Thursday, June 29, 2023

How does anyone get anything done?

People were surprised by how many books I wrote and how fast. 

The thing is: that's ALL I did, for about eight years. Especially the first three years, my focus was totally on the writing. The garden went to hell, I trusted Sabrina to run the store, and I shut out everything else.

It wasn't as hard for me as it probably is with most people. I've always been a loner. I love being by myself.

Anyway, last summer I bought a large collection of comics which I spent most of the winter bagging, boarding, and pricing. My intention was to replace all the back issues upstairs in the store with the stuff I've been working on. 

I figured it would take a week or two to make the transfer.

Now admittedly, there was some time in the Spring when I could have got it done but faced with the task, I procrastinated. I've been telling people for months now that it was going to get done "soon."

I set June as the month I would absolutely, positively, get it done.

Then my family visited for a week, coming from all parts of country. Today, Linda's niece is visiting for a few days, and so on.

I haven't got a thing done. One week of visits is really two or more weeks of preparing and recovering. 

So just this much social interaction has thrown me completely off. Which makes me wonder how the rest of the world, who are probably almost all more social than me, get anything done at all!

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

I just don't have the collector mentality, which considering what I do...

...which considering what I do for a living is kind of strange. (Edited to say, not so much "collector" mentality as "collector/speculator" mentality.)

Anyway, I found a guy who is selling pulps online and contacted him. 

He offered .25 each.

I understand what he's doing, I understand he has his perimeters, but I'd rather just keep them. I countered his offer for what I consider a low price.

Haven't heard back from him. Heh.

Even if he agreed now, I wouldn't follow up. Like I said, I understand how the game is played, but I ain't giving them away. I looked up a few of the John W. Campbell edited, "Astounding"s, the man who boosted Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov and just about every other Golden Age writer and they were worth quite a bit. One of them is probably worth more than he was offering for the whole batch.

Of course, that's if you can find that person who wants it. 

He's missing a bet, but it's none of my business. I probably undersold what I had; which I'd rather do than oversell. But, in my mind at least, this was the equivalent of the mythical "warehouse find," where someone finds a warehouse full of untouched copies of something in demand.

So onward, selling them at the store. Basically selling one book at store = 24 copies to this guy, with none of the work. I've already paid for the books out of the store, and then made keystone selling a bunch of the Bad Girl art to a collector. 

I don't want these tossed when I'm gone, so I have to make sure Todd and Toby understand how cool and rare these are. 

I just don't have the collector mentality.

It reminds me of, back in the 80s, when I bought a Silver Age comic collection, took them to the Portland comic convention, and sold almost none of them though I thought I'd priced them low. 

Took them to the next year's convention, same thing happened.

Decided to quit going to conventions, but then got a call from the guy putting on the convention telling me that my Silver Age collection was the best he'd seen in all of Oregon and he'd give me a prime location near the entrance if I'd come again.

Went one last time, same thing happened. 

Somehow, it just never made sense to me.

So for example, I had a few mint copies of the first appearance of Punisher in Amazing Spider-man. It was selling for about $50, but no one offered more than $25. 

Next show, it was worth $100, but no one offered more than $50.

Last show, worth $150, but no one offered more than...well, you get the picture. (Currently, a Graded 9.4 is going for about $10,000.) 

I basically got out of the collecting part of the business because I had no knack for it. I didn't have the right brand of bullshit. 

It was one of the best decisions I ever made as a businessman and it probably kept me in business much  longer than otherwise.

I've seen some drops in my time, but a 90% drop is the biggest.

(No, not us. We're doing fabulously) ☝☺


Next week's invoice from Diamond Comics is a little over $100. 

To put this in perspective, Diamond Comics supplied the majority of our product for most of my 43 year career. First Marvel left Diamond, then DC, then Dark Horse, and most recently Image comics. That's probably 95% of the comics in the world. 

Did we gain anything from this change? Not a bit. Whatever postage we saved we lost by losing percentage discounts. We now have to deal with three wholesalers to get our comics, instead of one. It's much more complicated to figure out ship times, arrival dates, postage rates, Final Order Cutoffs, returns, etc. etc. 

Even though I have mainstreamed my store, transitioning to a full-time bookstore, I was still getting the majority of my toys from Diamond, as well as almost all the smaller publishers. We are having record sales, but it's by selling lots of books, including graphic novels, as well as pop culture material.

It's hard to see how Diamond can survive a 90% drop in sales. 

I've stocked up on toys in preparation for the future. I'll be sorry to lose access to the hundreds of small comic publishers Diamond carries, but I simply don't have the time and energy to set up accounts with each publisher. 

This is kind of a disaster for the comic industry. 

Below, I'm giving you link to the latest column by Brian Hibbs, another comic retailer, about the current state of the comic industry. 

My advice to my fellow comic retailers is to forget about being a "comic" shop and focus on being a "pop culture" store. One thing my transitioning into a bookstore has taught me is that there is a lot of product out there that is tangentially related to comics that sells. Whatever you lose by catering to the comic fans you can gain by selling to the general public.

It's truly amazing how many DC and Marvel titles come out in formats that comic retailers never see, not to mention all the movies and TV related books, all the cult IPs, all the manga and anime. For instance, I have one entire shelf of nothing but pop culture cookbooks: Princess Bride, Studio Ghibli, Alien, D & D, and so on. 

