I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.
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The vast majority of people throughout the United States are unware of how different our country is depending on where it is that you live. It will rarely cross your mind that the people living in the Southwest are not experiencing the same thing as those living in the Midwest, and so-on-and-so-forth, there are, of course similarities, an example of which being McDonaldization and the illusion that efficiency and familiarity establish some deeply-rooted since of comfortability, though this is not entirely true. Yes, regardless, I did laugh at Tom Segura’s joke, “…the worse part, honestly, of traveling in our country is that there’s no surprises. I swear to you, I travel every week, and it’s really a disappointment. Every place is exactly what I thought it was going to be. You know? I can prove it to you. Picture a place you’ve never been to in this country. Picture it. Yup. That’s exactly how it is.”
…because there is truth to that, it’s those similarities, or differences that we actually think about: I live in Texas, in a little town in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, I grew up here, I moved out of state after high school for ten years, and now I’m back, there are still people who believe that here in Texas we ride our horses to work, and granted in another little town about 40 miles from me called Bandera there is truth to that, but they do not speak for the rest of Texas, however, you would be surprised by how different things actually are.
I keep repeating myself, why? Because it’s important for you to understand the differences. When I was living in Salt Lake City I developed a strong craving for Jamba Juice one Sunday afternoon, I drove around for nearly two hours just hoping to find a Jamba Juice that was open on a Sunday. I remember having a conversation with a female friend—or so I thought she was—until I asked her, “So, can men and women be friends?” Her response was, “Yeah, I think so.” I continued with, “What if one of them is married?” To which her response was, “Oh, absolutely not.”
The way that people think, what people are interested in, how people express and act on those interests, all of which, and more, differ depending very much on where it is within the United States that you live. I was at the gym last week in the middle of a conversation—which, frankly, I still cannot understand what this friend of mine was thinking approaching me at the gym while I wearing headphones, I honestly don’t care how well I might know you—he asked me about my work, “So you run an online library, right? How’s that going?” I responded with, “Well, it’s a bookstore…you know, and it’s going great…” He looked at me after I corrected him about my business being a bookstore and not a library as if to say, what’s the difference? And there’s a truth to that, in Texas. If you’re even the slightest bibliophile (book person) living wherever it is that you might be living you are probably familiar with Book People in Austin and Larry McMurtry’s bookstore in Archer City, Booked Up, those are the two bookstores to speak of in the state—in the state of Texas! And most Texan’s are not familiar with them, but then again most Texan’s are still under the impression that printed books and bookstores are a thing of the past, most Texan’s are not aware that as of 2012 bookstores, and especially privately owned used bookstores have seen a steady increase both in new stores and sales, and that digital—or eBooks—had leveled out in sales.
It’s a result, entirely, of this misconception that though you might drive by (or thru) a number of familiar franchises between here and everywhere else, that everywhere else is not the same. They are not watching the same news stations, they are not hearing—or agreeing—with the same ideals, and I’m not referring to a political agenda, even though our government and media has managed to make everything seem like it’s a political arena in attempt to divide a manipulated American public, bu-bu-buuttt that’s not exactly the point of this blog. I want to talk about books, and about reading, guess what? Reading is alive and well, and you fellow Texan’s I’m not only talking about in “dirty liberal cities” like San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and New York, small town moderate (left of-, right of center Americans) are tearing through the spines of an increasing number of books and hauling them—after reading—to their local libraries or bookstores (what’s the difference again?) for reselling.
Did you know that Half Price Books started in Austin, Texas? HPB is one of the largest book retailers in the country, and, that’s right, it started here in lil ol’ Texas—there are five stores in San Antonio. Just outside of San Antonio in the numerous growing towns such as Boerne, Bandera, Comfort, Kerrville, Fredericksburg, and New Braunfuls the only existing bookstores (that are not specialty stores) exist within the local libraries, which, unfortunately, do not have the means to offer to the town the inventory or the hours that the residents deserve. The main reason for this is the fact that most people in rural Texas do not understand that people still enjoy reading. I know, from a number of perspectives that might sound ludicrous, in the sense that how can a person not know what they like, but that’s not what I’m trying to get across, it’s that you don’t necessarily know what other people like, and individuals, for whatever reason, make the assumption that they are different from everybody else, that our own interests are not shared by the people around us, and it’s that idea exactly that is the catalyst behind the ‘mob mentality’ reaction to—well, now-a-days, to just about everything.
Printed books are not going anywhere. And it’s not just about nostalgia, though there is something about holding a book, smelling it, having it resting on our shelves, it’s not entirely about that, and it may not be the most logical understanding, but the simple truth is that the reason books are not going anywhere is because, they are books. The Gutenberg Bible was printed in 1455, that’s more than 560 years ago. Don’t let your misunderstanding of what others may or may not understand affect something that you actually enjoy doing, pick up a book, grab something of your shelf, open the spine, and start reading. Respond to this article, and tell me what you decided to read, and how it made you feel—or visit Communitea Books and share with me a story about a time when you stopped reading, for a while, and came back to it, or tell me about a book you never finished, the one that’ still sitting on the shelf with a bookmark in it.
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I tend to over-complicate my job as an independent bookseller, especially one who is selling books online. There has been a huge influx of independent online sellers since eBay and Amazon established themselves as the world’s leading eCommerce businesses, which isn’t news to anyone, I know. People developing, and maintain their own “eBay Stores” has become a huge independent means of alternative income. The book industry is no different. There is one aspect of it, however, that very few people understand. Similar, in a way, to that guy who bought Walmart out of their discounted products and sold them online for a profit in the regions that they…you know, would be profitable, there is a large community of people, in the book industry, that visit discount book stores such as Half Price Books and various other used stores where they buy books for cheap and then resell them, usually online, to people in regions where that particular title or edition or author is sought after.
