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Posts Tagged ‘selling books’

“Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” now out in paperback

In blogging, books, business, journalism, life, Media, women, work on August 9, 2012 at 1:44 am

Some Broadside readers know that I’m also the author of a memoir of working retail. From September 2007 to December 2009, I worked as a part-time sales associate selling outdoor clothing and accessories for The North Face, a multi-national brand.

I never set out to write a book about this, even though several writer friends insisted from the outset that I should.

When the recession hit, I suddenly needed a steady, even small, part-time income to supplement my writing.

When a new store opened up, a 10-minute drive from my home in a suburban New York town, I applied — being athletic and a world traveler, I knew I could easily relate to North Face’s products and shoppers.

I earned $11/hour, with no bonuses or commissions.

I was 50, had been laid off from the U.S.’s 6th.-largest newspaper with a healthy salary, and had never worked a sales floor. My manager, a former military man who had served in Mogadishu, was five years younger, and the assistant manager was half my age.

It was, in every way, a whole new world.

But I proved to be good at it, and sold well. When I asked my boss for a raise, he looked embarrassed and told me he’d already given me one.

How can you get a raise you don’t notice?

When it’s 30 cents an hour.

So “Malled” — which includes many interviews with retail veterans nationwide — is also a book about working for poverty-level wages in the U.S. during the worst recession since the 1930s, in an era of growing income inequality. Our store was close to the homes of some of this country’s wealthiest people, the hedge fund managers and I-bankers who live in Greenwich, Darien and Westport, Connecticut.

From a recent piece in The New York Times:

If we’re to get people out of poverty [we need] more jobs that pay decent wages. There aren’t enough of these in our current economy…

This isn’t a problem specific to the current moment. We’ve been drowning in a flood of low-wage jobs for the last 40 years. Most of the income of people in poverty comes from work. According to the most recent data available from the Census Bureau, 104 million people — a third of the population — have annual incomes below twice the poverty line, less than $38,000 for a family of three. They struggle to make ends meet every month.

Half the jobs in the nation pay less than $34,000 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

“Malled” has won some nice reviews: Entertainment Weekly called it “an excellent memoir” and USA Today said “a bargain, even at full price.” It’s in bookstores and for sale on amazon, where its 78 reviews are deeply divided. (If you enjoy it, please add a positive review!) It’s also available, of course, as an e-book.

Many retail veterans, both managers and associates, have since written to thank me for telling their story, saying that “Malled” echoes their experience.

Retail is the U.S.’s third-largest industry, largest source of new jobs in this recession, but typically offers only poverty-level wages for part-time work.

One of the reasons it’s so poorly paid is that the skills required — which include patience, empathy, compassion, humor, attentiveness and a good memory — are often dismissed, by shoppers amd by senior retail managers, as not being skills at all.

In fact, retail workers perform emotional labor.  Their ability to relate quickly and easily to strangers, and to convert them from browsers to shoppers, isn’t something everyone can do well. And studies have shown that great salespeople move merch, not fancy ads, celebrity spokespeople, cool store design or deafening music.

“Malled” was nominated for the Hillman Award, given annually to works of journalism “in the service of the common good,” and tells many stories, from the Foxconn workers making Apple products committing suicide in China due to terrible work conditions to the CFO of Costco explaining how his company pays some of the nation’s highest wages, typically $15 to $18/hour.

I’ll be speaking about the book, and selling copies, at 2:30 Sept. 2 at the Decatur Conference Center Auditorium, at the Decatur Literary Festival, the nation’s largest independent book festival, in Georgia and at 6:00 p.m. at Neiman-Marcus in White Plains, N. Y., on Sept. 6.

On October 30, I’m addressing a retail conference at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Here’s a radio interview I did for WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, replayed last September as one of the year’s best and here are the the first two chapters, free.  If you like what you find, I hope you’ll also “like” its Facebook page, “Malled the Book”.

If you’re a blogger, I’d love to do  a guest post or a Q and A about any aspect of book-writing/publishing, with a book giveaway!

Have you ever worked retail?

