Saturday, October 31, 2009

Downer Theatre = Movies = I Go to my First Since We've Opened

After hearing so much about the Coen Brothers movie "A Serious Man", I decided it was time to live my dream and see a movie without crossing the street, my first since we've opened. It's said to be their most autobiographal movie. You read movie reviews, so you already know that it's about a Jewish family in the suburbs of 1960's Minneapolis.

>I can't say I liked it or I didn't; my review would be "I have questions." Feel free to discuss it with me on your next visit. For those who loved it, the screenplay is available.

Speaking of movies, I have a love-hate relationship with the fabulous McSweeney's covers. I loved the three-part jacket for Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends. I also enjoyed the book itself, but I couldn't get as many folks to invest in a special book-as-object piece as I hoped. Our sale wasn't exactly shabby; the Downer Avenue Schwartz, we sold 27 copies.

Now we've got Dave Egger's novel The Wild Things, an adaptation of Maurice Sendak's picture book that (oy, let's hope I get this correct) closely follows the new movie, or maybe it was the basis for the movie, I'm just a blogger so I'm not bothering to do my research.

You want the facts correct? Read and support your local newspaper.

Anyway, we have both editions of the book, classic ($19.95) or fur-covered ($28.00). We've heard that not every account got the latter. It's pretty spiffy so if you can't find one, you can always check with us. See phone number at the top of this post.

Note that unlike most of our jackets, this is from a cropped photograph. Couldn't find a jacket of hairy edition that included the title and author sticker.
Haven't seen the movie. Read the amazing reviews. I guess the box office numbers were disappointing, but maybe that was for the latest "Saw" movie.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Psychology of Parking on Downer Avenue

I've been thinking a lot about the construction on Downer Avenue and how it affects traffic. Here are the things I've learned already about most folks when they park instinctually:

1. They wait till they get to the store, and look for a place to park.

2. They prefer being on the main block, even if that means a meter.

3. They are not thrilled with the construction, even though it is almost over.

Here's my advice:

1. In the evening, think south and east, not north and west, unless you want to use the parking garage across the street.

2. In the daytime, west if fine, because the spaces are limited to 2-3 hour parking, to limit students at UWM.

3. Parking checkers are vigilant in Downer Avenue neighbhorhood. If it says don't park in a spot, don't. If it says 2 hour limit, don't stay for 3.
To the right is our new brick design in front of the store. Unlike the last, which were 1/3 width pavers that popped up easily, these are full size bricks that should last a long time.
Speaking the Downer area, Peter McCarthy was in, dropping off more copies of North Point Historic Districts. The book is a must-have for anyone who lives in the area or likes visiting.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Opera wrap up, Ehrenreich sales pop wishes, Credit Card dreams

1. Hurray for opera. We had 32 people at our Florentine Opera preview last night. Doesn't sound huge, but it was in fact bigger than Schwartz had done in the past. Really great event--the performers were wonderful and Corliss Phillabaum was a wonderful narrator. I can't wait for Elmer Gantry in February. You're going to read it along with me for our in-store book club, right?

2. When you subscribe to this blog by feed, it delays by 15 hours. I've got to fix that, but so far, I don't know how. Anyone have any ideas that don't cost anything?

3. Ticket sales on Ehrenreich are slow! We need to sell 300 seats to break even and we're well behind that. We're underwriting on WUWM and WMSE (note to WHAD, I promise to use you for another project!) and placing an ad in this Sunday's Journal Sentinel. We've contacting university departments and nonprofits. The book's gotten a lot of attention, Ehrenreich's a great speaker, and the ticket is reasonably priced, to my thinking. Ehrenreich is still getting 250+ people at events that aren't as heavily promoted. Any ideas on how to spread the word? Note: the budget is pretty much used up, so I'm not talking $$. Buy tickets to Ehrenreich here.

4. Five hints for me to delete messages without opening them.
--I've won anything
--A great list of dentists
--More than one exclamation point in the subject line.

I got all three this morning.

5. Today's project--make progress towards taking credit cards on our web site. Yeeks.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Two Celebrations of Classical Music This Month

Events go in waves. Last week we had Brian Leahy Doyle writing about renovated Wisconsin opera houses (the book is called Encore). Tonight we have the Florentine Opera presenting Opera Insights, a preview of "Tosca", which, by the way, got a standing O at the Wauwatosa Public Library.)

Alas, this is the same time that theaters around the country are showing the new Metropolitan Opera Production of "Tosca." Thanks to Third Coast Digest for pointing out that opera collision. Let's just say that according to the New York Times, this Met production didn't fare as well. I normally wouldn't hawk these tickets ($22, our event is free), but eh, what the heck? It's hard for me to resist a link.

We've got two classical music events coming up too.

On November 8th, Norman Gilliland is doing a presentation on "What's Wrong with Classical Music?", somewhat based on his new collection, Scores to Settle. Gilliland is known to Milwaukeeans for his hosting of "University of the Air" and "Old Time Radio" on WHAD, but in other cities where you get Wisconsin Public Radio's classical music network, he's a well-known classical music announcer (for some readon, DJ doesn't seem to work here). Gilliland's book itself is a collection of anecdotes about the stories behind great classical music moments.

