Finding Old Friends at the Thrift Shop

Hey, those are my books! The familiar covers stood out among the new arrivals at the humane society’s Pick of the Litter thrift store in Newport. Stories Grandma Never Told and Childless by Marriage, the two books I’m most proud of, now sat among the other titles discarded for one reason or another. They didn’t look as if anyone had read them. Did the people who had them before not even bother to look inside? Were the books brought in by family members after a loved one died? Did they somehow gravitate from the local bookstore that closed without paying me for the books it had on consignment? 

Once $18.95 and $15.95, they could now be had for $1.50 each. In perfect condition. Ouch. Maybe I should buy them and sell them again. On the other hand, maybe someone who couldn’t afford them before will buy them now. Maybe I should sneak in an autograph. Or would that be too pitiful?

Our books are our babies. We spend years writing them, and then someone reads them in a day. Or doesn’t read them at all. Once your manuscript is published, you cannot control how it is received.You aim as carefully as possible, but an unseen wind may blow them to someone who doesn’t want them, someone who takes them to Goodwill or the thrift store or, God forbid, throws them in the trash. Some people don’t even read books. The Pew Research Center says roughly a quarter of Americans have not read a book in the past year. That’s hard for me to imagine, but it’s true.

Getting people, even avid readers, to read your book is a challenge. More than one million books are published every year in the United States alone. Why should they read yours? The trick is making sure someone hears about your book and knows where to get a copy. Which is why it sometimes feels as if we spend a little time writing and a lot of time marketing.

Pre-Covid, I spent many hours at tables and booths hawking my books. Sometimes I sold quite a few copies, but sometimes sales were slow. Sometimes people stood there for 20 minutes reading parts of a book, then set it down and walked away.

But maybe when they got home they thought, shoot, I should have bought that book. Maybe they told a friend, hey, I saw this book the other day I think you would like.  

What’s the secret to book sales? Being famous helps. When Tom Hanks spoke in Portland a few years ago, the audience bought hundreds of copies of his book of short stories, Uncommon Type. I never saw so many copies of one book in one place, and they rapidly disappeared because the author was Tom Hanks. It’s a good book, but even if it wasn’t, they were buying it because he was a famous movie star. 

If you’re not Tom Hanks, you tell as many people as you can about your book, hope they spread the word, and let it go. Yes, it hurts to spend years writing a book and have people reject it with barely a glance or to find it among the books at Pick of the Litter. But you know what? Every famous author’s books eventually wind up at a secondhand store priced at almost nothing. I have purchased many a beloved book cheap that I might not have bought when they were new. They might have been a little wrinkled, but they were still good. It’s the story that counts.

I can take comfort in my recent trip to the Nye Beach Book House where I was piling up used books by John Grisham and Maeve Binchy when a man said, “Hey, that’s you.” I whipped around to see he was holding a copy of my novel, Up Beaver Creek, looking from the photo on the back cover to me.

“Yes, it is,” I said.

“What’s it about?”

I told him. The bookstore owner overheard us and started raving about my book. The man, visiting from Alaska, bought that copy of my book and took it home. 

I remember being thrilled to find my books on Portuguese Americans in the New Bedford, Massachusetts library when we visited there. And I was surprised when an excerpt from Stories Grandma Never Told was translated into Portuguese and published in a magazine from Portugal. I know people in Australia, India and the UK have purchased copies of my books. And people right here in Newport will buy them at Pick of the Litter.

You can’t control where the physical book will go once you send it out into the world. So I pat my books at Pick of the Litter, say, “Good luck, friends,” and move on to see what other treasures are there for me to buy. 

If you’re local and get to Pick of the Litter soon enough, you may be able to get these books cheap. If you really want them, I’ll give you copies for free. I just want my babies to find good homes. 

Do you buy used books? After you have read them, do you donate books to thrift stores or pass them around to your friends? Do you think less of a book when you find it on sale at a secondhand store or do you think hooray, I have always meant to read this

Writing books is a crazy way to earn a living, but I keep doing it. A sequel to Up Beaver Creek is coming soon. Meanwhile, visit https://www.suelick.com to see a list of my published books and download my Blue Hydrangea Productions catalog.

