Stephen J. Gertz: Booktryst – Blog Extraordinaire
Stephen J. Gertz of Booktryst.
What kind of a person would start a book blog, write it daily for over two years, build it to the point where it had accumulated a million hits (1,500 to 2,000 unique visitors a day, 40,000-50,000 hits a month) and only then begin to think that ……. well, maybe I have something here?
Talk about labor of love….meet Stephen J. Gertz, the founder and owner of Booktryst, an antiquarian blog with a populist touch.
“Tryst,” you remember, is defined as a lover’s secret meeting, and at Booktryst the reader finds that rare combo of affection, knowledge and the engaging voice of a story teller.
Hello, this guy can write.
He writes easily, well and with a solid grasp of the niceties of the antiquarian trade mashed up with a lively pop sensibility. What makes his site different from others is the content changes frequently, so it is seldom the same two days in a row.
At 61 Gertz is not exactly as stranger to the Southern California book scene. He started in the 80s as a collector, book scout, and then a part-time dealer. Later, faced with an urgent need for money, he sold his collection of erotica and drug related material to William J. Dailey and went on to work for Dailey in other capacities. Presently, his day job is executive director for David Brass Rare Books in Calabasas, CA (about 30 miles outside of LA).
Along the way he’s written for a variety of other blogs, other dealers and other media both popular and antiquarian such as Huffington Post and Fine Books & Collections Magazine and obscure as in “below the radar.”
Gertz had a prior incarnation as a big league television story editor, so it is not surprising that he can write. What is surprising is he can write so well, so much, and so nicely; merging a light touch with a firm grasp of a subject that is often considered arcane.
He has a dealer’s eye for what has (or will have) value, a cataloger’s feel for the important particulars, and a writer’s gift for making it pop -- day after day, week after week.
“I guess you could say we have a deep bench,” he commented, referring to Booktryst’s already impressive archive. He calls them “the gifts that keeps on giving,” because readers regularly turn up for many of his earlier stories, some more so than others.
Marilyn Monroe, Jack Kerouac, Dostoevsky & Peter Howard
Two that have been popular are the reading habits of Marilyn Monroe and a piece about Jack Kerouac’s annotated copy of Dostoevsky. (See links at the end)
In August of 2010 he grabbed the book world’s attention with a festschrift for Peter Howard, the legendary Berkeley owner of Serendipity Books, titled “Wake for the Still Alive.” The multi-part remembrance and tribute to Howard (who was then dying of cancer) ran on-line. Gertz also brought out 200 copies in a limited edition keepsake. It created, shall we say, a buzz.
The keepsake is long gone, but it’s not too late to read his series about Howard, a contemporary dealer who many admired (and secretly longed to imitate -- with brilliant taste, enormous knowledge, vast inventory, and a bookkeeping system he kept mainly in his head). Of course there were others who regarded Howard as a stinker and a crank, and their voices pop up here and there in counterpoint.
Gertz shows Howard in all his dimensions as seen through the eyes of those who knew him. This is a must-read for anyone who calls him/herself a dealer. (Link at the end)
Along with the three articles just mentioned there are 378 Booktryst entries for 2010, 267 for 2011 and 163 so far for 2012; all produced by Gertz and a handful of colleagues.
Stephen J. Gertz: Booktryst – Blog Extraordinaire
The late bookseller Peter Howard (Ken Sanders photo).
Views on Blogging
Gertz sees blogging as fundamentally different from print. The on-line reader, he said, checks the feeds every morning and he wants to see something new, “but rarely has the attention span for anything longer than 1,500 words.” With Booktryst there’s a daily fix of inherently trade related content, but it’s pitched to a wider audience than the antiquarian niche normally draws.
Asked for advice to other would-be book bloggers he responded by email:
“The world is not waiting to read your voice - earn every single reader with every single post. Grab the reader and hold 'em to the very end. Losing readers half-way through increases your bounce-rate, and, if you have a prayer of earning ad dollars, you have to keep readers on the page (or website in general) for as long as possible for maximum advertising exposure.”
In his opinion blogging is “is a mixture of strict journalism and personal essay. Avoid preambles - Get to the goodies; don't bury the lead. Each post must leave the reader feeling better for having read it, either entertained, informed or, ideally, both.
“Blogging,” he continued, ‘is a demanding mistress; to do it well requires devotion of time and effort - three times a week, minimum to build steady readership. This is crucial, particularly if you are blogging to draw visitors to your website. Every now and then won’t get the result you seek.
“Be disciplined: pay attention to craft: the net has provided everyone with an outlet for their writing but, contrary to popular belief, there is not a great pool of untapped talent out there; I learned that when I worked as a story editor in Hollywood thirty years ago. My job title might just as well have been, "crap filter;" there was an ocean of it.
“Do not do this if you do not have decent writing chops - and if you do be ruthless with editing your own material. Don't meander; this is not a digressive medium.
“Images - the net is a visual medium; readers love fine illustrations - use hi-resolution jpgs, as large as possible; a thumbnail is a waste of time and space.
Finally, in the worlds of my writing idol, S.J. Perelman, "Keep it crisp."
Improved site with ads in the works
Gertz is in the process of reformatting the Booktryst site and hopes to begin offering advertising (and perhaps even earning some money from it) in the near future.
As for book collecting, the interest that brought him into the field in the first place, who has time? He doesn’t buy that much any more, but so much passes through “there’s always something exciting to write about.”