Friday, December 31, 2010

Authors Recommend Books in Entertainment Weekly, John Reccomends Books to Our Customers from a Nearby Coffee Shop

I was reading somewhere that for many retailers, December 26th is their 3rd or 4th busiest day in terms of sales. No margin, mind you, because everything is marked down, but good volume. It seems surprising to me, as bookstores don't have as many markdowns. That said, many of our customers are at home all week, so that it's like five Saturdays in a row,which usually have better traffic for us than a weekday. The 31st? Not so much.

Two of our customers yesterday were Jennifer and Mike, who were shopping for a gift for a techie friend. As an aside, Jennifer told me that our friend John was recommending a book which turned out to be The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal. The title wasn't exactly right, but he had just raved about the book to me, and it turns out I can hold onto a memory for at least a day, if I'm lucky. It's about a banking dynasty divided and brought together by a priceless collection of wood carvings. Alas, it sort of skipped my consciousness, while we quietly sold a dozen.

It also showed up on Stacy Schiff's list of books she loved in 2010. Another book on her list was How to Live: A Life of Montaigne, by Sarah Blakewell. Our customer Peter has been raving about this book for a good while. Her last book she recommended was The Posssessed, by Elif Batuman. Also did well with us, and sold extra copies off our matryushka display.

What was nice to me was that two of the five #1 picks were by authors we'd hosted in the store. Gary Shteyngart called Joshua Ferris's The Unknown "deeply moving and as lyrical as anything I've read in years." Michael Kortya had Tom Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter on his list. And Kathryn Stockett's pick was for a book whose author we'll be hosting in just a few short weeks, Karen Abbott's American Rose. It's "sultry!"

Back to the de Waal book. We're out, as is Ingram. We don't really need enough to chase it, but it's certainly doing well enough to think about it. And like many books nowadays, the paperback is coming faster--the paperback is scheduled for March, just seven months after hardcover publication. I was looking at the Simon and Schuster catalogs and more and more books are coming out from them in paperback in six to eight months. The exception now seems to be the rule.

But that's a long way t0o say that I have no idea what we're going to do. Happy new year. We're open until 5 pm tonight.

Addendum--like many retailers in Milwaukee, we had a great day, way above normal. With temperatures close to 50, just about everybody was out walking!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Crossing Off Items (Last Minute, Of Course) on the To-Do List of 2010

You wouldn't believe how much there is to get done before the end of the year. If you're going to make substantial purchases, you probably want it to be included on the 2010 tax year. We went through our supply list, and replaced a shelving cart that's been falling apart about once per week.

Today Stacie and I finalized our event calendar for the printer and sent out an updated press release. In addition to newly added readings from a local poetry group and the monthly UWM Student Faculty reading, we picked up two celebrities. We're hosting a signing for Johnny Weir for his new book, Welcome to my World, on Tuesday, January 18th, at 5 PM. Unlike our last few signings, we've decided to not ticket this one.

Another event we've just added is selling books at the Pabst Theater for Bethenny Frankel. She's got two books out--The Skinnygirl Dish and Naturally Thin with another on the way in March. Our event, however, is January 27th. I guess there is a Skating with the Stars connection, but I am too much the gentleman to link to it.

We also need to do our last-minute donations. We had another big check for Tom Farmer's Partners in Health, our donation option on the Boswell Benefits program. We were able to send another $1100 to PIH, helping poor people access health care. Though we hoped to adjust organizations, the cholera outbreak in Haiti happened while we were deliberating and we decided that PIH could use the money.

Finally, I am glad to have crossed another item off the yearend to-do list. We've got an inventory scheduled. We went to three independent firms and found the best fit and the right price. That said, we'll be closing early, at 4 PM, on Sunday, January 9th.

I've got another big milestone purchase ahead of me this evening. Hope you're keeping busy too. You've got a lot to get done before 2011!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Re-setting the New and Noteworthy Mysteries

After getting a valid customer complaint during the Christmas season that the new and noteworthy mysteries case was becoming a dumping ground for old commercial thrillers (and sadly, an easy place for a bookseller to dump some shelving, even if the book wasn't new), I made a renewed commitment to keeping the case interesting.

We started making shelf talkers of Carole E. Barrowman's local recommendations in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but let that slip. In addition, Carolyn suggested we use some of Marilyn Stasio's recs in The New York Times. It's a good idea, and I'm going to see if we can keep up with them.

For now, here's Barrowman's Best, her ten year-end picks in the Journal Sentinel. Want to read her comments? Here's the piece.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin
Bury Your Dead, by Louise Penny
Mr. Peanut, by Adam Ross
The Siren, by Alison Bruce
Empty Mile, by Matthew Stokoe
Angel With Two Faces, by Nicola Upson
Cut, Paste, Kill, by Marshall Karp
Tooth and Claw, by Nigel McCrery
A Very Simple Crime, by Grant Jerkins
Worth Dying For, by Lee Child

We sold the first one very well, but maybe we can get a nice pop on the rest, particularly Grant Jerkins, who showed up on both lists and was published as a trade paperback original.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blogs, Email Newsletters, Books--A Short E Ramble.

One of the differences I've noticed between 2009 and 2010 is that a lot more people are reading this blog on their cell phone***. It was also the final blow as to why I changed the email newsletter from two columns to one. Two was confusing for many on laptops and desktops, but pretty much impossible on smaller devices. When I get some time, I'm hoping to format it a bit more so it has a bit more kick, but meanwhile, expect your next missive just after the New Year.

And I've even heard, "When am I going to buy ebooks from you? I read on my cell phone." Now admittedly half of these requests (two out of four) were from friends out of town, and one of the two locals didn't exactly promise that he'd get the books from Boswell. But it's definitely a resolution for 2011. There's an upside and a downside--you don't carry the inventory, but the margins are lower. And another downside--it still disconnects you from the store.

I recently said in a column that a small bookstore is just two or three mistakes away from closing, and that mistake can be one of action or inaction. Where did I say it? In a newsletter called Publishing Trends*. Now most of their material is pay only, so I can't link to more than the site. I'm always interested in how folks can get other folks to pay for information (actually, the world is interested in this) because we only seem to be able to give it away as a loss leader.

Well, there's always the guilt factor. You like this blog but don't buy anything from us? If the store closes**, the blog absolutely goes away. Here's our website address, which yes, has secure purchasing. Did that work?

One last thing, before my footnotes below. My nephew Adam recently signed up for RSS feed for this blog, and he says it's been a great way for him to not miss a post. Come to the blog once a month and you'll be overwhelmed with Boswelliana. Yes, there is such a thing as too much Beans and Barley poppyseed torte. But a little each day? Delicious. Sign up here for Boswell and Books in your in box.

*Like many newsletters, it may post for free at one point, but like many others, it may not.

**The store isn't closing. I should be careful with panicky threats in this bookselling environment. I should say that if all our customers got complacent (or for that matter, if we got really complacent), we'd probably close. That's the lesson of the day; avoid complacency! I learned about this lesson while watching Ford: Rebuilding an American Icon on CNBC yesterday.

