Friday, March 18, 2011

"That is not what I meant at all. / That is not it, at all."

When I was teaching, I assigned a weekly essay on a specific topic in each of my classes, and the most common complaint from the students was, "I can't think of anything to write about!"

I'd suggest A. "No," the student would say, "I don't know anything about A."

How about B? "No, I hate B."

C? "I've written about C a million times. I'm bored with C."

After about 15 minutes of offering suggestions that the student dismissed, I'd give up. The lack of a subject for writing then became my problem, because I wasn't creative enough to think of a perfect, interesting, inspiring subject for the kid.

And so it is with bookselling. Only worse. Instead of a single topic in expository writing, I'm faced with millions of books--and the loonies.

Earlier this week a customer came in and bought a book. Before she left, she told the staffer that she wanted to talk with the owner.

"Hi, I'm P-doobie, the owner," I said. "How may I help you?"

"Do you read U. S. News and World Report?" she asked. I told her I didn't. "Well, you should," she replied. I asked her why. "I'm not going to tell you, because you should already know. You should just buy a copy and find out." I thanked her warmly for the tip and started to go back to the office. She said, "You should read it because it has those lists of books."

I turned back. "A best-seller list?"

"Yes. You should have a best-seller list." She was standing in front of the best-seller shelves.

I said, "We do have a best-seller list, and it's published every Thursday in the Monitor. And here," I said gesturing to the books, "are the best-sellers in independent bookstores throughout the country."

She said, "I know that. I don't like those books [gesturing at the shelves], and there's nothing on the Monitor list that I want to read. Too sciencey."

"We also publish a monthly best-seller list in our email newsletter. Would you like to subscribe?" I asked.

"No," she said. "I hate email, and I don't want your list. I want a list like the one in U. S. News and World Report."

"What makes it different and special to you?" I asked.

"I'm not going to tell you. You should just buy a copy and find out for yourself."

I thanked her again and turned to head back to the office.

"It has a list of books and one line about each one."

I returned to the counter and said, "When someone on our staff reads a book they like, they write a note about it and put the note in the book. See?" I showed her many of the best-sellers and all the staff-picks section with shelf-talkers.

"I don't want to read those," she said. "They're too long. I don't want to read a lot."

"'Looks like war, Miss Scarlett.' 'Fiddle-dee-dee!' 'BOOM!' Now this is Gone with the Wind as it should have been written!"

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ina—and a new loonie!

Ina came in recently to announce that due to popular demand she is working on a sequel to her most popular novel. This time, she said, she's going to include epigraphs for each chapter not only from her favorite author but also from contemporary authors. But there's a problem. She doesn't know whether she has to get permission from the authors to include quotations from their books in her book. "Will you research copyright law for me and let me know what I can and can't quote?" she asked. I said, "No."

She is also shopping around for a producer for a film version of her most popular novel and has posted fliers with those little tabs with her phone number on them. I don't think that most film producers go looking in the local bank for ideas, but you never know.


Pierce, a new loonie, is a playwright I've mentioned before and a major pinch-penny. He called to ask whether there were any books of humor, jokes, or anecdotes about things nuclear or atomic. I scrounged around and told him that most of what I found was political cartoons and The Far Side, but there didn't seem to be any specific book devoted specifically to atomic yocks. (I half-expected him to say, "Will you write one for me?") I suggested that he go online and do a Google search. He said that he already done that and got hundred of thousands of results, but he didn't want to sift through them, nor did he want to browse through books in search of atomic prosechuckles. And, he said, he certainly doesn't want to pay anyone do it for him. It appears that his project may die aborning.