Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Ordering new books; midlist or not?

A ton of midlist books offered this week. 

Basically, I order any book that the wholesaler has inventoried above a certain number. It's a pretty high number. Usually I'll order about 4 or 5 of these books per week. That's all the "bestsellers" per week I can handle. Remember, I constantly reorder books that have sold, (the backlist) which so far has seemed a safer bet.

Of course, I order any book I am interested in and think I can sell, no matter how many copies the wholesaler has...

Anyway, below the sure-to-buy number are books that are, well, semi-popular. (When I use these terms, it refers to what the book industry itself considers hot, which is somewhat predictive--but not totally.)

I sometimes pick a couple of these as well.

This week, there was an extraordinary number of these midlist books. So either it's the time of year to release those, or my wholesaler is bulking up inventory for the summer. 

Each year I order new books, I'm learning something new. 

In another 20 years, I should have this figured out. About the time I'm 90 years old.

Are mass market paperbacks disappearing?

Someone mentioned in passing that mass market paperbacks were declining.

I realized that, while I hadn't consciously noted that fact, I had been kind of aware of it. Once it was said out loud, it seemed suddenly obvious.

For definition purposes: Mass market are the small paperbacks, the kind that sell in spin racks at the grocery/drug stores. Or rather, once upon a time sold in spin racks at the grocery/drug stores. 

I grew up on these. During my first year at U of O, I'd go to the nearby Safeway and buy a SF paperback almost every week. Most of the SF, Fantasy, and Mystery books I read probably came in the form of mass market paperbacks. 

But it was very noticeable when Linda and I owned a used bookstore, (The Bookmark), that most mainstream or literary novels came either as hardback or trade paperbacks. (Trade paperback is the term used for larger paperbacks.) We still got genre books as mass market, but it seemed harder and harder to get the good ones. 

Perhaps one of the reasons the good ones were hard to find was because they simply weren't being produced. The spin racks have all but disappeared in the drug stores and grocery stores where they used to be found. Walmart and Target and such have sections, but the selection seems very limited.

The reason I hadn't completely realized it was happening at Pegasus Books was because I had already transitioned to trade paperbacks whenever possible, with hardbacks and mass market coming secondarily. The reason for this was that I had limited space to display books. Since trade paperbacks take up the same amount of rack space spine out as mass market books, I went with the more upscale books.

But I also did this because I could most often find the titles I wanted in the larger format. 

It's curious and I wonder what the future entails.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Ongoing list of hard-to-get titles.

Another really great one: "Behold the Man," Michael Moorcock; also great, "The War Hound and the World's Pain."

Should add, "The Languages of Pao," by Jack Vance. Not to mention, most of his other great books. (Note: upon further search, I can find them, but with a minimal wholesale discount...)

Another author almost impossible to find at wholesale prices (not used, though those books can be hard to find too): Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Most of the Tarzan books past the first three (26), all the Pellucidar books (7), all the Venus books (5), and most of the Mars books, again past the first three (11). I've heard no explanation except that the Burroughs estate is difficult to deal with because of trademarks (?) (not copyrights) and no one wants to deal with them.

Anyone know the story there?

And then there is the most in demand impossible to get in the format everyone wants: Elfquest. The ones that came out in the 80s, that you could find in Waldenbooks. Yes, you can get Elfquest in three or four different sizes, but not the right sizes. You can get recent color stories, but not the ones people remember. You can get the ones they remember in B & W, but not in color.

My assumption is that there is some legal reason they don't come out in the color "album" size that people remember so fondly.

Again, anyone know what the scoop is?


Meanwhile, can't currently get most of the Ian Fleming, James Bond books.

"Casino Royale" has just come out with a new printing, and "Live and Let Die" is coming later this month, and Moonraker is coming out in July, and so on. My assumption is that they took these books off the market so they could be bowdlerized for modern tastes. (Not sure how I feel about that.) But I'm adding him to the list, temporarily. 


