In the spring of 2019, Danny Caine, the owner of the Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas, overheard a customer saying she could buy a new hardcover online for $15. Danny took to Twitter to explain the economics of independent bookstores and the thread went viral, putting the 32-year-old small business in the national spotlight. Danny comes on Rework to talk about why his activism and outspoken stance against Amazon haven’t just felt right, but been good for business too.
- She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (IndieBound.org) - 00:40
- Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures, from Chess to Role-Playing Games by Jon Peterson (IndieBound.org) - 1:14
- "Independent Women," our previous podcast's episode about Women & Children First bookstore - 1:31
- "Heal the Internet," our episode where David Heinemeier Hansson endorsed IndieBound - 2:00
- Danny Caine's website - 2:37
- The Raven Book Store's website | Twitter | Instagram - 2:40
- The Raven's viral Twitter thread from April 2019 - 6:46
- "Amazon will pay $0 in taxes on $11,200,000,000 in profit for 2018" (Yahoo Finance) - 10:10
- Books Are Magic - 11:00
- Caitlin Doughty - 13:17
- "Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale sequel escapes from tight secrecy" (The Guardian) - 14:46
- The Raven's Twitter thread about the embargo on The Testaments - 16:36
- The huge demand for Michelle Obama's memoir affected printing capacity for Basecamp cofounders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson's book, which came out in fall 2018. We covered those issues in this episode - 19:19
- Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat - 19:28
- The Raven's Twitter thread on bestsellers - 20:23
- Quoth the Raven newsletter - 20:23
- Paradise Cafe Cookbook by Missy McCoy - 21:24
- El Dorado Freddy's, Danny Caine's forthcoming book of poetry - 23:38
- The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead - 24:38
- Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann - 25:18
- The Instructions by Adam Levin - 26:33
- Wailin's husband read William Gass' The Tunnel so you don't have to - 28:22
The Full Transcript:
Wailin: [00:00:00] Hi everyone. Before we start the show, I wanted to let you know that we are gearing up for another mailbag episode where we are collecting your questions for David, Jason, or anyone else at Basecamp you have a question for. So if you have a question you’d like answered on air, please leave us a voicemail at (708) 628-7850. Again, the number is (708) 628-7850. Here’s the show.
[00:00:28] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Wailin: [00:00:29] Welcome to Rework, a podcast by Basecamp about the better way to work and run your business. I’m Wailin Wong.
Shaun: [00:00:35] And I’m Shaun Hildner. Wailin, are you reading anything right now?
Wailin: [00:00:38] I just started this new book, She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. They are reporters at the New York Times who broke the Harvey Weinstein story for the Times and this book fleshes out that reporting and has like all this new material that didn’t go into the original newspaper stories because they went back and talked to a lot of their original sources, and some of them even went on the record and stuff. It’s very, very good. Very compelling.
Shaun: [00:01:03] Oh, cool.
Wailin: [00:01:03] What are you reading?
Shaun: [00:01:05] I have been reading off and on for the last two years, I think, this enormous academic study on the history of Dungeons & Dragons called Playing at the World by Jon Peterson. And it’s a little dry, but I sort of supplement that with comic books and short science fiction.
Wailin: [00:01:23] Where do you like to buy your books?
Shaun: [00:01:26] As I think I’ve mentioned on the show before, there’s this adorable little bookstore in my neighborhood of Andersonville here in Chicago called Women & Children First.
Wailin: [00:01:31] Yeah, Chicago is lousy with independent bookstores. I have a few favorites too, and one of my favorite things to do when I go to new places is to look for an independent bookstore.
Shaun: [00:01:42] Absolutely.
Wailin: [00:01:42] I think it’s so fun and it’s gotten pretty difficult to talk about buying and selling books or really any kind of physical product without talking about Amazon. Even if you’re talking about, “Oh, I like to shop at this Indy bookstore,” you’re kind of indirectly talking about Amazon, I think. On last week’s episode, Basecamp co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson talked about how he’s stopped buying books on Amazon and now orders them on indiebound.org instead.
Shaun: [00:02:08] At Basecamp, we’ve been pretty upfront about our ambivalence towards Amazon and ambivalence that sometimes shades into direct opposition. On today’s show, we talked to an independent bookstore owner who has also been very vocal about Amazon and what that means for his business. As a quick FYI, since you’ll hear time references in this show, we recorded this interview around the middle of September. Here’s the show.
