My First Holiday Season as a Published Author Rather Than a Bookseller

I’ve been a published writer for more than 20 years, and since the late 1980s, I’ve written fiction for children and adults, including five or six children’s middle grade novels, a fat, strange novel for adults, and the world’s most horrible romance novel. In 1998, I decided to add “online used and out-of-print bookseller” to my resume and called this new business, “Junebug Books,” after a nickname from my childhood. So in addition to writing books, for a long time, I sold the used books of others online, beginning in the days before this was common
Holiday season 2009 marks my first as a published author with my own book for sale in bookstores and at websites including Amazon.com, where I was one of their first third-party booksellers. Now I get to see my own brand new novel, Gone From These Woods, listed on Amazon.com right next to used and even new copies from third-party booksellers who are constantly engaged in price-dropping wars.

So how do I feel about this as an author? Of course I don’t like it. Like my publisher, Random House, I want buyers to purchase new copies of my book from Amazon.com at their discounted price. That should be good enough, right?

Let’s go back a moment, to third-party book selling on Amazon before our used, rare and out-of-print copies were moved to positions right beside the new from the publisher copies. Back in those days, in the late 1990s, our books were in “z-shops” and were only visible to buyers if they knew the web address of our Amazon z-shop or they searched for an out-of-print copy using the Amazon home page search box. And in the beginning, we actually had a tab on Amazon’s home page that said, “z-shops.” This led buyers to our books. In addition to z-shops, many of us sold our OP books directly to Amazon. They mailed us actual checks.

Then we got Marketplace and our books were moved to the pages where new from publisher books were sold and the rest is history. Booksellers, many with almost no knowledge of the book selling business, multiplied. Prices dropped. And the book business as I knew it was gone forever, forcing many small time booksellers out of business and reducing revenues for the ones who were left. Through this all, I continued to write with the goal of selling my own books someday, instead of the books of others.

Now, back to the present, holiday season 2009. I now can go to the Amazon.com website and see my new book, Gone From These Woods, listed for sale at a discounted by Amazon price (a definite thrill for a first time published author, I must say). And on the same page, there are numerous new and used copies at a much lower price that drops (due to their use of automatic pricing software) constantly.

I never would have chosen to have my used book listings on the same pages as new books on Amazon. When I was a bookseller there, I wondered, along with all the other booksellers, how anyone could make any money from a book priced at $1.99 or $.01? There is a “shipping allowance” given to booksellers for each book sale to help offset the cost of postage to ship orders. However, Amazon also charges each seller a commission, which is a percentage of the selling price.

Why do they keep dropping the book prices? Well, as my husband has pointed out to me many times, that’s capitalism. But as an author who sees her own book price dropping on Amazon, I say it’s another word that I won’t type into a G rated blog. I’m in favor of booksellers and authors making a living (and I admit that I also buy these cheaper books sometimes). But selling recently-published books for $1.99 or $.01 isn’t the way. What do you think?

A Reading, Visiting and Fashion Kind of Day

So what does reading have to do with fashion? Those two subjects don’t usually go together, unless, of course, you’re reading about fashion, which I wasn’t.
First, I’ll tell you about the reading. I started my day very early, for a non-morning person, by driving to Barrow Elementary School in Athens to participate in their Guest Readers event. The parking lot was almost full when I got there just before 8 AM. On my way in, I watched three extremely tall athletic-looking young men emerge from their vehicle wearing University of Georgia sweatshirts. They looked like basketball players and this was confirmed later by Andy Plemmons, media specialist at Barrow School, who organized Guest Readers Day.

These tall guys were just the beginning of the big crowd of community leaders and local celebrities and parents and grandparents who gathered in the media center to look over the tables covered with books waiting to be read to kids in grades one through five. Cardee Kilpatrick, former District 10 Commissioner and Mayor Pro Tem of Athens during the time I was a councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem of Winterville, and I enjoyed a brief visit as we posed for a group picture before heading off to the classrooms, escorted by student guides, to read.

