Sorry, That Bookstore’s Not for Me; They’re Selling ARCs

So, there’s good news and bad news from a town nearish me.

The good news is–and I found this out via one of those 50 whatevers in 50 states lists on the internet–that there’s a new bookstore.

The bad news is… I couldn’t go in. I can’t go in. I won’t go in. I certainly can’t actually… spend money there.

They’re selling ARCs.

For those of you who don’t know–and maybe that’s a pretty small crowd around here–an Advance Review Copy is a copy of a book sent out before publication to reviewers and booksellers to get the buzz going. You’re likely to see them as prizes on the internet, where they get thousands of people to sign up for a drawing for three books. That kind of thing.

The whole point is to get it into the hands of people who make recommendations, and into the public consciousness.

The Author does not get paid for that copy of the book.

And I happen to believe that the author–you know, the human who’s maybe going to make the next book–should get paid. The more I like the book, the more I think the author should get paid, which is why you’ll occasionally find me bouncing up and down on your chest asking whether you bought my favorite book, yet.

So, when I got to the bookstore (note the lowercase, there.) I found a sign out front that said “We DON’T think Authors should Get Paid.”

“We DON’T pay our Authors.”

The exact wording was “Buy one BOOK, get an ARC for FREE.” One of those easel boards you find on sidewalks.

BOGO? Sounds more like a sleazy discount sale than a giveaway. And what do you wanna bet those ARCs are in “new” condition, meaning that the very people who are supposed to be reading them–Booksellers--aren’t. It sure as hell isn’t giving the ARCs to charity. Now, that’s tippy-toeing pretty close to the line. Or, you know… pole vaulting over it, if the goal is to PAY YOUR AUTHORS.

Now, apart from the fact that people like me are going to keep walking, when they see a sign like that, there are a few other people who will be pissed off.

You know.

The Authors, for one. If you’re a Bookstore, you’ll want to be on good terms with the Authors so they’ll come and do signings and events. Probably not going to manage that with a big sign that says “We Don’t Pay You.”

The Publishers… Because they don’t get paid for ARC’s either. And there aren’t all that many of them. Ever wonder what happens to a bookstore when the Publishers stop sending it books to sell? It becomes an Empty Shelf-Space Store. Yup. That can happen. And risking it for a BOGO sale?

Bookstores aren’t selling discount sports equipment. They aren’t an in-and-out proposition, the way getting your tires rotated or your oil change is. They’re a community, and tendrils of an intellectual culture that need to be nurtured.

The people who shop in Bookstores–your customers–work to build that community, and that culture. They invest in their Bookstores in time and money, and in a devotion that not many businesses ever see.

And they expect you to invest in that culture, and that community, too.

Selling ARCs is leeching off that culture. Taking without giving.

You’re saying “Here… I stole this from your friend. Now give me your loyalty.”

Religion as A Marketing Technique

Yesterday, I was reading an author’s biography.  Her biography was a list of attributes. You know the kind. Dinosaur wrangler, Rockstar, and Mail-order Accountant Ethel Hergenmeier lives in Florida with her husband, her potted plants, and three small children whose parents refuse to take them back. (This was the blog-based, and probably unofficial biography, by the way.)

Except, in her case, the first attribute was her religion. So, Zen Buddhist, Dinosaur Wrangler and etc… And, in all fairness, she was writing a book about the Four Noble Truths for writers, or artists, or something. (Disclaimer. I never got past the Third Noble Truth, and can’t remember what the Fourth Noble Truth is, so if you have questions about Zen Buddhism, go ask one.)

For all intents and purposes, the book seems to be marketed toward a general writing audience, and not exclusively to the Zen Buddhist crowd. The biography on Amazon is different, and focuses on her previous books, her career, and where she lives.

There’s no separate Zen Buddhist section in the bookstore (or at least, not in mine) and this book would wither and die, if people had to hunt it down in “Eastern Philosophy.”

The general audience thing has me stumped. On the one hand, the fact that the writer is a Zen Buddhist could matter. Of course, if it does, the fact that the reader is not could also matter.

With some religions, I have a very clear idea of what to expect, if the author or the book is described (front and center) with their religion. Christian comes to mind, and generally means no sex, no swearing, and geared toward a (fairly conservative) Christian audience. (No, that is NOT idiomatic.) It’s not just a fact, it’s a niche market.

I don’t have that same clarity with Zen Buddhism. Maybe I would, if I knew more about it, but I’m not picking up on the “How does that sell books?” end of it.