[00:02:30] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Danny: [00:02:36] I am Danny Caine. I am the owner of The Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas. The Raven was opened in 1987 as a mystery-only bookstore. It was opened by Pat Kehde and Mary Lou Wright. Because they were women, they had actually had a hard time getting loans, financing for the bookstore, so they kind of financed it themselves. Mary Lou took out a second mortgage on her house to open the bookstore. It was tiny, it was about half the size back in those days, but they gradually expanded its profile. They stuck with the mystery-only emphasis until around 2008. During that time they had doubled in size. Also during that time, Borders Books and Music had opened right across the street. And the Raven is still here, and that Borders obviously is not because all the Borders are closed. We can actually see the empty building from our cash register to this day.
Wailin: [00:03:26] And has anything moved into the old Borders building?
Danny: [00:03:27] They were talking about putting a grocery store there for a long time. But it’s a very slow kind of bureaucratic process where like tax breaks and parking and apartment units. So it is not in use at the moment. One year it was the Halloween Store.
Wailin: [00:03:42] Of course.
Danny: [00:03:42] But, right, so it goes. At the moment it is empty.
Wailin: [00:03:47] In 2008, The Raven’s founders sold the bookstore to a woman named Heidi Raak. And then in 2014, Danny arrived in town to start a graduate program in poetry at the University of Kansas.
Danny: [00:03:59] As soon as I got here, I tried really hard to get a job at The Raven. I had never lived this close to an independent bookstore and as a writer and a reader it was always kind of a dream for me to work in a bookstore. It’s everybody’s dream, and so it took a long time. It’s a small staff and Heidi really had to make sure she trusted someone before she hired them. But I began to campaign. I was a regular customer. I befriended the staff and then eventually in March of 2015, I started as a part-time bookseller at The Raven. I worked there for two and a half years, the rest of my grad school time, and then Heidi started talking about wanting to retire. I needed a job and it just worked out really well that I could buy the store right after I graduated with my degree.
Wailin: [00:04:38] Can you talk a little bit about what the learning curve was like from employee to owner, especially in terms of understanding the numbers behind the business? Like, did you have a lot of visibility into the numbers as an employee or when you were making that transition, did you open up the books and get like a big education?
Danny: [00:04:56] More the second thing. I knew nothing about the books or the numbers as an employee. I mean you could tell what kind of books were money makers and what kind of events do well. But in terms of rent and taxes and withholding and all that stuff, I had no idea. But I worked with the previous owner on that as I took over.
[00:05:22] One of the things about the bookstore business is that it’s incredibly supportive. It’s the least cutthroat industry I’ve ever been a part of. Like if you’re buying a store or you’re starting a new store, people are really rooting for you. And there are a ton of resources for people who are starting new. So I went to a weeklong program in Florida called Bookstore Bootcamp that’s run once or twice a year with the specific intent of educating new store owners or prospective store owners about this stuff. And the industry is also really good at sharing data about itself with new people.
[00:05:53] I mean, I’m a poet, I’m a teacher. I had no idea how to do books or taxes or any of that stuff, but there was a ton of support within the bookstore industry for that.
Wailin: [00:06:03] Did anything in particular surprise you as you dug into the inner workings and the inner economics of indie bookstore-dom?
Danny: [00:06:09] The biggest surprise, and this is—if you ask enough independent bookstores, you’ll get a lot of people making noise about this is the archaic way we pay bills. I still receive paper invoices for each shipment and I still write paper checks to all of the big five publishers every month.
Wailin: [00:06:26] Really?
Danny: [00:06:26] Yes.
Wailin: [00:06:28] There’s probably a lot about running an independent bookstore that would surprise industry outsiders and that’s where The Raven’s Twitter feed comes in. In April, Danny overheard an exchange between a customer and one of his employees about the price of a hardcover book. He tweeted about the economics of bookselling and the thread went viral.
