What could be better than road tripping to Connecticut with the windows down on a sunny March day while listening to audio books? Having David R. Godine, the man of New England independent trade publishing himself, as your personal driver.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to accompany David on meetings with bookstore buyers to discuss our spring titles. We paid three visits: Maureen at Breakwater Books, Nancy at R.J. Julia Booksellers, and Suzie at the UConn Co-op. (But first, we jazzed up from the sluggishness induced by a 3-hour car ride with coffee at Cilantro Coffee Roasters, three doors down from Breakwater Books in Guilford, CT. Grabbing a cup of coffee there and then browsing the bookstore could potentially be the best way you’ve ever spent a Sunday morning.) To begin, David and I would lug two tote bags bursting with new books and popular backlist titles from his Prius to the store door, then maneuver the door open without spilling coffee onto the bags below. (This was quite the feat, I can assure you.) Once inside, I expected we would have to check in with one of the staff members and receive approval to make our way to the back, but no. People seemed to know David and just smiled as he walked straight to the offices. The meetings then began with friendly bantering between David and the buyer. Each of these buyers has been meeting with David for years, so they knew him and his titles well. At some point during these exchanges, David would kindly introduce me. Breakwater Books was the only place I got introduced as “Melanie, an intern.” Maureen said I looked just like Tina Fey, so David referred to me as “Tina” for the rest of the day.
Then it was down to business. David would flip open a catalog, and start whipping out copies of the books we brought. David was, to put it modestly, an expert salesman. It was clear that he had familiarized himself with every store and knew exactly what each buyer would be most interested in purchasing. He knew Maureen needed art books, Nancy would mainly be interested in fiction, and Suzie had a soft spot for gardening books. He didn’t waste time trying to sell books that weren’t applicable and moved on to a title he knew they’d make a profit on. (If only all sales staff were as thoughtful . . . ) The buyers also graciously went out of their way to talk to me about the bookstore end of the business – how they choose titles to sell, which publicity techniques work best for them, etc. A big thank you to David and these buyers for teaching me so much!
I do have one complaint. The first audio book we listened to was the lousiest mystery novel I’ve ever encountered. It had all the earmarks of a cheap dime novel – brothels, a less-than-virtuous detective, murder and suicide, with a plot you could detect (pun intended) by page 9. For example, towards the end, the prostitute character pulls a handgun out of her desk. Out of HER DESK. Can you say cliché? Seriously, I think a few of my brain cells died at that moment.
But the bookselling know-how and vitamin D I absorbed that day was probably enough to resuscitate them.