There is a whole world of pop culture stuff that appeals not only to comic folk, but just about everyone else too. 

But if you haven't already started this process, well...good luck. 

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Posting more.

You'all may have noticed I'm posting much more often. 

Well, I've been writing these all along but I wasn't posting. I had decided to be diplomatic and circumspect and not reveal anything that might make me look bad or stupid.

Well, the the hell. I'm 70 years old, I've made it through the work years, and I'm pretty much a loner anyway. 

As Epictetus says, "What you think of me is none of my business."

It's always a choice of being circumspect/boring or foolish/interesting. Or, at least, that's the danger. 

So I've decided that other than giving out actual business numbers and/or something that might hurt someone else's feelings, I would allow myself to be more candid. I'm not sure it matters. I'm not that important. People are probably making up their minds about me anyway, so what the hell.

My book list.

My mentor, the local and accomplished Western writer, Dwight Newton, advised me 41 years ago to keep a notebook and list the books I've read. So I've been doing that since 1982. I've kept it up, filling one entire notebook (I used to joke that when the book was filled, I'd probably be dead and sure enough, I filled the book about the time I had my heart attack, which in non-modern times probably would have killed me.)

I started a second notebook a few years back. It feels like reincarnation.

For the first decade or two, the notebook was very handy. I would find the copyright of a book and look at every entry in the years after the publishing date, and see if I'd read the book. But it's become so long and cluttered that I rarely do that anymore. 

Last night, I was looking up Walter Jon Willams', "City on Fire." I'd read "Metropolitan" and liked it a lot, and this was the sequel, published in 1997. 

The listings were a mess. I trudged through about twenty years. As I did so, I realized that the list was full of titles and authors I had no memory of. I couldn't tell you what they were about. I saw that a few times I read books twice and didn't even realize it.

My memory sucks. 

If I have the time, I'm going to post this list on Goodreads, and arrange it by author, date, and title, and then the list might actually be useful to me again. Plus, I'm intrigued to find out how many books by how many authors I've read. 

It's all a blur, but some titles and authors stand out. I guess that's the real test of time.

Does it really matter?

Dreamed I met a well-known horror writer and I introduce myself. He says, "You're not a writer," in the most brutal, insulting way. At the same time, I watch him be a real weirdo. He has a following who seems to ignore how weird he is, and after awhile, I realized he's pretty far on the spectrum. Still, I keep telling people how weird he is. He is motoring down a hallway and I prepare myself to trip him, but instead he falls flat on his face before he reaches me. 

I'm not being nice and I realize it, but I'm also very insulted.

I'm sitting with a few of these "strangers" as more and more like-minded people gather and they're all really out there, strange and weird and really into being so. There are tables full of fantastical paraphernalia. I'm feeling more and more out of place. I'm not connecting and I'm not enjoying myself. Finally, I say to some cute goth girl, "Is everyone waiting for a movie?"

She gives me a strange look and then says "it's Horrorapolloza," or something like that, "we meet every Thursday to get weird."

"Not my thing," I say, though I think in a non-judgemental way, and get up to walk out. 

Then a song and bunch of special effects follow me out, like in a movie, and I know it's the goth girl putting me down, but I'm not insulted, I'm intrigued. I turn around and say, "I dig it."

Anyway, I think this is how it would go at a horror convention. I'd be a fish out of water. 

Then I dream I'm a congressman, and my Dad is there, and I say to him, "Do these congressmen think I'm strange?" and he says, "They think you're a little choppy, but they're intrigued. I try to interpret for you."

These are relatively benign "ostracism" dreams, the most common type of dreams I have. It all goes back to my ten years of exile when I was depressed, but it also isn't far from my current reality and fears. 

I like to think of myself as "Weird but cool." Whether anyone actually thinks that, I don't know. Probably more the former than the latter, eh?

I wake up, and I'm relieved. I've got an unexpectedly helluva nice life. We're comfortable, I'm married to a wonderful woman, my kids are great, I have some good friends and family, and I love owning my business. I like the writing I did and I'm not dissatisfied with how it turned out. It's always reassuring to wake up from my ostracism dreams and realize I made it through. 

I usually don't post these kind of blogs. The wiser thing to do is to be circumspect in what I reveal about myself. 

The more boring thing to do is to be circumspect. 

Does it really matter?

Sunday, June 18, 2023

I dreamed of impossible books about impossible things.

I dreamed of impossible books about impossible things. Five mountains, each more impossible than the last, fractured and splintered piles of Jenga, folded into a white sky. 

I dreamed of climbing Nikisue, the third mountain, yet unconquered, though in truth, I came to doubt that either the first mountain, Sistier, or the second mountain, Hartiani  had yet been climbed either. And most impossible of all, the crashing oceans that must be crossed before the expeditions could even begin. Two great channels of whitewater, merging into a whirlpool, ice sheets severed by the warming climate, unapproachable except by hugging close to the shores of the wider of the two passages, the North Cascade, in kayaks that could be at any moment dashed against the rocks by a errant wave, in a place where all waves were errant, where winds could lift the kayak into the air and turn it upside down, never to be seen again. 