***I am still reading Mike Birbiglia's Sleepwalk with Me, long after the event. My favorite piece so far is about Birbiglia being booked to do campus activities. Sometimes he be scheduled at Noon in the lunch room, and at least once in study hall. At Yale, they wrote a newspaper article about how nobody ever heard of him, and why couldn't they get someone like Robin Williams (who hasn't done standup in 30 years). Don't worry, I didn't give away most of the funny bits.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Resetting the Store, Post Christmas

Even if we have a relatively good day the day after Christmas, it's always going to seem dead compared to the weeks leading up to the holiday. Being a Packers Sunday just exacerbated the problem. On the other hand, movie traffic is good as the Downer Theatre is showing The King's Speech. It's so popular that it's playing at both screens.

Good thing we all had a lot to do. Stacie did more event signage and prep work, Sharon did the magazine returns she was not able to do in the day's leading up to Christmas, and Carl reset the bargain book tables.

There was a lot of resetting going on. We consolidated three Christmas tables into a book table that will probably stay up through New Year's, and two markdown tables that included boxed holiday cards, ornaments, some holiday plush, and assorted odds and ends, including some leftovers from other holidays. Items that were full price moved to 50% off, and some things at 50% moved to 75% off. We had a good season of Christmas stuff, but there were some duds, such as a pinecone candle. I don't know why it didn't work, as there were lots of similar items that sold through just fine.*

It's rather obligatory to do a New Year's table as well, with lots of self-help stuff. And in the spirit of why not, it seemed like it was time to put up the Valentine's table. We've got stuff, we've got space, it's only six weeks away. Unlike Christmas, it's a last-minute holiday, but we're showcasing a lot of romantic novels and couple biographies. Antony and Cleopatra, anyone?

The forest friends who were not Christmas specific got moved to a winter table, the Indian banks added some Indian novels, the matryoshkas got moved up to the front desk, and a small table was started to showcase the category winners of the 800-CEO-READ business book awards. That will probably get its own post, as soon as more of the winners arrive back in the store. That meant lots and lots of new signage. I can only be so catchy, so every so often, you have to fall back on "The combination Martin Luther King Day and African American history display" sign. It works, if you don't use it too often. That one isn't up yet, but it's ready to go.

Up next is kids, but I'll wait for Jocelyn and Amie to come back. For now, we're experimenting with Valentine's Day card multipacks, and they are in the general display.

*It turns out aliens are not the new robots. Both the collection of alien baby toys and the alien juicer did not work. Perhaps they'll find success at 50% off.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Didn't it Seem Like a Music-Filled Christmas?

I could be totally wrong about this, but it felt like this was a particularly musical Christmas. This is not just because Jason brought in a great set of bargain CDs, or because we're now in our second year of doing the NPR selections through Baker and Taylor, but just in sales of books about music of all types. Here is our top ten for fall.

1. Life, by Keith Richards (In some ways, reminds me of the Ted Kennedy from 2009. You just didn't expect a book this good. Also same parent company publisher, though different imprint.)
2. Just Kids, by Patti Smith (the paperback, NBA winner)
3. Apollo's Angels, by Jennifer Homans (event on 2/3/11)
4. Finishing the Hat, by Stephen Sondheim (with #3, top 10 NYT)
5. Bob Dylan in America, by Sean Wilentz (it paid to beat the Greil Marcus to market)
6. Decoded, by Jay Z
7. Frank: The Voice, by James Kaplan
8. Coltrane on Coltrane, by Chris DeVito (our indie publisher representation)
9. Best Music Writing 2010, edited by Ann Powers (our best-of rack really works well)
10. The Big Payback, by Dan Charnas (a late NPR piece really spurred sales)
11. Why Mahler, by Norman Lebrecht
12. Bob Dylan Writings 1968-2010, by Greil Marcus

It's a little of everything, except for young-skewing pop, with an extra heaping helping of baby boomer rock, particularly when you look at the huge numbers of #1 and #2. No Justin Bieber, alas. I'd say even Jay Z is an old master of rap, and the book is no slapdash memoir.

We've been wondering about the problem of gifting downloads, which I assume is the issue with music nowadays. In many ways, it's like a gift card. We sell a LOT of gift cards, but lots of people don't want to give gift cards. So perhaps some people are turning to books, where they can definitively give what you want. Yes, people can exchange, but I don't think it's the same as gift cards.
I honestly have no clue, being that I am so undigital. When I want music, I still buy CDs. So maybe I was the wrong person for this post, but I was the only one who had our bestseller list.

So that makes me wonder about the future of book gifting, as more people make the move to digital. A bundle option would solve the problem, wouldn't it? Well, there would be other problems, like what if someone downloaded the book and tries to return the digital one. I'm sure publishers could solve that, couldn't they? Maybe not.

It's an interesting list anyway.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Post--A Little Celebration of Community

Merry Christmas, and that means we're already thinking of what we're going to do when we take down the displays...most things will stay up through January 1st, and I'll beg to keep the snowflakes up as long as I can. It's still winter, isn't it? Several of you have commented to me on our holiday window, filled with Christmas shopping bags from old department stores. It really hit a nerve with some people, which was my intent.

My department store obsession is a convergence of two great loves--retail and cities. The retail one should be obvious to you, and if it isn't, you have to come to the store to see my display of bandage tins from various retailers.

But cities? I hardly get to travel of late, but folks who've known me a long time are aware that the highlight of my year would be making my first pilgrimage to Baltimore, Omaha, or Albuquerque, chasing down old newspapers in the public library, and using that information to visit tour the old stores, hotels, and other buildings of note, some still there, and some gone. I love regionalism--you can one day ask me about my food tour of Louisville, which has a lot of distinctive dishes. Sadly, you can no longer experience some of them at the amazing basement cafeteria that I visited some ten years ago.

For many years, I read widely on urban planning, and considered leaving Schwartz to get a degree in the subject. In the end, I decided I liked what I was doing and where I was doing it too much to change. And for every one of my friends who found the perfect job, another wound up crunching numbers, in the middle of political battles, or simply with a bad boss (the number one reason why people quit).

One of the books I was particularly fond of over the years is Ray Oldenburg's The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. I'm not the only fan--the book is now in its third edition and has found its place in course adoption. Oldenburg explores the idea of third places (meaning neither home nor work), where people can get together informally and create community.

Bookstores have played this up for a long time. There are even two bookstores in the Seattle area called Third Place Books. Here's the blog for the Lake Forest Park location, currently featuring their top 30 books of the year. It's a great list and I suggest you look it over. Too lazy? Here are the top five adult fiction and nonfiction:

Top Fiction from Third Place in Lake Forest Park, Washington
1. Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes
2. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin
3. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson
4. C, by Tom McCarthy
5. Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray

1. The Tiger, by John Vaillant
2. Were You Born on the Wrong Continent, by Thomas Geoghegan
3. At Home, by Bill Bryson
4. The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr
5. The Emperor of All Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

So does this have any connection to Christmas? Sort of. As I think about our holiday season, one of the nicest things I noticed about the store was how often people seemed to run into friends and acquaintances. I would be working and hear this cry of surprise and delight, and there would be two people who hadn't seen each other in weeks (or sometimes years), coming together for an impromptu chat.