Then, on November 30th, Stephen Basson is talking about the legacy of Kurt Oppens, acclaimed annotator of the Aspen Music Festival. Basson is the retired principal bassoonist of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and we had an interesting conversation on what an icon Oppens was for him and for other musicians. The book, Kurt Oppens: An Aspen Legacy, is edited by Nancy Thomas and Jane Jaffe. Here's a story about Oppens from the Aspen Times.

So will we be able to keep up these events highlighting classical music and opera? Well, a talk with the Skylight is in the works, and we're expecting to do more Opera Insights with the Florentine as well. In fact, it's time to start reading Elmer Gantry--we're not only doing a preview, but we're also reading it in February for our in-store lit book group.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Finishing Books After the Event is Done, Part 2--"Dairy Queen."

After finishing What Else but Home, I tackled Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Dairy Queen. This was the event where we pretty much decided that the focus of our non-local kids' author events should be schools whenever possible. If we do an in-store event, it is icing on the cake, and also a way to at least give the author and event the publicity and outreach that goes along with our event calendar.

Murdock and I had a very nice conversation that evening, that was continued through email when her scarf dropped off the desk where we put it and she left it behind. I want to be absolutely clear here--she came back looking for it and I said it wasn't there. No, it wasn't on the desk, Daniel, it was on the floor. It's all about peripheral vision.

So it's my goal to read more kids' books and this seemed like a good choice, as our bookseller Pam had already talked it up to me, and with its Wisconsin setting, I have a better chance of selling it when I'm discussing it.

Dairy Queen is about DJ, a teenage girl who has effectively taken over the family farm. Her older brothers have moved away, her mom works nonstop at a school, and her dad's hip has left him at least termporarily incapacitated. Oh, and her younger brother is only 13. Naturally athletic, on the basketball team and all that, she gets some help when a family friend sends over the quarterback of their high school archrival to help out. And he's an ass. Or so the story begins.

A nice angsty voice, family problems galore, and successful enough to warrant two follow ups. Now I have my book to sell to teenage girls for fall, or at least the one I've recently read.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Reading the Author's Books After the Events

With all these events, it has turned out that I can't read the book of every single person who visits. I try to pick up each one to get a feel for it. My problem is that I do have this compulsion to finish what I've started. That's why the last two books I've finished have been of events that already happened. This leaves me further behind in reading books for upcoming events. And so the cycle continues. (I'm now feeling Ken's pain, our Brookfield event coordinator at Schwartz who periodically complained about this dilemma).

Both of these were for smaller events. For the large events, I'd either already read the book or had enough sense of accomplishment that I didn't have to proceed further. For books where the turnout is disappointing, there is always the nagging feeling in the background that there was something we could have done better if I'd read a little further.

Michael Rosen's What Else but Home is about his experiences taking in poor neighborhood kids with his wife and sons to raise effectively as their own. There's a lot of joy in this book, but also a lot of frustration. Mike's publicist Leah suggested we target social service agencies (like the Boys and Girls Club) to meet Mike and hear about his experiences, but Stacie couldn't get anyone to bite. (The gaming stores and orgs were more enthusiastic about Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks--sometimes they bite and sometimes they don't.)

Finishing the book only reinforced the ups and downs that Rosen-Gluss and Company went through. What Else but Home starts the book at the end of the story, but talking to Mike, it turned out to be the middle. And the kids in the book were not always thrilled about being written about. Oh, the hazards of memoir! That's why it's better to make things up, especially in a biography. This is where I'm supposed to put a modern parenthetical remark in initial form.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Expanding the Limits of Bookstore Events with a Game Night and an Opera Insight, this Tuesday (10/27) and Wednesday (10/28)

I'm up for an interesting idea, and when local resident Marc Hurtwitz came by to show me his game, I sat down with Marc to look at the setup. Here are the basic instructions.

To paraphrase:
1. You get a game board and word strip.

2. You pick three words from the word strip (there are 576 different possible starter words in a set).

3. You scramble the letters for an opponent (this game can be played with 2-4 people, and the cost is based on the number of boards you buy).

4. Your opponent unscrambles (there are details here).

5. The titles are combined and you make more words (with guidelines).

I'm not a great game person (could this be more obvious? I apologize in advance if I got some of the rules wriong), so I asked Jason to come over and look, and he liked it.

We're having a game night this Tuesday, October 27th, to work more with the game. Marc's currently making the games himself, but he's of course hoping to take it to the next level.

Marc's looking for participants as this event is a competition. If you're interested, contact


On Wednesday, we're continuing the Opera Insight Program that was previously at Schwartz.

