Sunday, January 31, 2010

Robert Goolrick Shares Some Recommendations, a Little Inspiration

When we got the boxes for our order of A Reliable Wife, I knew something was up. Workman (Algonquin's parent company and distributor) doesn't have many laydowns, that requirement that we not put out a book before a certain date.

In this case, we received the books over a week before the January 5th on sale date. A strict on-sale date. There must have been a big promotion going on.

In fact, there were five. To my knowledge, the Algonquin gang not only had a book club promotion (mostly targeted to independents, I'd say) and book tour, they had promotions with Borders, B&N, Amazon and Target. That's a lot of muscle, which is part of the reason that the book is #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for this Sunday. It wasn't like The Help, that took close to a year to hit #1. It did it in two weeks of paperback release.

We had a wonderful event with Robert Goolrick, one of three that hosted in the Milwaukee area. I didn't figure on a football playoff game, let alone the first sold-out movie at the Downer Avenue since 2008. (It's true--"Crazy Heart" had some lines down the block the first weekend." Don't cry for us--it helped sales a bit.)

So back to the event. We learned that A Reliable Wife was actually turned down by 29 publishers before being sold to Chuck Hogan at Algonquin. Didn't he pick up Water for Horses (editor's note: No, that would be Water for Elephants. Funny usually I, like my customers, usually say Like Water for Elephants in error. Where the heck did that "horses" come from?) after a similar run of rejections? Yow! But Hogan actually didn't buy A Reliable Wife initially; he bought Goolrick's memoir, The End of the World as We Know it, which published before, but written after the novel.

Goolrick noted that although he doesn't read much when he's writing, he is a fan of contemporary fiction. So much more interesting than when you ask a writer for recommendations, and they offer you Dostoevsky. Yes, I've also heard he's good. Goolrick was so enthusiastic about these books that we actually sold copies of all of them. Here's a list.

The Song is You, by Arthur Phillips
I'm also a big fan. Here's my blog post. The paperback comes out March 23rd.

American Rust, by Philipp Meyer
Just out in paperback. Set in a Pennsylvania steel town during the Depression, Meyer's novel appeared on many best-of-2009 lists.

The New Valley, by Josh Weil
Linked novellas set in America's backcountry. Goolrick calls Weil "The real deal."

And of course, some of the inspiration for the story came from Michael Lesy's Wisconsin Death Trip. It isn't always safer in the country, after all.

And regarding inspiration, I had once heard that Goolrick hadn't been to Wisconsin before writing this novel. In fact, he used to visit Wisconsin accounts back when he was in advertising.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Encore Gets an Ovation from the Theatre Historical Society of America

When Boswell hosted Brian Leahy Doyle for his book, Encore: The Renaissance of Wisconsin Opera Houses (we still have signed copies, by the way), I was blown away by how attractive the book was. It's a really interesting subject that appeals to performing arts patrons, Wisconsinalia fans, and preservationists alike. And now it turns out that the Theatre Historical Society of America agrees. They've just awarded Encore an award as Outstanding Book of the Year. Congrats to Professor Doyle on this honor. Visit their site here.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Has it Really Been Six Months Since the Last Chicago Gift Show?

My visit to the Chicago gift show was split, taking a day trip with Boswellian Anne on Friday and another with Next Chapter's Anne on Monday. I wanted to make sure that I was at both weekend events, with John Schissler, Jr. on Saturday and Robert Goolrick on Sunday.

Just as well. The show is far less crowded during the week than on the weekend. I'm still discovering gift reps for our territory. The hope is that if we know the reps, we might find out about product that might otherwise go unbought.

I'm still on the fence about what categories to expand in, and by how much. The easy things are cards (loose and boxed) and journals, which both are expected in a bookstore and also sell well. Then we have things like bookends, which are expected, but have spotty sales, and the little impulse-y things, that generally sell pretty well and have an obvious place (the front and special order counters).

Likewise, I seem to have a handle on what I want in the kids' area--plush, puppets, toys, games, diaries, impulse, and the occasional home item, like our animal cushions we had in the fall.

But where should we go from here? Do we venture into the tabletop area that Schwartz played with? Can I sell tee shirts or bags? When I managed Mequon in the 90's, we had a poster rack (Remember those? They sure have disappeared from most retailers.)

One retailer told me she sold a lot of nightlights to bookstores. She's small artisan, out of Cleveland Heights (my mouth watered as we discussed Tommy's Retaurant) and her business grew out of greeting cards, which she also designs and sells. They were nice looking, reasonably priced, and fit my esthetic. The only problem? I have very few outlets, and it seems you can't really sell them well without samples and that involved buying a fixture and attaching it to the wall. Yeeks, my head started spinning.

So I can't tell you what I bought because...I didn't buy anything. But you should see the fruits of our labors in the next two months.


How are we doing? The American Booksellers Association polled member stores who joined in 2009. Two of the respondees were Lanora at Next Chapter and myself. We both had a lot to say!
Read it here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

It Hasn't Even Begun, but I'm Pretty Certain that the Boulevard Theatre Preview is Going to End Well (at Around 3 PM this Saturday, January 30th)

Just to make sure we're on the same page, the talk and preview starts at 2 PM that same day. I received a nice timetable from Norman, who is interning with Mark at the Boulevard.

I am no Shakespearean scholar. In fact, I probably studied less Shakespeare in college than the average student. I remember a class of Julius Caesar and another of Romeo and Juliet. Heck, the bookstore has its own Shakespeare section, and there seems to be a book on the Bard every year that breaks out.

But perhaps if I attend our discussion and preview for the Boulevard Theatre's "Love's Labour's Won, or All's Well that Ends Well," I will become slightly more educated. Here's a description of the play from the Boulevard:

"Also known as All's Well that Ends Well, this rare and wonderfully bittersweet romance tells the tale of a physician's daughter, Helena (Shannon Nettesheim, pictured), who is deeply in love with the fickle, aloof Bertram (Chad Laudonio). Bertram, the son of the Countess of Rossillion (Karen Ambrosh), is far above Helena in social status and is immeasurably beyond her reach romantically. Helena can either accept her restricted social standing (and a life of spinsterhood) or she must discover a way to simultaneously lift herself up from her less than noble status, achieve social mobility, and win Bertram's unresponsive heart.