Anyway, added to the List:

Edgar Rice Burroughs

Ian Fleming 


Harlan Ellison

Behold the Man, Michael Moorcock
The War Hound and the World's Pain, Michael Moorcock
Lord Valentine's Castle, Robert Silverberg
The Iron Dragon's Daughter, Michael Swanwick
Tunnel in the Sky, Robert Heinlein
Shardik, Robert Adams
Barrayar, Lois McMaster Bujold
Shards of Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold
The Vor Game, Lois McMaster Bujold
Cordelia's Honor, Bujold (Hell, most the multi-Hugo and Nebula award winning Vorkosigan series!) 
Demon, John Varley, (especially exasperating because the first two books in the series are available.)



Honest question: does it matter to you if you put back something where you found it?

Went into the store today for the sole purpose of vacuuming. It's hard to summon the energy to do this during after-hours, so I usually have to set aside time during the day. Ash has been doing a great job of sweeping and cleaning, so not a lot to do, except get behind some of the moveable fixtures. 

Then Ash and I both went around and tried to wipe up all the coffee stains.

I swear that everyone who has a cup of whatever fluid they are drinking manages to spill a couple of drops, sometimes a lot of drops. I'm talking hundreds of small splatters everywhere. Can't keep people from coming in with drinks--not in downtown Bend where just about every tourist has something in their hands. Nor is there any point in telling them they can't bring in dogs. They just do it, these days. 

Anyway, this is where I come to the real complaint of this blog. OK, maybe not a complaint, but a sincere question, which I present without ire or any intention of shaming, but out of sheer curiosity.

When you pick up an item in a store, are you consciously aware of putting it back where you found it? Or is this something you just don't think about? Maybe you think it's the clerks job?

Anyway, I could swear that only a few people make the effort. I know in my store, which is packed, it can take a slight bit of effort to find and replace an item. But it is a very tiny bit of extra effort. 

I'm asking not because I'm annoyed about having to go around and tidy things up--I do this anyway. 

No, it's time between when the item is misplaced and the time that I get to it that I'm worried about. An item out of place can't be found by me or any customer if it isn't in the right area or alphabetical order. Worse, if an lower selling item is placed on top of a better selling item, the better selling item won't sell. I can't tell you the number of times someone has asked for a title, only to find it somewhere else after they left. 

So the question I'm asking: is this something you think about? Or is it just one of those things that are too inconsequential, for you, to pay attention to?

Again, I'm not mad, just curious. I'm sure I do things in other people's businesses that I'm not aware causes trouble. 

Bottom line, the weird thing about this is that in most cases it is absolutely just as easy to put something back where you picked it up as it is to put it somewhere else. 

OK. Done complaining. I doubt things will change much, but there it is.

Everything is fine as long as I stick to budget.

So it begins. For budgeting purposes, this is the start of the summer season, even though it doesn't really kick in until later in June. I budget from Wednesday to Tuesday each week.

I spent years trying to figure out how to handle cash flow. It was a hard term to understand--no one actually explained it to me in clear terms. One of the reasons I stopped reading any business books is because they couldn't describe the simplest things well, so I didn't trust them on the complex things either. Basically most "small" businesses they are describing aren't Mom and Pop stores, which have a different dynamic. 

Anyway, I used to be mystified by how I could be earning a profit every month and still have several weeks where I couldn't pay the bills. I mean, it seems clear to me now, but for some reason I couldn't figure out a way to handle it. Partly this was because we were mostly getting time sensitive material that I was ordering far in advance but had no control over when it would show up.

So things are easier these days; other than the weekly comics, which are a smaller part of the budget (instead of the biggest part of the budget,) and card games, (which come in big chunks), most of our product I can now order when we need it and can afford it. 

Every Tuesday, I figure out how whether the inflow covered the outflow and make adjustments. Seems simple now.  

My problem is that I always service the store above all other things. It's very difficult for me to let any holes develop in the inventory. Over the years, I've prioritized the health of the business. 