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Me and Tom Hanks Selling Our Books

WW authors at Wordstock
Kerry Blaisdell, Jack Estes, John Dover, and Sue Fagalde Lick at the Portland Book Festival      Photo by Gail Pasternack

 

It’s 5 p.m., and the Portland Book Festival is winding down. Where once one couldn’t move for the crowds, now there’s space between the bodies. Formerly known as Wordstock, the festival has once again drawn thousands of book lovers to the Portland Art Museum and surrounding venues. Everywhere you turn, someone is giving a talk, reading from his or her books, offering services for writers, or selling books. People bring their babies and their kids, hoping to turn them into readers. Food carts line up selling tamales, pizza, donuts, and other goodies.

In a world where half the people say they never read books, it’s wonderful to see so many celebrating the written word, even if they wander around in a word-stoned daze, making it hard to move. We stand in line for the readings and talks, for food, for coffee, to buy books, and to use the restroom.

Now, with the festival ending in one hour, it’s getting easier to breathe, but it doesn’t bode well for sales. With several other Willamette Writers authors, I have drawn the last shift for selling and signing my books. My book bag is heavy coming in, but I hope it will be much lighter going out.

We stand behind the table, behind our piles of vastly different books and exercise our best selling techniques. Debby Dodds flashes her technicolor smile and plays her connections with seemingly everyone in Portland to sell her young adult novel, Amish Boys Don’t Call.

Jack Estes, whose wonderful books are about soldiers, shouts out, “Do you know any veterans?” because, well, who doesn’t, and tomorrow is Veterans Day. Sometimes the question backfires. People are like “What? Why?” Plus, people don’t give Veterans Day gifts. Maybe they should.

John Dover, creator of the “jazz noir” Johnny Scotch series, plies his local connections and offers readers a good time with his books and stories. Kerry Blaisdell hands out free calendars to lure people to her urban fantasy novel, Debriefing the Dead.

Me, I pass out postcards with the cover photo from Up Beaver Creek. “Would you like a pretty picture, something to look at and de-stress?” Mostly women accept it. A few turn it over, read my pitch and come back to take a look at the book. Success.

Since our table sits under the Willamette Writers banner, we give out information about the organization, about the various branches, our program for young writers, and our literary magazine the Timberline Review.

But it’s a tired crowd, with going home on their minds. It’s getting dark outside. Their bags of books are already too heavy. Many don’t even glance in our direction. Some dart in to grab the leftover Halloween candy set between the books. And some stop to chat. And chat. And chat. I want to scream, “Move on. You’re blocking my books. I don’t want to carry these damned things home.” Just as I wanted to scream when I was on the other side perusing the booths, “Pass on the right!” and, “If you’re going to stand still, get out of the way.” But I don’t scream any of those things. I smile and offer up pretty pictures.

My photo technique works. I sell a book. The buyer hands me a credit card. It’s the first time I’ve used the credit card app on my phone. Will it really work? It did when I practiced at home, but . . . Look! It works! I hand her my phone. “Finger sign here, please.” How crazy is that? In a minute, I get an email saying $15.00 has been deposited into my account. Magic. Somebody else buy a book. Let’s do it again!

Up until this year, I have not accepted credit cards. Cash or checks only. But that’s old-fashioned. Now we all have our little card readers on our phones. Zip, zoop, sold.

That one sale is it for the night, which is as good as any of us except Debby does, but as John Dover notes, this is not about sales. It’s about shaking hands and making connections. It’s about getting people to take our cards and our swag so that they might go home and order our books or at least remember our names.

It’s also about being with other authors after the solitary process of writing our books. We compare notes. Best and worst selling experiences. Bookstores that treat authors well or treat them badly. Places we might give talks. Favorite flavor of Ghirardelli chocolate squares. (Mine is mint.)

And it’s fun. I think of myself as shy, but I have spent the day talking to strangers, putting myself “out there.” “Hey, you need another book!” I hear myself shouting. I’ve turned into a huckster.

Afterward, walking the six blocks to the parking garage, my bag is no lighter than it was coming in. I couldn’t resist purchasing one more book from a Facebook-only friend I finally met in person. I don’t mind. My feet hurt, but my heart feels good.

It has been a long day, which started with standing in line with approximately 2,000 people for over an hour in 36-degree weather outside the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall to see and hear Tom Hanks talk about Uncommon Type, his new book of short stories. The ticket price included a copy of his book. We grab our books from the thousands piled on tables in the theater lobby and cuddle them like kittens. Tom Hanks does not have to stand behind a table with postcards and chocolate bars trying to get people’s attention. It helps if you’re an Academy Award winning actor.

