This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Bookstore Confidential

            When my biography, The Borina Family of Watsonville, came out last month, local historian Sandy Lydon, who had written the foreword, couldn’t wait for his free copy and rushed to one of the local bookstores to buy one. That was an eye-opener.
            He went to a local bookstore where I’d taken five copies a week earlier. When I signed the consignment agreement, they had told me they would have it in the computer and on the shelves within 48 hours. I’m sure they sincerely meant it, but that didn’t turn out to be what happened.
            Sandy got to the store and checked out the local books and local author sections, expecting to see it prominently displayed in one or the other. No luck. Then he went to the front desk and asked for the book by name and author. The employee on duty typed it into the computer and told him they had no such book in stock.

Look in the Back, Dummy

            Anybody else would have thrown up their hands and walked away at that point, but Sandy knew, because I had just told him, that the store had the books, so he kept pressing them. He asked the employee to check the back room to see if the books had been received but not yet entered on the computer.
            After some grumbling and saying that couldn’t be the case, the employee reluctantly agreed to do so, and after several minutes in the nether regions of the store, came out with a copy of my book from the original stack of five, which was sitting in there somewhere. All in all, it was a lot of work for a customer to have to do in order to buy a book at a bookstore.
            We hear a lot these days about how Amazon is destroying our beloved local bookstores, and there’s certainly some truth to that. But as this story makes clear, some of the wounds local bookstores have incurred are self-inflicted. Getting a new arrival promptly into the computer and on to the shelves where customers can see it is a matter of fundamental competence. If a bookstore can’t manage that simple task, it has no business grousing about Amazon.

Biography With a Shocker Cover

            That reminded me about another incident that occurred last year with my mystery novel, The McHenry Inheritance. I dropped in at another local bookstore (not the one I was just talking about) to see how many copies they had. I found one in the mystery section and none in the local authors section, so went and asked if they needed more copies.
            The answer was no, because they had four copies in local authors and one in mysteries, and that should be enough for now. Puzzled, I went back to the local section, and after going through it carefully, book by book, found four copies of mine under M, for McHenry, instead of under W for Wallace. After further discussion, it turned out that an employee had apparently thought it was a biography of someone named McHenry and had filed it there because biographies are filed alphabetically by subject name.
            Now you would think that the lurid cover showing a fisherman in the crosshairs of a rifle would have tipped them off that this wasn’t a scholarly work, and what it shows is that an author can’t expect anybody else to be competent. He has to stay on top of everybody else’s business as much as his own. And it makes you wonder how many sales authors have lost over the years because of problems like these. I don’t have the heart to go there.