Danny: [00:06:47] The customer said, “I’m not going to buy this from you because it’s $15 on Amazon.” It was a $26.99 book. “I can find it for $15 online. I’m going to buy it there.” And it’s…this whole thing isn’t about her beause she did buy another pile of books, but just thinking about that and the fact that $15 for a $26.99 book is basically my cost at publishers. And Amazon is selling this book to not make any money on it, which is something we can’t afford to do. I just kind of started typing and explaining that.
Wailin: [00:07:15] Here’s one of Danny’s tweets. “When we order direct from publishers, we get a wholesale discount of 46% off the cover price. The book in question had a cover price of $26.99 meaning our cost for that book from the publishers would be $14.57. If we sold it for $15 we’d make… 43 cents.
Danny: [00:07:38] In one of the tweets in there. I said, if we sold every book at that margin, we would be able to stay open for six days. We’d sell 10,000 books and it would keep us open for six days. And just that thought with the numbers behind it maybe resonated with people.
Wailin: [00:07:53] Yeah, I mean, I think for me at least as like the outside observer, someone who came to that thread after it’d gotten retweeted into my timeline, I remember being taken aback that you were so specific and so transparent about the numbers. Was it impulsive to do that or were you like, okay, now I’m going to do it. I’m going to let you know, like did you have to like psych yourself up to put the numbers out there?
Danny: [00:08:15] No, it was totally impulsive and I think more numbers would help. Sometimes when people talk about this, they can be a little coy. Either phrases like, buy it here or keep us here, but what does that mean? What does that look like? Why exactly can’t we sell books at that margin and how come Amazon can get away with it? Well, it’s because Amazon has a ton of other profitable businesses in their portfolio. They don’t need to make money on books, but like books are our lifeblood. So I mean, clearly it’s resonant to talk about numbers because that tweet went nuts. But in the moment I wasn’t, I wasn’t like, I’m going to be revolutionary and add numbers to this tweet. I was just writing. It took about five minutes to write the whole thing.
Wailin: [00:08:53] What was your reaction to seeing how much it got shared?
Danny: [00:08:54] I was afraid people were going to be mad at me cause I included the numbers.
Wailin: [00:09:00] Like, other people in your industry?
Danny: [00:09:01] Nope. The publishers.
Wailin: [00:09:02] Ooh, oh, mm-hmm. And I’m still not sure. No one mentioned anything. And I’m fairly certain that that stuff is public information. It was obviously thrilling and empowering and I was really glad to see it take off like that and to spark a conversation that we’re still having. And we will forever.
[00:09:21] One of the things we do as an industry and especially here at The Raven, is we think about what we can offer that places like Amazon can’t. And one of those is a sense of place. Amazon doesn’t have store cats. Amazon isn’t a comfortable place to spend an afternoon. And we also have a compelling story. The… outlasting Borders, the two women who couldn’t get a bank loan, the kind of quietly serving Lawrence, Kansas for 30 years. Like that’s a great story and that’s something that we have that Amazon can’t take away from us. So I think storytelling about ourselves and storytelling about the importance of independent bookstores as a whole is a really important part of our business strategy.
Wailin: [00:09:59] My favorite part of that tweet thread was when you were doing the different bullet points of all the things you offer that Amazon doesn’t. And the kicker was paying taxes. I think I actually laughed out loud because it’s true. They evade corporate taxes. They have entire departments devoted to making sure they don’t have to pay more taxes. And you know, you’re, it’s you doing the QuickBooks, it’s like, you pay taxes.
Danny: [00:10:23] Right. They’re so good at avoiding accountability in everything that they do and it’s, they’re just really clever in how they set up their business.
Wailin: [00:10:31] Did you hear from other indie bookstores who were like, Oh, thank you for doing this. You know, like you kind of did the brave thing and actually attached some real numbers to the points you were making.
Danny: [00:10:42] Yeah, the number of the little emoji that’s the arm that’s flexing. We saw that a lot from other bookstores. We saw fire a lot from other bookstores. But part of the reason it took off was Books are Magic in Brooklyn, New York has a humongous social media following and they picked it up on their Twitter and Instagram. And with that kind of a boost, it just, you know, it started to snowball.
Wailin: [00:11:05] And then did the success of that thread, did it embolden you to then keep speaking out like you’ve been doing?
