Thursday, June 20, 2013

Unicorns Among Us, or God Save the Booksellers


My best experience related to selling books so far has been with actual live booksellers - people who run bookshops.  I have presented myself and my book, rather shyly, at half a dozen.  (Two are in London so the approach was via Internet)  The only place that said flatly, errr, uh, "No" was Barnes & Noble in South Burlington, Vermont.  (I'm not sure if I asked the right person, though - see aforementioned shyness). 

 Each of the independent booksellers were happy to stock a few copies.  The London shops are at least considering ordering a few.  Today I stopped by Boxcar and Caboose Books on Main Street in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.  I had other business in town and just stumbled over the shop as I was headed out.  I happened to have some books in my car,  so I went in and asked if they might have any interest.  

"Sure."  Like, she meant it.

A simple form filled out.  Introductions, a friendly handshake.  Books signed.  Price set.  
In addition to the pleasant transaction, I got that certain vibe from the bookseller in question and her shop that money can't buy and that no computer can deliver.  Bookstore gold. (I also got a cup of hot Colombian French Roast, so there's that).  

It occurred to me as I was driving out of town that bookstores have become a preserve of rare, lovely creatures - human booksellers.  They seem mostly to be women these days, but maybe my sample is to small to generalize. We worry about all kinds of cultures and creatures when extinction is threatened.  What about them?

I know this is not an original observation.  The digital threat to bookstores has been discussed ad nauseam.  I'm not so sure, however, that I had really firmed up my own views til today.  Of course, it isn't the books that we stand to lose if the store goes away, there are more of those than ever - a tsunami, let me tell you.  The risk is to the lovely habitat that of these rare creatures, a habitat that anyone with a beating heart should want to conserve.

I also know that saying you love bookstores is like saying you love baby seals and revere mothers.  Not controversial - but I'm not so sure that everyone agrees these days.  I was listening to the Book Riot Podcast a few weeks ago and the host was complaining about Stephen King's decision not to make a digital copy of his book new book available.  One of the podcast hosts found this unacceptably preachy and sort of bullying.  He was the customer, after all.  He didn't want to be put out, having to schlep to some store.  Where does that line of thinking threaten to take us?  

(Just FYI, in addition to being available on line as a paper back and an e-book, my book can be ordered by any bookshop in the Western world... Selling eventually becomes a reflex, apparently)