Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

November 6, 2017

SFContario 2017!

In a couple of weeks, I will be hobnobbing at my local convention, SFContario 8. I’m not going to glad-hand this one – SFContario is pretty awful about letting people know what is going on ahead of time. There is virtually no information on their website about what you might find upon attending the con, but if you’re considering it, you can piece together some ideas from the posts made by other guests and panelists. A quick round-up (and if you have posted your schedule somewhere, let me know! I’m happy to link it.)

Alyx Dellamonica!

Kelly Robson!

Lawrence M. Schoen!

I will be there too! Here’s my schedule:

Eating and Ethics
Saturday, November 18th, 11 am w/  Alyx Dellamonica, Lawrence Schoen, and Gunnar Wentz

What is the ethical scope of our food choices? Is buying local really better than buying imported food? Are Vegans better for the environment? How do things like socioeconomic status, mental health, and disability intersect with the ethics of food consumption? 

I’ll be moderating this panel and BOY is this in my wheelhouse. I have a degree in this! This exact thing!

Reading
Saturday, November 18th, 2-2:30 pm

I’ll be reading (probably) “The Ur-Ring” from my Archipelago world. This story is a good time, funny and crazy in good measure. Hope you’ll come listen!

How to Overthink Your Way Out of Writing
Saturday, November 18th, 3 pm w/ Charlotte Ashley, Matt Mayr, Ira Nayman, and Kelly Robson (moderator)

Theodore Sturgeon famously taught “Ask the next question.” Beginning writers everywhere are advised to ask “What if…?” as they develop their story. With a little research and some extra caffeine you too can come up with such a plethora of possibilities that your story becomes a dense jungle with no clear path–impenetrable and neverending. As denizens of the Digital Age, with its abundance of information and surfeit of attention span, we have never been in a better position to over-complicate our stories–and our lives!

How not to write an encyclopedia when you’re trying to tell a story. This should be vital.

Food in Fiction
Saturday, November 18th, 4 pm w/ Erik Buchanan, Eric Choi, Cathy Hird, and Gunnar Wentz

Stories that make you go, “Nom!” How do you describe food to express mood or set the scene? Join our panelists as they dish on the culinary delights that tantalize us in fiction, from regional teas to kingly feasts. What works? What doesn’t? And what should you know about a food-centric scene. 

I’m moderating this one too – and yes, it will be very different from Food & Ethics! Expect this one to be much tastier and less sociological. 😉

See you guys there!

May 3, 2017

Ad Astra 2017!

Yay, it’s Con Time! Being pretty Toronto-locked, my convention options are few, but choice. Ad Astra’s our biggie, and so I try to be involved in a big way. I’ll be there all weekend, and in addition to my run of panels and readings, I LOVE MEETING PEOPLE so, seriously, don’t be shy. Let’s hang out!

I’ll also be there with Archipelago bookmarks (which look awwwesoooome) and copies of all my published work for sale. I COME WITH LOOT. Yes I do.

If you need to know where to find me, here is my panel schedule:

Reading, Saturday 10:30am – Markham B

I’m the one on the schedule, but I will be hosting the PHENOMENAL local writers Tonya Liburd & Malon Edwards! Come see 3-for-1. If you’re lucky, I might read from my forthcoming “La Heron” sequel, “The Satyr of Brandenburg.”

Starting Them Young: Sci-Fi and Fantasy Picture Books, Saturday 2:00pm – Newmarket

w/ Brandon Draga, Charlotte Ashley, Deanna Laver, Alisse Lee Goldenberg, Carolyn Charron

Nearly everyone who is a fan of genre will look to things like Narnia, the Hobbit, Redwall, or Ender’s Game as their introduction to SF/F, but how much earlier could one be introduced to such things? How do you define what makes a picture book scif-fi or fantasy? What are some examples, classic or new, that illustrate this?