It's a talk and sampling of the score from the upcoming production of the Florentine Opera's Tosca, which will be performed by artists in the Florentine Opera studio program, the opera's artist-in-residence program. Performances of Tosca are November 20th, 21st, and 22nd at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

It's free, and by attending, you will ensure that we get more previews like this. I know this is roundabout reasoning, because if you don't attend, you are saying you don't want previews like this. But I want them, so please come.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sherman Alexie Event Breaks Our In-Store Record for Attendance

Well, that was quite an event on Wednesday. Sherman Alexie told us that his YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian had really taken his popularity to a different level. There sure were a lot of high school kids in the crowd. But be warned, this isn't a YA style talk. Be warned!

I am not the suavest of the author pamperers. When the crowd isn't as big as it should be, I get apologetic. When it's really large, I start panicking about whether we should close the doors, what's being knocked over, who's going to complain because they didn't get a seat. I babble a bit, and think, I'm usually better at this communication thing.

That said, folks aren't coming to the event to see me, and in this case, it was some talk they got. There's some reading from War Dances, yes, but much of Alexie's talk is about pop culture, changing technology, politics, sports, and yes, race and ethnicity. We had almost 350 people in the crowd (pretty near capacity, but we didn't have to close the doors to the public), but I felt sad for the million-plus folks in metro Milwaukee who weren't able to come to the event (surely do to more pressing matters.)

I even got a better understanding of War Dances, how it fits into his oeuvre, and where he might go with his new work for Little, Brown. And though I'm supposed to keep up on this stuff, I had totally missed that Alexie signed with one of my favorite editors, Regan Arthur.

Totally paraphrased conversation:
Goldin: "What's great about Arthur is that she can do literary fiction, but she's also an incredible mystery editor."
Alexie: "Yes. And I'm writing a hybrid."

Totally paraphrased.

We had a really interesting talk about book price wars, ebooks and intellectual property, and what are writers going to do when folks are stealing 95% of the books they read (that's an estimate on music). Oh, and then he told me some interesting things I'm not going to talk about, because I've chosen not to be the Walter Winchell of the book world (purposely chose dead icon, so as not to insult anyone).

I think Stacie had a good talk too (shown getting stock signed with Alexie).

Read this profile in The New York Times. Oh and regarding the story in the New York Times, saying that people are reading more on ebooks because it's more convenient. I think that the real story is, folks are buying more cheap stuff's cheap and easy. Maybe at first they read more because it's a novelty. But from what I've heard, that wears off.
We love getting fan mail.
"Thank you SO much for bringing in Sherman Alexie last night to speak at your bookstore. He was amazing! There are many authors who are interesting in person but few who fufill all my expectations upon seeing them after reading their works and getting my little book-crushes. But Alexie was one author who did not disappoint. You guys all did a great job managing the space and all the people who showed up. Good job on a busy night. Thanks for making the event enjoyable and easy to navigate. I hope you sold lots of books!"
Thank you, Erica!

Friday, October 23, 2009

South African Candles Inspire a Themed Display

One of my finds of the Chicago fall gift show were these South African tribal-inspired candles. They come in tapers, pillars and balls and in a variety of hues. We've got some Christmas and winter/Hanukkah themed candles ready to come out later, but for fall, these espresso-colored ones were just perfect to organize a display. Oh, they don't have a scent, but you can display them with a Smencil, if that's what you like.

I found some African-inspired dishes (made in India of course), monkey votives, and matching monkey bookends. I had lots and lots of book ideas, but alas, the table they wound up on is pretty small, at least for now.

But we've still got some interesting books that tie in. We're discussinng Half of a Yellow Sun at our in-store lit group on November 2nd, and the rejacketed Chinua Achebe books from Vintage are also a welcome addition. We've got the The Africa Book from Lonely Planet and pretty much the only pan-African cookbook I could find from a major publisher, The Africa Cookbook. Also, Oprah's current book club pick is Say You're One of Them, another Nigerian author. And I didn't even have room for Little Bee!

Since we're on the subject, why isn't Uwem Akpan's, Say You're One of Them working as Oprah's book club selection? We know the book is very good (I haven't read it sadly) , but there's very little word of mouth on the whole thing. Maybe it's just us, but I've noticed it is not topping the paperback bestseller lists. Maybe all of Oprah's fans are now using Kindles, being that she's such a big fan. Hachette doesn't like taking large returns, but unless his interview is amazing, I think they've got a chunk of books going back.

The fire extinguisher is not for sale.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rep Night Wrap-up #2--We Visit Next Chapter Bookshop in Mequon

The Boswell Book gang decamped to Mequon, where we joined our old friends at Next Chapter for sales rep presentations from Johanna at W. W. Norton and John from Abraham and Associates. Though Johanna is a house rep and John is commission, they both sell multiple lines. John actually sells Norton to smaller accounts that Johanna is not able to visit (and let's just say they are likely pretty small, because Johanna goes everywhere. She visits us from Louisville (home of Derby pie (trademark) and Hot Browns (oddly enough, no trademark, though it originated at the Brown Hotel.))

