Thursday, May 9, 2013

Supporting Local Businesses by Not Stealing From Them

Last year we had a lot of problems with people scanning books in order to buy them elsewhere. In order to combat this problem we decided to ask people to not use cell phones at all in the store and most people have respected this.

However things have progressed this year and now we have had several instances of people photographing recipes and copying information out of books that they have no intention of buying. I'd just like to take a minute and explain why this is a bad thing. While it does hurt us, it also hurts the authors from whom the information is being stolen. People went to a lot of work to develop those recipes, research those travel destinations and document those paintings, just to name a few things that have been copied in the past months, and to take their work for granted is rude. By making the purchase you are supporting that author and this will make it much easier for them to continue producing new material.

People constantly argue that it's just one recipe or a couple of pages and that they don't want the whole book, but that is no justification for theft, because that is what it is. Either decide that the one recipe is worth buying the book or that you don't need it, those are the two options. Actually I'm wrong there is also a good third option, if you don't want to buy the book, check any of the local libraries and borrow it, maybe you'll even decide that it's worth buying after all.

We also get the argument that "I shop here all the time," and while that is great and we appreciate it, it still doesn't make theft okay. You wouldn't go into a grocery store and just take a couple of eggs out of a carton, walk out and tell the clerk, "It's okay, I bought a whole box last week, so I'm just gonna take these because I only need four eggs right now."

We put a lot of work into cultivating a quality collection and if you decide that you want to buy a book elsewhere that is your right and there is nothing we can do to stop you. But, to those who do, remember the next time you are using our store as a showroom, that without support we won't be here forever. We rely on our customers in order to exist and with that I just want to give a heartfelt thanks to everyone out there who shops here and let them know that we appreciate their support.

- Michael

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Farley's Interviews Hanging Loose Press for National Poetry Month

This year for National Poetry Month Farley's Bookshop is interviewing some of our favorite poets and publishers. We begin the interview series with Robert Hershon of Hanging Loose Press and Hanging Loose Magazine. We have been working very closely with Hanging Loose since 2008 and are always filled with a wonderful eager anticipation when we know their new releases are coming out or a new issue of their magazine. They are the press that discovered Sherman Alexie and they have since 1963, discovered and supported a pile of fine writers from Ha Jin to Jayne Cortez to Helen Adam. Mr. Hershon, a fine poet himself who has read at Farley's, graciously took the time to answer our questions via email. Enjoy.
Hanging Loose has been publishing for 46 years now, a phenomenal run for a small, independent press. Can you talk about the press' origins, its aims and its future?
BH: In 1963, Emmett Jarrett and Ron Schreiber, student and young instructor at Columbia, respectively, started a handsome letterpress magazine called Things. They did three issues and went broke. With Dick Lourie and me joining them, we re-grouped as Hanging Loose, the name deriving from the format, loose mimeographed pages in a cover envelope. The format was very cheap (much hand labor by the editors) and was also meant to express a point of view: that poetry is for today, not for the Ages. We wanted to find energetic work by young writers. We still do -- plus we want to stay with the people we've been publishing for years. For the immediate future, we want to keep doing what we're doing, publishing two issues of the magazine and 6-8 books a year. That's a comfortable schedule for us. Beyond that, if one or more of the editors dies or can't go on, the press will either continue organically or pass into history. We have no formal plans. I wouldn't want strangers taking over HL. We are who we are -- and 47 years so far is a hell of a run.

What is the role of a good small press? What should it be doing? What should a press be avoiding?
BH: Someone was praising a small publisher to my friend John Gill once and John said "Tell me how many first books he does." I think that's a duty of small press. It's also where the fun is, discovering good new writers. Presses that beg the leavings of famous writers soon pass into oblivion and are not missed.

