Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I, Libertine: A 1950s Literary Hoax

I just sold a copy of a hilarious literary hoax novel penned by humorist Jean Shepherd and novelist Theodore Sturgeon and am struck with a severe case of bookseller's remorse. The book in question is I, Libertine, by Frederick R. Ewing (the goofball pseudonym for Messrs. Shepherd and Sturgeon), published in 1956.

The story behind this hoot of a novel is quite interesting.
Originally, radio disc jockey Jean Shepherd exhorted his cadre of
"Night People" to come up the title for a book that would be a
sure-fire best-seller. "I, Libertine" was suggested by one of his
listeners as an appropriately ridiculous title for a book about the ribald adventures of an 18th century British roue. Thereafter Shepherd
and Company managed to talk up the "Banned in Boston" book and request
copies of it at enough bookstores to the point where it starting
showing up on best-seller lists and in library card files.

At this time, Shepherd and his publisher, Ian Ballantine had lunch
with sci-fi author Theodore Sturgeon and Sturgeon was hired to bang
out this bellicose "English" master work under the pen name of
Frederick R. Ewing. Shepherd posed as the dyspeptic looking author on
the rear jacket panel and Frear created a nutty illustration for the
front jacket with the book's hero, "Lance" Corday, in ruffled 18th
century gentleman's garb smirking a la Alfred E. Neuman.

Behind him, a bosomy lady with severe decolletage glares at him from in front of a
tavern,The Fish and Staff (Sturgeon and Shepherd). This book was also published as a paperback and the color cover art must really add to the luridness of this Turbulent! Turgid! Tempestuous! literary work. I guess I'll have to go on the hunt....

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Guerrilla Marketing for the Bookshop

Last year Dan and I saw the first signs of an anemic book-buying economy and embarked on a tedious, but necessary project to boost book sales on our used bookstore website by adding photographs to all of our book listings. On any given day, I maintain 7,000 or so book listings online, out of the 50,000 books on our bookshop shelves, so this massive project took a little over a year to complete. I chipped away at it in between customers and when the natural lighting in the shop was best, which was hardest to do in the winter months.

The photos aren't Pulitzer Prize winners, but they convey the books' condition and attributes and our book listings get ranked higher in the search engines because of the photos. I do know that our website sales quadrupled, even in these tough economic times, so I'm happy to have done this task. I did also shake my head at myself for having listed some books that are either really common or beat up or overpriced for the market, so these got deleted, donated, repriced, etc. I would recommend this somewhat Sisyphean project to anyone with online book listings that would like to sell more on their own websites.

Now I just got to get cracking on attaching the photos to my book listings for sale on other book seller sites, but I need a break from boring, long projects for awhile.

Another marketing tactic we undertook for Old Saratoga Books was to make use of a metal sign post that was long-vacant and sticking out of the sidewalk a couple of blocks north of our bookshop. Dan fashioned a sign out of some waterproof plastic board scraps from his pile of recyclables and with a few screws and nuts, we now have a directional sign that a few customers have told me lured them into Old Saratoga Books.

Another monumental project which I started during our annual February break was to update my book cataloguing software. I had been using an old version of Homebase for years and was comfortable with it, but wanted to start listing books on Amazon, which has a whole set of issues associated with that; chiefly, the requirement that books without ISBN numbers (which started only in the 1970s) need to have a specific Amazon identification number attached to them to be listed on the bookselling site.

Again, it's another long and tedious project of going through my book database yet again and finding the correct Amazon id to upload and selecting out heavier books to exclude from international delivery, but I bought a copy of the Booktrakker software, which, as advertised, simplifies many of the dreary tasks associated with online bookselling and has the dynamo time-saving feature of uploading all my book updates to our website, Alibris, Biblio and Amazon with one click. Amazon has quickly grown to be my bestselling used book site and this helps in any economic climate. I got back my purchase price for Booktrakker almost immediately through Amazon book sales and would highly recommend it to my colleagues.

Perhaps some of you out there will be able to make use of some of these suggestions for weathering these tough economic conditions. I would love to hear about your similar experiences or any recommendations you may have for increasing book sales.