Friday, July 31, 2009

One Last Tweak to the Eco Hatchery Workshop--Admission Fee is Now Gift Card

Note: OK, this didn't work either! We're postponing the event for retooling. So no workshops on August 5th and 12th. We're hoping to put together a better package to entice you to reduce your carbon footprint.


Our Eco Hatchery workshop starts Wednesday, August 5th. You've probably read about it in our email newsletter, and seen the Eco Kit in our store (and probably at a few other places around town). It's a collection of tools to help you redo your home and life and save hundreds of dollars a year.

The original price of the workshop was $120. That's pretty steep, but the kit itself is $97.50. The problem for us is that Ecopreneur Adam Borut didn't originally price out the kit for resale, and built a very slim margin into the product. If you listen to small retailers complain, you know that besides sales, margin is our obsession. It's what determines whether we make or lose money.

So we added the $20 workshop charge. That's two weeks of hand-holding from Adam, explaining how everything works, then giving you a week to play with the stuff, then another session of quesions and answers. We originally though the cost might be offset with grants from Wisconsin Electric or some other such entity that is interested in promoting energy savings and carbon footprint reducing.

No go. So that price point is a little intimidating. I'm going to make it less so. Register for the program, and you'll get the $20 back as a gift card to use in our store. So now the workshops are effectively free with the purchase of the kit.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Other Collectible Case, Filled with Boswell Books

Remember that display case filled with my bandage tins? Well, we've actually got two matching cases, and I only have enough bandages for one of them. Perhaps someday I will have some expensive items that I want to sell out of them. But for now, the other case is also filled with an item not for sale, David Schwartz's collection of Boswelliana.

It's a treasure trove of journals, histories, and even novels. We added the recently published The Brothers Boswell to our collection.

So a few weeks ago, we had a passer by ask us if he could buy a book out of the case. It turns out he wrote his dissertation on Boswell and we had a book that he was missing. Despite us not being able to honor his request,we made his day anyway.

He turned out to be bicycling from Chicago to Minneapolis to promote Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac. Evan Schneider (for that was his name) is the managing editor and his tour was sponsored by Fat Tire Ale. So I asked if he was doing the event at Hollander or Sugar Maple, both Belgian beer headquarters in Milwaukee. Why no, he was just passing through.

What? A store named after his dissertation and Belgian beer running like tap water and you're not having an event here? And yes, we have bicycle lanes too. Maybe next year.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Bookstore Rises in Georgia, and another in Brooklyn

Just when we were getting started, we got a visit from Janet Geddis, visiting her sister in Wauwatosa. She was interested in starting a bookstore in Athens, Georgia, and heard about our opening. We had a great time talking, and I hope I gave her some useful advice.

Her plans haven't slown down. The store is called Avid Bookshop and she hopes to have it open in the spring of 2010. Read about her quest in the trade paper Bookselling this Week. Oh, and she's also Twittering.


Boswell got more than our fair share of press at its opening (and I'm grateful), but the longest-running story has been Jessica Stockton Bagnulo's journey to a bookstore in Fort Greene, now called Greenlight.

Read her personal journey here, in what is by far one of the best regarded bookseller blogs. And here's her official bookstore blog.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Getting Ready for "Stephen Colbert 101" Schiller and Keith on the Philosophy and Rhetoric of Comedy Central's Arbiter of Truthiness

If you've attended enough of our readings and talks, you've figured out that we have two basic layouts. The intimate talks (expectation of less than thirty) are set up in the back right corner. There are perceived wall boundaries and an artificially dropped ceiling (it's actually duct work but it does the trick) that make the space and event seem comfortable even with 10-15 people.

For larger events, we use the back center space. It's more open, and can be easily expanded. At one of our events, we set up for 50 people and within ten minutes, when we realized things were much bigger, we had seating for 150.

The big restraint we have is the microphone jack. The podium needs to be less than 10 feet from the outlet.

So there's not much more that we think about when we set up an event. But in preparation for tomorrow's event with Professors Aaron Schiller and William Keith for "Stephen Colbert 101" (spun off of Schiller's newly edited work, Stephen Colbert and Philosophy), we almost had a rousing academic discussion for chair placement.

That's because Professor Schiller is quite knowledgeable on the subject, having penned Democracy as Dicussion: Civic Education and the American Forum Movement. Public forums, not that different from many book talks, were quite interested in the arrangement of public meetings to best further discussion.

In the end, you won't see us making dramatic changes to a typical Boswell setup. We'll have our two easy chairs for the authors (we do this sometimes for events that are more discussions) plus the podium as well. The structure of the talk will be a series of posed questions. You know philosophers love questions.

Keith's work on rhetoric and public forum applies well to Stephen Colbert's unique format and audience participation. And he and Schiller have taken this talk seriously; we are not just another slot on a ten-city tour. It should be very interesting.

And don't be surprised if Professor Keith tweaks my chair placement at the last minute. The event is Wednesday (tomorrow), July 29th, at 7 PM.

Monday, July 27, 2009

You Must be Wondering How that Tango Night Went

You Must be Wondering How that Tango Night Went

Actually, pretty well.

