Monday, April 28, 2008

Exactly What Books Will Sell For Me?

One thing I have learned with time is that every bookseller operates differently, and what works for one will not work for another.

I began by bringing home shopping carts of books - literally! Many of them were paperbacks, but they were books and I was listing them and they would sell, right? In the beginning many did. But as more people listed and number of books online increased, it slowed down dramatically. After all, they don't call them "mass market" paperbacks for nothing - EVERYBODY had some to sell!

I brought home a lot of biographies, and some religion, some health, some business. None sold well for me.

I grabbed what history I found, but didn't know enough about it to pick up what would sell and leave what would not.

I knew science fiction and fantasy had a market, and I love mysteries, so I had a lot of those. Some of those are still languishing on my shelves. But not many - I stopped buying them.

One thing I found that most people don't list are craft booklets. They don't draw big bucks for the most part, but they are steady sellers and bring me in a steady cash flow for expenses.

Another category that sells well for me are Children's Books. Now, I have to admit I'm a big kid and just love to read them myself. My very favorite are children's picture books.

The big reason more people don't deal with these two venues is that they can be hard to store. However, I'm creative. I found a lady who will weave me custom sized baskets and that is what I store my craft booklets in and the odd sized board books, Golden books, other children's books that don't go on a shelf well. Works real special.

Then I got real brave and bid on another dealer's stock on eBay. He had a wonderful collection of Western history, some of it rare, and it would really enhance my stock. However, it was in Montana and had to be transported, and I had to find some place to put it when it got here...

I won the bid, and then the race began! Time to cull shelves! I had already gone through my books a couple of times, getting rid of what booksellers fondly call "dogs" - those books that will NEVER sell no matter what. Sometimes you can't even give them away...

Then I did inventory once to make sure all my books were there, were in the right categories (made several new ones at that time) and I scanned them all for pictures. While doing that, I got rid of any that were not in the best condition (unless hard to find), and I upped prices on many. After all, six years into the business, I better knew what I could sell books for and what not to keep.

But now I had a major clean up to do.

I donate to Good Start, a local community non-profit, that does a really, really good job in our area and doesn't have pay money to a franchise for their name and isn't top heavy with administrators. So I knew I could send some there.

However, a bookseller I know moved here upon my recommendation, and he and his wife were hosting the first bookseller at the Jewish Temple. So I asked him if they wanted my culled stock and he said yes...

I gave Al and his wife, Eve, 3,000 books for their sale and still had some leftover for Good Start.

That just about equated the number of books I had purchased on Western History that were coming in from Montana with my hubby (who must really love me - he drove up there, loaded them in a U-Haul trailer and brought them back home and unloaded and set them in the house without complaining).

So now I'm back to having a backlog of unlisted books. They are sorted. I have some done. And now I'm refilling my craft baskets to keep my cash flow going. Then I'll go back to listing more of the Western History.

There were some very interesting characters back in the old west. More on that later.

Jo Ann Hakola, The Book Faerie, www.bookfaerie.com

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Where is the best place for me to list?


I'm off and running as a bookseller, but sales aren't expanding as I expected. My prices aren't high, but more and more folks are listing and I don't have very rare books. So what can I do to improve sales?

(This photo is from the early days - I have some other shelving and more hardcovers now.)

eBay just keeps getting more and more expensive (and hasn't stopped just because I quit listing there!), Amazon sales are so so. So eBay was the first to go. I don't need to pay them all my revenue just to have the privilege to list there!

I already included pictures of the books on my website. But it can be real hard to get your site noticed by the general buyer.

I belong to two booksellers email groups, and I read what was recommended and not, and why one works for somebody and not somebody else, and finally decided to bite the bullet and join Alibris. They took more commission than everyone else, but I thought they would improve my sales.

They have, but they certainly take their piece of flesh.

From there I went to Choosebooks and chose to only pay a commission on sales. I added Biblio.com, and I have chosen to only pay on commissions there.

And I eliminated Amazon - they were not making me enough money to make it worthwhile.

Of course, as time went on, I elected to have Alibris also offer my books on Barnes & Noble and other vendors they have an agreement with, and when they added Amazon and offered to match our books with Amazon's "Basin" numbers so more would show for sales, I did a bit better with them.

But they all take a large overhead cost out of my poor little profits.

