I have learned a lot throughout the course of building this website. I have done a lot of work online for many years, but nothing has been quite as informative or as stressful as developing communiteabooks.com. I am currently, and have been for the last few months updating the SEO to all of my products—I have over a thousand, and have many more to upload. One of the most important things that I have come to learn is that if you are planning to build a website you should have a basic knowledge of SEO before you do.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and if you have been researching the merits of starting a blog or any other kind of website you have undoubtedly come across these three letters at some point throughout your process. SEO is how search engines, such as Google, find your website. It is the use of unique key phrases that Google can track and direct people to where they want to be. There was a time during the internet post-pubescence when simple keywords would do the trick, that time has come and gone—the internet is over-saturated with keywords. Stop using keywords. With that said it is also important to consciously develop SEO key phrases. Be consistent with what you can, for example my product SEO uses the common phrase Hardcover; Used. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace at Communitea Books; Collectible, First Edition/First Printing; Fiction/Literature; $---.-- of course some things change maybe the book is a paperback and is a remainder (Trade Paperback; Remainder) and the title and author and price and genre might be different but I have created a consistent SEO template that is easily translatable, and is unique to my website and standards. It is incredibly important to find key phrases that you can maintain throughout the development of your website (or blog).
I am an example of someone who learned the hard way. I uploaded over a thousand products without having the understanding of SEO that I do now, and I ignored SEO. I have come to realize that it is so important that I have stopped working on almost all other aspects of the website in order to work my product SEO. I am noticing a decrease in sales these past couple of months, however my website is seeing an increase in traffic, and that's solely because of the SEO work I am doing. I cannot focus on marketing or sales right now, and that's fine because I am catching up on a process that I should have paid attention to at the beginning of this startup. You don't have to make the same mistake that I made. Create an SEO strategy, even if your blog is only a series of weekly rants that allow you to vent, or a creative outlet, it doesn't matter, because you never know what you may want it to be in the future, or what it might organically become—work the SEO!
I read a lot about SEO before, and during the first few months that I put this site together, and my brain did what it has a tendency to do in similar situations, my brain automatically over-complicated SEO. I watched videos, I read articles, I talked to people and it was so simple that I unconsciously decided it was too complicated to focus on with everything else going on. It's not, SEO is as simple as writing an about me on a dating site, it's probably easier actually because it can sometimes be a little challenging to explain yourself to somebody else, unless you're over-exaggerating some truths, which is almost exactly what we all do on dating sites. So, think of SEO as your websites about me and think of all the dates that your website is missing out on if your about me isn't as complete and accurate and amazing as it could be.
If I had taken the time to understand SEO, and I had included it with each product as I was uploading them in the first place I would have saved myself a very considerable amount of work, and the only thing that I may, or may not have sacrificed as far as a silver lining is regarded is this blog entry.
I should reiterate, in your initial learning curve when trying to understand SEO you will come to realize that there is a lot that can be included with SEO, it can be incredibly complicated, there are people who have spent entire lives and careers devoting their time to SEO. However, that does not mean it has to be complicated, I am not oversimplifying the intricacies of the process, I am however pointing out that it's like learning a language, depending on how you need to use it, whether you're moving to a foreign country or visiting for a week, there are degrees necessity. You don't need to be fluent in French to visit Paris for the week, and as far as SEO is concerned if your blog is about cooking then your language is not SEO it's a variety of herbs, spices, meats, temperatures, etc., SEO is important but only in the spectrum of your week in Paris. It's easy to over-complicate that but, and especially if you're an American, you already have the worldview that all you really need to know is to point and say “How do you say?” in whatever language in order to move your vacation along.
Don't over-complicate your SEO, be consistent, be thoughtful, be inventive and create a strategy. You want your site to include SEO, because why put all your time and effort into something if people cannot find it. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest are great tools for creating traffic but only if happenstance puts your site right in front of their face. That's where SEO comes in. Let them come to you, because people are looking for your site. They want to know what you have to say. You've decided that your have a voice, and something worth saying, now let SEO amplify your voice. All you have to do is decide how best to describe that voice.
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.
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.