Here were the high points:

a. The music (Jane Firmunn Hollander, Stas Venglevski, Wayne Wildman) was beautiful and the dancing (Nina Tatarowicz & Eli Leserowitz) was breathtaking.

b. Jane Hollander did a wonderful job of organizing the event. Lynn decorated and catered and was efficient and organized.

c. Many of our regular customers attended and loved it. There were clamorings for more (wow, they don't know how much work this was for Jane & Co.), and even acknowledgements that $10 was too low a price (when's the last time you heard that in a bookstore?)

d. It was an event that clearly validated our rearrangement of the store. We could not have done this if we kept the tall bookcase maze through the center rear.

e. Christine Povinelli did a great job getting publicity, and was very easy to work with.

f. Greg affably allowed us to move his shift back two hours; together with Amie and Jason, we were able to staff the event without extra cost. Thanks to you all.

g. Best dressed crowd Boswell's had to date. Many folks dressed in concertwear. I really liked this.

Here were some of the setbacks:

a. By far, that we couldn't let everybody in who wanted to attend. We turned away at least 50 people, maybe 100. I would have let more people in with a regular reading or even a recital, but due to the visual nature of the dancing and the promise of open dancing (to say nothing of code), we had to cut things off. Folks were not necessarily happy, and I expect to get complaints. Fortunately, most of us (I'm sure one of my booksellers was remiss) let folks know to come early by phone, and we sent out a warning email, and an even more blatant warning correction.

My apologies who arrived after we hit capacity.

b. Priced too low. I worry Jane didn't cover her costs. Of course, I haven't asked yet.

c. Event made my customers happy, but didn't necessarily drive sales. Our business is substantially hurt by the bicycle races (hurray, now we have two dead days in the summer) and the cash registers did not ring much before and after the event (unlike Dwellephant's marketplace idea, which really worked on every level). Did it help at all? Yes, because one of the participants went to town and bought several of our second-hand sets, including one multi-volume collection of Italian Renaissance works, which I had just moved to the back of the store, near the performance.

d. Maybe one tango-related book sold off our display We're going to keep a display up for a while longer, and we're carrying both Jane's (Doggie Dreams) and Stas's CD's (Stas may come up again in another post, as he reminded me of his Schwartz connections). I think folks might not have been interested in carrying something home that night, but they might buy a book later to help preserve their memories of a memorable good time.

e. Originally I thought it was noble to pass the entire admission fee to the organizers, but we ran into problems. Because of this, we couldn't have advance tickets and couldn't take credit cards. It might have worked better for us to raise the price so we could do both of these things. On the other hand, this could have led to more errors. By not having advance tickets, we could just shut the door when the concert started.

f. Regarding the advance ticket thing, I think this would have not been an issue except that Christine did such a great job that enthusiasm really seeped into the market well beyond my customer base. We had folks from Cedarburg to Mukwonago attending, some of whom were the late folks we couldn't let in. Without a PR person, with the press I'd normally get on an event, and with a higher entry fee, I think we'd be able to keep it to a very manageable 150 people.

g. I hit the wrong settings on my camera and everything came out blurry.

Jane and Christine's next project is a doggie concert. We've got the info at the shop.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Did Editing Spoil "The Old Man and Me"?

A couple of years ago, Schwartz sold the New York Review of Books reissue of The Dud Avocado like crazy. The cover was superb, totally capturing that youthful silliness that takes life very seriously. It's nice to have a hook and I used to say Breakfast at Tiffany's goes to Paris. I was even selling a lot of books off my staff rec shelf (sadly, rather unusual), and the NPR coverage and great word of mouth didn't hurt either.

Now two years later and another of Dundy's novels was released by NYRB. The Old Man and Me was Dundy's London novel. It's another pretender to wealth and the good life, code name Honey Flood, visiting London and falling in with a crowd of partiers, finding all the time a strange attraction to one particularly dashing but something galling older gentleman.

The difference? Sales were nary a whimper, at least for us (I checked Above the Treeline and a handful of other independents had substantial sales of five or more). Dundy died between the releases so she couldn't be relied on for interviews. The jacket, while very nice and certainly evocative of the time. If anything, the elements of this story capture even more of the Breakfast at Tiffany's flavor--high living, a druggish jazz club, fun field trips to country houses.

I haven't proven my thesis yet, but I'm thinking the key to the problem might be the editing. I read Dundy's introduction, and it seems she did some major cleanup before this edition's publication. In particular, much of the extraneous dialogue was eliminated. Sadly, the results made the story seems quite flat, at least to me.

So if you haven't read, The Dud Avocado, go out and find a copy; you've still got at least a month of summer to enjoy it. If you're wondering about The Old Man and Me, do me a favor and read it twice, once from NYRB and another of the old edition (find it how you wish). Then let me know.

Subjects for future blogs: 1) What the heck is Above the Treeline anyway? It's a shared inventory management system.

2) Was I toughter on Dundy because she's dead and therefore can't email me or comment on the blog?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Shiny Money, and Other Quirks

Not having done the books since I managed the Schwartz Mequon store in the mid-nineties. I didn't know that returning to this habit would reawaken old fascinations.

I really don't pay attention to my money on a day-to-day basis. I didn't collect state quarters, though I did restock the Whitman albums of such. Now that I'm looking at money so carefully (not as high a percentage as I saw the last time), I am fascinated by fresh bills and coins.

Last week the bank gave us some rolls of new Lincoln pennies. I checked and they are selling them on E Bay. They are so shiny, and so light, feather-weighted!

We also got some new singles from the bank in numerical order. That was also exciting.

Another strange quirk is folks who like to spend Kennedy half dollars, two dollar bills, or dollar coins. I think that several in the last category are just trying to get rid of the dollar coins they got as change at the post office. Canada is right on this one; folks won't start using dollar coins until they take away the bills. And note to my staff--please don't leave them in the drawer at the end of the day; please include with your deposit! (This has only happened once in three months).

