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Newsletter #37 March - May, 1997

Award News        

        The 1997 Edgar Allan Poe Awards will be presented May 1, 1997 for the best of 1996. The nominees include:
        Best Novel: The Chatham School Affair by Thomas A. Cook ($22.95), With Child by Laurie R. King ($21.95, signed first printings available), Hearts and Bones by Margaret Lawrence ($23), Pentacost Alley by Anne Perry ($6.99), and Mean Streak by Carolyn Wheat ($5.99).
        Best First Novel by An American Author: Bonita Faye by Margaret Moseley ($20, $4.99 paperback due early April), The Queen's Man by Sharon Kay Penman ($20), A Test of Wills by Charles Todd ($22.95), A Brothers Blood by Michael White ($22.95), and Simple Justice by John Morgan Wilson ($21).
        Best Paperback Original: Fade Away by Harlan Coben ($5.50), Silent Words by Joan M. Drury ($10.95), The Grass Widow by Teri Holbrook ($5.50), Walking Rain by Susan Wade ($5.99), and Tribe by R. D. Zimmerman ($5.50).
        Best Fact Crime: Outrage (O.J. Simpson) by Vincent Bugliosi ($6.50), Fall Guys by Jim Fisher, No Matter How Loud I Shout by Edward Humes ($24), Power to Hurt by Darcy O'Brien ($5.99), and Trespasses: Portrait of a Serial Rapist by Howard Swindle ($22.95).
        Best Critical/Biographical Work: The Secret Marriage of Sherlock Holmes by Michael Atkinson, Detecting Women 2 by Willeta L. Heising ($24.95), The Blues Detective by Stephen F. Soitos ($15.95), Agatha Christie A-Z by Dawn B. Sova, and Elusion Aforethought by Malcolm J. Turnbull.
        Best Young Adult: Who Killed Mr. Chippendale by Mel Glenn ($14.99), Mr. Was by Peter Hautmann ($16), Flyers by Daniel Hayes ($16), Hawk Moon by Rob MacGregor ($16), and Twisted Summer by Willo David Roberts ($15).

        Malice Domestic has announced the nominees for the 1996 Agatha Awards, to be presented May 3. Best Novel nominees are Kansas Troubles by Earlene Fowler ($5.99), Grass Widow by Teri Holbrook ($5.50), Hearts & Bones by Margaret Lawrence ($23), Up Jumps the Devil by Margaret Maron ($20), and Strong as Death by Sharan Newman ($23.95, signed first printings available). Best First Novel nominees are Biggie and the Poisoned Politician by Nancy Bell ($21.95), Somebody Else's Child by Terris McMahan Grimes ($4.99), Death in Little Tokyo by Dale Furutani ($21.95), Murder on a Girls' Night Out by Anne George ($5.50), and Riding for a Fall by Lillian Roberts ($5.50).

        The nominees for the 1996 Philip K. Dick Award (for best paperback original science fiction novel) are The Transmigration of Souls by William Barton ($5.50), The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter ($5.99), At the City Limits of Fate by Michael Bishop ($14), The Shift by George Foy ($5.99), and Reclamation by Sarah Zettel ($5.99).

        The 1996 Nebula Awards will be presented April 20, 1997. Traditionally, the 1996 Nebula Award would be for the best of 1996, but three of the six nominees for Best Novel were published in 1995. The nominees are Slow River by Nicola Griffith ($11), The Silent Stength of Stones by Nina Kiriki Hoffman ($4.99), Winter Rose by Patricia A. McKillip ($19.95, $5.99 pb due early April), Expiration Date by Tim Powers ($6.99), Starplex by Robert J. Sawyer ($5.99), and The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson ($5.99).