I love when I'm talking to a customer, and then see another customer who I think might have something in common. Introductions are made, and sometimes there's a connection. Our events, and particularly our in-store book clubs, help make community too, and it doesn't hurt to be next to a coffee shop, which though still a chain, seems to be a neighborhood gathering place.

And hey, I didn't even have to go to graduate school.

Thank you again for all your support over the last year. We're happy to say we had a good holiday season, and we couldn't have done it without you. It's nice to know that a bookstore can be a little more than a bookstore, and if by your support, you reconnected with an old friend or made a new one, so much the better.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Last Minute Notes--A Ten-Point Blog

Just a last minute post of things I'm noticing...

1. Thank goodness for last-minute arrivals. We're all just crazy about McSweeneys 36, the "head box." I think that we've sold three of them to the Starbucks barristas next door. And not just because it's so amazing in concept--it also has the Michael Chabon unfinished manuscript, per Jason

2. Holy cow! I panicked that I overbought loose cards for months and now I have to put out all my clearance cards as we're pretty much sold through my original buy. I've also broken up several boxes of Christmas cards because at this point, 90% of the demand is for loose.

3. Apparently the demand for atlases consists of one week. I think I've fielded five requests in the last few days. The number of requests in the proceeding 51 weeks? Felt like zero. We quickly sold through what we have (including the $80 Oxford). I'm waiting for someone to bite on the $175 spectacu-ganza from National Geographic. I'm steering folks to Lost States, which as I predicted after our event last summer, has had a very nice holiday pop; it's a swell book at a great price point.

4. We had to consolidate our puzzle display to one table, and we're simply at a loss as to what to replace it with. I think a New Year's table needs to go up. Feel free to kick me if I call it "New Year, New You."

5. We're selling Chris Bohjalian backlist off the event display! We're also 10% towards filling up the Bohjalian lunch on 2/11. Here's the Facebook page for more info.

6. Ran out of gift stickers today. I looked at them recently and we had a roll of 1000 left. I forgot that to hit projection, we had to do substantially more gift business last year, as we were up against our amazing Thomas Keller event. Remember that? Then why don't publishers: We haven't been able to snag another author at that level (or close) for a restaurant event. I know this blog is for my customers, but you publishers are reading it too. We sold close to 400 copies. Think about it.

6a. We are substituting our gift card stickers when requested. They are smaller and white, and more goofy than gifty. But they work for some people. We won't run out of gift cards but I did not to place another order.

7. Last minute pops. We remembered to restock The Power of Kindness well. I will not mention the zombie Christmas carol book. Well, not by name. In general, we are out of almost nothing that I think we absolutely should have had on the last day. Thanks, Amie, Conrad, and especially Jason.

8. I did my first Ingram restock for a few gift items. We sold at least one of our Classic Poohs that came back in, but the plush Where is Green Sheep? Not yet. The newsletter moved some Fuzz that Wuzz (nice, Stacie!), and moving the Folkmanis finger puppets to the Forest Friends Christmas display was a good move. Thanks, Jocelyn and Amie!

9. Have we had requests for Google Editions? Yes, but surprisingly, it's been mostly from friends mine who live elsewhere and want to buy from us. Aren't you thoughtful! January.

10. We're open until 6! Merry Everything!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Searching for Books at the Last Minute, and Sometimes Finding Them

We had a number of people coming in yesterday looking for Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout, by Lauren Redniss, which was reviewed in yesterday's New York Times. Jason and Amie both love this book, but I don't think either of them new it would get a major publicity hit in the days before Christmas. I think we got a heads up from HarperCollins beforehand, but in the week before Christmas, it's hard to keep up with your email.

I understand in this circumstance why folks have expectations for us, as they figure a book reviewed in this way must be a major release with a large advance print. But I'm a little confused when someone comes in two days before Christmas with a very detailed list with no substitutions allowed--not a book on Lincoln or the Civil War, for which I'd recommend Nora Titone's My Thoughts be Bloody*, but "I need to find American Brutus by Michael Kauffman and you really don't have that, it just came out (2005) and I'm really disappointed."

Five years ago seems recent to a lot of customers. Heck, so does ten years. If I run into someone I haven't seen in ten years (which happens with some frequency at Boswell), it seems like a long, long time ago. Fortunately, it's even more common for folks to ask about books that they don't expect to find, and we have them. Yesterday someone asked for an older Bill Bryson, and no, the other seven we had wouldn't do, and almost while we were talking, a copy came out on a shelving cart.

Reviewing the sales from yesterday, it's like a year in review. So many books selling from past events (three different Stitch n Bitch books, Pete Nelson's I Thought You Were Dead, which continued to sell through the fall, and there's a book club reading Lily King's Father of the Rain), and lots and lots of recommendations. And in our obsessive fashion, we're all looking at our sales to see if we can hit a milestone on our favorite books. I have a lot of favorites--my official entries on our list are The Invisible Bridge, The Cookbook Collector, The Lonely Polygamist and of course Day for Night, but I'm also rooting for Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, and The Wilding, which I wrote up for NPR**. Several are very close to 50 copies sold--wouldn't that be swell to hit that number?

We are in initial talks about at least one of these authors visiting in paperback. I don't want to jinx it by mentioning who, and then having it fall through.

*And I have been recommending it to customers in the last few weeks. We've had a little pop in sales, which is nice.

**I'm glad to say we've had a very nice pop on sales for Wordcatcher. I expect us to able to sell it for several more months off our impulse table.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I Consider it a Challenge to Not Miss a Day This Week--A Short Little Gift Post

My head is spinning, but in a good way I guess. And what is the only thing that calms me down? A gift post, of course!

I've been panicking for two months that I overbought Christmas cards. Now it's two days before Christmas and I'm happy with our boxed numbers, and we could actually have used more loose cards. We've taken to putting out designs from two years ago (or perhaps older--I bought them with the Schwartz inventory) at 50-75% off.

A dramatic rendering of why I think the Baby Sock Monkey assortment was off (right). The prepack should have been half brown, with just a few each of pink and purple. And to just give a further opinion (though none was asked), maybe pink or purple but not both. The third color should have been blue or green. Alas, like many of these pre-assortments, we cannot restock individual items.

Very impressive how quick the turnaround was on many of our gift vendors. I told Amie that if I restocked Galison on Monday, I'd have it before Christmas. I turned around over the weekend and we were very low on boxed thank you and blank cards, plus we sold through on two varieties of file folders, and the diary shelf was looking a bit thin.

The order came on Wednesday, and yes, they are already selling.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What's the Best Thing to Blog About Just Days Before Christmas? Magazines!?