Since we're in our 44th year, this has probably been the right strategy overall, but it certainly can be very stressful in trying to juggle the other bills, including the money I pay myself. 

The last three years saw a tremendous surge in business. At first, it caught me by surprise, which was a good thing for once: it meant we were actually saving money. Unheard of! As the surge continued, I ramped up the spending to keep up. I got kind of spoiled in being able to order everything we needed and still saving money.

Things have started to revert to normal. There's a bit of a slowdown, which I expected. We're still far above where we were pre-Covid, but the time has come when I truly need to stick to budget.  

And I'm finding that a challenge. 

I just need to get back to being more careful again.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Bend parking is dedicated to your happiness.

OK. The article showed up in the Bulletin about downtown parking. It's mostly about the R2D2 robot they plan to install. It's ridiculous, but seems relatively harmless.

The rest reads a little like an Onion article: 

“The truth — the honest truth — behind what we’re doing with parking downtown is that we want to create parking happiness,” he said. “It’s not about getting more citations. It’s not about revenue. It’s really about, we want to come to a point where we manage parking so well that parking is not your experience that you leave with.”

One thing that won’t change about parking in downtown Bend are the parklets, the dining spaces that occupy parking spots. And while there are complaints about businesses taking up valuable parking spots, the reality is that parklets account for a very small number of spaces, Marx said. They occupy roughly 28 out of 600 spaces downtown, he said."


 That where I come in: 


"But others, like Duncan McGeary, a local author who owns a bookstore downtown, don’t quite see it that way.

“That’s really misleading. There are not 600 parking spots on the streets,” he said.

And McGeary has seen firsthand how parking has improved, particularly in the garage, save for the large events on peak weekends that block his storefront.

His philosophy: let the traffic flow.

“Everybody downtown is busy,” he said. “So don’t mess with the foot traffic and don’t mess with the car traffic. Let the the traffic flow.”


You know, let the spice flow! Anyway, to elaborate on the parking spaces. My guess is that the parking garage, Mirror Pond parking lot, and other lots account for at least half the parking spots downtown, probably more.

That means 28 spaces for parklets is pretty much 10% of available street parking. Whether that is a good number I suppose depends on your perspective. 

Also..."parklets" sound so innocent. So happy!


Saturday, May 27, 2023

Mr. Penumbra and Lord Valentine

Just finished reading "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore," Robin Sloan and "Lord Valentine's Castle," Robert Silverberg. 

Someone compared Pegasus Books to Mr. Penumbra's bookstore, so of course, I had to read it. 

Yes, there is a love of books there, though the emphasis in the plot is over antiquarian books, which we don't really do. Certainly, lots of nerd references. In fact, it really reminded me of "Ready Player One," to the point that I looked up the dates. Sure enough, it came out in 2013, or two years after RPO. 

It's hipster tone was a little annoying, as was the Magic Pixie Dream Girl, but what was most noticeable about it was how optimistic it all was about nerd culture, and the social media future, embodied by a glorified Google.

How things have changed since 2013!

I enjoyed the book quite a bit, including the post-script about a young Mr. Penumbra in 1969. That was my era, and he got it right, if in the most benign sense. (Pre drugs ruining everything?)


I'd read "Lord Valentine's Castle" when it came out and remembered it being one of my favorites. This time, I still enjoyed the first half of the book, when Valentine doesn't know who he is and compensates by turning all his attention to the act of juggling.

I think this resonated with me back in 1984 because I'd felt that I'd come out of my ten-year depression by the act of writing a book. Writing took me out of the endless loop of depression, took me out of my head and my troubles. It was therapy. 

The second half of the book falls more into the general fantasy turf, which is fine. Unfortunately, I think I've read so much fantasy that it isn't as interesting anymore. 


I'm kind of excited by my next book. A long, long time ago, I read the strangest science-fiction book I'd ever encountered. It was by Lawrence Durrell; who was a major mainstream author, though I didn't know it at the time. (Later, I tried reading his Alexandria Quartet, but my teenage brain couldn't cotton to it.) 