"And Shakespeare's heroine must accomplish all this while curing the ailing King of France (Charles Hanel) from his mysterious fatal disease, confront the Countess of Rossillion (Bertram's mother and Helena's protector & guardian) about loving Bertram, and solve the conundrum of Bertram's challenge (that he will never consider her as his wife until she can get his late father's bequeathed ring off his finger and carry his child).

"Bertram's challenge seems impossible to conquer as Bertram has sworn to the Countess that he will never remove his late father's ring and has publicly stated that he will never lie with Helena and will never allow himself to have sexual relations with her.

"Also included in this romantic entanglement are: Bertram's mentor and ne'er-do-well braggart, Parolles (David Flores, pictured); the Countess' sly & sarcastic clown Lavatch (Mark Ninneman); the King's counsel, Lord Lafew (Douglas Smedbron), the lovely Italian girl whom the young Bertram desires and pursues, Diana (Melissa Keith); the Dumaine brothers who serve the King of France (Paul Madden and Hugh Blewett); the Countess' handmaiden, Violetta (Jamieson Hawkins) and Diana's widowed mother (Barbara Weber). Other local Milwaukee actors round out the large cast."

Nettesheim and Flores will be appearing with director Mark Bucher at Boswell on Saturday, January 30th, at 2 PM. Here's just a peak at Bucher's commentary:

"According to scholars and researchers, contemporary writers of Shakespeare refer to a delightful comedy entitled Love's Labour's Won, which has never been found nor discovered. But recent writings and critical conjecture surmise that the title refers to a Shakespeare play already known to the public and which may exist as a literary composite of a rough draft (Love's Labour's Won) and the later, more mature finished product (All's Well). Some scholars and researchers theorize that Love's Labour's Won is an early draft of either Much Ado About Nothing or All's Well that Ends Well. Many scholars debate over which play is the more likely to be the missing script. But due to the beauty of certain passages poetry of All's Well and the complexity of the lyrical witing and themes, All's Well is judged to be the more likely successor to the title than the earlier Much Ado About Nothing."

It's a rare thing when I'm hoping for more folks at the preview than can fit into the intimate Boulevard Theatre. But Mark's the man to give an interesting talk; I admire his artistic vision and share his taste in culinary deals--we are both fond of Waterfront Deli.

For tickets, call (414) 744-5757 or visit their website.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Reading Elmer Gantry and Coming to a Revelation--I Never Want to Read a Mass Market Again

We've got a nice program lined up to tie into the Florentine Opera's Milwaukee premiere of Elmer Gantry. We're having our second Opera Insight program, where a talk about the opera is interspersed with short performances from students in the Florentine Opera studio program. Our first program, for Tosca, was successful on all fronts--a lovely evening that also drew a good crowd of people.

In addition, I've selected Elmer Gantry to be our in-store book club selection for February. It gives me another reason to display the book, and we've actually been doing pretty well with it, having sold about 8 in the last month. I know that doesn't sound like much to you, but...Elmer Gantry? Actually the story of an evangelist who lives a life of "duplicity, sensuality, and ruthless self-indulgence" seems downright ordinary in the age of prosperity gospel.

So here's the problem. The book is only available in mass market. I don't know the last time I've read a mass market, particularly one this long*. The type is small, the spaces between the lines are nonexistent, and the bulking of the book makes holding it uncomfortable.

The book is published by Signet Classics, which is owned by Penguin. So why hasn't the book been done as a Penguin Classic, or at least Plume or Mentor? (These two other old NAL imprints. I don't think Plume is actually linked to Signet anymore but I don't think anybody's thinking about Mentor).

The opera's being done all over the country, and certainly would have had a sales pop in New York in 2008. What am I missing here?**

Some links:

1. Reviews of the "Elmer Gantry" opera when it was performed in New York.

2. A scene from the opera on Youtube. It's set in a bar in Cato, Missouri.

3. Buy tickets to the opera, which is being performed at the Marcus Center on Friday, March 19th and Sunday, March 21st (matinee).

*I could have read Lisa Lutz's The Spellman Files in mass market, but we chose to pretend it doesn't exist, and we're selling it in trade paperback. If you want the mass, we'll order it in for you.

**The only time you see books like this only in mass is when a huge percentage of sale is from k-12 schools that are very price sensitive. If you worry that moving the price point from $8 to $14 will get the school to choose something else, then I think you are stuck. Do high schools read Elmer Gantry?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Critics' Group NBCC Picks Huneven Among the Nominees for Prize--Everything Else is Gravy

It turns out that most major awards are determined by fellow writers? (Note to insiders--remember that the prime market here is my customer. Only maybe you've not really thought about it either).

National Book Award--writers
Man Booker--writers
Nobel Prize--friends of King Carl XVI Gustaf, some of them writers
Thurber Prize for Humor--writers, including last year's nominee Sloane Crosley, whose new book, How Did You Get This Number, is coming out in June. I still would like to get to 100 copies sold of her last book. If we can do this, we will have cake. We're in the 60's.

Et cetera.

But the National Book Critics Circle award actually comes from professional book reviewers, those other people (well, besides booksellers) we count on to find out what to read. There's a board (our former book editor from the Journal Sentinel, Geeta Sharma Jensen, was on that and so I occasionally got to hear some inside, thought not secret, scoop) and though many critics do write books as well (Boswell fave The Magicians was written by Time magazine book critic Lev Grossman, for example), it's certainly not required.

Of course, all other nominees were a blur after seeing Michelle Huneven's Blame nominated for the NBCC award for fiction. Man Booker winner Hilary Mantel and National Book Award nominee Bonnie Jo Campbell were also among the nominated in fiction.

