Monday, January 31, 2011

A needle in a haystack

The self-publishing world is, truth be told, about the fifth layer of hell for me most days. The pricing is often out of whack--especially given the quality of most print jobs. Though, to be fair, the quality is improving.

But all is not lost in this game. I'd guess most stores have a few major success stories with self-published work. Mostly, again I'm guessing, those books that succeed have a local angle or flavor. That alone isn't enough. You also need to have an author who is willing to do a lot of work; be their own publicity machine and network to friends and family and anywhere else they can. Above all, the book needs to be well-written and edited in a careful manner. That seems like it should go without saying but, believe me, it sadly does not.

This week we're happy to have one of these bright spots reading at Micawber's. Dave Healy, former editor of the Park Bugle will read from his new collection of essays and editorials from the paper. "Above the Fold" is the collection he recently put together and it's different from most self-published work in that it has already been through editing and even actually been published.

Dave is a quiet sort of man in person, so it was always a little surprising to read a voice with such authority on the page. His editorials were local, of course, but they almost always opened themselves to larger questions. His wit and sense of curiosity always present. His pieces, like the best of this kind of writing, seem to take the author out of the equation. It is a public voice written by an individual.

We're very happy to provide the 'launch' for his book and look forward to having him with us in the store.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The woman behind the cedar fence

A lot of our customers are artists. We've got potters and painters and drummers and more. And maybe I should start a monthly feature showing off some of the cool, talented, folks who shop here.

For now I just want to give a little note of congrats to Regula Russelle who has recently won the 2011 Minnesota Book Artist Award.

A show featuring her work opened last week and runs through March 6th. This coming Friday, the 4th, marks a reception from 5:30-7:30 to celebrate the award and her work. It is at the Open Book building at 1011 Washington Ave South.

She does all manner of fine art press. Broadsides, limited edition printings and some art books. She teaches classes at both the MN Center For Book Arts and at Augsburg. She runs Cedar Fence Press and once gave me the honor of taking a tour of her in-home studio.

If you want see her work please stop by the reception or exhibit during its run. She will also receive her award at the 23rd annual MN Book Awards on April 16th. Tickets can be purchased here.

We have a broadside of William Stafford's "You Reading This, Be Ready" in the store. I bought it before I had ever heard of or met this kind woman. She's a gem and we are so happy her work is receiving some much deserved attention.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Local event with national chatter

A week from tomorrow, 1/28/11, we'll be hosting Charles Baxter in the store at 7 p.m. Baxter is hard to classify in one simple way. He's a novelist and short story writer of wide renown. He's also a professor and critic who, for my money, wrote the most thoughtful look at Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom" that I've yet seen. He writes on writing and is the series editor, and a contributor, for Graywolf Press.

"Gryphon" is his newly released book and it contains 23 stories--seven of which are brand new. It was recently reviewed by Joyce Carol Oates and it was a great review, if in her own slanted way.

Baxter is a mentor to countless young writers and represents the Midwest very well with all he does in support of books and writing.

It should be a great event with lots of folks here so do plan to come a bit early or be prepared to stand.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What makes a bookstore go?

This is different than succeed. And that's for a different post, I believe. Like any business, large or small, it takes an army of people to make an operation run smoothly. Or even a little shakily, some days. Because the reality is that there are so many ways for things to get screwed up. Some our fault. Some others. Sometimes with no one or thing to blame. This time of year Mother Nature can change even the most well considered plans. A shipment can be delayed not due to severe weather in MN. The routing from a publisher or wholesaler can get set back a few days. Or boxes can get sent to the wrong store. Though, to be fair, that has happened a lot less frequently than it did a few years back when there was a Micawber's in Princeton, NJ. We got each others' shipments with enough regularity that it became my default first thought when a box was late or missing.

So what, or whom, makes us go? Here is a list in brief as it's something I've been thinking about over the last month or so.

Our FedEx and UPS drivers do ridiculous work. All year long they lug boxes and must be careful not to throw them around and damage everything. It's long and mostly thankless work. Throw in icy streets, holiday deadlines and increased volume and the job is only more difficult.

I've spoken before about some of our sales reps and the only problem in doing so is the good ones I leave out. Steve Horwitz, of Abraham Associates, just sent us an e-mail letting us know about how he had helped our order qualify for a better price. His knowledge not only about his book list, which is extensive, but about our store and its customers is a great help to us. This type of sales group, which represents a large range of independent publishers, is under as much pressure as anyone in the business. Steve and his co-workers do it best.

Cole Becker, just recently retired from Random House, did both myself and Micawber's a great service by introducing me to John Vaillant's enthralling "The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival" very early in the game. When Cole was passionate about a book he could bring its essence into just a few powerful sentences. It was crystalized. I read the book immediately and was crazy about and have said, ad nauseam, that it's the best non-fiction I've read in the past five years. I've made my mom read it, friends read it and countless customers. Through another publishing friend I even got a signed copy from the author--thanks Dan C. from W.W. Norton! The path to any small store selling lots of copies of a book is very rarely that a bookseller just picks up a book and handsells it like mad. There are often others in the pipeline.

Bill Roth is a long-time friend and customer of the store. He is also the local Ingram Book Company rep. Ingram is one of the two main national wholesalers. They are the important middle-men to stores getting re-orders or special orders in quickly. We use Ingram at a pretty high volume and with that comes some problems or questions. Bill, without fail, gets back to us promptly. He e-mails us with answers about specific books. He calls from far-flung locales when he's on the road. He is an employee of Ingram but he's an active agent for his accounts. Working on our behalf to make the wheels squeak a bit less. He's a gentleman and absolutely reliable.

Finally, one new piece was thrown in this year. On December 11th, when we were hit with our biggest storm of the year, there was a guy outside the store who helped people shovel out for the entire day. A few days later I saw him, and a few other guys, with shovels and picks and one lone snow-blower. It turns out that this man is Lane Anderson and he's in charge of the snow removal crew working on Milton Square(where Micawber's resides). Lane is friendly and and tireless. There have been many nights this winter when he's been here as I left for the evening and was here again when I arrived the next morning. He loves Bukowski and smokes cigars and has a certain zen calm despite, literally, working in the storm more often than not. If you're a local and in need of snow removal please contact me and I'll put you in touch with Lane.

Of course, this is just one little group, and tomorrow I could come up with another. This behind the scenes group enables us to keep one foot moving in front of the other. We salute you.

Tom's History List

"Cleopatra" by Stacy Schiff(Little Brown and Co.)
"The Fighting Temeraire" by Sam Willis(Pegasus Books) for fans of Patrick O'Brian
"The Warmth of Other Suns" by Isabel Wilkerson(Random House)
"Last Call" by Daniel Okrent(Scribner Book Company)
"Wicked River" by Lee Sandlin(Pantheon Books)
"Empire of the Summer Moon" by S.C. Gwynne(Scribner)
"Operation Mincemeat" by Ben Macintyre(Crown Publishing Group)
"The Korean War: A History" by Bruce Cumings(Modern Library)