I've already wrote a love letter to Anna Young's Love Soup, and we've also waxed eloquent on David Small's Stitches (and you've probably weighed in on the controversy about whether Stitches should have been nominated as an adult or kids book for the National Book Award), but Johanna had some other goodies to share with us as well. I was very intruqued with the possibilities of Thames and Hudson's The Classical Compendium for our impulse table, and several booksellers raved over Terrence Holt's short story collection, In the Valley of Kings. Lanora raved about another cookbook, My Bread.

And of course we all discussed The Red Book, the $195 Jung book that sold out its first printing in about 7 seconds. We only have five coming in and two are already spoken for. You may want to contact us and secure one for yourself. I'm suspecting they will be in short supply.

John has so many lines, and I walked away for a moment and didn't get the handout. Some folks were excited about Pictorial Websters (pictured), which, being Chronicle, already has some spin-off gift product. A number of folks chimed in when John talked about how wonderful Kate DiCamillo's new Magician's Elephant was.

Another rave was reserved for the new title Tower from Busted Flush Press. It's a collaborative novel from Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman. The publisher David Thompson (a bookseller fat the Houston store Murder by the Book) commented on our Ken Bruen blog piece (the customer who judged a store by the presence of Ken Bruen) and I was told by Johanna that this guy is an incredible bookseller. Even if you don't like mysteries, you'll walk out of the store with a pile of books.

We had pizza from Leonardo's, nostalgic for me as this has always been a regular meal of mine when I worked at the Mequon Schwartz. The pizza is good (eat it hot) but the meatball sub toasted in the pizza oven? Even better.
Read more about what John has to say on his My Three Books blog.

Read Lisa Yee's blog where her pal peepy tours Milwaukee after several events with Boswell Book Company and other local stores.

I keep thinking of my former coworker James, who was a huge Peep fan, but never had a Peep for a friend.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Iron Cupcake Challenge Wrapup

The book-themed Iron Cupcake event turned out to be a blast. The best-decorated award went to Charlotte’s Web, and Twilight won the best-tasting award.

Interested in entering a future Iron Cupcake challenge? Contact Sandy at

Meanwhile, enjoy our cupcake-themed mints, bandages, floss, notecards, and playsets.

Our cupcake picks:
Hello Cupcake
Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World
Cupcakes, Cupcakes and More Cupcakes
The Cake Mix Doctor Returns

Now the bad news. Sales sucked, despite Sandy's best efforts to put in a good word for me (thank you). I sold a total of two bandage tins. I have to learn from this stuff, because we need to know what to say yes to, and what to decline.

a. While a drink generally loosens the pursestrings, I'm worried that events at bars don't seem conducive to purchases of stuff. This is a corollary to my ideal bookstore location theory--it's great to be near a restaurant that serves alcohol; near a bar, not so much. But most of your business (ask Barnes and Noble) comes from folks waiting for a table.

b. Outside events in late fall can be tough. It was dark for some of the event, making browsing rather difficult.

c. I thought my target customers were the 20 bakers. But they were so focused on their creation stations that pretty much none of them browsed my table. Most of them probably had my best book, Hello Cupcake.

d. My location at the Tiki Bar was hard to get to for everyone actually, especially when folks started staking bar seats. One woman left her cupcake depris on one of my books. It was only about fifteen feet to a garbage bin. Future events are at Moct, which is much roomier. The competition is generally the third Monday of the month, though it's not held in December.


Tonight (Wednesday, October 21st) is Sherman Alexie. We're spending much of the afternoon moving cases. Don't forget to come at least a half hour early, maybe an hour if you want a good seat.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Our Winner Picks up His Book, also the New Kurt Vonnegut

Alex Pollock came in to pick up his signed copy of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, surprised and happy.

This contest was not rigged--I don't know him!

However, he's my new best friend because he did what every bookseller hopes for when someone wins something at the store, he bought a book, Kurt Vonnegut's Look at the Birdie.

Vonnegut's new posthumous work (out today) is previously unpublished short fiction. Our Jason is a big fan. Read more in The Boswellians blog.

Monday, October 19, 2009

AV Club Event Rescheduled

Our event for the AV Club's new book Inventory, is postponed, due to both sickness and also a
death in the family of one of the authors. Our sympathies to the bereaved author, and to the sick ones, get well soon, in time for your rescheduled appearance at Boswell:

New event date is Tuesday, November 10th, 7 PM.

Note: I just told Rebecca at lunch that life is a series of close calls. We were both almost hit by a speeding car near the store. Admittedly, we were crossing the street at an intersection that did not have a crosswalk. The good news is that we grabbed onto each other, instead of running away, a la George Costanza. The almost-bad news was that we tried to avoid the car by running in opposite directions.

David Wroblewski's Double Talk--Plus a Winner in our Dan Brown Giveaway

What a treat it was to have David Wroblewski visit us for the paperback of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. We had something like quadruple the people as we did at Schwartz for the hardcover (about 85) and that's with him doing three events in the metro area. (Of course, that's when the book was just beginning to find it's audience, but I'll take good news where I can find it.)

