Saturday, August 13, 2011
Mr. White's Confession--
Or, what to do when a particular title sells much better regionally than it does nation-wide?
When I was just a bookselling pup back in my early Hungry Mind days I was like a kid on a sugar bender. We had 45-50 employees and every day someone was telling me about a book I had to read. Same with customers. One customer was a hard-core mystery nut and he was always prodding me to set aside any ideas I had about the genre and simply read some. An early suggestion of his was Robert Clark's "Mr. White's Confession". He told me that it was a lovely and endearing and sad yet fun tale of 1930's St. Paul. And as a child and bookseller of that city it was my duty to give this book a chance. I read it and liked it and went about my careening between other recommended titles.
That edition of the book was not long for the world and it seemed to vanish as quickly as it appeared. Fast forward to 2008 when paging through a catalog with a sales rep I saw the, old, familiar image on the cover of Clark's novel. I was a little more excited than the rep had anticipated and I said, "We're going to sell this book like crazy." Now we move forward to 2011 and the fact that we've sold 128 copies. That's no mind-blowing number but it is beyond respectable and, I'd guess, more than most other stores in the country.
The book has a lot going for it in general, but specific to the Twin Cities it's an easy sell. The style of writing has been compared to Dashiel Hammett or James Crumley at their finest and even Patricia Highsmith's Ripley books. The sense of place is spot on. Readers who like the book often ask me for the next book in this series. Mr. Clark has written many books since this but has moved on to art history and other unrelated fictional works.
As we try to order more copies of late we've been hitting some dead spots. Ingram, one of the larger national wholesale book companies, is carrying very low stock. Last week we tried to order five copies and only received one. I need to place a call this coming week to Macmillan and see if the book is, as we fear, headed back into out of print status. That would be a shame for Micawber's, obviously, but moreso for all the readers who haven't gotten their hands on this one yet. I may even beg them to print a couple hundred more of them and ship them our way as we need to re-stock.
This is probably a problem that many small stores run into. They find a way to sell many copies of a book by way of hand-selling or shelftalkers written by staff but the numbers in other places just don't stack up. Publishers are about bottom-line numbers and I recognize that keeping small quantities on hand for only one or two stores to sell well doesn't make financial sense. I know all of this. Yet this is one case which makes me wish it wasn't so.