Jan. 9th, 2009

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When I started at the corporate bookstore, there was a wonderful core of booksellers who worked at the information desk. I can only presume that the combined factors of paying very little and experimenting with hiring well-read hipsters created an environment where people who were very passionate about the cutting edges of literature, music, art and even fashion were all there at once. One of those two variables changed enough that the core of well-read hipsters gradually faded. (Replaced by many wonderful people, but the well-read geeks weren't as commercially viable as generalists who were good at sales. Another bookstore chain in even more trouble failed to make this adjustment and got burned worse but there were for or five other factors in their current situation.)

One of the other cool people and I, despite being up against a soccer mom and pseudo-intellectual businessperson culture, read voraciously and came up with books that the customers would enjoy and not realize were cool. We might have been inspired by Oprah choosing Garcia Marquez and everyone claiming to adore a book that we considered acceptable. I think the grand scheme, once we had realized that we could create a minor local hit by pushing it hard and making sure it was somewhat near in style to what they claimed to like we could sell enough to get more influence over what the store ordered. It never worked as well as we wanted it to. The chains don't trust their stores to choose their own inventory and the trend is toward only caring about sales histories of the author or topic at each branch rather than considering what customers would buy if they were exposed to it.

Here's the list of books(that I can remember) that we both approved of and (over a period of about two years) tried to keep in stock even though the powers that be resisted us often. The intent was to slip something into their library that was great and that they also would like if they actually read it. (Thus, I pushed Poe and Kiernan and Kafka and Ligotti and Mamatas and Evenson and darker philosophy and a bazillion other things, but these were the books we both, together, approved and sold the most copies of that wouldn't have otherwise been purchased.)

Calvino - Castle of Crossed Destinies (worked quite well with new agers)

Murakami - The Wind-up Bird Chronicles (post-college, changing careers, life transitions, "Thom Yorke from Radiohead loves this book.")

Carroll - White Apples (for relationship woes or burnout from chick lit)

Ruff - Set This House in Order ("They almost fall in love, but instead they go on a road trip!")

Gaiman - Neverwhere ("It's Alice in Wonderland for grown-ups!")

Dunn - Geek Love ("a family of circus entertainers accidentally start a wacky cult...")

Link - Stranger Things Happen (Short fiction was such a hard sell and I was so devoted to the book that I usually played the local author and small press angle. We sold a bunch.)

Brockmeier - The Truth About Celia ("Oh, you enjoyed the Lovely Bones...")

Rice - Pobby and Dingum ("It's about growing up and what it means to lose touch with imaginary friends." We get really lucky when a teacher loved it, made it a summer reading book and it caught on at several schools as summer reading.)

Clarke - Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell ("Harry Potter for grown-ups!")


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May 2009

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