Business Update
by Don Blyly

        Last issue I indicated that we would probably be setting up a web site for posting the newsletter, and that we would hopefully know what was happening by next issue. (Some people misunderstood and thought this meant that we would stop printing the newsletter on paper, and only people with internet access could get the newsletter. The newsletter on paper will continue, but if we can switch 10% of our mailing list to electronic distribution by posting to a web site, that will save a little on printing, a lot of postage, and will greatly speed up delivery of the newsletter, especially to overseas customers.)I've had time to do a little research on a web site, and it looks like a good solution. But spare time has been hard to find over the last 3 months.
        My divorce finally got through the court in mid-January, after almost two years in progress. But the most time-consuming part of the process had been last summer, and the amount of time it took to wrap things up was relatively minor by comparison.
        The main time-consumers were the weather and a leaky roof on the back room, where the science fiction overstock, the computer system, and most mail orders are kept. There was a 2 month period when we had enough snow to shovel at least every second day, and some of the amounts were very significant. If I had only needed to shovel the sidewalk in front of the store and the sidewalk at home, it would have only taken an average of two hours per day away from other tasks. But there was the leaky roof to provide more problems. We sometimes had leaks to deal with, and sometime we had waterfalls to deal with (when a 10-gallon bucket needs emptied after less than an hour). If the snow piled up on the roof, the snow on top acted as insulation while the snow on the bottom melted due to heat leaking through the roof. Christmas Eve it got down to around -25º, and I was still running over to the store every second hour all night long to empty buckets. Christmas Day the high was about -15º, and I spent 8 hours shovelling 12 inches of snow off the roof so that the surface of the roof would have a chance to freeze solid and stop dripping. Through the 2 months of heavy snow, I spent more time shovelling the roof than shovelling the sidewalks. Add in the time for dumping buckets, and an average of 5 hours per day was consumed dealing with weather-related problems. I'm looking forward so much to having a new roof put on the back room!
        Partially overlapping the time of weather and roof problems was the time of AOL troubles, when it often took a week of trying before AOL would let me on to check e-mail, and it then took up to another week to get online again to send a response. As I'm writing this, I'm almost but not quite caught up with e-mail that I received but did not respond to during this period, and I have no idea how much e-mail might not have reached me at all.
        In early January my water heater at home died in a very messy manner. I called around, found that Montgomery Wards had the best deal that particular day, and drove out to Southtown to pay for it and arrange delivery. I looked across the parking lot, saw the "Going Out Of Business" sign on the Media Play store, and walked over to see if they had any bookshelves for sale. They had some 2-sided hardcover bookshelves about 7 feet tall, 3 feet wide, that were exactly what we needed for Uncle Edgar's used hardcovers. I believe they cost around $1000 each new, but I decided that if the price was marked down enough I'd love to get 6 or 8 of them. When I asked about prices, I was told, "We have 24 of those units left unsold--if you agree to haul them all away, you can have them for $50 per unit." I agreed, and I thought it would take about 3 days to haul them all away. Now, if I had only bought 6 or 8, we could have left the old fixtures in place and slipped in the new fixtures at the end of the old fixtures. But because I bought so many, we had to move two sections of new fixtures into place, remove all the books from the old fixtures, dismantle a couple of sections of old fixtures and haul them away, and then move in the next 2 sections of new fixtures and do it all over again. The new fixtures weighed about 250 pounds each, and we could only get two per trip. It took over two weeks to get everything rearranged, but it was worth the work.
        (By the way, did anybody else notice that Media Play continued to run their stupid TV ad constantly in December--without once mentioning their going-out-of-business sale. I assume they were running the same stupid ad in all the markets where they have stores, but they certainly could have added an overlay banner advertising the sale for the ads run in the Twin Cities area.)

        We still have not seen the TSR novels that we should have seen in December (or January or February). TSR got caught in a cash-crunch that was largely not their fault. Many of the superstores have been paying a large portion of their bills with returns rather than cash, and many publishers have been hurt by this, but TSR apparently was less prepared than most to deal with massive returns. They are struggling to deal with the problem, but seem to be putting their limited resources into game products rather than novels. They claim they still plan to put out all the novels previously announced, but we'll wait until we actually see them before we list them in the newsletter.