I actually do know someone who spends two dollar bills; he orders them from his bank.

I put folks who try to spend large bills in this category as well. Most stores won't take 'em. You don't have to have them. What's the point?

But the biggest change is how little cash we really do. Just about everything is credit card. Higher fees, but having very little cash on hand is comforting (note to robbers--very little cash, big open windows, and a foot patrol police officer named Rob who LOVES books).

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sarah's Last Day, In-Store Book Club Disarray (Substitute Needed)

Today is Sarah's last day. If you haven't tried the Boswellians of late, you might have missed her post on finding a bookstore near her new home base. Hope the move goes well!


An update on our In-Store Fiction Book Club, which will someday have a snappier name.

We were going to read Man Gone Down on August 3rd, 7 PM. However, since it won the Impac Award and got the big New York Times piece, it was out of stock for the next few weeks. So I'm substituting Netherland, at attendee Carolyn's suggestion, and we'll reschedule Man Gone Down for August 31st (as September 7th is Labor Day and we'll be closed at night).

Looking ahead, we're scheduled for David Rhodes and Driftless on October 5th. Rhodes will be appearing at Boswell on Sunday, October 11th, at 2 PM.

So that is:
Monday August 3rd, 7 PM
Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill

Monday, August 31st, 7 PM
Man Gone Down, by Michael Thomas

Monday, October 5th, 7 PM
Driftless, by David Rhodes

Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Agent and I are Corresponding, but Don't Look for a Book from me in the Near Future

I just got a message from Michael Murphy, an ex-publishing fellow who is now an agent. He was letting us know that the story collection Concord, Virginia from Peter Neofotis was getting some nice reviews, but might have been skipped in our initial orders. He was right on. There’s so much out there that Jason (and I before him) certainly skipped a lot of collections on first past. We look at the quotes, the publisher, the editor, and listen to the buzz from the rep…and many times that doesn’t come until the book’s out.

We had an interesting talk about how the book actually had some good placement at B&N (must have gotten a good read from a buyer) and whether the book was regional or not (my paraphrased quote? “All books are regional, until they aren’t”), and what we would be doing (we ordered it in for stock).

I usually use folks’ last names unless like authors, they are public figures. I’m assuming the agent is thanked in the books’ acknowledgement. I’m sure Neofotis is very happy that his agent is contacting stores to make sure they are keeping up with Concord Virginia’s increasing attention, and this could lead to more, if not better, submissions.

The most interesting part of this story is how we are interacting more and more with agents. Rob Weisbach kept me abreast of what was happening with Norman Olestad’s Crazy for the Storm, Barney Karpfinger stopped by to see the store and he talked up Ali Sethi’s The Wish Maker. Sethi connected with Karpfinger as a recommended student of Amitav Ghosh, another client.

So why do I know more agents than I did ten years ago? Technology and social networking certainly make it easier. In the past, a call would have been intrusive and a note, likely unanswered. Now it seems making the contact is business as usual and not reacting is the ruder option. Isn’t that a strange turn of events?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bad News for Me, Perhaps Better for You

It turns out that the field reps and the independents did not make Sarah's Key break out; it was all due to Target.

Nathan Rabin gets an amazing review; it couldn't be before our event last Friday? Like Joe Meno's The Great Perhaps and Chris Cleave's Little Bee (which also got great reviews of late after our events, sometimes months later), it's just an "I told you so" to pay attention to what we're talking about.

B&N's ebook shop will fortify the $9.95 price point on the product. Customers consistently tell me that the industry can't exist on that model. So what will happen is that Boswell will buy the rights to sell ebooks at at something in the $15 range and competitors sell them at $10?

Now you know why I generally don't do this. And besides, you should all have a subscription to the daily New York Times.


Dave of Next Chapter Bookshop and I attended a dinner for Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply. Some publishers like to host pre-pub dinners for authors to help create buzz. Very occasionally they've been in Milwaukee, but mostly they're in Chicago.

Here's some advice on the Metra schedule for trains back to Kenosha: "9:45 means 9:45, or maybe 9:44." The next train leaves at 12:45. Do I have to continue this story?

Dave loved the book, as did our buyer Jason. Praise is running pretty darn high. More later.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Thanks, Lake Effect!

WUWM has been hosting a series of indie bookstores with their book picks. My first thought was to talk about the latest and greatest fiction, as usual. Then I realized I only seem to be reading our event books...and many of the events had already happened. Yesterday's news!

Then I realized that I did have a theme going. Yes, my jumping off point was foie gras, because of our Thursday, July 23rd event with Mark Caro (7 PM). But after The Foie Gras Wars, I jumped to Chinese Food (Andrew Coe's Chop Suey) and orange juice (Alissa Hamilton's Squeezed).

The latter used as source materials, documentations of the government labeling hearings, documents that were later destroyed in a fire. After finishing it, let's just say Tropicana isn't close to fresh squeezed, despite most people thinking so... Also, Downer Theater (or is it Theatre, my apologies for being too lazy to check) is showing "Food Inc.", a documentary that Jason has been salivating over.

Here's the link.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Question: Why aren't We on Twitter?


1. Why would anybody want to hear so much from a person? Customers get mad at us if we send an email more than once a week.