I live just outside of San Antonio, Texas in the Texas Hill Country. I’ll often drive into San Antonio and visit the many Half Price Books bookstores where I scan the shelves for books that are, for all intents and purposes, underpriced, and I’ll buy them. However, a number of the books that I find under such circumstances I don’t resell, I keep them, for my collection, which is a little problem that I have. I once found a signed First Edition/First Printing of Wallace Stegner’s, ‘Angle of Repose.’ Signed! On the shelf at Half Price Books for $12. So, of course I bought it, and I could have turned around and resold it for more than a thousand dollars, and yet it’s still just sitting on my shelf along with the rest of my collection. Of course, to be fair to me, how often are you going to find a signed copy of Wallace Stegner’s ‘Angle of Repose?’ and for only $12?!
Another aspect of this type of business model is to find books underpriced—and I should probably clarify that a collectible, regardless of what it is, are priced, generally, according to their market value in that particular region: so a book you find in San Antonio may not have the market value that it might have in, say, San Francisco, for example, even in this internet age. If you find a book that is underpriced in one particular area it can often be sold for two, sometimes three times (maybe more) the price you paid for it, in another area. These regions may even be broken down within a single city. So, a book you find on the northwest side for cheap might resell for a profit margin on the southeast. There are a lot of people that make a living learning about the demographics of their city, and beyond, in order to buy and resell in and around their neighborhoods. It requires collecting data and doing some research, but the entire process is both fun and, clearly, incredibly rewarding, if you dedicate the time to it.
The nearest Half Price Books to me is near Huebner Oaks, off of Huebner Road in San Antonio, in a tiny shopping center called ‘The Strand.’ There are a handful of really cool books sitting on their shelves that I tell myself that I’ll return to later, partly because I always spend a ridiculous amount of money when I visit, but also because there is this girl that works there that’s really cute: shoulder length black hair, fair skin, thoughtful. I go in there looking for new opportunities to talk to her. It’s not within my purview as a male adult to approach women while their working with the intent of “asking them out”—simply because they are working. See, because they have to be there, they’re just trying to make a living. The last thing I would want is for someone to come up to me, on the job, and create a possibly uncomfortable situation—so no way! The conversations we do have are very nice, and as infrequently as I go into San Antonio—we’re just simple country folk—sometimes it’s even a pleasant surprise when I see her. But, wait, hold on, I’m not really there to socialize, right, I mean, I’m trying to make a living people—get off my back.
I know how appealing this sounds. A number of you might read this and think, “Hell, I can do that!” and hightail it to your nearest used bookstore expecting to quickly make your first million. Well, it ain’t comin’ that easily. Let me outline how this is going to go: you’re going to pull into the parking lot, and you’ll probably find an incredible spot and attribute it to how seamlessly the next hour or so, and subsequently the rest of your life will lead, so you’ll pull in to the spot, and you’ll get out of the car, and you’ll walk up the front doors, you’ll open them, and you’ll step inside, an employee will acknowledge your existence, and then you’ll stop and hesitate as you scan the entire store from left to right. Because you have no idea what you’re looking for, or how to find it. I mean, you’re not going to pick every single book up off of the shelf, flip through it, and then put it in your basket, right? What are you even looking for inside the book? It cannot just be a clean hardcover that looks cool. You really have to know what you’re looking at. (Lucky for you I did write another blog about the specifics of determining whether a book was collectible, or valuable—it’s not always the same thing—but as you’ll see you when you read this other blog here, even that alone cannot help you on your half-assed journey towards wealth and underground book industry fame!)
You have to do your research. You have to allow for trail-and-error. The process takes a while, so you’ll want to learn how to enjoy it. I love being surrounded by books, of course I have a difficult time letting some of them go, which makes the process, for me, considerably more difficult, hence the reason why I make bookselling more complicated than it should be. But that’s just me. I find other superficial ways to enjoy my job, maybe perhaps I’ll discuss it with the lovely black haired, fair skinned woman sorting through book buys/ and trades behind the back counter, either way if you don’t get attached to rare finds and collectible books it is a great way to both learn, and find a few extra dollars in your pocket.
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When I was in my early twenties I started writing a book. I had this idea to set the novel, in its entirety, on a plane, and it would be a study into behavioral and psychological habits of people that, for one reason or another, all found themselves sitting together here on this plane, at the end of which almost no one would hold on to the connections that they may have made that day, at least consciously. The novel was tentatively titled, A Window Seat. I enjoyed writing it. I remember sitting in my office, or what I had decided would be my office, in my new apartment in Pocatello, Idaho. The building was renovated to resemble an old ritzy hotel: the lobby and hall carpets were all maroon, the wallpaper maroon and gold, the radiators were painted gold, and each room had a milk door that opened up into the kitchen. I love this apartment. It was essentially a studio with a single room that was separated by French Doors that led into a room that, on the remaining sides, were covered by windows, and this room would become my office. I sat one evening on a chair that was left in the apartment. That chair, a bookshelf, and my bed, which lay in the middle of the larger room, was the only furniture that I had after leaving Texas so I used a book as a desk, a hard surface to write on while sitting in the chair, in my new office. I was consumed entirely in writing this story, A Window Seat I remember, distinctly, seeing not the windows but beyond the windows surrounding me, or the room adjacent, my bed, etc., I instead remember seeing my airplane and the passengers in it, I remember the window seat, and the gentlemen sitting next to me, I remember all of this fiction that had enveloped me. It was in that moment that I decided that I would write for a living, I realized that day that I was a writer.
I was never able to finish that novel, A Window Seat, instead I chopped it up and rewrote it as a series of short stories and moved on from there. I struggled, a lot. I did find opportunities in various outlets like the Idaho Falls Magazine and a handful of literary journals, but I learned how to live small. There were times that I lived unimaginably small. I know how to comfortably sleep and to live out of a car, and I know where to-, and where not to sleep as a struggling, homeless, and starving artist in New York City. I’ve watched people that I know make the same efforts that I’ve made and rocket into stardom even without the security blanket of talent. I have sacrificed the prospects of a ‘normal’ life for the sake of persistence unrealized in order to develop a dream inspired by my passion for writing. And I’ve wondered a great deal what it is that I am missing that seems to have come so naturally to everyone else, that thing that allows them to succeed while I, you know, don’t—and still sometimes I wonder.
