Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ceremonials of Common Days

Again, I had not planned to post today (No, no,this is not about writing. Enough has been said about that), but yesterday’s mail brought a small gem of a book I bought on feebay entitled Ceremonials of Common Days. I want to share it with you for two reasons – one because the prose is so lyrical it’s enough to make you believe that the songs of seraphim fill the air unceasingly if only you could be still long enough to hear their music. The second reason is purely practical – the book is a perfect example of a treasure one could easily pass by at a book sale.

I found it during a dull moment as I skimmed the offerings in fee-bay’s Antiquarian and Collectible category. As always, many, if not most, of the books were neither antiquarian, nor collectible, while those which did qualify were dazzling. Too dazzling, sadly, to buy for resale. But then along about page forty-five my bored gaze caught sight of a floral cover and the first name of the author, Abbie. Ding! Ding! Ding! Immediately my numb brain sprang to life just as my finger, acting with a will of its own, hit the button to place it on the Watch List. The opening bid had been set at $39.95 which was clearly a warranted self-protective move on the part of the seller. The book is worth more than that, especially since it is signed, but the seller wisely chose to open with the least she would accept. Although I felt sure that I had a good chance of getting it at the stated price, which included shipping, I decided to play my cards a little closer and bid later. As it turned out, I was the only bidder.

Lest you think I’m better than I really am at spotting uncommon treasures, I’m confessing upfront that I had this book before. Those of you who have been around for awhile know about Lillian’s auction and all the lovely books I bought from her Akron mansion some years ago. In many ways this auction created the bookseller I have become. Everything purchased was older and therefore required much more of me. I researched, I learned, and I fell in love with books that weren’t bright and shiny and sporting ISBNs. After that the die was cast – I would buy predominately books and paper from the distant past.

Lillian had this little book, but in my early naiveté I judged it by its size, its scant number of pages, and the fact that I had never heard of the author, Abbie Graham. Therefore it got set aside for months until one day I ran across it again and decided to put it in my feebay store which at that time deserved to be called my ebay store. I loved the way it felt, the way it looked, the substance of its pages, and it’s beautiful writing, but I thought it was probably little more than a gift book of the day. So imagine my surprise when I found few copies online and the price for each at almost $100. I priced mine accordingly, still bemused by the thought that it would sell for so much. About a week later it did. The buyer was a man who got it for his wife who had been looking for it for years. What’s interesting is that it has been reprinted several times (both this copy and the original one I had are fourth printings from 1928).One has to wonder, where did all those books GO?

Again, I checked online prices and again found few available and all in three figures, none signed. At the risk of redundancy, where did all those books GO? Here’s an excerpt – maybe it will answer the question. The author had just finished ruminating on life’s smallest joys when she wrote this:

“How much these things and others shall have shaped my spirit I shall not know, but of their daily fashioning I am aware. As my spirit, dominant and eternally adventurous, shall enter the vast seas, I shall not forget the sacramental service of the scaffolding of earth.”

Profound, poetic – one could weep. And I did. This small gem is a keeper which is why there are so few to buy. Will I sell mine? I don’t know ultimately, but for now at least, no.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

So Here's the Story ...

Yikes! I wasn’t going to write today, but an email from a reader changed that plan in a New York minute. The question he posed was this -- what did I write that was so terrible? Was it pornography? I’d laugh except I can see after reading over my last post how he might have reached that conclusion. I guess I should have been clearer on the subject, so okay, here goes -- I’m finally ready to dish. The truth is I wrote CHILDREN’S books.

Surprised? Yeah, well, don’t think that lessens the problem because it doesn’t. I wrote these books for Christian publishers which meant I had to sprinkle gratuitous religious stuff into the story just in case the kids were too stupid to get the point that if you want to grow up and not be a jerk you have think about the choices you make. One of the most important things about writing for kids is to respect their intelligence. Any “morals” should derive organically from the story and the characters. Just as with fiction for adults you want the reader to recognize transformation as it occurs not after it’s been slammed over his head with a two-by-four. Writing these books also took me to places where no nice liberal woman from Medina (there’s an oxymoron) has any business going. So, you see what I mean here about selling out? It’s not even about ideology as much as it is about people thinking I was something I am not. In my own defense the only thing I can say is that I had no idea I would have to DO anything after I wrote the books. Boy, was I ever wrong about that. I gave enough talks to have shoved FDR right out of his spot by the fireside.

But something did come out of all this that may actually be good. After I decided I would come clean on this to you guys I got out two of the books – one from the teen series and the other, Gimme An A! from the little kid series and forced myself last night to read them both, something I have not done in years. The verdict? The teen series is every bit as dreadful as I recalled. So dreadful that it was actually painful to read it. (Where’s a morphine drip when you need it anyway?). Part of the problem was it was a work-for hire-situation which means I had to use their plot and characters and turn out the novels in a month’s time if I wanted to earn top dollar. So I cranked ‘em out and here I am living to regret it.

BUT! Here’s the real surprise. The basketball series I wrote for little boys is actually not too bad! Amazing. I am stunned. Skip the preaching and they are REALLY NOT THAT BAD. Holy cow! My head is spinning over this. For all these years I’ve felt like crawling in a hole and pulling the hole in after me and they aren’t even as terrible as I recalled. I actually laughed out loud a couple times as I read. I also thought back to working with the people at this particular publishing house and realized that I had LIKED them. Despite the differences in our world view we had gotten on great. The editors weren’t the problem – they were sincerely doing their job. The problem was ME. Back in high school I remember being asked to write a life motto. After much deliberation I quoted Shakespeare, “to thine own self be true.” And there’s the problem in a nutshell. I wasn’t true to mine own self and it distorted my vision so thoroughly it knocked me right out of the writing game.