Danny: [00:11:12] It did, and part of it was the days after that we had a really good weekend. People turned it into buying books, both online and in store and people came into the store to talk to us about it and buy books. And we got a ton more online orders ever since then. This whole year has broken all kinds of records for our online sales. And so, in part, just from a very basic sense, it’s good for business. But in another part like people need to talk about it. This needs to be said. I feel a responsibility to make this kind of noise. Because Amazon is so convenient and so easy and so cheap that it’s so easy to take for granted buying stuff from them. And the more we can make noise to give people a slight little pause before they hit that buy button or tell their Alexa to ship something to them, the better.
[00:11:57] Because the indie bookstores are doing fine. It’s not like we’re struggling. We’re having, we’ve had a couple of great years. There are more and more bookstores opening up. The stores that are open, a lot of them have strong sales, but that’s not because we’re asking people to pay more money for something that’s essentially a luxury good. We need to convince people that that we’re worth it, that we’re valuable. And part of that, I think, is just making noise about that particular fact.
Wailin: [00:12:22] So you offer online sales. How long has that been the case? Was the online ordering piece of your website already there when you took over? Or was that something you started?
Danny: [00:12:32] It’s run through a platform called IndieCommerce, which the American Booksellers Association runs. The eCommerce capability is built into the website that they host for us, so we just pay them a monthly fee, which is more than paid for with online sales.
[00:12:51] When you search on our website, you’re searching our main distributor Ingram Wholesale, so the results you get back aren’t what’s in our store, but you get back what Ingram can ship to us. And we can have Ingram fulfill orders for us or we can send from the store if we already have it in stock. If we had to host our own website, there’s no way it would work.
[00:13:09] Another way it really works. We’ve done a couple of really big preorder campaigns lately. Just yesterday, Caitlin Doughty released a new book called Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? So what she did is she had an exclusive signed edition that came with a little lapel pin. I mean the only way to get that was to go through an indie bookstore. We did dozens and dozens of preorders and that kind of stuff is the bread and butter of online sales for us.
[00:13:34] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Wailin: [00:13:38] After the break, Danny talks about some of the challenges that independent bookstores face around blockbuster releases. But first, let’s talk about Basecamp.
Shaun: [00:13:46] Basecamp is a tool for managing projects the right way. With Basecamp, everything’s organized in one place. You’re on top of things. Progress is clear and a sense of calm sets in Haas, a member of Basecamps, excellent support team has been using Basecamp to help her boyfriend find a diving school.
Haas: [00:14:00] My boyfriend was getting really overwhelmed with all the different options that he had and the timelines and different tasks and I haven’t emailed this person and this person got back to me, but I forgot which school they’re from. And I was like, look, let’s just set up a little Basecamp and keep track of maps, correspondence. I set up a little journal check-in so that he can write about how he’s feeling about his search.
Shaun: [00:14:24] get it together and manage projects the right way with Basecamp. Try it for free at basecamp.com
Wailin: [00:14:32] Can we talk about The Testaments. For those listeners who might have missed the news, can you explain what happened?
Shaun: [00:14:38] Margaret Atwood’s sequel to the Handmaid’s Tale, which is called The Testaments, had a worldwide release date of September 10th and it was a strictly embargoed title and what that means is everybody who wanted to sell the book had to sign an affidavit where they swore to not sell it or release it or even talk about having it before September 10th. We sign these documents a couple times a year for really big titles. It was the strictest of these I’d ever seen. We were supposed to keep the boxes of books in a locked and monitored location. We couldn’t even post pictures of the boxes to social media. And the publisher, Penguin Random House wanted this book to be a mystery until it arrived on September 10th. To be totally secret.
[00:15:17] But then last week, about eight days before September 10th, people started posting pictures on social media that they had gotten their copies from Amazon. Copies they pre-ordered on Amazon started arriving. It’s unclear how many went out, but what happened was that that basically gave people permission to run their reviews. And so as soon as that happened, the New York Times and NPR put reviews on their website. People who had exclusive excerpts ran them early. And so the kind of mystique around the book was punctured a little bit.
[00:15:47] Meanwhile, any bookstores still had to wait. And there’s this kind of worldwide impression that if you had ordered this from Amazon, you would’ve gotten it first while we’re here trying to play by the rules and keep our boxes of books in the locked closet.