I know the value of determination and persistence, and when people say to “never give up,” I know that it is not just a sound bite, because the catalyst of success is in being noticed every day, consistently. The day after you give up is the day that you would have succeeded. It’s just the truth. And at the foundation of that truth is the willingness to have taken a risk in the first place. It’s no coincidence that a large number of great artists, writers, actors, and people are an example of what we have come to call “a success story.” If you spend your life risking failure, and failing, you will, inevitably, discover success. We will encounter hurdles that seem more impossible to chance than others. For me, honestly, it was—it is—the expectations of my parents that continues to challenge my drive, but I know, without a degree of uncertainty, that the day I give up, the following day is the day that I would have succeeded at least in the eyes of my parents, of course, as far as I am concerned, I already have succeeded, simply because I have never given up, and once you are willing to take that same risk to not only find the willingness to start something new, but to see it through you’ll know exactly what it is that I mean.
When you’re an artist, of any medium, and you have made the decision to pursue that craft professionally you will tend to look for any opportunity regardless of how small to make it work. I write blurbs for Crowd Content—I still do. It’s a small online marking firm that hires ghost writers (like myself) to write short advertisements for, almost, anybody that will take them, and they pay almost nothing. As an artist you have to train your brain to think differently, in a lot of ways, but most aptly for this blogs purposes, you have to rain your brain to think differently when it comes to the way that you make money. For anyone whom has worked a job whether it be shift work or a nine-to-five you are used to working a specified number of hours and receiving a check, in one weekly or bi-weekly or bi-monthly bulk transaction, and your organize your budget based on that income. As a—struggling—professional artist you’ll often receive multiple checks throughout even the course of a day ranging from $10 to $500 (or more; or less). It’s not the time you work that becomes valuable it’s what you’re doing with your time, which for obvious reasons, demands you to covet time, but for all intents and purposes bear with me on this point that I’m making. In my experience if you’re an artist, and have worked to develop your art and yourself, and developing a market of yourself, the only reason we struggle, really, is because it’s difficult to rewire our brains to think differently about the way we understand income, especially if you never stop to consider the possibility that the unconscious expectations that we develop throughout childhood are considerably more demanding on our behaviors, and our actions than most of us fully understand.
When taking a risk whether it’s quitting your job to write a book, or to start your own bookstore (business), or you’re going to paint, or be a full time photographer, it’s important to be aware that success comes only from changing the way you perceive the market, and the way that we make money, and the way that we spend money. I’ve worked many jobs while trying to make my life work as an author--and then, again as a business owner. Some of those jobs have been too demanding for me to even consider creating my own life, and so I just simply left them for the sake of my passions, and if things got bleak again, I would find another job, and in the meantime I learned to train my brain to think in terms of a, I don’t know, micro-income generator, and how to accept money regardless of whether it was in the form of a ten dollar bill or a few thousand dollar check. You make a lot of promises, and acquire new and interesting kinds of debts, your write a lot of thank you letters, or texts, or Instagram’s or whatever, and you never give up, and just like Jim Carey walking around with a ten million dollar check in his wallet made out to himself until he was able to cash it (he carried around for years, and was able to cash it in 95’), you will find success.
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A few months ago James Bonner was sitting at his favorite coffeehouse in Boerne, Texas, Electric Coffee, a place that has become the counter culture center of the small Texas Hill Country Town, “I spend a great deal of time there—which is to say that this coffeehouse is one of my favorite places.” Bonner shares about the coffeehouse. James was chatting with his friend Tricia Laffer, as they often do, when happening upon one another at their mutually favorite middle of the day break from life. Bonner had been talking about finding a new way to display books online. James has an online bookstore and blog, Communitea Books, the pair was talking about an idea Bonner had, “How cool it would be to create this interactive space where the visiting interweb consumer would be looking at, what appeared to be, a series of bookshelves, spine out, as if the patron were actually in a bookstore, and then by clicking on the spine of the book a customer would then be directed to a product page for that book.”
Though James still thinks the concept is great, he doesn’t know anything about web development and html coding, she shares, so, for him, it’s either a pipe dream or many, many years off in the future, “When I can hire someone to take on what seems like an enormous project” Tricia mentioned then how cool it would be if Instagram could be that feature, in some way, like, well, we all know how Instagram is formatted, so essentially each picture would be of a book cover and a link that would direct the customer to different product pages, and check outs, and what not. “I loved the idea, however the thought of sitting around all day uploading photographs and typing in information for thousands of books, again, inspired a degree of anxiety.” James shared.
As daunting as the task seemed to Bonner he started to do some research into the logistics of what that would look like, and on specifically for Instagram. “I was introduced, then, via the rabbit hole that internet searches create, to Snapppt…Snapppt is a program or app or whatever that links to Instagram, as directly as they are capable at present, but it’s, essentially an eCommerce platform that kind of sits on top of Instagram.” "So, OK...” Bonner thought, “…if I could find the ambition, again, to stare into the depth of the technological void, whilst spending my day floating behind artificial eyes with an analog brain something really cool could come from this!”
James did not do anything for a while, he focused, instead, on developing the best website that he could, “…at least by the standards of Google Search Console and Adsense.”
“One afternoon I was doing some basic social media marketing, and focusing on various platforms: Google+, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and the like and I was browsing Pinterest, you know, I was Pinterested in the Pinteresting Pinterest’s, and it occurred to me that Pinterest is perfectly capable of providing the same marketing and eCommerce means as Snapppt, and Instagram.”