I’m no Pollyanna, so I am not about to undermine what I felt. Believe it when I say there was a lot of pain and anguish involved, so, right or wrong, that still stands. But I admit that I had forgotten something huge. This publisher and the very nice, talented woman who edited my books offered me a contract for eight novels and agreed to work with me even though my track record consisted solely of nonfiction for adults. They believed I could write a novel and they actually paid me to learn how to do it. What a gift! I also remembered something else that was really cool. I think it was the first fall after the initial books were released and I was at the Buckeye Book Fair signing right before the holidays. A woman came over and bought a copy of every title I had and asked if there would be any more. When I told her the series was to include eight books she beamed brighter than a lighthouse searchlight You’d have thought Harper Lee had promised a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird.

Turns out, she was a city librarian and had been trying to find books of interest to a man in his 40’s who was just learning to read through a literacy program called Project Learn. Most books for middle grade kids didn’t hold his interest. But he loved basketball and there wasn’t a lot of stuff available at his reading level, so she gave him my first book Sixth Man Switch. He loved it. Then he loved Spider McGhee and the Hoopla and Muggsy Makes An Assist. He didn’t even mind reading them over and over, but he couldn’t anymore because somebody had stolen them from the library.

A few years ago my friend Nancy who does PR for a school for children with high-functioning autism told me another cool thing. There had been a reading contest and the winner and his or her family got to go to an Akron Aeros game driven in a fancy rented car by Nancy. It included an awards program at half time (does baseball call it half-time? I haven’t a clue), hot dogs, snacks, the works. On the ride over to the field which is in downtown Akron she asked the winner, a girl, to name her favorite books .

“I don’t think you ever heard of them,” she replied. “But I love the Slam Dunk! series by Tess Kindig.” Imagine when Nancy told her that she was close friends with the author.

Okay then. So I have had a bit of an epiphany and feel somewhat better. But the big question remains. “What’s it all about, Alfie?”

Damned if I know. But I’m still thinking.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lids A' Popping

Eric was in Malvern selling books at the Great Trail Festival, so it was a different sort of weekend for me. There were no auctions or estate sales worthy of attendance, so the only places I went were purely social. I worked on Saturday, but it was a fairly quiet weekend in cyberspace marked only by sales of the oldest and strangest books in our inventory. One  had actually hung around for FOURTEEN years and, to be honest, deserved to be left on the shelf until it moldered. What I was thinking when I bought that dog is hard to imagine. But the amazing thing was I actually found it. And the even MORE amazing thing was that somebody wanted it.

For years we have commented on the phenomenon of number grouping, which is particularly prevalent on Advanced Book Exchange. When life is good we sell from the newest part of our database. When it’s totally wonky like it was this weekend I’m off on a treasure hunt for landfill. I’ve heard it said that they have multiple servers which is why you can look up a book while you are on the phone with someone who is doing likewise and what you see on the screen is not what they see. If I had a dime for every time that’s happened when Eric phones from the store we could close up shop and retire to someplace nice and cold. Multiple servers are also supposed to be why you suddenly sell a bunch of stuff that’s older than dirt. I have no clue if it’s true, but if the servers are to blame, I guess I just spent the weekend in the depths of server hell. All I can say is, may the flames not be everlasting.

I read a lot this weekend though which is good and my daughter Caitie and her boyfriend Joe were here from Maryland Saturday night and Sunday morning which provided a welcome dash of frivolity, especially since the heavy breather and the dustmop (aka the boxer and the Himalayan cat) accompanied them. The dustmop executed a broad jump onto the kitchen island and pawed a full container of catnip out of a plastic bag. The lid popped when it hit the floor which resulted in me walking barefoot across a beach of magical kitty herbs. Of course the perp was nowhere in sight by that time. When I finally found him he lay blissed out on the living room rug covered in catnip and looking like a Chia Pet with all four paws kneading the air.

There were a lot of laughs this weekend, but this morning I find myself thinking about something Joe said when the conversation turned to my former life as a working writer. It’s well known that the reason I stopped writing was because I sold out and wrote 13 very bad books for the simple reason that three (unsuitable for me) publishers wafted money under my nose. The girls were in college, we needed the cash for tuition so they wouldn’t graduate with loans (they didn’t), so I snapped up every deal that came along and sold my soul in the process. I’ve made peace with it now, but for a long time I drowned in a roiling sea of angst over it. If you don’t believe it just go back and read a few entries in this blog’s first incarnation in 2006 and you’ll see what I mean. In the last few years though I finally I put writing in a box, slapped on a label that read “The Past” and stashed it on a shelf. But then Sunday morning the box fell on the floor and, like the catnip, popped its lid.

“I know why you don’t write anymore,” Joe said. “But the thing is, if you don’t do it again, Tess, what you leave behind are thirteen books you hate. And none of them are really you.”

Well, there’s a little something to think about over your morning bagel, huh?

While cleaning out my office in preparation for the Magical Makeover last month I packed up every remnant left of “the writing life” with the exception of one thing. In 1986 I amazingly won a Women in Communications award for a story I wrote for the Akron Beacon Journal Sunday Magazine about an Ohio church which had decided to embrace the medieval concept of sanctuary and offer shelter to a young woman who had escaped the terrorists who shot her husband in El Salvador. She was, of course, an illegal alien, who had entered the country through Mexico hidden in a cardboard carton. To talk with her I had to bring an Episcopal priest fluent in Spanish. Though he helped me greatly, the real reason the extensive article worked is because she and I connected on a level that transcended the language barrier. It stands yet as the piece I am most proud to carry my byline. And so the award remains on the bookcase in my new office.