My first question? "Can I make sure I have your pronunciation correct? I was just told it might be "ro-blue-ski." But no. Both w's are silent and the rest is phonetic.

He charmed the crowd (of course), but what was most interesting to me was the organization of the event. First your general talk/read/questions, but with a caveat that nobody is to talk about the ending. Then the signing, and then a separate discussion with about 15 folks about the ending.

And it's true, folks do get obsessed with it. "Well, it is structured on Hamlet," I try to reply.

One of the problems when I see an author more than once is that I want them to tell the audience all the good stuff I heard last time. Did you mention where your family's kennel was? Tell them the original name of the book and why it was changed. And how you stopped writing the book and picked it up again when you got a dog. But there was lots of new things to discuss, and in addition to our Sawtelle excerpt, Wroblewski read a new essay for us. There was no time for old news.

Now one last note about The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. We were so excited that the Oprah stickers on the book look removeable. That was so successful on Cormac McCarthy's Oprah selection. However, it turns out on Sawtelle they rip the jacket on just about every other peeling. So don't bother--you're pretty much stuck with it. This jacket is pretty delicate, as is the similar styled new Lorrie Moore. We've had an unusual amount of received-damaged copies.


Before the event we had a customer pick the winning name in our signed Dan Brown The Lost Symbol giveaway. Our lucky entrant? Congratulations Alex Pollock.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Bystander in the Book Wars (Ultra Cheap Books, Part 2)

Tis the season of $8.99 books apparently. Are we caught in the crossfire? Instead of opening a bookstore, should I have gone back for a certificate in financial planning (it was another option) or interior decorating (I received a compliment yesterday on the color we chose to paint our laminate bookcase)?

If this new price point is a money loser for publishers, aren't they going to do anything they can to avoid it? Maybe we won't move further towards bestseller domination, because publishers aren't going to want to hit that Walmart sweet spot, where losing money for suppliers is the name of the game. If you've read the various Walmart books on how suppliers are treated, you know that many, certainly not all, suppliers wind up losers in various ways.

Can you imagine publisher meetings where they say, "We can do this for a reasonable price, and sell a reasonable amount of copies, and make a reasonable amount of money, but it will be offbeat enough to avoid the mainstream price wars." Maybe that's my cold medication talking.

You know, this doesn't really have to happen. Prices are suggested, but in other industries, there are minimums. Some of our sideline suppliers won't let us sell an item below a certain price, and other won't let us advertise a lower price. Distribution is threatened if we undercut. I believe upmarket cosmetics companies continue to do this as well (I don't know on a practical level--we've decided to stay out of the moisterizer market, for now). And many brands simply won't allow Walmart and Target and Kohl's to carry them. I'm sure someone at the American Booksellers Association would explain to me why this can't happen.

Book publishing is slightly different because the mass merchandisers (Walmart, Target, Costco) buy books through intermediaries. Amazon mostly buys direct and often supposedly buys nonreturnable--we're not exactly sure what happens to the leftovers.

But regarding the mass merchants, maybe a publisher looks at the numbers (returns consistently over 50%, I'm told) and decides it's not worth it to be in that channel. I know sometimes publishers make the decision for a particular book, but maybe it's time for some upmarket lines to disappear from that channel altogether. I'm not telling folks what to do--it's their business, not mine.

The whole thing reminds me of the drug trade somehow, and I feel like some Joe caught in a shootout. I'm currently hiding in an alley down the block, but with all those flying bullets, I'm getting a little nervous.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Walmart-Amazon Price War Hopes to Shake up the Book Market--Oh, Goodie!

I'm sure everybody is talking about the battle between Wal-Mart and Amazon over low-price domination for on-line books. Here's the article in today's New York Times. After Amazon has set the default price at a money-losing $9.99 for ebooks, could hard-copy books be much behind?

I don't need to catch anybody up on this, do I? Wal-Mart (or is it now Walmart? I think NYT has to change their style sheet) doesn't like that Amazon is considered the Walmart of the web. Walmart wants to be the Walmart of the web. So they throw out a $10 price for a bunch of new hardcovers. That goes to $9. Now it's $8.99.

The actual fight for now is over ten new books--Stephen King, James Patterson, John Grisham, J. D. Robb, Michael Crichton, Jim Butcher, Linda Howard, Dean Koontz, Sarah Palin, and Barbara Kingsolver. Is this going to affect everybody else's sales? Absolutely. Though for most of these authors, my sales are minimal (either already lost to other outlets or not of interest to the customer base who is still supporting the bookstore), I expected to sell a good amount of Kingsolver. But what happens when this expands to 100 books a month? What happens when it's every big new release? How would this have affected our sales of Dan Brown?

The publishers have been saying that this price point will destroy the industry. Right now Amazon and Walmart are taking a loss on each title, but at least with ebooks, there's some thought that some publishers are being forced to change their selling price to accomodate the new $10 model. To my knowledge, it's not being offered to indies on the new Symptio cards in development.