When starting an online ecommerce store, such as my bookstore, or a blog eventually, once you’ve put a good amount of time, and effort into the site, the finished product, it is inevitable to want to monetize that, to generate passive income through your site by selling Ads.
I have been dreaming about the day that Google Adsense approves my status so that communiteabooks.com will begin generating that passive income. You see, Communitea Books is my job. I have put everything else aside in order to pursue this dream. The dream began when I started selling books on abebooks.com and Amazon.com many years ago, and developed when I moved back to Boerne, Texas. I found space available in a multi-vendor shop on Main Street and opened the beta version of Communitea Books, I called it Wardrobe Books. I wanted that manifestation to eventually take form as it’s on brick-and-mortar but the building that I was in sold before I was able to make that happen. So, instead, I put all my books in storage and, defeated, lost myself for a few months. Eventually I decided to create my own website and blog.
The process has been a lot of work, but it’s been a lot of fun as well. I built a good site, for selling books, and wrote several blog entries, and then excitedly submitted my application for Google Adsense! Only, I was rejected. I didn’t expect that. I then fixed a few things, wrote another blog entry or two, and reapplied. Again, I was rejected. This time I didn’t know what to do. I was concerned about the volume of content, how many blogs were available, and I didn’t even consider anything else. I didn’t think about the quality of my content, because, geezus, it’s me, I mean, I can write! You know, like, pssh, that couldn’t be it. I didn’t think about Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policies, contact info—even though, yes, I did have a contact page, it would be stupid not to. There was just more that I could have done—Again, defeated, I was hoping for my book sales to generate all the income I needed, only I don’t know how to market an independently built online bookstore! How do I create traffic? I build a Facebook page, of course, a Twitter, an Instagram, then a Google+ page, followed by Pinterest. I had all these great pages, however, with the exception of Facebook, and maybe Twitter, I don’t understand the content, I mean How, Why, and What do people post on these different sites? It has got to be slightly different for each site, yes? And how do I get to the point where I both Know, and Understand my Market? That alone is a considerable amount of work, and I wanted to do, so I began actively learning these pages, and the people that frequent them. I developed an idea of my bookstore analytics using both Google and Facebook Analytics, and went from there. For those of you that do not know, it’s a beneficial process, but it is exceptionally slow going. And I really needed to start generating income!
So, I took a look at what I was doing wrong when it came to Google Adsense. First I reassessed the quality of my blogs content. I went back and read a few, and they sucked. I mean my punctuation, grammar, the idea I was attempting to portray, I was noticing now that I had rushed through it. I was more focused on pounding out enough individual blog entries that I didn’t stop to revise, or rewrite, or even reread my blogs! And, I’m a writer! My profession. My time became my commodity and I had decided that I didn’t have enough of it to spend the right amount of time making sure I was writing something that my readers, could read. Strike One. So, I went back, did some revising, a little bit of rewriting, and some editing for my blogs. I felt accomplished, but I knew I wasn’t done, there was something I was missing, and I could feel it, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
I reread the policy guidelines for Google Adsense. If you don’t take anything else from this entry, heed this, because the purpose entirely of this entry is to illustrate the importance of building a solid website and/or blog, is not about writing an entry a day. Adsense wants only for you to build a complete site that people will visit, that they enjoy visiting, that they can navigate, and that they will be enriched by the content. That does not mean you have to have a vast, gorgeous, over complicated website, with dozens, and dozens, or hundreds of blog entries. In short, what Google Adsense asks only, is that you read their guidelines. And, let me tell you, visiting the Google Adsense guidelines page opens you up to the potential of creating a better website, and a simple website.
My next focus would be consistency. Maintaining an online store and blog requires constant attention. It is imperative that you remain up to date, that you provide new products, that you offer new concepts, and that you update your blog regularly. Update your blog regularly. This is kind of a big one. A more important concept than some might consider, and obvious to others. The internet world can be a confusing one, and it changes faster than anyone can possibly be ready for, however realizing that you have to change and develop with it creates the opportunity for you to at least know how to be aware of those changes.