How did you like it?

Meeting Your Readers Face to Face

In behavior, blogging, books, business, work on August 13, 2011 at 1:56 pm
Michael Shellenberger

Author Michael Shellenberger at a D.C. bookstore. Image via Wikipedia

When your books start heading out into the wider world — bought (paid for!) by libraries, schools and civilians — it’s hard not to be intensely curious about just who these people are.

Four months ago today, my memoir “Malled” My Unintentional Career in Retail” was published. To my relief, it is still selling very steadily nationwide.

It’s a thrill to know that some people are appreciating your skill and hard work and ideas — especially when you get “reviews” like the nastiest one (of many) so far at amazon.com that called me “bitter, pretentious and lazy, lazy, lazy.”

I recently read to/spoke with a small group — perhaps 15 or so — at Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis. Fun! A local blogger kind enough to feature me came out with his friends. They had lots of questions and comments, as several people had worked in retail themselves and had much to offer.

It was a lively conversation, and  so satisfying to have a chance to share with people who care as much about this stuff as I do.

When you’re writing, hunched alone in your sweats over your umpteenth revision, it’s these moments I especially look forward to as my reward. Writing books is such a crapshoot. You pray you’ll find readers, and when you find enthusiastic ones and can see their faces and hear their reactions, it closes the loop between your initial private ideas and the act of publication.

I was especially touched there by the woman whose response to “Malled” was “Yayyyyyyyyy!” and told us she keeps telling friends to read it.

For some people, authors are a mysterious breed. Unless you hang out in those circles, you might never meet one, while our products keep pouring out in a hopeless Niagara, each of us trying in every possible way to claim your attention. Booksellers see a ragged parade of us, persistently cheerful in the face of even the tiniest tiny turn-out — sometime one person, sometimes none.

The bookseller at M & Q was relieved to find me relaxed, schmoozing the audience before we began. “Some writers are really high-strung,” he told me.

Why, yes they are. I once interviewed a famous women humorist whose work I had revered for years. Disaster. She was rude, abrupt and distinctly not funny in person.

See: illusions, shattered.

It’s even a real challenge finding venues to read and meet your readers. I’m not sufficiently high profile to read at any of the Manhattan Barnes & Noble stores, and couldn’t find a single store in the city to set up an event for me. I did one event here in the New York suburbs where I live — and one person came, a fellow blogger I know.

“Book tours” paid for by a publisher willing to send you around the country are only for the uber-successful. The rest of us call a few stores in whatever towns we’re about to visit, and hope to piggyback on their local and loyal buyers to come out and meet us. Even if no buyers appear, we sign some books, shake some hands and hope we leave a good-enough impression that the bookstore staff will talk up our book — only word of mouth makes a book truly successful.

Not ads, not reviews.

And we really need enthusiastic and knowledgable retailers to hand-sell our work, recommending it with enthusiasm even while thousands of our competitors line their shelves.

Have you ever gone to a reading to meet an author?

Was s/he what you expected in person?

Read My Book! Watch My Video! Authors Turn YouTube Promoters, Ready Or Not

In business, Media on July 26, 2010 at 4:38 pm
Death found an author writing his life..

Make that video -- or else!! Image by ephemera assemblyman via Flickr

So much for the garret.

As authors today now know, or quickly learn, whether you can produce a publishable manuscript is only one piece of the puzzle. How are you on YouTube?

From The New York Times:

“But people who spend their whole lives writing and people who are good on video turn out to be two very different sets of people,” said the best-selling author Mary Karr, who last year starred in her first book video for her memoir “Lit.”

When, at her publisher’s request, Ms. Karr created the trailer, “I looked like a person in a studio who had never been in a studio.” She scrapped the footage and asked her son to shoot her in their living room instead. The final version opens with Ms. Karr drawling, “I’m Mary Karr and I’m here to talk about my new book, ‘Lit.’ ” She goes on to say, in her trademark twang, that the book “took me seven years to write, and believe me, I would have made more money working at McDonald’s.” Featuring Ms. Karr’s languid wit and reluctant half-smiles, punctuated by family photos of the author, the trailer is actually pretty good.