I brought my own book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, to read to Ms. Slongo’s fifth grade class. It’s one of my all-time favorite holiday stories and the kids seemed to enjoy it, too. After reading them the first chapter, I asked if they had questions, and boy did they! This class had read my book, Gone From These Woods, together a few weeks ago, and their faces were familiar to me from my recent authors’ visit. I enjoyed chatting with them about reading, writing, lots of bad cousins and a few good ones, and, of course the Herdmans from the Christmas Pageant book. I left them my copy of the book, so they could finish reading it together in class. Once you’ve heard chapter one of Barbara Robinson’s classic and hilarious story, how can you not read on?

So what does fashion have to do with all of this? Nothing, of course. But do read on.

Back in Winterville, I stopped by our favorite gathering place, the Winterville Post Office, a hub of local news and sometimes gossip, to pick up my mail. The mayor was there, chatting with Bobby Cook, a member of the Commercial Bank’s board of directors, a contractor, and former car dealer. Jim Mercer, the mayor, was attired in his usual plaid shirt jacket and casual pants. So, no this wasn’t the fashion part of my day (sorry Jim). And then I headed over to Watkinsville, fifteen miles down the road, to deliver a signed copy of Gone From These Woods for the authors’ basket raffle at their holiday market event this coming Saturday and Sunday (let’s hope it doesn’t snow too much this weekend). Things looked festive in the OCAF building, but no, that’s not the fashion part of this blog post.

Fashion came at lunchtime when I attended the Athens YWCO Holiday Fashion Show Luncheon at the Ann Florence Center. My high school classmate, Kitty Meyran, is the director of the YWCO. Our table included classmates Jan Lanier, Donna Griffeth, Eleanor Mason and Eleanor’s daughter-in-law. We were treated to a real fashion show, emceed by Sonia Steffes of Sonia Says. Beautiful models, Amy Malone, Brenda Blanton, Crysty Odom, June Turnell, Kiz Adams, Mary Mills, Matt Dixon, Patsy Grimes, Rubelene Norris, Tammy Gilland, Tracie Hedges and Winona Evans entertained us with dazzling holiday outfits and accessories. At one point in the show, Sonia surveyed the room to see which tables featured ladies who had “accessorized.” Okay, our table wasn’t mentioned. Maybe we need to work on that.

On the way out I enjoyed talking to Lola Finn, a retired principal and former member of one of the writers groups I belong to. I also got to catch up with Pat Brittian, another retired principal (from Winterville School) and Cissy Alexander, a member of the Athens High School Class of ’68.

I think this was the first time I’ve ever combined reading with fashion in one day. The fashion luncheon was a fundraiser for the YWCO and Guest Readers Day at Barrow Elementary raised my spirits considerably when I saw the interest and excitement about reading and writing and bad cousins and the Herdmans in Ms. Slongo’s fifth graders. Not a bad way to spend a Thursday in December. Now it’s time to get back to writing . . . but maybe first, I’ll accessorize.

Signing and Singing December 16, 2009 in Watkinsville, GA

Okay, the headline of this blog post says, “Signing and Singing,” but hopefully I won’t be singing when I join five other authors plus numerous young singers in Watkinsville at the OCAF Center December 16 from 6 – 8 PM.
The other authors, in addition to yours truly, include Terry Kay, author of many popular books including To Dance With the White Dog; Julie Cannon, of True Love and Homegrown Tomatoes fame; Philip Lee Williams, who has two new books, The Campfire Boys and Elegies for the Water; Gail Karwoski, whose latest book is River Beds: Sleeping in the World’s Rivers; and Grady Thrasher who is the author of the Tim and Sally series.

The singing part of this holiday event will be handled by two groups: Decatens Acapella Choir of Oconee County Middle School and A Chorale from the Westminster Christian Academy’s Lower School. In addition to signing our latest books, the six authors will perform an author’s ensemble reading of The Night Before Christmas. This is one of my all time favorite poems, so I’m looking forward to taking part in this performance (as long as we don’t have to sing it).

The OCAF Artist Shoppe will be open as well and stocked with plenty of handmade, original art perfect for Christmas gifts. Other things you should know: Admission is free and more information is available on the website: www.ocaf.com or by emailing them at info@ocaf.com or calling 706-769-4565.

