Thursday, December 17, 2009

Did you ever Try Handselling a Book and Realize You Don't Have any Copies...

So I'm talking to a customer and the perfect book suggestion comes to me. The only problem is, when I get to the shelf, we don't have it. Not just that, we've never had it.

In some cases, I caught these gaffes quickly and it's paid off. We have very nice sales of The Distant Land of My Father, by Bo Caldwell, and I think in 75% of the cases, I put the book in someone's hand. Others I spotted yesterday. And only time will tell if it's worth it to bring these titles in. But now that I'm on the floor quite a bit, I have lots more opportunities than when I was a buyer, and I seem more persuasive than when I was the manager in Mequon many years ago.

The key on these things is, you really have to prove that you can sell the book. "It's your job, not your library" I used to say to eager booksellers who spent way too much time telling me what we were missing, instead of trying to sell what we had. And though as the owner, perhaps I can carry whatever I want, it's been my thought that I should have the same expectations of myself that I have of everyone else, if not higher.

1. The Golden Gate, by Vikram Seth.
First I decided it was perfect for Lucy, the daughter of my friendstomer (friend/customer) Polly. I thought I'd ordered in one for stock too, so I brought it up at the Waukesha County book club presentation I did today. I had already convinced Cyndie (the member who set this up) to read it, but when I checked, I still hadn't been secure enough to bring in a stock copy. We sold about 30 copies of this book, a novel of two friends in 1970's San Francisco that is completely told in sonnets, when I made it my backlist push several years ago. It's a beautiful book, both structurally and emotionally, and whether you love it or hate it you have to agree--you've likely never read anything like it.

2. Village School, by Miss Read.
I hadn't even thought about Miss Read in years, until a certain retired sports hero's wife told me it was her secret passion. I thought, "Hey, I'm working with every Miss Read fan I know", that being Bev and Anne. We brought in several and are hoping it is as successful as another passion we share (well, Bev, me and Amie in this other case), Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking. After seeing a Schwartz store sell two a year if we were lucky, we've sold about 20 this year.

Which brings me to an author I thought was perfect for my Miss Read fan...

3. An Unsuitable Attachment, by Barbara Pym (et al).
I think we're due for another Barbara Pym revival and I'm ready to start it. It's another author that Bev, Anne, and I share (oh, and John E., who also loves Colwin). In this case, the story is about Sophie, the vicar's wife, who takes on the task of matching the eligible Rupert Stonebird to her sister Penelope, only she doesn't figure on competition from new arrival Iantha Broome. The 50's books are different from the 80's books (where there are even some gay characters) but they both share a profound human insight and a marvelous sense of humor. This is the bridge novel, the 7th novel that was somehow rejected by her publisher and led to a very long dry spell.

4. In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden, by Kathleen Cambor. My recent post on Mark Gates reminded me what a great book club book that was, and how little I was on the floor to hand-sell it. Best of all, it's still in print and available as a real book, as opposed to print on demand. During our Raymond Carver event, I started to talk up David Leavitt's Martin Bauman (Leavitt's veiled story about his professional relationship with Gordon Lish), only to find it was $21.95 and POD. Now it might be a perfectly nice book, but it's about $7 too high for my customers, and I was a little nervous about the quality to order it in.

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