But don’t tell that to the author. “It is, in a word, humiliating,” Ms. Karr said.

For many authors, it was bad enough when, once every book, you had to slick on makeup, hire a photographer and adopt a writerly pose — hand on chin, furrowed brow — for the book jacket portrait.

So true!

I saw this when I sold my first book, on a cold wintry day in 2002, summoned to the headquarters of Simon & Schuster to meet several executives face to face. I knew this was my audition: Could I handle public pressure? Tough questions asked face to face? Was I fat or spotty? Did I stutter? Wilt under pressure?

I wore navy blue wool, my power uniform — anything that airline pilots or cops wear makes me feel safe and strong.

When I sold my second book, in September 2009, I sat in a very small room with, once more, my agent and three executives who would decide if I was worth their investment. This time I wore black, to hide the sweat rings. I knew how I comported myself there could kill the deal. This is the author’s lot now, donning a cool, calm, engaging public face.

It demands a very different set of skills to be able to chat lucidly and wittily to a camera, whether on YouTube or on CNN, or to do live radio or public events than to write prose of any value. Writers, by their nature and/or training, look inward or observe others. Many find such preening abhorrent, simply not who they really are.

Yet, authenticity sells.

Love the irony.

Write Faster, Authors! Oprah's Quitting In 2011

In business, Media on November 20, 2009 at 5:15 pm
Winfrey on the first national broadcast of The...

Her first show, 1986.Image via Wikipedia

Oprah quitting? I just watched her tearful announcement — watching “Oprah” is my occasional late afternoon treat — and thought, damn! I better hurry up and finish my memoir so I can still maybepossiblyonecanalwayshope, right? achieve the dream of many-to-most ambitious writers, certainly women who want other women to read and buy their books — a mention or interview on her show. As most of us know, and certainly anyone who writes for a living, a nod from Oprah means mega-sales, even for books and authors no one had ever heard of before.

The loss of her star-making machinery will hit authors hard; in a world where some 200,000 books are published each year, we fight elbows-out for every scrap of media attention.

Here’s an excerpt from a story I wrote in 2005 about the Oprah effect:

The phone call, on January 10, 2000, would forever change the life of Robert Morgan, a low-key English professor who had taught at Cornell for decades. A woman, who did not introduce herself, began chatting with him about his fifth book, “Gap Creek”, a tale narrated in the voice of an older Southern woman. “I’d like to include it in my book club,” she said. “That sounds nice,” murmured Morgan, assuming she was a Southern reader who found the theme familiar.

The woman finally disclosed her location – Chicago – and her identity, Oprah Winfrey.

“We decided it was a prank call,” Morgan recalls. “Then the second call came from her producer wanting us to fly back to Carolina to film a segment and to book my studio visit to Chicago. I asked my wife how many copies she thought this might sell – 20,000? We had 500,000 copies in bookstores within a week.”

Within a month, “Gap Creek” had sold 650,000 copies, winning unprecedented attention and financial success for Morgan, who had been writing poetry since college, teaching since his mid-20s and publishing well-reviewed books for a decade. At 55, he was already a well-established, well-paid author at midlife. “I already had a new Volvo,” he jokes. “I had money in the bank.”

After repaying their initial advance, most authors receive 10 percent of the cover price as their royalty – even at $2.50 per hardcover and $1.30 or more per paperback, mega-sales still mean a serious windfall for many writers.

“What it meant most was having all those new readers,” says Morgan. “I hadn’t begun to win a large audience of female readers and that gave me millions more. I got thousands of letters from all over the world, from Denmark, Germany, Australia, Canada. I still get hundreds today.”

For many authors chosen, these monumental sales are a comet’s flash, a brief, brilliant moment that illuminates  — or jumpstarts — a long and productive writing career. “I still feel the glow from it,” Morgan says today, “but I was old enough to know that this was just a great stroke of luck – being called up by NPR and CNN and CBS for interviews. It would have been harder if I were younger. You would think this was normal!”

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