Bonner, of course, already has his own website, communiteabooks.com, and, thanks to Shopify, he has bookstore attached to his Facebook page. “But, What if I flooded the market with a new format of bookstore? In a way that no one had ever seen? The idea, when talking to Tricia, seemed cool, but all of a sudden it seemed to me ridiculous to not develop this idea.” Bookstores like Barnes&Noble, The Strand, Powell’s they all have their own Instagram and Pinterest pages, but are they using these social media platforms in a way that would turn them into visual online bookstores? No, and, in point of fact, as of now, and other than a pair of Bonners friends, Benjamin and Calixte, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, The Bookman and the Lady, whose focus is on Rare and Collectible books, nobody is.
So, James started developing it.
He first created an Instagram bookstore, Communitea_Books, using Snapppt as a sort of eCommerce layer, and a Pinterest bookstore, Communitea_Books, which links directly to his website. James, as he pointed out, is doing this on his own, attempting to create, and to innovate with a seemingly outdated product, and because it’s just him, and “…it seems as if I already have a never ending, and constantly expanding series of projects as it is.” For Bonner to “maintain some semblance of sanity, while taking on Instagram and Pinterest.” He is adding only fifteen books a day: fifteen to Instagram, and fifteen to Pinterest. “I love books, and I’ve always known that there are ways to keep them relevant, and not just for the consumer, but to maintain a market relevance as well, and I will continue to play with new ideas, and create new ways to keep books in people hands.”
“There is one little pet peeve though, that continues to eat at me, and that seems to be steadily growing in the back of my head: I have uploaded all my books to my website, however the eCommerce program was designed for individual products, and books have always been displayed collectively: by author. My platform doesn’t recognize the author as a separate section, it is part of the Title, and so I can’t have my online bookstore organized by author. As I upload books onto Instagram and Pinterest I wanted there to be some uniformity, some means of logical browsing—if you were looking for something specific, or you’re the type of person that create clusters in your brain in order to organize things, like I do, but the only way I could do that was to alphabetize my products by the first letter of the Title, which, you know, I have a difficult time dealing with.”
“I was sitting here this morning, doing some social media marketing for Communiteabooks.com and it finally dawned on me, in a way that it really had not yet: with Pinterest, and Instagram I am creating something that has never been done before, and by doing so I have multiple bookstores across multiple platforms all over the internet, they are all separate, and they are all one. I am so intrigued by that. Also, the idea of where this could potentially go—I don’t really do anything with the intention of realizing some foreseeable goal(s), and yes, of course, I have goal(s), and yet because I understand that everything is organic, and everything is constantly changing, the promise that I have no idea where else this could lead is awesome. And that I’m doing it with books: with these century old, conceptual, collections of knowledge and story. It just amazes me!”
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What does it mean exactly to be a, ‘Local Author?’ That’s kind of interesting concept, the distinction made between being an author and a local author. I’ve written for national, and international journals, and I’ve written for local newspapers and journals, and I had not thought about this distinction before now. I love ‘local authors.’ The label seems to follow those that cannot help but write, they are writers and once that realization has been made it’s not possible to live without writing, and yet ‘local’ authors, the label, the distinction, seems to follow those that may, or may not have accepted the process of self-publication, but despite the leap to commercial stardom may actually prefer it.
Having self-published, myself, I understand the appeal, until I have to market my book, and myself. Not only is the act of marketing exceptionally complicated, but in the social media world, the process is daunting as well, and exhausting, and never-ending, and…, and…, and…
I worked at an independently owned bookstore in Santa Fe, and there was a very large focus on ‘local authors,’ we would carry anyone who wanted to be represented, and display their book under consignment. It was fascinating being a part of that, on the backend, especially in Santa Fe, New Mexico with the hundreds of different artists and writers roaming around; in a city like Santa Fe, the home of George R. R. Martin, Cormac McCarthy, Amistad Maupin, Michael McGarrity and others, the distinction of author and ‘local’ author never actually occurred to me.
There’s a local author here in Boerne, Texas his name is David Martin Anderson, and his a very prolific writer, one of his books The Last Good Horse was a finalist for the Faulkner-Wisdom Award, and yet he is very much a ‘local’ author. I have reviewed books for journals and almost every week I get requests on LinkedIn from authors wanting me to review their independently written, and published books, not to mention the requests at Communitea Books. And because I have been a self-published author as well the desire to stand with-, and to help them succeed by however means they perceive success to be made, is exciting and encouraging for me.
‘Local’ author Elena Mikalsen messaged me earlier and inspired an idea, that I hope can ‘take off,’ providing some marketing and sales for different authors as well as Communitea Books. My intention has always been to develop a community oriented bookstore, and I wonder how I can expand that idea via the writing community through my bookstore’s website? If you’re a local author, and you’re reading this, and you’re curious about what might develop from this idea than I beseech you! Send me a message!
The self-publishing dilemma has created a world of art unlike anything that we’ve ever known, or seen. It’s complicated, there are so many wonderful works floating around in the ether that have gone-, or will continue to go unnoticed. I know of a number of well-known, established authors who detest self-publishing. “The mass production of crap,” they might-, and some have said. The process is, of course, bittersweet because the means to publish anything definitely highlights the crap, in the same way that the good might be lost, but, at the very least, I happen to think that this “Mass production of crap” can only challenge us to be better, which, as far as I’m concerned, is the greatest struggle, and acknowledgment of life.
I have read, and reviewed so many amazing books that have been self-published, or released by very small publications that are considerably better than books I’ve written released by Random House, Simon&Schuster, Harper Collins, etc., so it seems to me that because these books are so well-written, by authors that have something to say, having a platform for authors to market their books is not only opportunistic, it’s essential for maintain the industry. Because, let’s face it, ‘local’ authors are the industry. Unless we want to forego print altogether and submit ourselves entirely to the digital world, which, me, for one, I can’t ever imagine allowing that to happen.
I’m asking all ‘local’ authors, and I don’t just mean local to Boerne, Texas or the Texas Hill Country. If you are a writer looking for a platform to market your book in any part of the country, or world contact me. And we’ll, together, find better ways to make that happen, on my website, and in whatever new opportunities arise. I want Communitea Books to develop as organically, and collectively as is possible.
