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Profile of Gene Medenwald

#56, 21 November 2005

NAME: Gene Medenwald


LOCATION: 201 S Park Ave., Stafford, Kansas 67578. Stafford, a community of about 1300 souls, is 150 miles south of the geographic center of the contiguous United States of America.


NUMBER OF YEARS IN BUSINESS: October 15th is the fifth anniversary of my first upload of 300 book descriptions on Abebooks.

Prior to that I've been an avid reader since age four when my mother taught me that most enticing form of human magic.

Buying, swapping (and sometimes selling) books started at an early age. As a collector, over the years, I seemed to amass collections that contributed to achieving expertise in a particular area of interest. As interests changed, I would dispose of one collection and use the proceeds to assemble another. After awhile, it dawned on me that this could be done deliberately - for profit. I've really been in the business on a part-time basis much of my life. AB Bookman, sending and receiving descriptive post cards ... Can't remember when I started doing that. Seems like the dark ages now.

I actually started my internet business on eBay one day after nearly discarding a lot of duplicates and old magazines while reorganizing my library. I'd tossed several boxes of books, etc., into my old pickup with the rest of the junk destined for the landfill, then retrieved them thinking, perhaps, someone out there on eBay may want them. Everything sold, for prices that astonished me!

That was the start. It was also the start of my love/hate relationship with eBay which continues to this day.

PART TIME OR FULL TIME: I've been self employed for more than 30 years and last year, in early September, I retired from my previous business to become a full time professional bookseller.

BOOKSELLING VENUES USED (in order of importance):

  9. Paramount Antique Mall, Wichita KS (currently building a new website:

(More on Venues in "Postscripts")

SIZE OF INVENTORY: About 14,000 for-sale items, of which about 8700 are available online and probably 5000 or so in backlog.

SPECIALTIES: None, and most likely there never will be one in particular. Humans are, by nature, generalists and universalists. We live in a time when our nature has been given the greatest degree of facility to affect itself - at least within the relative freedoms we enjoy in the USA. I have the greatest admiration and respect (and envy!) for those professional booksellers who are specialists, especially in the arcane areas of incunabula and antiquarian.

That said, I do have a few niche markets I pursue with diligence, the most important of which you will instantly recognize when you visit my website home page. It is an area of high collector interest much ignored by the bookselling fraternity. This may always be so, as it requires specialized interest and expertise, specialized storage facilities and shipping/boxing accommodations.

I can't help buying it if it's unusual in some aspect. Recent example: A signed Fine/Fine copy of Let The Bastards Freeze in the Dark by Diane Simmons. Or weird: My Visit to Venus by T. Lobsang Rampa, illustrated by Gene Duplantier and published by Saucerian Books.

Unusual and weird is usually somewhat scarce - and pricey.


For the Glory of it!

Around the turn of the last century, throughout the southwestern United States, there were thousands of cheap paper signs posted everywhere which read in bold headline:

"Ride with Pancho for Gold and Glory!"

Just read what the Merriam-Webster Dictionary has to say on the subject of glory:

1: REKNOWN 2: honor and praise rendered in worship 3: something that secures praise or reknown 4: a brilliant asset 5: RESPLENDENCE, MAGNIFICENCE 6: celestial bliss 7: a height of prosperity or achievement.

Human beings need that kind of stuff. I need that kind of stuff!

It is a daily learning experience of personal enhancement. Every email, every telephone call, every typed or hand written letter, every personal visit, is an opportunity for adventure. The opportunities are beyond bound and nearly beyond comprehension in today's social and business environment.

During the day, I do what has to be done immediately - respond to communications, process orders, mailroom activities, visit the post office, etc. At night, I do what must be done - grind out catalog descriptions, digital photography, database updates & uploads, ftp transfers, work on the physical inventory. Weekends are more generated to think-time and planning and pursuing aims and whims. And Thursdays, wonderful Thursdays ...

Thursday is the Treasure Hunt Day!

Up at 5:00 a.m. On the road at 5:30, having fixed my on-the-go breakfast sandwich the night before. Hit the first estate sale at 7:00. Then the next. And the next. Perhaps make quick stops at early garage sales in between. Sometimes that routine is done by 10:30. Sometimes, not until into the evening.

Estate sales, garage sales, backyard sales, church sales, library sales, flea markets, estate auctions, farm auctions, bankruptcy auctions, antique malls, thrift stores, and yes, book stores ...