I’m learning every day, in life and how to create the best, and most trafficked online bookstore I can. It’s time consuming, and it requires patience, and maintaining a level of discipline, but Google Adsense doesn’t have to be a headache. They are strict, but fair. Read their guidelines and they’ll help you build a better site.
The process is challenging. Attempting to do anything online with the purpose of attracting people to your site or blog is draining, and with the exception of a very, very small percentage of people—the select few who find themselves on the fortunate side of happenstance—the process is continuous, it never ends. You build clientele and exposure but it is as gradual as watching children grow, you’ll notice only if you blink for long enough to miss a few steps. A large number of people give up, and I don’t think it’s because they don’t have the patience for the struggle, I think it’s more likely that they feel, and wrongly so, that there is no real progression, that whatever they’re striving for is fruitless.
Marketing for an independently built, and run online bookstore is both exceptionally easy and exceptionally difficult. With some time you learn to understand your market—with the help of analytics programs like Google and Facebook. You can develop a marketing strategy based on that free information. Personally, I find that there are two real challenges that I face every day: the first is establishing a marketing budget, especially for a business like an online bookstore. The greatest challenge, however, again, is time. If you put in your dues, remain active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, and even Reddit—if you can find your niche—and you post, at least once a day, on most, if not all, of these social media outlets your clientele will inevitably build.
Time, for me, is a struggle though. It’s not that I don’t have any time. I don’t work a 9 to 5 job, and I don’t do shift work. I work for myself, where time management is tricky. And, for years, when I was only writing, time management was easy. Well, it became easy. Of course, it didn’t start out that way. If you have nothing but time it’s easy to want to do with your time whatever you want to do, which, at the beginning, leaves very little time for actual work. Once you discover your niche it’s easy to become a workaholic, which I did become. I love working. I love writing. And I love building this bookstore.
When I started working on the bookstore however the habits that I spent a decade creating, and maintaining melted away like camembert cheese in the hot Catalonian sun. I felt like I was in my early twenties again, but in the childish whatthehell am I doing with my life, kind of way, and I found myself mentally coveting all my time, and, with all these ideas and goals floating around in my head, I didn’t know where to begin. I had notes and books piling up, projects wasting away, and I’d sit in front of my computer ready to work, and I would accomplish nothing.
Then I would focus myself on a single large project and feel accomplished, for a while, until I finished, and there I was again, staring into a computer screen with too much, and yet nothing to do. My house is filled with projects, half-read books, ideas taped to my desk, and I tell myself, “If I could just do that one thing, it’ll make everything else easier to do, or, simply, fall into place. I just need that one thing to happen for me.” And, yes, I do have a one thing that is almost constantly on my mind. I am almost always working towards it. And if I’m not, I am thinking about it: praying, shaking my fist, drinking wine, sacrificing scorpions to the sun god (Ra), and self-help books (half-read). Where does a life go? People sometimes wonder. I’m sure I know the answer, or an answer, to the question. We spend our adult lives trying to make the rest of our lives happen the way that we were told they would during our formidable life.
We have to make a living. We don’t barter. And, I’m not happy about a few situations in my life. The website: communiteabooks.com is doing well. I’m proud of it. I want it to be better. I know it can be better. I have ideas, and visions of possibilities, things that would require a more specified knowledge of html, of coding, of actively building a website from the ground up. Unfortunately unlike building a table, or writing a novel, or painting a picture I cannot even fathom where to begin. Everything I know about building a website I taught myself while building my website. People, remember, I have an online BOOKSTORE I’m not selling ideas, like, Bitcoin. I’m still impressed by television. Nevertheless I have the ambition to create, and I believe that Communitea Books is worth the process and the time. Even when I find myself overwhelmed with all the things that I want to do, and not having the means to do them, or at least believing that I don’t have the means.
Sometimes it seems to me that everybody is content with routine: living a life structured by work: getting up, going to work, doing a very specific job, and going home. I’m not even capable of it; seriously, I’ve tried. A lot. It’s interesting to me that the people we always see talking about failure and effort and struggle are the people that don’t seem to fail or effort or struggle. But, as humans, we construct our own stories, and reasons for the situations of others. People exist only as we perceive them to exist, and in the way, only, that they were, or are based entirely on our own perceptions, as they came into our lives. We never hear about failure and effort and struggle from the people who are actively failing and putting the effort in day in-, and day out, and struggling. Or, at least, we don’t pay attention to those people.