Yes, I know the magazine business is in flux, but what the heck? We're full steam in books and one of our strongest sidelines is greeting cards. And we've been dealing with the equivalent of the internet for years. It's called subscriptions where you buy the magazine for practically nothing. Who is going to pick up Entertainment Weekly for $5 when it costs 50 cents an issue to have it delivered? And there's the other problem that newsstand supplies are so tight that if we don't sell a copy for two weeks in a row, it stops coming. (This is also a problem with newspapers, which are compounded by the smallest margins ever. But I like 'em, so we have 'em. That's all there is to it. I guess that's for another post.)

Magazines are also important for us to spot cultural trends. When Philosophy Now features matryoshkas on their cover, you know they are part of the current zeitgeist. We've still got a nice selection in the store.

I've been asking Sharon to beef up some of our categories, and though we're not likely to go back to the near-zero margin foreign weeklies (even I have my limits), we have brought in a few new titles that are selling pretty well. If I play my cards right, Sharon may write some of this up in The Boswellians.

Here are Paste's Top 20 Magazines of 2010. You can read more on their website.
1. New York
2. The Economist
3. Wired
4. Esquire
5. Oxford American
6. The New Yorker
7. Good
8. The Atlantic
9. The Believer
10. Mojo
11. The Week
12. Mental Floss
13. ESPN
14. Bon Appetit
15. Texas Monthly
16. Monocle
17. Make
18. Afar
19. Garden and Gun
20. Decibel

Sadly, we don't stock Texas Monthly. I'm also not sure about Garden and Gun. But we did start carrying New York.

Why isn't Bitch on this list? The illustrations are fantastic, particularly the new ones from artist Kristopher Pollard (illlustration above to the right). We've still got the issue with his work--if you are his friend, you should buy it, you know. It's pretty much obligatory.

I'm hoping Mr. Pollard will design our spring 2011 tee shirt. And yes, we've still got Aaron Boyd's fishy tee in stock.

Oh good, I tried to sell some stuff after all.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Saturday Delivery, Pretty Journals, Missed Opps, Snow

For the last two weeks, FedEx offered Saturday delivery, but we kept forgetting to move our shipments to FedEx from UPS for wholesalers, so all we got were some boxes of Penguins and a Paperblanks backorder from last May. The new Grolier line is quite beautiful, but for the life of me, I can't figure out why the large and the extra-large versions of the journal are the same price. I'm sure they have their reasons, but it doesn't match the pricing of any of their other lines. Still, it's very pretty and I hope we sell it.

Speaking of gift lines, a new rep stopped buy--very nice and her son lives in the neighborhood. She suggested us carrying a card line that I absolutely hate, and that started us off on the wrong foot, because I am very up front with gift reps about things I don't like. Why waste their time, right? There are plenty of things I am on the fence about that I either eventually buy, or continue to hesitate on. Should have carried Buckyballs for this holiday; still insist we don't have the space to commit to Playmobil.

I finally finished a book of short stories this weekend, but I can't talk about it much because it's not out until April--it's Valerie Laken's Separate Kingdoms. That said, there is still work to be done. I have to write it up as an Indie Next nomination (because I liked it) and start thinking about how we'd sell it. There was one story that was structured unlike any I've ever read. I'm sure people have done it before, but it was a new experience for me. How vague is that?

Worry is already in the air for tonight's snowstorm. It's said to start late, end early, and offer about 3-4 inches. Probably the best we could hope for once snow is a given, as it will likely just cause a late start to the morning. Especially with weather in the forecast, I'd start worrying about those internet shipments arriving on time. We had this discussion where another of my booksellers insisted that UPS does not guarrantee* shipment delivery this time of year, even on next day. Well, that would be something to know definitively, wouldn't it?
And so, we are no longer promising that books from the wholesalers will arrive on time after we send today's orders. The chances are good and we'll still take the orders for Momence and Fort Wayne (our closest warehouses), but things do go wrong with those last few orders.

Now that it's snowtime, will our sales tick up again for A Reliable Wife. I was in Beans and Barley buying my weekly slice of cardamom coffee cake and the cash-ista told me that she was reading it, and how perfect it was for a cozy winter read. I think last year we made a small display of snowy books, but they were whatever I found around the store; I think it would be better to definitively have a winter reads display with things like Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow and James Meek's The People's Act of Love. Not for March, when you're sick of the stuff, but in December, when it still seems exciting...unless you're a non-web retailer.

*Why don't people discuss more the difference between guaranty and guarantee? The synonyms at the various online dictionaries are slightly different. Yeeks.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bestseller Lists for the Week Ending 12/18, with a Smidge of Commentary

Some of our top tens for the week. Now with the correct headers!

Hardcover Fiction
1. Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen
2. Room, by Emma Donoghue
3. The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman
4. An Object of Beauty, by Steve Martin
5. Bury Your Dead, by Louise Penny
6. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu
7. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris
8. Safe from the Sea, by Peter Geye
9. Swan, by Mary Oliver
10. Fall of Giants, by Ken Follett

So much for my musing on whether Freedom had already peaked in sales. You can see the influence of our hand-picks here--numbers 2, 3, 5, 6, 8 and 10 are part of our holiday recs program. Of course many of these books are selling elsewhere, but it certainly helps.

Hardcover Nonfiction
1. The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, by Twain, with Smith, Fischer, Griffin, Frank and Goetz
2. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
3. Life, by Keith Richards
4. Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff
5. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
6. Wisconsin's Own, by Wasserman and Connolly
7. Apollo's Angels, by Jennifer Homans
8. At Home, by Bill Bryson
9. The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
10. The Gourmet Cookie Book, by Gourmet Magazine

It feels like our print newsletter is working better than last year, but that's probably because we sent it to 1000 more people, getting it to more casual users instead of just our hardcore customers who would have come in anyway. Lots of compliments on the booksellers picks and accompanying photographs. Congrats to Stacie.

Want to read it? Link to it here. Alas, we're already out of the lamps (yes, we sold 4!), the animal cart ornaments, and several of the leather banks.

Paperback Fiction
1. Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
2. Tinkers, by Paul Harding
3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
4. Little Bee, by Chris Cleave
5. The Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore
6. The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein
7. Even Sunflowers Cast Shadows, by Douglas Armstrong
8. Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann
9. The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson
10. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson

It doesn't hurt to have our events for 2011 up already. I think both Apollo's Angels and Tinkers are getting an extra pop from this. The New York Times article from earlier this week started generating Lord of Misrule enthusiasm.

Paperback Nonfiction
1. The Soul of a Port, by Leah Dobkin
2. Just Kids, by Patti Smith
3. Wordcatcher, by Phil Cousineau
4. Inside of a Dog, by Alexandra Horowitz
5. Holidays on Ice (2nd edition), by David Sedaris

We're chasing copies of #1. Congrats to History Press.