I have a friend who is a successful gold miner in northern California. The saying there is:

"Gold is where you find it." Where I live, in Kansas, "Books are where you find them."

What the gold miners mean is that, in prime gold mining territory, gold is everywhere!

And it truly is. But, it's so scattered out that it's unprofitable to stake and work a claim except in those rare areas where it is concentrated enough to work it at a profit. You can scoop up a panful of dirt almost anywhere in northern California, pan it out in a stream, and find gold! A few worthless specks.

It is the same with books: they are everywhere.

The gold miners also say: "It's only a matter of turning over the right rock."

With us, "It's only a matter of turning over the right cover."

Craig Stark calls the rich ground "Flash Points."

I have a dear friend and associate, Michael Jackson (yes, that's his real name and, no, he hasn't been in criminal court recently) who absolutely loves The Hunt. He deals primarily in a certain period of fine art, art pottery and glass. He is the very best finder, picker, scout, I have ever seen. And the most avid. He will, quite literally, pursue that aspect of his business 24 hours a day for several days on end with just short naps to keep him going.

To him, that is where the real Glory lies - in The Hunt.

For me, I guess I am lucky, I love it all. It is all Glorious.

(For an enjoyable read on The Hunt, pick up a copy of Larry McMurtry's Cadillac Jack.)


I have only one piece of negative advice for the new bookseller, the rest is all positive: Don't quit your current source of financial means to support yourself and loved ones until you are sure your bookselling enthusiasm will support you. You cannot pay for things with enthusiasm. Do it part-time until you've built it to the necessary size. All retail sales are cyclical; for some the Christmas season is everything and the rest of the months are a loss. This is somewhat true of bookselling. Summer months, in particular, can be slow. Get your feet wet for a couple of years part-time to get a true feel for the business.

Every religion I've ever studied or heard about, as regards we mere mortals, avers that we were "created in His own image." We're mini-gods. So, who am I to offer advice to you, another magical creature venturing into - what? Turning an avocation into a vocation? Fleeing an undesirable occupation in pursuit of a more desirable one? Seeking financial wealth? Seeking a deeper personal fulfillment?

We do a myriad of things for an infinity of reasons both real and imagined. But we are the one known being in the universe capable of Love. If you can bring yourself to begin to love what you are doing you will succeed at it.

When you become a bookseller, you become an entrepreneur: one who manages and assumes the risk of a business - a professional. Because you are you and I am me, we will, more than likely, do the same things vastly differently. I attempt to do what I do extremely well, over time, over and over again. Nope, I ain't perfect. You won't be either. I attempt to learn as I'm going. Opportunities to learn and better yourself and your business present themselves every day if you look for them.

They say, "Learn from your mistakes." How do you know you're making a mistake? It is also said that the greatest folly is doing the same thing time after time and expecting a different result. I think the key is knowledge. And the key to that is enthusiastic openness. Open your eyes, your mind, your being to all that pertains. Be like a sponge. There is tons of relevant information out there waiting for you to access and assimilate.

BEST BOOKSELLING TIP: Flashpoints. An absolutely brilliant concept.

FAVORITE AUTHORS: I simply will not name one. Hundreds that I have read. Hundreds more that I should have read. In every genre, there are veritable giants of creativity, often dozens within a single genre, extending over centuries. I tend to be a "Western-ist" in terms of philosophy. I'm very weak in the Eastern arts. I tend to really admire Benjamin Franklin, as a human, and, yes, as a writer.

Drat. He slipped out!

FAVORITE QUOTE: Seek the truth and act upon it.


On Becoming an Entrepreneur:

In the realm of professionals such as doctors, lawyers, military officers, police officers, etc., more of them are sons and daughters of same than in any other enterprise in America. I think this is because, as children, they learned that dad and/or mom practiced their profession 24 hours a day seven days a week, week after week, for a life's time. That is dedication!

(Incidentally, lots of booksellers are children of booksellers.)

Most children are not taught that life is an adventure, forever. Most children are not taught that life is a lifetime learning experience. As a bookseller, you will soon learn what a pitifully small percentage of Americans actually read routinely, for business and for pleasure and for self-education. This same small percentage will tell you how many people have the opportunity to self-educate themselves. It is a concept that is not taught in most of our schools. Most young adults leave school with the idea, "I'm done." I've got my education now I can get a job and get on with my life. There is an old saying historians are familiar with: They got the idea wrong - and became it. Do you know how to teach yourself? It is what is required. Experience and learning by doing is often a horrible way to learn.

