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.


  1. What would you recommend to an author trying to get their regional title on local independent bookstore shelves? What convinces a bookstore that this book is worth it?

  2. This is a bummer for everybody involved. And mainly because it's not really necessary anymore. Why doesn't Macmillan (and maybe they are, who knows) try a variety of in-print options? I run a publishing company that does the traditional stocking-for-two-years printing, but we also do print-on-demand and short-run digital printing for titles just like "Mr. White's Confession." We know we're not going to sell gobs of some titles, but we are going to sell enough to make it worthwhile to keep it in the digital cloud to be printed when needed. I really hope you run into more and more publishers doing whatever they can to get the customers the books they want (and booksellers, too!). And maybe more publishers should trim their lists (gasp!) and let rights revert to authors to sell again to other publishers, or even go the self-publishing route. A good book that sells steadily should always be able to find a home. At least we hope so.