The book I read was either "Tunc" or "Nunquam." At the time, I didn't realize it was a duology, "The Revolt of Aphrodite."

You can tell from the titles alone that it was a weird book, totally unlike anything I'd read before. I'm not sure why, but I remember loving it. Or rather, once I'd struggled through it, I'd appreciated it. 

Then...damn if I could find the book again. Years went by, and I think I stumbled across the other book in the duology, and it was incomprehensible. 

Anyway, I finally found the entire "The Revolt of Aphrodite" on Amazon and I'm going to give it another try. 

I think I'll probably either love it or hate it. 

UPDATE: Oh, boy. Incomprehensible, impossible to read. I was either a lot smarter or a lot dumber when I read these as a teenager. I gave up this time: life is too short. 

Friday, May 26, 2023

I still get the urge to write, and I'm not short of ideas. But I know that to write anything I have to throw all of myself into it; most of the hours of the day, most of my attention span.

Then, when the fun part of telling a story is over, I have to go back and ruin the fun by editing, which is, to me, pure work.

Finally, when I'm finished, l usually like the overall result, love a few parts, and yet I am always just a little disappointed that every bit of it isn't brilliant. 

Better than I thought I could do, but never quite as grandiose as I originally imagined. 

So yeah, I still want to write, given all the above.

A coming Bulletin article about downtown parking.

I was interviewed by the Bulletin about downtown parking. 

"I'm told you're the person to talk about downtown," the reporter said.

"Uh, oh," I think. I mean, I think it's an innocent statement, because I know a couple of the reporters. But I also fear I may have gained a reputation for being a bit of a spoil-sport. I haven't been shy about my opinions about downtown events.

To me, the irony is that I'm actually pretty middle of the road about these issues. It wasn't that I was against all downtown events, I just felt like they were continuing to add more and more events, and it wasn't helping. 

However, I may not have been the most diplomatic about how I said it.

Anyway, if a reporter calls you, what do you do? Saying no comment seems sort of cowardly and weird, but saying something means you'll probably piss someone off.

Certainly the restaurant owners probably won't like me much. I don't like the parklets. People forget that the parklets were promised--and that is the word used--to be temporary. 

I also commented that I thought the parklets were unattractive. 

Meanwhile, the reporter mentioned that the parking spaces eliminated by the parklets were a tiny fraction of the parking spaces downtown,.

"Do they include the parking garage and the other parking lots in that equations?" I asked.

The answer was yes.

"That's not a fair estimate," I said. "It's a much larger percentage of street parking."

Anyway, once I'm rolling I don't keep my opinions to myself.  So I just have to hope I didn't say something stupid.

The funniest part of the conversation was when the reporter told me they were planning to put a robot in the parking garage. "R2D2 traffic cop," she said.

I laughed. "That's a hoot. I hope they do it."

I don't hate much, but Jack Welch?

I remember the visceral response I had to my first exposure to Jack Welch. All I knew about him at the time was that he was the highly (highly!) regarded CEO of General Electric.

The more the interview went on, the more I wanted to reach through the screen and strangle him. 

All those things you hate about corporations? He embodied them. 

But for a long time, I felt like I was the only one who saw behind the curtain. He continued to be voted the "most admired" CEO in America, and GE continued to increase in value.

Then Jack Welch retired and the whole house of cards collapsed.

Evil Bastard. No really, there are whole books written about him. "The Man Who Broke Capitalism: How Jack Welch Gutted the Heartland and Crushed the Soul of Corporate America--And How to Undo His Legacy" by David Gelles. 

One of the more recent episodes of the podcast, "Behind the Bastards," is about him, if you don't feel like reading an entire book. 

So anyway, there's the new CEO of HBO/Warner Brothers et. al. David Zaslav, busily destroying everything good about HBO and ancillary streaming services, giving a commencement address and being booed. 