Front Porch Bookstore Opens in Winterville, Georgia

I’m a native of Athens, Georgia, but for many years I’ve lived in nearby Winterville, a tiny municipality of approximately 1,200, located in Eastern Clarke County. We’ve had a branch of the Athens Regional Library in Winterville (115 Marigold Lane) for a very long time.
Today, I’m happy to announce that the Friends of the Winterville Library are launching a new venture, Front Porch Bookstore, in the quaint, newly renovated old Town Hall building (which was formerly used as the Winterville Volunteer Fire Department and is located near the library at 102 Marigold Lane) on December 4, 2009, which also happens to be the date of this year’s Winterville Christmas in the Park event (more on that in a future post).

Front Porch Books is 100% non-profit. All proceeds will go toward purchasing books, equipment and literary programs for the Winterville Library. At the December 4 grand opening, the bookstore will be open 5 PM until 8:30 PM. After that, the bookstore hours will be the same as the Winterville Library’s hours: Monday and Tuesday and Thursday, 3 – 7; Wednesday, 9 – 12; Saturday, 10 – 2, and closed Friday and Sunday.

This new bookstore needs both donations of books and volunteers to staff the store. If you’re interested, stop by the library or the bookstore or email fow11012@yahoo.com or call Jan Mazzucco at 706-742-7090. Leave your name and number and the shift desired.

Jackie Elsner: New Oconee Country Libraries Director

I had the pleasure of attending Jackie Elsner’s farewell storytelling event at the Athens Regional Library in September. Jackie, or “Miss Jackie” to Athens area children, was bidding the Athens branch of the Regional Library goodbye with a special performance of rhymes, songs, a lap puppet show and more. Jackie had served as the children’s librarian for 20 years. Now she is the librarian and branch manager of the Oconee County Libraries.
I first met Jackie 20 years ago, when she became the children’s librarian in Athens. Our library was smaller then and was located at 120 West Dougherty Street in what is now called the Governmental Building. My husband’s office is in that building now, in what was once the fiction section of Athens Regional Library. My children were still young the day we met Jackie. We had come to the library to hear her tell a story. That was my introduction to this amazing woman’s storytelling talents.

Over the years, I got to know Jackie better and learned that she had many other talents as well including Sacred Harp singing, puppetry and writing. For several years I had the pleasure of being in a writers’ group with her and several other writers from the Athens and Oconee Country area. Jackie will be missed at the Athens Regional Library. But Oconee County Libraries have gained a treasure.

Southern Festival of Books in Nashville

I had the pleasure of participating in my first Southern Festival of Books in Nashville this weekend. The trip up through the mountains was beautiful and I couldn’t help but remember my only other visit to Nashville as daughter Jenny and I took in the Tennessee sights. It was way back in the 1970s when husband Phillip and I caravaned to Nashville in a 1939 Hudson as part of the Athens Antique Auto Club. We were accompanied by other antique auto clubs from the Atlanta area and our vintage autos were quite a sight as we motored along the highway, praying that our antique brakes would hold on those twisty, winding mountain roads.
When we got there, it was worth the trip. We enjoyed a picnic sponsored by Kraft Foods and hosted by Roy Acuff, and at the end of our stay, our banquet speaker was Roy Orbison! Roy also was a big antique car buff and he told us all about his collection that night.

This weekend’s Nashville trip was all about books. I had the pleasure of talking about and reading from my debut novel, GONE FROM THESE WOODS, on a panel with authors Peter Huggins and Billy Moore on Saturday. I also enjoyed hearing astronaut/author Buzz Aldrin speak in the handsome War Memorial Auditorium. I got to talk and hang out with several other authors, too, including Philip Lee Williams, Amanda Gable, Elizabeth Dulemba, Lisa Dale Norton of Santa Fe, and Nancy Vienneau, a Nashville chef, food activist and writer.

Speaking of food, a highlight of our visit to Nashville was eating at the Midtown Cafe, rumored to be Reba McEntire’s favorite restaurant. Jenny and I know why! I can’t say enough good things about this local Nashville

Nashville Motel Window View

Nashville Motel Window View

treasure. We also had an outstanding dinner at Valentino’s Ristorante, an Italian restaurant near our motel.

We were a little disappointed that we didn’t see any actual country music singers in Nashville. About the closest we came was spotting Keith Urban’s tour bus parked at the motel across the street. Maybe we didn’t see Keith or Nicole or their baby. But we did see plenty of great authors, marveled at the selection and beauty of all the great books by the festival’s 200 authors, and ate our share of out of this world delicious food. Not a bad way to spend an October weekend — or any weekend.

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