considered that it would entail a lot more work. 

Oh, well. As I say, such a problem.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Time versus discount.

I just ordered 10 x more books from Ingrams than Penguin Random House, even though my discount is 13 points better with the latter. Usually I order about 2 to 1. 

PRH is taking two and half weeks to deliver, which is crazy. Especially when they are supposed to deliver within the week.

Ingrams delivers in two days. There's only 5 weeks left in the summer! I've lost a good number of sales waiting for that extra 13%, at the busiest time of year.

From now on, I guess, I'll be ordering from PRH when they have it and no one else does, or if don't think there is any urgency, but it's pretty hard to run Just-In-Time bookstore when it takes 16 days to show up! My entire strategy is to carry one copy of most books, sometimes two, very rarely three copies; because I can (or should) be able to get another copy pretty readily. 

PRH could probably care less about a little guy like me, but they're out thousands of dollars this week alone. I can't be the only one. 

It does worry me about how they are going to handle Marvel comics...

We're selling so many books that I have to spend a few hours every other night just ordering them. I have to spend an extra two or three afternoons a week in the store putting them away.

First world problems, I guess.

Finished "150 Glimpses of the Beatles," which was compulsively readable. Binging on Beatles stuff, for some reason. Came away feeling that John Lennon was a more damaged individual than I recognized and Yoko Ono was pretty toxic to the Beatles mix--I'm not saying she is toxic, just that her personality didn't mesh real well. A better appreciation Ringo, pretty much already what I thought of Paul and George.

Started a biography of Charles Fort, who I always assumed was a nutcase, but he turns out to be much more interesting than I expected. 

Linda was gone for four days to church camp. Didn't turn on the TV once. The cat and I were lonely. 

Went through my digital files and found a whole bunch of starts to stories. Some of them are pretty good. Now that I realize that not every idea has to be a book, I may try to finish a few of them off. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

I'm a Winnie the Pooh snob.

I'm a Winnie the Pooh snob. I got it from my mother, who loved Winnie the Pooh with all her heart and very much disapproved of the Disney version(s).

Got a call from a lady asking if we had Winnie the Pooh. 

"Why, yes, we do," I say proudly.  "We have all four of the original volumes in their original format with their original illustrations."

"I'll be right in."

She shows up and I show her the books, which are hardcover at $14.99.

"Um, this isn't what I expected."

"Well, this is the real thing. Not the Disney spinoffs."

"I'll look around," she says, and leaves. 

"Oh, bother," I mutter to myself.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

This roommate of mine,

I'm not sure he really likes me

I might as well not be there,

until he insists.


In the morning,

he looks up blinking,

only stirs when the 

can is opened. 

When he deigns

to know his name

he looks up

then looks away in disdain.


He wants my lap,

so purry and friendly.

An hour later...

"Who the hell are you talking to?"


Scratch me, rub me,

there, there, there!

Enough already!

His claws draw blood. 

He might as well be a statue,

most of the day,

but at night he rips

scrabbling across the floor.

Let me out!

Let me in!

Let me out!

Let me in!


"Hey, Buddy!

I wrote a poem for you!"

he sleeps on,

with a twitch of the tail.

This roommate of mine,

he takes and takes,

and in return I get only





The Publishing and Promoting Complex.

I keep running into well-reviewed and award winning novels that I simply don't like. Worse, some of them are just badly written. 

So have I changed or has the market changed?

A bit of both, I suspect, but that really doesn't explain some of the clunkers which I think I always would have found wanting. 

One thing's for sure--blurbs by famous or favorite authors don't mean a damn thing. The worst book I read recently was adorned with five very well known authors' blurbs.

So much of what people think is great writing is pretentious and belaboring. Give me a straightforward action book any day. 

I was explaining the plots to some of my books to some customers the other day and said, "I started realizing that my books were like 70s disaster movies. A bunch of characters (types, if you will), thrown into the maelstrom of a disaster. And that's exactly what I was looking for."

Not the kind of thing that is going to win awards. 

I have to ignore all this when I make orders for the store. Except for making sure that I carry my favorite books, I'm ordering what the market has decided are the "best" books. The fact that I read the descriptions and think, "Oh, another book about (one of several social problems). Ugh," doesn't matter.

There is a publishing and promoting "complex" that has its own reasons for pushing certain books and I have to go along with it. 