2. I'm weirded out by the idea of followers.

3. From a design standpoint, it seems so plain.

4. I don't have the right kind of cell phone. Mine generally says "Check SIM card" and I miss about 90% of my calls.

5. David Schwartz channels me from beyond the grave, begs me to "Luddite it up."

6. Aren't people getting bored of this? I can't even log onto Facebook more than once a week. (Open secret--I don't run our Facebook account. It was done by Sarah, and after she moves to Oklahoma (see the blog), it will fall into the hands of Greg.)

7. I have a love/hate relationship with technology.

I've written more in the last six months on the blog than I did in the last five years previous. There is only one other time I wrote so much and that's when I kept a journal in the late eighties. I'd write for a half hour every day at the Heinmann's II in the Park East Building. They had very good donuts. Then I'd head over to the Office Essentials store, which had a very good selection of office supplies.

So my apologies, but we're not there yet. And when we are, it's probably not going to be me writing the entries. I'm busy enough!

Desperately need some bookseller Twittering? Try Arsen at Boulder Book Store.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Tango Awaits, This Saturday at 9 PM

If you get our email newsletter, read our events calendar or look at our event wall, you know we have an evening of tango coming up this Saturday, July 25th, from 9 to 11 PM.

It's being put together by local musician Jane Hollander. It's a Boswell After Hours event, and the admission is $10, which goes to the organizers, paying for some of the expenses of putting this together. For example, a wooden floor needed to be rented as the store is carpeted. Dancing on carpet? No, not good.

Honestly, I didn't know what to expect, but there is a lot of enthuiasm for this. Mostly I'm just staying out of the way.
In a Buenos Aires bookstore, I'm told you might a whole section of books filled with tango lyrics. Milwaukee, not so much. Here are some titles that might be of interest:

Tango: An Argentine Love Story, by Camille Cusumano

Tango: The Art History of Love, by Robert Thompson

On a Hoof and a Prayer, by Polly Evans (an Argentine travel narrative with a small tango session)

Selected Nonfictions, by Jorge Luis Borges (I'm told by Jim Higgins at the Journal Sentinel that there is a wonderful essay on the history of tango in here).

And I'm sorry I'm not linking to the website yet. The credit card option isn't working yet and we don't have our inventory uploaded. So much to do!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Another Day, Another Offsite

Dateline: Tuesday, July 14th.

Greetings from the “City of Milwaukee Emerging Business Sustainability Conference.” I got here at 7 PM to set up. I’m the only vendor that has widgets to sell; everyone else is selling services. That left most other folks to leave their spaces and participate in the workshops, leaving me behind to read Richard Powers’ Generosity. Did you know Powers doesn’t sign books? For a second, I thought that meant he might still do readings, as long as he didn’t sign, but he doesn’t do that either, at least for me. He lives in Illinois so I thought we had a shot. We didn’t.

Maybe one day Powers’ cousin will stop by and say, “Did FSG say Rick doesn’t do events? He’s coming to my wedding next May and he’d do anything once I told him this was my favorite bookstore.” There’s a lot of fantasy involved in that statement. I feel like I’m writing fan fiction.

Hey, that's sort of what happened with David Rhodes, author of the wonderful and popular (at least in Milwaukee) Driftless. We were told he wouldn't be touring for the hardcover (it seemed like a shot because he lives in Wisconsin), but he's appearing at Boswell Book Company for the paperback, on Sunday, October 11th, at 2 PM. Go figure. I'm thrilled.

I brought some startup books of the entrepreneurial sort, some basic management stuff, some sales, some sustainability titles, and some business narratives. I played, “How many books have I read on the table” with Marc, the Associated Bank guy who led me to this gig. I read 12; he read more. I’ve got about 60 titles altogether, in ones, twos and threes. There’s no speaker. My rule of thumb is “No speaker, no offsite,” but I broke the rule almost immediately.

So far, the two titles most talked about are Good To Great and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. These are titles that appeal to companies and nonprofits alike. Everybody’s got a crappy coworker, I guess. Oh, and several folks have commented on Jeffrey Gitomer’s The Little Red Book of Selling. I wasn’t quite sure how far an emerging business would be, which is why I brought three copies of How to Write a Business Plan. I looked at a number of books on the subject when I was starting my business and I thought this was the best. (I sold one to a fledgling construction company owner, with just this endorsement).

So anyway, I think I’m supposed to be here all day. I got up at 4 this morning. I’m not sure I’ll make it.


In the end, I sold five books, two of which I threw in the kit at the last minute. I talked to some nice folks, several of whom were trying to sell me their services. And I finally got to go in the new Manpower Headquarters. They have a very neat display case with historical artifacts from the company.

I made it to about 2 PM.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Not the Person in the Goldin Family Getting the Best Reviews

Every so often, I get a nice comment from someone complimenting on a blog post or an email newsletter (so most recently, my thanks to D'Andre and Lew, respectively). One needs a little positive feedback to keep up the pace of posting, but not too much so that it goes to one's head.

But that's nothing compared to the feedback my sister Claudia is getting on her book Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar. She just send back the reviews from a certain web site and they're pretty amazing. Spydrouge's heading for his comment was "I wuv it to death." Even the guy who writes the Michael Thomas language guides (no, not Michael Thomas--I'm as confused as you are) wrote a great review:

"I have used most of the Chinese grammars out there. This is far and away the best."

Her ranking has been great too. At one point she wrote the #2 Chinese language book. (It's lower now). Yes, Claudia's a big indie supporter, but she looks. I know you look too. I look.