How vital a role do the small presses play in keeping poetry alive? Why?
BH: Small presses keep poetry alive in this country. A few trade publishers, still playing at being gentlemen, continue to print some poetry, but it's often just so they can look a little literary. And when you look at the trade lists, see how many of the authors started with small presses.
What is the role between the editor and the writer? And how does a good editor cultivate and aid a good writer?
BH: The editor-writer relationship has virtually disappeared from trade publishing. HL has the reputation of doing a lot of editing. Sometimes a book needs very little help, sometimes a great deal. When we accept a book, we assign one editor to it and that editor doesn't get second-guessed. Obviously, first-book writers usually need more help than veterans and we'll give them as much time as they need.
What differentiates Hanging Loose from other presses? Besides longevity of course.
BH: I recognize that there are HL-type poems -- humorous, political, non-traditional and so forth -- although I hope we can spring some surprises, too. I realize I've been talking about poetry, but the same points, of course, apply to the prose we publish. We have affinities with the New York School/St. Mark's Poetry Project/San Francisco writers, but I don't think we could ever be that neatly labeled. There is general agreement among the editors about what we don't want, but some vigorous disagreement on what we do want and I think that tension is what keeps us lively. One of the things I discovered long ago is that having co-editors forces you to articulate what you do or don't like in a piece; I still enjoy that process.

With the proliferation of MFA programs across the country, and the drive of creating writing studies down into the undergraduate level, how have you seen American poetry change? Where do you see it going?
BH: I think there are a handful of very good MFA programs and they produce some talented writers. I also think a huge number of them con people who really haven't much to say and flood the world with third-rate, stillborn work. I was amazed by the number of low-residency MFA programs advertised in the AWP catalog, so many of them from schools I've never heard of. Still, if these programs give a lifeline to a few really good writers, the bad ones will just drop away.
One of the most distinctive features of Hanging Loose, both the press and the magazine, is your support of high school aged writers. The anthologies you've put out of their writing are remarkable, to say the least. How did you get involved in doing this? What are some of the great surprises and highlights you've seen in doing this?
BH: We started the high school section in 1968, so our first young writers are now nearly as damned old as we are. I was skeptical at first: Let these kids publish in their school magazines. But right from the beginning, we began getting exciting work, often work the writers couldn't show their teachers, and that's never let up. Most of these kids go on to do other things in their lives, but some of them are lifers -- Joanna Fuhrman, Donavan Hohn, Sam Kashner, Meghan O'Rourke, Rebecca Wolff -- not that we take credit for their careers. Unfortunately, I think most HS teachers fear and loathe poetry and get that message across to their students only too well. We also have a small network of wonderful teachers who are always on the lookout for us.
Hanging Loose has remained independent---free from university or corporate backing---this whole time. Talk about how this has affected the press. How has it freed you up? What have been the disadvantages of this? Are presses and magazines suffering from university sponsorship?
BH: I'm very proud of our being independent and not subject to the whims, fears or demands of college officials, rich angels or even disagreeable boards of directors. We do what we goddamn like! The down side? Less financial support, less marketing help, not being members of the club. None of the HL editors has ever taken a salary. I don't know what pressures universities bring to bear on magazines except for what I see on the CLMP listserv and that's sometimes not very pretty.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Supporting Small Presses: How to Do It, Why We Do It

The other day the American Bookseller's Association's Karen Schechner contacted the store to do an interview with us about our small press promotions. As many of you know, for the past six months we have been bringing in small presses en masse here at the store and trying to turn people on to the breadth of great literature found on them. We have no plans to stop this program whatsoever. At a time when too many people talk about e-books, we thought we'd go the other route: standing by the presses we love, putting books into people's hands. Karen's write up can be found here:

Below is the unexpurgated interview. Any bookseller should feel free to contact us with questions about the program. We hope that other bookshops follow this model and find great indie presses to support. Contact your other favorite bookstore or your favorite small press, show them the interview and help to get a movement started. It's time we created a new model of bookselling together.

Farley's Bookshop c/o William Hastings

Interview with the ABA's Karen Schechner about small press displays


1: How did Farley’s get into selling indie press titles?