In some ways, the NBCC puts more focus on serious nonfiction, with four categories--biography, autobiography, criticism, and nonfiction--in which to spread the love. The nonfiction then becomes a catchall of history and social criticism. It's also my thought that so many categories dillutes the impact. What we find in the store is that an already buzzed-about book that wins in one of these categories will have a greater pop, but it's hard for a title without too much momentum to break out, the way it can in fiction (which, as you'll notice, is not divided into genres and short vs. long form, or anything else).

I find it interesting that so many of the strong biographies last year were of literary figures. Instead of the Raymond Carver bio that the New York Times touted, nominees included Brad Gooch's Flannery O'Connor and Blake Bailey's John Cheever. In fact, the two lists (NBCC vs. NYT) had no fiction books in common, although they did share several nonfiction titles.
Perhaps they should do what the Kosta (formerly Whitbread) Prize does, and make the various nonfiction prizes battle it out for a superprize.


While we're talking lauds, note that local fave Dwellephant's graphic novel Missing the Boat was named by Comic Book Resources to be one of the top 100 comics of 2009. Click here for some of the list (including MTB) and link to the rest.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Visit from Poets and Writers Contributor Jeremiah Chamberlin

Several weeks ago, I started an email correspondence with Jeremiah (Jeremy) Chamberlin. He's started writing a new series for Poets and Writers about indie bookstores. He's set his sites on a few stores in the midwest, and since he has a couple of friends here in town, he thought he might stop by and chat and take a look at the store.

Jeremy now teaches at University of Michigan and edits an online journal Fiction Writers Review, in addition to contributing to Poets and Writers. But what many Wisconsinites might remember best is his stint, with Dean Bakopoulos, helping run Canterbury Books in Madison, a still much talked about former indie bookstore in our capital city. The space is currently taken by Avol's second-hand bookstore.

Just an aside--this was, coincidentally, my second visit from an ex-Canterburian in December, having previously spent some time with an ex-Canterbury and ex-Schwartz friend, Mary Heather. She has the honor of being the first person I knew to read and love Barbara Kingsolver. I might have known someone who read it earlier, but that person didn't talk about it with me.

Poets and Writers is a journal we sell relatively well in the bookstore. It's a variation on local favorite The Writer and also Writer's Digest, offering tips on writing and getting published. It's more of a hybrid, however, than the other two, offering lots of insights from newly published writers. One feature I really enjoyed in the January/February issue polls writers on the inspiration for their books releasing in January and February. It's my favorite question to ask at author readings. Among the authors queried are Ha Jin, Elizabeth Kostova, and Adam Haslett. (Haslett's Union Atlantic is the #1 Indie Next pick for February, by the way. Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves is #4 on The New York Times bestseller list and is featured on the January Indie Next list). There's also a great profile of master cover designer Chip Kidd.

The indie bookstore profiled in the January/February issue is the legendary Square Books in Oxford. Oxford's a wonderful college town (Ole Miss) rich in literary history. On a visit several years ago, we were able to tour Faulkner's house! The store is a dream, set on a really nice shopping square. Really, if you find yourself in Memphis, it's totally worth a detour.

Follow my lead and pick up an issue at your local bookstore or newsstand. (I'm pretty sure it's carried not just at indies, but at B&N, Borders, and certainly at college stores). Oh, and there's a website, of course.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

An Interview with my One of my Favorite Card-ists, Emmie Hsu of Fomato

One of my favorite finds of the summer gift show was the Fomato card line. These cards are like novels. They're filled with lots of great characters, and expound on everything from tea and cheese, to the Nobel Prize and evil figures in history.

We've also had a lot of success with the Fomato buttons. Customers and booksellers can't help but lay them out on the counter to see them all. Jocelyn recently did an analysis of our remaining buttons--they actually formed a giant F.

But who was the mad genius behind these cards? A little monster drawing on my most recent invoice led me to think this was not a mega-conglomerate at all, but an entrepreneurial venture. Our initial conversation was about terms (we had inadvertently moved from the beginner's credit card to the more coveted net 30) and Emmie Hsu (the entrepreneur) told me she was busy with classes. I wrote back and asked if she was an 18-year-old college student. She replied that she was actually only five.

Needless to say, I had more questions. An interview follows:

Daniel: How did you get into the business?

Emmie: I originally wanted to write & illustrate children's picture books, so I spent years working on convoluted manuscripts and drawings. During that time, I was also attending my version of art school, which was me working and quitting odd jobs, doodling, and spending insane amounts of money at Pearl Art Supply.

One day, I randomly thought about starting a company. I'm embarrassed to tell you this, but the first thought was "my own Sanrio." I'm not even super into Sanrio (I was as a kid, but now I've grown up and graduated onto comic books), but the idea was to create a bunch of fun, possibly useless products for people.

Daniel: What's your bestselling card?

Emmie: A card about Facebook. A few others have been cards about mix tapes, cheese, and driving.

Daniel: Who is your favorite character that you draw?

Emmie: Currently I like Boris. He owns a teahouse and a cheese shop. I feel like we'd be friends if he existed.

Daniel: Is there one person who does both the art and the writing or should I be referring to you as youse?

Emmie: I do the text & graphics. By the way, since you are very knowledgeable in this field (I mean that sincerely) - is there an apt term for someone who does text & graphics? I was thinking today about people I admire, like David Shrigley and Christoph Niemann, who combine both. I feel like the writer/illustrator, cartoonist, and graphic novelist terms aren't always applicable, and artist is too broad. I'm hoping that another good term is out there. Maybe I'll just start saying "text & graphics."

Daniel: What's your favorite color? I'm guessing it's blue.

Emmie: I think you're thinking blue because of the non-denominational holiday cards with snow.

Wait, let me look up your past orders.

Ah, I do see a bunch of blue cards in there. I'm not sure why I threw blue in so many designs.

