I got into bookselling by purchasing an existing inventory about four years ago. Nothing spectacular—3,500 general inventory titles. The descriptions had to be re-written, conditions checked and photos or scans taken of the more interesting titles. Very time-consuming, but I felt that if I were to represent these books properly, I had to grade them on my own.
At the same time I was trying to come up with a specialty, because that’s all I heard—“specialize, specialize” from other sellers (Thank You). Knowing I had to specialize meant it had to be in something that would hold my interest, because our enthusiasm and knowledge of our books shows in our listings. Well, one day I walked into a bookstore and found a back room full of Astounding Science Fictions and Weird Tales and Dell Mapbacks and Ace Doubles and thought, now this is something I could specialize in. The combination of the writing and the illustrating, coupled with the era and the politics, etc. really appealed to me. Since then my inventory has almost doubled, mainly in the speculative fiction area, from the 1920s and onward.
The more I began to focus on pulp fiction, the more fascinating the subject became. The authors, artists, publishers and editors combined to make some incredibly thought provoking books and pulps.
The effect of the atomic age on science fiction writing and publishing really opened up the field. It’s interesting to note that many of the authors used pseudonyms in the beginning for a variety of reasons creating a challenge when trying to track down information to chart an author’s progress.
On the weird fiction front we have the triumvirate of Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard. Combine those three with Weird Tales and Arkham House and you have some wonderful stories with even better stories behind the stories.
The market for historical speculative fiction is still growing. There are areas in the world that I sell to more than others. Sweden and Germany spring to mind, as well as Great Britain.
There are specific issues that confront the Canadian bookseller. The main one in my mind is our Canadian postal system which is downright expensive when compared to media mail or m-bags in the US. An American seller can charge $4.00 for shipping and still make a bit, but up here we have to charge $7.00 just to break even on the shipping component. Multiply that by 500 sales a year and you get a sense of how much we have to subsidize our shipping charges just to stay competitive.
Another issue for us is the exchange rate against the US dollar. Four years ago or so, when I first started listing, the US dollar was worth $1.39 against the Canadian dollar; now it’s worth $1.11. That’s a 20 percent drop, for those of us who list in USD. On the positive side, a lot of my purchases and listing fees are cheaper now because of the relative strength of the Canadian dollar.
But there are lots of issues confronting independent booksellers globally. That discussion is best left for another day. I still deal in general inventory as well, because, let’s face it, they sell. Not everyone is a collector and the general public seems to have a voracious appetite for reading, whether it’s for entertainment or knowledge.
My general impression is that most of us didn’t get into this to get rich. What we’re looking for is the ability to make a comfortable income, doing something we love to do. To this idealistic soul, there’s something to be said for the promotion of literacy in this day and age of iPods, Xboxes and downloadable ring tones.
Marc Monsarrat operates Bookmarc Books out of Malahat, British Columbia, Canada and can be contacted at http://www.bookmarc.ca.