But that was a long time ago and there’s been too much water over (or is it under?) the dam since then. The truth is I don’t know if I have it in me anymore to write for publication, especially books. I hate publicity things, hate being in the spotlight, and probably don’t have the stamina to endure rejection and if I get lucky and publish again, bad reviews (or no reviews) plastered all over amazon. Besides, I don’t even know how it’s done anymore – the publication part I mean. And anyway, publishers aren’t  buying from their midlist authors, much less from retired sellouts.

And yet here I am actually thinking about this.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Portrait In Books

Ask anybody – I do not normally have an addictive personality. That is, I didn’t until a bookseller friend turned me on to It started innocuously with one of those notes like you get on facebook asking to be friends. But this one’s header posed the tantalizing question, “Tess, how many of my books have you read?” I figured I’d have a look, just like I'd  had a look the day before at Linked-In when a customer wanted to be in my network. There was just one little problem with that though. It wasn’t possible for him to be in my network for the simple reason that I didn’t HAVE a network. But far be it from me to exclude him from my empty network since he clearly wanted to there, so I signed up with Linked-In so he could feel like one of the gang of nobody. It’s been almost three days now and I’ve never touched Linked-In except to add the five other people who also wanted to be included. Oddly, they are all men. Do women not like Linked-In?

Anyway this is not about linked-in– it’s about goodreads. In order to see if I had read any of Paul’s books I had to -- yep, you got it, I had to sign up – so I did, though I refrained from importing followers from facebook. This was Wednesday night and at that point Paul had listed slightly over 100 books that he’d read. I perused them only to find that I had read exactly five – A Gentle Madness and Patience and Fortitude, both by Basbanes; plus Catcher In the Rye and To Kill A Mockingbird. Not much commonality there -- but wait a second! – he’d read something called Round Ireland In Low Gear. That perked up my curiousity, so I clicked on it and up popped a complete description, plus links to buy it, reader’s recommendations, hand-picked lists it had appeared on, Paul’s opinion of it, AND – the coup de gras – a chance to save it on my “to be read list.”

I glanced at the clock and saw that it was now pushing midnight, but figured it wouldn’t hurt to add a few books and get my own list going. An hour later I had added forty titles that I’d already read, plus one that I was reading, and yet I still had to drag myself away from the computer. At first the titles came so fast I could hardly get them down before another dozen pelted me. But then, oddly, I hit a brick wall, which amazed me seeing as how I must have read thousands of books over the years. So I went to bed, got up at five and, believe it or not, headed straight to goodreads like a woman on a mission. Overnight still more titles had percolated and were by then brimming in my brain. So even before I went downstairs to make the Folger’s –it's a rare, rare thing that supercedes that holy ritual – I added the new stuff. And then I sat thinking for a few minutes and added maybe five more.

From then on, it became an all-day task. Yes, I worked. I always work. But I jumped over to goodreads every time a new author or title came to me. Shortly into it though my thinking switched gears and I began concentrating on categories rather than authors. Literary fiction, biographies, books about books, books about literature, art, books about writing … By evening I’d racked up over 100 books and ended up perusing the lists created by Paul’s eleven friends which gave me a couple more ideas to add to my own. I also saw that Paul had since added another sixty, so I had a look at those too, only to find that we were still stuck at the original five in common.

At this writing my list includes 155 books, one of which I’m currently reading and ten I want to read, most of which I didn’t know existed until I found goodreads. For me this site is not as much about the social network as it is about keeping track of what I’ve read and discovering books I would otherwise miss. Truly, it’s worth doing for those reasons alone, if for nothing else. But there’s also something so poignant about seeing all your favorites lined up with pictures of their covers. At first glance I wasn’t sure why this should be, but as I scrolled down the list memories flooded me as fast as the titles had earlier. There was my first year of marriage in my Hemingway/Fitzgerald/expatriate writers phase. And there were my favorite authors – Wally Lamb, Robert Halenga, Richard Russo, Anne Tyler … And there my beloved books about books – SunwiseTurn, Time Was Soft There, The King’s English

And my books about collage. And The Artist’s Way and the memory of how much fun I had taking the Artist's Way course in Medina with my friend Liz Nelson at the bead store that used to be in the pink Victorian house on Broadway. And walks with Nancy while we plumbed the depths of Gary Zukav’s The Seat of the Soul and Wayne Dyer’s The Power of Intention.

I must confess though. .At first I wasn’t going to list my less than literary or serious favorites, but in the end I did. And there they are – Elin Hilderbrand’s Nantucket novels and Mary Kay Andrews’ hilarious southern cozies, my favorites of which are Savannah Blues and Blue Christmas. There are other guilty pleasures too and I’ll be adding them as I go along.

As it turns out, the list in all its many hues is more than just a list,  which is why it was important to include the embarrassing as well as the exalted. In the end every book adds color, depth,and  even gaps in the symmetry of the picture. But in the end  they all come together to paint a portrait of me -- in books.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Christmas in August? On Surviving Downturns

August may be the strangest month so far when it comes to bookselling in 2011. I have been looking over the state of the union here and noted several anomalies, the most amazing of which is the antiques mall. July broke all records for the ten months we’ve been there and so far August is doing it too – but here’s the catch. July closed in a blaze of glory -- August is limping to the finish line with blisters on both heels. Never have we had a month this bad there. So what does it mean? My knee jerk reaction is usually “they hate my books.” But I was just over there Friday and there’s lots of good stuff and I just added more.