"What this has done is accentuate the trend towards bestsellers dominating the market," was the quote from Bill Petrocelli. I beg to differ for now. As this is mostly genre fiction, it's going to make it harder for new romantic suspense or military thriller authors to break out if a certain amount of the populace fills their gut on $10 novels. And for Barbara Kingsolver, it will pull business from us, but really only from people who were going to buy the Kingsolver. I don't think someone's going to think, I was going to buy Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (we're still waiting for copies and taking holds, please call or email us). but now that Kingsolver's so cheap, I'm going to read her instead.

And honestly, she's a bit tainted by the whole thing, not just because of the folks fighting over her, but by the company she's keeping. I'm sure all you other authors are wonderful, but none of you were planning to ever visit me at Boswell, so I need not spare your feelings--you're now officially bargain authors (heck, you're already at a bargain book price point), and you're on sale in virtual aisle seven.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Iron Cupcake this Monday (10/19) at the Irish Pub

Sandy Ploy has been getting lots of attention for her Iron Cupcake competition in Milwaukee. Here's a feature in a recent issue of Milwaukee Magazine. So I was thrilled (having blogged a bit about getting a cupcake store on Downer Avenue) to be asked to be the guest partner for this month's competition.

Each entry this month is basing their cupcake on a book (or in one case, I believe, a poem). Five dollars gets you a taste/vote. Here are the books that are inspiring the contestants:

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
Charlie & The Chocolate Factory
James and the Giant Peach
Gone With The Wind
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
The Wizard of Oz
Where The Sidewalk Ends
Sex & The City
The Joy of Sex
The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe
Twilight Series
Alice in Wonderland
Green Eggs & Ham
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
To Kill A Mockingbird
Three Cups of Tea
The Raven

Sandy has said we can sell some books at the event. I'm thinking cupcake books (and stuff*) will do better for me than copies of Shel Silverstein. Either way, we're promoting the event and getting lots of comments about the table.

Stuff includes:
Cupcake notecards
Wooden cupcake decoration toy
Cupcake dental floss
Cupcake mints
Cupcake bandages

Iron Cupcake's website is here.

Monday, October 19th, 6 PM
Irish Pub
124 N. Water Street
(Note that registrations are closed)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rep Night Part 2: John and Andy Present Some Picks

Yesterday we talked a bit about rep presentations. They go on for a while, so it seemed sense to divide this into two posts.

Triliteral (That's Harvard, Yale and MIT to you!)

Unpacking My Library: Architects and their Books, by Jo Steffans.
Packaged like 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, the highlight is on a dozen architects and their libraries. The design is great and this can actually fit into a stocking.

Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals, by Christopher Payne.
A fascinating photo essay of abandoned institutions around the country.

The Earwig's Tale: A Modern Bestiary of Multi-Legged Legends, by May Berenbaum.
Nice color and cute illustrations on this book that tells the truth about insects.

The Metamorphosis of Plants, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Great new edition works for lit type, science types, or even gardening types.

A New Literary History of America, edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors.
We're already selling this very well, and it makes a really great gift. Bite-size pieces of literary history from lots of top writers.

Andy Warhol, by Arthur C. Danto.
Noted art historian's book ties in perfectly to the show at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Once again, I remind you that there were more books than this presented. It's just that my fingers get tired.

Fujii Associates...a commission group (they sell lots of lines on commission, get it?)

Good Eats, by Alton Brown.
There've been lots of Brown books but none that so closely followed the show format

Elements, by Gray Theodore.
From the collection of a man who collects elements. Black Dog and Leventhal's background in promotional books and packages is probably how they got this to a rather remarkably low $29.95 price point.

Best Wisconsin Sports Arguments, by Andy Kendeight.
Andy confirmed that regional books still work very, very well at independents. I'm not sure if this is the perfect one for my store, but the sentiment still holds.

Dog Days: Diary of a Wimpy Kid 4, by Jeff Kinney.
It's out this week, with a four million copy printing!


That First Season, by John Eisenberg.
When Lombardi came to Green Bay to stay...both Next Chapter and our store are having events. Ours is tonight (Thursday, September 15th).

The idea is to turn on our booksellers to new titles, and have books in our heads when they get that request to please a 10 year old niece or a 70 year old uncle. You never know what book is going work from this. So next time you're in the store and one of us calls your attention to a book, you can ask if we heard about it at rep night.

Our thanks to Suzanne, John, and Andy for great presentations. And how did Lanora and I get a turnout of 30 people, despite having less than less the half the number of booksellers at Schwartz? Well, instead of making it voluntary, we decided it would be on work time. On to the next--at Next Chapter!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rep Night Part 1: The Reps Come a Calling, and Suzanne Presents

One of our favorite traditions at Schwartz were fall rep nights, where sales reps would present titles for the holiday season (also known as the only months when most bookstores make money).

There's a bit of coercion to get booksellers on board on the good hand-sells. And there's a bit of clueing booksellers into key gift titles, who they are best marketed to, and how to sell them.