I’m an artist, damn it. I’m also thirty-three years old. Which of the two comes first? I still wake up every day determined to develop this website, to accomplish that one thing, to eventually walk into my storefront and order a tea, slide a book of the shelf, find a place in front of the fireplace, and watch people browsing the shelves, engaged in conversation, watching TED Talks on the TV’s above in-between chapters. In the meantime it’s the process that I focus on, day-in and day-out. I will continue to wake up some days overwhelmed, and wanting to accomplish more, and wanting to work on that novel, and wanting to paint that picture, and wanting to pay off the rest of that debt, and wanting to look out a different window, and knowing that if only that one thing would happen for me, it would all be possible.
My dream building, for CommuniTea Books, is an old home, which has sense been used for various boutiques, and even restaurants. It’s vacant, at the moment. 438 S. Main Street Boerne, Texas 78006. This amazing building is right on Main Street, along the Hill Country Mile, and sits right next door to the new, kind of, counter culture dig in town, The Cibolo Creek Brewing Co., it’s a micro-brewery, and a farm-to-table restaurant, the owners, and the employees are all real down to earth, well-adjusted human beings—having them as neighbors would be phenomenal. Back to 438 S. Main Street, the current owners are looking to sell it, they had been renting it until recently, and now it sits empty, and waiting for a buyer.
Here’s the kicker: they want $999,000 for it!
I’m sure I can get them down to $600,000 but that’s still a little pricey. My current financial projections suggest I can have that paid off in 15 years, which, considering, really isn’t that bad. Still, the initial investment is a lot.
The patio space—front, back, and side—consists of almost half of the square footage of the building itself, while the parking, out back, is the same square footage. It’s the only building on Main Street with as much parking. And there’s a lot we can do with that. The plan is to build a stage that will sit on the rear end of the side patio and face the back parking lot, and there we can hold larger music, and author events—or some seating, and standing room only author events, inside.
The space has wooden floors, and a fireplace in the corner of one of the rooms—I say, “One of the rooms,” but really it’s an open floor plan separated, in part, by columns—A large room to the right, rear, and up a small staircase would be ideal for the children’s section, because, in Boerne, with the growing number of families, and already large percentage of children between 3 and 18 supporting a large, distinct children’s department is essential. And it’s the only enclosed room, besides the office, at the left, rear.
The office used to be a kitchen, when the space was a restaurant, and now, other than the vent, and a three piece sink, it’s an open room. In which I’ll build a false wall, and the first third will be the kitchen space for the teahouse, while the rear two thirds will be the office/storage, and trade space (where we go through customer books to determine whether we’ll take them, and whether we can offer store credit or cash).
The hallway in the center of the building is ideal for the quote/unquote “Nonfiction” section, well, at least, everything except the cooking and art/photography books. Cooking, art, and photography will be in the first room to the left as you enter the front door, along the side wall, near where the ‘bar’ will be, where the barista’s work.
Directly behind the bar is a very small room, it’s almost a foyer, though in the middle of the building; it is perfect for displaying our bulk teas, and being easily visible for our patrons.
The rest of the space, and the few interior standing bookshelves, which will stand in the ‘second’ room—the middle ‘room.’—on the right, as you enter through the front door, will be the ‘Fiction’ section. I’ll build bookshelves into the interior walls, which will allow for more space for people browsing, and, in the first two rooms—to the left and right of the entrance—tables, for people to sit, enjoy their tea, pastries, and read or converse.
The middle window on the far right side of the building is cracked, which is wonderful, because I had planned on putting French doors in that space (the same space with the standing interior bookshelves), replacing the windows. The side patio is immediately outside.
The single occupancy bathroom is on the right, in the rear, between the kids department and the Fiction section.
We’ll have to paint the exterior. And I’m thinking a medium to dark shade of blue, not sky blue, no, darker than sky blue. The window, and door panels will be a cream color.