To put it in perspective I needed to examine my online sales too. As I believe I mentioned, internet sales dropped off the first part of August, but picked up again with gusto this past week, primarily and predictably from ABE, with several high end purchases such as a Holmes County, Ohio history for $85 and a book on American bayonets for $160, several genealogy titles in the $35-60 range and a host of other items in the $15-30 bracket. Alibris added a fair number to the mix too and – surprise, surprise – in the past seven days Biblio tossed me more orders than I’ve come to expect in a month. Okay, so it was three, but for Biblio that’s cause enough to strike up the band. Well, on second thought, let’s leave the band out of it.

I can track visitors on both my own website and on my secret site, so I had a look at those numbers too and was amazed to find that traffic on both had dropped significantly over the last two weeks. I have no idea why this might be and am not going to speculate. The thing to do is to keep working and try to drum up a little side action until the market corrects itself. Friday I had an order for a Georges Simenon novel on ABE. It was a rare one, first British edition, so a fairly nice sale. I mentioned to the buyer that I had a whole carton of Simenons unlisted and he immediately replied that he’d like a list. So of course I hauled out the entire unlisted carton and painstakingly provided him with a page and a half of titles, their publishers, and dates. Turns out he has hundreds of Simenons (Georges was a prolific guy), but I actually had three books that he didn’t. Bingo – side action sale! The fun part is that the guy is a fairly well known author, so when he called with his credit card we enjoyed a rollicking conversation about writing and the state of publishing. Sometimes it pays to remember that bookselling’s rewards don’t always show up in cash.

Side action sales also occur when you quote new items to customers who’ve asked you to let them know when stuff similar to what they bought comes in. Today I am planning to quote on an 1897 catalog for boilers, a glitzy anniversary catalog from a steel company, the name of which I can’t recall off the top of my head, and one of my dearly beloved autodidactical courses which I wrote about here some time back. I won’t even tell you the title of the course because if I do I’ll spin into a frenzy of excitement over it and either drop off the page or bore you to death. The point is that sometimes it’s necessary to be proactive.

Of course when things are slow anywhere human nature tends to want to concentrate only on that which is producing well. I understand this because when the antiques mall flies high the polar pull almost forces me off the fabulous purple chair and down Rt. 18. with another box of books even though I was just there. But today that’s where I need to go even though it has about as much appeal as a tractor pull. I also need to get over to my secret site today and dazzle them with new goodies. Of course none of this may produce immediate sales, but it’s not too early to get well stocked for holiday shopping. I have already sold two books for Christmas – both in May to the same person, but records for the last few years indicate that people ARE buying ahead to spread out the holiday pain during iffy economic times.

So, now that I’ve laid out an ambitious plan for the day it’s time to hit it. If you need further inspiration to list your own stuff turn up the air conditioner and let Bing croon in your ear.

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas ….”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Horse Trader's Gazette

I promised I would keep you apprised of the outcome of my online horse trading, so here goes. The books I bought from my customer arrived the day before yesterday late in the afternoon so I didn’t open them until yesterday morning. One look at the very well wrapped box alleviated any niggling fears that they might be damaged in transit, so I felt no rush to make a mess of my kitchen right before dinner. As it turns out, the inside wrapping was as good as the outer. Shhhh – don’t tell him – but he wraps better than many, if not most, booksellers. This guy could go into the biz, except of course the biz needs another seller like Warren Buffet needs another dollar. Which is exactly the point of this post.

As you know, my research was exhaustive on this. As you also know, I joked that the prices were probably about as stable as the Dow Jones. As it turns out, that little bon mot may have been prescient enough to point my way to a rewarding new career as a fortuneteller. One of these titles was locked in at a solid $150 last week, yet has now dropped to $125 with one idiot actually clocking in at $11 including shipping from Canada! Of course I picked that one off like a lone bowling pin, so it’s gone, at least for an hour or so, until the next idiot comes along. Of the ten titles I listed yesterday all but that one remained more or less stable. I am not, however, breathing a sigh of relief for the remaining books, as I looked up a couple of my fairly new listings from last week just for “fun” and found myself undercut on all but one.

It’s interesting to me that sellers are so lacking in creativity that they can’t find any other way to compete. It’s a tough market and a tough economy – I am well aware of that – but I also think that maybe with a little brain power it wouldn’t be necessary to kill what’s left of the online book trade. I’m not suggesting that we aim for the moon and price books outlandishly, but I AM suggesting that we protect our businesses and make sure we earn enough profit to pay our bills and keep the lights on. Some time back I read on Abe’s forum the laments of a seller who thought he was making money only to be informed by his tax accountant that, in fact, he was simply recycling the same dollars over and over. The only amazement I found in that remark was the fact that he’d actually reported his income. Most sellers don’t. If you find that hard to believe just bring up the subject of taxes in a book sale line and check out the blank stares.