When I went to Chrislands as a host, they have many features I couldn't manage for myself that makes my books more available. They upload to Google, they have set up gateways for payment by credit card or Pay Pal, and they have made it possible to integrate Google Check Out. All of this has resulted in more sales on my own site, which is wonderful.

But it takes good books, unusual books, books other folks don't normally carry, to make really good sales.

And that has proved to be another adventure in this journey!

Jo Ann Hakola, The Book Faerie, www.bookfaerie.com

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Book Review: Black Wave - John & Jean Silverwood

I read my copy of the Advanced Reader's Edition last night, and it kept me glued to my chair! Their family relationships while at sea weren't all that unique, other sea voyagers have talked about the effect of it on families and life. But the way they took care of each other and survived despite the horrific trauma they were facing was truly inspiring and heart touching. I cried several times when they wrote about his leg being caught by the mast, the pain, the frustration of the family and the decision to finally leave the boat.

I did feel the book was a bit disjointed. One moment we're on the boat fighting for our lives, and the next chapter goes back to the point of getting ready for the trip. It jumped back and forth with no real definition between the past and the future. The chapter titles didn't differentiate either. And then, at the end, the husband talks about his story.

I think I would have melded it together in a slightly different way.

If your point was to keep people reading, that worked. But the flow felt wrong. And the story of their earlier experiences were interesting to read, too. It could have started the book, the disaster could have been discussed next, and then the husband's comments at the end would have been more appropriate.

All in all, it's a good book and I won't have any trouble recommending it to people. I'm just giving you my honest opinion.

This book will be on sale on 7-1-08. If you like gripping tales about survival, this one will do it for you!

Jo Ann Hakola, The Book Faerie

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Creating a Website

First thing you need to know about me is that I don't speak HTML, and I don't want to learn. Just give me a template and I can work with it. So I needed to find someone who would create the basic format for me and host the site.

I began with Book Graveyard - he set it up, I paid a year's fee of hosting plus the website setup fee, and I was in business. Got a few sales, but nothing much. Then, before the year was up, he disappeared from view and I was stuck in the lurch. Fortunately, the lady who did his webwork saved me. She moved me to Wanted Books and hosted me for free - for several years! Unfortunately, she had to get full-time employment and didn't have time to work on my site and I was getting tired of the same type of formatting, etc.

So she suggested Chrislands. I love them! It's very easy to use, I can change my graphics every week, I can play with various colors, I can change my information to say exactly what I mean, they have every function of a bookseller covered. Yes, it costs. But it's not terribly expensive and the service and improvements to functions are worth a lot to me. I now have a more professional looking site that has gateways to payments, can do gift certificates, can do coupons, and even more!

So when I heard that Abebooks bought Chrislands, I was upset. Here I had the perfect website deal going and here comes the 500 pound gorilla!

Lance assures us he and Jaymes still will run the site and make decisions about costs and services. I'm choosing to believe him - he hasn't lied to me yet. But I also have concerns about belonging to one of the big A's.

I was trying to be independent and do my own thing. My sales have improved on my site. And now I have to wonder about Abe's reputation tarnishing mine.

It's not easy being a bookseller - nor is it easy to remain independent.

Let's hope it all works out like Lance says. I'd have to have go looking for another setup - I don't think I could find one that works as well as this one does!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Amazon, eBay and ????

I decided to add Abebooks to my sites I use for sales. They have a free database program called Homebase, and you add your books to that database and upload them. However, by this time I had 2,400 books online, and I didn't want to have to input that information all over again!

First I talked to ABE, who told me that I could get Amazon to download my info in a form they could use to massage into the Homebase format. They told me how to have Amazon formulate the data. Then I called Amazon, gave them the info, and they got back to me in a couple days with the results. Then I emailed that to ABE and they worked on the info and sent me a file back to put into Homebase. And I then had my stock on Homebase and ABE, too!

Now, I'm not sure that you could such good service from them now. They've both grown up and away from the booksellers who list on them, but I was very thankful for their help and still use ABE and Homebase.

Then, as later that year, I ventured into having my own website.

And that's a tale in itself...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

OK, I have 100 books and I'm going to be a bookseller???

First I got all those listed, and then I began doing the thrift store haunt... We had five in town at that time, and I was a regular at all of them. I picked up lots of mysteries, children's books, what non-fiction I could find, and I kept listing.