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Reading is deeply personal for me, the act of-, and the subject has always come from a place of familiarity. It has never mattered, either, what I’m reading, or what I’ve read. There have been a number of people throughout my life whom have inspired to engage with me about books, and stories because I’m a writer, an avid reader, and a book collector. However, I don’t enjoy talking to people about the stories that I read. Even when describing, or explain a plot, I have never felt comfortable opening up to a person about the subject of any book that I have ever read. Still, people try, and they will never not want to converse with me about what I have read.
I will, instead change the subject, slightly, to similar books or authors, and if at all possible about parallel philosophies, anything that will redirect the conversation.
I have been asked many, many times to review books for people. Just today I read a message on LinkedIn from a publisher asking if I would consider reviewing, they have several ARC’s out this month. And I have reviewed books, in the past, and I enjoy it—which is strange. I’m a writer, I enjoy the process, and the means in which ideas, philosophies, and themes come to life from a place within ourselves, and sometimes, depending on who you ask from elsewhere. From above. The Great Creator…from somewhere else.
Sharing ideas, even someone else’s idea in a way that is both illuminating and developing simultaneously intrigues me. I have always preferred expressing ideas more when I write them then I do when I verbalize them. I have had a long-time internal conflict with that process. Our society has led us to believe that there are very specific, and exclusive behaviors that are more acceptable than others, and those that not only accept but prefer those means are rewarded. And though I enjoy talking to people; I love the art of conversation, it can never compare to how I feel, and what I’m capable of expressing when I’m writing.
I recently, watched a TED Talk with Matt Goldman. He described his 3rd grade music class: everyone was brought into a room, with a piano, and the teacher played ‘C,’ the 9 year olds were all asked to sing, to hold the ‘C,’ and after each student stood and sang they were asked to stand in one, of two groups. Finally, after everyone had finished singing, one of the two groups, the group that Matt Goldman was in, was asked to leave, Goldman explains that he did not have another music class until Middle School. Similarly, in an English class years later a paper he had written was returned to him, he received a C+ on the paper, which, apparently, he was pleased with, because it wasn’t a C-, or a D. Except that underneath the lettered grade, written in pen, was the note, “As good as could be expected.” Which, Goldman says, stung a little. Matt Goldman went on to cofound the Broadway sensation, Blue Man Group. Making a career of writing, music, and almost everything else. Sir Ken Robinson gave a TED Talk titled Do schools kill creativity? In which he describes a young girl who was often getting into trouble in school because she could not stop moving. Finally, after trying a number of things, her mother took her to a psychologist. The three persons sat in his office, the girl struggling to keep still, but being very respectful and kind. After several minutes of talking the psychologist asked to speak with her mother outside. The two stepped outside and he explained to the mother that he didn’t really want to talk to her, he wanted to see what the young girl would do once the adult left the room. Inside the girl was on her feet, and dancing away. The psychologist turned to her mother and said, “There’s nothing wrong with your daughter. She’s a dancer. She needs to dance, to think.” That young girl is Gillian Lynne, who went on to earn more than 60 stage credits, most as Choreographer for notable shows such as Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. Neither Matt Goldman nor Gillian Lynne may not have accomplished what they had if they listened to, or were met with an opposition that may have paralyzed them.
When I write I think differently, more creatively, more introspectively, and when I’m reading there is a similar relationship with the subject. People, sometimes, well, often, don’t understand that. When I review a book—with the exception of one situation—the author has met my review with great gratitude, and that’s, most likely, because of how intimate reading is for me. When writing a review I attempt to keep my review as commercial and unbiased as possible, but as a writer and a reader, as someone who feels a deep connection with story, and the written word, it’s exceptionally difficult for me not to relate to something, and in a very personal way.
I love to read, but I do not love to talk about what I read. I don’t enjoy sharing my experience with the book. Maybe it’s an occupational hazard, or maybe some words and thoughts and feelings, for me, are not meant to be shared or expressed. The way I relate to people, in this way, is by putting a book in their hand, telling them to forget the world, and to read. To just read.
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I built my bookshelves with cinder block and plywood. I like the aesthetics, it’s both rustic and practical, and it takes up less space than a bookshelf. A number of the visitors commented on the shelves, they took it with them, along with the books in their hands. That’s what bookstores do. They stick with you, because they provide more than what you leave with in your bag, they provide something that only a bookstore can, and it’s difficult to explain, but people still try. I have never met anyone who would argue that, and still I have had the conversation many times regarding books vs eBooks.
Text sharing has been available online since 1971, at the time your option was The Declaration of Independence. You could download, and read it over the ARPAnet. In 1987 the first HyperText Books was released via Floppy disc, it was titled Afternoon, and was written by Michael Joyce. In 1993 Biblobytes launched the first website for book sales on the internet. Amazon was launched in 1995. And in 1999 Simon&Schuster created the imprint iBooks, and was the first publisher to publish titles in both eBook and print formats. In 2004 Sony released the Ectaco jetBook color, it was the first eReader on the market. And, in 2007 (The same year the first iPhone was released) Amazon releases the first Kindle, which as we all remember—or most of us remember… some of us? There are people that remember—changed the way that people read, and it began to change the industry, and created quite a scare for a number of years. Bookstores started going out of business, both small independently owned bookstores, and larger corporate stores (such as Borders Books, Music & Café), Barnes&Noble created their own eBook, the NOOK, which likely contributed to their success, or at least non-failure during this time.
