Interview with a Bookseller: Conversation with
Fern Jaffe of Paperbacks Plus
Fern Jaffe founded Paperbacks Plus in 1970 – she has thirty-seven years
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,
Victoria: What do you do to
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
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
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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