To answer your question, I can't commit to one color, but I do love moss green - one that you find growing on black rocks next to waterfalls. Cerulean blue mixed with lemon yellow (in watercolor) is also amazing - you get that beautiful spring green.

Now I'm thinking about yellow, crimson, purple, and thistle. Saturated colors are wonderful. Everytime I see someone wearing black, I mentally redress him/her in a color that would be fantastic with his or her skin tone. Is that strange? I sort of wish I could give people swatches of colors that would look great on them. But then people would think I was crazy

Daniel: Cupcake or donut?

Emmie: A delicious Krispy Kreme doughnut, please. I can't get behind cupcakes. Why spend $5 on an overly frosted speck when you can crash someone's bday party and eat an entire half of a cake for free?

Daniel: The one card that bombed for us was the late Christmas card. Why? Because nobody buys them before Christmas and then we mark down our Christmas cards and how do we leave this one out? Well what's the point of carrying a card you can only really sell at 50% off. I wound up buying them all for me to send myself, since I don't think of sending out holiday cards until December 26th.

Emmie: I'm sorry this card didn't sell for you (sucka!!! just kidding). I'd have guessed people would buy them before Christmas, but it sounds like people who send holiday cards are also people who send them out on time. I can't relate . . . next time I'll have to channel my inner punctual person.

By the way, it would be awesome if you sent them out in July. I would say a July holiday card was a pretty damn late holiday card.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Family Story Today, Wisconsin Gothic Tomorrow, and According to Jim Stingel, a Stephen King Novel for You to Read for the Next, Two Months

See it today! Meet John Schissler today at 2 PM. John is the author of Passage: the Making of an American Family, and a Milwaukee institution, having taught at John Marshall High School for (can I really use this in a sentence?) scores of years.

Catch details about the event on the front page of today's Cue section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Tomorrow's big author is Robert Goolrick, author of the breakout bestseller A Reliable Wife. He'll be appearing at Boswell on Sunday at 2 PM. The book is #1 on The New York Times bestseller list for trade paperback fiction.

#1. We're having a #1 author.

More book stories in the Journal Sentinel. Read Jim Stingel's column on the delights and drawbacks of reading a big fat book, in this case, Stephen King's Under the Dome. Don't forget to watch the short video, partly shot at the bookstore. Very goofy fun.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Another Wrap Up--A Great Event at Milwuakee Public Library's Centennial Hall

Our event with Audrey Niffenegger at the Milwaukee Public Library went very nicely. The family Niffenegger was escorted by Mary Gielow. (Need an author escort? Here's her site. Included are interesting thank-you notes). Paula Kiely and the Milwaukee Public Library crew showed up in full force, as did 120 other enthusiastic fans. Picture at right is in the green room, chatting in between pre-signs.

Here are some interesting tidbits.

1. I learned from wife-of-Mayor-Barrett Kris that she's in a book club.

2. Ms. Niffenegger's parents came up from the Chicago area. Both very nice.

3. The crowd had more 20-and-30-something women than we usually get. The author, the recent movie, or the changed location could all be responsible.

4. As many of you know, we subscribe to the Above the Treeline program, which crunches the inventory of about 200 independent bookstores. Our system was down for the past few weeks while we upgraded our computer, but if we include sales sold since it was down, we'd be the #1 indie bookstore for sales of Her Fearful Symmetry. Admittedly, we've done very well, but we usually don't get much past #5 in ranking. It probably helped that we had three very good reads on the book, and could promote the event for a long time.

It's also possible that a lot of other folks' HSL lines broke, but not too likely.

Thanks to everyone at Scribner and Simon for helping us with this event and the Walls. Also thanks to Paula, Sandy, Patty, and everyone else at the library for letting us sell books (a percentage goes back to the library). Up next, we're really close to getting an author for the Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library lunch in April. And if all works out, it's a really great author. I'm very excited.

Another MPL note. Our event with Katie Gingrass Gallery is over for the fill-the-shelves promotion. Katie's customers bought more than a thousand dollars of books for the Milwaukee Public Library. We're hoping to do another promotion next fall, and we're both hoping to take it to the next level, whatever that means.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Serena Changes Her Outfit to Turn More Heads

Jackets change on books all the time. Sometimes there are old book jackets that need to be freshened up. It's like clothing--I seem to remember one year when it seemed like every major novel was navy blue with big type and a little icon on the front

Random House has updated a lot of their Vintage paperbacks in 2009. That white jacket with the inset artwork was groundbreaking in the 1980's, but most paperbacks are full bleed nowadays. It's also given them a chance to unify some of their authors' looks. I really liked the new looks for the Chinua Achebe and Albert Camus backlists. That's why we had them on display in our fiction section for quite a while. Camus sold well too in the reissue, and not just The Stranger. I'm really convinced that those new jackets got folks to go deeper into the backlist.

It's very common for a hardcover jacket to change for the paperback, particularly if the hardcover's performance was disappointing. The reprint jacket is more important for impulse sale, and less needs to convey an image to reviewers. Type jackets, for example, common on hardcovers, but less so on paperbacks.

Another area where we see changes are between the advance readers' copies that go to booksellers and the finished product. Sometimes the jackets are placeholders, but often the publishers are still arguing it out. Sometimes large accounts will balk at a jacket when it's sold in for the season. Other times the author has jacket approval and might not yet have signed off. Who knows what goes on behind the scenes? Once when I worked at Warner Books, we changed a jacket because the sales manager had a dream that about how it should be changed. The covers were already in production and were scrapped. Really.

What you don't generally see are paperback jackets that change only months after their release. But that's what we noticed a few months ago with Ron Rash's novel Serena. One of our booksellers was shelving more copies of the book, and noticed that the jackets didn't match. Our biggest fan of the book (Stacie) liked it a bit less and wondered what was up.

Serena is a big novel about a logging dynasty in Virginia, taking place at the dawn environmental movement. It's a play on Macbeth and thus features a big, bold and deliciously evil villainess in the title character. I haven't read it yet, but I knew enough booksellers who loved it to be able to use their recommendations. Right now Stacie is recommending it to lots of folks who've read A Reliable Wife (our event for Robert Goolrick is Sunday, 1/24, 2 PM, and yes, the jacket changed from hardcover to paperback).