What is this play of Role of which you speak? Saturday 7:00pm – Newmarket

w/ Brandon Draga, Charlotte Ashley, Deanna Laver, Nicole Lavigne

An introduction to the RPG hobby, with a look at a variety of games for the new player,

Crowdfunding Strategies,  Sunday 10:00am – Newmarket

w/ Thomas Gofton, Charlotte Ashley, Beverly Bambury, Darrell Drake, Vanessa Ricci-Thode, Kari Maaren

So you want to fund your film, book, game or invention? Come to this panel and hear the tricks, tips, downfalls and reality of making your next level maneuver in crowdfunding. Learn about the different platforms, styles and methods to help you gain maximum success.

Disrupting the Narrative, Sunday 11:00am – Richmond CD

w/ Rebecca Diem, Charlotte Ashley, Eli K.P. William, Cathy Hird, Vanessa Ricci-Thode, Carolyn Charron

Science fiction and fantasy has the potential to transform our worldview. The inclusion of alternate perspectives and diverse characters help us to re-examine the past, present or future, in our universe or beyond. Inserting new experiences into old narratives shows the limitless potential of stories to inspire us. This panel will look at stories that shake up our perspective, from Steampunk and alternate history to dystopian fantasy.

November 17, 2016

SFContario This Weekend!

Never one to let a fresh haircut go to waste, I will be reading at SFContario this weekend! This is traditionally Toronto’s “downtown convention,” but this year the organizers decided to take a bit of a breather and scale the event down. “Fannish Stone Soup” is this year’s theme, meaning it’ll be whatever it is, given the ingredients. Think of it as an extended BarCon!

The ingredients are looking pretty great, though. The Con Suite will open at 5pm Friday night for socializing, with most “special guests” booked for Saturday. Saturday’s line up is as follows:

2:00 PM — Tonya Liburd
3:00 PM — Charlotte Ashley (that’s me)
4:00 PM — Herb Kauderer
5:00 PM — Caitlin Sweet and Peter Watts
6:00 PM — Kari Maaren
7:00 PM — Peggi Warner-Lalonde

Earlier in the day, expect a variety of silly and fun activities, including sugary cereal breakfast in the Con Suite, electrifying pickles, and the David Hartwell Memorial Fancy Tie Contest.

For my part, I will be reading some or all of my latest F&SF story, “A Fine Balance,” and talking about ACTION SCENES! I’ll have copies of my stories on hand for sale, and flyers for the next Distant Skies show. For all SFContario-related info, visit http://www.sfcontario.ca/ or follow them @SFContario on Twitter!

November 15, 2016

Distant Skies – Tomorrow @ 7:30pm!

Well, what do you think? Do I look like I’m from the 25th century? My partner says I look like I’m from the ’70s, which by today’s very low standards, is pretty much the future. I am from the retro-future. The future that should have been.

Tomorrow is the big show. At 7:30pm, I will take to the stage with the Junction Trio and we will mount the first-ever performance of Distant Skies. 

Okay, Charlotte. We’ve heard you talk about this show, like, constantly for the last two months. What on Earth is Distant Skies?

Distant Skies is my latest short story. It is also a chamber music concert, a collaborative dramatic performance, and a spectacle.

Through music and words, we will tell the story of Aerobelle, a community on the brink of change. Though Aerobelle’s citizens are bound to her ancient towers by body promises – genetic, heritable contracts – they are about to discover older, even stronger promises their bodies have made. This is a story of love and loyalty, the familiar and the unknown, trust and resistance.

As I tell the story, the Junction Trio and two guest theremin players will present complimentary music, including works by Vivaldi, Mozart, Hayden, and a new work by Ivana Popovic. One part reading and two parts performance, Distant Skies is something else.

I’m nervous excited as hell about this! I hope you’ll come see one of our performances. You can get more details at the Facebook event here, or just come out on a whim. Wish us luck!

October 24, 2016

November!

Okay, DON’T PANIC. It isn’t November yet. We are all still living, physically, in October – scrambling for last-minute Halloween costumes, buying Dollarama Halloween decor for everyday living [mugs and candlesticks AMIRITE] – but my brain has been in November for months now. I’ve got publications, shows, conventions, more shows, and a workshop coming up. The dreary rains of November have never seemed so exciting – for me.

A New Story @ F&SF!

