Monday, January 18, 2010

Some failure(s)

Since putting my Top 10's up I've thought a little about this kind of activity. What does it serve? Who is it, really, for: the writer or the readers? Any list is a kind of large omission. A small litany of just didn't make it's or should've but I just forgot. Looking back, it is easy to say "Let me try again. I can do better." But it's instructive, to myself if nobody else, that these lists are not blood oaths and they are made in one small moment in time. Should I have included the saintly Alice Munro? Maybe so.

Yet that is only a tiny blot on my brain. What's harder to deal with is to see returns going out. You see these books you selected because they were funky/important/smart/good ol' fun and scores of customers did not agree. So away they go--packed back into boxes and moved by large automobiles to be packed back into warehouses to be moved by other large automobiles to other stores or else sit there until deemed unnecessary. That's the facts. Certainly there are many reasons why any specific book doesn't work in a store. Did it get bad placement? Could it have been shelved by the fates of the alphabet to a bottom shelf(very bad) or in a corner of the store with bad lighting(just as bad). Or was the cover ugly? Did a sales rep oversell it? Did we simply make a mistake? All equal chances.

It is a little sad, though, to see these books piled together. The not-worth-enough's of our little world. Some I can even remember seeing in the catalog and thinking: "Surely there is someone, one someone, who wants this book, right?" That's not always the case. So we get to see some of our mistakes as they go off to different places. It's a danger for small stores not to do returns. Either because they don't have the staff to do it or can't bear the reality of it. So we do it(or more accurately, Tom Steingraeber jack of all book trades, does it). It's good to see what doesn't work despite the minor ego bruising. Anguish can be a good teacher.

So I'll try to do what my dad's business card read for some time. "Fail. Fail again. Fail better." That's from Samuel Beckett and I'm paraphrasing. Tomorrow I'll discuss a few things we try to do to counter these mistakes. Who can we better sell? What authors do we feel a need to champion?


  1. I wish I lived up there. I'd come in and ask you to sell me a copy of the poor books that nobody wanted.

  2. "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." ~Thomas Edison