Not the best time for making an emergency bookstore plan.
by Renée Magriel Roberts
Early this month I was busy with the daily routine -- you know, crisply processing orders, corresponding with customers and suppliers, doing data entry, hauling boxes of books in and out of the shop, up and down the ladders in the warehouse, rummaging through the auctions, lining up for book sales, thinking about what we were going to do for the holiday season -- when I received a surprise call from my doctor's office. My recent, routine mammogram was suspect, and they wanted to do another.
Within two days, after a second set of images, and a follow-up visit with still more images and an ultrasound, I found myself transmuted from a mostly abstract-intellectual bookseller into a very anxious potential oncology patient, sort of half-hearing what was being said by a series of nurse practitioners, technicians, physicians and surgeons. A biopsy was quickly scheduled, and cancer in the right breast was confirmed. And in what seemed a matter of moments, not days, I realized that I was completely unprepared and had not put in place a robust back-up plan to keep our business going smoothly while I was being treated by all and sundry, with the outcome very much unknown.
As they were wheeling me into surgery I was still reciting a list of usernames and passwords to my husband, many of which existed only in my own mind, and reminding him about the things that needed doing bottom-line every day and trying to remember all of the works-in-progress, the orders that were being held for payment, the missing stuff at the post office, the box where I had quickly stashed some valuable items -- all of the flotsam and jetsam of the business which had just fallen completely off the plate and was lying on the floor of the day surgery.
Now that I'm home, recovering and preparing for a course of radiation therapy (with my breast mostly intact, thanks for asking) and more importantly, still alive, brain entirely functional, and with plans to remain so for the time being, it occurred to me that I might actually want to formulate an action plan so that in the future my business does not hit the dirt if my health does.
I made definitive lists of our accounts, selling sites, and all of their associated passwords and put them in a written master plan for running the business, in the event it has to be taken over temporarily or permanently by somebody else. I started a document on running the bookstore, including daily tasks, processing the orders from each site, getting paid, moving money around among the foreign bank accounts, names of key customers and suppliers, everything I could think of that would be necessary for the business to function in my absence.
When I came back, one of the first decisions was what to tell customers, because a few of their packages were late. Is there some fine line one draws between a full Lyndon-Johnson-style disclosure, or no explanation at all? I handled that one on an individual basis.
Love your books, but schedule more time at the beach.
One client, also now a dear friend and who asked, got pretty much the full monty. Another who was having an anxiety attack about getting her book late was told that we had to wait to ship because we were getting special boxes to protect her order (this was true, I just left out the part that when verbalized sounded more or less like the Inquisition had been at work).
Another client from a religious order whose choir books we are selling, reminded me to take time. "Everything we do here is very, very slow," she said. "Take all the time you need" (implied, but not spoken, "centuries, if necessary").
I thought briefly about a tag line in my automated mailing system, but decided to make no changes there. One of the more attractive by-products of becoming an oncology patient is sporadic psychological fragility, and I certainly did not want to disseminate too much information along with our books.
But I did listen to a lot of advice, and I am building in away-time to my day. Some of this will be taken up by treatments, but I thought it would be a good idea to do something fun as well. The one good thing about this Internet business is that it has the most flexible of hours, so let's take advantage of that. Stop when you get tired. Get outside more. Get away from the computer. Don't obsess on eBay. Hang out with your grandchildren. Go to the beach.
The prognosis is very good, but nothing is certain. We are just dealing with probabilities over here. 20% probability of reoccurrence. 80% probability of no reoccurrence. 10% probability of complications. 1% probability that those complications will require surgery. But, with our new plan, a Katrina or 9/11 event not withstanding, just about 100% probability that our books will go out, even if they may be a day or two later than we would like.
So, this is a reminder and, I suppose, a plea that we all be a bit kinder to each other. The next time somebody mentions "medical emergency", they may not be making a lame excuse. And creating a plan for your store, in writing, will make things easier on you, your family, and your customers.
Shakespeare may live forever, but all of us booksellers are merely mortal.
Renée Magriel Roberts can be reached at renee@roses-books,com.