The first translation of Wardrobe Books was developed inside of a closet on the second floor of a multi-vendor antique store on Main Street in Boerne, Texas. I hauled cinder blocks, two at a time up the stairs, and into the closet at the end of the hall. I did the same with several intentionally cut plywood boards, and built bookshelves along the three walls—as high as was reasonable, because a latter wouldn’t be realistic in the setting. Afterwards I hauled box, after box, after box, after box full of books. I had spent time in the days prior going through the many different boxes that I had, and deciding on which would be best to display on the limited space. I organized, and alphabetized, and put em’ all on the shelf. I sat there staring at this tiny cubicle, a closet, a wardrobe with bookshelves, and books and I felt proud. It didn’t matter to me that three people, cramped could stand in the room. What mattered to me was that for years I had spent countless hours collecting books, organizing books, listening books online (one book at-a-time), selling books, inventing a business plan, writing a business plan, and designing a bookstore, and now, for the first time I was looking at the foundations of that project. This cubicle, this closet, this wardrobe was the foundation of CommuniTea Books.
Bookstores across the country continued to close. A few stayed open, the lucky few, the few that had been known, and remembered for years: Shakespeare & Company, The Strand, Powell’s, Changing Hands, Tattered Cover, Sam Weller’s, Moe’s, Books Inc., City Lights, Booked Up, Book Soup, Elliot Bay, Joseph-Beth, Book People, and a few others. The Kindle sold out, in 2007, within five-and-a-half hours. And everybody knew that books, that real, hardcopy, printed books were a thing of the past. Everybody knew that it was just a matter of time. Because, the eReader is, in fact, a better way to both store, and read books. Some eReader’s struggled with the lighting, the screen would hurt people’s eyes if they looked at it too long, and there were some that couldn’t look at it all. eReader designers designed, and redesigned, and they continue to. And, it was cheaper. A hardback book would cost you anywhere between $23 and $30 but the same book, as an eBook would only cost you $4-5. Until publishers got wise, and realized that the author wasn’t getting their due, and the eBook prices were raised. Maybe that was the issue… perhaps if publishers released books as eBooks but at the same price as print right off the bat people wouldn’t have complained, or had an issue with it, or maybe the pricing of the books didn’t have anything to with it at all, because, people did, after all, return to buying a cloth book for $30.
I had the opportunity after three months in the closet to relocate Wardrobe Books into a larger room, on the same floor, in the same building, and just around the corner. I still had dozens and dozens of boxes sitting at home. So I bought more cinder block, and I cut more plywood, and I hauled the cinder block, two at a time, up the stairs, followed by the plywood shelves, and I built more, and longer shelves. I browsed the boxes of books I had for right titles, because I still wouldn’t have enough room for all my books even in this larger space. And then I organized, and I alphabetized and put em’ all on the shelf. And I would look at the store, and how I was starting to see my vision of CommuniTea Books come into focus. I gave tea away. I had an electric hot pot that boiled water, I put out varying types of teas, and paper cups, and lids, and I watched as people browsed, and enjoyed themselves. Girls would come in! One, I remember, in particular, as she walked up the stairs I knew that she was headed to CommuniTea Books—because there were other vendors upstairs after all—she was fairly small, with short dark hair. I asked her if I could help with anything, and she asked for some book recommendations. Somewhere in the conversation I found the opportunity to, you know, brag-a-little, “This is my shop.” I said. “I know.” She responded. I’d never seen this girl before, but she knew me because of Wardrobe Books. It was then that I realized that I AM Wardrobe Books, I AM CommuniTea Books, and it was an interesting, and enlightening moment, as well as another proud moment.
And then something happened that nobody expected. Book sales began to rise, while eBook sales leveled off. Stanford University did I study, shortly after, and they found that without reason people started buying both eBooks and print, and by that I mean that they would buy the same title in both formats. What would encourage someone to do that, if not for the sake of touching a book, of visiting a bookstore? Within two years print books were outselling eBooks! And that made no sense, to anyone. Publishers started printing large quantities of books again, and what we saw, especially in 2012 was a massive resurgence of bookstores—of used bookstores. Throughout the United States Independently owned bookstores started opening up again, and like clock-work, every year print books experienced an increase in sales, eBooks had leveled off, and used bookstores were continuing to pop-up. The consumer, the people, they refused to let books go. And within a matter a few short years the market began to reflect that. Texas, for one reason or another, has remained behind the curve on that fact, don’t ask me why. Texan’s are buying books, but people have not yet accepted that used bookstores are reemerging. Perhaps it’s because Half Price Books has always been there, maybe Texas never actually experienced the fall, at least practically. Because intellectually, conversationally, Texan’s have distanced themselves from certain seemingly outdated industry’s while simultaneously grasping desperately on to others. How are we, really, to explain the behaviors of people?
I had just began the process of relocated Wardrobe Books for the second time when I got word that the building was being sold, or that it had been sold (Nobody really knew), and everybody was starting to panic, there was tension, and you could feel it in the air. The vendors were asked to leave before I had the opportunity to make the move directly, but in some ways it worked out better because the process became much more exhausting, and longer than I had expected. I was maintaining Wardrobe Books on my own, while I was trying to expand, to develop, to relocate, so, though the process has been long, it was a blessing in disguise. Now I look around my house, and read the comments and messages on my posts, and I feel proud that I created something that people enjoy, something that brings people together, and something that, in some ways, reconnects us to our roots.
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Imagine walking up to a bookstore: there is a patio out front, three or four tables, with umbrellas, sitting in one a young woman with a book in her hand, there’s a notebook on the table next to her—she takes it with her, everywhere she goes—a ceramic cup of tea, not uniform, it’s unique, the closer you look it might seem unusual even, in fact everyone outside, sitting on the tables has a different ceramic cup, she looks up a moment, at you, but not, she’s looking through you, she had read something that’s intrigued her, you can see it in her eyes, her red hair—you only just noticed—catches the sunlight drifting from behind the Royal blue—or Prussian blue, even—building with cream trim, you realize then that she’s not looking at you, she’s looking through you, and your attention is redirected to an older couple walking slowly past you with paper cups, and plastic lids, a steam quickly rises from an opening in the lid. There’s a sign, along the sidewalk, the wind has caught it, and it’s swaying back, and forth, CommuniTea Books, the sign reads. A picture of an open book with the pages spread at the center, and the outline of a teacup resting on the pages. BOOKSTORE, a rusted metal sign reads, it’s resting on the roof, above the porch.