Then he quotes Jack Welch.

Yep. The Evil Bastards are still in charge and no one ever learns a thing.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Older comic retailers versus younger comic retailers.

It's interesting to watch the reaction of the younger retailers to the big changes in the industry. Basically, anyone who had an established business before 1995 versus everyone who came along later, especially in the last ten or fifteen years.

Time to admit that we old timers were just spoiled. It was a simpler time.

Of course, that's not really true. We older retailers have been through some hard times that the younger ones can only imagine. Or can't imagine, or I doubt they'd be cheering what's going on now. 

I tend to get a little angry when I see a younger retailers making stupid remarks, without any context or experience. I use the word "quisling" to myself, because it seems like they are cheering for things that are going to make it hard for most retailers, young or old.

So I need to back off and figure out what's going on. 

I think it's a divide between retailers who are focused on collecting and speculation, versus retailers who are interested in the intrinsic art and writing of the medium. I'm simplifying it--rarely are retailers just one or the other, but there is a definite attitude difference in older retailers.

We older retailer have already been through several boom and bust cycles for collecting. We tend to focus on readers. My saying is, "Speculators always quit, but readers keep reading." 

(To be clear, speculators and collectors and readers can be all or just one of those things.)

When I bought the store in April, 1984, collecting and speculation were a huge part of the business. In fact, back issues were a major part of our sales. So much so that I--as a neophyte to comics--assumed it was the reason people bought comics.

So I bought collections and priced them according to the price guides and I kept track of which comics were going up and which were going down. 

It wasn't until I found Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Howard Chaykin, and other giants of that era that I realized that comics were, in fact, a legitimate art form. 

But I continued to assume that this was part of the speculative game--figuring out which writers and artists were hot, (no matter what the reason), and making sure I was ahead of the curve.

When variant and foil covers came along, I willingly played that game along with everyone else. But suddenly, in the early 1990s, it started to get crazy. Since I'd just been through the sport card bubble, I recognized the signs.

One month I realized that my orders were double last years sales: what I mean is, my wholesale price was double the previous years retail priced sales. Basically, I was ordering 4 times the comics, in one year. That seemed more than a little crazy. I even called the Diamond rep and asked what happens if there is a collapse. "What are you worried about? Everyone else is doing great!"

Sure enough, the whole bubble burst a few months later and took 3/4 of the retailers with it and all but one of the wholesalers.

I woke up one day and realized that the only buyers I still had were strictly readers. That turned out to be about half of the customer base that existed BEFORE the bubble came along. 

For the next twenty years, it seemed like catering to readers was the only way to go.

But while I was off writing my books, things were changing. By the time I came back and fully focused on the store, I realized that collecting and speculating were a much bigger deal and only growing bigger. 

But instead of diving back into that part of the market, I shifted to all the other product lines, especially books. 

So when Covid hit, speculating on everything, including comics, became a big deal. Fortunately for us, so did new book sales, which is where I'd focused on future growth. 

Now the market is made up of those retailers for whom speculating is once again a legitimate part of the business, and those older retailers who are more than a little gun shy about it. 

That's why I think there are different attitudes toward the mystifying changes in the industry. What appears to be chaos to us older retailers is seen as opportunity by the younger retailers, 

I think the younglings are mistaken, but only experience will prove it to them.

Since I believe Diamond night not be long for this world, I went through their toy liquidation list and ordered everything that had a significant discount that I could possibly want. 

It came to $2000. 

I winnowed that back to $500, with the thought that a new list will come along in a week. I seemed to end up heavy on the Star Wars, I suppose because I figure that will be the hardest to get at discounts with the longest shelf-life. 

Oops. I wished I had checked sales before I sent this off. I'd have been better off buying $500 worth of liquidated books, dammit.

B & A is just one of the boys?

Interesting article on B & N on the "Shelf Life" site.

