Interview with a Bookseller: Conversation with Fern Jaffe of Paperbacks Plus
     Victoria Grossack

Fern Jaffe founded Paperbacks Plus in 1970 – she has thirty-seven years of experience!

Victoria: Can you tell me about your store?

Fern: Paperbacks Plus is a misnomer – about half our sales come from hard covers. Thank goodness we put the “Plus” in the name! But you can’t change the name after thirty-seven years. When we started, our goal was to sell children’s paperbacks. Since then we’ve changed a lot, shaping ourselves to fit the community.

We’re located in the Bronx, about five miles from Yankee stadium. So, every New York Yankee who has ever written a book comes to our store.

To learn more about Paperbacks Plus, click here.

Victoria: What do you do to sell books?

Fern: On a professional level, I stay up on book reviews – Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and all that. I’m a member of the ABA (American Bookseller Association) and a while back I helped found the New York-New Jersey Booksellers Association, which has since merged with another organization to become New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association.

You have to do a lot of training yourself to sell books. As I’m in New York, I read the New York Times every day – there’s so much information about books inside the pages. I read books and I read about books.

Generally, we haven’t found book fairs to be profitable. We hold author events, especially local author events. We coordinate with the College of Mount Saint Vincent when we need more room. We’ve had Toni Morrow and Frank McCourt, and with these authors we filled up the auditorium. We support the local community and the community supports us.

Victoria: What’s the biggest trend that you see in the industry?

Fern: The fact is that the independent booksellers are dying. I would never have thought that so many places would want to sell books – but they do, and often at less than the cover price. And for a while the publishers were creating special deals for the superstores – it was illegal, and it kept the playing field from being level.

If the independents go, it will be an amazing loss for the public – but people don’t appreciate what they’ve lost until it’s too late. The independents, unlike the chains, really know their local communities. For example, our book buying is local. Barnes & Noble does their buying on a countrywide basis. How can they know what their communities need?

Victoria: Do you know what their returns are like? (Note to readers: returns are the unsold books that are sent back to the publisher by the bookstores.)

Fern: They’ve got to be high.

Victoria: What other trends do you see in the industry?

Fern: People are going to start downloading more books, they’ll carry them around on their i-Pods; read them on their screens. That’s also sad. There’s something so tactile about leafing through a book, and that may disappear.

Victoria: Picking up a book is romantic, don’t you think?

Fern: Yes. I love selling books. I love finding the right book for the right person, and I love connecting with the community.

Victoria: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Fern: Write on. Keep on writing. Don’t publish your own book. So many people are doing that these days, without any idea of how to sell a book – they have no idea how to get a book into stores, or how to get reviews. You need to be with an established publisher. But even then, hire a good publicist.

Victoria: Thank you, Fern, for sharing your insight and experience with us! Questions or comments, please write to 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 From Leaves to Forests and Writing Historical Fiction workshops for Coffeehouse for Writers.