Wailin: [00:16:01] And so for sales, like what is the downside for you, for sales? Is it a like a reputation hit or does it actually translate into something kind of more immediate?
Danny: [00:16:12] One of the dangerous parts, as I mentioned, is the impression that Amazon can get it to you earlier. So I don’t know how many people went who were planning on buying it from a bookstore, went to Amazon instead in hopes that they ordered it early. And I’m not sure there’s a way we can find that out, but part of it is if they had successfully kept the mystery up, there would have been a lot of intrigue about that book and people would buy it just to find out what happened. And that mystery can, can drive people into a bookstore to buy the book.
Wailin: [00:16:35] Here’s a couple of Danny’s tweets from The Raven account about the Margaret Atwood dust up.
[00:16:38] “It should come as no surprise that a certain huge online retailer is selling this book very close to our cost. If we sold it at their price, we’d make a $1.73 per copy. We’ve discussed before how this is unfair and how we deal with it. But now not only is the huge online retailer selling it for a price we can’t compete with, but they shipped out copies a week early. This increases the likelihood that someone who got it early uploads a bootleg copy online cutting into sales for everyone.”
Danny: [00:17:07] We’re doing fine on this particular title in part because that Twitter thread led a bunch of people to preorder it from us, which we love and appreciate. But if this was a regular thing, people would just start buying new release books only from Amazon or places like Walmart or Target would feel like they had permission to put it out early, too. And then we would really lose sales if this turned into a pattern.
Wailin: [00:17:30] And on the thread where you discuss this, you mentioned that the indie bookstore industry really relies on these fall and pre-holiday blockbusters to kind of get you through the year, right? That for a lot of bookstores—
Danny: [00:17:43] Oh yeah.
Wailin: [00:17:43] —you run at a loss and then you’re counting on these big titles. Like whether it’s this one or maybe in past years it’s been like Michelle Obama’s memoir or something, to kind of get you over that hump.
Danny: [00:17:52] It’s 50% of our sales, our fourth quarter. I mean the holidays are a huge boost for any retailer, but it’s also that the publishing calendar is set up to tailor to that. September releases in particular. These are holiday books that they’re releasing in time to reprint if they have to before the holidays and so the big Christmas books are coming out now, really. The New York Times called September 10th Super Tuesday for books. So we had Margaret Atwood, we had the Caitlin Doughty, we had the Stephen King, Malcolm Gladwell, the kind of blockbuster Harvey Weinstein book She Said came out on the 10th. These are the books that are going to get us into the black for the year and again, we get really nervous when it seems like something might cause us to miss out sales on that kind of a book.
Wailin: [00:18:36] Have you started to perfect the art and science of knowing how many of these big books to order and keep in the store? It seems like a really kind of tricky dance.
Danny: [00:18:48] I don’t know if anybody has ever perfected it. I get better every year. Part of our limitation is that we are 1200 square feet and we have 10,000 books, which is a pretty dense store. So we don’t have much storage space to speak of. And so if we order 150 copies of Margaret Atwood, where do we put them? And that gets really tricky.
[00:19:07] Another thing that happens is at some point these books just run out. It was really bad with Michelle Obama last year because they couldn’t print them fast enough to keep everybody in stock. And then, because all of the printing capacity is going towards Michelle Obama, she was kind of hogging up all the printing factories. Other books were out of stock too. After maybe November 25th, no one could reorder Salt Fat Acid Heat last year. That’s a color cookbook and it takes forever to print. It’s an expensive book and everybody was trying so hard to crank out Michelle Obamas.
[00:19:39] And so you have to guess, you really do have to guess which one of these books are going to be huge and you have to kind of hedge against the fact that at some point it will be impossible to reorder these before Christmas. If it weren’t so nerve wracking, it would be kind of fun.
Wailin: [00:19:53] Yeah. Yeah. If you were just like a spectator or something.
Danny: [00:19:56] Right.
Wailin: [00:19:56] Yeah.
Danny: [00:19:57] Or if it was like a computer game and you got a score. But no, it’s like, “Oh no, this is actually the checking account we’re talking about.”
Wailin: [00:20:03] I would download that like mobile game, I think. Bookstore Owner.
Danny: [00:20:08] Maybe there’s another revenue stream to help with those low cash flow months.