However you were taught, however you grew up, whatever your beliefs, when you become an entrepreneur you soon learn that it is not a 9 to 5 proposition. Becoming an entrepreneur is a 24/7 for the rest of your life deal. Anything less and you will probably fail. It is an immutable statistic that only one out of every five (20%) new businesses succeeds through the first year. A very high percentage of those in the 20% fail before the fifth year.

If you have loved ones living with you and depending upon you, in all fairness, you must work this out with them. Of course, there are opportunities for compromise. Humans are masters at the art of compromise. Many people juggle numerous commitments quite successfully - and never excel at any of them and are quite happy. Some rare few, such as Ben Franklin, excel at nearly everything they do.

Life is an art.

(Very few persons in the professions noted, fail.)

On Venues:

I listed as being the most important for a number of reasons:

Reason #1 is My Ego! My ego, and yours, too, needs to be constantly reinforced. Get up at five o'clock in the morning, drive 400 miles, attend countless estate sales, garage sales, etc., follow up on that call from the little ole lady who thinks it's time to part with her long-passed-away husband's book collection only to find it's all book club editions - and return home with one rather tatty book laying in the backseat of the car. That's when your ego needs some reinforcement! And bad days happen not infrequently.

Go to your computer, click on your favorites, and there's your store, your business, created with your will, your genius. It's there. It's real. It's worth getting up again tomorrow and doing it all over again - and this time it will be better! Damn cheap therapy.

Reason #2 is Credibility! My ego is important, true - but so is my customer's ego. My customer wants to have assurance that he/she is dealing with someone who is trustworthy and believable. Here is how I sign all of my Email messages, after "Best Regards," "Sincerely," etc.:

Gene Medenwald,
Gene's Books
Member: IOBA

The customer may have found out about me from AddALL, Google, FetchBook - who knows where, but when I reply to his/her inquiry, that string of letters between the "www" and the ".com" represents big-time credibility. This immediately implies people who care about their business enough to create a website for it and who, consequently, care about their customers. Wow. And they even belong to a professional organization, with a set of standards and ethics with like minded colleagues. Believable. Probably trustworthy. Perhaps more trustworthy than those other people trying to make a go of it with a co-op arrangement with a "book-search" website.

I love to send Email messages! Follow-ups on queries. Yep. Some of them are really, really dumb. Some of them seem to be a complete waste of time. (A request for a scan of a properly described $12.50 book? Why?) Some lead to really great people and really great customers. You never know at first, but with a signature like that you do know you are getting the word out - advertising - about your business and are putting your best foot forward, every time.

Reason #3 is Stability. Gene's Books was created by and is owned by Gene Medenwald. It is copyrighted and has a registered trademark. Gene's Books is not an order processor for Amazon, Abebooks, etc., etc. Each of them is merely one of many venues that I have chosen to employ. I may choose to accept or reject their policies and their "enhancements." I have every confidence that some of them are going to enhance themselves into oblivion. But Gene's Books will not go there with them. is the foundation upon which all else is built. It has its own personal system of searchable categories, which make sense and reflect its inventory. It has its own search system, which actually works. And, very importantly, it has its own order processing system with high security level encryption for credit card data transmission. Many of my international sales come through my personal web site, usually after an email query regarding international shipping, insurance and credit card security.

Incidentally, if you are permitting someone else to process your credit card sales, you are losing money - in more ways than one. You simply must set up your own merchant account. A great advantage of having your own merchant account is that, when you get a telephone query, you can immediately close the sale and take down the customer's credit card data. Voila! Done deal. Money in the bank.

You Need A Mentor!

We are by our nature social critters. We cannot go through life alone. If we are going to enter the profession of bookselling and make it a part of our life, it would be silly not to embrace other professionals.

I was fortunate early on in my bookselling endeavor to discover that I could meet someone via the magic of the internet, make them a mentor without them being aware of it! What a marvelous deal. In a way, that's what bookseller profiles are about.

Myrna Coburn, of Coburn's Book World was my first bookselling mentor. Back when Abebooks was, well, Abebooks, she wrote a monthly "Tips from Myrna" column that was extremely helpful. Some of her "Rules": Pay your scouts well, 30% of sales price. Up to $50 in cash up front. On expensive books, the balance after it sells. Establish your minimum price. If you search the book on Abe and there are more than 30 competitive copies available, pitch it unless the low price is above your minimum. (That was back when the minimum on Abe was $.01. Now it's $l. Same books.) Myrna was very gracious the few times I contacted her with a sticky question.