I have a new short story out in a week! “A Fine Balance” is the story of two perfectly-matched legendary duelists who find their rivalry is being meddled with by persons unknown. Chases, escapes, daring duels and miraculous feats! You know, the usual. Over at Tor.com, Haralambi Markov says:

“A Fine Balance” has taken all that made “La Héron” exceptional, perfected it, and distilled it.

The Nov/Dec 2016 issue of F&SF should hit newsstands everywhere on November 1st!

Reading at SFContario 6!

Can’t find a copy of F&SF in time? I will be reading “A Fine Balance” at this year’s “Fannish Stone Soup” iteration of SFContario. I will be there on Saturday, November 19th 2016 as well as, probably, the meet-and-greet on Friday.

In addition to reading, I will be talking a little bit about physicality in SFF literature, exploring how we can use action to talk about broader themes of ableism, militarism, gender roles, bullying, and more. Come on out – this should be an intimate and chatty little gathering. Just some fun.

A New Work – With Music!

I will be debuting a new story, “Distant Skies,” in collaboration with The Junction Trio, on Wednesday, November 16th 2016 at 7:30pm, St. Anne’s Anglican Church (270 Gladstone Ave. Toronto.) I will perform this story live as a dramatic reading and concert, featuring the chamber music of the Junction Trio, a new composition by Ivana Popovic, and a guest theremin player!

Marrit Shaw’s life was promised to others centuries ago. Genetic, heritable contracts called “body promises” haunt every decision she makes. What choices are truly her own, and which were coded into her by her forefathers? Marrit is determined to fight to keep her people free from their genetic obligations, but looming on the horizon is her body promise to a generation ship which has just returned from a 200-year voyage.

Follow the Junction Trio on Facebook for more on them and their work!

And If You Miss The First Show…

We will be performing “Distant Skies” a SECOND TIME! The second performance will be held at CrossFit Lugal (1331 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto) as part of the Festival of House Culture on Saturday, November 26th, 2016 @ 5pm. This performance might just make a little more use of the space, and involve a bit of an acrobatic element. WE WILL SEE. 😉

Writing Workshop + Culture!

And finally… also as part of the Festival of House Culture, I will be running a small writing workshop on Friday, November 25th, 2016 (location TBA.) Here’s the pitch:

Bring your works in progress to this 2h writing workshop hosted by editor, critic, bookseller, and author, Charlotte Ashley!

Your host will read, anonymously, the first 250 words (approximately 1 page) of each manuscript out loud. Participants will then be invited to provide friendly and constructive feedback, led and moderated by the host. Issues of style, craft, and marketability will all be addressed. Come ready to ask questions and share experiences!

We will conclude with a general question and answer session, addressing a writer’s life, from outlining to publication. Writers of all levels, genres, styles, and mediums are encouraged to attend!

The writing workshop will likely be paired with another House Culture performer, so in addition to some writing work & talk, you will get some [probably musical] entertainment as well. I don’t see how this can go wrong!

Phew! Right? Yah, I’m a busy bee. But I like it that way. As ever, I’m always happy to hear from people in the comments or by email. Don’t be shy – I am people people!

April 24, 2016

My Ad Astra Schedule!

This weekend, I will be at Ad Astra 2016 in Richmond Hill, Ontario. This is a really fun local genre con with a focus on literature – busy, family-friendly, and well-run! I will be there the whole weekend, but if you need to nail me down more exactly, here is where I can be found:

The Relationship Between a Self-Publisher and Their Editor
Friday, April 29th @ 8pm, Room Richmond B
With Charlotte Ashley, Beverly Bambury, Jennifer Jaquith, Rob Howell, Vanessa Ricci-Thode

Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction Launch Party
Friday, April 29th @ 9pm, Suite 1086
With Charlotte Ashley, Dominik Parisien, Kate Heartfield, Kate Story, Claire Humphrey

Do Used Books Help or Hurt Authors and Publishers?
Saturday, April 30th @ 11am, Room Richmond B
With Charlotte Ashley, Brett Savory, Jen Frankel, Peter Halasz, Timothy Carter

Crafting a Believable Alternate History
Saturday, April 30th @ 2pm, Room Richmond B
With Charlotte Ashley, Dominik Parisien, Jack Whyte, Kate Story, Stephen Kotowych

Don’t be a stranger – if you see me, say hi!

