Interview with a Bookseller: Leia Taylor
     Victoria Grossack  

Victoria: Who are you and how long have you been selling books?

Lelia: My name is Lelia Taylor and I’m the co-owner, with my daughter Anne, of Creatures ‘n Crooks Bookshoppe at 3156 West Cary Street in Richmond, Virginia. I’ve been selling books for about six years – we opened our doors in May of 2000. Before that I was in the corporate world.

Victoria: And who is Hamilton? How old is he?

Lelia: Hamilton is a nine-year-old cat. He’s a celebrity with his own fan club. He appeared in all of the TV ads for the store. We stopped running TV ads about two years ago, but people still come in and say that they saw Hamilton on TV.

We get a great deal of foot traffic and Hamilton sits in the window and chats with people until they come inside. He even likes having dogs come into the store.

Victoria: Tell me about Creatures ‘n Crooks Bookshoppe.

Lelia: We sell four types of books – mysteries, science fiction, fantasy and horror. We chose these four types of books because this is what we like to read and we can make recommendations to our readers.

Victoria: Do you sell new or used books?

Lelia: New books, almost entirely. Sometimes we will get some used books in order to complete a series, but that’s less than 1% of our stock. However, we import plenty of books from the UK, often because they’re not yet available in the US, or they’re only available in hardcover. Terry Pratchett, for example, is popular in the US but not all his books are published here.

Victoria: What are your feelings about hardcover books?

Lelia: Hardcover books don’t sell well. We discovered we were returning nearly all of our hardcovers, so now we’ve become much choosier about ordering them and we try to base them on what we think our customer base will want. Hardcovers are simply too expensive, and too many authors are being published these days in hardcover when they shouldn’t be – the books simply aren’t worth $24. I’m not saying anything bad about these authors, nor am I saying that our clientele are at all cheap. It’s just that our readers want to read these books, not to keep them, and they would rather buy three books at eight dollars each rather than one book for twenty-four.

Say that we order a new John Grisham in hardcover – we may not even sell that, even though he’s a big name. The big names don't usually sell that well for us because they're available so cheaply elsewhere. But many new hardcovers are less expensive with us because the chains and big box retailers don't discount the lesser-knowns.

Victoria: What’s a recent change that you’ve observed in publishing?

Lelia: There’s been a trend toward “premium mass market” – books that are about one inch taller and two dollars more expensive. These aren’t selling well, although some customers are buying them. The customers can see that all they’re getting is some extra margin on the pages.

Victoria: What changes in publishing do you see in the near future?

Lelia: I see a swing in the chick-lit/vampire genre. Readers are getting tired of it, and publishers will catch on soon.

Victoria: How should a writer approach you or another bookseller to arrange a signing?

Lelia: All booksellers have their own personal preferences so I am talking only for myself. I like phone calls and mailings – not e-mails. I get so many e-mails that they tend to get lost. A phone call is good because I can decide whether or not I want to go ahead on the basis of the conversation. Of course, phone calls can come at inconvenient times, but I have no problem telling people that I can’t talk now and to call back later.

Victoria: What’s your opinion of POD publishers?

Lelia: POD refers to a type of technology. I have no problem with POD; the problem lies with the publishers who use them. A POD book of 250 pages may cost $14.95 with one publisher, while with another, such as Publish America, it will cost $24.95, which won’t sell. Furthermore, the discount given by Publish America to booksellers is too small to cover my overhead. The only way I can make money on Publish America books is to have the authors bring in the books themselves – in which case the authors are losing money, which isn’t right.

Victoria: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Lelia: Talk to one of your local, independent booksellers before signing a contract so you can find out whether the chosen publisher's books are easily placed in stores and to find out if there are other hidden pitfalls the bookseller might know about--or, alternatively, the good points about that publisher.

Also, if you are going with a place that does little or no editing, go out and hire an editor. If you’ve been working on a 100,000 word manuscript for six years, you’re too close to it. And the editor shouldn’t be your best friend.

Victoria: Thanks so much, Lelia, for taking the time to share your experience with us! If you’re a bookseller (owner or manager) and you want to be considered for this series, send an e-mail to me at Grossackva at Yahoo dot com

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About the Writer:

Victoria Grossack is, with Alice Underwood, the author of Iokaste: The Novel of the Mother-Wife of Oedipus, which, by the way, is an excellent example of a book with plot-driven chapters and cliffhangers. There's exciting news about Iokaste: even the Greeks are reading it! Learn more about Iokaste and other books in the series at Tapestry of Bronze

Victoria was a moderator of a critique group for Coffeehouse for Writers and teaches the Writing Historical Fiction workshop for Coffeehouse for Writers.