I came back from my first-ever SIBA (the Southern Independent Booksellers’ Alliance) conference with a box of some 100 books thrust at me by reps, readers, and some people I think had just crashed the hotel. I triaged these into “not my thing,” “not normally my thing, but let’s try” and “Oh boy!” piles on the long shelf beside my bed.
They made a satisfying bulwark against boredom, and I congratulated myself that, at two books a week average, I’d be reading through them well past Christmas. Of course they got mixed in with new books authors sent for our stocking consideration (we’re getting about one a week now) and the piles got bigger. But then a funny thing happened.
My expectations changed. I found myself reading, not for the satisfaction of the stories, but to determine if I liked the author’s methods. I was reading…. oh dear God in heaven, help me…. only to see if I wanted to sell them.
Sure, I like cozy tales about inherited wedding dresses and chasing down the stories of the brides’ lives from 1902 to 2012. But that’s kind of a trite idea, so it has to be done with really compelling writing. A steampunk send-up of Jane Eyre? Yes, please–so refreshing to fracture a famous tale without using vamps or zombies. I could tell customers about that one with enthusiasm.
That bedside wall of books that was going to take me cozily under covers through the Holidays dwindled faster than the plot line of a Cornwall thriller, as I assessed, summarized, speed-read for basic action ideas, and otherwise treated these books like commodities.
And went through them at a rate of two per night. No slow savoring, no “catch me with your phrasing, reel me in with your descriptions, still me with your elegant prose.” Just, “Yeah, got it. Next.”
Selling used books is a different world than new. Apparently I had slipped unaware through the portal. In the freewheeling, forgiving world of second-hand, not every book pulls its own weight. And eventually, even the oddest books find people who want to love them. It’s more like an adoption service, a recycling center, a retirement home. Communal, not capitalistic.
Now I was doing cold hard “yep, this’ll sell, this won’t” separations of the sheep from the goats.
But . . . I like goats. . . .
Maybe we’re not ready to be new-book retailers, God Bless and Keep Them. I don’t mean what they do is in any way less than what we do, just different, vastly different.
We like our cozy little slow-life retirement and recycling center. And–let’s face it–eventually those hot new commodities are going to land on our shores anyway. So maybe we’ll just wait here in the rockers. . . .