There’s a range in all of the biography information. Retired FBI agent or NASA astronaut is more relevant; Owns a dog named Buster is… arguably less relevant. And you work from more to less relevant.

So, how important is knowing an author’s religion to you? And what information do you get from knowing? Are there any circumstances under which you would mention your religion in your bio information?

 

 

Safety, Common Sense, and Selling Books

So, you already know I was on a mini-vacay last week. I needed that. The stress of stress would have eaten me alive, if I hadn’t gotten out. Nothing quite like grabbing a friend, ditching real life, and hitting a neighboring state.

And, as it turns out, there was another writer in the motel.

It wasn’t me that ran into her.

“There’s one of your people in the elevator.”

My people, by the way, can mean anything from my close friends to whole groups of people I happen to belong to. And, let’s be honest, my mind shot straight to dancers, because they’re easier to pick out of a crowd, and because I actually do know dancers in KC.

My friend was a little wigged out, though, so my mind skipped from dancers to band members, and maybe a few specific individuals she might be able to recognize as “my” people. Mutual acquaintance type “my” people.

I asked.

“One of your book people.”

Okay. So, I’m lost. How could she possibly know that someone she met on an elevator was a book person? I mean, we’re pretty mellow, compared to some of my acquaintances.

Turns out the woman had gone all Bookseller of Prey on her.

She was pretty shaken, after an elevator pitch that had gone from small talk, to buy my book, to let’s-trade-room-numbers-you’re-my-new-bestie all in the course of three floors. I don’t blame her. My head was spinning, just thinking about it.

But, I was also thinking about the other woman. Was she someone I do know? Someone I will know in the future?

I’m not sure freaking out strangers on an elevator (in a motel!) is the best way of selling books. The thing about an elevator pitch is… well, at the other end of the elevator, your target winds up in an office, full of his or her trusted co-workers. You aren’t necessarily alone in the elevator, either.

And I’m pretty sure that inviting strangers back to your hotel room to get the books that you don’t have with you isn’t the safest idea, either. Remember that old joke your granny used to tell? The one where she slapped a guy because he invited her up to his room to see his etchings? (And it turned out there really were etchings?)

I don’t really care what risks you choose to take in bookselling… but make sure they are a choice. Make sure they’re a sensible choice, and make sure they’re an effective choice.

This one happens to be an unnecessary and ineffective risk. You’re taking all the risks your mother warned you about in luring strangers back to your motel room–I won’t get into those–and you’re also scaring off your risk conscious customers.

Most women–and probably most men, too– are NOT going to go knocking on motel room doors to buy a book.

Get a tote bag and carry a couple of books with you. That way, you aren’t taking a risk, and you’re not asking your customers to take that risk, either.

Why I Walked Away From That Book

I read a book description… because, let’s face it, reading book descriptions when you really, really have no intention of buying anything which is not already on the shopping list….is a bookworm’s version of going to the casino. You can keep doing it all you want, but if you keep going long enough, you’re going to wind up owning a shiny new impulse book.

I got lucky this time, because I didn’t buy a book… well, I didn’t buy two books… technically. Yet. I do not have a problem. And people should quit waving books under my nose, if they think I do!

And I wound up with this nifty blog post about my jaw getting all scraped up from dragging on the ground.

The editor described this book as “a love triangle set in the harshest period of American history.“Except… it’s set in the Great Depression.

The Great Depression is not the harshest period of American History. I mean, yeah… people waited to get married and you sent your kid back to the butcher, if he brought a roast home with the bone still in it, but… The harshest period in American History?

It’s a historical novel, so really… I admit I’m gonna place a high level of emphasis on historical accuracy. And well, that… “harshest period” is already straight up wrong. Not a matter of debate. Not a matter of opinion.

The Great Depression wasn’t even nominated.

I think I could sit here and list my top ten harshest periods of American History, and the Great Depression still wouldn’t be on it. I think I could let the non-Americans who read this blog have a go at it, and even if they don’t have any real interest in American History, they would be able to come up with harsher time periods.

No. I really don’t think you can make any kind of a defense for that statement.

If that’s the historical inaccuracy in the description… if that’s the kind of thing the editor says, I’ll pass. I don’t really want my head all full of could-be facts and sensationalism.

So, What is the Purpose of YA and Middle Grade?