The only thing about this building that I don’t like is the color of the patio. Which, of course, is an easy fix. For some reason one of the renters, or even the owner felt like it would be a decent idea to stain the cement patio a salmon color, with more pinkish overtones. It’s bizarre, and unfortunate. I had considered various colors for re-staining, but why not go for the typical ‘cement’ color, just kind of a dirty cream, I suppose.
In short it’s almost as if the building was built to house a bookstore and teahouse. Our logo will change for the space, and that’s fine, because I already have one designed. Part of the reason that I want to be on Main Street, other than the fact that it’s Main Street, and you know, being anywhere else in town all but eliminates the tourist market, which would be an incredibly stupid thing to do, is because it’s important for me to create a collaborative, a collective, I guess, of some kind with other businesses along Main Street: The Cibolo Creek Brewing Co., Bear Moon Bakery, The Shops at 153 Main, The Ye Kendall Inn, The Hungry Horse, Soda Pops Patio Grille and Bar, SWS, The Boerne Grill, The Dienger Trading Co., and various other boutiques and restaurants. Also 438 S. Main Street is about fifty yards from the river that flows through the center of Boerne.
Granted, for those of you scratching your heads, yes, we were on Main Street at one point before. CommuniTea Books used to be Wardrobe Books, and that facsimile of my bookstore was on the second floor of a multi-vendor building further north on Main Street, in Boerne. And it was a good spot, I was grateful to be there, however it did not suit the bookstore, nor the customer base for CommuniTea Books.
There are millions of books in existence, both in and out of print, books that we grew up with, books that have inspired us, books that have taught us, and books that have allowed us to escape. As I write this now I am sitting in a house surrounded by books, boxes full, shelves, they are stacked on window sills, and in corners, when people come to my home for the first time they inevitably ask if I have read all these books. No, I’ll respond, I have read a number of them, others I’m working towards, and others are collectible, they’re purpose is to sit on the shelves and fulfill me in ways that only old, or rare, or fascinating books can.
I have books that I brag about with people, when the topic comes up. I am proud to say that I have them sitting on my shelves, that I can stand there, slip the book off the shelf, and open it, and to not only be invited into a story, an idea exclusive to that particular book, but to know that someone else touched them, the signed books I have, for example; knowing that Chuck Yeager touched a copy of The Right Stuff that is resting on my shelf, that Michael Chabon asked my name as I stood above him, a first printing of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay outstretched towards him, and many more.
When opening a bookstore one of the decisions that you have to make, one of the decisions that I made—though it was easy for me—is what type of bookstore do you want to open. Specialty used bookstores, bookstores that have a general focus on genre, are what the general public is looking for today. That doesn’t mean that you cannot carry other genres, but it does mean that the limited space you undoubtedly have needs to be filled with books that your store specializes in. When owning, and operating a used bookstore you become more than just a bookseller, you become an expert, and the community develops expectations of your expertise, and your focus, your ‘specialty,’ becomes their guide.
Mystery, Sci-Fi, and Horror are some of the most popular specialty bookstores, and a lot of the time, when you focus on one of the three, you’re walking not only into a bookstore but into the mind, and the unique passion of the owner, the employees, and the patrons.
I specialize in Fiction/Literature, which sounds like a fairly broad specialty, and ultimately it is, but when I saw fiction/lit, and though I do carry Mystery, Horror, Sci-Fi, Photography, Art, Science, Cooking, Psychology, History, Religion/Spirituality, Children’s, and more I make the space for the Chabon’s, the Capote’s, the DeLillo’s, the Woodrell’s, the McCarthy’s, the Mitchell’s, the Nabokov’s, the Nichols’, the Stegner’s, the Wolfe’s, the Miller’s, the Hemingway’s, the Olmstead’s, the Percy’s, the Salter’s, and more, and more, and more, and all the Mystery’s the Art’s, the Children’s, the Psychology’s they all will have a certain literary foundation. CommuniTea Books focuses on books that are well written by authors that bleed feeling, and piercing desire onto the page.
