Thursday, January 18, 2007

Not a snowball’s chance in…

No posting the last few days because I’ve been getting home late. Between that and getting into (and possibly injuring myself during) snowball fights, I haven’t been the most on top of it person when it comes to my computer duties.

Bad me. I would hate for Kate R. to have to follow through with her threats to write letters since currently she doesn’t have my real name (something y’all don’t get that until after I get my severance check), and would instead come across as dotty. I’ve made my official decision not to stay with the company. The only openings they had for me all involved not handling books, and a life that is not centered around direct retail interactions (and standing all day) appeals to me on many levels. On the advice of the wonderful Nancy Marmolejo, I’ve decided to move forward with my plan to start a business teaching authors how to reach booksellers, and booksellers how to reach authors (if there is any market for it) on a part-time basis. Meanwhile I need to find a full-time job with regular hours (something the retail world doesn’t believe in), so that coming home with the feeling like a train hit me will no longer be a regular occurrence.

Not that I’ve felt that way lately, because here’s the funny thing: most of the work—the running, the guessing—in a bookstore is finding, shelving, and shifting books. It’s the crunch to get the new stock out on time, creating room for that new stock to go, and finding space in overstock while balancing on one toe on the top of the ladder. It’s the uncertainty of a system that doesn’t update right away leaving you wondering if the book the customer wants is still in the store. It’s the rush to answer the demand in the customer’s voice. That always something to do, something to move urge is gone. All the stock is out front, the remaining overstock negligible. We either have the books they’re looking for, or we don’t, and we won’t be getting anything else in between now and close. We can answer questions about books released after December 26th easily and with the sure belief that no, we don’t have it. Never got it in. Who knew “no” could be such a freeing thing to say?

Our customers’ habits have changed as well. As soon as they learned that we were closing, those people who barely made it past the front of the store and the new releases have started browsing, looking for treasures that they never thought to grab before. One of my regulars is using the store closing discount to fill in holes in her collection, another to give books he wouldn’t have otherwise picked up a try. For every customer we immediately lost upon the announcement of no new stock, three more have sprung up in their place. Sure, they’re vultures, but their money is good and the books are going to be read and loved.

And that’s all that really matters isn’t it?

But along with the stress, most of the fun is gone too. There is nothing like opening a box and realizing it has something new inside, something you’ve never touched or read before. From the tactile pleasure that comes from paper grade and deckled edges to the emotional high of seeing a new book by an author you love, it’s this bibliophile’s drug fix of choice. For me, there was always the added kick of knowing I touched it first, had the chance to flip through street dates before they were available to the customers. Now that those days are gone, the drive that got us through the work day—tempering weird customer behavior and bad news—is gone as well.

Maybe there really were opiates in the ink…or maybe it was something a bit less downing.

That need to touch, to know, almost makes me want to linger. Almost makes me want to take a transfer to inventory management or walk down the street to one of the other book companies (both chain and independent) in the area, but then I remember:

Retail sucks. Your entire life is based on the whims and temperaments of the customers you have to greet face to face, and you’re either praised for your knowledge or downgraded to a faceless “girl” or “boy” when you can’t produce. There is nothing as demeaning as having some older woman or man say to you, “Girl. Girl! How hard is it to find my book?!”

About as hard as it is to look at my name tag, apparently.

And after seven years of seasonal to part-time to full-time to management, I just don’t want to have another day where I have to strap on a lanyard or a name tag and the first words out of my mouth are, “Hi, can I help you find anything today?”

(Replacing that “can” with “may” for those people who look like grammar sticklers, of course.)

One of my customers—one who regularly scares the bejeezus out of all of us with his weird habits, mood swings, and promises to see us at the rapture—wants us to all go apply at the competing chain store a couple miles away. All of us except for the few he thinks are possessed by Satan (something you can identify in people thanks to some helpful indicators like a preference for black clothing or long direct eye contact), that is. And while one part of me is happy that he had a good experience despite our fear of whatever horrible thing will come out of his mouth next, another part of me wants to yell “Not a snowball’s chance in hell, Mister,” and run far, far away.

Like to Australia.

Which I just can’t do since all the research I’ve put into starting my possible business would be useless in the land down under. Not to mention it would be really hard to get mail from the post office box I’m trying to set up.

Think of the forwarding fees.


Marta said...

BSC, Congratulations on deciding not to go to the Rapture (Lipton's Onion Soup Dip, Dollar Store potpourri, and the Macarena on an endless loop), and instead pursuing your business.

Put me down on your list as an author interested in your consulting.

Also, would you kindly stop calling people who want books at a good price "vultures"? Not everyone gets free books, and there is no crime in taking advantage of a bargain. I'm sure the chainstore's financial experts work these discounts into their advice to close stores.

