It was my day to learn about zoning, a practice where we take a wand of a scanner and scan each book on a shelf, pulling the ones scheduled to be returned to the publisher. We needed to get rid of 1,300 books off the shelves to make room for new books and to clear space for the new Nook boutique we were building in time for the Christmas craze. The scanner would tell us which books to pull, books that had not sold in a few weeks, books that might never sell because they had not been sufficiently promoted.
The manager showed me the bays of books I would scan, and showed me a chart to after each bay was complete.
“You should be able to complete a bay in about 20 minutes,” she explained, demonstrating how to pull the book out just enough to scan the ISBN on the back cover, but not out far enough to waste seconds.
I got excited about the challenge. I love a good challenge. I did not mind the cleaning task either. Simply swipe the Swifter along the shelves once the scanning was complete. I did not cross my arms and proclaim I am not the cleaning service and they should be ashamed for trying to get two jobs out of me for $8/hr. I scanned the books and wiped the shelves, sitting on the floor to reach the bottom shelf. When the scanner began malfunctioning and I found myself pulling some books intended to stay and leaving some books scheduled for return, I suddenly enjoyed a smidgen of power within my grasp. I could give an author an extra few weeks on the shelf or short-curcuit some other author – at my own descretion.
But more importantly, I suddenly felt a huge relief about my previous failures with books I had published. Until now, I had not considered the many factors that could ensure a book’s success or failure. Until now I had accumulated a heavy sadness, blaming myself completely for my books’ failure to reach the New York Times bestseller lists. I had believed I failed to write it well enough, had failed to suffciently craft each paragraph, had failed to market the books strategically, had failed to hone a message and connect with an audience. I may have failed at all those things, but I also realized at this moment, working inside a book store, that I could have done all I was supposed to do and to the best of my ability, but to no avail. Booksellers could have returned the books pre-maturely for all I knew. They could have spitefully done so because of the controversial subject of the books. Anything could have happened. I could have sold 20,000 copies instead of just 2,000 copies because some booksellers liked the subject and kept the books on the shelves after the powers-that-be scheduled them for return. Either way, handling the books myself helped me realize that much of the fate of my books is actually out of my hands.