No one knew how many men and women had been lost in this impossible quest. I knew from the moment I saw the first mountain, softly sloping before rising into heights that the eyes followed upward and upward until you felt as though you'd tip backward and slide back down to the bottom of the earth; I knew it to be impossible and yet I dreamed.

There were those who thought the fourth mountains, Contrari, would never be climbed. 

The fifth mountain, the Unnamed and Unnameable, for no one had yet come up with a sound, a combination of letters, that could capture its magnificence. Oh, it had a title on maps, but none of us who lived near it called it by name, and it was an unacknowledged, unspoken agreement that only the man or woman who stood at the summit could give it a real name.

The first two mountains had been conquered, but with a troubling absence of all evidence, all cameras, all witnesses but the single survivors, returning half-dead, claiming to have done the deed, doubted by all and yet lionized and celebrated too, for all of us wanted to believe that it could be done, especially those of us who congregated on the small island of Sandora in the middle of the South Cascade, an island shielded by an accident of calm waters, at least, calmer in comparison to everything that surrounded this lone sentinel in the chaos. It was a dangerous journey even to get there, but once there, most never left. Most pretended to plan their expeditions, waiting for weather and conditions that would never come, whiling their time away with mythical tales and frustrated and scared ambitions, their money slowly dwindling until they became spectators to the new arrivals, still flush with funds. 

We couldn't just fly there because of the mountains currents, the tornadoes of air that were permanent companions to the five peaks, obscuring them most of the time, except for rare and life-changing moments, when the sky cleared and all five jagged, pointed summits could be seen, one on top of the other, like broken corpses left tangled and shattered by the gods. 

We all knew it would never be done, but we all dreamed of being the one who did it. The climber of five Everest's in a row, beckoning fame and glory and death. 

On the walls of every dwelling, in every explorer's planners, there was the same photograph, taking from high above, an accident of fate, an off-course airship, a single passenger who understood the rarity of a clear day, who by happenstance had a quality of camera that could capture all five mountains, and take measure of the labyrinth of canyons and pinnacles. Thousands of routes had been diagrammed over this single picture, by thousands of would-be explorers, near and far, but every test had failed, for the terrain was too massive and complicated to be tamed by lines in a map.

I never expected to be there. I wasn't a mountain climber, or explorer, I was a merchant trying to land a few accounts selling high-end cameras in a backwater, who was a passenger in a plane, who saw a beautiful sight as I looked out the window, the clouds miraculously parting, the camera in my lap that I'd been fiddling with, trying to figure out, and lifting and taking that snapshot, a photo that made my fortune, that paid for my unexpected and unlikely new course, an ambition I'd have never thought I'd have, the be the one who conquered the most beautiful, in my opinion, of the mountains, Nikisue.

By the time we reached Sandora, the boat I was on had flipped over three times, a 21st Century Coast Guard vessel from old Earth, designed for waves one-tenth the size of the ones we'd just encountered, transported at enormous cost to this world because none of the current technology could handle the primitive conditions. 

"Easy passage," the captain commented as I disembarked. I almost vomited on him in response. Though I'd been strapped in, I felt as though every bone in my body had been compacted into dust. I could barely stand, much less walk.

But I'd paid a fortune to get here, and was now an adventurer by rite of passage, and I was damned if I'd give the old salt any satisfaction.

"My gear?"

"Already off-loaded." Can't vouch for the condition, his shrug added.  

The docked was attached to a narrow beach with a narrow opening through the cliffs that circled the island. The little town of Sandora was in a caldera, protected, at least by this world's standards, from the elements. A crew member of the transport beckoned for me to follow as he drove an overburdened sled toward the gap. I managed to trip my way over the beach and into the sudden silence of the crevice; until that moment, I hadn't realized how overwhelming the sounds of the surf had been.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Pulp this!

Galaxy Science Fiction October 1952 Front

Pictured is the cover the the Galaxy Magazine, October, 1952, my birth month. Except the cover to the copy I own is actually much more pristine that this. 

I'm on the verge of selling most of my pulp books and magazines. The deal may still fall through--the buyer is coming by the house this afternoon. But I'm hoping to find a home for these rare and beautiful books. I'm 70 years old, and while there is always a chance I might open a used bookstore someday, (I have all the fixings, books and fixtures, in case anyone is interested in starting a used bookstore for an extraordinarily reasonable price), it's looking less and less likely. 

I'll retell the story about how I got these books. Some guy came in the store a year or so ago, and wanted to know if I was buying books. I told him no. He told me the story of his father owning a market on the west side of Bend for over 50 years and telling his family that the books he was setting aside would someday be worth "a fortune."

However, the family couldn't find any buyers.

Then he said the magic words. "Pulps."

"Do you have any with you?" I asked.

"Oh, I can bring a box by if you want to see what they are."

He left, and I didn't think anything more of it, but somewhat to my surprise he came back with a box. And it was a treasure trove. Not only full of great covers, Bad Girl Art, Westerns, Science Fiction, but they were in great shape, anywhere from excellent to mint.

Let me tell you, that is truly rare. In the 43 years I've been at the store, I've been offered only a handful of pulps and most of them were in terrible shape.

So I agreed to go to their storage unit and check it out. 

Out of the 40 or so boxes they had, only about 5 or 6 actually had pulps in them. Most of the rest were pretty junky 70s and 80s books that would be very hard to sell. 