Kids Books
1. I am a Bunny, by Ole Risom, with illustrations by Richard Scarry
2. Of Thee I sing, by Barack Obama with illustrations by Loren Long
3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid Volume 5: The Ugly Truth, by Jeff Kinney
4. The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats
5. City Dog, Country Frog, by Mo Willems, with illustrations by John Muth

We're temporarily out of City Dog Country Frog, but we'll have stock in again before Christmas. It's Amie's pick and even more than with the adult books, I use the picks from Amie, Pam, and Jocelyn as a recommendation tool.

And yes, I am a Bunny now spends it's second year as our #1 non-event, non-bulk-sale kids book. Somebody find me another book like this that can fit on our impulse table (so it has to be a board book) and can sell like this.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Oy, I'm Tired! Here are Some Tidbits.

We've been very busy today. Starting first thing in the morning, we got locked out of our inventory system because the passwords needed to be changed. Alas, we didn't know how to do this. That got fixed. Thanks, IRT/IBID!

I'm wearing burnt orange all weekend to celebrate our new plastic bag. We got two lovely compliments yesterday, both from folks who said this shade was their favorite color. Quote from Jeff: "I even wore orange in the eighties, when it was definitely not cool."

Lots of love from customers in general, which is very nice.

Our bookends went on sale, at 25% off. They seem very nice to me, but they aren't moving as well as last year's. A few are 50% off.

Our wooden bird ornaments are now 25% off. I went a little crazy on them, buying way more than any other, despite them being our most expensive (originally $6.95, now $5.21)

Our top 5 for the last three days, excluding a school order:
1. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
2. Just Kids, by Patti Smith
3. Life, by Keith Richard
4. Tinkers, by Paul Harding
5. Holidays on Ice, by David Sedaris

This list rocks, doesn't it?

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Slight Change to Store Hours in January/Wrapping up the Senior Book Fairs

We'll have more signage and will be generally getting the word out, but after January 1st, we'll be reverting to our original opening time of 10 AM. I've talked to a number of other bookstores, and this is not an unusual opening time. You'd think we might get more crossover traffic with the Starbucks next door, but in the morning, those folks are hardcore drinkers.

And there are not enough businesses around us driving traffic at that hour. Our destination business simply starts later in the day.

It looked like most of our 9-10 sales could be moved until after we open. It will give Jason and Amie a little more time to get things done off the floor, give us more overlap time in the afternoon for booksellers to similarly work on projects, and will make evening breaks easier to work out. As it was, we were shortest of help during some of our busiest times.

So our new hours are
Monday-Saturday, 10 AM-9 PM
Sunday, 10 AM-6 PM

There are a lot of places we need to update this, and I'm worried we'll miss some. And we'll continue to be able to help folks before 10 AM by appointment.


Not that this isn't vital to communicate, but I certainly need something more interesting than that for the blog. Yesterday I finished our three senior housing bookfairs. I had so much fun (and did enough business) at Eastcastle, to set up a return, and offered the service to St. John's and the Milwaukee Catholic Home as well. Each store attracted some Boswell fans, who in turn helped spread the word.

It was hard to predict what would sell at each fair. In addition to books, sometimes boxed holiday cards went, but at another fair (where they sell cards in their in-center boutique), I had a nice sale in jigsaw puzzles. I heard a little about ebook readers, but also sold some large print. One fair had a lot of talk about Freedom, while at the other two, not so much.

One of my Freedom sales was a classic inadvertent third-party rec, meaning you talk about the book to one person, and another person nearby takes the recommendation. It happened again in the store, while I was talking up Louise Penny. I sold a Still Life to one customer and a Bury Your Dead (which, alas, I sometimes call Bury the Dead) to another. Collateral damage, but in a good way.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Visit from One of My Favorite Card Companies, Saturn Press

Perhaps the nicest catalog I get each year is the one from Saturn Press. 2010 was on beautiful pink stock, and featured their new Niagara Falls card, a shimmering mix of blue pink and orange. Saturn is our most popular letterpress line. I don't know how common it is in the midwest, but when I go to Boston, their bookplates are everywhere.

I was ready to place a reorder this weekend. Putzing around on Sunday at my desk in back (the snow left me a bit superfluous on the floor), I was surprised to hear Jason come back and tell me that the press owners were in the store.

"Really? You're kidding. They're from Maine. What are they doing here? And where are they?"

Not surprisingly, they were in the card deparment. I went over to say hi. It turns out that James vanPernis and Jane Goodrich were visiting their paper mill, and decided to visit a few of their customers on the way back to the airport. And no suprise, they use George A. Whiting paper mill, a family-owned independent in Menasha (and yes, one of the few independents left in the United States). Here's more about the mill. Is this cool or what?

I asked them what's in the pipeline for 2011, their 25th anniversary season. The answer is wild animals and mottoes. The latter is an all-type card. I'm not usually crazy about this sort of thing, but if anyone can change my mind, it's Saturn Press. There are also some new bookplates. I made a pitch for a bookplate with more space to write. Who knows?

I also asked what I should be carrying of theirs that I'm not currently. Goodrich had an answer right away. "Our luggage tag labels." Of course, I later learned that these tags are a personal passion, with over 8000 in her personal collection.

I sent them to Beans and Barley for dinner, another of their customers. I recommended the chicken burrito and poppy seed torte. Then I put together a Saturn Press order.

And though we carry a nice assortment, for the best selection of their cards in the area, I'm told you should go to Artist and Display. And you should go anyway, as they are a fabulous indie art supply store.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lake Effect Recommendations from a Yappy Bookseller (Me)

Hey, my Lake Effect interview with Stephanie Lecci aired on Tuesday morning. You never know how these things are going to go--I probably got at least one plot point, factoid, and maybe even a title incorrect, but I don't sound like a fool, and that's an important thing. Here are the books.

The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman
The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer
Day for Night, by Frederick Reiken
Bury Your Dead, by Louise Penny
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin
Lord of Misrule, by Jaimy Gordon
The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1, by Mark Twain, and edited by Harriet E. Smith, Benjamin Griffin, Victor Fischer, Michael B. Frank, Sharon K. Goetz, Leslie Diane Myrick
Apollo's Angels, by Jennifer Homans
Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff
Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand

and by website podcast only:
It's a Book, by Lane Smith
Children Make Terrible Pets, by Peter Brown

I blab on about all my usual soapbox subjects. What happened to the fiction this fall? Why are so many prizes going to small presses? And why does the media continue to ask why the usual suspect doesn't get the prize?

You can listen here. Thanks to Lake Effect for transcribing the interview into a list.

This is another case where Milwaukee doesn't know how good they have it. I talk to authors at events all the time who are really impressed by this show--they read the book and do lots of research beforehand. Let's just say other cities don't have it so good. Let's raise a glass to Mitch and Bonnie and Stephanie! Oh, and Dan, whom I've never met. But here's to you anyway.

Jacki Potratz of the Milwaukee Public Library focuses on grammar books, but also recommends Emma Donogue's Room and Christos Tsiolkos's The Slap. In September, she focused on nature books.

Carla Allison of Reader's Choice on great books by African Americans. Here's another case where many cities our size and larger don't have stories that focus on African American interests, but it's a great store to shop for folks who want their minds expanded. I know I've said this before, but go visit them (and on Friday or Saturday, you can also visit Northern Chocolate). Be sure to listen to the supplemental piece where Allison talks up one of my favorites, Attica Locke's Black Water Rising.