I had some ideas on the cover change for Serena, and speculated that maybe a large account had said they'd take a large quantity for a promotion if they'd just change the jacket. I even ran my question past the agent, Marly Russoff, but no clear answer. We did, however, have a nice talk about some of her upcoming titles. If you here my talking about My Name is Mary Sutter, by Robin Oliveira (Viking, May 2010), you'll know who put the bug in my ear.

Finally my queries reached Rachel Bressler, Associate Publisher of Rash's home, Ecco. She was gracious enough to address my quick switcheroo on Serena.

"We loved the HC jacket of Serena, but felt strongly that the TP needed a new direction. I swear we went though about 100 jackets or more trying to find the right one. Once we’d settled on the original TP jacket, we were very disappointed to find initial sales were lackluster at best. We knew this book had huge potential in TP to sell like wildfire, but something was holding it back. I just had to believe it was the jacket, since we had the love of the sales force, the great HC track, and a fantastic book. It was killing me that the TP wasn’t taking off!

"Our art director, Allison Saltzman and I sat down to see if we could come up with something fresh that we felt was a better overall representation of the read. After 6+ months of looking at jackets with every combination of woman, trains, woods, etc, suddenly the new jacket just had it all fall into place. We rushed to push it through for the first reprint so that the new and improved jacket is the one being found in stores by the holiday season. Luckily for us, my gamble paid off, and we are now happily into our third reprint with close to 50,000 TP copies in print. A Christmas miracle, perhaps? Some might just say a hyper-competitive Associate Publisher who can’t take “why not wait a few years before you think about re-jacketing?” as an answer!"

Thanks, Rachel. Whatever can make this book sell is okay by us. We know it's a great book and it deserves a wide audience.

Meanwhile, keep an eye out for jacket changes. You never know when they're going to happen.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jeannette Walls Wrap Up--I Attend with Special Guests

A little backstory to recap our event with Jeannette Walls for Half Broke Horses. I was speaking to one of my customers from Eastcastle, who was interested in attending our event at Alverno College. She had two problems--getting there and who to go with. She'd already asked a couple of people who weren't interested.

Solving problem one, I said that if she didn't mind getting early and leaving late, I could give her a ride as I was renting a car anyway. For problem two, I suggested another customer, who I remembered had enjoyed the book enough to buy a couple more as Christmas presents for two of her relatives. The answer was yes and she knew of another enthusiastic attendee, and soon enough, our car was full. We're going to tour as Three Bettys and a Miriam. I'd be their Reuben Kincaid.

I panic about this stuff a lot, but it turns out our event with Jeannette Walls went about as well as it could go. Relocated to Alphonsa Hall on Alverno's campus, we had a crowd of about 150 fans, and because of the way the ticketing is set up, we had a very nice attendee-to-book-sold ratio.

As an aside, folks use three-to-one as a baseline. Straight signings are usually better; literary generally does better than issue books, that tend to attract folks looking for a free lecture. That's one of the many reasons why you see less authors with serious nonfiction touring bookstores. Our ticket-with-book program (inherited from Schwartz) gets the number high enough for the event to be considered a success, especially considering the book has been out for three months. It didn't hurt that it was recently lauded (yes, another link) as one of the top 10 books of the year by the New York Times Book Review.

Jeannette Walls is just about the perfect speaker. For one thing, she's funny and smart and bit self-deprecating. For another, she's just about as gracious as she can be to fans. She's one of those authors where you think, I wish I were her friend and then you remember, no, it wouldn't work out. I'd just disappoint her.

Just one little detail we learned at the talk. This is not a picture of her family, though at one point, the Scribner cover had a picture of her grandmother. It's a stock photo from Dorothea Lange. Doesn't it totally capture the mood of Half Broke Horses?

Thanks again to David and Rory at Alverno Presents, for all your hard work.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Reallocate Your Boswell Benefits Coupon Towards Paul Farmer's Partners in Health

A note about Haiti. What should the store be doing? Some friends of mine at other bookstores sell annual memberships (an enhanced Boswell Benefits program, of sorts) and are donating the proceeds for the month to relief efforts.

We don't sell memberships, but we do have an option. You know those five dollar coupons you receive for each hundred dollars you spend at our store? For a limited time, you can allocate your active coupon (less than two months old) to Partners in Health, and we will donate that money to the Stand with Haiti campaign.

Partners in Health is connected to Paul Farmer, the inspirational figure profiled in Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains. The organization helps provide health care to the poor, and Haiti has been one of the main focus of their efforts. It's a much-lauded organization with an infrastructure in place to help.

No surprise, there's been increased interest in the book since Haiti's devastating earthquake. Here's the NPR story from when the book first came out.

We should have this up and running by tomorrow.


Closer to home, any ex-Milwaukeeans may have heard that there has been a bad fire on Oakland and North, and the business from Pizza Man east to the church have been destroyed. More in the Journal Sentinel. Here's another piece in On

Monday, January 18, 2010

Think About It--Here's an Occasion That Doesn't Work so Well as an E-Thought

Our bestselling cards are for birthdays. No surprise there. I've increased the amount of blank cards we sell too, mostly by carrying a large selection from local photographer Sue Borges Vliet.

But what do you think is our second-best occasion after birthdays? Sadly, it's sympathy cards. Is it because more people die than get married, have kids, get sick, buy a new house, or get thanked? Well, among my customers, probably.

But more than that, it's one type of sentiment that just doesn't come off right on an ecard.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Read More About Mueenuddin in Today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Mike Fischer has a great interview in today's Journal Sentinel with Daniyal Muenuddin. It's really the first piece I've read that connects the the dots as to the connection with Wisconsin. Mr. Mueenuddin is the son of an American mother and Pakistani father and there are actually two family farms, one in Elroy and another in Punjab. Currently Amish farm the Wisconsin land. Maybe you've had something that is Mueenuddin-grown at a nearby farmer's market.

