Learning The Ropes, Not Just Selling Them

By | Friday, March 29, 2013 3 comments
I've been reading a book about British comic book retailing. It's actually a first-person account of what he saw and did and went through as a retailer in the late 1980s/early 1990s, after having spent a fair amount of time in fandom and even earning a few bucks at local swap meets and such. There's a lot of interesting/useful information specifically about the UK comics retailing scene from that time period, something we have precious little of here in the States.

The problem, though, is that it's not terribly well-written. Grammatically, it's fine and the guy knows how to structure a sentence and get a basic point across, but the broader structure of the book is erratic and seemingly unplanned. Despite being hung together as if it were a book, it read more like a series of blog posts. Ones that were intended to be read together and in sequence, but with a number of extended asides and "oh, I forgot to mention ealier" notes. (I only discovered that it was indeed a series of blog posts originally when I began writing this one!)

Like I said, the information is interesting and useful. That it's a first-hand account is invaluable. But the author here hasn't really studyied the craft of writing. I don't say that as a judgement, mind you, just that his focus has been on other things. Like, say, retailing.

What I also noticed was that he hadn't done any actual research on fans and fandom. He had come to all of his conclusions from first-hand observation. Which is certainly valid up to a point, but it's also somewhat limited in scope. His particular shop in that one particular location might not have the exact same mix of customers that are more broadly representative of fandom at large.

I was actually reminded of a piece I wrote when I first started studying fandom 10-15 years ago. Like this author, I was primarily using my own personal experiences to inform my conclusions without using much in the way of additional research. When I read the piece even just a few years after writing it, I was terribly embarassed at how blatantly sophomoric it was and I was immensely thankful that it was ultimately never published. (Although it's been said that any creator who doesn't view their older work as poorly done is just spinning their wheels and not improving at all.) But what I've learned in the intervening years, both in terms of research as well as the craft of writing, allow me to continue to look less embarassing every day.

But what strikes me is that this retailer stands out not for his actual experiences, but for his attempt to chronicle them at all. He's essentially blazing new territory because there is almost NO ONE writing about comics retailing. Robert Beerbohm's been working on a history for about a decade now, but has gotten side-tracked with medical problems and such. No idea when/if that might ultimately get published. I've seen enough of his various posts to know he's got TONS of research done, but most of it hasn't gotten out to the public yet. Other than his work, the only real thing I can think of are a series of anecdotes that Chuck Rozanski had posted online several years ago.

But then we're back to the same issue. Retailers who haven't really studied writing. Beerbohm flatly admitted to me once that what he's written thus far needs a lot of polish from a strong writer and/or editor.

I'm not suggesting that every retailer start taking journalism classes or anything, but I know I spent several years working on this blog BEFORE tackling my first book precisely because I wanted to get some more experience in writing about comics. And I made a point to take some time to study structure and theme and flow with the express purpose of making sure my book could at least hang together moderately cohesively. But the key is that I knew I wanted to write a book, and took the time to at least try to learn how the longer, structured form of a book differs from the shorter, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants form of a blog post. I'd like to think that I was partially successful.

So here's what I would like to suggest. Any of you retailer types out there who ALSO want to see more books about comic retailing? Right now, that's up to YOU to write them! But before you do, please take a little time to study what writing a book -- not a series of blog posts -- means. Either that, or turn your notes over to a writer who's willing to help you out there! (A position I'll arrogantly throw my hat in the ring for!)
Newer Post Older Post Home


Would it be possible to tell me what book that is? I can't put a name to the familiar pic ... and I'm a very busy man :-)

Many thanks. I'll have to read the blog not owning a kindle, but already I see your point!