Our interest in indie presses began by reading their books. It has long been known that the best literature in the country is often found on the indie presses. Because indie presses do not pay taxes on unsold stock, since many of them are non-profits, we found that some of our favorite writers were being kept in print because of this. Then, as the world economy tanked in 2008, we noticed that the major publishing houses were forced to cut great, but smaller selling writers from their lists. Those writers ended up in the indie presses and have stayed there. It's not that we had a problem with the major publishing houses' title selection, it's just that the more we looked the more we liked the cutting-edge, eclectic, profound, beautiful, well-constructed literature that kept surprising us in the indie presses. We started hand selling a lot of it because our customers kept asking for recommendations and many of us were reading indie press titles alongside other work. Around this time we became the official bookseller for NoirCon, a multi-day noir/crime fiction convention here in Philadelphia. In order to stock a great selection of books for the event we did some deep research into the noir/crime fiction community and found an incredible selection of indie presses there. Once we were at NoirCon writers and fans told us about even more. We also began subscribing to The American Book Review and The Bloomsbury Review, in our opinion the two finest reviewing papers in the country. While they review books from the major publishing houses, they devote much space to the indies, something we noticed the metropolitan newspaper review sections were not doing. This turned us on to some great books. Some of our employees also subscribe to hosts of the literary quarterlies, which are other great avenues to discover indie press books. All of this got us thinking that we should be me forthright in highlighting these presses in the store. But, as with anything, money is an issue. How to stock these presses in depth without sacrificing stocking the other presses that we love? We had heard about some publishers offering better purchasing/returns terms in exchange for special displays. This lead us to create our idea: a consignment-style set-up in exchange for face out displays and prominent in-store location. We wrote a proposal and reached out to presses we loved that weren't using major distributors that we had reps for. After all, we didn't want to hurt our relationships there either. And we are more than open to having bookstores contact us for help in getting this started, or if they have any questions about what we've done.

2: How are they displayed? In a separate section?

Each press has its own section of the front of the store. Above each section we have a sign naming the press. Each book is face-out, with a shelf talker written by a staff member. When you walk into the store the firs thing you see are hundreds of book covers looking right at you. The project has expanded so much that we've had to place some of the presses in our main display area in the center of the store because we have run out of room up front. Soon we will be removing a compact disc display section, moving it to another part of the store, and using that space to display literary quarterlies or another press that will be coming in soon.

3: How are sales?

Sales are excellent. Every single press has told us that we have sold more titles of theirs than any other bookstore they work with. We're hesitant to give out exact dollar amounts, but we can safely say that in six months we moved close to three hundred indie press titles.

4: You sell them on consignment?

The set-up works like this: in exchange for net-90 terms and the standard 40% discount we offer the presses their own section of the store, face-out displays with shelf talkers for each book and extensive advertising. The presses cover shipping to us, if we return books to the presses we cover shipping back. It is a fairly straight forward consignment set-up. If the books don't sell, they don't sell at no risk to us and little risk to the publisher. So far no publisher has wanted a return from us, they've just asked that we keep the titles and then shipped new/different ones to us. We're more than happy to do that. Given enough time, they'll sell. And they have.

5: How do you market them?

We market them in a variety of ways. First, we have a small press book club that meets once a month. Unlike our other book club, the small press book club does not limit itself to fiction. This allows us to rotate through the publishers, since many of them are poetry houses, and to guarantee sales of at a minimum ten copies for that month of a single title. Often in the month that we are reading a book we'll sell more because our customers ask what's being read even though they can't make the book club. Beyond that we highlight the books constantly on our Twitter and Facebook pages. We stay in close contact with the publishers and they get word out regularly about our store and its offerings. We do write-ups in our newsletter of the titles, or sometimes, an entire press' offerings. But like any good independent bookstore, hand-selling them is our bread and butter. Lastly, we have spent much time and effort educating our customers that book buying can be like record buying in many ways. You can still find great music just because you trust whatever certain labels are putting out. Likewise books. By showing our customers that each press is very different and has different outlooks, specialties, goals, we have shown our customers they can find a press that matches their style and tastes. We've shown them that while they may not have heard the author's name before, they can trust the quality of the book just because of the press it's on.