Sometimes, you get into an argument–it was a very polite argument, by the way–and it just gnaws at you for the rest of the… Well, what is this? Thursday? Well, week, then.

A Middle-Grade Writer on Twitter was grousing about Middle Grade literature making references to (things she considered to be outside a MG-er’s frame of reference.) She thought of this as the author flaunting his own intelligence at the dear children’s expense. She called this something like “above the head winks” and thought of it as very disrespectful.

And, obviously, I disagree. I have no problem with a child having to pick up a dictionary from time to time, and none with having him pick things up from context. I don’t think children’s literature should be dumbed down to the point that the snot fountains **ahem** dear children never encounter so much as a word about anything they don’t already know.

I’m also incredibly concerned about the idea that somewhere–somehow–someone gets to be the Universal Arbiter of the Standard Childhood Experience. I mean, are we talking about an Airforce brat? A San Francisco hippie’s kid? A Korean immigrant? At what point do you hit the “Children don’t know anything about THAT!!!” Button?

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I’m no expert on children. I don’t have any. I hardly ever borrow any. And for the purposes of this post, I’m pretty sure I never was one. I also don’t write for them. Note the disclaimer on my stories page: Any resemblance to children’s literature is purely coincidental. I mean that.

But the comment got me thinking, and within a couple of hours, I’d run the question past a couple of people (one is raising children, and the other intends to be at some point. And one of them writes for children, as well.)

The writer’s general thought was that in fact, young adult and middle grade fiction do exist to insulate children from certain things. (Vocabulary in general was not on the list.) That it presents better morals, and a…well, somewhat selective window into the world. Less cussing.

Yeah. Well. I suppose they do learn enough cussing in school. But I’m not convinced. Wasn’t there a death match in some of those books? And again… whose morals?

So… here’s my question. Well, Questions, maybe.

1.) What is the purpose of Middle Grade or Young Adult as a separate thing? Protect the morals? Indoctrination? Strictly marketing? Something else?

2.) Why do you believe that MG or YA is better for children than popping over to the library and just choosing books that interest them? Or vice versa?

Booksellers, Men, and the Cabinet of Sin

We sold pornography at the bookstore where I worked. Not a lot of it, and nothing that would compete with Jugs, Jugs, Jugs down at the local Kum&Go. Sex-positive, consent-positive, feminist, GLBT, fetish stuff. Non-violent. It lived in a cabinet behind the counter, and if you didn’t know it was there… well, you wouldn’t know. Strictly a word-of-mouth kind of thing.

The cabinet of sin was about four feet wide and three feet tall. Double doors. Opaque. And, if you happened to find a group of Booksellers gathered around it, there’s a pretty good chance we weren’t analyzing the latest Haruki Murakami. Hands down, it was the most open and accepting set of co-workers I’ve ever had.

Oh, and then, there were the customers…

You got to recognize that Look, eventually. The Please, Miss… might I trouble you for something from the Cabinet of Sin Look. The… Please, I’ve read this high-quality gift book about garden gnomes three times because I’m just that nonchalant Look.

So, you’d wait for the other customers to go away. The women, and children, that attractive, but is-he-or-isn’t-he guy, the older couple who look pretty much just like anybody’s grandparents. And then… only then… You’d “notice” him standing there.

Can I help you?

Oh, no. Just looking.

Well, fine. I believe you. Besides, what am I supposed to say? Oh, you are not. I know you want something from the Cabinet of Sin, and since I put away today’s shipment, I’ve got a pretty decent idea of what you want?

Moving on.

Noted. One of the unwritten rules of masculinity–apparently–is that whenever possible, you buy your porn from other men.

Or, possibly, female Booksellers are just that terrifying.

Or innocent-looking, or wholesome, or … something. Maybe I sold their kid a copy of One Fish, Two Fish the week before. But the script was always more or less the same. They’d loiter until some man showed up to sell them a magazine.

And, as it happens, most of the time, I did just happen to have a spare man just lying around. Well, not so much lying as laughing his ass off behind a partition. (The unwritten rules of masculinity–apparently–do not apply to SuperBookseller.)

In the end, SuperBookseller always had to sell the–whatever it was–and he was the king of straight faces.