There are authors that we refuse. Authors, too, that could be considered literary. I know this may sound high-brow, or snobbish, that the act would pigeonhole me, and CommuniTea Books with bookstores that the average person would otherwise despise. We’re not high-brow, or snobbish, and that’s again solely because I cannot stand pseudo intellectual depreciation, I believe it’s ridiculous to judge another human being by their vocabulary, their intellect, their interests, and how they express themselves. It’s utterly ridiculous. “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I believe that fiction brings people together, and the environment that inspires that meeting, that community, with literature at its foundation will open minds.
I prefer fiction/literature because of the way that it makes me feel: reading it, being surrounded by it, creating it, and there is, of course, a degree of alienation to my prerogative, but, again, it’s my prerogative, and I have an image of a bookstore that does maintain a standard, but the standard includes the inclusion of everyone, as long as they are willing, and people involved that help to make others feel welcome.
I think it is dangerous when open a used bookstores to not have a focus. If you are thinking about opening a bookstore, and are considering the attempt to not focus on a particular concept, or genre, I urge you to reconsider. I’ve had this conversation with many people. Those, like me who have been in the process of opening a used bookstore, those whom have already opened a bookstore, and those whom just have an opinion, most people understand, or come to understand if they had not before, that selecting a specialty is incredibly important; the argument that is often made, or that I often hear, at least, is one regarding Borders or Barnes&Noble or Hastings or Half Price Books, the argument is that none of these chain bookstores have a focus. And that’s not accurate, each of them has (or had) a focus. When you walk through the aisles at CommuniTea Books you’ll often, you will most definitely discover books that you would never see at Barnes&Noble, why is that – do you think? The majority of the books I have are literary, authors like Daniel Woodrell or Richard Bradford or Bob Shacochis, they’re works are incredibly brilliant and important, so why would you find them at CommuniTea Books and not Barnes&Noble? Barnes&Noble has a similar focus to CommuniTea Books, we both provide more space for Fiction than anything else, but Barnes&Noble focuses on Commercial Fiction while I focus on, CommuniTea Books focuses on Literary Fiction. Borders, Barnes&Noble, Hastings, and Half Price Books all have (or had) a focus, each of them focuses on Commercial Fiction—Half Price Books tends to be more relaxed with their used book decision making, and will often include works of Literary Fiction, but if the choice came between an author or a title that is Commercial vs. Literary they would choose Commercial 100% of the time, and that’s because that is their focus.
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.
The Boerne Emporium was a there story multi-vendor shop in the heart of The Hill Country Mile in Boerne, Texas. The location was phenomenal, but downtown Boerne has been known, until recently, for the antique shops, and the boutiques. This has been the story for The Hill Country Mile since before I can remember, and I moved to Boerne, for the first time, in 1993. Of course being a kid or a teenager in Boerne in the mid too late 90's wasn't exceptional. In fact, it was downright boring, at the time the only thing that I could appreciate along Main Street, and especially along The Hill Country Mile, was The Bear Moon Bakery, and that was, you know, a bakery, and a coffeehouse, and I likely enjoyed going there only because I wasn't the typical small town teenage boy, and neither were my friends.
Boerne, Texas has too many boutique, and antique shops, simply because Boerne lacks an identity, as a town, and for decades made-do by following the path of slightly larger, and more well-known, German town, about an hour away, Fredricksburg. Which not only had the identity of being an antique town, but it served them too, even still.
Boerne, not so much. And now it's changing, and growing too quickly to keep up, our identity remains with our public schools, which isn't going to work anymore.
As a result, The Boerne Emporium was closed, and the building was sold. And Wardrobe Books, my beta bookstore was no more, at least physically. We (I) still maintained an online presence, but that too started changing because Abebooks was no longer working for me as a eCommerce platform.
It seemed as if everything I had built was disappearing.
And it might have, entirely, if I didn't realize that it was only because, until now, I wasn't willing to change, or rather, that I didn't realize, practically, that I needed to. I had not tweaked anything, I just opened the doors, and said "Come." And this was the same mistake that Read All About It made, and apparently, some other independently owned bookstore that I've heard rumors about, which had both opened, and closed their doors while I was living on the distant shores of elsewhere.