But the 5 or 6 boxes of pulps, to me, were worth what they were asking. It was also pretty clear to me that they were on the verge of chucking them all out and that would have been a tragedy.

I had them all moved to my garage and dipped into them a little more, looking them up online. By and large, the pulps were "worth" anywhere from $5 to $100. But I've done this long enough to know that is a very loose measure. What really counts is how much you can actually get.

Thing is, these books truly are a treasure, but I have no way of proving it except by a long hard process of establishing my reputation for quality online. Meanwhile, I'd spend half my time trying to find a price between what I'm being offered and the price I think their worth. Plus handling and postage and time spent online. 

I should probably say here, I'm very allergic to dickering. The sports card phase of my business was so unpleasant, I have a case of something very like PTSD. I don't buy collections from the street, which is a bit of a competitive disadvantage when it comes to owning a book/comic store. IF someone presents a collection to me at a reasonable price, I might consider it, but that almost never happens.

So back to the pulps. I was still thinking of someday opening a used bookstore, and have already having set aside about 20,000 books, so in my mind, I saw a "Wall of Pulp" behind the counter at this store. That would look spectacular.

As a lark, I grabbed a handful of pulps and took them to the store and put a $6 price tag on them. I purposely chose a random sample, because selling only the best or the worst doesn't establish a true value. 

Somewhat to my surprise, they sold. At first I sold about 10, and then a few days later, 5 more, and then all 30. I refilled and sold another 20 or so. 

Admittedly, most of these sold to one customer, but there were also a couple of other buyers. 

That one customer is coming by today. He has proven his bone fides to me, and I'm willing to let him have the books for a reasonable price. I won't let myself be cherry picked--I'm hoping he'll buy them all but about 20 I'd like to keep for myself. In my mind, I need at least a "retail markup" from what I paid, so I'll draw the line there. But anything he offers at or above that markup, and they're his. He seems a bit younger than me, and he's shown by purchasing the books that he values them. 

I really want these books to find a home with someone who appreciates them. 

LATER: He was really only interested in the Bad Girl covers, so I still have the SF and the Westerns. I told him he might be missing the most valuable stuff, but he isn't a speculator, but a collector. 

He bought a little less than I hoped, but combined with what he had already bought at the store, I probably hit keystone, with 90 of the stuff still mine. 

Fair enough. I don't mind still having those books and pulps. He also got tired looking through 60 big cardboard boxes full of books so started leaving some pretty good Bad Girl covers too. So I can continue to show them off in the store. 

The other stuff was worse than I expected. A bunch of 70s and 80s junk, hardcovers without covers, and so on. If I ever sell the entire backstock of books, I'm going to have to explain that the first 50 boxes of books or so are junk, the good stuff is in the back of the storage unit. Heh.

One card to rule them all.

Dreamed all night about the new Lord of the Rings cards from Magic. I'm at some tournament, trying to figure out how it's all going. I run into some guys who see some of my old sports cards and comment about how they "are worth something." (Not my store, but it's a make little sense.)

Part of this is the anxiety of knowing that my competition will be selling the new cards today whereas I have to wait until next Friday. (I don't have playspace nor do I sponsor tournaments, so I don't qualify.)

Weird how this is preying on my mind. I ordered roughly five times the normal amount of Magic this time, partly because I do love Middle Earth, but also because I think it will be a hot item.

On the other hand, the stuff was available right up until today, so that makes me wonder how hot it could actually be.

In other words, I gambled, and now I'm wondering if I gambled too much, or  too little. 

I have a kind rule of thumb: If a product is hot, no matter how much you ordered, you won't have ordered enough. If a product is cold, no matter how much you ordered, it's too much. 

I usually go my own way on pricing. I usually try to keystone most of what I carry. I make the simple declarative statement: "I''m a retail store."

On the other hand, the only product that I actually offer discount on is Magic. This is because of competition, basically. I have tried to distinguish our store from other stores by having a very wide selection. We have over 60 brands in stock, which is considerably more than most places. But this isn't quite enough.

But, because Magic is everywhere these days, I also make a gesture toward discounting by offering "Buy five packs, get the sixth pack free." This amounts to a roughly 20% discount.

What I don't usually do is offer boxes at a huge discounts, unlike lots of stores, and especially unlike what is available online. But I've ordered so much LOTRs that I'm thinking about putting that 20% discount on a few boxes as well. 

Oh, decisions, decisions.

Probably the best thing to do is put the stuff out at normal margins and see what happens.

To repeat:  "If a product is hot, no matter how much you ordered, you won't have ordered enough. If a product is cold, no matter how much you ordered, it's too much."

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Slow writing and staying out of my own way.

Summer is almost here for the store. I'm counting this Friday as the start, more than midway through June. It used to be so easy to keep track of summer. Labor Day through Memorial Day, simple as that. But over the years, the school year has expanded (as have, to be fair, the number of out-of-school days in the school year.)

Like Christmas, it's always a little daunting to see how much money we need to make per day to make it all work. It seems like an impossible number, but as I always have to remind myself, summer always arrives and the Sheriff of Nottingham hasn't yet successfully cancelled Christmas. 

I just have to keep the faith. 

I have lowered my expectations. We are still far, far above what we were doing pre-Covid, but not as high as we were at our peak.