Tom Hanks’ hour-long talk was fabulous. It was funny, sweet, loving, and wise. I’m in love. We all are. Last night, I dreamed about Tom and his big gray dog walking up my driveway. I greeted them like old friends, casual, not star-struck at all—until my sweet Annie dog turned into Cujo and attacked his dog.

I’m so sorry, Tom. Would you like a pretty picture of Beaver Creek?

***

  • Fun fact: Back in the early 90s, Tom Hanks spent a night camping in an Airstream trailer on my grandfather’s property at Seacliff Beach, California. Or so says my father, who is not impressed with all this book nonsense, but thought it was pretty nifty that I got to see Tom Hanks.
  • The Coast branch of Willamette Writers meets this coming Sunday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. at the Newport Library. Rachel Barton will lead a free poetry workshop. Everyone is invited to join us for lunch at the Chowder Bowl at 11:30 that day where we can chat and fill up on chowder. PM me or email me at coast@willamettewriters.org if you’re coming to lunch so we can save you a seat.
  • I just discovered this is my 500th post! That’s a lot of blogging.

 

Some things you just can’t do alone

I’ve been thinking a lot about doing things alone. After all, I’m alone most of the time. It’s me talking to the dog the way Tom Hanks talks to Wilson the volleyball in that movie where he’s stranded on an island. At least the dog wags her tail, and I have discovered that if I wink at her, she will do her darndest to wink back, usually with both eyes. She will also yawn if I yawn. But if I start making funny faces, she just stares at me like I’m nuts, which is totally possible.

Anyway, I’m alone a lot. This April, it will be six years since I became a widow. It’s already eight years since Fred went to the nursing home. After so much time, being alone feels like my default situation.

No, don’t get all sorry for me. I do that enough for myself. Besides, I love not having to deal with another fussy human’s needs. Today I’m on a scientific quest which could lead to a longer project in the future. Let’s explore what you can and cannot do alone.

It’s like having two hands or just one. When I sprained my wrist a few years ago, I discovered it’s almost impossible to open a can, cut meat, hook a bra, or play the guitar with one hand.

You can play the harmonica with one hand or even no hands. You can eat a hamburger and fries with one hand. You can drive with one hand, preferably the right hand so you can turn the key and shift the gears. But open a bottle of beer? Not unless you smash it on the edge of the sink and drink around the jagged glass.

You can make love with one hand, but two hands are better.

All those one-handed things can be done if you have another person to help you. But what if you don’t? Let’s look at what you absolutely cannot do alone.

  • Get a hug
  • Make a baby
  • Sing a duet
  • Play football
  • Get a decent picture taken
  • Play Frisbee
  • Play Marco Polo
  • Water ski

Search online and you’ll find religious sites that eventually get to the fact that you need God. Agreed, but God won’t help me move my megaton TV to the other room (hint, hint) or hold the ladder while I clean the gutters.

You’ll also find various inspirational sites and go-get-‘em women’s sites that urge you to try going to a restaurant or a movie all by yourself because somehow it will make you a better person. No it won’t, but at least you’ll get to eat all the popcorn.

Some things you CAN do alone, but it’s not a good idea. I have done most of them.

  • Move furniture bigger than you are.
  • Eat an entire large pizza.
  • Hold a wine-tasting party.
  • Go hiking or rock-climbing
  • Drive way out into the wilderness where there’s nobody but bears and the guys from “Deliverance” and your cell phone doesn’t work.
  • Soak in a hot tub until you fall asleep and stay asleep until the rain wakes you up.

A lot of things, like eating out and going to a movie are just not as fun alone. Here’s an amusing page that talks about things you can do solo but would probably rather not.

And some things are good to do alone:

  • Think
  • Read
  • Sleep (actual sleep, not sex)
  • Pluck, shave, wax, nuke unwanted hairs.
  • Learn to play the violin.

I need your help with these lists. Add your suggestions in the comments. I really want to get a comprehensive list going, and Annie is no help at all. Wait, yes she is: Here’s something you cannot do alone: Get snuggled by someone who loves you. Annie, here I come.

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