Last week I attended a planning committee meeting for the 2012 NOBS (Northern Ohio Bibliophilic Society) annual book fair. The talk turned to an idea that had been brought up previously to offer interactive activities as part of the fair – book appraisals and a panel discussion on book collecting being two possibilities. We bandied around names of possible panelists and somehow this led to the remark that a seller I’ve known for years holds a Ph.D.. Never has he so much as whispered a word of this, so I was quite amazed. But I was even more jolted when I realized that three of the handful of people sitting around the table held one too, as did the absent wife of one of them, and of course the late great Doug Gunn, a seller who’d earned a Harvard Ph.d. and I never knew it until I read it in his obituary. I bring this up not because I think advanced degrees are a requirement (if they were I’d be ousted faster than a sloppy drunk at the corner bar on a Saturday night), but because it points out where bookselling began and where it’s ended up. Even 14 years ago when we started  Garrison House Books bookselling seemed a genteel and serious occupation requiring knowledge, intention, research, a deep and abiding love for the “product”, and a head for business. Today -- well, today  let’s just say that electronic wizardry doesn’t shoulder the entire blame for the state of things.

As for the books I just bought from my customer here’s the verdict in a nutshell. Overall it worked out okay, but I say that primarily because of the subject matter. If prices go too wacky online I couldn’t be left holding a better topic than hunting and fishing. Not only can we sell them handily in the store, but Eric will be traveling to two shows later this month and in early September, both of which are attended by buyers who hunt and fish. The big question though is would I do it again. The answer? Maybe. But ONLY in this category or American history up to Reconstruction. Anything else – not a chance.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Danglies, Fleas, and the Moody Purples

I hate giving in to the blahs, but I sure have them today. It’s eight-thirty in the morning and as dark as night outside with a steady rain falling since I got up at six. Yes, I actually lolled about this morning like I hadn’t a thing to do but order room service and eat chocolate for breakfast. I woke up at my usual five and read for an hour – Catherine Gildiner’s memoir Too Close to the Falls which manages to be both quirky and laugh-out-loud funny even as a dark thread weaves its ominous way beneath the bright, snappy surface. I need to take pictures of books today, but doubt I will because room light casts such a sickly yellow spell. Yet, oddly I just snapped two pictures of yesterday’s accessorization of the Magical Makeover of my office and for the first time ever captured the true light grey of the walls.

Check out those purple valances --  are they cool, or WHAT? They’re the exact color of the fabulous purple antique office chair that launched the whole project.  I love the fringe – cannot resist what Eric calls “danglies” whether they be threads, beads, tassels, or crystal pendants. If it dangles it’s a must-have. Even in my murky mood, they give me a delicious little zing of pleasure, as does the black and white photoghraphic art which is highlighted by the final touch of purple in an the otherwise monochromatic decorating scheme. Both of the photos were shot by the same photographer who offers color enhancement of your choice to key portions. I bought them on "feebay" already matted and then framed them myself with store-bought frames from Hobby Lobby, a store against which I hold a MAJOR grudge because they ran Pat Catan’s, (affectionately known as Pakistan's) a much better arts and crafts store, out of town. There’s still a Pat Catan’s in Akron, so I try to go there as much as possible, but in this case succumbed to an overwhelming need for instant gratification. I wish I could show you a view of the desk, chair, and rug with the valances, but I can’t yet because the old bookcase is still in here and the cabinets aren’t black yet, though their doors dry in the garage in ebon splendor even as we speak.

In addition to accessorization, yesterday involved an early morning trip in the dark drizzle to the Medina Flea Market. The outdoor vendors all stayed in bed apparently which was okay by me because I never buy anything from them anyway. There’s usually one book guy out there, but he and his prices reside in a parallel universe, so no big loss there. Inside, the scene was about as flat as a winter cornfield – very few dealers, ho-hum merchandise, and virtually no books or paper. I walked around in a dull stupor following Eric, so out of it I couldn’t have discerned a teacup from an anvil. That is, until I spied THE BOOK. Holy cow, there amongst a grouping of toys sat one of those ephemeral vintage children’s books made up of pieces-parts that rarely survive. Immediately, my eyeballs spun around in my head like pinwheels. How I know this is because the vendor discerned without my saying a word what it was I wanted. My first thought was, “gotta have it” and my second one was “he’s going to want a fortune.”

“Ten dollars?” he asked.

Ten dollars????? TEN DOLLARS!!!!! Oh, thank you book gods everywhere! I owe you a half dozen psalms. Maybe even with lute accompaniment.

Check this out and see why.

Not only are all eight miniature books present and accounted for tucked away safely in their boxcars, but so is the panoramic scene dubbed a “Colorama” that fold outs to make a large mural. Miracle of miracles, the latter's never in its 51 years felt the exuberant touch of  a tiny crayon-wielder.Truly, this is one very good thing. Run over to bookfinder and have a look at prices.

Meanwhile back in Medina a weak sun actually struggles to shine. Even band camp has commenced, late but lusty. Looks like it's time for the lackadaisical bookseller to finally get in motion.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bookdar, Blades and Banned In Boston

It's been awhile since I mentioned "bookdar", that mysterious force which somehow serves as an internal meter more powerful than the dreaded scanner at alerting booksellers to a must-buy volume. Sometimes it sends a jolt like an electrical charge and sometimes it just whispers, "Hey, you! Pay attention, okay?" Yesterday it whispered just loud enough to shift my focus to a numbered, limited edition of Joseph Moncure March's explosive and VERY risque narrative poem, The Wild Party. We're talking sin and gin to the tenth power here. What's interesting is the fact that I can neither blame, nor thank, my internal bookdar for the outcome. All it did was compel me to look -- and look hard  -- then make an educated guess.