The main thing for me is to let it all happen. The store is completely stocked, top to bottom. It is time to let all the new customers and tourists find what we have and not try to so hard to chase them. I just need to keep the inventory at the current level and not gamble. Just let summer be summer, and hopefully at the end of the season, we'll have made the money we need to make.  

I'm not writing every day the way I did when I was on my tear. I thought perhaps I was done, but I still get the creative urge, so I have a world I've started to create, allowing myself to do so very slowly. 

Slow writing. 

I've never succeeded at this before, and it's too early to know if this is going to work this time. But I think the concept will hold up to long delays between entries, and so far it feels pretty natural. 

And besides, compared to George R. R. Martin, I'm on a streak!

Sunday, June 11, 2023

The strategically small store.

While ordering books, I ran across the title, "The Strategically Small Church: Intimate, Nimble, Authentic, and Effective

I loved both the title and the thinking behind it, but I applied it to my store instead of a church. In fact, I'll just take the description of the book below and type in "store" instead of "church" with a few other small changes. (The words in bold type are changed.)

The author of this book..." helps owners understand that a smaller store is sometimes better than a big one. He demonstrates the strengths of small stores, including that today's..."shoppers" want services that are local, personal, and intimate. Also, small stores provide space to nurture close relationships across age and lifestyle barriers, and they facilitate a higher level of commitment... And small store budgets are often more effective because of greater efficiency. The Strategically Small store will encourage small store owners in their businesses and challenge them to play to their strengths. "

Well, there you go! That's what I've been trying to say! 

I look around and see stores trying to get bigger, with more employees, more space, more complexity. And yet, I have a strong feeling that this isn't what they really want, they just think that's the way it should be. 

I know there are many store owners who want to get big, but I suspect that there are also a lot of owners who only wanted to follow their passions, to be in control of their own lives. 

The irony is; the bigger they get, the less they can follow their passion, the less control they have over their own lives. 

I've come up with a corollary to the Peter Principle: Store owners will expand to their level of incompetence. 

There is an overwhelming ethos in business in America that bigger is better, that you must constantly grow and expand or get left behind. But think about it. A small business owner is there talking to his customers, getting a feel for what's happening, enjoying the everyday business. A big business owner is in an office, managing other people, not talking to customers except through intermediaries and not really getting to do the everyday stuff. 

It seems to me that a small one to three employee store can manage things down to the smallest levels, have complete control over their policies and budgets and feel the day-to-day flow of the world. They can make friends with their customers, they can know their customers wants and likes. They can enjoy the casual banter, lean up against the counter and be an equal. They can go around and adjust things, do things spontaneously. 

At some point you maximize what one person can earn. You have to decide if you want to expand your offerings, your space, your time. Either you do it yourself or you hire someone.

Do it all yourself and you risk burnout.

Hire someone and you may just be handing over the extra profits you were trying to earn.

I'm not saying you don't have to work hard. There will be times when you are tired and stressed, but you can keep it to manageable levels. 

There is a happy medium to all this. A level by which you can keep the everyday enjoyment, earn a decent living, and not burn out. The owner controls how big their business gets, by how big the store is and how much inventory or services offered. No one cares as much about a business as the owner and a small crew who identify with the business. We can keep up the quality of service and appearance that we want.

I've tried to keep the store at a busy level, to the point where both Summer and Christmas can be almost too busy for just one person, but where for most of the year, it is manageable. This is what I want. I will turn down money if it means too much work or too much stress. I'm not sure, though, that I'm not a hell of a lot more efficient and effective with a small business than I would be at two or three times the size.

In fact, I know I would not be because I did it. I had four stores and it was awful. So I asked myself why I got into business, what I was doing, and how I could change it. Basically, I jettisoned all the stuff that made me miserable, and kept the stuff I liked. It took time to pivot, and I had to build back up from a pretty small level, but eventually we got to that happy medium, where I was doing what I wanted and still making a good living.

For example, if I was willing to trade or buy collections, my business would probably be more profitable. But I would be miserable. Instead, I turn my attention to what I can get through wholesale, shaping the inventory so that is profitable without being a hassle. I'm not saying that you'll love everything you sell or do as a service, but you can try to turn it that way as much as possible.

A small store may be just what you want. 

Who the fuck wants to be a nasty billionaire anyway?

Saturday, June 10, 2023

We'll have tons of Lord of the Rings cards on June 16th.

My love of Middle Earth overcame my better judgement and I ordered about 5 times the normal amount of Magic cards. I mean, at worst we'll be able to sell them over the next few years. I'm hoping there'll be mad demand for them. Even 43 years of up and down experience hasn't quite broken me of my gambling predilection.

Because we don't have play space, Pegasus Books has to wait until the 23rd of June to release them. 

Wizards of the Coast has created One Card (of the Ring) To Rule Them All, which people are already offering a million bucks for. We have to almost hope no one finds it too quickly. 

Anyway, it's the start of summer and we should start seeing crowds soon. 

With four times the normal cards, I sure hope so. 

 Magic: The Gathering Unveils the Literal One Ring to Rule ...

Friday, June 9, 2023

Old School Cool and Instant Nostalgia.

I've been grabbing, at random, a supply of old pulps to bring to the store.

To me, they are awesome. They are very cool. They are evocative of another era, and yet somehow appropriate to this era. "Bad girl" art covers, goofy 50s style SF art, Golden Age Westerns. 

