Monday, January 14, 2013

Old School Booksellers Still Talking .... PART II

It’s been a crazy week, as we bought  somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-60 tubs of books off a semi-truck. I know – it sounds pretty wacky – but I’ll explain it the next time I post. Meanwhile, back in Sheila Markham’s absorbing book A Book of Booksellers; Conversations with the Antiquarian Book Trade I managed to cull yet more interesting comments from booksellers past and present (mostly past). I loved this book which is why I roared through it as fast as  I did, but what you’re getting here is only a microcosm of the wisdom it holds – a handful of crumbs instead of the whole bag of Doritos.

Peter Miller is a man after my own heart. When he said “The look of a bookshop is very important to me. And over the years I’ve got Spelman’s the way I like it –an open fire, pictures on the walls,  and the books standing up like little soldiers”  my heart did a somersault. Oh, how I would love a fireplace in my booth at the antiques mall, but lacking one, I’m still all fuss and feathers every week when I go there with fresh stock. My antiques dealer friend Darwin teasingly asked me once, “Tess, are you a booth decorator, or a bookseller?” The answer is I’m both. I want the books to be irresistible in both appearance and content, but I also want the space to dust off the reader’s worries, mop up the stress,  and provide a tiny oasis of beauty in our upside-down world.

If there were a vote for most fun seller in this book Michael Hollander wins with a Grand Slam.  Here’s his take on book fairs: “Somehow we’ve got to get a new generation of collectors, and publicity is the obvious key. The traditional means of mass communication is of course television, but who can afford it? So you have to think of ways of making news. How about getting a book dealer to immolate himself outside the British Library on the eve of a bookfair? I’m sure I could select a candidate.”
Wednesay evening will find me in Akron at a committee meeting for the 2013 Akron Antiquarian fair, so believe it when I say  this one resonated big time. Notice the reference to television in the quote instead of social media. Clearly, aging collectors were a big problem even then, which of course means that the heat’s REALLY on now! We have two basic choices --  think outside the box or pull a rabbit FROM the box. Either way, it ain’t easy, but if we want the show to go on we better build a better fair this year than the better fair we built last year. Like it or not, it’s not enough to haul in the books and prop open the door anymore. These days it takes a  trick monkey and a soundtrack.

The more I get to know booksellers the more obvious it becomes that there’s more than one way to sell books though. John Walwyn-Jones expressed this truth best with this line, “If I have any strength, I think it’s my ability to look at a book and find new angles of interest. There are 101 ways to sell a book.” Doesn’t that just beg to be a book title – 101 Ways to Sell a Book? The key words in John’s quote are “look at a book.” Not glance at a book, but LOOK at a book. I fancy myself pretty good at that too, but it does take time.

Of course just like the myriad ways of selling a single book there’s myriad ways of selling ALL books --  retail, wholesale, online, in stores, at fairs, at flea markets, by catalog, on the street, by appointment, by whimsy, or some combination thereof. And that doesn’t even count the various techniques, including my favorite – value added. I’ve mentioned this before, but since I effectively  did it over Christmas I’ll mention it again. I had an antiquarian title called Nostrums and Quackeries about the patent medicine scams of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. I also had a stack of trade cards of the period advertising these various snake oils. So I picked out a couple cards for companies mentioned in the book, laid them in, and – voila! – a book that was good got better because it now contained a tangibile REAL value that illustrates and informs  the text.

As much as I enjoy stuff like the above though, longevity in the trade is my biggest goal. So when Charles Traylen  said, “As for the future, I’ll go on bookselling ‘til I drop” my respnse was immediate and heartfelt.

Me too, Charles.

Me too.

 (Sorry for the lack of photos. Blogger has a known problem at this time. The browse button is missing on the  page for uploading pictures. Fortunately, this post doesn't really have to have one. but if it gets fixed I'll add one.)


Hilda said...

Good post. And I am anxious to find out how you came to buy books off a semi-truck.

tess said...

Thanks, Hilda. We go get the rest tomorrow, so that will round out the story. I hope blogger works by the time I write that so I can put up pictures. I think I coulddo it using the html version, but that's the one that unparagraphs everything and caused part of two posts to disappear. Two evils I guess.