Linda Berg and Patti Weber of Little Read Book talk about great summer reads. And I didn't even know about one of them, Danny Tobey's The Faculty Club. That's what happens when you don't buy the books. Linda liked it a lot--always looking for recs.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How Did Book Club Go? A Disccusion about Brigid Pasulka's A Long, Long TIme Ago and Essentially True

I've always been interested in novels about Poland. There's a good-sized population in the Milwaukee area and most people enjoy reading books about their culture. I found this list from James Hopkins, but it definitely tends towards the cerebral. And here's another similar list from the Guardian, filled with lots of guys. And I'm not really talking about the Polish Jewish experience here, about which, much is written.

I guess I was looking for Polish Americans. Jane at Next Chapter had success recommeding James Conroyd Martin and his novel, Push not the River. Ah, here's a collection of writers who read at the Polish Museum of America. Ah, Leslie Pietryzk's Pears on a Willow Tree. I recommended that one for several years. And it says that she's got a novel in the works about Polish immigrants in Chicago. I hope she'll remember us!

So I've always been intrigued by Brigid Pasulka's A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True. It's a present-past novel, with one story taking place in the years of World War II in the Polish countryside, and the second story (intertwined, of course) following a young village woman who has migrated to the city of Kracow to live with her aunt and cousin. Baba Yaga (as he is known to her friends) cooks for a neighbor during the day and is a bargirl at night. Her cousin Magda is studying for a college entry exam, while Irena (Baba Yaga's mom) stays inside, having pretty much given up a semblance of an outside life.

The historical portion of the book follows the Pigeon and Anielica, a couple who have enough trouble coping with the Nazis and the Soviets, but whose lives are made more complicated when Anielica's brother Wladyslaw marries a Jew, Marysia. Let's just say things don't go well.

I originally wrote to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt when the book came out in hardcover, hoping they might consider sending this Chicago author to Milwaukee. We've had some success with this, but it's been harder than I thought it would be. I said I would read the book and see what happened.

Of course forty other books got in the way, and in the meantime, the author won the Pen Hemingway Prize, which as I've mentioned before, is a first fiction prize administered by the Hemingway Foundation and PEN New England. This list of winners is truly inspiring--and in true Daniel fashion, I immediately lost interest in this post and decided to find out how many of the books I'd written. And here is my list of the 11 books I've read:

Speedboat, by Renata Adler (1977), in mass market, no less
Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson (1982)
Shiloh and Other Stories, by Bobbie Anne Mason (1983)
During the Reign of the Queen of Sheba, by Joan Chase (1984)
Dreams of Sleep, by Josephine Humphryes (1985)
(I had quite a roll there)
The Book of Ruth, by Jane Hamilton (oops, thanks Sharon!) (1989)
Maps to Anywhere, by Bernard Cooper (1991)
The Grass Dancer, by Susan Power (1995)
Mrs. Kimble, by Jennifer Haigh (2004)
(There are some books in between that I'll bet you thought I read!)
Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris (2008)

and of course this year's winner. I may have read the Mark Richard, but I'm not sure. I do remember that the promotional copy said, "Whose name is pronounced in the French way." He's got a memoir coming in February, House of Prayer #2: A Writer's Journey Home).

So we had our book club discussion, and it was a bit smaller than normal, and less lively on my part, because for the first time, I hadn't finished the book beforehand. Several readers bogged down at the beginning, particularly for the contemporary story, but in the end, just about everyone liked the book just fine.

The publisher tried to market this as a Jonathan Safran Foer-ish book, from the similar title to the cover treatment, to at one point invoking his name. I get it on some level--a contemporary and historical attempt to come to terms with the author's cultural past. But the style is so different, the humor far gentle, the structure more traditional (except for the present-past dual narrative) that for me, it doesn't seem like the best comparison. I haven't come up with an alternative.

I'm usually good at writing down our members' thoughts on the book, but I misplaced my notes. I'm also sad as there were a couple of good insights that I wanted to share. One of our clubbers did mention that this is the first book she's read that painted a sympathatic picture of a Polish community during World War II. Yes, there are the inhabitants who are Antisemitic, but in the end, the village goes to great lengths to protect Marysia and her family.

But what I really want to say is, "Ms. Pasulka, if you're still in Chicago, please consider coming up for an appearance. I've read the book!"

What we're reading in the upcoming months:
Monday, January 3rd: Tinkers, by Paul Harding
Monday, February 7th: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

Monday, December 13, 2010

Soul of a Port Author Leah Dobkin to Speak Tonight, Plus New Books from Aracadia

Tonight (10/13, 7 PM) is our event with Leah Dobkin, author of Soul of a Port: The History and Evolution of the Soul of Milwaukee. The Journal Sentinel wrote up the preview in Sunday's Cue section. Should be an interesting talk.

Soul of a Port is published by History Press, which has already published a number of Milwaukee books, most recently Robert Tanzilo's The Milwaukee Police Bomb of 1917. The folks who started this press (a national operation that specializes in regional titles) came from Arcadia, which as a similar publishing philosophy, only they specialize in photo archives.

Arcadia and History press fill the void lost when such regional publishers as Trails Books, Prairie Oak Press, and NorthWord disappeared. We're also feeling the loss of the Milwaukee County Historic Society's publishing program, which went on hiatus during their headquarters renovation.

There are actually four new Arcadia books out of interest to Milwaukeeans. In alphabetical order, we have:

Milwaukee's Historic Bowling Alleys, by Manya Kaczkowski

Milwaukee Movie Theaters, by Larry Widen (I'm not sure, but I think this is similar to the Lulu Press title we were selling several years ago).

The Swiss in Greater Milwaukee, by Maralyn Wellauer-Lenius

Whitefish Bay, by Thomas H. Fehring

Can you guess which title is selling for us? See our comments section for the answer.

Next March Arcadia publishes Maritime Milwaukee, which covers much of the same territory of Soul of a Port. I guess this can happen when you've got two aggressive publishing programs going on.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What's Selling for the Week Ending December 11th, with Just a Few Asides

Hi. No, I didn't have Wordcatcher either. When I realized I was going to talk about the book, I started chasing it, but it wasn't at either nearby wholesaler warehouse, so I had to go to the publisher! We're taking names. The other book mentioned that folks have been coming for is Jennifer Fosberry's My Name is Not Isabella. There are way more on order (lots more than for the book I recommended)--we're taking names. Picture books are always tougher to reprint (it's mostly from China) so good luck to Sourcebooks and nice job, Ms. Brinlee! You can still get Alain de Botton's A Week at the Airport, and Howard Norman's What is Left the Daughter. David Rutledge's Where we Know, the New Orleans anthology, is a mite tougher. Here's the list again.