6: Do you have any events involving indie press titles?

We have done quite a few events with the indie presses. Most importantly, some of the writers whose books we have contacted us very early in the experiment to thank us and to offer themselves in some form or another to the store. What we ended up creating with them was a series of ongoing free creative writing workshops. Writers come to the store (we've had them come from as far away as Mississippi) and at the beginning of their workshop they read from their book. That gives the class a common denominator for discussion as well as spotlights the writer's book. We offer classes in all genres. The writers then stay for signing afterword. Beyond the workshops we have offered poetry readings, sidewalk signings, in-store signings, events at local bars. There's always something going on here at the store and much of it has grown out of our work with the indie presses.

7: Is this something you’d recommend to other booksellers?

We cannot recommend this more highly to other bookstores. Regardless of what the news media tells us about bookselling in this country, independent bookstores are the front lines of keeping literature alive in this country. The collapse of Borders has proven that brick and mortar bookstores offer something unique and important to this literary world. The more independent bookstores diversify their stock, the larger a patchwork quilt of literature is built into the fabric of our communities across this country. Reach out to local and regional presses so your store can stock books only found where you live and can help to keep alive great, though overlooked, writing. Reach out to every indie press you can think of. You'll be able to greatly increase stock and offer wonderful books your customers may not have heard of. Stay in close contact with the presses and build tight relationships with them: it helps them and it helps you. Subscribe to the literary quarterlies and The American Book Review and The Bloomsbury Review (which has a special program that allows you to give away free copies of The Bloomsbury Review to your customers) to help you learn about all the great literature that is happening in this country. Many of these indie presses do not put their titles into e-book formats because they are incredibly conscientious of their graphic design and the special magic of holding a book in your hands. Supporting these presses distributes both knowledge and power across a larger base, instead of consolidating it in the hands of the few.

8: Anything else you’d like to add?

We have not sold a single e-book at our store. In fact, we haven't had a single customer ask us about it. Instead, what we have seen is an increasing amount of people coming into the store looking for books they can't find anywhere else and asking for recommendations from the staff. In some cases, we have had to re-stock our small presses three times over because we can't keep the books on the shelves. We have had customers drive upwards of three hours to get to our store just because they heard we now stock a deep selection of their favorite press. What has happened in the past few months, since we started this project, is we've realized just how important a bookstore can be to a community. Bookstores can help out restaurants and bars by hosting readings in them or by having the restaurant set up tables in the cookbook section and give away free food to customers. Offer free writing workshops and help out local writers. A bookstore has the ability to link into the schools and help educators offer books to their students that may help to turn students onto reading and a love of literature. Unlike the rewards programs established by some educator book distributors for teachers, bookstores are not recommending books to schools or students because they will receive a financial reward from the distributor. Yes, we make money off of book sales, but we make money off of helping our community to build lifelong readers. In doing so we can support the artists that we love, the presses that remind us of the possibilities of literature and the local bars, museums, theaters, restaurants and galleries that provide spaces for public celebration of literature in all its forms. At a time when a horrible economy threatens so much, brick and mortar stores have the ability to revitalize the economy. After all, over half of the workforce in this country is employed by family run businesses. And, as a study in Michigan showed, if a half-million people switched ten percent of their spending to buying locally, over one hundred and thirty million dollars of new job revenue would be created. Saving our communities and our country begins at the local level. It begins by buying locally and supporting local stores. It begins with bookstores extending themselves outward into the community to help educate and inform people about literature and its joys, to connect with other local businesses to offer things to people they hadn't realized they wanted. It begins with bookstores all across this country offering a diverse and regionally unique selection of books to their customers to create a vats array of places where readers and travelers can find incredible work. We're called brick and mortar for a reason we feel too many have forgotten: we're the foundation of it all. What will stand after the trends die out.