A little story (educational - with a moral, of course) about me and my second mentor, Maria Bustillos. Ms. Bustillos is the founder of and past-president of IOBA, the Independent Online Booksellers Association. See what esteemed company I keep! And you can, too. :)

Back in the glory days when practically anything could be sold on eBay, even without pictures, Gene's Books was succeeding well beyond my wildest dreams. Every day was like Christmas. I couldn't wait to get home from my regular job and check my email. Orders! Sales! Every day. I only had an online inventory of, perhaps, 3500 or so, but, consistent with the aim to continue to grow the business, I decided to submit my application for membership with the IOBA. Credibility! Some weeks went by, and one day, there it was in my email inbox, a message from the IOBA.

Declined?! How bloody awful! How embarrassing! The Membership Committee had declined my application, so politely stated one Maria Bustillos, President. Hmm. She says I can appeal their decision.

I permitted some time to pass for contemplation. Then, I sent her a polite message asking if she could kindly check into the matter and perhaps offer some suggestions. Bless her kind soul, she did. And most diplomatically informed me that my book listings (catalog descriptions), in the common vernacular (my word, not hers), sucked!

To make a long story short, with the encouragement and candid and firm assistance of Ms. Bustillos, I learned how to properly catalog a book-for-sale listing and properly describe a book using the standards of the profession. Things like: An ex-library book can not be graded in better than Good condition. Period. A book with a cocked spine is a book in Good condition. A remaindered book is Very Good at best. A price clipped dust jacket is Very Good at best. "Else" is NOT permitted. You've read them: there is a list of ten significant flaws, followed by this: "else Fine."

Over a period of many months, I reviewed every single one of my 3500 listings I had so diligently created - and altered many of them. That completed, with the gracious assistance of Ms. Bustillos, I resubmitted my application and have been a proud member ever since.

Ms. Bustillos also made a Key Suggestion: A good book description can, and should, include the good with the bad. She suggested every description should end on a positive note - e.g., "text bright white, crisp & clean, corners sharp & square," etc.

During and since that time, I've studied Ms. Bustillos' website, I've read her articles, and it has been - and continues to be - a marvelous learning experience. She may not know it, but she is still one of my valued Mentors.

You are already quite familiar with another of my Mentors: Mr. Craig Stark. What an amazing fellow! One day, for sure, I intend to personally meet this guy.

I want to tell you a little bit more of another mentor, whom I've mentioned earlier - Michael Jackson. Michael has taken scouting to an art form! He's consistent. Michael scouts every week. Actually, it's more like every day. All of the estate liquidators and auctioneers in the area know this. He has been doing this for nearly twenty years, and many of them, most wisely and properly, value him as an expert in his field - and consult him ahead of time. How cool is that? Not often, but occasionally, and usually when it really matters, he gets "first dibs" on what's coming up for sale, or at least advance notice of it. He works from California to New York and many points between.

Disappointments? Michael says he only makes two or three good deals per year! That means he fails and is disappointed 96% of the time! But those two or three "good deals" pay much of his annual salary. I think it is a matter of anticipating success but expecting failure. He anticipates success, a real good find on every outing, but is not disappointed if it does not occur. Tomorrow is another day, and he has every confidence that success will occur. He simply has to be there when it does.

Aggressive but polite. For me, getting up at 5 a.m. is aggressive in the extreme. (See dissertation following: On Cycles.) Michael has taught his being to be aggressive but gracious. He drives politely and carefully, gets from here to there rapidly but with a constant eye out for an opportune and perhaps profitable diversion from the planned course. Remember: things are where you find them! He remains flexible but works a plan and does not pass up an inadvertent opportunity.

Observations: When you arrive, leave the aggression at the door. Now is the time to be polite and pleasant. Behave like a guest. Smile. Be patient. Even if you've been bashed in the kidney with a discourteously huge purse loaded with bricks wielded by a matronly Amazon and are behind this doddering old duffer with the walking stick that everyone is tripping over.

You pleasantly greet people when you arrive. You thank people when you leave. In between these two events - rarely - you will find a mine of valuable first editions and numerous Flashpoint examples. Usually, you may express mild dismay at not finding something of interest and pleasantly inquire if, perhaps, there may be some (old books, ephemera, whatever your specialty) you missed or that may be elsewhere. If, and when, redirected to another person, you repeat the procedure. Smile. Politely ask. And again.