This week we closed out sales from the JCC Book and Culture fair. Dorene did a great job coming up with numbers for books this year, and the sell through was very good. I do include their numbers on the official lists we sent out (bulk orders are usually excluded from tabulators, but event sales where customers buy individually are generally ok). Our best sale was for Louisa Shafia's beautiful and very well priced cookbook, Lucid Food. After that were Dani Shapiro's Devotion and Baxter, the Pig who Wanted to be Kosher, by Laurel Snyder.

But in the store? Our top five fiction were:
1. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris
2. Object of Beauty, by Steve Martin
3. Dead or Alive, by Tom Clancy (look at us, we're selling technothrillers!)
4. The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson
5. Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

The two phenoms of this year (4 & 5) are selling just fine but not exploding. That's becauuse everyone and their grandmother's nail salon (on her website are also carrying them. There's nothing like The Help this year in hardcover fiction, but honestly, that doesn't come around all the year. And yes, we're still selling The Help. Stephen King put it on his top ten books of the year.*
And nonfiction?
1. The Autobiography of Mark Twain, volume one, edited by Smith, Griffin, Fischer, Frank, and Goetz
2. Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff
3. I Remember Nothing, by Nora Ephron
(Yes, a customer brought this back because she couldn't remember if this was the book she was supposed to buy, and then went home without returning it because she decided it was).
4. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
5. Life, by Keith Richards

The only surprise is that there really aren't any surprises. Though we don't exactly look like the national bestsellers lists, it's probably identical to many other indies around the country. In paperback, we're selling Tinkers (probably picked up because we're promoting an event), Cutting for Stone, and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. In nonfiction, Just Kids is selling very well.

We're all handselling books, but this fall we don't seem to all be gravitating to the same few books. I hoped to whip up some collaborative furty, but alas. Folks are buying recs out of the newsletter. Last week's winner was Jason's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Wu.
*Here are Stephen King's top ten, from Entertainment Weekly.
1. Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
2. Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen
3. I'd Know you Anywhre, by Laura Lippman
4. Savages, by Don Winslow
5. Last Night in Twisted River, by John Irving
6. Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes
7. Blood's a Rover, by James Ellroy
8. Swamplandia, by Karen Russell (he always likes to include a forthcoming title)
9. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (she's my Rachael Ray, I always forget to spell her name right, and yes, it was wrong in our database)
10. City of Thieves, by David Benioff

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saturday Gift Post--New Arrivals, New Boswell Bags

Several reorders of gift product came in this week, including the plush we put on our "literary taxonomy" case. Since they are selling well enough, I brought in a few new items, including Queen Elizabeth, Abraham Lincoln, and to tie in with his bestselling Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to my Daughters, Barack Obama. Regarding the book, the Loren Long illustrations are also wonderful; he was the guy behind last year's popular Otis. Every time a new assortment comes in, there's a little bit of buzz from booksellers, and that is not a bad thing. I'm straying away from my original idea to carry the authors, but there are books in our store about all our new subjects, lots of them.

We'll see how the book and plush's sales are affected by his break with his core over the tax compromise. I'm not too worried about the plush--the minimums are very good on this line at two. And I tell you this to say we will take special orders on any of their other plush items, as I think that I have a good chance to sell one of just about anything they carry. Yes can browse the catalog when you're next in the store.

We also got a restock of journals and boxed cards from several of our core vendors. With a lot of these vendors, its important to rotate through different items, to make sure the selection looks fresh, but if it sells quickly, I will restock it like a staple, like the folk art birds journal. I added this lark journal, which has a leather-like finish, and we sold one in less than an hour after putting it out. And I will let you in on a secret--if it's got hearts on it, I'm squirreling it away at this point for January, when I need stuff for our Valentine's table.

The nonbook news this week came more from the supply-buying department. Though we love the "Eat Sleep Read" generic ABA bags, we finally decided to make the commitment to Boswell plastic bags. We used our local printer, Brew City Promotions, and the bags, while not #8 biodegradable, are #4 recyclable. Of course the problem with that is that Milwaukee doesn't recycle #4 for residences, but some of the suburbs do, as do the private companies that service businesses and apartment buildings. It did turn out that the biodegradable label is a bit misleading--it was not 100% biodegradable--only parts of it were. Here's the code info from Daily Green on #1 through 7.

Of course our plastic bag use is way down from the past. We ask folks if they want a bag and put as much as we can in our two sizes of paper bags. I specifically chose a bag sturdy enough that it could be reused. Please reuse it--that's marketing for us*! We do still offer a Boswell cloth bag, which like our plastic bag, is made in the United States. Alas, once it rains or snows, concerns are outweighed by many customers over protecting their books, and plastic use goes way up.

*Please do not use our Boswell bag when you are doing evil things, like robbing convenience stores or kicking the elderly.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Little Borborygmus Over My Interview on Morning Edition!

I'm very grateful to be one of the booksellers talking about holiday reads with Susan Stamberg on NPR's Morning Edition. There are so many complicated factors that go into determining which books to select.

a. You don't really want to talk about a book that's already gotten massive attention. That's one reason why I think Freedom was not nominated for the National Book Award. You only need one person on the nominating committee to have strong feelings against it. And Franzen's novel can be a bit polarizing, even with Oprah making peace with the whole thing. That has nothing to say with my selection, but I've wanted to say that for a while!

b. Two of my favorite books of the year were listed on the spring roundup, Day for Night, and The Lonely Polygamist and you can't use them again. I continue to talk about Frederick Reiken's book on other interviews, but it leads into the next problem.

c. I love complicated plots, but I am confounded by talking about them. It continues to trip me up. I like to review all the books I talk about, reading my notes I took while I was writing them, and even reskimming. We find pieces to read in each book on the shortlist to discuss. That led me to cross out at the last minute, Julie Orringer's The Invisible Bridge. Why? I thought I'd never get through it in the two days I alloted for studying, and worried I might mess up a plot point. I still love it though.

Here's the piece that aired, as well as my writeups on four other books I loved. Surprise! I've already written blog posts about each of them.
--The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman
--Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin
--My Year of Flops, by Nathan Rabin
--The Wilding, by Benjamin Percy

Thanks to Shelf Awareness, who found the link before I could. And thanks to the fates, who had me turn on the radio only minutes before the piece aired, giving me time to finish this blog and shovel some snow.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Popular Books in the Milwaukee Market That Don't Sell for Us

Bestsellers, bestsellers, bestsellers. We report to some lists and read even more of them. Not just The New York Times, but lists from USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, an indie-only list from the American Booksellers Association, and another that only includes indie stores in the midwest.