Most people don't even glance at them, but every once in a while, someone will perk up. 

"What's that?" they ask.

I tell the the story of the old grocery store on the west side of Bend where the owner had boxed up the paperback books and pulp magazines for 70 years or so. How he had told his kids that they would be "worth a fortune," but how when the time came to cash in, it was harder to find a buyer than they thought.

Until I found out about it. They offered the books for $300, and I paid them $400...because I knew I was getting a real prize.

So, yeah. It was a real prize, but I ran into the same problems they did. Who the hell will buy these things?

I know for sure that there are people out there who would fall all over themselves to get these pulps if they saw them. They are in "Fine" to "Near-Mint" in condition. Just their existence is incredibly rare--being in that condition is almost unheard of. The problem is getting them out there so that the people who would be interested could find them.

Now my store is functioning very well right now without any online presence. To establish an online presence right now would require knowledge, time, and patience I don't have. So I thought...OK. I'll take a few handfuls of the books to the store and see if anyone is interested.

I priced them at $6, though online they probably would go for three or four times that much, to the right customers, who believed me when I told them the condition, and so on. Sabrina had some plastic bags she'd purchased for our manga, and they fit the pulps perfectly. Once in the plastic, the wonderfully evocative covers to the pulps, just popped. Beautiful, instant nostalgia. 

To my great surprise, we sold out of the first batch. I mean, it was probably only two or three people, and one person in particular who bought them up. That may be a one-time occurrence, but it's still encouraging that someone out there saw the appeal. 

I want to find these beautiful books a home. I've pretty much already got back what I paid for them. I love looking at them, but I've got enough to satisfy me. I guess we'll find out if there are other people who appreciate these books as much as we do.

How much can I pack into the store before it bursts?

I tend to think I over order on a regular basis. But every once in a while I get a hint that maybe there is a method to my madness. 

Sabrina and Ashley have decided to takeover one of our book racks and create thematic displays. This removes space for about 20 books or so.

Just 20 books, but there is absolutely no place to put them. What's strange is that I get hundreds of books a week that I manage to find space for, but these 20 books seem to be a step too far. Which means, I think, that subconsciously I'm calibrating the flow of books to a fine degree. 

I've always felt that I have a spacial talent for figuring just by looking how much or how little product a space will hold. Along with an ability to make the most of the space we have. The joke in the store is that every week or so, at some point in the process, I'll look up from trying to find space and say, "That's it. There's no more space. We can't order anything more." To which Ash and Sabrina will roll their eyes. 

Funny thing is, it's been true for a long time, but it just keeps happening. The other joke is, "I've got to find a way to suspend books from the ceiling," to which Ash and Sabrina will usually agree and start brainstorming ways to do it. Ha.

 So I'm just going to say it. We're out of room. I got to quit ordering stuff....

My finger hovers over the order button. Nah....I'll figure it out...

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Ask yourself if it is worth it.

Because of all the miss-impressions I hear about both writing and bookstores, I have to assume that I  have just as many miss-impressions of other peoples' jobs and hobbies. You don't really know something unless you do it, intensely and long enough to get the real gist.

Talking to my brother about the bookstores in his hometown. I won't say what town because I don't want to insult anyone. 

So there is a big-time bookstore there that does all the things that a big-time bookstore does. Has a in-house coffee shop, has famous authors come by for readings, and so on.

So Mike's wife, Sherry, goes in to ask for some support for a charity benefit and the owner is "rude and nasty."

So I said, "That's what I've been trying to tell you, Mike. The owner has probably reached her limit. She's overburdened herself trying to do all the things everyone tells you to do. It's called burnout and it will happen to almost all the owners of such shops."

Well, Mike is skeptical. Almost everyone I say this to is skeptical. To most people, that's what bookstores are: and no amount of failure or change of ownerships will change that impression. Because the trend is stronger than the truth. It overwhelms the real-world experience to the extent that even the victims of the myth buy into it. 

I'm in my 44th year at my bookstore and I'm enjoying it more than ever. Not even close to burnout. In fact, we're doing better than ever. 

What I do is sell books. That's it. Sell books.

Meanwhile, Mike tells me that they shop at the "smaller" bookstore in town. 

"Does it have a coffee shop?" I ask.

"No, but there is one next door."

"Next door is fine. That's someone else's problem."

I'm firmly convinced that in twenty or thirty years, the book industry will look back on this era and wonder what we were all thinking. "Wine and coffee, restaurants, and space and time for stuff other than books? WTF?"

Again, I don't think most will agree with this assessment, including other bookstores, but at the very least, there is something to my position. "Keep it simple, stupid." 

So Linda says, "But it's a draw. It brings in people who sit and chat."

So then my question becomes, "OK, say it's a 30% extra draw. Meanwhile, you have at least 100% more effort to stock and staff your restaurant. Everyone of of those author readings, and club meetings, and gatherings require planning and effort. All of it draws attention, time, and energy from your real job of selling books. If it doesn't, it's because you hired someone to do it. At best, it's a break-even proposition that will eventually drain you, 

All I'm saying is, ask yourself; "Is it worth it?"

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Publishers don't have time for that editing thing.

Funnily enough, I've only been what I would term "edited" by a publisher twice, out of 27 books and five shorts stories. (EDITOR: "There is no such word as funnily.")