1.) They are having trouble keeping on top of non-fiction. (The implication being that the local clerks don't read NF?) I'm having the same trouble, mostly because there is so much of it and it sells at a fraction of fiction for us and is totally unpredictable. It becomes dated very, very fast. Since I don't do returns, I have to be careful.

2.) They are de-emphasizing hardcovers. They had an 80% return rate. (Holy cow. If I could just fling 80% mud at the walls, I'd be capturing a few more sales too. Meanwhile...B & N was allowed to send 80% back? Wow.)

3.) The experience used to be "predictable and boring" hardcovers and bestsellers at the entrance. (As opposed to now? As opposed to every other bookstore in the world? It doesn't seem to me that much has changed.)

4.) They focus on YA books. (Well, duh. So is everyone else.)

5.) They had been doing a bad job on backlist. (Again, as opposed to every other bookstore in the world?)

This last point is the most significant to me. I focus most of my attention on backlist. Show me a backlist book that sells and I'll keep it in stock. You start with 20 books that sell, then 50, then 100. The goal is to keep growing those perennial sellers, whether they are considered "bestsellers" or not.

I simply do not understand ordering 10, 20, or 30 copies of every New York Times "bestseller." I suspect that the experience of sending back 80% of hardcovers is not limited to B & N, but to every American Booksellers Association type bookstore. (Maybe smaller stores aren't at 80%, but it's because they don't reorder, not because they don't order most new hardcover ABA model books.)

Predictable and boring is right. 

I get enough of a percentage of the new bestselling hardcovers to have a nice selection, but I don't overdo it. I prefer to use 80% of my budget on backlist. 

But hey, what I'm doing is working, so I'll just keep doing it.

The following is the post I was referring to in the last post. 

A little explanation. Diamond Distributors, which once had more or less a monopoly on comic wholesaling, has recently lost the 3rd largest comic publisher. This after already losing the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th largest comic publishers. 

The reason I posted is because there are idiot retailers who are cheering all this. They're cheering for the possible downfall of the entire comic book market. It's because of stuff like this that I have pivoted into emphasizing books, (65% of the business), and toys, and games. I've kept comics up to the level they are, but I'm not depending on them anymore to keep the doors open. 

As follows:

According to one source, ( ), there are 266 comic publishers in the USA.
According to ICv2, the top ten publishers account for 90% of all sales.
So where are these publishers going to go if Diamond goes down? Will Lunar or PRH be willing to take on companies that publish one or two or three 4.99 comics on a periodic basis? Somehow, I doubt it.
I don't know about the rest of you, but I order most of my posters, pins, t-shirts, supplies, magnets, lots of games, card games, and most of my toys from Diamond.
Where do I go to get these items if Diamond goes down? Do I need to get an account with each and every supplier of product to Diamond?
Even if I wanted to, it isn't possible.
I'm sure most of us will muddle through somehow, but I really believe this is an example of "Watch out what you wish for."
Personally, I've pivoted to new books, which is a much bigger market. I'm in a place where I can do that, fortunately. 
But I think I'm going to be missing the old days...

I always have to remind myself I'm a little fish. I'm not the main character. I'm not the shark, I'm the minnow. 

But I'm an old and wary minnow.

Every retailer website has a hierarchy. I mean, that's just the way it is; really, it probably couldn't be any other way. 

But whenever I slave over what I think is a thoughtful post, I somehow expect I'll get some reader comments. But compared to the big fish retailers, it's seems like very few other retailers read my post. Or at least, they don't comment. 

Little fish.

This post sounds so pathetic. The very first post I write after saying I'm going to be more candid. Hah! 

Going to change things a little.

If any of you are still reading this blog, I've made a couple of decisions.

I know, I know, you're expecting me to quit. Nope. The opposite. In fact, you'll probably notice a lot more posts, daily and multi-daily.

I've been lagging on my posting for a few years now. Not because I'm not writing blogposts: I am, but I'm writing them to myself. See, I haven't wanted to offend anyone, or hurt anyone, or -- I suppose -- reveal myself too much on my blog.