Wailin: [00:20:12] Another thread that you did, which I thought really was really interesting was you kind of quiz your fellow indie bookstore owners in different parts of the country about what their bestsellers were. And it was like quite a diverse group of books.
Danny: [00:20:25] I love that. That’s so fun to me. We have a narrative newsletter called Quoth the Raven, which every week I write a short thousand-word little narrative essay that’s a slice of bookstore life and I knew this week I was going to write about our all-time bestseller, but that just made me curious about what our bookstore Twitter friends had as their bestsellers. Because I had a feeling it would be fascinating and it totally was.
[00:20:46] Harvard bookstore in Boston, which has been there for like a hundred years. They’d been there forever. It was Make Way for Ducklings, the old kids book. That, if anything demonstrates how cool independent bookstores are. Like we all sell best-sellers pretty well, but when you look at what really, really sells over a long time, it’s different and it’s tailored to that community. 16 of our top 30 all-time bestsellers are local titles and that just makes me so proud of what we do at our highest capacity of book sales. We’re helping Lawrence, Kansas buy books about Lawrence, Kansas, which is so important.
Wailin: [00:21:20] Can you remind me what your all-time bestseller is?
Danny: [00:21:22] It’s a self-published cookbook called the Paradise Café and Bakery Cookbook. Missy McCoy ran a restaurant here from like the late ‘80s until 2003 called the Paradise Cafe. About five or six years after it closed she self-published a collection of like the old school recipes with some pictures from the restaurant. Every year we sell hundreds of these. Right before holidays last year, we were about to run out. I ran into her at the bank and I was like, we need more copies. She’s like, there are no more copies. She’s like, they’re so expensive to make and so we actually prepaid a huge run of these books so she could afford to do the print run and it was just how much we believe in that book.
Wailin: [00:22:00] Well, Amazon wouldn’t do that for her, right?
Danny: [00:22:03] No, they would not prepay a print run.
Wailin: [00:22:04] Is there anything else about running an independent bookstore or small business that you wish more people understood? I mean you have this kind of incredible educational platform you’ve developed. Do you have any other like big topics or themes that you’re hoping to tackle?
Danny: [00:22:18] One thing I’ve thought about a lot lately is being political, and this started even before I bought this store. I’ll say it’s a little scary initially to take an outright political viewpoint with your business because you don’t want to alienate people that might give you money. But we have never run into any serious backlash for any political statement or any activist statement we make. I think of it all as activism. All of these tweets about Amazon, that’s being activist, and it’s also political in a way. But it’s really only improved our bottom line and it’s helps our business raise its profile. So I would just, I don’t think business owners need to be afraid to speak up. Even if they alienate some people, they’re going to find many more people who agree with them and resonate with what they’re advocating for.
Wailin: [00:23:04] In my mind, bookstores are inherently political.
Danny: [00:23:07] Oh yeah. I totally agree. Just the idea of facts is a political idea now. I think it’s been decades since the idea of truth has been this political. So that’s part of I think why we eventually decided to become a political bookstore, more political in how we told our story, is that we’re already doing it. There’s nothing about bookselling that’s not political, so you might as well lean into it.
Wailin: [00:23:29] Do you get time to write still or does the bookstore keep you really busy?
Danny: [00:23:34] No, I do. I have a book coming out March 3rd called El Dorado Freddy’s, which is my second poetry collection. And then the newsletters, I’m putting out one of newsletters a week and that’s one of the reasons I was drawn to the newsletter format is because it was accountability and it’s like nothing says I actually have to get that out by Tuesday, but it is a degree of accountability. You’d be like, well you should try to have a thousand good words every Tuesday, your subscribers are waiting for you.
Wailin: [00:24:01] Do you find that the poetry writing side of your brain talks to the business side of your brain pretty frequently then, since it’s all kind of intermingled and what you do every day?
Danny: [00:24:09] I’ll tell you what, it was really easy to write the book proposal for that second poetry book because the publisher I worked with, Belt Publishing out of Cleveland, Ohio asked me to write a proposal for it and they told me to pay attention to the marketing of the book and I was like, few poets in history have ever been this prepared to write about the marketing of a book.
Wailin: [00:24:30] Last question. What are you reading these days that you would recommend?