        If you go to business school, they will fill you with theories of how businesses are supposed to operate, which often are based on a model of willing sellers and willing buyers. I have an MBA plus two years of work towards a Ph. D. in marketing, so I've been exposed to lots of theories, but in over 23 years in business, I've also been exposed to a lot of reality. Often, the theories and the realities don't agree. Let me give you two examples.
        I received a call from a representative of the credit department of a large publisher in late November. (The company calls him our "Customer Financial Rep"--I call him "The Guy In Charge of Screwing Up Our Account".) The guy said he wanted $4xxx.xx paid on the account. I told him that would be no problem, I had sent a hardcover return a couple of weeks before, I had a paperback return almost ready to go out, and that within a week I could finish that return and send him a check for the difference. He said that wasn't good enough, he needed the check tomorrow. I told him that neither I nor the post office work that fast; if he wanted the check tomorrow, he should have called a week ago--but I'd still be happy to send him a check next week to clear up what he wanted cleared up. No, no, he insisted, don't send that amount of money next week. Don't send anything next week. He said he would want a different amount of money next week, but he wouldn't be able to figure out until next week how much money he would want next week--so don't send any money until his call next week with a new amount. I happily agreed to send him no money, but I did send the paperback return. A little over a week later, he called again and asked again for $4xxx.xx. I went through the entire discussion of the week before to refresh his memory. He said, "Oh", put me on hold for five minutes, and then announced he wanted $5xxx.xx. I told him that a check would go out within 24 hours, and then asked him what would have happened if I had actually sent the $4xxx.xx he had originally asked for. He said that in that case my account would not have come off Hold. ("On Hold" is a situation where the credit department prevents the shipping department from shipping orders to specific accounts.) I pointed out to him that Hold is a device to coerce an account to pay a bill more quickly, but it is only effective if the account is informed that they are on Hold--he had never bothered to tell me that he had placed my account on Hold, thereby defeating the whole purpose of putting my account on Hold. He said "Oh." The check went off the same day, and cleared my bank account on December 10. I assumed that no later than December 10 my account would have come off Hold. In late January the salesman for the company called to make an appointment to sell a few more months of new releases and asked if we were aware that our account was on Hold. I immediately called the credit department, learned that The Guy In Charge of Screwing Up Our Account had the day off, but somebody else in the department fed our account number into the computer and informed me that our account was definitely not on hold, had not been on hold for some time, and the salesman was clearly mistaken. The next day somebody from customer service called to say that he had just been informed by the credit department that our account was about to come off Hold and he needed to know what to do with all these orders that the credit department had been holding for months. I told him that we no longer needed to stock up with his company's books in preparation for Christmas sales, like we had when we placed those orders, so cancel them all. (I won't mention the name of the company, because this example is only slightly worse than how most of the publishers operate.)
        For my second example, I'll name the company--HarperCollins. They started long ago as a publisher of trade books (hardcovers and trade paperbacks), but added mass market paperbacks several years ago. It has been extremely difficult to get backlist mass market catalogs from them. (Publishers generally divide titles into forthcoming books (not yet published), frontlist books (very recently published--probably still in the New Release area of bookstores), and backlist books (old enough to have come off the New Release shelves). Most full-line bookstores will put new titles on the New Release shelf for 3 or 4 weeks and then get rid of them unless they've really started selling well--only a minority of titles do well enough to survive to be moved to the backlist part of the store, and most full-line bookstores are much, much more concerned with new titles than with backlist. Specialty bookstores are very concerned about backlist titles, because backlist selection is one of the primary ways we differentiate ourselves from full-line bookstores.) HarperCollins sent some people to represent the company at the Upper Midwest Booksellers Association Annual Trade Show in October. I went up to their booth and asked for a backlist mass market catalog. I was told, "We came here to sell trade books, not mass markets." This seemed like a very strange attitude for a company that sells both trade and mass market books, so I carefully explained that I had nothing against their trade books--but I had plenty of their trade catalogs and really needed an up-to-date mass market backlist catalog to reorder their mass market titles that we had sold out of. I was told, "We didn't bring any mass market catalogs from New York." After some more discussion, one of the representatives of the company was finally willing to take my card and promised that when she got back to New York on Monday she would mail a backlist catalog to me. It never arrived. After a month went by, Jeff called the company and asked that they mail a backlist mass market catalog--they promised, but the catalog never arrived. Around the beginning of February I called customer service, explained all of this, and asked how I could get ahold of a backlist catalog. I was told, "We hear this kind of thing all the time, but those catalogs are very hard to come by." I was put on hold for several minutes while she searched for a catalog. She finally came back to say that there didn't appear to be a single backlist catalog left in the company, so the best she could do for me was enter an order in the computer for the next backlist catalog to be sent to me, whenever one got printed. "How long will that be?" Probably with the July-August new release information, but she wasn't sure when that would be.
        I'm attempting to be a willing buyer in both examples, but where is the willing seller?
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