Anyway, we're carrying a small quantity of the book because she's my sister. Just as soon as we figure out how to post our inventory on our web site, you'll see for yourself.
And why not? Chinese instruction is growing by leaps and bounds. And when she's done with her revolutionary first-year textbook (she's the lead writer, and it's going to be the first in ages where that role is not filled by a native speaker), just you wait.

But for all of you who know of the soon-to-be famous economist Claudia Goldin at Harvard, there's no relation to my knowledge*. She does, however, have a book coming out this fall called The Race Between Education and Technology, which I mention only because my friend John is currently selling it on the Harvard list. The sister I refer to uses her married name, Claudia Ross.

(Just to complete the cycle, my friend John and I were talking about having an Anita Brookner celebration of some sort when my other sister Merrill visits in September. But I'm saving the details for another blog post. A Merrill-ish blog post.)

*There was a schism in my family just about when I was born and I don't know any relatives on my father's side. Except for my cousin Julius. Dad stayed in touch because he was a nice guy and an EXCELLENT dentist. And you just don't let family feuds get in the way of that.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Shoplifting Part 3--The Case of the Cocky Sideline Snatcher

So shoplifting season is upon us and we've got either a studious amateur or a flawed professional. He's not much into books but he likes books on CD. He likes spinner racks, and that led him to both Bananagrams and Mighty Lights. And I know his name.

He's Thiefy McThiefowitz!

I speak like I know him, but that's because we actually know who he is. We spotted him in the shop for the second time and it turned out he'd been already kicked out of the store. He was caught nabbing product in one of our Halloween treat bags. Then one of my booksellers realized he's the guy whom they thought stole her purse at Shorewood.

He likes to wear visors, matchy match short sets, and gold frame glasses. And he is cocky. He walked out with a CVS bag filled with booty (yes, he walked in without a bag) and then said to us, "Someone took it. I'm just waiting for my wife to pick me up."

Oh, and it gets worse. The next day I'm going to work and he gets on the 15 bus! He's eating a sandwich, wearing tennis whites. Huh? I wanted to get up and shout "Shoplifter, shoplifter!" Well, actually my first choice was taking a picture of him, but I left my camera at work. In my dreams I get up and point at him. In my dreams I also have snappier comebacks, by the way.

This one isn't hard. We'll ban him from the store and until I get a new round of booksellers, he won't do much damage. If I get the money shot, we'll let new booksellers see him up close.

This isn't a new problem. David Schwartz worried that thieves were stealing him blind. It hurt back when I was a bookseller. And yes, it hurts worse now.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Day with Librarians Part 3: Exciting Ideas for Bookstores and Libraries!

One can dream, can't one? What's the idea that will send your library (or bookstore) into the next level of circulation (or sales)? Some bigger libraries have gift shops, and others have little cafes where they sell off titles that no longer are wanted for the colllection. Several of those wind up being offered to us to buy as second-hand books. We don't take them generally for the same reason the library didn't want them.

Idea #1: Amigurumi knitting club, or maybe group. We've been seeing these books for a year or so, and I continue to be fascinated. My friend Heidi at the Quayside booth said the New England libararians were fascinated by the book, but it wasn't so hot at this show. I tried buskering it to no success. Her booth placement was not so good--somebody do something about this!

It turns out Anne at Macmillan also has an Amigurumi book. Ingram has about 9 of them in the database. I bet a Japanese bookstore has a case of 'em. The Loop knitting store isn't that far away. And the thing is, I'm not really interested in knitting a sweater vest. I am, however, intriqued with the idea of knitting a baby eggplant.

Idea #2: Bronze Statue of person (preferably child) reading book in front of building. There was a whole slew of them at one booth at the show. If not a child, a grandparent with grandchild seems also acceptable. A stockbroker or nurse, not so much.

These lifelike bronze sculptures follow (haunt) me whenever I go west to visit people. Near my sister Merrill, there were streets and streets of them in Mesa. Near my niece Jocelyn, they were strewn along the river. The one in front of the library was reading a book.

Other popular props are violins, butterflies, and baseball bats. Can you ask the artist to substitute knitting needles if you own a craft store? Or perhaps if you have an amigurumi knitting class?

Sadly, I could not find a book of bronzes of children? What, nobody is collecting these?

Idea #3: Sell Pampered Chef on the Side and Save Money on Conventions. I got a little lost geting to McCormick Place, where the convention was. I took the lovely bike/running path along Lake Michigan, and wound up about a half mile east of the show.

When I entered, through a parking garage, having already slipped on my bottom and muddied my fortunately already brown pants on a greasy patch, I wound up way on the other side of the complex, smack dab in the middle of the Pampered Chef sales conference.

If you've worked in an office, you know that Pampered Chef is party-plan program for selling cookware. Neither booksellers nor librarians are considered top performers salary-wise. So a little moneymaking opportunity holds some appeal.

Other marketing opportunities to make a little extra cash:
1) cosmetics = Avon
2) cleaning products = Amway
3) nutritional supplements = Herbalife or Shaklee
4) storage solutions = Tupperware
5) baskets = Longaberger
6) office supplies = Here's Your Opportunity

Of course, you may have to spend a little money to get your program going...

Now some of these companies really have business plans where the profit depends on selling the product, while others are multi-level marketing programs more concerned with getting folks to join the sales team. And while I think Pampered Chef is more of the former, it was odd that in all the promotional material I saw for the convention floor, the banners and signs only had pictures of salespeople (women in particular, if memory serves). No oven mitts, no garlic presses, no lobster forks, no asparagus roasters.