I think there is an erroneous expectation on the part of beginning writers that publishers will work with you to fix a book, but in my experience, publishers don't have time for that. They get so many submissions, they can just accept the stories that already work. I suppose if you are a "famous" author, you have a hands-on editor--though I think the super famous authors can publish anything they want. (Some of the famouser SF writers weren't a rigorous with their later works: Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke.) (EDITOR: "There is no such word as famouser")

When I wrote my first book way back in 1980, I just assumed that the publisher would take it over, fix it up, and away we go. 

Instead, other than a few copy edits, nothing. 

In some ways, it was a rocky start. I let the book be published (How could I say no?) even though it might not have been ready. I will admit, they rejected the first effort at the third book because they felt I was trying too hard to make two books out of it. That was the right decision: in fact, years later, I combined "Snowcastles" and "Icetowers" into one book.

By the time I wrote "Icetowers" I understood I was on my own and thus that third book holds up much better than the first two. 

From the time I came back in 2013 and published "Led to the Slaughter," I hired my own editor, not just for copyedits, but for story changes as well. Lara Milton was great at it, and all my books benefited greatly from her suggestions.

But I had zero pushback from the publishers. And so it went for most of the books following. Because of this, I made the choice not to publish several books because I didn't think they worked. Maybe they would have been fine, but I wasn't sure who would tell me that.

Finally, in one of my last books, I did have a publisher who asked for major changes, not once, not twice, but three times. The first two changes were major improvements, but I felt the third change was too much. Again, I wasn't going to dispute a publisher.

I can remember a couple of instances where I got major push backs from my copy readers. I went back and adjusted "Led to the Slaughter" a couple of time to its improvement. 

I struggled over the decision to leave the second chapter of "Deadfall Ridge" in or not. There isn't a lot of action in the second chapter, but I felt it was absolutely crucial in developing the character of the main protagonist. I've always been glad I chose to keep it. 

The last thing I ever submitted was a short story. To my great surprise, the first two short stories I ever submitted were accepted to anthologies, which will always make me wonder if I missed my true calling. Anyway, on the second story, the publisher was very hands on. Again, I accepted the first two rewrites as improvements. Again, the third rewrite, for me, went too far...but I didn't fight the publisher over it. Once they accept a manuscript, I sort of feel like it's theirs. 

From now on, I'm going to stick to my guns on changes I don't agree with, even if it means being rejected. I'll have to figure out where to draw the line; in the two examples, the first suggestions were great, the last suggestions not so much. I think I could have tried to politely argue the point. I've now had so many books published, I don't fear rejection anymore. 

Like I said, it isn't common to be edited heavily, and I suspect it will be even less common in the future.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Cue the X-Files music.

Linda has been rewatching the X-Files from season one on. I hung in there for a few episodes, but I just have a hard time watching something twice.

Anyway, there is a current actual news story bubbling up about a supposed expert whistleblower who maintains that the governments of the world have been tracking down and have in their possession technology of a non-human nature. The sources are what I would call secondary news outlets, not the sheer nuttery sites, but also not mainstream.

So I went down the rabbit hole for a few hours. The way it's presented, the whistleblower is credible. But he's credible to the credulous, if you know what I mean.

It's all a tease so far. To me, the big tease is an almost sure giveaway that it's a bunch of hoo-ha. There have been too many Al Capone Vault discoveries, identifications of Jack the Ripper, the Sedgeway will change how we travel brouhaha, and other bullshit for me to give it much credence. 

But...wouldn't it be cool? They've been reverse engineering alien technology for years? 

Sadly, it's the very fact that it would be so cool that makes me doubt the whole thing.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Googled my name.

Did what I haven't done for a while and Googled my name. There are pages and pages of listings. I guess that's what happens when you write 25 books.

To my surprise, it said I have 768 reviews for "Deadfall Ridge." (4.2 out of 5) I had no idea it was that high. I wonder if they have changed things. Believe me, these things are relative: "Fairy Tale," by Stephen King has 46,000 reviews, while my 768 reviews ain't bad for a indie book.

The guestimate is that each review can represent up to 10 sales. I haven't really kept track. That's from Amazon alone, and there are other venues, including my own store.

I also found a lot of reviews I didn't know existed for my other books--partly, I think, because there are different editions from switching publishers. There are even reviews for my short stories (a perfect 10 ratings for "Free Mars," and even a few reviews for my little confection, "Burp, the Burrow Wight.")

I'll never have a completely accurate number for how many books I've sold because a couple of my publishers weren't exactly on top of things.

But all in all, it's pretty encouraging.

So now I'll wait another few years before Googling my name again.

The Sword of Damocles.

We mortals all know that the Sword of Damocles hangs over our heads. But once you've had a heart attack, you can see the sharpness of the blade. It completely changes how you look at things. 

I started reading obituaries pretty early, probably in my 30s. (I read somewhere that reading obituaries is a sure sign of middle-age.)

The name of this blog is, "The Best Minimum Wage Job a Middle-Aged Guy Ever Had." I started writing it in 2006, when I was 54 years old. I'm now 70, but I can't figure out a graceful way to change the title, so I'm keeping it.