As I picked it up it I thought of something that occurred back when the first wave of  technologically enhanced booksellers desecended upon the Cuyahoga Falls Library book sale waving electronic scanners. Compared to that shiny new weapon  the great sword Excalibur was kid stuff, all cardboard, tinfoil and make-believe.  I'm telling you, I will never until the day I find myself browsing the shelves of the Big Bookstore in the Sky, forget what I heard in line that afternoon. It was hotter than the the back end of hell, my sundress stuck to my skin like cellophane, and my mood was about as cheery as Finnegan's Wake minus the booze. Behind me rang out a voice I can still hear and which Eric and  I quote verbatim several times a week.

"Those old-time book dealers think they're so great cuz they know stuff, but you don't gotta know nothin' to sell books." If someone had taken my blood pressure at that precise moment the EMTs would have zoomed in to pick me up in the Batmobile.

Anyway, I'm looking at this book thinking about that, and registering what superb "book feel" it has. I wasn't sure whether it had ever had a jacket -- sometimes privately printed numbered limited editons don't, but I thought it might  at least have had a glasscine wrapper. I then opened to the yellow endpapers and immediately spied a gift inscription. Some people like these, some people' don't. I love them, especially if they're heartfelt or clever. This one is written in French, which I do not speak, but it didn't take Claudine Longet  to translate the first line,"Avec l'amour." Who's not in favor of  l'amour?

But the big question still  remained. Who was this author, Joseph Moncure March? And does he matter? The last thing I need is a 1947  edition of a narrative poem by a poet known and loved only by his long-departed mother. But wait! There's an introduction by Louis Untermeyer. Okay, now we're talking. Untermeyer was a poet, critic, and anthologist of the day, on the scene in 1928 when Covici bravely published the first edition of this book. Things were definitely looking up. So I open  to the intro and right away Untermeyer shoots me in the eye with descriptive darts --words like vulgar, brutal, cynical, ugly, sensational, repulsive, fascinating, viscious and vivacious. He worries that the Purity League will go after the book with blazing banners, but then decides that might actually be a good thing. Turns out, they did go after it. The Wild Party, along with Finnegan's Wake, made the Banned in Boston list.

I flip back a page and take a gander at the frontis art, a scene of  Greenwich Village Jazz Age decadence, then flip forward and read at random from half a dozen pages. WOWZA! 1928???????? The Roaring 20's roared louder than I'd ever imagained, flappers' knees and bathtub gin not withstanding. So, now what? Do I buy it? Or not buy it?..... I bought it.
There had to be story behind this one, I told myself as I tucked it in the crook of my arm. There HAD to be. So the second I got home I started digging. Turns out it was easier than I would have thought -- in fact, so easy I felt like a dummy for not knowing about it before, especially since it had been reprinted in a couple of editions, one of which in the late 60's was edited to remove the anti-Semitic bits. Then thirty years later still another new edtion came out with illustrations by the great Pulitzer Prize-winning Art Spiegelman and the language reverted to its former state. The Wild Party also inspired some movies, the first of which, oddly, incorporated the Fatty Arbuckle scandal which found the corpulent comic in court defending himself against charges of rape and the accidental killing of a minor actress. In 2000 The Wild Party also  gave way to  two musicals -- one on Broadway, one off. And yet somehow I managed to take up space on the planet this many years deaf to the entire thing. Amazing.

So then. Was it a good buy, or wasn't it? The easy answer is, it depends. The hard answer is, it depends. Art Spiegelman illustrations and the original language make the edition from the late 90''s pretty desirable (ha-ha), but this one's not exactly chopped liver. Online prices,  after you knock out the beat-up copies in the $12-15 range, hover around $22-25 on the low end with the rare book guys standing firm at $100. I bought it with the idea that I might not list it online and now of course I won't. It's a book you have to touch, a book you have to open. A book in which Untermeyer shoots you in the eye with darts and Joseph Moncure March follows up with razor blades.

To get the full experience you  have to be there.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hunting and Fishing for Inventory

I spent yesterday doing something I have never done before – negotiating with an online customer to purchase part of his collection. Many times over the years people have asked – some customers, some just wanderers who landed on our website – but I have never been even remotely tempted to try it. Mostly it’s because they never offered anything I wanted, but also because I was cognizant of the inherent risk — not to mention the high cost of shipping. But this guy wrote me a charming note after buying a book, which sort of primed me for the kill I guess. Once he had me glowing like a lightning bug from all that flattery he asked if I might like to buy some hunting and fishing books. Ouch – got me on that one! Of course I would if they were any good.

Well, they’re good, or at least most of them are. The problem is that three are TOO good and he had already looked them up and was dazzled by the high end listings. Of course “looking them up” is a meaningless term anyway, but I have a hunch he knows that. In his case, he compared prices at ABE, which might be an okay place to start, but when you’re the bookseller buying inventory it’s definitely not the place to stop. With the economy where it is (which is a different place than it was when he first brought this up last week) I cannot afford to make a mistake here. So yesterday afternoon I hunkered down and went at the task with a vengeance, making notes along the way. This sounds easier than it was because not only is there much cross-referencing involved, but this is the dreaded Medina high School BAND CAMP week. As luck would have it, my office affords me the best seat in the house for a musical and general screaming sound track. I'm thinking fly fishing and the band camp director is shouting ""Detail! Detail! Directional!" But the best part was when he broke out into an aria, singing "Snickety, snickety, snickety! ..." Whatever that means.