On the other hand, if you sold PC on the side, you could have gone to both conventions at the same time and saved on hotel and air fare. And even taxi fare!

And in another shout out to PC, I got a ringing endorsement of the asparagus roaster on the ALA floor.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Day with Librarians Part 2: The Most Interesting Sideline for Sale

One difference I may have mentioned between BEA and ALA is the lack of sideline product. There was one booth of very cheap trinkets that you offer for storytimes.

I talked to one woman who sells book purses. She thinks she might have sold some to Schwartz at one time, but I couldn't remember seeing them. At $150 retail, I mostly envisioned them disappearing or getting damaged. On the other hand, having a few makes the books look cheaper. Hey, I could actually use those collectible cases to keep product!

She's so busy that she has no stock to sell now anyway. But I thought they were pretty cool. So did many librarians. She had quite the crowd around her booth vying for product.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Day with Librarians, Part 1: What Booksellers Become When They Grow Up

An opportunity fell in my lap when I was invited to be a guest attendee at the American Library Association, meeting in Chicago through this Tuesday. Since I missed Book Expo America, it seemed like a no-brainer. It would be my first trip out of metro Milwaukee since the store opened. Though it was just a day trip on the Amtrak Hiawatha line (attention authors and publishers, it's really convenient, relaxing, and relatively inexpensive), it was out of state, after all.

The ALA convention is a bit different. More display fixtures, more databases, less knickknacks for sale. There are still some entrepreneurial booths. One was for a "how to shoeshine" DVD. I'm so fascinated by a couple of ancillary booths that I'm saving them for another posting.

Most, but not all of the publishers were there, including some who sat BEA out. You can see, however, that it's all done on a modest scale, with the booths being simpler, and sometimes not more than tables with a header. Also, unlike Book Expo, many publishers sell their titles, often for half off, sometimes for $5. One booth offered free books, but you had to sign up for their newsletter.

As bookseller "sneaking" into a librarian convention, I felt a little guilty, even though my librarian friends regularly attend BEA. Actually, it's been a long time since BEA was for booksellers, and librarians are now courted. At the expense of ALA? At least one of my friend forewent (is that correct?) the latter for the former. I reasoned it out that I do some event work with the Milwaukee Public Library and have participated in programs with the libraries of Shorewood and Whitefish Bay. Maybe I'll come up with an idea that I'll pass on to them! Perhaps a library event will come of this.

There were authors and advanced readers copies (I feel like an apostrophe goes in there somewhere)and a lot of workshops. There's a greater focus on kids' books, and that's not bad for me, as I spend a lot more time thinking about the kids' section than I did when I was the adult book buyer.

The best surprise was that I did know a few more folks at the booths than I expected. I got some of that networking and reconnecting that I didn't get at the show. I'm hoping some brainstorming might lead to an event or two.

I would particularly like to thank Talia and Anne for making this happen, and in exchange, I have a list of Macmillan titles that I am now under some sort of obligation to read. Talia's thinking I should try Theresa Schwegel's Last Known Address, while Anne feels that Victor Lodato's Mathilda Savitch is the book for me.

I even stood in line for one signed book, James Ellroy's Blood's a Rover. In front of me was a woman who tried to get an unsigned copy without the line, but Random House told her the books were reserved for signed copies and they weren't sure they'd have enough. A little peeved, she swung her head back and forth from the end of the line to where she was needed to be in a hurry. In the end, she decided the free galley was worth it.

She seemed upset so I figured time might go faster if she chatted. I said, "I'm waiting in line as well, but I'm not really a librarian. I'm a bookseller."
Her reply? "Oh, I'm not a bookseller either. I'm here with my friend whose visiting." So much for righteous indignation.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Jack and Todd of 800-CEO-READ spot business trends

According to a recent Publishers Weekly, the trade magazine for the book industry, Todd Sattersten and Jack Covert of Milwuakee's 800-CEO-READ (and my former coworkers) see five important trends in Business Books.

1. Sustainability, for which they recommend Daniel Esty and Andrew Winston's Green to Gold, a book that really looks at the issue from the viewpoint of how it makes business sense.

2. Design, for which they say there is a much broader view than in the past. Their top pick is Tim Brown's Change by Design.

3. Talent, even more critical in a recession, is deceptively emphasized in Geoff Colvin's Talent is Overrated, which sold pretty well for Boswell-Schwartz-on-Downer.

4. Simplicity, called to light in last year's Breakthrough Imperative.

5. Decision Making, which by far is my favorite category. Every book Todd and Jack use as an example I've both read and enjoyed. Most of them have insights that both cover a broad range of fields and hold interest to the general inquisitive reader.

a. Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely
b. Nudge, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
c. Sway, by Ori and Rom Brafman

Todd and Jon, another 8CR-er, were recently at Boswell's, helping me brainstorm on finding events for a morning business event with a local media sponsor. They came up with a few ideas, and I'll be quite grateful if this winds up turning into something.

8CR is also returning with Pecha Kucha, the wonderful speed-slide-show talk that's held at Sugar Maple in Bay View (on Lincoln, just east of KK). The newest incarnation will be held on Tuesday, August 11th, at 8 PM.

If you haven't been paying attention, each speaker submits 20 slides and speaks on each for 20 seconds. The speaker has no control over the speed of the slides; that stops folks from too much pontificating. Originally started as the equivalent of a gallery opening or recital for the design community, it's now a recital for ideas.