In the beginning, I was running an average of 300 books a week on eBay. I'd list new ones each day. As auctions ended, I'd relist one time. Those who came off after two weeks without selling went on to Amazon.

Keep in mind I'm in a one bedroom furnished apartment. First I have two bookcases, then three, then I go into big shelves and concrete blocks for a large part of my living area in the apartment. And then I get a couple more bookcases and they begin to take over my bedroom... And a couple more, moving into my kitchen area now.

Then my next door neighbor gave me a glass faced cabinet she didn't want and took a stuffed chair I didn't (the landlord got a bit testy about that when he found out, but I talked him out of it). After all, he was bringing prospective renters down to meet me so he could brag about the internet business I was doing from my apartment. If he wants me to be the apartment curiosity, then he can't discourage my business growth, could he?

And, in less than 9 months, my husband and I had purchased a house down here and I needed to move. Now Glen's in Washington, so guess who gets to move those 2,500 or so books to the new house - along with all the shelving??

A couple of guys from the apartments helped (with a little cash encouragement), and I was over here, sleeping on the floor, with a house that echoed in every room except my "shop" area...

I took over the 6' x 40' family room as my book shop. It's all windows, but has a patio and porch out in front, so the sun doesn't work on my books. I can watch all the neighbors, see deliveries coming, and the sun perks up my day. We have lots of birds, flowers, butterflies, hummingbirds in particular, and I've even seen a box turtle, a toad, and a couple of snakes (my cat killed them so they weren't dangerous anymore), and a road runner. Keeps me from getting bored.

So far so good. But then eBay sales started drying up and getting more expensive and I needed to look for a new venue for my books...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Alone in New Mexico

Here I am, in New Mexico, living in a one bedroom apartment without my husband and cats, who are still in Washington. I was afraid I would get really lonely there.

Rule No. 1, if you are in an apartment complex, there is no hope of being alone.

They peered through the window and invited me out to visit, they arranged potlucks, had birthday parties, took orders from all of us for dinner delivery (mostly Chinese), and you never had a moment of peace. I had to close my drapes, lock my doors, and keep most of the lights off to have any time alone!

Most all were nice, but some were weird, some were loud, some wanted to flirt (the oldest man in the bunch, of course) and NONE were shy!

So I could forget that first worry.

Then I went down to work at the bookstore for a few weeks and get my feet on the ground and figure out how best to work in conjunction with the other "partner". We decided to do a trial period before we worried about signing any papers. Good thing.

He had 4,400 books online and lots more to list. I began selling on eBay for the store, and turned all my proceeds over to him. It wasn't big bucks, but it was revenue. Then he hit me up for some money to help pay bills. I gave him a few hundred. I'd already donated him 26 boxes of books that I had shipped down from Washington - that cost me $220 just for shipping!

The longer we worked together, the more we realized we were not as compatible as we originally thought. His whole goal in life was to keep the business going and get enough for beer and cigarettes and some food here and there.

I had an apartment to rent, a car to pay for and much higher goals. So I started listing books on Amazon, too. Sales were OK, nothing spectacular.

He gave me custody of the checkbook because he wasn't handling money well. I only wrote checks for refunds or business expenses, never took any income out for me. He was pulling cash out for his expenses from the receipts.

Then he writes a post to a bookdealers' list about how I have stolen his money (what money?) and several other disparaging remarks. He wrote the next morning and apologized, but I told him it was too late for that and it wasn't working out anyway.

So I go down and give him back his checkbook and his key to the shop, and he gives me 100 books that were listed on Amazon. I did get him to give me some more books to list for free, but there was no money involved on his part. He promised me he'd pay me $1,500 for my "investment". You can imagine how much of that I saw.

So, here's the big new bookseller, sitting in her apartment with 100 books in stock and about 100 more to list. I felt lucky to get out before he conned me out of more money.

My husband told me to come back home. I told him no, I loved New Mexico, felt so much better here, and I WAS going to be a bookseller!

So I begin listing the stock I brought back from the shop and become an active thrift store shopper for books...

After all, everyone said that the more books you had listed, the more sales you would have. And, in the first year, I made more money than I have in any consecutive year. But times change. And that theory was faulty to start with...

