#56, 21 November 2005

Profile of Gene Medenwald

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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.

WEBSITE: http://www.genesbooks.com

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):

  1. genesbooks.com
  2. abebooks.com
  3. alibris.com
  4. biblio.com
  5. booksandcollectibles.com.au
  6. maremagnum.com
  7. eBay.com
  8. bibliophile.net
  9. Paramount Antique Mall, Wichita KS (currently building a new website: paramountantiquemall.com)
  10. zvab.com
  11. bookbyte.com

(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 www.genesbooks.com 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.

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