Oh, yes… The women tried to be approachable. We tried to look understanding. We tried all kinds of things:

  • Putting things away in and/or organizing the Cabinet of Sin.
  • Sympathetic smile.
  • In a rush and much to busy to notice, even if someone tried to buy 3 kilos of cocaine and a baby elephant.
  • Sitting on the Cabinet of Sin.
  • Sitting on the Cabinet of Sin while eating a cookie taken from the Cabinet of Sin. (Yes, there are cookies in the Cabinet of Sin. Stop judging.)
  • Sitting on the Cabinet of Sin while eating a cookie and reading a paperback copy of deSade (Yes, the one with the picture.)

None of them worked. Once a guy decided he was not going to buy porn from you… well, mostly his mind was made up. He’d be there for hours, just… waiting… if you let him.

What are you going to do?

SuperBookseller, HELP!!!!

That’s why I named my vacuum cleaner after him.

Homes For Retired Books

So, now’s the time of year when it’s (reasonably) socially acceptable to clear your throat and nod sideways at the charitable causes you feel other people should be giving money, goods, and/or time to.

And while I’m not much of a spare-change collector, I am going to point out a few good uses you can put your extra books to. Because, let’s be honest… we all believe the right book at the right time can change someone’s life forever.

  • Prison Libraries I’m starting with this one because it’s something that doesn’t automatically jump to mind, and because one of my first jobs after college was teaching in a prison. I spent a lot of hours in what might be the sparse-est library I’ve ever seen in my life. I know there are more deserving recipients, but it’s hard to imagine a charity with a more immediate effect.
  • Domestic Violence Shelters Books for both adults and children who are going through tough times. I’m not going to call what I saw here a “library,” even. There was a shelf. It had a few books on it.
  • Homeless Shelters I think we’ve all read about how much difference owning even one book can have on a child’s life.
  • School Libraries
  • Public Libraries
  • And Little Free Libraries You know… like the boxes you build in your own front yard. Might lead to getting to know the neighbors, but just the ones who like to read

I’m sure there are others. You can find charities to ship them to developing countries, or charities that will support x, y, or z cause using the money from their sale.

I’m not mentioning any specific charities by name, because I don’t have the time to do due-diligence, and because I think local is the way to go. Build the book community you’re in.

Throwing Away The Classics

I ran into this post–which talks about why not to give children a particular book– on Carol Nissenson’s Blog the other day and despite the post’s title, it took me three or four read throughs to figure out exactly which book she was talking about. The Secret Garden. One of the books I read as a child, and enjoyed. And probably would have handed over to the next generation without a second thought. The truth is, my initial response was something more along the line of “What is she talking about?” than “Oh, she’s right.”

But she is right.

It took me a while to think of the negative stereotypes she was talking about. But, of course, they didn’t make as direct an impact on me as they would have on other children. And, in time, my memory glossed over them.  So, I went back to Padma Venkatraman’s interview, and kept reading.

Oh. Yeah. That. Well, yes.

Leave a comment and tell me if you knew right away what scenes she’s talking about, or if it took you a second.

Revisiting old stories… old songs… old anything and consciously thinking about the messages in them has been a recurring thought lately.

For instance… Pretty Woman (the song, not the move)… It’s street harassment, but kinda catchy, and you can dance to it. Still… Should little girls’ brains be marinating in the idea that you’ll hurt a stranger’s feelings if you don’t smile at him?

Return to Sender… A stalker classic. No amount of pelvis shaking is going to change the fact that the woman in the song is giving Elvis a clear NO! and his next step will be… to show up on her doorstep. Not a great example for little boys.

And The Secret Garden? Well, damn it, I liked the Secret Garden. But moving forward… I liked a lot of books. And I still want there to be time in childhood for kids to discover their own favorites. I don’t think every childhood needs to be a blow-by-blow replay of my own to be a good childhood.

The Great Hierarchy of Children’s Books

  1. Books Recommended by A Parent, Teacher, or Librarian. In my family, this included Caldecott and Newbery winners and nominees, and a large number of dog stories. Books received as gifts from any of the above. And things on school reading lists. That recommendation–the moment when someone actually hands a child a book and says “Read this”–is a high level of approval. And not all books deserve that seal of approval. This is the pinnacle of all children’s books.
  2. Books Not Recommended, but Still Enjoyed by Parents, Teachers, or Librarians. These would be the books of no particular social value (or detriment) that your mother is willing to read to or with you. Your parents aren’t holding them up as anything special. You probably brought them home, yourself. Good for you.
  3. Books That Annoy the Shit Out of Adults Not actually harmful, but your mother is not willing to read them to you or with you because she just doesn’t like them. Because, at some point, you’re old enough to read that to yourself, if you really want to read it. My family? Well, this would be any Ramona book.
  4. Books That Will Result in a DISCUSSION. These are the books that will need some parental guidance. The ones where your parents seriously disagree with some of it, or where clarification will be necessary. The family medical encyclopedia. That thing about the circus sideshow. And anything where the expectations in your family are dramatically different than what’s shown in that book. For instance: The Secret Garden is really old fashioned, isn’t it? Wow, that child is horrible.
  5. Books That Will Result in Someone’s Career Ending There weren’t a lot of books that fell into this category, when I was a kid. (We’re a fairly information-positive family.) In one notable instance, however, a really lazy grade-school teacher decided that a movie about World War II would be just as good as a more formal lesson. Her career ended somewhere during a scene with a couple f—udging* on the porch.