More about that later.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

I had dabbled in other jobs on the way...

My first job I got was in high school, I was one of three students who were recommended to Sears for a part-time job in the credit department. I knew one of the other two would get it and was stunned when they asked me to come to work! So, at 16, I began working in credit.

From there I went to Credithrift and did more in the credit field. Next job was Barr Insurance and I learned a lot about the ins and outs of insurance. At Credithrift I learned to do income tax services for our customers.

And then I ended up at Allen's Jewelry, as Credit Manager.

From there I went to the city and worked my way up to Department Head level there.

But I never got over my love affair with books, and had even thought about buying the bookstore in downtown Chehalis when I retired. Unfortunately, my health wouldn't let me stay in the cold, moist, pollen-laden state of Washington.

So an opportunity to move to the land of enchantment which is filled with sun and blue skies and stars, it sounded good to me!

It got off to a rough start though...

Friday, April 4, 2008

Long Ago and Far Away...

Sounds almost like a fairy tale, doesn't it?

I worked for the city of Chehalis, Washington for over 25 years. 20 of those were spent as City Clerk/Finance Director. I like working in municipal service. The population was only 7,000, our citizens could talk directly to us and we could not only listen to them personally, but often do something for them.

I took my job seriously, worked on cost cuts, efficiency, and overall financial management of a budget that grew to over $50 million dollars in time. I believed we were there to serve the people and that we were a form of guardian that watched over the public funds and made wise use of our resources and helped the citizenry as and how we could.

My first two city managers were in agreement with this. But the last one I had was politically oriented. He wanted to please the council. He seemed to lose focus of the fact that we were there being paid by tax dollars collected from our citizens. He was hired by the council and their needs were what mattered to him. Soon we had less money, cronyism and favoritism where taking the day, and common sense and good business sense had gone out the door.

On top of this, my health was getting worse and worse. Some of it was stress. Most of it was the weather and the pollen and mold. I have extreme allergies. All I breath and all I eat affect me. I once asking my allergist what I could do help the situation. He said stop breathing. Uh, not an option...

I went to the hospital dietitian to see if she could help me find a rotation diet so I ate things that bothered me every three or four days instead of all the time. She told me it was hopeless, I was allergic to too much.

So I took my shots, my pills, my inhaler and my Prozac and hoped for better times.

Between being sick all the time (I had bronchitis 7 times the last year I was there) and having my boss work on my personal integrity and beliefs brought me to the edge - the next thing that was going to happen was a heart attack. He wouldn't even let me write my own agenda reports, he changed them to say what HE wanted them to say. So I refused to write them, and he did them with his name. I had to get out of there.

I had been selling books on eBay for a while and had joined a bookdealer's mailing list. While there, I chatted a with a fella who had a bricks and mortar store in Las Cruces, New Mexico and who was looking for a partner. I flew down, checked it out, and went back and resigned my job.

My husband was flabbergasted, couldn't believe I'd move 2,000 miles away and start a new life. At that point, I told him I didn't care if he came or not. Unhappiness affects all parts of your life, you see.

At the end of December in 1999, I packed up my computer, some clothes, some household goods, and moved into a one bedroom apartment here in Las Cruces. Hubby came with me and then flew back home to sell the house. He was still unsure about the move, but he knew if he was going to stay married to me, he had no real choice.

So, here I was. It's just going into the year 2000 and I'm 2,000 miles away from home. Life is good, right?

The city job started good, and then sucked at the end. Selling books turned into a disaster at the beginning and gotten continually better.

I'll tell you about my "new beginning" in my next blog entry.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Starting Over

Imagine my surprise today, when I went to visit my blog and it wasn't there...

After better than two years and 140 posts, my blog set with the sun last night. I had posted earlier this week with no problem - and today, nothing. Google only has one month cached. I can't get there to export the postings. So I guess I'll just begin again, a "fresh start". Pretty much like I when I got into this business...

I'll tell you the story of how I got to New Mexico and why I began selling books in my next post, then I'll go through a brief history of how I got to the point I'm at now - eight years later. It will be more abbreviated and not as complete, but maybe you'll have more fun reading it that way.

So, for now, welcome to my new blog, and we'll be speaking again shortly.

Jo Ann Hakola, The Book Faerie, www.bookfaerie.com