March 19, 2015

Ad Astra 2015!

I will be at Ad Astra Toronto next month – April 10th-12th 2015 – participating as much as I could possibly manage to participate, so as to maximize the fun I will get out of this, the rare convention I am actually able to attend.

My panel and reading schedule is as follows:

Deconstruction: What Happens When You Take Tropes Apart
Friday, April 10th, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Panellists: Gail Z. Martin, KW Ramsey, Leah Bobet, Me
Genre fiction thrives on tropes, from the stalwart hero, the damsel into distress, and all the way to the nefarious villain, but what happens when a show takes those tropes and turns them on their head. Join us as we discuss how and why to do this and examine when it’s done right and when it’s done wrong.

Giving It Away For Free: But You’ll Get Great Exposure!
Saturday, April 11th, 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM
Panellists: Chantal Parent, Chris Warrilow, Erik Mohr, Me
“I’ve got a cousin who could do that for peanuts, why should I pay you so much?” Sound Familiar? Advice and anecdotes from professionals who have been treated unprofessionally.

Genre Crossing: Please Watch for Slow Moving Pathetic Fallacies
Saturday, April 11th, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Panellists: Ada Hoffmann, Karina Sumner-Smith, Nancy Kilpatrick, Me
Sometimes you just want to read, write or direct a paranormal romance during the robot uprising on the medieval planet of urban fariy hipsters.

New Toronto/Ontario Writers Reading
Saturday, April 11th, 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM
Panellists: Elaine Chen, Malon Edwards, Tonya Liburd, Me
Four up-and-coming Toronto writers will be reading from their newly-published work.

How to Sell SF to General Readers as Literature
Saturday, April 11th, 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Panellists: Derek Kunsken, Erik Mohr, Leah Bobet, Me
It is nearly impossible to get a non-genre reader to even look at a book – much less read it – unless HBO has kidnapped it for a mini-series. So how do you prove that SF/F is more than pulpy star-ships and elves with perfect hair?

Interactive Fiction: No Coding required!
Sunday, April 12th, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Panellists: Alice Black, Leah Bobet, Matthew Johnson, Me
Thanks to tools like Storium and Twine, the ability to make interactive stories is now available to everyone. Find out how to get started without having to write a single line of code.

Intersection Between SF and Contemporary Issues
Sunday, April 12th, 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Panellists: Adam Shaftoe, Cathy Hird, Derek Newman Stilles, Me
Panelists discuss SF stories that take on problems of the present, and old SF that has incidentally come back around to address what ails society today.

And just a reminder that I am that rare thing – an extroverted writer – so don’t be shy about coming to talk to me at the Con! As you can see, I like conversation.

March 28, 2014

On the Economics of Creative Industries

Yesterday, Ontario’s major news outlets reported that the provincial government was finally starting to crack down on illegal unpaid internships, starting with a blitz, apparently, of the magazine industry. The reactions from the left shocked me. Progressive people who should have known better bemoaned the death of these “great opportunities” and wondered where new graduates were supposed to get “valuable work experience” now.

I undulated between frothing anger and silent shock all afternoon. From… jobs, maybe? The paying kind? How did we manage to swallow, hook line and sinker, the idea that the first step into the workforce should be unpaid?

We probably swallow it because we of the creative-dependent industries work deep in the belly of starving artist territory. Not only are we told day in and day out that we cannot make a living at our art, but we’re chastised for having entered Humanities programs in the first place, then shamed if we consider “soul-destroying” paid work over pursuing our art. Writers are told not to quit their day jobs, cartoonists give their product away for decades before managing a single successful Kickstarter campaign, and we pay thousands upon thousands of dollars for skill-developing workshops.

Of course we expect people to work for free. An internship, after all, is about education, and we have agreed as a society to pay tens of thousands of dollars a head for those, endlessly, forever. Rational, kind people continue to argue this morning that as long as you’re learning something at your unpaid “internship”, they should be legal.