Anyway, the first place I looked was bookfinder, as this shows a fairly decent array of prices. But I also googled a few that seemed to be too good to be true and, lo and behold, found that one was available new in the 1998 edition at Blackstone for $40 while secondary market sellers logged in at $150 on the low end. Even with paying shipping from the UK a buyer would be better off going with Blackstone. The other tool I utilized is Alibris’ Inventory Demand. This is an interesting thing because it will not only show you the range of prices on the alibris site, but, when available, realized prices for the same book over the period of its lifespan. What’s interesting is that one of the books sold twice this month in the $125 range, yet the lowest price on alibris was $150 and the recommended price was $118. In some instances you could see clearly that even though the recommended and listings prices hung on at the top of the ladder the book was clearly a shelf sitter. In one case the last time it sold was two years ago! Needless to say, you better get competitive with that baby or you’ll be holding it until you’re too arthritic to turn the pages.

Before I had done this in-depth research I’d logged some of the ISBNs into my own database, as hunting and fishing is an area in which I’ve sold a lot. Sure enough, many of his titles popped right up. Of course that was only rudimentary, as I’d sold all of them long enough ago to mistrust the prices, but I didn’t want to put too much time into it if it wasn’t going to work out, so I asked him what he wanted for the lot minus the three special ones. The figure he shot back seemed okay and further research confirmed that it was. Of course we had different opinions on individual titles but I was looking at the aggregate, so it didn’t matter. The sticky wicket, however, remained the three three-figure titles. In the end I offered him $100 for one and $50 each for the others. Grand total for entire portion of the collection-- $270. Immediately he countered with $300.

To my surprise I did not wrestle with myself for even a second over it. I had given him my best offer and was prepared to walk away – not because I necessarily WANTED to, but because reality demanded it. So I wrote back expressing true regret, but declining the counter offer and even suggesting that he shop them around to other dealers. A period of time passed and in the end he accepted my offer, commenting that I drive a hard bargain.

The thing is though, I DON’T drive a hard bargain. I’ve been known to pay too much more times than I can count. But that was in good times, so the fallout wasn’t catastrophic or even particularly problematical. Today no one knows for sure what the fall-out will be to the used and collectible market with all this electronic wizardry and the collapse of the chain stores. We may win, we may lose. But inbetween now and when all that shakes down there could be some hard economic times. The bottom line is I like this guy and did not want to cheat him in any way. But I also didn’t want to do damage to myself. All told I’m content with the deal, though I would be less than candid if I didn’t admit that worry still nibbles around the edges. It’s not due to any lack of trust in him – it’s the ever tumbling prices. By the time the books arrive they may have given the Dow Jones a run for its money.

What I’m NOT worried  about though is my bargaining partner. I offered to send him a check with the idea that he would ship the books upon receipt. But he elected to do it the other way around so I can examine everything and make sure it all lives up to the descriptions he gave me. Buying books sight unseen is probably not the world’s best idea and I still would be very cautious, but it’s an interesting experiment, especially since truly good books are getting both more expensive and more elusive. I’ll keep you posted on the outcome.

Meanwhile, "Snickety, snickety, snickety ...! Detail! DETAIL!"

Saturday, August 06, 2011

One Auction Over-Easy!

Well, today was certainly interesting. Got up as usual at five and went to the world's most horrible estate sale in Akron. How bad was it? Well, let's just say that a 1940's book club edition of  Kenneth Roberts' Lydia Bailey was the finest book in the house. Eric bought a rusty guy thing for five dollars and I bought absolutely nothing. I guess we should have had a clue when we got to the house and saw that the one next door had its windows blown out and a sign from the city tacked to the wide-open front door.  I am trying to keep an open mind, but I'm telling you this not  being a book snob thing isn't easy.

Anyway, we left there and made it back to Medina by 9:30. There was an auction  down the street and around the corner from my house, so I decided to wander down and see if they had anything good. I knew about it and, in fact, had looked it up online, but it was mostly  a Disneyana sale and failed to get me too worked up. But since it was THERE, and the sun was shining, a little exercise and some vitamin D rays seemed like a good idea. I think in all there were maybe 15 people -- okay, maybe twenty-five -- gathered in the front yard. I took a look around, but if you weren't into Cinderella wedding cake toppers, rusty Mickey Mouse lunchboxes etc. this was a five minute operation. To be fair, they did have some really fine older toys in their original boxes and got a lot of money for them. One wind-up Donald Duck alone fetched $300. Sadly, I am not charmed by Disney, so it was all pretty much lost on me.

BUT they did have two flats of paper I wanted and some aviation magazines. I wasn't willing to wait all afternoon for them to come up on the block, but I didn't have to. Within twenty minutes I had spent $140 on the two flats, paid the bill, and was strolling home in the sun carrying them, happy as a bookseller can be in these crazy times.  I quickly made some coffee, sat down on the kitchen floor and had a look at the goodies. I didn't buy the aviation magaines because they ultimately went to $100 a flat for six issues each. As it turned out, I got a couple anyway in one of the flats, as well as a 19th century Anti-Saloon League leaflet, and several excellent manufacturer's catalogs -- one for Hotpoint Servants, which turned out to be small appliances, and a killer one for stoves which actually made me jump up and twirl around the kitchen. I also got a very nice 1929 Standard Oil Ohio road map, two little magazines from the Alexander Aircraft Company with gorgeous  graphic covers and a superb strereopticon card showing African American workers on  a train at the west portal of the Hoosac Tunnel. There's some nice Golden Age of Travel pieces too, plus a 1917 WWI entertainment program for the Second Officer's Training Camp at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana. Of all the items it's the only one that has real condition issues, but it's solid and clean (now that I cleaned it), though stainned, and will be great for the antiques mall.