We thought, eh, one store, we we're just not big enough to warrant this kind of program to continue. But Lanora Hurley at Next Chapter and I got together and went to the reps and asked if they'd be up to presenting to both stores together.

Our first presentations were from Hachette (Suzanne from Little, Brown, Grand Central, and assorted imprints), Harvard/Yale/MIT (my guest poster John Eklund) and a commission rep from Fujii Associates (Andy, who presented titles from Workman and its imprints, Abrams, Globe Pequot, and due to some staffing changes, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). We had sandwiches and brownies from Outpost, and assorted french fries from Hollander.

Here are some of their pick highlights (there were plenty more but I'm not listing everything).

Hachette Book Group
Bear Portraits, by Jill Greenberg
From the woman who put together the popular Monkey Portraits.

Bulb, by Anna Pavord
A beautiful guide to and collection of bulbs, from the author of the very popular book, The Tulip.

The Monuments Men, by Robert Edsel
The folks who found and protected the art treasures stolen by the Nazis during World War II.

Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, by Major Brian Dennis
For fans of Owen and Mzee, the photo story for kids of a Marine and the dog he met in Iraq.

School of Fear, by Gitty Daneshvari. Four students with different phobias must face their fears at...the School of Fears. It's very Mysterious Benedict Society.

Suzanne's fiction hand-sell push was a book that came out earlier this year, Patrick Somerville's Cradle. Somerville is a really great guy (we met him when his short stories came out) whose Wisconsin ties were overlooked during this book's initial publication. Suzanne hopes to remedy that.

Oh, and one book for us to get behind for winter--Joshua Ferris's The Unnamed. It's a very different novel from Then We Came to the End, but just as great. It's about a couple where the husband has compulsive-walking disease. Among other things, the book seemed perfect for me because I seem to have that disease.

Too much to tell! More picks from reps tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

We Work the Food and Wine Show at the Midwest Airline Center

Gone are the days when you ran a bookstore by opening the door and waiting for the customers. I guess if I had the perfect high-traffic location with lots of tourist traffic and a really sweet lease, that might be a different story.

But that's not us. And that means, on top of the events and chasing corporate and school sales and textbooks and book clubs and the like, we've got to do offsites. Offsites do double duty--we add volume and get the word out about our store to folks who may not have heard about it. And despite lots of wonderful press about our store and events, there are plenty of folks who haven't heard about Boswell Book Company. We still get about a call a day asking for Schwartz Bookshops. Yesterday I got one for Mr. Schwartz. I'm not sure if it was for Harry or David.

So we've got a busy week. I'm presenting at a book club, another bookseller is at the Intercontinental, and all weekend Jason was at the Wine and Dine Wisconsin show (Melissa helped out on Saturday and I put in a few hour on Sunday) put on by the Journal Sentinel. We brought some of our favorite food books, and several books by featured authors.

One author you can't miss is Randall Grahm, whose book Been Doon So Long is a wine book nothing short of zany. And also literary--there are parodies of Joyce, Kafka, Pynchon and Salinger inside. Grahm was named wine and spirits professional of the year by the James Beard Foundation, and his Bonny Doon vineyards (which was being sampled across from our booth) is held in gets raves You've got to visit their wild website.

So we sold some of his book. Our two bestselling stock titles were The River Cottage Meat Book and The Best Casserole Cookbook ever. We also had some wine bottle magnets that were voted the cutest items on the table. We gave away some newsletters.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Awards You Really Wanted to Know About

Just because I've written about these books in the past, it seemed fair to mention...

Lamentations of the Father, by Ian Frazier, won the Thurber Prize for humor. I was so hoping for Wrack and Ruin, but admittedly, Frazier was the only author selling off the display so bookmakers would have probably gone with him.

Peace, by Richard Bausch, won the Dayton Peace Prize. Here's more info. Not surprised that Gordon Lish was a judge; it seems like a book he'd like. Based on stock levels at our wholesaler, it doesn't seem to be moving units. They've pulled it out of our primary warehouse.

Here's an article on how the favorite finally won the Man Booker Prize. It's my thought that if the odds are usually wrong, then it's a surprise when the favorite wins. And if the odds started out as 12-1, isn't this like a horserace where they continue to bet on the horses after they are out of the starting gate and the one in the lead has the best odds? I'm glad Americans don't focus on literary betting, or the whole thing would confound me.

Here's a list of finalists for the New Mexico Book Awards. Don't you think this is a good example of too many categories?

And of course the prize nearest to my heart, at least now that I've heard of it? It's the Samuel Johnson (yes, the "James Bowell" Samuel Johnson)Prize for nonfiction writing. This year' winner was Leviathan by Philip Hoare. Needless to say, the title is being changed to The Whale when it is released by Ecco in February 2010. Much better!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

On Trying to Find Herta Muller Books

At least this year there wasn't that buzz saying "This year is Philip Roth's year." I think the American literary community is pretty much resigned to a relatively obscure European writer taking the Nobel Prize.

