Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Micawber's in the Morning

I love opening at Micawber's.  Arriving early in the morning, I unlock the old wooden door and push my way into the quiet of the store.  I turn on a single light, the ancient chandelier above the cash register.  All else is still dark.  The wooden floor is very old.  The wood slats don't match up the way they once did.  The patina is a weathered grey.  An oriental rug covers one section.  It looks weathered too, but comfortable.  I breathe in the smells of the store - old wood and books.  It's a good smell.  I am quiet as I walk around getting ready for the day. Once the store opens, we will have music on in the background.  Irish music, most likely, if I'm in charge.  A local vocalist perhaps if Hans makes the selection.  Tom might choose the Blind Boys of Alabama.  And if Karen opens the store, you can bet you'll hear classical music from the radio.  

But, not now.  When I am here alone in the morning, I don't turn on music.  I don't hum or sing. I am simply quiet, along with the store itself.  We are both still waking up.  Upstairs, I hear faint sounds of someone getting ready for work - walking across the floor, turning on the faucet.  There is an apartment above us.  I'll forget this fact for the rest of the day, but in the morning I am reminded that there is life overhead.

Now that it's October, the ancient radiators have hissed back to life.  It is warm again in the store.  I walk around straightening books, checking the displays.  In the kid's section, I rearrange the big bear where kids love to snuggle.  I walk past the two old armchairs that are falling apart, but are still so comfy.  Every day people plop down in those chairs and stay awhile. In fiction, there is a fireplace mantel.  It took me a month to realize there is no actual fireplace in the store, just a very beautiful, wooden mantel with a mirror.  It's a great place to display books.  People have offered us money for it.  But, it belongs in the store.

There are boxes of books by the back door.  Returns mostly.  One of these days - soon - we'll get to them.  But, there are always other things to do.  More important things.  I walk around the huge, heavy wooden tables laden with new titles.  They are great for books.  Terrible to move.  I vacuum the tiny leaves off the wooden floor and oriental rug.  The vacuum seems to just blow the leaves around, not wanting to actually take them away.

It's almost time to open the store.  I look up at the old clock hanging above the register.  I laugh, forgetting, and check my wristwatch.  It's always noon on the store clock.  It stopped long ago.  I walk around now turning on all the lights.  It's time to fully wake up and invite people in. The one plant - a bonsai of some kind - has water.  But, that is not my job.  Someone else makes sure the bonsai lives.

It's ten o-clock in the morning now.  All the lights are on, the books straightened, the little leaves vacuumed and the register ready.  I turn on the music.  And I unlock the door.  We - the store and I - are ready for a new day.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Trade Shows & Free Books

Every September the Midwest Booksellers Association (MBA) holds its annual convention in St. Paul. There are workshops and sessions for booksellers, meals with authors, and a Trade Show open all day Saturday.  I have attended the trade show once as an author when my first book, Remembering Mama, came out in 2002.  I sat at the Augsburg table and signed copies of my books to give away to booksellers.  It was fun, but a bit overwhelming.

This year I attended MBA as a bookseller.  It was an entirely different experience. The whole purpose of the trade show is to get booksellers interested in buying new titles from various publishers. Every big publisher is there and many, many small ones.  I had the opportunity to walk around the trade show with Tom (one of my bosses) who has been in the book business for over 30 years. Tom knew just about everyone and they knew him.  It was a huge learning experience for me.  I met the reps from many publishing houses.  They are the men and women who actually sell the books to the bookstores.  They travel all around meeting with book buyers at their stores.  Or they call and make phone appointments several times a year to sell books for the upcoming season.

Books are generally published in three seasons - Fall, Spring and Summer.  Fall runs September through December and is usually when the biggest books are released.  Holiday book buying should never be underestimated for a small, independent bookstore.  December book sales alone can equal sales in several other months combined.  The Spring season runs January through April.  And Summer covers May through August.  Right now, we are in the middle of the Fall season, but we are buying books for Spring.  You always have to work a season ahead.  All the new titles in the store this Fall were ordered last summer.

So, at the MBA trade show, the publishers were primarily highlighting their Spring books.  And they don't just talk about them; they give free copies away!  Tom, the seasoned book buyer, took just a couple books.  I, on the other hand, took so many free books that by noon I was dragging my bag on the floor because I could no longer carry it.  MBA made a rule a few years ago that no wheeled bags (aka luggage) were allowed on the trade show floor.  Neither were baby strollers, unless they contained actual babies.  People were going crazy grabbing free books.  Now, you can only take what you can carry (or drag).