I did one on dead department stores, and it was quite fun. Sign up or get more info here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Quick, I Need a Sales Handle on the New Nathan Rabin Book!

Sometimes it's hard to get a handle on a book until you read it. Of course other times it's best not to read it.

Nathan Rabin's memoir, The Big Rewind, is a case in point. Quotes from Neal Pollack, Roger Ebert, Chuck Klosterman on the back (Oh, plus two people I don't know, but one works for The Colbert Report), means this a pop culture filled rant in memoir form.

Hey, that's good for us. We not only sell Klosterman well (putting Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs on our paperback table after the event--we sold another 7 copies pretty quickly) but Tucker Max and lots more like these guys.

Ah, but here's the other part of the equation. Now that I'm 100 pages into the book, I'm seeing that this book has a lot of Augusten Burroughs-ness in it too. There's difficult relatives, a group home, a mental institution, eccentrically violent roommates, and I'm not even halfway through.

So now I can say "It's like Chuck Klosterman crossed with Augusten Burroughs." I like to "cross" things. I also like things to "meet." So Don Lee's Wrack and Ruin is like Charles Baxter meets the movie Sideways. (It's important to mention the book Wrack and Ruin periodically. Also, Little Bee.)

So I hear the last part of The Big Rewind is about Rabin's involvement on John Ridley's film review show Movie Club. Rabin grew up for a time in Milwaukee. So did Ridley! It's a secret cabal, but I can't find the password. But local angles are always important.
OK, someone else I was talking to knows Rabin casually gave me another sales handle. But I can't use it.

Event for The Big Rewind is Friday, July 17th, 7 PM.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Classic Short Stories from Harper with a Twist of Modern

I recently heard from Jason that Marie, the buyer at Vroman's, was musing about sales increases for short story collections. Publishers are alternately enthusiastic and disdainful of the genre. With the decline of the service magazine, the (paid) outlets for the non-genre story appear to be New Yorker and Harper's. Of course there are lots of wonderful literary journals, but I have been told that more than a few pay you copies of the journal.

It serves a purpose for academics, which is to be an outlet for publication. You can't undervalue that. But you also can't trade that for lottery tickets, generally speaking.

That said, HarperPerennial is trying their hand with publishing story collections as paperback orignals. Hey, it worked for Jhumpa Lahiri (many years ago). They're going one better by publishing a group of classic (public domain or authors they already hold rights to) collections, including one story from a contemporary practitioner that links to a current or upcoming collection.

Stephen Crane's An Experiment in Misery links to Dennis Cooper's Ugly Man. Featured in both collections is Cooper's story, "The Brainiacs." (Overheard from a customer: "I didn't know Stephen Crane was gay.")

Oscar Wilde's A Model Millionaire links to Simon Van Booy's Love Begins in Winter. Both include the Van Booy story "Tiger, Tiger." (We just brought in the Accoutrements author actor figures again and I'm glad to say our first sale was for Oscar Wilde. No speculation on Van Booy's sexuality. Love Begins in Winter is a July Indie Next pick that was also recently lauded by my Boston librarian friend Scot).

The Happy Failure, by Herman Melville includes "The Beast of Beddgelert" by Alex Burrett, which is also in the newly released collection, My Goat Ate Its Own Legs.

These classics are out, but the modern collections will be released in the fall:

The Bohemian Girl, by Willa Cather includes "Kidding Season", by Lydia Peelle (collection in August).

Family Happiness, by Leo Tolstoy includes "Life Expectancy" by Holly Goddard-Jones (collection in September).

A Disgraceful Affair, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky includes "St. Luis of Palmyra" by Barb Johnson (collection in November).

Our story table is filled out by other modern collections, including Jay McInerney's retrospective How it Ended, recently reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

One of My Ideas is Executed--Our Case of Curiosities is Filled with Old Bandage Tins

One of the things I inherited from the Downer Schwartz were two glass cases. These were used for expensive rare books, and perhaps before that, for expensive sidelines.

They were currently not usable because both locks were gone. It seemed like a bad idea to put things in an unlocked glass case. I can only imagine theft and breakage, a combinage that gives me nightmares.

Thanks to Urich, locks were ordered (from Europe!) and they now pretty much work. Well, at least the one on the right--the one on the left is a little tempermental.

But at least for now, my idea is to display things not for sale, but for show. Collections of various sorts dazzled my imagination. Of course I had one of my own to start things off. Below is my explanation that hangs alongside the case...

Assorted Bandage Tins

It was the mid 1980’s when I realized that the ubiquitous bandage tins I saw everywhere would soon disappear. There was a distinct trend away from metal in all things packaging.

The bandage tin, however, is a beautifully designed container. Homage has been paid in the retro Accoutrements tins filled with bacon and pickle shaped bandages. And yes, I have a few of these.

I love place and I love retail. When you think of cities, you might think of baseball teams or landmark buildings. I think of old retailers. I saw the regional food and drug chains consolidating at a rapid pace, and I panicked…and started collecting.

The march against the bandage tin reminds me of what the soothsayers pronounce now for the book. And the examples I have remind me of the somewhat lost vibrancy of regional retailing.

All of which explains a bit why I chose to open an independent bookstore in Milwaukee. Enjoy the collection.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Man Walks into a Bookstore, Asks for Colette...

Actually, a man and a woman walked in. I was going for cliched opening here.

I can't find the short story collection they're looking for. We find one Colette book on the shelf. They buy it and leave.