But, ironically, the fact that so few people are reading this blog these days is emboldening me to cut loose a little. I mean, I still don't want to offend or hurt people, but I think I can probably be a little more daring in what I let myself post.

When I started this blog, way back in 2006, I didn't have any preconceived notions about what was allowed, or what was normal, or whether anyone would possibly read my blog. But I slowly learned that the online world can be pretty ruthless.

Not that I've ever had that much trouble, but I also didn't really want to go there. 

Anyway, I became much more careful and the more careful I became, the less I wrote. If what I wrote was ended up being a snippet rather than essay, it ended up on Facebook instead.

Anyway, I'm going to allow myself a little more leeway here. Hopefully, it'll work out.

NOTE: I'd like to pin this to the top of this blog, but damned if I can figure out how.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

That's sure to work out.

So an Oregon based sports card company, who treats cards as "fine art" collectables, with a "Vault" and 125 employees, just sold to a company that recently bought Topps. The Oregon company was kicked off of Ebay in 2001 for bad dealings, and has continued to be suspected of underhanded practices.

So that ought to work out well, right? The company who owns the biggest card manufacturer has bought a company that speculates in cards and has a history of not being honest. 

No chance of any manipulation there, right?

I'm so fucking glad I got out of cards in the late 1990s. Had a ton of people ask me if I was going to get cards during the Covid boom, and I said, "You'd have to kill me first."

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Epistolary plot of World War Z.

I'm finally reading World War Z.

It's a clever book, worth reading. I don't know that I was completely aware of the epistolary nature of the book. It's a useful technique, which I utilized in "Led to the Slaughter." When I got the Donner Party to the Sierra Madres, I realized that the rest of the book would be a long steady decline and couldn't for the life of me figure out how to do that without making it dull.

So I settled on journal entries, which worked perfectly. A different little story with each chapter from a viewpoint character.

That's what WWZ is really, a series of short stories, short shorts and longer shorts, but all connected to one event. There's almost no character follow-through. It works great.

How they thought they could make a movie out of it, I don't know.

Anyway, I'm currently struggling with the plot a new story and couldn't quite figure out how to accomplish my goal. An epistolary approach maybe the answer. I'm pretty good at having each section of the book have it's own little conclusion, which is what is needed. 

WWZ also works because there was obviously some research done, which adds to the verisimilitude of the action. 

I'm pleased that the book was good, because too many times lately highly lauded books...well, kind of sucked. This one was fun.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Why make it complicated?

You've heard the saying, "Don't work harder, work smarter." 

Now normally, I hate these kinds of easy answers, but I've been thinking about my business and all the permutations its had over the years. And looking at the competition and wondering why they are doing what they are doing. 

I can only speak for myself, but it seems to me that people make things unnecessarily complicated.

For most of the 43 years of Pegasus Books' existence, it has only required one worker in the store at a time. There are a few exceptions, of course, but mostly one person can handle the load of work. Admittedly, you can't sit around too much. You need to be on your feet, cleaning, straightening, ordering, and--most importantly--dealing with customers. 

There is some work that needs to be done from home, but it's not an onerous amount. Mostly, it's working on a working level: enough to maybe be tired at the end of the day but not exhausted, stressed but not unhealthily so. 

For that to happen, the procedures required need to be simple and easily done. If a service is more trouble than its worth, it gets jettisoned. My job is to sell product to the customer in a friendly, competent way. That's it. 

It is not my job to entertain them or feed them. It is not my job to spend a hundred dollars worth of time and effort for ten dollars worth of sales. I mean, mostly this isn't a problem, and when it is, I've learned how to disengage in a way where no one's feelings are hurt. (99.9% of the time; there is always a few people every year....)

I don't have to read every book or know every answer. If I don't have something in stock I'm more than willing to order it for the customer; but I don't take money in advance and I don't call them when it arrives. The book is held for a few days and then put in general circulation. This works almost every time; it is very rare that a person doesn't come back for a book they special ordered. 