One list that we see that doesn't get that much attention are books that sold in our designated market area. It includes anyone who reports to Bookscan, including the chain stores. Of the mass merchants, I'm pretty sure it includes Target, but does not include Walmart. Walmart keeps their sales proprietary in all categories, and vendors have to buy the information. Here is the top ten, all categories (book type, fiction or non, adult or kids) combined:

1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth, by Jeff Kinney
2. Elf on a Shelf, by Carol Abersold and Chanda Bell (Alas, we're not carrying this. I thought it was limited to B&N, but I have found some other, but not too many, indie bookstores selling this. It now comes in either light-skinned or dark-skinned elf. Maybe next year.)
3. Port Mortuary, by Patricia Cornwell
4. Cross Fire, by James Patterson
5. The Confession, by John Grisham
6. Of Thee I Sing, by Barack Obama (a big seller for us)
7. The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson
8. The Lost Hero, by Rick Riordan
9. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
10. Full Dark, No Stars, by Stephen King

Since Boswell is pretty much out of the loss leader game, sales on high-profile thrillers tend to tilt towards the chains, with the exception of something like Larsson, which is a phenomenon. One day I'll do a post on the phenomenon of authors being recategorized from mystery to thriller. Mystery is a dirty word in many channels (too genre, particularly for hardcovers) but in most indie bookstores, it's like giving the book an award sticker.

Some of the titles in this list that we are not selling well include Justin Bieber: First Step 2 Forever (though we carry it) and several kids books based on the "Tangled" movie, which Disney renamed from "Rapunzel" to appeal more to boys. And yes, we carry them too, but with the state of moviegoing, you have to go ten-plus miles in any direction from our store to see "Tangled," which does limit the market a bit. And Mark Nepo's The Book of Awakening has been on the list for the last two weeks. It's ten years old, but it's one of Oprah's new favorite things.
Addendum: I was talking to my pal Alicia at Board Game Barrister at Bayshore. If you're looking for Elf on the Shelf and want to shop indie, they have it. It's or 414-963-2100 for more info.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Short Q&A with Daniel about Ebooks on Our Website

Q. Did we sign up with Google Editions to be a licensed seller?
A. No, not yet. It took me a year to get through the credit card approvals.

Q. How are sales going on the website?
A. Actually, worse than when we didn't take credit cards, mostly because friends of the store have slowed down their purchases on it.

Q. Why do you think that is?
A. Our front page is inconsistent. We haven't individually uploaded products that are harder to find (local books, our tee shirts, gift items, autographed books). And on regular products, don't you think the web makes price everything? I wish the pick-up-in-store option was used more often, but honestly, for that, you could just email or call us. Sometimes I think about moving to the blog as our web ambassador. It would certainly save us money.

Q. Why isn't your website kept up better?
A. Totally my fault. My attention tends to wander.

Q. Any other reason why you haven't signed on?
A. Well, I would like to see the dust settle with other indie booksellers. It's been hard enough maneuvering our new inventory system.

Q. That sounds like a bunch of lame excuses to me. Do you really have any other issues here?
A. It's tied up in my general angst.

Q. It sounds like your a luddite.
A. More of a late adapter. I have a smart phone, and recently bought a new water heater. See? I avoided reverting to burning firewood. And I'm facinated by the company, Bradford White, that only sells to plumbers, not mass merchants. It was made in Middleville, Michigan. And did I mention that my Taagen plumber was shopping at the bookstore on Sunday with his daughter? That made me very happy.

Q. So will your own reading habits ever change?
A.Who knows? Have you read Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness? We're not very good at predicting our futures.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bulk Mail, Transitioning into What's Going on this Week? Hurling, Television, Shorewood Students Play During Shopping Night with Elaine Schmidt Talk

As you may have heard, it was a long weekend, and Monday continued to be quite busy. Oh, not with customers, though we had some of those too. No, our holiday newsletter came back from Clark Graphics and we spent the morning putting little bits of tape on them. Yes, we have them do everything else, but it's a long store. A big thank you for them for getting this to us perfect and on time.

Then Anne and I brought our shipment to the bulk mailing facility at the main post office. Well, first we got Jamaican chicken soup and tomato florentine at The Soup House. Got to have nourishment! But if you haven't ever visited facility, it's really quite an experience. It's my fourth trek, and I continue to be fascinated.

It took an hour and a half to get everything together--yes, that's why other companies use mailing houses. But even though we did our largest mailing yet (3000 pieces), which put us in the higher volume station, we had to head down to the low volume area to get the forms and the trays. And to get there, even though it's just in the back of the central post office, you have to take a 20-block detour.

And of course we got the count wrong, so we did have to fax a new work order. The good news is that we still had enough money in our account (checks only, I don't know why), and the best news is that the person helping us was an old fan of the Brookfield Schwartz, so we had a nice conversation. I tried to convince her that we're only three miles from the facility, but I guess after work, you sometimes want to get home.

I encounter that a lot. Folks who live far away from the store more often than you'd suspect refer to our store as "downtown", but folks who work downtown insist it couldn't be farther. If you have the answer to that one, let me know. And next time I do a mailing in the spring, I'm offering tours to interested customers of the bulk mail facility.

Oh, and my apologies for mentioning the shopping nights in the newsletter. We remembered to exclude the events, but the shopping nights wound up in the letter. We've been kicking ourselves for getting out the mailing so late, but it turns out to be only 3 days later than last year. Go figure.

So tonight is our shopping night for the Milwaukee Hurling Club. It's organized by Jenny, who has worked on our very successful Maryland Avenue Montessori School fundraiser. Don't know what hurling is? Here's your opportunity to find out--there will be a talk at 7 PM. More at their website.

Tomorrow (12/8) at 7 PM we're hosting Joanna Wilson, who will be talking about her new book, The Christmas TV Companion. Today in the Journal Sentinel, there was a piece on Dan Harmon, the once-Milwaukeean creator of NBC's tv series "Community", who explained exactly how important Christmas episodes are.

During the first season of "Community," Harmon was shocked to be told that "guest stars don't get you ratings. There's no measurable proof of that. But here's something that is measurable: holiday episodes, wedding episodes, funeral episodes, the milestones of life that you and the audience share." Here I was being told, "We would love it if you would do Halloween and Christmas episodes.' I couldn't believe the world I had stumbled onto."

You can read the complete article today on the Journal Sentinel's website. As you may have heard, their Christmas episode is in the style of the old Rankin-Bass specials. Their Halloween episode was zombie based. As seemingly half of our posts on the Boswellians appear to be about Zombies, Greg recently weighed in on "The Walking Dead." Now that would be a Christmas episode. As Ingram does not carry this book, we can't easily link to it on our website. However, we do have it. You can order by phone, of course, and in 2011, our goal is to start linking some of the items we have that aren't in the database, particularly event books.

Thursday (12/9) is our fundraiser with Shorewood Seed, the program that works with the Shorewood school system. We have student music groups performing starting in late afternoon, and Elaine Schmidt, Shorewood author of Hey Mom, Listen to This will give a talk at 7 PM.

And Friday (12/10) is Jonathan Shailor, author of Performing New Lives: Prison Theatre. Shailor teaches at UW Parkside, and is well-known for his prison Shakespeare program. Should be very interesting for teachers, theater buffs, various non profits, and Milwaukee's collection of peace organizations. And if you're interested in the book, you should understand that while it's expensive, we're allowed to buy the book at trade terms for events, but only for events. So this is the cheapest you'll see it from us, and we're just about the same price as the A-bomb.