So why stop there? What separates a “job” from a “learning opportunity” anyway? Especially in the creative fields, where we’re offered jobs for “exposure” and “experience” every day? Or academia, where you publish relentlessly for no compensation whatsoever except a vague CV-padding? You learn something at every good job – why pay anybody for anything?

To further muddy the pool, almost everyone who is associated in any way with the publishing industry works for free once in a while. I read slush for free. The only people who get paid at a place like Taddle Creek are the writers. Rose Fox recently argued that editors need to start asking for a piece of the pie. They correctly point out that “money isn’t thick on the ground” in the industry, but we have to draw the line somewhere.

If the only people who can break into an industry are the people affluent enough to work for free for years at a time, you’re going to get an industry entirely staffed by white, middle+ class, single young people. Diversity and representation you can throw right out the window, because most people don’t have rich parents, savings, supportive, well-employed partners, or 28-hours available to them in a day. You also help contribute to false economics when you fail to factor in all the labour that goes in to your product. Every literary product I have backed on Kickstarter recently has completely glossed over the editorial costs of their book. $5000 will get you ten stories, cover art, printing and shipping costs, and that’s it. The editors, layout designers, promoters and marketers? You’re volunteers. You’re unpaid interns.

We work for free because we want these products to be made, to be available. Given the choice between volunteering to edit something for free and seeing the project die in development, we choose the labour of love every time.

But listen, broadly applied, this is a false dichotomy. The publishing industry is worth billions. If the editors, authors, designers and publicists aren’t being paid, who is? When St. Joseph Media eliminates 20-30 unpaid internships and blames the government, they are being incredibly disingenuous. The Gagliano family who run St. Joseph Communications do very well indeed. CEO Tony Gagliano has donated millions of dollars to cultural projects throughout the GTA – and good for him – he can find $750,000 to pay 30 interns minimum wage.

The money is out there, but we’re never going to see it if we don’t start putting our labour back into the equation. After all, the more of us that are being paid, the more we can pay back.  Hey writers – you know you can claim magazine subscriptions as a business expense, right? Do that. Pay in. Demand it pay out.

September 26, 2012

Back From Leave!

I do mix bookselling and parenting. A little.

I’ve been back at the store exactly one month now, launched from the relatively peaceful life of the stay-at-home mom into the bustling world of trade bookselling successfully. We’re at the height of our busy season now, receiving and selling thousands upon thousands of books for the 2012-13 university year.  Even so, I have had more time to read, write and think in the last 30 days than I had in the previous 320.

I am pleased to find that very little has changed here. In fact, books still sit on the shelf exactly where I left them one year ago. The same customers come looking for the same books, the same professors ask us to provide the same books for the same English students. From the news I’d found on the Internet it had seemed as if the book business was changing entirely every week I was away, and I’d wondered if I’d even have a bookstore to come back to. Ebooks continue to find their place in the market, publishers fold and get sold, and Amazon continues to come up with new innovations to destroy us all reinvent bookselling. But no, now that I’d back in the belly of the beast, I see very little has changed after all.

Part of the stasis I’m seeing seems to come of the differing aims and ideas of bookselling’s players. Amazon introduces same day shipping, but ever more titles are shifting to print-on-demand. Ebooks continue to gain market share, but our students are discovering the format’s limitations. People are still buying books in bookstores, and demographically it seems likely to continue for some time. If ebooks or internet sales are ultimately going to put an end to my line of work, they aren’t doing so quickly, at least not until they get their acts together and form a unified plan of attack.