And think of all the good that comes from it. Last year, when Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio was awarded the prize, the big winner seemed to be independent David R. Godine. Godine deals with our wholesaler on a nonreturnable basis (we're seeing that more and more, which means deposits for customers who place special orders) but most indies still needed to take a chance and get something in, and I think for a store like ours, it paid off. I'm still a little confused, however, if we ever brought in The Prospector from Verba Mundi. And another thing to ask Jason--do we need a separate non-returnable Ingram vendor?

Well, it seems to have worked out better than that year with Dario Fo anyway. He doesn't even get mentioned in any of these obscure-or-not-obscure debates. I guess it's been a long time, but I still remember our special order person taking months to chase down his plays, only finding one or two customers when he was successful.

So now we've got Herta Muller and she has four books with rights sold in the United States, none of which were immediately available. As I mentioned on an earlier blog, my first pass showed nothing in active or extended from our I-Page database, and sadly, despite the announcements, there's still nothing there. (I have no idea if this is a current jacket of The Land of Green Plums, but I felt chilly without one.)

Per the New York Times, five books have been translated into English (by my math, that means one didn't come out here--I can't even get my facts straight within one blog posting. Macmillan's Metropolitan published In the Land of Green Plums and The Appointment, but sold off the paperback rights. They plan to do hardcover editions, with Northwestern University Press doing a paperback of the former. Now I'd be surprised if we sold many hardcovers if the paperback was out, but I think they are counting on the university press having distribution hampered.

Serpent's Tail, which had some books from former Nobel winner Elfriede Jelinek, including The Piano Teacher, which became the focus book for sales, has the rights to The Passport, Muller's first novel. Hillel Italie has some nice ruminations on these selections in the Huffington Post. I had no idea that the purpose of the Nobel Prize was to make people famous, not honor famous people. Thanks for bringing attention to Saul Bellow, friends!

And for the other two, I have no idea. In the old days, they'd show up in a catalog, but now we're most likely to hear abou them in an email, or a blog post from someone with more info than me. Meanwhile, we wait for Hilary Mantel's Man Booker award-winning Wolf Hall. I told my booksellers that if we only get one (our buy went from one to five upon being nominated to 20 upon winning), it goes to John Eklund, who had the only special order before the announcement.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Robot Window!

Did I mention how when I was in fifth grade, my teacher Mrs. Rosenberg cast me in Karel Capek's play "RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots)"? Did I mention I flubbed my lines, destroying the promise of my Greek bystander in "Iphigenia at Aulis"?

Since then, robots have apparently become rooted in a dark place of my soul...or maybe they're just hot this year. I for one think of technology as being very scary, and cuting it up definitely helps. That's why I don't like high tech accessories, but I did bring in a mouse-shaped USB hub and we all said "Awwww."

The robot thing is probably at its peak for me, though I did skip the robot holiday ornaments I spotted at a gift show (still have regrets, particularly since they also had sock monkey ornments).
We got in some robot building toys, and some new robot cards, journals, and coin purses. Time for a window. The message, if you can't read it, is "We are your friends. Assorted robots."

Add to that some robot plush, robot folders and desk accessories, our robot bending toys and even a robot puppet, and voila--a pretty good display.

Alas, with the sidewalk construction, who is actually seeing it? And why pay to have the window cleaned before the construction is finished. Hence, it's a bit blurry.

And since I am loathe to not include books in my displays, this is also celebration of Jon Scieszka and David Shannon's new Robot Zot, the quest for one robot to rescue a princess (cell phone) from the hands of enemies (kitchen appliances).

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sock Monkeys!

It's not often that I see someone handselling bookmarks. But when we sold out of our Te Neues Sock Monkey bookmark pack (we're selling 12 coated paper bookmarks for $6.95) in a week, I asked what's happening.

Oh, that's Amie. A little observation indicated that Amie indeed liked a good sock monkey. She liked our sock monkey cards from Hello Lucky and the sock-monkeyish design on our Streamline merchandise (we sold out of the tape measure and mini-clock, but we currently have a full-sized alarm clock and a couple of seat cushions!). So why not order in some actual sock monkeys et al and call it a table?

There's also a nice book from Te Neues (pictured).

If you're too lazy to surf the net, the modern Sock Monkey was created by Nelson Knitting Mills of Rockford. It's a Swedish thing, I guess. The mill was eventually bought out but it's successor still makes them--ours, alas, are knockoffs.

We've also got a few other choice tidbits--a monkey jack in the box, monkey bowling, Paul Frank stickynotes, and we've also temporarily relocated our Bananagrams. It turned out there are also some nice sock monkey (note that I decided to only capitalize the traditional sock monkey from Rockford--I don't know if that is correct) kids' books. They are coming in shortly.
One thing of note on the gift items. People keep asking me if I will have this or that item through Christmas. Sadly, it's not like books. Each vendor has a reorder minimum, and we often cannot reach that in short order. When we run out, a lot of things go away. That said, those little coin purses we bought (some had birds on them, others robots) went so quickly that we were able to reorder.