And again. If the next person in the chain is presently unavailable, pleasantly take names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses. And follow up. Again. And again. That is "The Secret of Finding" as practiced by my friend and Mentor, Michael Jackson, over and over and over again.

It leads to success.

Think of how many co-winners there are of the Nobel Prize. Everybody knows the principle of synergism: 1 + 1 = 3. I've met many people in various endeavors, including booksellers, who are so paranoid that they will give away some mystical information or trade secret that they absolutely shun any kind of fruitful relationship with a colleague. Too bad for them. As a neophyte, should you encounter someone like that, realize that they are in the minority. Most professionals in our field know that the endeavor is so vast they are not afraid to assist a newcomer, realizing that it is very much a people business and one can almost always profit from a fresh, new-people experience.

The great military historian, lecturer and instructor, B.H. Liddel Hart, often said, "The teacher will be taught by his pupils."

On Cycles:

All things in the universe evolve in cycles. The sun rises and sets daily. The seasons pass annually. The moon goes through its periods. The planets revolve. We, as humans, are susceptible to these cycles and are influenced by them, whether we choose to acknowledge this or not.

You would be wise as a professional bookseller and self-employed entrepreneur to recognize how cycles affect you. It is a fact that there are morning people and evening people. Morning people are most effective in the morning, evening people in the afternoon. When the morning person is beginning to flag and is thinking of calling it a day, the evening person is swinging into high gear. This is vastly important to you because society, for whatever reason, dictates a 9-to-5 regimen - or one approximately so.

Now that you are self employed, you have the opportunity of establishing your own personal professional life cycle. Over time, you can learn to schedule your creative activities, your meditations, your contemplations, for that period of the day when your perceptions and conceptual abilities are at their peak. Reserve the mundane tasks for the other times of day.

Teach yourself to Be Natural. Be your nature and let your being be. Be what you are and become what you can be. Do not be afraid to be different from the rest of the world. Winston Churchill worked in his pajamas during most of the daylight hours. He often received diplomats of international renown while reclining upon pillows in bed with his working papers scattered all about on the bedclothes. U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joseph John Rochefort, who broke the top secret Japanese communications code during WWII, was on call 24/7 and often was found working in his pajamas - to the dismay of the top brass but not his immediate superior officer. He got results doing things his way! Frederick Faust (a.k.a. Max Brand, etc.) did all of his creative writing between midnight and six a.m., often retiring from a party entertaining European royalty in his Italian castle. Only a few examples.

On the Digital Demise of Books:

In the fourth paragraph of my explanation of WHY I SELL BOOKS I wrote about my daily personal communication experiences which included email messages, telephone calls, typed letters, hand-written letters and face to face personal visits. A brief study of history will show that every scientific advance tends to augment the field within which it occurs - not encompass it and obsolete all previous forms. I feel comfortable with the conviction that books will be around for a long, long time.

On Brick 'n' Mortar Booksellers:

I know a bookseller in Florida who, in the year 2000, allowed her lease to expire on her large corner location and moved down the street into a smaller store location. She reduced her rent by 2/3. She built a wall across the store mid-way to the back. In the front she has a normal used book store. In the back she has her internet online operation with inventory shelved by book number. I think she has the best of both worlds. She rarely goes out on scouting trips. Her inventory is carried in the door by anxious sellers and scouts. Many other brick 'n' mortar booksellers have reported similarly. They rarely go on The Hunt.

Michael and I have co-op-ed a space in the mall noted in BOOKSELLING VENUES USED. That's where we put those really great looking books that simply cannot be sold on the internet but are great reads. Michael displays a small selection of his fine art. It seems to be working. Sales are not great, but they've been paying the rent. But there is no vehicle for people to contact us to sell their books and art items to us. We are giving consideration to relocating to a larger metropolitan area and opening a brick 'n' mortar store, merely to attract inventory.

The Hunt is very expensive. Think of it. Merely one day a week, four days a month out on the road banging about represents a whopping 13% of available monthly time. Add to that the cost of gasoline and maintenance. Add to that the cost of food and, if on a distant overnight venture, a motel room. This could go a long way toward defraying the expense of a brick 'n' mortar operation.

But then there is the irrefutable fact that The Hunt is FUN and, sometimes, very profitable. Plus, it is an excellent excuse to get away from staring at that computer monitor.

A quandary.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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