There are two big reasons people continue to come into the shop, and neither one of them is because of the patient and romantic respect for the time-honoured profession of bookselling. As much as individuals wax eloquent about the community services and individual attention neighbourhood bookstores provide, at the end of the day every one of you succumbs to the convenience and savings offered by Amazon or Chapters-Indigo.ca. Very few people really boycott big online sellers. To do so requires some sacrifice on the part of the book-buyer, and we’re not a people who are generally fond of sacrifice. To cite a recent example of the disconnect between professed love of independent booksellers and the reality of the indie’s powers I offer up Salman Rushdie’s new memoir, Joseph Anton. This memoir of Rushdie’s years spent under fatwa has been, in publicist lingo, “hotly anticipated” to the point where it was classified as an embargoed title, meaning there would be no advance reading copies and no shipments of the book in advance of the release date. Logistically this tends to mean that stores who order enough copies of the book to receive sealed boxes (containing perhaps 12 copies) will get their shipments on the release date, but if you have ordered fewer than a box worth, you have to wait until the cases have been cracked and individual copies can safely go out. In our case, because we ordered only five copies, this meant we received our books on September 24th rather than the 18th.

So while on the one hand, Rushdie crafted an open love-letter to independent booksellers for their support of Satanic Verses while he was under fatwa, in reality, most independent bookstores miss whatever mad scramble the publisher thought there would be for this book. Will the buyer wait? I had a few requests for the title on the 18th, but I have not yet sold any of the copies which came in on the 24th. I suspect, no she won’t.

Yet people do show up and we do sell books. The biggest draw is convenience. When we have the books, they are on the shelf right there. You don’t have to wait, or order. You pick it up and start reading that minute. For students this is especially relevant, because often it doesn’t occur to them to buy the book until they are three days from an essay’s deadline. They can’t wait. This is, of course, one of the biggest draws of the ebook as well – there you don’t even necessarily need to leave your home to instantly receive your book. Yet whatever market share we’ve lost to ebooks we’ve made up for by the loss of older competitors. Chapters Indigo don’t seem to carry many books anymore. One desperate student calling to confirm we had his book in stock informed us that the closest copy Chapters had of Lattimore’s translation of Homer’s The Odyssey – surely an easy-to-find staple if ever there was one – was in Stoney Creek. The ease of “finding a used copy” has also tanked, as used bookstores around the GTA go belly-up. A few monster used bookstores don’t make a suitable replacement either – while ten small stores might have an Odyssey each, that doesn’t mean one big one will have ten copies. We have books, so people come to buy them.

The second draw remains a fundamental mistrust of ebooks. Consumers may be warming to the idea, but in my experience, many ebook readers have mistaken ideas of what an ebook is, and what rights it gives them. Several people have tried to return ebooks to us because they discovered they “could not print them out”. For a student or academic, having a paper copy – even in fragments – is still key.  You need somewhere to scribble your notes. You need a copy to bring in to the exam. You need to copy a chapter for your students. These consumers also have mistaken ideas about to what extent they own the “book” they’ve bought. They want to lend it out, to sell it when they are done. They need access to it even if they’re having technical difficulties. It is apparently easier to phone me than to reach tech support for many ebook publishers, and I find myself trouble-shooting my customers’ reading experience. This is in no way my job, and while I like to be helpful I am reluctant to be yelled at when a customer is, for whatever reason, locked out of her book. Loathe as I am to ever refuse to help a customer, I begin to wonder if I should even admit I know anything about ebook difficulties. To own up to any knowledge seem to be to invite blame. To avoid headaches, I recommend paper books every time.

So I don’t know if it will last, but as of today the bubble holds strong. People read, and we facilitate reading. The thrill of a new release, a new find, or a new favourite hasn’t gotten old for the customers or for the seller. I count myself lucky that I can still be in the business now, and I hope to still be here in 15 years. And beyond? I’m not willing to forecast, just enjoying the good weather while it lasts.

March 30, 2012

My Response to David Mason – Huh?

I really do enjoy my subscription to Canadian Notes and Queries. It is probably my only periodical – outside of Chirp – which I happily renew every year without even having to consider it.  I love Seth’s design work. I love the featured cartooning work. I love the often arch and argumentative nature of many of the essays. And I love that they give space to David Mason, really the only space in any Canadian periodical given to an antiquarian book dealer. But,

Dear Mr. Mason,

You lost me with your latest contribution, “Secrets of the Book Trade: Number 1“. I sorrily admit I didn’t understand a word of it. I followed you as far as the admission that antiquarian booksellers are snobs  – agreed, and good for you! – but the following generalizations about trade bookselling sounded outright made up.

