Watching all the pictures of panels and partying popping up on Facebook for the last few days has made me wonder if I made the right decision in not attending Bouchercon this year. My reasons for forgoing one of my favorite events were timing considerations. I just returned from a trip to England and France a couple of weeks ago, and the mid-November scheduling of Bouchercon comes too close to the busy holiday shopping season, which seems to have begun already. Those organized individuals who are through their lists before the rest of us have made them are browsing the shelves and ordering the more esoteric items to be sure they have them in time. It’s not the cold snap here in the East that arrived just as Bouchercon began that prompted my second thoughts, but missing the fun and excitement of spending so much time with other mystery lovers. So with Josh and Jeff, I look forward to Raleigh next year. Terri and Erin, I hope you’re having a blast.
Speaking of envy (and I was), some recent posts from other Dead Guys, namely Josh and Terri, of the “day in the life of … “ variety have made me a bit jealous. The things they do, reading manuscripts, deciding what to accept, working with authors, marketing the work to others, holding meetings to plan schedules, and much more, are not necessarily things I would be at or even want to do. What I covet are the days that seem to be planned and organized. The blessing and the curse of a retail establishment is that one never knows what the day will bring. I have thought many times about writing here describing a typical day; it’s just that there really isn’t one.
A good day starts quietly; for the most part, there are few if any customers in the first hour or so after opening. I usually arrive an hour before opening time to do some paperwork or list the things that must get done (bills paid, orders placed, books displayed on release date). A bad start? A regular customer waiting in the parking lot because she can never remember what time I open, and, “As long as you’re here, can I just look around?” The distraction begins before I even get the lights on. I really can’t hide in my office while someone is in the shop, and it seems to be a pattern that one early shopper attracts others. One shouldn’t complain about buyers … but I’m thinking about reactivating the unused side door in the alley so I can sneak in to my own shop!
The daily stream of readers looking for their next pleasurable entertainment is the enjoyable part of my work. I love talking about books, finding out what a customer likes to read and making suggestions, and listening to their thoughts on their most recent reads. But there is another daily stream: those who want to solicit the shop owner’s time, money or space and know that the door is always open. So why not walk in? The local fundraiser is soliciting donations of money for ads in event booklets, or books for a “tricky tray.” At the least, could you put this poster in your window, and these flyers on your counter? Saying yes to all of these would solve my window decorating problem; it would look like a construction fence in the city, covered with ads. The counter would be unusable for actual business. Another self-published author wants just a little display space for his masterpiece and a consignment arrangement. The planner for the next town-wide event wants to discuss your participation. The publisher’s sales rep just happened to be in the area and decides to drop in. As does the salesperson with the latest great deal on credit card processing. And the lady with hand-made greeting cards that are sure to be a big seller if you carried them. None of these people call ahead; they know it’s much easier to say no on the telephone. The shop owner will always have a smile and listen, at least up to a certain point.
The telephone may no longer be the favored means of communication among friends and family, but it hasn’t lost its luster for sales solicitors. For every call from a customer asking to have a book held, or ordered, there are at least five offering small business loans or more credit card processing or another opportunity to enhance my on-line presence. Fortunately, more and more of these are recordings, making it easier to hang up quickly. I’m still not sure what the friendly female voice from Google that I hear at least once a week really wants. I find it hard to be rude to a real person, so it takes a little longer to say no. Someone suggested when I mentioned this in an earlier post that I make use of the caller-id feature. The problem is that an unknown or blocked number doesn’t mean it’s not a customer, who will go elsewhere if there is no answer. There are even legitimate calls from far away area codes, people who would like a book shipped to them. And the solicitors are very clever at disguising their identities.
It’s the nature of a retail business for the proprietor and the staff to be constantly available during business hours. We look forward to the “interruptions” that involve finding a specific book, or suggesting others, or hearing about what customer just loved. Sometimes these involve a reordering of the day’s plans; the book order for Wednesday needs to go in Monday because a book has been promised for Tuesday. The mid-afternoon lull that allows for some shelf reorganizing or unpacking the carton of new books doesn’t always materialize. Frequently, the day ends with many additions to the to-do list and few, if any, deletions. The days when there is help in the shop are a bit better, since someone else can field the phone calls; I’ve been known to tell Dani “I’m not here” when things are too far behind; the solicitors always want to talk to the owner. Unfortunately, the days I have help are ones I also need to attend to personal business, or I have to reveal my presence. Not all my work is in the office. I’m looking forward to the winter months when the shop schedule goes from seven to five days a week. I miss the interaction, but I can legitimately ignore the phone and doorbell and finish at least one item I’ve started.
I know my envy of my fellow bloggers who seem to have more organized schedules is probably misplaced. No job is without interruptions, unplanned events, and reordering of priorities on the fly. And I’m fortunate that many of my daily interactions are pleasurable: after all, they’re with book lovers. But sometimes I wish I could really know what the next day will be like.