At the door you notice, in the window to your right, on display several books: some are old, others just look cool, or have that unique collectible feel. You notice a First Printing of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, another First Printing, this one is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
Oh, is that who wrote that, I always seem to forget that, you think to yourself.
There’s a couple handfuls of an assortment of children’s books, art books, cooking, and books that you didn’t make heads-or-tails of. The swing on the porch to your left is caught in the wind, it’s empty, and you scan the porch—taking it all in.
As you open the door there are two small square tables in front of you, but not directly, the tables create the illusion of a hallway, at the center of the store leading towards the back door. On your right a small room with three small round tables, one is empty. A man in formal wear, his jacket is hugging his chair, he has a computer in front of him, and there’s a teapot behind it, a ceramic mug on the table--his right handed, you think. Surrounding the room, from floor-to-ceiling, are bookshelves, they have been built into the walls. The room to the left is much larger, and again, surrounded with bookshelves—floor-to-ceiling. Five or six tables rest at the center of the room, most are full. People are reading, studying, talking, and almost all of them are drinking tea.
The two small square tables in front of you are staked, and displayed with books, they look new, and without checking the title you take one and look for a mark: a small red dot, or a black line on either the top or bottom of the pages, near the spine. You find one, Remainder books. As you put the book back on the table you try to remember where you first heard about remainders. You browse the titles on the tables, you love the prices of remainder books, because they’re all brand new, but only $3-5 each. You scan the store, creating a mental image, a panoramic reminder. There are two large, dinner tables in the ‘hallway’ ahead of you, between you and the back door. They too are stacked, and displayed with remainder books. All the books on the shelves are used. The remainders are on tables, while the new books are all located to your left, in the large room where the art, photography, and cooking books are also found.
You stand in line on the opposite end of the large room to your left, the tea menu in your hand is almost overwhelming, you scanned each item, at first looking for something appealing, and then only to count the choices, you stop counting and start making some kind of deduction--more than 80!, you think. There are Black Teas, Green, Herbal, Japanese, Flower, Middle Eastern, Mate, Chinese, Matcha, Russian, Chai, White, Infused, Oolong, Pu Erh, Rooibos, and Ayurvedic, as well as a small selection of coffees, and smoothies, and there tea smoothies, even. You can’t decide between a Sweet Orange Mate Smoothie and an Aged Pu-erh, aged 25 years.
This isn’t our typical bookstore—you think.
As you sip on your tea you notice, for the first time, stacks of books under the tables, and in corners, there are standalone bookshelves in one of the rooms with books stacked on top, a pair of French doors are propped open letting the air in from the side patio, outside. While your browsing leads you to a small set of stairs leading upwards, inside is the children’s department. Several kids are huddled together in a circle, one of them appears to be reading to the others, in the opposite corner a mother is reading to her two small kids. A papier-mâché tree is built in to what looks like was once a closet, and a couple kids are playing while another sits inside, on the second level, reading to himself. The area of the children’s section astonishes you, at first. You remember, of course, that this small Hill Country town is particularized by its schools.
While you’re browsing the shelves, in Fiction/Literature, you happen upon the book Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, and are stunned, you had almost forgotten, because you haven’t seen this book in years. Removing the book from the shelf you put it in your hand next to High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, A Piece of My Heart by Richard Ford, and The Sea by John Banville. Stunned by your find you take another lap around the store skimming Non-Fiction: History, Science, Psychology, Business, Religion, Reference, the books on consignment, and the books by local authors.
As you make your way back to the register you notice, for the first time, the television in the upper corners of the two front rooms, one is showing a TED Talk: Sir Ken Robinson is talking about education, you’ve seen that talk, a few times, the other television is showing a documentary: I AM written and directed by Tom Shadyac. There’s no sound but you notice that a few of the patrons have identical headphones on and are looking up at the screens. That’s cool, you think, you must be able to rent headphones to watch, and to listen!
You pay for your books, ask for a little more hot water, and head for the front door. Instead of walking back towards the street you stop, and sit on the swing, still empty, on the porch to your right. Sitting you sip, again, on your tea, and open Richard Ford’s A Piece of My Heart. You haven’t read it. It’s Ford’s first book, and is otherwise nearly impossible to find.
The red head is still sitting at a table on the patio, as you sip at your tea, you watch her a moment, and she looks up, and through someone standing at the entrance whom is creating a panoramic memory of the facade before walking towards the front door of CommuniTea Books.
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When I was young, my very early twenties, I moved across the country, on a whim. I ended up staying in a motel in Pocatello, Idaho, bummed around the town a bit, stayed another night, and then another, and another, until I rented an apartment in this old turn of the century hotel-turned-apartment. The building was amazing, it was incredibly out of place in Pocatello, Idaho, unless something was happening at the turn of the century in south eastern Idaho that I'm completely unaware of, it was five stories, it had red velvet carpeting, maroon wallpaper with golden symbol, and trim, gold (painted) radiators on each floor at either end, near the stairs. Each room had a milk door that opened in the kitchen, under the sink, and the corner apartments, such as mine (on the third floor), had an extra small room, three sides where - nearly - floor to ceiling windows, and the fourth 'wall' was a pair of french swinging doors that opened up into the main room of each apartment. Again, the building was amazing, because why else would I spend as much time needlessly describing my apartment in Pocatello, Idaho? It really has nothing at all do with the intent of this blog. That, or I've forgotten completely, where I was going with this...
...right, so I moved to Idaho. I stayed in Pocatello for several months, working the graveyard shift at ConAgra Lamb Weston, a potato processing plant several miles away in American Falls. It was alright, the money was good. I was a machinist. The company closed the plant for the entirety of Easter weekend, and I drove to nearby Idaho Falls, Idaho. It was my first time out there. A lot happened to me in Idaho Falls, in the way of adventures, and stories, and I'm sure I either have told, or will tell, them throughout the course of this (these) blogs, but for the purpose of this blog, of this story, what matters is that while I was in Idaho Falls, I met a girl. And we got married.