A big chunk of my family is visited Bend this week. I'm happy to see them. At the same time, some of them knew me from the big chunk of my life when I was younger and also deeply depressive. I see them rarely because we are spread out all over the country. So there's that thing where you are what your are and people remember you as you were, There is a weird sort of fight to remain the current self and not fall back into your former self.  

Linda, being the youngest sibling in her family by far, talks about how hard it was to make her siblings realize she wasn't just a kid anymore. Strange to say at the age we are, but it is still a thing. 

Reading about De Niro and Pacino having kids in their 80s made me wonder about how they must think about things. I'm nearing retirement--and putting it off as long as is feasible. I've already spent too many days at home wondering what to do. I like going to the store. I still enjoy it.

At the same time, whenever I start making changes or investing in longer projects, I wonder if I should be doing it. There's a commercial on these days that has a bunch of old people cheerfully talking about their hobbies and plans...and then an abrupt shift to a dark screen and the sound of a monitor flatlining.

Ghee, thanks for reminding.

But what else can you do? You pretty much have to prepare, but there are going to be things you leave undone. There are things your family will have to wrap up. You can't stop living.

Anyway, happy Summer weather and sorry about this particular blog. Family visits get you thinking.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Which three of my own books would I recommend?

Which of my books do I feel good about recommending?

That's a different question than which books are my favorites or which books do I think are my best, though a Venn diagram would be 90%.

So which books do I put into people's hands?

"Led to the Slaughter," probably first, depending on the reader's tastes. (Not everyone likes the fantasy/horror element.) This book, for me, has stood the test of time. It's a darn solid book, in my opinion. The history was as accurate as I could make it. It was solidly constructed and I never had any second thoughts about it.

"Deadfall Ridge," if the reader is more inclined to "reality." I mean, at least there aren't any fantasy elements to it. It's a bit far fetched, but to me that's what thrillers do. They bend reality to make it more exciting. Again, I think this is a solid book. 

"Tuskers," the first book in my super pigs series. It's a fast-paced book, if you can buy the premise. There are a couple of great characters in the book, characters who came out of left field and took over. And if the reader likes the first book, chances are they'll like the others.

Most of my other books require more explanation, I guess. I think there are a couple of good ones there; in fact, probably my two favorite books to write: "Fateplay" and "Blood of the Succubus." I thought "Snaked" was pretty good, too.

A few others were me simply feeling my story-writing oats. I liked them, but I never pushed them. So they are my orphans, in a way. Some of them only went to ebook format. Not that they weren't good, just that I had exhausted everyone by my output. I rather liked "Shadows Over Summer House," my one sort of gothic/romance type book. "Gargoyle Dreams" is another love story, and I think my editor, Lara Milton liked it best. Linda liked the first person/straightforward storytelling of "I Live Among You."

My vampire books were me learning to tell a story again. I think they are decent, and in fact, the second book, "Rule of Vampire," was one of the most solid books I ever wrote. 

"Fairy Punk" was me having fun, and "The Last Fedora," perhaps was the most original and unusual of my books.

And a few others, toward the end of my writing binge, were more experimental. They were me trying something different, trying to stretch. The reviews by readers weren't as encouraging as my early books, but I'm proud of them. I know what I was trying to do. 

I didn't try to mention all my books. It's the same problem I had writing them; too many, too fast. But I was in the zone and I didn't want to disrupt it. What a great time I had. 

Competition is complicated.

I've learned to back off from direct competition over the last 40 years. My first experience was the worst because I simply didn't know how to handle another store popping up when I wasn't making enough money in my own store. 

Well, I'm not the boss of others. My job is to adjust.

That first competitive situation became toxic and I'm not completely excusing myself. 

The natural impulse is to get competitive, as if it's a war. But that's a mistake. The competition has every right to try doing the same thing you are doing. 

Nowadays, I wait for a decent length of time, and then introduce myself to the competition and make it clear that I'm hoping for a cooperative relationship. And since that first time, that has mostly worked out. At worst, the competitors ignored me, and that was all right. At best, there developed a true cooperative relationship. I don't know that there has ever been a buddy/buddy relationship, but I don't tend to be buddy/buddy with anyone. 

This doesn't mean you shouldn't react to competition, however. Observe what they doing and see if you need to match them in price or variety. 

Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. They are who they are and you who you are. They'll be the new kid in town for awhile, fresh and new and frisky, and you just have to let them be that way. In response, you need remain steady and reliable.

I've always had an underdog persona, at least to myself, so it was a surprise one day when someone pointed out that I was the old and established store. 

"I'm the old guy?" I asked.

Well, yeah. Lean into it. 

Weirdly enough, after a while you start hoping for smart competition, not dumb. Smart competition means they are playing by the same rules and have the same constraints you do. Dumb competition is a wild card that can be hard to handle and cause chaos for everyone 

So I try to delineate my strengths and weakness and adjust to the current situation. Competition doesn't usually put a store out of business. Either the economy is strong enough for all stores or weak enough that all stores feel the pressure.

The other response is to double down. Response to competition by upping your game. It might mean taking a few risks. It might mean making at least a gesture toward the customer that you're on their side. You might have to go lower on prices, or increase your inventory. 

I'm a great believer in keeping things simple, so I generally do what I'm already doing--but just more of it or less of it. 

What I learned is, competition will always be there. There is no avoiding it. There is only accommodating it.