Christine Fletcher said...

I'm second on the list after Marta! My book is coming out in paperback in June, and I'll have a new one out in 2008. (Assuming I actually make my deadline in March, but that's a different conundrum altogether.)

I visit many an author/publishing site, and there's a definite need for someone with expertise in the bookseller-author connection. Kudos to you, and good luck!

Nancita said...

Thanks for the mention!

You can do it, you have so much know how and talent.

Quit working for the man! Get your own gig!!!

Simon Haynes said...

Re: Australia. Damn straight. I live there and it costs a fortune to post anything North of the equator.

Sydney Gal said...

Congratulations Bookseller Chick - sounds like a fabulous idea.

You're right about Australia ... the publishing industry here has some great people, but it's pretty damn tiny, so after six years of working in it I'm now looking for my next job in New York.

Vivian said...

Congratulations on your new venture. It's exciting taking that first step. Keep the momentum going. You'll be so glad you did.

Robin Brande said...

SO happy to hear about your new, great idea. You're the right person for that work. Congratulations!

Radthorne said...

Good-o, B-Chick! Glad to see you have a plan that will let you share your knowledge - it's far too valuable to let it all just vanish into the ether. Set me down as number three on your list of author sign-ups. I doubt you'll have any shortage of potential clients!

I would also encourage you to consider writing a humerous "life in the booktrade" book. With your years of experiences, and your obvious talent for writing both funny and well (and under pressure - keeping up with a popular blog must be exhausting), my bet is you could get a pretty darn good book out there (and even get it on the front table at your soon-to-be-former-employer).

And I hope you can continue the blog as well. I know there are a great many of us who greatly enjoy your little corner of cyberspace, whether we post or not. (Hmm, but the name, now... Whatever are we going to call you after this? "Author Consultant Chick" doesn't have quite the right ring to it... We'd end up calling you ACC, which sounds like someone choking on their latte...)

raine said...

I'm late, but wanted to express my regret at the closing of the store. Sorry, but I hate to hear about ANY bookstore going under--swear I'd live in one if I could.

But congratulations on the new endeavor, and wishing you the very best!

Theo said...

seven years! Sheesh! That's six years more than I was able to endure. Consider yourself blessed
to still be a more or less functional human being, still have your wits about you!

Good wishes with the new venture
and thanks again for your great posts here.

Erin O'Brien said...

Good luck on your new venture. I'm thinking of just putting a pic of my vibrator on the cover of my novel. Maybe then it will sell better.


Dawn Firelight said...

I think you've got a great idea there. All the best to you! And I totally sympathise with your not wanting to return to retail. I'm doing that now and you're right, IT'S HORRIBLE.

Ms. Librarian said...

"Show me a man who hates mankind, and I'll show you a man who works in retail." -- Anonymous

That's what I felt like working at the fabric store. ARGH!

Anonymous said...

Best to you BSC! I just got my 10 year lanyard and note from the higher ups. Considered hanging myself with it.

Go do your own thing and for god's sake keep in touch because what you propose fascinates me! Book rep for the whole industry!

Very cool!

Sam said...

I am so sorry. It's terrible - this demise of the small, family owned store. It's happening in my town too - and the only thing taking their places are insurance offices and real estate offices. There used to be a bagel shop, a book store, a small breakfast nook, a children's clothing store, and a candle shop. Now everything is real estate.

Josh said...

Another writer here looking forward to your bookseller-bookwriter connection business. Always been fun reading your blog and finding those great nuggest of advice.

David de Beer said...

>I’ve decided to move forward with my plan to start a business teaching authors how to reach booksellers,

good to hear that; I keep stressing to all the writers I meet how important it is to get to know the dealers, to make that connection. No one can provide you with the info like a bookdealer can.

My sympathies - I worked 6 years in a bookstore; last year I just couldn't handle it anymore. I know the feeling too well. Much as I loved aspects of it, it got too much, and my salary was going to remain at the pitiful sameness iof I'd stayed.
It's hard to explain, but making that decision to leave and sticking with it - it's like an immense weight lifting.

Patrice Michelle said...

Bookseller Chick,

I'm so sorry to hear about your store closing, but I'm thrilled that you'll be taking on a neat role for yourself. Authors need expertise like yours! :)

Zen of Writing said...

Dealing with the public in any capacity is thankless. In grad school I worked in one of the continuing ed offices and my desk was first in line to every whiner and lunatic who could turn the doorknob. (Just a warning, in case you were considering an office job -- get one in the back.)

Kelly said...

Good luck, BSC. It seems to me there's a great need for this type of work.