Also a note on etiquette.  It amazes me how people can get when free things are being offered. Granted, I accepted a lot of free books.  But all of them were offered to me.  I never grabbed a book from a publisher's table.  Bad etiquette.  And, these books are meant for us to read and enjoy (and hopefully buy tons of copies).  Apparently some book sellers actually bring their free copies back to their shops and sell them.  Bad form people!  Accept your free books and be happy.

So, have I read all my free books yet?  No.  And, I have so many that I'll be giving many of them away to members of my book club and writer's group. I can only have so many stacks of books on my kitchen table.  We need to eat somewhere.

The MBA convention was a great way to kick off my book selling career.  I felt like a real professional!  And was treated like one, too.  But next year I've got to find a stroller (with a real baby in it) to hold all my books.  This year, my shoulder was just killing me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Poetry and Tattoos

Last night, at Micawber's, we had a poetry reading by Raymond McDaniel.  He read from his new collection, Saltwater Empire, published by Coffee House Press.  McDaniel teaches at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor which is my alma mater.  It was fun to talk "U of M" with him.  But I could tell from his wee-bit of an accent (and the fact that he said "Ya'all") that he was not a Michigan native.  Turns out he is originally from the Florida Panhandle and has lived several places in the south, including New Orleans.  My favorite of his poems where his first person poems from the voice of displaced persons after Hurricane Katrina.  Very moving.

But he also had lots of anecdotes about his own life.  One in particular caught my attention. Where he grew up there was a tattoo parlor that brilliantly advertised "Tattoos while you wait."  Now, I don't know about you, but I'd like to see a permanent tattoo done while you didn't wait.  So, I started thinking about tattoos.  Full disclosure for all my readers - Bookshop Gal has a tattoo.  I never intended to have a tattoo.  But, when I turned 40 I decided a tattoo was what I needed for my new decade.  (The real deal is that I couldn't afford a sports car.)  So, now I have a sun tattoo on my right foot.  And let me tell you, it hurt like a son-of-a-gun.  I was waiting alright.  And waiting.  And waiting for it be over.   I might sound like a wimp, but I was truly concentrating on not passing out.  So, when I turn 50 I might just have to get the sports car instead.

You all know we sell books at Micawber's, but what you might not know is that we also sell tattoos.  Yes, we do.  We sell lots of these little Dover books for $1.50 each.  Some have little stories, some stickers, and apparently others have temporary tattoos.  The way I found out is through a customer.  She recently turned 50 and wanted a permanent tattoo.   After further consideration, she decided against it.  But, she still wanted a tattoo.  She found the answer at our shop.  The Dover tattoo books have flowers and designs - things an adult might want to paste on her body.  No SpongeBob SquarePants or Thomas the Train tattoos at our store!  So, every month she comes in to buy a new book of tattoos and puts a new one on her ankle each week.  It's an ever-changing, non-permanent tattoo.  Not like a sun on the foot.

So, if you've been considering a tattoo but aren't sure about the permanency or pain factors, I recommend checking out the little Dover tattoo books.  They could be just the thing you're looking for.  And you can try one on yourself "while you wait."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bookshop Gal Begins

Welcome to my blog.  I began my career as a bookseller in August 2008, just a couple months ago.  I'm a children's picture book author and a former English and drama teacher.  I'm thrilled to be working at Micawber's Books, the bookshop in my neighborhood.  What a great way to see several sides of the book world - writing, buying and selling.  And in my few short months of bookselling, I've noticed many curious things about working at a small, independent bookstore.  I've met loads of wonderful (and interesting) people and I've unpacked even more boxes filled with great books.  So, I wanted to share my thoughts and observations with you.

We are a small bookshop with a long history.  Micawber's has been around for over 30 years. The current owners have owned Micawber's for 5 + years.  There are only four regular booksellers.  Tom and Hans, the owners.  Karen and myself.  And, occasionally Tommy and Maura help out.  Since it's so small, we do it all.  Unpack, shelve, help customers find books, sell books using the finicky register, order books, call customers, set up displays, visit with everyone who walks through our door, vacuum, dust and take out the trash.  I even had to remove the poor dead bird (my first casualty) after he flew in and crashed into the front window.

For those of you who think working at a bookstore includes loads of time to lounge around and read, think again.  This is one of the most physical jobs I've ever had.  (And I've been an Elementary Teacher.)  It's also one of the most rewarding jobs I've ever had.

I'll reveal all (well almost all) in my blog so you can be a part of the bookshop too.  Like Cheers, it's a place where everyone (well at least Tom, Hans and Karen) knows your name.  I'm still learning customer's names and the job of being a bookseller.  Come along for the ride as I begin this new adventure.