I still probably concentrate on backlist books more than most bookstores, because there a lots of books that have stood the test of time, unlike some of these "bestsellers" which I suspect will be just as ignored as my own books in another ten years time. Heh.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Comics are the most original art form.

 Finally watching "Loki." I prefer to wait until series are over before I watch them. 

What's great about these Marvel TV shows is how experimental and daring they are. Unlike most of the DC shows which seem interminable and tweeny, Marvel is telling self-contained stories that push boundaries. 

In a way, it reminds me of the comic form itself. What I've always believed about comics is that there is more experimental and daring material published there than just about anywhere else. My feeling is that this is a culture that grew while being ignored and belittled, so comic creators had little to lose. This culture still seems to be intact, probably because it has been rewarded with Hollywood success. For a few thousand bucks, a comic series can be created; and if they work, they can be turned into something bigger.

I'm constantly amazed by the choices Hollywood makes. The Preacher, Sweet Tooth, The Boys--none of these looked like material they would want to tackle. But I think the directors and writers and actors see comics as a way to try something new.

Even the big Marvel movies, as formulaic as they are, I think are more willing to try things than most big blockbuster movies--that is, until recently. I think the comic movies have had a beneficial effect on all big budget movies, which are constantly pushing the boundaries. 

I'm done with self-serious "dramas," the same way I'm done with self-serious "literary" books. Life is too short. Contra to everyone else's opinions, I believe these literary books are the stories that have fallen into a rut, retreading the same storylines, subjects. You especially notice it in the titles and cover art which begin to sound and look the same. Any big success is immediately copied until it's dead.  

Young adult books are even worse. It seems no accident to me that YA graphic novels are having such success, because they are more likely to be original, and not some copy of Harry Potter or the Hunger Games. 

Go Comics!

Friday, July 9, 2021

New bookstores are back, baby.

Popularity for Pegasus Books comes and goes... I've come to expect it. There are a lot of elements in a fully functioning store: employees, product, surrounding stores, my attitude. Sometimes the mix is a work in progress and sometimes it just comes together.

But I'll say this: at least a half dozen times a day, and probably much more, we have someone say a variation of "This is a great store!"

I'm betting that Barnes and Noble never gets that. I mean, I suppose people are surprised our store is so good and take B & N for granted, but still...

The excitement over the very existence of a bookstore is something that is gratifying to hear. 

When I first tried to carry new books 30 years ago--as a sideline--the only option was to order through the local distributors. The one in Bend wouldn't give me the time of day. The one in Eugene took me on as an account but was so unreliable, I gave up.

A decade later I tried to get an account with Ingrams. They basically said, "Go away, boy, you bother me." They didn't like the starting numbers of my account and they really didn't like that I was a "comic" store. 

I don't remember how I hooked up with B & T, but they treated me pretty well for a number of years though new books were still a sideline instead of a main focus. I only went back to Ingrams because B & T looked not long for this world, and indeed, they did stop distributing. 

By then, graphic novels were a major force in publishing, so Ingrams took me on. However, they've never changed my discount level no matter how many books I order.

A couple of years ago, I got an account with Penguin/Random House and Scholastic--and their discounts are a full 10 points better, but they are a little slow on the shipping. Pretty soon, PRH is swallowing Simon and Shuster--meaning what used to be the Big Five will become the Big Four--and that will probably account for more than half the books I want.

Anyway, after taking my 8 year break for writing, I came back to the store and decided to focus on New Books for a few years. 

Sure enough, books have really taken off for us. I finally have enough options to order books and keep the store stocked and it's paying off. Instead of trying to attract minuscule percentages of the population who read comics, collect the kind of toys we carry, or who know about European Board Games but aren't already buying somewhere else, I suddenly have access to a much bigger percentage of the population.

What about B & N and Amazon? What about ebooks?

B & N was always a threat because they had more books. But guess who has even more books? Amazon. So if B & N's main attraction was volume, they're being snowed under.

I do believe the "Shop Local" and "Support your Indie Bookstore" campaigns have finally had an effect. The worm has turned. It is now cooler to buy from an Indie than from a big box store.

Downtown Bend has a lot to do with that. Tourists don't come to Bend to buy from Costco--they come to Bend to check out the unique stores downtown, and bookstores are a comfortable niche there. Both Dudleys and Pegasus Books have shifted to new books to accommodate the demand.  