Which booksellers, pray tell, were you referring to? I’m not sure if you’ve looked around lately, but there aren’t a lot of trade booksellers left, and those still standing don’t bear any resemblance whatsoever to the characture you’ve drawn. “…what they are lacking is knowledge of about 500 years of the history of their trade.”? “new booksellers share with publishers is a certain distrust – even fear – of antiquarian booksellers”? “You order a bunch of books from a catalogue, provided by a publisher, sell what you can and return what you can’t. No risk, no penalty, if your opinion of what might sell is wrong.”???

The above quotes represent three total untruths about trade bookselling featured in your essay.

Just this week Ben McNally delivered the 2012 Katz Lecture at the Thomas Fisher on the topic of Is There a Future (Or Even a Present) for Bookselling? which included a learned history of the book trade. Yesterday I attended new book creator Andrew Steeves‘ lecture on “The Ecology of the Book” which also consisted, largely, of a history of the book trade. Even I am a new book seller and a book historian, not to mention an antiquarian book lover and collector. The booksellers I know – those who remain – are very knowledgeable people who are in no way the peddlers of pap you seem to be describing. I think you and I can agree that Chapters/Indigo is not staffed by “booksellers” so let’s leave out their lack of participation in the larger world of books – unless it was actually that straw man you meant to burn down, in which case I’d feel better if you’d been a little more clear.

We bear the antiquarian trade no ill-will. In fact we continue to foster relationships with used and rare sellers. Our remainder tables continue to be pillaged by scouts and dealers, and we offer deep discounts to some favoured dealers who will take away our overstock by the box. We know that the antiquarian dealers do us the same service we do them – redirecting customers who erroneously visit one or the other of us in search of “nice copies of…” or “cheap copies of…”. I send my customers to you weekly. I hope you do us the same courtesy.

As to this business of publishers’ returns policies giving us a free pass… well, perhaps it is this which stuck in my craw the worst, as I hear it again and again from everyone, customers, academics, and now you, who should know better. The ability to return a limited quantity of books allows us nothing but the merest bit of breathing space. We have to remainder or toss books too. We have to vet the vast, vast floods of new books which are solicited each year into a good, salable collection of which we can return no more than 15% and, even then, which we often have to return at great cost to ourselves in shipping and brokerage – especially brokerage. Choosing which books will sell requires not just an intimate knowledge of every author, publisher and subject we cover, but of our customers and their interests, price points, and whims. Every book we buy is a gamble. Unlike you, who can pick up certain Modern Firsts at a good price without having to think about it, we have to speculate on the market of every book which comes through the door. And we can only be wrong 10-15% of the time.

Further, if we feel a social responsibility to pick up and flog new, upcoming authors and presses with no existing market whatsoever in the name of encouraging local talent and the potential cultural giants of tomorrow, we do so by the grace of this returns policy. Not that we send books back to small and independent publishers – quite the contrary, we have a policy of keeping these books whether they sell or not, out of respect for the limited resources of their publishers. But we can do it because of the returns to larger publishers who can afford it, which will let us free up some cash for zero-gain experiments.

I cannot imagine what point you will eventually make with Number 2 of this series after making such an artificial distinction between booksellers in Number 1. If your intention was merely to point out how very learned you are, I salute you but suggest that you do not become more learned by painting us as less learned. I’d like to suggest that a more useful project might be to make common cause against the real outsider in our field, the entirely algorithm-based online bookseller who is undermining both our businesses by selling entirely unvetted, undifferentiated texts based on price point alone. But that’s another post.

In conclusion, I think you’ll find those booksellers among us who remain in business in this difficult age are a hardy bunch, creamier than whatever booksellers of yesteryear you’re remembering. We each have our bodies of knowledge about aspects of the objects we dedicate our lives to.  We are aware of how we compliment each other – have we kissed and made up yet?

Thanks for you time,

Charlotte Ashley

P.S. I would love and prefer a job in antiquarian bookselling. If you’re ever looking for a knowledgeable and neurotically dedicated apprentice, you just let me know.

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