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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Holiday Traditions The First

As my business has grown and I've gotten busier, it's become harder and harder to do a lot of the things I used to do. After a year with more growth, more busy-ness, more challenges both good and bad to what I used to do and used to be, I decided it was important this holiday season to make the time for my two pre-Holiday rituals of yore. I had to touch base with my roots.

Back before Bookscan, I tried to keep tabs on the books I sold, and at some level on the publishers who were publishing them, by running JoshuaScan. I would visit most of the bookstores in Manhattan and a few in Queens, and rigorously track the performance of my titles by eyeballing the shelves and such. The system was fairly accurate, though also subject to ridicule. Publishers could dismiss the information as anecdotal, or fail to recognize that if you poll 1739 people in the US you can predict a presidential race, hence visiting 2% of the B&N superstores in the world was not a bad glimpse into B&N. After Bookscan became available to me, I essentially ran both systems in parallel for at least a year. As the Bookscan info proved to track JoshuaScan pretty nicely, and I had more experience with Bookscan, and my time got more precious, the bookstore visits slowly dwindled. Enough visits to enough stores so I can keep track of things like orders on Bk #2 in a series vs. sales on Bk #1, or what the minimum take was looking like (the minimum take may be the single most important indicator of buyer enthusiasm and publisher-paid placement).

But in any case, one of the things that JoshuaScan eventually evolved into was a Dec. 23 ritual of visiting bookstores in Manhattan from mid-afternoon until the stores closed. I could walk into a busy bookstore and look at a long line and pretend all of those people were buying JABberwocky books. Which was a nice thing to pretend when I was getting by, but not all that much more. I could take the pulse of the list for the holidays. The day would include a visit to the Pizzeria Uno at either E 86th St. or sometimes if I got an early start from the office and could visit the E 86th St. stores and then walk to the west side, the Uno on W. 81st St. And I enjoyed this quite a bit.

Alas, having returned to the tradition this year after skipping (I believe) the past two, I don't think I'll feel an aching desire to keep this tradition going. It started out nicely enough; I got a late start from the office, but the subway was good and I got to the 86th St. Uno's a few enough minutes before 3pm to have the lunch special, which has been part of my life since 1983. But the lines seem less long with each passing year. Fewer shoppers? More registers?? The stores were busy but not mobbed; I didn't find people lingering in the sf section to hand-sell to. The old Lex/86 B&N that was one of the first (and way too small) B&N kind-of superstores is gone now, replaced by a much bigger store that opened in the summer. This was only my 2nd visit after one a few days after opening, a testatement to how I'm not doing the stores the way I used to. As I went from there to the B&N on 82nd/Bway to 66th/Bway to Borders Columbus Circle to Borders Park Ave. to B&N/Citicorp to Midtown Comics (not an official stop!) to B&N 46/5th to Borders Penn Plaza, I slowly came to realize that I was doing all of this solely for the sake of the tradition.

As John Crowley says in the closing lines of his masterful Little Big:

The world is older than it was. Even the weather isn’t as we remember it clearly once being; never lately does there come a summer day such as we remember, never clouds as white as that, never grass as odorous or shade as deep and full of promise as we remember they can be, as once upon a time they were.

The only thing that gave a frisson of past excitement was finding out that Borders had put in its orders for the mass market of Peter V. Brett's Warded Man rather earlier than expected, so if I asked at the info desk "when is this book coming out," I could be rewarded. In the good old days of JoshuaScan and lots of time, eagerly-awaited orders might have put my plans for a Sunday afternoon aside so I could eagerly add data to my data set. Now, even though I'm still eager, I don't have the time and can say to myself "well, the book will be out in two months, so it's not like I can't get some of the orders into the data set next month." But with a little second wind after strolling down to the Chelsea Whole Foods and getting 1.18 lb at the hot buffet in me I decided I'd walk crosstown to the Borders at Kips Bay to get one more piece of data into me.

But overall, the day just confirmed that my pleasant visits to bookstores are now more and more likely to be when I'm traveling, in less well-trod ground, maybe with a little bit more time just to poke around. My life moving forward won't be what it was looking back...

On the other hand, my Dec. 24 tradition held up very nicely, and that post shall follow anon...

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