As I often say, most locals don't recognize us as a bookstore, but enough newcomers and tourists have found us--and see our selection--to make the bookstore element work. Because of that mix of customers, I cater to the backlist more than the frontlist more than most bookstores--though that is changing as I get a foothold in the market. Bestsellers at the very least pay for themselves, and the occasional right fit for Pegasus Books can sell a ton of books. 

Amazon is just a fact of life. It doesn't affect my store as much because I'm set up for "impulse" buying by drop-ins. 


Well, the common wisdom when I first started carrying new books was that ebooks would put the indies bookstores out of business. Instead, B & N chasing ebooks probably put another nail in their coffin.

I never bought into that. I have no inclination myself to read ebooks--and I figured I wasn't alone. And indeed, the ebook threat seems to have receded. Ironically, I believe it's used books that are threatened more by ebooks. If all you're looking for is price, than ebooks are even cheaper. 

Dropping used books at my store hasn't hurt us a bit--in fact, turning that space over to graphic novels and new non-fiction books is one of the reasons we finally hit a level of sales that I can keep the machinery turning. 

New bookstores are back, baby. I mean, much of that is because so many people want to own a bookstore--which doesn't necessarily mean that they'll succeed, but there seems to be a constant number of people willing to take the chance.

I don't see that changing. I don't see B & N regaining their prominence--even by trying to mimic (oh, the irony!) of indie bookstores. I don't see ebooks growing any faster than they have. I think even Amazon has more or less hit a ceiling in the sense that they aren't new and they seem to be focused on other things.

People still read, and I firmly believe that they want to find unique titles. That's where Pegasus Books can find a sweet spot.


Saturday, July 3, 2021

Question the common wisdom of the bookstore/coffee shop.

I check the industry website, "Shelf Awareness," every day, and it seems as if there is always one or two new bookstore/coffee and or whatever else is thrown into the mix. But mostly coffee. It is commonly accepted wisdom. It is rare anymore that anyone just opens a "bookstore." 

Much like my opinion on street closures (that the common wisdom that it helps downtown businesses is wrong but too strong a bias to overcome), I believe that having a coffee shop and a bookstore is the worst of both worlds.

In most cases. (I guess I have to point out that I am generalizing and there are of course many exceptions.) 

Simply put, I think the more books you have, the more you sell. Anything that takes space away from displaying and stocking of new books is probably a negative. 

Coffee shops are a double whammy. You have to have space for the catering side, as well as seating for the consumers. You probably have to have an employee whose sole job is to serve the customers...and perhaps ring up sales. But it probably means your employee isn't out on the floor talking books as much. It's a time and space and money suck. 

Again, I would get push back from almost everyone who actually does this. But I always wonder--yes, you've made it work, but maybe you'd be doing even better if you were just doing books?

Side products, by the way, I have no problem with. Obviously, if you've ever been in my store. I sell toys and games and card games and collector cards and comics. This is simple diversification of a retail store.

A coffee shop or restaurant is a completely different kettle of fish.

I venture my opinion on downtown businesses fairly often--probably too much--but I always opt out of offering an opinion on restaurants because their business models is completely different than selling dry goods. 

Nothing I say will change this dynamic. I've made my choice and I'm happy with the results. I guess I would only point out that maybe, just maybe, the bookstore/coffee shop isn't always the best solution to things.

I guess all I'm saying is--question the common wisdom and don't complicate things.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Working full-time at the store for four days. Did I once do this as a normal routine? Either I've gotten a lot older or it's gotten a lot busier. Well, both, actually.

I go to work thinking I'll try not to engage in too many conversations, but people pretty much drag me in and it's rude not to respond.

"People are hungry for conversation," Linda says.

"They're even more hungry for Nerd conversation!" I answer. "They've been trapped with their normal family members for a year!"

Monday, June 28, 2021

Supposed to be 108 in Redmond today. I'm not sure I've ever experienced that high a temperature before. I'll be in Bend where it is supposed to be about 106.

The parking garage was almost empty yesterday. There were still shoppers, but less than normal. I expect everyone is staying home or heading for the lakes and rivers. 

We (humanity) have really fucked ourselves.

NY Times listed 98 people dying of Covid yesterday, first time I've seen it under 100 in a long time. 

I'm working at the store for 4 days while Sabrina is on vacation. (Lucky lady, she's at the coast!)