I believe that books can move up or down the hierarchy of children’s books without any actual censorship or book-banning taking place. I don’t think I owe a recommendation to anything, and I certainly don’t think I should recommend everything to children. Plenty of books I read myself–and enjoy, and recommend to adults–that I wouldn’t recommend to a ten year old or a six year old.

Most of the books I read, I wouldn’t recommend to a young child.

And if I do recommend a book, I want it to be good–not just enjoyable, but good–a step in the direction I believe the world should go. I want it to be something that represents something I can stand behind, and something that will give that child–and the children he comes into contact with–a better life.

*If you know how to use euphemisms, thank a teacher.

 

Halloween Ennui

The last year I handed out candy for Halloween was a long time ago. I spent most of the evening at home, and in the end, there were exactly two trick-or-treaters. Now, I like children dressed as devils and corpses as much as the next girl, but that does seem like a whole lot of boredom for two kids, and especially two kids I don’t even know, even out of costume.

Halloween,–even in my remarkably safe little town– has moved to the commercial sphere. The merchants hand out candy (and advertisements) and the whole affair goes downtown, or to the mall. The greedier parents dump their kids off in **ahem** take their kids to the “rich” neighborhood (not mine) and that’s about the end of it. (Driving through the”Rich” neighborhood on Halloween is like taking a truck through a cattle drive. But a whole lot more pink and sparkles.)

There are, of course, a few activities for grown ups. (Drinking. Also Drinking. You know… Like on Thursday.)

When I was in bigger towns… when I was dancing… it seems like I was in costume, dressed up as something every other week. Costume’s half the fun, you know. And once I started winning costume contests… well, you put the money back into the next costume, until you have your own little costume closet. And that’s been a while, too.

The thought that always comes to me around Halloween is the idea of dressing the candy bars up as books. (Not as my books, of course. Other people’s books. People who write for children.) Print the cover on one side of a paper, and a coupon code for the book on the other side of the paper, and glue the thing on a Hershey’s bar. (Or, you know… something good, if you happen to be in the “rich” area of town.)

I’m not one of those people who would give a sweet, innocent child a box of raisins–or a toothbrush–for Halloween, but a book?  That sounds like something healthy and fun. I could approve of that.

I fiddle around with the details, of course. The coupon codes would have to be set up in advance. It would have to be e-books to be cost effective, especially for a poor writer who’s paying for it, herself. And you might need separate bowls of candy for different age groups. I’m not sure. Different age groups would probably mean more than one writer.

And in order to get much traffic, you’d almost have to barge in on one of the businesses that actually gets trick or treaters, or buy a booth at the mall.

 

Shopping for Other People’s Lives

I’ve spent a lot of time antiquing in the past couple of weeks. I’m looking for that mythical piece of 16mm that I can afford to destroy in an effort to make my projector work. Apparently, people are attached to the family films. (Yes, even though they have no plot, and no sex appeal.)

I ran into some books, yesterday. Old books. Books that clearly came out of one person’s private collection. About a hundred years old, give or take. And they were labeled wrong, and priced out of my reach. (Particularly since whoever owned them was not a note-taker.) I think the seller was taking a cross-your-fingers-and-hope-for-the best approach to Bookselling.

The books made me think of one of my old professors. That’s more my imagination being dramatic than anything grounded in facts. The books were close to his field, but they weren’t quite right.

Still, I was left with a vague sadness, holding these books, turning their pages… because in order for them to be there, someone I would like to have known–someone I would have gotten along with–had to die.

I might check up on those prices, the next time I’m near the store. They’d probably like to come live with me.

Still no 16mm.  I will keep looking, when I have the time and energy.