It's also the first I've read about the novel in progress.

I've heard from several book clubs that are planning to come. That's a great idea. We've got room for all of you. Even if you haven't picked this collection, I think you'll be convinced after hearing this talk/reading this Wednesday, January 20th, at 7 PM.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Boswell Abroad! Anthony Bourdain Appearing at the Riverside this Friday, January 22nd

Our friend John at Bartolotta restaurants came in this week looking for some Anthony Bourdain books. They're doing a VIP event at the Riverside Theater for Mr. Bourdain's upcoming show on Friday, January 22nd. (Sorry, I think the VIP portion is sold out).

He said, "How many books are you bringing?" and I answered, "None, we're not doing the event." His reply, "According to my email, you are." Oops. I could do a better job of following up on these things. But the story has a happy ending.

And so we are selling the books at the Riverside. Very swell. I attended Mr. Bourdain's event at Schwartz for Kitchen Confidential and it was truly entertaining. And packed with fans.

I'm proud to say we're up for just about anything, and we're grateful to have another opportunity to sell books at the Riverside--Stacie sold books for Lisa Lampinelli's Chocolate Please tour in December. And yes, we'll have all the books in on time.

We'll have Kitchen Confidential (in both cloth and paper), The Nasty Bits, A Cook's Tour, the Les Halles Cookbook, and even the mysteries. What won't we have? Well, Mr. Bourdain's publisher is releasing Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook in June.

I was talking to my sister Merrill, who was excited at the prospect of a Bourdain event. "I wish I could come to Milwaukee to see Bourdain," she exclaimed. "He's got the only food show left that I like, even though it's more of a travel show. He also understands the difference between new New York and old New York. Old New York was for artists; new New York is for the moneyed. So what if it's more dangerous." This went on for a while. I totally agreed, though I have to say that I was more afraid of getting mugged in old New York.

It's this Friday. Buy tickets on the Riverside site.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Unnamed Illness Haunts Joshua Ferris's Second Novel, The Unnamed

Joshua Ferris had a huge critical (and very decent commercial) success in Then We Came to the End. It's a book I wish I read (yes, I own a copy and I don't mean on my bookstore's shelves), but I never got to it. It was also a finalist for the National Book Award.

Well, it seems that Ferris's new novel The Unnamed, from early reviews at least, is quite different and likely to get very strong reviews in the press. It's about a lawyer named Tim Farnsworth who is periodically struck with a strange malady; he wanders off until he can't walk any more and then he goes to sleep. Part of the disease involves taking off articles of clothing so even though he tries to be prepared, things can turn particularly sticky in the winter.

The story is also about his wife Jane and his daughter Becka and how their lives are made more difficult by the illness. Sometimes they learn to work around it and sometimes it takes a toll on them, leading to identity disorders and addictions and the like.

It's clear to most readers (in addition to reading advance reviews and quotes from other bookstores, my coworker Rebecca also read the book) that whatever the disease (it's unnamed!) that Tim has, it's also probably a metaphor for something else. One reviewer said the book was clearly about man's urge to wander. That seemed literal to me and I didn't see how it fit into the rest of the book. Rebecca thought it was clearly an allegory about mental illness, perhaps schitzophrenia. That made a lot more sense to me. Did I give anything away by saying this? Every review I read gave a theory on what the book was supposed to be about, so it seemed like fair game.

That's part of the beauty of the book; it's the kind of story where you really want someone else you know to read it so you can talk about it. This is going to be a great book for book clubs.

As I said, reads from booksellers have been vry strong. The book is the #1 Indie Bound pick for January.

I had some issues with the book, particularly with the mystery angle that seems to come out of nowhere. Tim's a lawyer, and has a lead on a case, but he loses the lead due to an outbreak of his wandering. There's a certain point where I wondered if the novel was going to turn into a thriller a la the Motherless Brooklyn detective with Tourette's. I'm going to give you some advice and not attach any baggage to that subplot (and you might well have, as editor Reagan Arthur is well known for her supremely crafted literary/mystery hybrids) as it is only a minor strand of the book. I think in the end, it's another avenue for the protagonist's frustration.

I also expected to be much more sympathetic to Jane's plight, but Ferris gave her so many issues that this was difficult. After some thought, I understood why this was done. Despite how hard it can be at times, you want the focus to be on Tim and Tim's illness, and not switch sympathies to Jane, so Ferris set up some roadblocks to prevent that from happening.

Wall Street Journal interview.

Maslin has issues.


If you don't regularly read our sister blog The Boswellians, you really should, particularly Jocelyn's new piece on our Salt-o-meter.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Story Prize Nominees--More Mueenuddin, plus Blog Newcomers Victoria Patterson and Wells Tower

Here are the nominees for the sixth annual Story Prize. I know the prize, know who Larry Dark is (an anthologizer) and it says the founder of the program is Julie Lindsey, whose name I did not recognize (but now I'll know it in this context). It all seems very official, yet also slightly home-made. I'm sad that I don't have a prize to give out...yet.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin Yes, you know the drill--he's appearing at Boswell on Wednesday, January 20th. But why not link to our web site and order a signed copy. Request pickup and then we'll follow up and do a phone order.

Drift, by Victoria Patterson. This is a book we brought in but since ignored, perhaps unfairly. We haven't been able to sell a copy yet either, so reviewers might also have missed the boat. It's a glimpse into the lives of the privileged of Newport Beach. We brought in two more, to make a nominee display.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, by Wells Tower. Who can't love a book about boozy dreamers? This did pretty well at Boswell in hardcover. We took a return on the hardcover this week. Won't that customer be distraught when they realized they lost their chance at owning a possible prizewinner! Paperback is releasing shortly.

The pick the nominees and then three judges (including A. M. Homes) pick the winner. The winer gets $20,000 and the runners up $5000.
The winner will be announced on March 3rd.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Saddest Email I Get All Week... the one from Constant Contact, telling me how many folks have unsubscribed from our email newsletter.

