A Few of My Favorite Things
Brodart's fold-on book covers
By Renee Magriel Roberts
Despite the frustrations of engaging in bookselling, I do love the business. I'm able to find pleasure not only in the successful searching, prepping and selling of the fascinating and the not-so-interesting, but oddly in the small things -- the things that work well, improve the quality of the service we provide, and just make things go easier. In the spirit of sharing, I'd like to tell you about my favorite things (things being technologies high and low, people, services and such). This is not a scientific survey; I'm sure you will have your own favorites, and if you'd like to email me, I will put together another article soon with more suggestions.
One highly useful low-tech item is the German Staedtler Mars Plastic eraser for paper and film, made in Nürnberg. This little white marvel, readily available in most large office supply stores or in specialty architectural supply stores, erases the ubiquitous pencil markings in books without destroying the integrity of the paper. A nice, circular rub and the pencil is gone, except for those marks which are gouged, and which only a conservationist could eliminate. The erasers do not tug at the paper, and they don't shed into little gummy balls. I destroyed more than one free front endpaper before discovering them. At $2.65 for a 4-pack, these erasers make a wonderful (and economical) gift for the book collector and bookseller in your life.
In a similar vein, working with dust jackets would not be the same without several items from Brodart (www.brodart.com), besides the well-known archival-quality mylar covers (I use both the Just-A-Fold III Archival Quality rolls in sizes from 9" to 18", and the Fold-On Archival Quality book covers, also in varying size rolls). Brodart not only has top quality material (not necessarily the least expensive), but the brains to offer a slew of free how-to guides on their site which can be readily downloaded whether you are a customer or not. I particularly recommend "Archival Preservation," "Applying Book Jacket Covers," and "Book Repair".
Unless you deal exclusively with new books -- and few of us do -- who can compete with Amazon? -- you are going to have to engage in at least simple repairs. The dust jacket, when there is one, is usually the neediest of the book parts; at the minimum it might have unwanted stickers, like the kind the friends of the libraries use when they're selling books at a sale, or just plain dirt from being handed around. Brodart sells two of my favorite chemicals: E-Z Sticker Removal which comes in what seems an endless 8 oz. plastic bottle for $4.25 and Magic Book Cleaner, 16 oz. for $13.60, which removes dirt from book covers. Both of these last a long, long time.
A Few of My Favorite Things
These erasers are a marvel and just $2.65 for a 4 pack
If you are not also a bindery, you better make friends with one. A good bookbinder can make the difference between a book that looks like it really belongs in the town dump and one which can take its place proudly in a collector's cabinet. I lust after the bookbinder's skills, but do not have them; fortunately, on Cape Cod we have Talin Bookbindery (www.talinbookbindery.com). Jim and Pam, a brother-and-sister partnership, do incredible work and create their own marble papers, which they sell to other binderies (these marble papers are works of art suitable for framing.) What I really like about working with them is they have great pleasure in their craft; this is not the kind of place you just drop your stuff off at, although I suppose, you could. Plan on spending some time to discuss your project and ask questions. They are very generous in sharing their knowledge.
The United States Post Office is my other favorite thing. Shipping costs can make or break booksellers. In an ideal world I would like to use UPS or FedEx for their reliability and door-to-door tracking, but for our mid-range business the costs are too prohibitive for all but the high-end sales. The USPS offers a few products which I have found outstanding:
The Priority Mail Flat-Rate Envelope.
The Priority Mail Flat-Rate Box.
The Global Priority Mail Flat-Rate Envelope.
You have to really love the flat-rate series, particularly the book-sized products: the Priority Mail flat-rate envelope, the new and very exciting Priority Mail flat-rate box, and their international cousin, the Global Priority mail flat-rate envelope. While the two envelopes provide virtually zero protection to books on their own, we've found that they successfully transport paper and bubble-wrapped books (sometimes even with cardboard inserted for extra support). At $3.85 and $7.70, respectively, with no weight limit for the Priority Mail products within the United States, they enable us to provide better service and even shave a few dollars from our costs. We always use Global Priority mail, unless the shipment exceeds 4 lbs. As a small publisher we manufacture our books so that, if possible, they will slip seamlessly into these envelopes.
For larger international shipments we use the little-known USPS m-bag service (look for Volume Discount Mail at www.usps.com). This service, begun in post-World War II, was designed to ship large amounts of books in a discrete, personally tagged mailbag, which still pleasantly surprises our overseas customers. At $9.90 for 11 lbs. to the U.K., and up to 66 lbs. per bag, it is one of the true shipping bargains.
A Few of My Favorite Things
If you get nervous about shipping uninsured packages overseas (and who doesn't), check out U-PIC (www.u-pic.com). They insure packages virtually everywhere (and believe me, if they won't insure them, you don't want to ship them!) except to places that have an abysmal delivery completion rate or are infamous for their fraudulent orders.
My all-time favorite technology picks are my Dymo LabelWriter 330 combined with Envelope Manager software and my subscription to Endicia services (www.endicia.com). Check out the "Dymo bundle" and do yourself a favor -- pick the ES2200 20 lb. postal scale. With these items I can buy postage and create my own endicia (stick-on dated postage) and address labels, automatically track delivery confirmation numbers and create, again automatically, email confirmation letters to customers with all their salient information. Not only is the technology just great, but the personal support from the company is outstanding.