Interview with a Bookseller: Conversation with
Pam Headrick of A Thirsty Mind
Victoria: Hi, Pam - tell me about yourself.
Pam: I’ve been in the bookselling business for about two years. Before
that, I was an archaeologist and an archaeological illustrator – in fact, I
still do archaeological illustrations. But I love to read; I’ve always read
about six books a week. Of course, now I need to read a lot, in order to do
Victoria: How did you go about learning to run a
Pam: There’s a one-week course that you can take from the American
Booksellers Association. It may seem expensive, but it’s worth it, because
if you didn’t take it you might make a more expensive mistake. There were 25
of us in the class, and only 5 of us have gone on to become bookstore
owners. One thing you learn is that it’s a hard way to make money.
Victoria: What are some of the other things that
Pam: You learn how much there is to running a bookstore – things that you
don’t think about. For example, one number that I heard – valid a few years
ago – is that there are 95,000 publishers! How can you manage to work with
so many? Especially when so many of them require minimum orders? The answer
is, we can’t. Instead we order nearly all our books through distributors.
Victoria: Tell me about your store.
Pam: The name of the store is, “A Thirsty Mind, Words & Wine.” We’re
located in the Lakeway Village Square Shopping Center, in Lakeway, Texas,
about fifteen minutes away from Austin. The store is 1500 square feet and we
carry about 4000 titles. We sell more than just books – we sell coffee, like
many bookstores – but we also sell wine. Sometimes, even at author events,
we make more money on the wine!
Lakeway started as a retirement community, and we have many customers who
are over sixty. They appreciate reading. Also, because they’re grandparents,
our customers buy a lot of children’s books! We always make sure that our
children’s section is up to snuff. But the demographics of the community are
changing – we’re getting an influx of people who work in Austin but who want
to live here.
There’s no chain bookstore for at least fifteen miles, which of course is
a great help. Unfortunately that’s changing. Also, we’re the only bookstore
inside Lakeway, part of a strip mall. The other shopping centers are mostly
on the highway – and highway driving can be intimidating for some of the
older people, so they’re more likely to come to us.
We’ve been very pleased with our reception in the community. We’re
already respected members.
Victoria: How is the store different from the store
you always imagined opening?
Pam: I always thought that I would concentrate on selling hardcover
books. Instead, I’ve learned how important it is to stock paperbacks.
Victoria: I know that you haven’t been in the
business long, but what are some of the trends that you have noticed?
Pam: There are more hardbacks these days, but often it’s just because the
author has some celebrity status. Say, a popular romance author’s new book
will come out in hardcover, or else the first book by a child of a popular
author. They’re in hardcover because of the popularity of the authors –
which I can understand, from the publisher’s point of view – but not because
the books deserve to be in hardcover. Our customers realize this, and they
won’t buy these books. Our community is affluent, but only because the
people spend their money carefully.
Victoria: What advice would you give to an author
who wanted to approach you, say, for a book-signing?
Pam: We don’t do many author signings; instead we do author events.
First, an author should give me a copy of his or her book, so that I can see
if it’s something that we want to sponsor. Also, authors should think about
the distribution of the book. We recently had a signing for an author whose
book was with a small press that wasn’t carried by our distributors – we use
Ingram’s and Baker & Taylor’s. He was able to bring ten copies himself, and
he sold nine, but what if the audience wanted to buy eleven copies?
Victoria: What’s your biggest frustration with
Pam: As a small independent bookstore, we’re last on their list with
respect to the new titles. The new titles arrive at our doors two months
later, say, than at Barnes & Noble. An exception was made for the new Harry
Potter book – there the publisher made sure that all copies were released at
the same time. This is why we use distributors – with them we’re not
Victoria: What advice would you give to aspiring
Pam: Writers should realize that creating a successful book is difficult.
Sometimes it’s heartbreaking. There’s not much money in bookselling, and
even ‘successful’ authors don’t always make very much.
If you want to reach a large audience, there’s little point in going with
one of the POD services. They don’t have the channels of distribution.
Instead you have to go the long, hard route, and pay your dues – like
breaking into acting. You need an agent – and getting an agent can take five
years. Even then, you have to be more than just good. Sometimes you have to
Victoria: Thanks so much, Pam, for sharing your
time and your expertise! To my readers: questions or comments? You can
contact me at grossackva at yahoo dot com.
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