It comes every week, and if I send an email out the week before, we will be sure to have 10-15 folks unsubscribe. Since our list now goes to around 5000 people, that's not bad. A much bigger problem, actually, is folks we've entered incorrectly because we couldn't read their handwriting*

Now I know how Channing Tatum feels in the upcoming movie adaption of the bestselling novel by Nicholas Sparks (at right).

It's true that it's more locally focused than this blog, with at least half the information about in-store events. That said, 90% of the folks who unsubscribe originally signed up in-store. Unlike Schwartz, we don't offer a coupon for signing up--there's really no incentive except finding out what's going on in an interesting way.

Sometimes folks complain or offer feedback, but they almost always stay on the list. That's why I split the columns so that the left is events and the right is more about books and other items for sale. The event date and time is almost always within the header field, and that's been said to be a big improvement (yes, I used to bury them towards the bottom).

That said, I get several emails back every time we send one, saying how much they like the newsletter. You can't please everyone, I know that, and by infusing a store with personality, you run that risk even more. Some folks' in boxes are overwhelmed with emails; that's why I don't want to send emails more than once a week, even though marketing gurus recommend short and frequent communications. They never asked me; I just tune them out.

It's bad enough when you don't know the customer, but about once a month I see a name I recognize. Putting on my Sherlock Holmes hat, I sometimes discover that the recipient is simply changing their email address. That's what happened one time when I actually asked the person who dropped out. Another time, it was that my friend lived out of town, and the emails were too local (see above). I think she's still reading the blog.

Though I figure this might be an interesting post for our customers, it's more of an email for commisserating bookstores--I feel your pain!

So to Mary, Mark, Pam, Linda, Melba, Ken, Glenna, Deborah, Jane, I. (this name's too distinctive and it's not fair to use publicly) and Cynthia, it's been fun, really it has. I hope you find happiness somewhere, if not with me.

Boy, if I'd only been this grown up when I was dumped after dates in my twenties...

**If you think you signed up for our email newsletter and you're not getting it, it's probably the case that we entered your name incorrectly and couldn't figure out how to fix it. You can now sign up for the Boswell events email on this blog (see above right).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dear Lisa Lutz, What do You Call that Person You're Spying on?

We're working on our Lisa Lutz event, which we're hosting on March 25th, 2010, at 7 PM. I'm in the middle of her first, Curse of the Spellmans, while Anne is ahead of me, having already finished her newest, The Spellman's Strike Again.

Here's what Anne has to say:

"The fourth and final installment of the Spellman Quartet finds the Spellmans spying on each other more than they are for clients. Mom is keeping tabs on Isabel’s dates in the hopes that she’ll get married. The kids want to know why parts of the house are disappearing. Could someone really be stealing their doorknobs and light fixtures? Lutz has written a quirky and sometimes bizarre tale that’s good for a laugh."

Here's our problem. What's the word for the person that a detective is spying on? I hire a detective to see if my wife or husband is having an affair, or my business partner is cheating me? What is the word you use to describe them?

I've done a bunch of searches but can't find anything appropriate. "Mark" just doesn't seem correct. That's someone you con. What in Miss Marple's name is the right word for this?

I also usually tell booksellers to hold their posts until the new book is out, but in this case, you might, like me, want to start with book number one, The Spellman Files.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Are We so Gullible to Fall for an Delightfully Obvious Gimmick in Padgett Powell's New Novel?

How did this happen? Could it be that in my memory, I have never been witness to a Padgett Powell book that sold this well in hardcover? Are we really up to seven copies sold of The Interrogative Mood?

Is it the striking cover? Could it be the a novel told in all questions would resonate with readers? Is it, as the anonymous Kirkus reviewer labeled it, a one-trick pony? Does that make the book appealing to Paul Simon?

Have we not even been paying attention? Could we sell more? Do I want to read this now? Are four copies enough to display it? What would Jason say if I just put them in the to-be-ordered field?

Can you think of other books like this? Would you consider A Void, the novel by George Perec, that doesn't have the letter "e", to fit the bill? What about Mark Dunn's Ella Minnow Pea (not "pee" as previously written), which progressively loses letters of the alphabet as they are stolen from a small island? Could the recently-read Rabih Alameddine's novel I the Divine fall into this category, since it is completely composed of first chapters?

Can you think of more?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Michelangelo and Monk Collaborate on Something or Other

We've had a run of special orders (we only had one copy, and by run, I mean two special orders) on Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man, and his Times. So sad because we lost our Cambridge rep late last year, and had we still had him, he surely would have sent us a note letting us know about that there was some publicity pop.

In my world, two is a trend.

Another book we sold several copies of yesterday was Robin D. G. Kelly's Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. I thought it odd, as the book came out last October.

I still don't exactly know why both books popped in the last few days. Maybe because Jason had bought a Thelonious Monk CD from Daedalus to sell and we were playing it in the store. But I have no Michelangelo work hanging; our decor is still from Maryland Avenue Montessori School.

Both worth giving a shout out. I'm sure I'll find out why folks are buying them soon enough.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

It's Still Cold Out There--Book Suggestions

We took down our Christmasy decor but decided to leave up our hanging snowflakes for a while. And that got us to thinking, "When do folks get sick of winter?" We've decided the answer is February 1st.
We also have two displays of winter books, one in kids and one in the adult area. It will be interesting to see if we can sell any of the latter.

Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survial, by Bernd Heinrich.
Heinrich, a professor of biology at the University of Vermont, has over the years become one of our most prominent nature writers. Here he explores the "largely undiscovered mysteries by which nature sustains herself through winter';s harsh cruel exigencies."

The Snow Tourist: A Search for the World's Purest Deepest Snowfall, by Charlie English.
From interviews with scientists and skiers, building igloos and interviewing avalanche survivors, this editor at the Guardian who is also an active sker and snowboarder offers the ultimate snowjob.

Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places, by Bill Streever.
Another natural history with side trips, Streever is up for cold places without snow. Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us, calls Cold "Unexpectedly beautiful and ever-intriguing."

And one other suggestion that offers sustenance against said weather:
Hot Chocolate: 50 Heavenly Cups of Comfort, by Fred Thompson.
This book's been sitting around for a while, but I can't bear to let it go. These recipes include marshmallows and brandy, vanilla, extra heavy cream, cinnamon and curry.

In February, it's time to start talking about spring. Book list to follow.
Another nice piece for Jeannette Walls in today's Journal Sentinel. I can't find today's link but here's yesterday's. We can't say we didn't get press to promote this event! Thanks to everyone at the Cue section. Meanwhile, you can see me at the gang (TODAY, Saturday 1/9) at Alverno College's Alphonsa Hall at 2 PM, listening to Walls discuss Half Broke Horses. I wouldn't say no if you brought me a hot chocolate.
My apologies to folks for some typos in the email newsletter.
1. Jim Harrison's recurring character who appears in The Farmer's Daughter novella is "Brown Dog."
2. Elmer Gantry is a production of the Florentine Opera. We have two book club discussions on Monday, February 1st, one at 2 PM and one at 7. Our preview is on Wednesday, February 24th at 7 PM.
3. Surely there's another!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Verghese Speaks, Lake Forest Bookstore Feeds, Daniel Digresses off Topic

More to say on the paperback of Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone, which comes out in paperback on January 26th. Here's the original post. See the bottom of this post for a wonderful lunch that my friend Sue is putting together in Lake Forest, Illinois, for Mr. Verghese and the book's paperback publication.

Mr. Verghese was in Milwaukee several years ago to speak at the founding of a new Center for the Study of Bioethics at the Medical College of Wisconsin. He has a few friends here, and one of them forwarded to him my ponderings.

We had a little back and forth about my comment "The book had enough momentum not to need me." He assured me the book does need the help of hand-selling booksellers: "It is a curious, word of mouth sort of book, not exactly flying off the racks but doing a good steady business which has been very gratifying. I have great hopes that the momentum will carry on in paperback." Then we had a little chat about which bookstore in his area sold his book by the hundreds and which could not identify it when he dropped by, despite saying he was the author. I'm not naming names!

Here's the information on Lake Forest Bookstore's author luncheon with Abraham Verghese:

DATE: Wednesday, January 27, 2010
TIME: 11:30 AM
LOCATION: Lovell's of Lake Forest
915 S. Waukegan Road

Luncheon $39.00
To make a reservation please call

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"Everybody Tells me I Look Like Aladdin", Confesses Chris Mitchell in New Memoir

Several years ago, I told my friend Mary that I wanted to write a book about folks obsessed with Disney. I'd join all the fan groups, visit all the parks, meet cast members, go to a wedding, a cruise, the whole nine yards.

I now know that the name for this kind of person is a Disniac.

Now that's not exactly what Chris Mitchell, skateboard photographer, obsessive graffiti tagger, all around hipster, had in mind for his book. Instead, Chris ditches SoCal for a gig at Walt Disney World, inspired after meeting another extreme sports dude who has bought into the Disney lifestyle.

And why not? He's lost his job, been ditched by his girlfriend, and his mom has been diagnosed with cancer. Why not go to a place where people never die?

So Chris joins Disney and learns a few things:
Nobody ever dies in the Magic Kingdom
Almost everybody is gay (he is not). (Richard Florida touches on why Orlando and New Orleans are the two cities that contradict his thesis about GLBT populations being an indicator of strong creative cultures.)

And then there is the cardinal rule:

It's a rule that will bite him in the butt numerous times, and more than that, reflects on the folks drawn to Disney in the first place. For they are truly characters--some real, some reimagined.

Pretty good fun and I certainly learned a lot about obscure Disney characters. And yes, no matter how good your hair is, everyone in character must wear a wig.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Life Pops When Neuroscientist Susan Barry Gets Treatment for a Visual Disorder Thought Uncurable; Visits Boswell Tuesday 1/12, 7 PM

If you could not see in color, could you imagine what color would be? Now imagine if you suddenly could. Could you imagine being blind or deaf, and knowing what it would be like to be otherwise. Now imagine seeing or hearing.

We don't think about it, but there are a lot of folks out there that don't see in three dimensions. They had cross eyes or lazy eyes as a child, and thought they probably had surgery to correct the condition, they still have the condition called "strabismus", where the eyes don't focus together on points in space. Instead, one eye focuses and the other effectively turns off.

It was thought that after a certain developmental period, the brain could not develop stereopsis, according to Barry. That, and a sort of disconnect between opthalmologists (medical doctors) and optometrists (they go to optometry school) that has prevented more treatment.

Barry, a neurobiologist at Mount Holyoke, diagnosed her condition, and was very proactive in finding someone with the tools to change her brain patterns. After being profiled in the New Yorker article "Stereo Sue", she became in touch with many folks who shared her condition.

In some way, she got the idea that the body adapts from her husband, Dan Barry, an astronaut, and how he became a science project for her daughter. His body learned to adapt to zero gravity, but at first there were things he couldn't do when he returned to normal conditions.

You really can't understand what it feels like to go from mono to stereo without it happening to you, but Barry gives a good try (I read the book, and I appreciate that she made the effort). Like me, you may realize partway through the book that you know someone with this condition (he's now getting Fixing my Gaze as a gift). I think the other part of the issue is that doctors don't realize how desperate folks with strabismis are to see in stereo, and that's why they dismiss cures. I have no idea. But the man who developed the treatment, Frederick Brock, was a sufferer himself, and he was the first patient he treated.

Susan Barry (who looks so much in this picture like her brother, Daniel, one of my favorite customers) is speaking at Boswell on Tuesday, January 12th, at 7 PM. Here's a link to praise from the general and scientific press for Fixing my Gaze. Can't come? You can also watch a lecture on Youtube.