Unforeseen changes, and failure, if approached a certain way, lead to the best lessons, and improvements in your business, and they have for me, both in my personal life, and for CommuniTea Books.
The closing of Wardrobe Books, and the changes that I would have to make with the website, led to a conversation that I had with a handful of people, and this conversation led me into a new chapter, and through the front doors of a bank that, through their rejection, inspired avenues that I would have never imagined existed, let alone considered...
I sold books online. And the process was time consuming. Abebooks.com has a reputation, among collectors, as a site for rare and collectible books, people do sell the average book, but only because it's so commonly referred to in the book world.
A few years ago Amazon bought Abebooks.com, and, of course, my initial reaction was frustration, irritation, a little shock - for whatever reason - ultimately, it didn't make a difference, the site isn't run all that differently, and the same people are "In Charge." ...but this blog isn't, particularly, about Amazon, or Abebooks.com, I uploaded hundreds of books, one-by-one online: I went into detail abou the condition of the books, and listed author, ISBN, title, edition, format, price, the process was unbelievable. I reached a point though where I realized that selling books online wasn't the avenue that I wanted to pursue, and I started considering different avenues while I went through the process of developing the actual storefront.
I looked into selling books from my trunk, and did, on several occasions, use my car as a mobile bookstore. I thought about buying a truck that I could convert into a bookstore. I even toyed with the idea of setting up a shop in the foyer of my house, an idea that I referred to as Blue Door Books, on account of my blue front door.
There is always another way to get your business off the ground, and being creative about it, can develop into something more than what you had originally imagined.
I moved back to Boerne, Texas, making the drive in a 10" U-Haul filled with a few personal items: clothes, a flat-screen TV, a guitar, a banjo, my djembe, but the space was occupied by dozens, and dozens, and dozens of boxes of books -- I had over a hundred boxes full of books.
The idea of selling books mobile never left my mind, and I looked into that - and still do - within the first few days of resting my head on the pillow in my new place in good ol' Boerne, Texas. In the meantime I also looked into renting space in multi-vendor shops in town. There were at least three multi-vendor shops right on, or just off of Main Street in Boerne, and I thought it would be a good way to gauge my customer base, to experiment with new marketing techniques, and to establish myself in town.
I initially agreed on a small space on the 2nd floor of the most traveled of the three, The Boerne Emporium. When I say small, I do mean, it was quite small. It was the size of a closet. After I had built, and stocked the shelves, the was room enough inside for two people, cramped. It was a closet, so it was only fitting to name the place, Wardrobe Books.
The benefit, I decided, to utilizing a space that was so small to start a business, was that the majority of my time could be devoted to understanding my market. I explored different marketing techniques, and demographics, I tried different ways to bring people into the building, and upstairs, specifically to my bookstore, to Wardrobe Books.
It was an enjoyable challenge coming up with new ways to convince people to walk into this three story multi-vendor building Main Street, to disregard everything they see on the first, and second floors, and to walk to the end of the hall, and explore a closet, and of books no less. A product that the media, and the conversation, has told us is "a thing of the past." "On it's way out."
In this closet I could only display a third of my inventory, so I eventually moved into a room, around the corner from my closet, that - for all intents, and purposes - was perfect for Wardrobe Books (for what I was trying to do, at the time). I was able to display the majority of the inventory I had, then. I built the shelves, just as I had in the closet, with ply board and bricks, and I challenged myself to recognize the differences, all the differences, from marketing to clientele, that the move, and the room size would make.
This was all in beta.
I was selling only used, and remainder books, and through the limited space and inventory, the intent would be to see who shopped there, how often, and what they bought. What are the differences between the authors, and titles, and genres, that sold in Boerne vs. Salt Lake City, Utah; New York City, New York; and Santa Fe, New Mexico? How could I predict that, and was it possible to manipulate what sold, if II could introduce new interests and tastes into the market.
If I could through this beta version of my bookstore, I would try to learn to gauge whether introducing teas, and tea smoothies, and coffees, into the equation would make a difference, or enough of a difference, assuming books wouldn't pay the rent on their own.
...then again, I thought, the whole point of this is to create a place that is a town center, a hub, and something Boerne has never seen before.
I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.