Meanwhile, they obviously wanted Cheri, as the film it is based on was playing down the block at the Downer Theater. We had several copies on our film table.

Oops. If you read this, Mr. and Ms. Customer, I apologize.

Here's the Journal Sentinel review and the Landmark Theatres site for times.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Little Memory of Book Browsing with my Mom

When I was a young child growing up in Queens, my mom liked to take the train to Manhattan to walk around. We'd window shop, perhaps have lunch at the Stouffer's on 53rd and Fifth (I have a vivid memory of eating chicken croquettes, for some reason), go to a museum.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was always popular because admission was "pay what you wish", and I feel that when I was young, there was no admission charge at all. Correct me if I'm wrong in "comments"! Also, I was a big fan of From the Mixed-up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler, which I only know now was brand new at the time.

We might even buy something. Another vivid memory is of The Brown Fairy Book, a collection from Andrew Lang that seemed so captivating in my youth, as I'm a sucker for anything defined by color. Of course, in my practical way, I went for the volume that was neutral in tone. We bought this at the Doubleday on 53rd and 5th. This branch was modest compared to the flagship several blocks north, but it was conveniently located near Mom's preferred Fifth Avenue subway stop.

We might walk over to one of the other bookstores, Scribner or Brentanno's. I remember the latter having things like vases. Even then, trying to help the margin with sidelines!

We'd stop in the Donnell Library to browse for a while. They were one of the few libraries I knew of that had a subscription to Billboard Magazine. Most people think of the lions of 42nd and 5th when they think of the New York Public Library. For a kid not doing research, that was a bit intimidating.

And of course we went into a department store or two. There's a legendary story in my family of me crying for hours about something or other--perhaps not being able to get a toy I wanted. I'm still embarrassed.

By the time I was a young adult, the Stouffer's was a B. Dalton, while the Doubleday across the street was a museum store. There was talk of rebuilding the Donnell with a hotel above and a small branch below, but that's supposedly now on hold.

Anyway, Mom's now in Brookline, just blocks from Brookline Booksmith. Finally she lives near an indie bookstore, not that this was something she yearned for. She's currently reading The Memory Keeper's Daughter, which she said is a pretty fast mover.

Happy birthday, Mom!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Carl travels with Milwaukeean Joe Caldwell to promote The Pig Did it and sequel

So it turns out that Joseph Caldwell, of The Pig Did It and The Pig Comes to Dinner, is from the Milwaukee area! Carl Lennertz of HarperCollins, who was travelling around with him in New England, and writes about it on Shelf Awareness, called a couple of weeks ago and mentioned that Joe would love to come by, say hi, and sign stock today.

Alas, we already have Fran Slayton speaking in the back of the store, for her book When the Whistle Blows. ( That's tonight, Monday, at 7 PM. Read more here).

In the front of the store, I am leading a discussion of Aleksander Hemon's The Lazarus Project, also at 7. (Note: I ran into Carolyn, a regular customer, on my way to get soup for lunch, and she told me she was enjoying it. It's going to take a year to build this book club into something respectable. Hemon's appearing on Friday at 7. Read more here. Also, an interesting Q&A was featured in the Cue section of Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He's still coming on Friday, July 10th, at 7 PM.

So anyway, Mr. Caldwell is stopping by with his sister today. We'll have signed copies of The Pig Did it and its sequel, The Pig Comes to Dinner. Next time, I hope to have a full-fledged reading.

Here's a taste of Caldwell's book from their web site:
What the pig did – in Joseph Caldwell's charmingly romantic tale of an American in contemporary Ireland – is create a ruckus, a rumpus, a disturbance . . . utter pandemonium.
Possibly the most obstreperous character in literature since Buck Mulligan in James Joyce's Ulysses, Mr. Caldwell's pig distracts everyone from his or her chosen mission. Aaron McCloud has come to Ireland from New York City to walk the beach and pity himself for the cold indifference of the young lady in his writing class he had chosen to be his love. The pig will have none of that.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Newsweek's "What to Read Now and Why" Display

Sharon, our magaczarina, was quite taken with Newsweek's "What to Read Now and Why" list in the July 13th issue. It's a really interesting collection of titles, that whether old or new, reflect on some issue of interest today. It's great to see Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now at #1, a classic novel of financial and moral crisis.

#2 is Lawrence Wright's 9/11 book, The Looming Tower. Prisoner of State is the controversial Chinese memoir at #3. But did you expect William Faulkner's The Bear at #5, "The best environmental novel every written?" Or how about Ayelet Waldman's Bad Mother at #25? (We sold a copy of Waldman's book this week off the display (below). No Great Gatsby for this list.

Sharon was particularly excited that The Elegance of the Hedgehog was at #45.

We made a snappy display, including a snappy sign. We've got a number of the fifty titles on hand, and several more on order. But where is American Journeys, by Don Watson? Seemingly out of print. And lots more is out of stock.

So in the old days, if this took off, titles would be reprinted, buzz would continue, all would be well. But what if the rights only go to Sony readers or Kindles and there is no printed copy, except for perhaps a print-on-demand, nonreturnable, short discount version? Eeks.

If nothing else, I'm hoping this display sells through my draw of Newsweeks. Hey, Michael Jackson's on the cover and it should already have flown out the door. But People is doing far better--we're already in double digits, which is pretty good for us.

I was hoping to link to the list, but it's not yet posted--you have to buy it! Good for them. Here's a link to Newsweek's site.