Interview with a Bookseller: Conversation with Pam Headrick of A Thirsty Mind
     Victoria Grossack

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 my job.

Victoria: How did you go about learning to run a bookstore?

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 you learned?

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 mainstream publishers?

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 second-class citizens.

Victoria: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

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 be lucky.

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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About the Writer:

Victoria Grossack is, with Alice Underwood, the internationally published author of Iokaste: The Novel of the Mother-Wife of Oedipus, and other books coming out in the series called the Tapestry of Bronze (Tapestry of  You can also read more of her articles on writing by ordering the e-book, Levels of Structure in Fiction from

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.