The last thing I did before it was officially noon was to call a woman who had left me a message at the antiques mall about wanting to sell some books. I will go see them this week sometime, but I don't think they're good. I think SHE was pretty good though. Turns out, she had met my frend Cheryl this summer on a trip to Chicago, so we wound up laughing and talking like we'd known each forever.

Oh! Speaking of the antiques mall, yesterday I found a great bookcase on Craigslist and actually GOT it, which is rare, as most of the time the stuff's already sold and the seller forgot to remove it. It was sort of a comedy of errors as it turned out,  but I'll spare you that story. Suffice it to say it's very nice, matches the ones I have, and only cost $50. We installed it yesterday which means that the booth is officially one hundred percent done unless we sell the furniture. If we add anything other than books we NEED a second booth.

Okay then, you're up-to-date on the happenings here.  I took an array of photos for your pleasure, so scroll down and see some of what I got today.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Great Coffee Debacle; Or Angst at the Mall

Coffee! I need COFFEE, but I can’t have any until one’clock. Just got back from the dentist to have a tooth bonded due to the fact that I have brushed it so vigorously over these however many years I actually cut grooves on the surface. This was a total non-event procedure, but you’d never have guessed it from the array of equipment – safety glasses so water doesn’t spray in your eyes, red stuff that numbs your gum for the novocaine, the novocaine itself (for WHAT? I’m a survivor of the whining torture drills of the 60’s, remember?), two hand tools, and a very cool blue light to harden the goop used to coat the tooth. But now here I am back again with a numb lip that extends to include half my NOSE and an intense craving for Folger’s dark roast. I had a cup before I left, but come on – there’s books to be listed here!

Speaking of books, I was amazed when the dentist comes in and says, “So, I hear you’re at the antiques mall, Tess. How’s it going?” How he knew this I have no idea, but I was tickled pinker than a carnation that he did. We talked books until the novocaine kicked in which made me even more tickled. By the time he got ready to roll he could have performed acupuncture of the mouth and I’d have been fine with it.

But now I’m in my new office perched on the edge of the fabulous purple chair longing for coffee and wondering why sales turned sluggish after two weeks of intense online commerce and the best month at the antiques mall since we signed up. Sales always go up and down of course – that’s retail for you. But this summer they seem extreme in both directions. Of course it could just be me because I have not had a huge influx of new stuff and I pulled out so much of what I did get for various other sales outlets. Anymore I’m getting increasingly reluctant to cast pearls before swine. Saturday I bought this two volume art set in a slipcase that is drop-dead gorgeous, yet booksellers are offering it online for $10. The thing is in mint condition, gloriously illustrated with one whole volume devoted to the art of Ludwig Denig, an 18th century American folk artist whose work, in the way of folk artists, emits a sweet naivete until you absorb the intensity of the colors , the inate sense of graphic design, and the subject matter and your jaw drops on the floor. No way will I part with it for $10. Not happening.

I know I sound like I’m turning into the Norma Rae of bookselling – all militant and soapboxy, but I’m really not on a crusade. I just know that for me things have changed. I'm not the same seller who began this business 14 years ago. I'm not even the same seller I was two years ago. I am willing, eager even, for change and see myself moving in new directions. I’m not sure exactly what that means yet, but I’m working on it.

Well, you’re not going to believe THIS. Since I couldn’t have coffee I stopped writing here and took some of Saturday’s books over to the antiques mall along with a tea cart (forgot to mention I got that at the estate sale too) to replace the table with the drawer that sold not long ago. As soon as I got to my booth I noticed that the booth next to mine is practically empty and wasn’t on Saturday. Just as I realized this, Lisa, the assistant manager, came by and I asked her if it’s coming available. She said she didn’t know yet, but that there are three people on the waiting list for a booth of that size. Then, about five minutes later, I heard myself being paged on the intercom and there’s Lisa coming towards me to say that it is available and the manager says I can have it since it’s next to my present booth. Do I want it? YES! Can I do it? No. But I really, really, REALLY want it. I didn’t even realize how much I want it until I could have it, but can’t.

First of all, I don’t have enough bookcases, but those I could acquire by tomorrow. What I can’t acquire quickly is enough books to make it profitable right out of the gate. Of course I have a lot of stock if I move my entire online inventory, which I actually think I might do if all of it was old enough to qualify. Technically the newest item I’m supposed to have over there should be from no later than 1974. As it is, I push the parameters to 1979, but I can’t go any further than that. I chewed this over a million times and have the stomachache to prove it, but the bottom line is it just can’t happen. Acquisition remains our biggest problem and I don’t see it improving in the short run. If I take the booth my overhead for both spaces would be in excess of $500 a month and the one wouldn’t be pulling its weight.

As I write this, regret and sadness seem to be oozing out of my pores. Who knows when another booth right next to mine will be available? Since I’ve been there it’s happened three times to the same booth, but all of the people on the list now are already dealers who have mall booths, not newcomers as the previous tenants were. I guess I could move to another bigger booth later, but something tells me it wouldn’t be smart because people know where to find me now. A better choice would be to rent a second booth of the same size when I’m ready, make it look exactly like this one and cross advertise them. Then if one next to either of them frees up later (four chances) I could move the other one next door to IT.

Whew! I feel like I just fought the Battle of the Bulge. All I wanted was a distraction which I guess you could say I got in spades. But I’d have been a whole lot happier had I stayed here and written this blog, blissfully unaware that the darn thing was up for grabs.

See what happens when you're deprived of coffee?