Crystal and I know knew each other for five months before, basically, eloping at the Idaho Falls Courthouse. We moved in together, I took a job managing a Hastings, alongside writing, and - here's where any of this becomes relevant - we opened a joint bank account.
When we separated, and subsequently divorced I learned, first hand, how marriage, and divorce can affect your credit score!
And, for years, I wasn't especially concerned with it, the life I was leading (living in New York, writing, basically playing the role of a 'starving artist,' in New York City), my credit score was only imaginary number attached to my imaginary number that is my social security number. It didn't have a direct effect - at the time.
I knew that one day I would sit down, and work it out, and eventually start my bookstore, but I never realized that that one day would come so soon, and I was completely unprepared!
I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in a two bedroom house with my girlfriend, and two of her three kids, at the time, and I was completely miserable, and alone, as well as being emotionally abused, and manipulated by one of the worlds greatest harbingers of manipulation, control, and hatred, I mean, she was masterful at this practice, and all in the guise of an unassuming 5'3' Swedish/Spanish dark haired, dark eyed, mousy Muslim woman. I threw myself entirely into this bookstore, because I needed to escape, and my bookstore became my mind palace, and comfort zone.
Of course, when it came time, once I moved back to Boerne, and physically escaped from my mousy capture, I was still obsessed with opening Wardrobe Books, and eventually CommuniTea Books, until it came time to find funding and, after studying the SBA (Small Business Association) website, and applying for loan options through them, and walking through the doors of a bank in San Antonio Texas my credit score still didn't concern me all that much. Yes, it was on my mind, but I would sit down and look at my business plan, think about the truths surrounding the economy, and the town, and the changes, and honestly, to me, and to several business owners that I talked to around town (even though it was a bookstore, and, in Texas, books are still 'a thing of the past,' the resurgence had not yet breached the boundaries of the Lone Star state, or at least beyond Larry McMurtry's, and Archer City's Booked Up, or Austin's Book People), it seemed like a bad idea not to open a bookstore. My Financial Adviser spoke with me, in detail, he loved my business plan, he saw everything that I did, in the way of a successful small business venture, only his manager, and the bank couldn't see past a three digit number that was a bit lower than they were used to seeing attached to people in my position. So I walked out of that bank, a little deterred.
Banks, however, are not the only avenue to find small business funding!
PeopleFund and LiftFund
I pursued every avenue, simultaneously. And I sought advice from local business owners, and prominent businessmen and women throughout the Texas Hill Country.
Gust.com (and others), but Gust is like LinkedIN for people looking for angel investors. You create a profile, include several key aspects of your business, and you network. It's really an amazing platform, my only issue with it is that it works better, if not only, for people who are equally as capable getting a loan from a bank. Which seems strange to me, I mean, yes I understand that people may not want to go the route of procuring a loan from a bank, but why Angel Invest then? The risk is smaller, maybe, but at what cost? Venture Capitalist, it's the same story.
PeopleFund and LiftFund are fantastic avenues, and they had a means to help me through my credit score issue, which resulted in me starting a Crowd Funding campaign, and in the process I did actually use both KickStarter and crowdfunding.com.
Silent Partners, and Family & Friends is still probably the best way to go, however some people, like me, are, either: not in the position to ask certain family members, or you maintain 'Black Sheep' status in your family. I'm not the Black Sheep because I'm odd, or un-relateable, I'm the Black Sheep because I've always found it difficult to open up to my family. It's inherent, and one of the few inherent interpersonal issues that has shadowed me throughout my entire life (and not necessarily a developed trauma created by the dark witch of Santa Fe).
In one way or another my credit score failed me in almost every attempt, but, in part, only because people are still nervous to invest in a book/used book focused venture, despite the growing number of used bookstores, the increase in book sales, and the decrease of eBook sales: we have been told, for the last 10 years, that books, that print, that publishing is an outdated, thing-of-the-past, and often, quite simply, we've been conditioned to believe it, instead, even, of believing our own eyes and ears as the industry is proving otherwise.
So, what did I do?
My debt wasn't magnificent. I owed a couple thousands dollars, and once that was eradicated, I could, then focus on that score - that credit score.
I took another job. The focus of the 'other' job was to throw money, all of that income, at my debt, and my credit score, to rebuild it, as quickly, and efficiently as possible. And what better place than Amazon! Right?
If you're in an industry, you need to start learning, and you never stop, you always grow, you always allow for change, you always need to understand how to do things better, and why some things work, and others do not. I wanted to know as much as I could about my industry. Period. And Amazon has, in a lot of ways, reestablished my industry.
I would let Amazon pay me to learn, and then I would come out of that better, stronger, and more equipped to open the best new, used, remainder, rare, and collectible bookstore, and teahouse ever.
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I love bookstores because they provide a unique, inviting, and comfortable place for a community. Communities are often built around bookstores: around the theme, the events, the engagement and interaction that cannot help but take place at a bookstore.
At CommuniTea Books in Boerne we'll provide Author Events and Lectures. During my travels in Salt Lake City, New York City, and Santa Fe, I went to events meeting, and getting to know, authors such as: Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin, Lee Child, Dan Brown, Junot Diaz, Michael Chabon, Sam Shepherd (He is missed), Stephanie Myers ( I know), Lydia Davis, Cormac McCarthy, David Lipsky, Robert Mayer, Armistead Maupin, Bob Shacochis, and more, and we'll struggle to bring them read, and sign books. We'll also provide a place for local authors to read, and to sign their books.
We'll host writing workshops, classes (of all sorts: cooking, yoga, writing, etc.), book clubs, writing clubs, and TED Events.
We'll host live music, and open mics (music, reading, etc.)
CommuniTea Books, as well as all bookstores, are where people go to remember what it is to be human, together. There are no places like them in the world, and each are unique, and provide something that no other bookstore, or place, can.