Danny: [00:24:34] I’m on a, a huge Colson Whitehead kick. His new book, The Nickel Boys is stunning. I’ve read it twice and it’s really rare for me to read a book twice the year it comes out. I reread books all the time, but to read a book twice in six months, the year it comes is kind of unprecedented for me. But that’s how much I loved it. It is the story of a young boy in Florida in the ‘60s who gets sent to… it’s a mix between a boarding school and a prison. It’s a reform school called the Nickel Academy. It’s based on a real place. And there’s just some shocking stuff in there, but that the way that Colson Whitehead tells that story is so resonant and so powerful. I’m a huge fan.
[00:25:14] And then I’m also very slowly working my way through a book called Ducks, Newburyport. It’s been called the Moby Dick of the kitchen. It’s a total doorstop of a novel and it’s a stream of consciousness day in the life story about this stay at home mom, basically just as she’s baking pies. Most of it is one sentence. And it’s a thousand page book that’s basically one sentence long.
Wailin: [00:25:36] Does it make you hungry for pie or no?
Danny: [00:25:38] Not yet. We might to some more details about the pie, but I’m about a hundred pages then and the pies really haven’t entered yet. We, in the indie bookstore world, we love books like that. A place like Costco wouldn’t know what to do with that book, but we know how to sell that book and we know people who would love that and it’s a huge hit. They just called for a 10,000 copy second printing. We love to try to help that kind of book become a hi. Like, Margaret Atwood’s gonna sell really well with or without us, but we can make a weirdo book like that a bestseller, at least here. And we love that.
Wailin: [00:26:10] How do you sell a book like that?
Danny: [00:26:13] For that? I would look for someone who I knew liked Moby Dick or Infinite Jest, like a really ambitious or serious reader or someone who’s going on a long trip and is looking for a project book. You talk to people and you figure out what they like. When someone comes in for a book recommendation, the first thing we ask them is what have you read recently that you liked? And if they say anything like Infinite Jest, or The Instructions by Adam Levin, I would be like, Oh yeah, I know the book for you.
[00:26:36] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Shaun: [00:26:44] Rework is produced by Wailin Wong and me, Shaun Hildner. Our theme music is Broken By Design by Clip Art. You can find The Raven bookstore on Twitter @ravenbookstore. Their website is RavenBookstore.com where you can sign up for their weekly newsletter, Quoth the Raven.
Wailin: [00:26:59] Nevermore!
Shaun: [00:27:04] Danny’s forthcoming book of poetry, El Dorado Freddy’s is available for preorder now from Belt Publishing. We’ll link to all these things in the show notes for this episode rework.fm.
Wailin: [00:27:13] Huge thanks to the Lawrence Public Library where Danny recorded his end of the interview at their studios. That’s right. The Lawrence Public Library has audio-visual studios that are free for patrons to use. Shout out to Jim Barnes who manages the studio and to Matt Pelsma for being our audio engineer.
[00:27:31] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Shaun: [00:27:42] I have an issue with one of the things Danny talked about in this interview.
Wailin: [00:27:47] Oh, what, you think everyone should shop at Amazon?
Shaun: [00:27:48] I don’t think anyone should shop at Amazon, for books, at least. I have an issue with his idea that someone would come into a bookstore saying they’ve read Infinite Jest, because as far as I know, no one has ever read Infinite Jest.
Wailin: [00:28:02] I think that people definitely go into bookstores and lie about having read Infinite Jest.
Shaun: [00:28:06] Oh, that’s a good point. I think that’s exactly what’s happening.
Wailin: [00:28:10] Not to cast aspersions on anyone.
Shaun: [00:28:12] I can’t tell you how many people I know have that ginormous tome on their bookshelves and no one I know has gotten through it.
Wailin: [00:28:19] Even my husband who reads everything, including William Gass’s The Tunnel, which if you haven’t heard of this—
Shaun: [00:28:24] I haven’t.
Wailin: [00:28:24] —novel, you should look it up. It’s a real humdinger but he’s read that and he hasn’t even finished Infinite Jest. Like it lived on his desk for a while and then it got moved from New York to Chicago where it now sits somewhat prominently on a shelf, but I don’t think he’s ever going to go back and touch it.