Meanwhile, my two sisters, Bets and Sue, are coming to visit, and I have 3 doctor and dentist appointments scheduled in this time span.

But after that I'm free to be baked.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021


 Got into an argument with a comic speculator, the second time this week.

It's been 20 years since I've had to deal with speculators. I need to learn my old ways of dealing with them. Put on the "blank face," nod, ignore negative comments. Best of all, go work in a different part of the store. 

I was kind of told not to use PTSD as an excuse, but my reaction to these things is very strong, way stronger than it should or needs to be. About a very limited subject. But the emotional turmoil it causes is real.

I never really learned to let it go--it was more that the speculators more or less disappeared for a couple of decades, and the occasional clueless person who still thought it was 1995 was easy to ignore.

Now they're back, in force. In most ways I don't have to interact with them. I really questioned whether it was wise to do Pokemon, but I figured I could handle it and for the most part I have. I don't have traumatic response to Pokemon because I didn't have it the first time around. So I'm better at it.

But the comic mania happened at the tail-end of the sports card fiasco. It's sports cards that I really react to, and I've avoided having anything to do with them this time. But comics followed closely on the heals of sports cards and had many of the same characteristics--the biggest difference was that when the bubble burst, there was still a core of comic readers.

It was the comic readers who I then rebuilt my business on. I discouraged speculation every chance I got. 

Now I'm getting pushback for my discouragement.

Time to shut my mouth, step back, and give as short of answers as I can.

Thursday, June 17, 2021


Sent the following to the city councilors.


"I hope there is still some time to present the other side of the story when it comes to the Minnesota St. Pedestrian Mall.

It with some alarm that I see how the opposition to the pedestrian mall is being portrayed by the supporters: a sad shake of the head and the claim that only a few businesses on Minnesota St. are opposed. By now, this has become a complete misrepresentation of the truth.

From my discussions, the following businesses are opposed.

Dudley's Bookshop Cafe.

Pegasus Books.

The Paper Jazz.

The Wool Town.


The Feather's Edge. 

Joel Gisler's wife's shop. (I'm sorry--I'm not sure of the name.)

Pave is neutral, from what I can ascertain. 

Which means that on the southern side of the street,  3 businesses are in favor or neutral: 7 are opposed. I not sure how this translate into a few dissenters. 

On the other side of the street, Jeff Murray's Photography is opposed, for sure. There may be others who I haven't talked to yet.

Two of the four building owners, Chris Frick and Joel Gisler are opposed.

Businesses included as Minnesota St. supporters include Oxford and Brickhouse, who will not be directly affected by the street closure. The main supporters appear to be restaurants: 900 Wall, The Good Drop, and Bos Taurus. 

The idea of a "stage" built in front of my store is alarming. During festivals when this has happened it has completely blocked entrance to my store. I literally have to ask people to move aside so that customers can enter. 

Please look very closely at this with open eyes--it's hard to argue against the city planners and an organization that is supposed to represent my interests, but I feel I must say something."

Duncan McGeary

Pegasus Books. 

City knows best...

"Good morning, sir, we've come to tear up your sidewalk."
"But why?"
"Because we have in mind a much better sidewalk. Much nicer."
"But it's a perfectly serviceable sidewalk!"
"Yes, but other towns have much better sidewalks. Don't be negative, sir. Maybe you'll love it."
"I guess I can give it a walk."
"Oh, no. It's much too nice to be walked on. We plan on having booths and such, things people like."
"But how will I get into my house?"
"Come now, sir. Isn't the public so much more important? We'll have parties every weekend. You can join if you want."
"But I want peace and quiet on my weekends. People come to my house with work all week."
"Oh, we can't have that, sir. Sidewalks are meant to be enjoyed. Having people come and go would just be a hindrance."
"But it's how I make my living!"
"Can't be helped, sir. Now if you'll just use the back alley from now on and stay out of the way, we'll improve your life so much!"
"But my house!"
"Don't be selfish, sir. Besides, we'll probably want to demolish it. We're thinking of a much nicer house--one without any people in it."
"That's it, sir. So glad that you agree with us. Now, you'll have to do without a sidewalk for awhile while we build a new one. But once it's done, it will be beautiful. I'm sure you'll have many visitors lounging in our beautiful tables and chairs. So if you'll keep down the noise, we'd appreciate it. Goodbye now! We're so glad you agree with us!"