Those are basics.

I don't do signings, or special events (except Free Comic Book Day which is industry-wide and pretty much my duty.) 

We don't have play space, or couches in which to sit and read, or coffee or any other kind of food. 

We are a store, plain and simple. All transactions are done at the cash register and at the end of the day, I go home.

When I look at some of the stores that are profiled online I wonder why they do what they do. I suspect its because it's the way they've been told it should be done, what they've seen done by others. 

Back in my sports card days I constantly saw the phenomenon of a card store failing and another store popping up and doing exactly the same thing!

Just because everyone is doing it doesn't mean it's right--especially if it doesn't seem to be working.

I was scared away from doing new books for a long time because I kept hearing about how hard it was. Well guess what. Compared to comics or games or toys it's incredibly easy! Compared to those product lines, books have a wide customer appeal. Just carry good books and people will buy them!

Of course, it isn't that simple. The trick is know which books to carry and how to display them. The trick is to be in a location where the customer can find you. The trick is to be knowledgeable and efficient and everything else a good store needs to be.

That said, books themselves are very saleable. 

What I see elsewhere are all things that require extra space, time, and energy. 

For all of these there are only two solutions: either you work harder and longer or you hire someone to do these jobs for you. Both of these, to me, are hugely complicating factors.

Selling online: Sounds simple, but in fact is very complicated, at least compared to simply ringing up a sale at the cash register. Besides, either I'm working in the store full time, doing what a full time job entails, or I'm taking time away or I'm adding to my hours. It's an extra job, basically.

Holding events: signings, book clubs, special activities. Again, this requires a whole lot of extra space, time, and energy. And employees.

Selling food and drink, and having table and chairs for people to sit. Obviously, space, time, and energy. And employees.

Buying in bulk for clubs and/or events and then returning them if they don't sell. And employees.

Expanding past the point where one person can handle the job. Duh...employees.

Opening more than one location. Obviously, a whole lot of space, time, and energy. And employees.

So hire more people, right?

Oh, boy. That's where things get really complicated. Managing even one other person is a full time job until they are trained, which in my store usually takes a several months. With no guarantee, by the way, that they won't just quit after the effort is made. 

Every new employee is a bit of a gamble, in honesty, reliability, and friendliness. Sometime you don't find out what that employee has really been doing until they are gone. And this isn't from lack of oversight; you're the boss and you can only see what a boss can see; just as when you are a parent, you can only see what a parent can see. 

Here's another thing you find out. No matter how good the employee is, they will never be as dedicated as you are; at least until they feel they have ownership in the store as well. 

Basically, by the time you pay another person to do a job (that you would probably do better) you are paying for them out of the profits from that job. I think there is a matter of scale--reaching such a size that you can plug people in like cogs and expect bare minimum and still make money, but is that really the reason anyone opens a small business? (I'm sure there are many tycoons, bless their little hearts.)

I did all this. I opened four stores, had ten employees, and at the end of it I was stressed beyond capacity and poorer than when I started. OK, maybe I was a lousy manager. But it also made me question myself: Why Did I Buy The Store In The First Place?

The answer for me was, to earn a modest living doing something where I was in control and in which I could arrange my surroundings the way I wanted them. 

Simple. I forget to keep it simple (stupid.)

What I'm going to say next is only a supposition on my part, but I don't doubt it is true much of the time. I'm making as much profit in my little one and half person operation as many much bigger stores are making. Plus I'm a lot less stressed and overworked. Much less risk. Much more fun. 

There is a tendency to "churn" money; that is, bring in a lot of gross profit but relinquish much of it through all the extra employee and space and extra services. I will submit that putting 100% more effort into something for a 50% gain sounds good in the advice books but is unsustainable in the long run. 

Sure, you have to work harder when you own your own business; that is a given, but it needs to be within the realm of being reproducible or it is only a business as long as you are there. 

Keeping it simple and within reach is the way to do that.