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Report from Beginnersville
The Adventures of a Clueless Bookseller
Part I

Adventures of a Clueless Bookseller Series

by Brenna Hopkins

#94, 14 May 2007

When my former and I went to France some time ago, we used our wits and a combined 15 years of French language instruction to decipher the train schedule from Paris to Chickenville (Bourge en Bresse is famous, you see, for poulet). We proceeded confidently to the correct track, boarded the sleek TGV, and prepared to settle in for the quickest 500 land miles ever. Imagine our surprise when, minutes before departure, two genteel North African women informed us we were in their seats. "Non, non," we said, pointing to our reserved tickets. With genuine concern, they looked at each other, looked at us, and pointed to the error we'd made. Right track, wrong tunnel. We had 5 minutes to make our train, about two city blocks away, and we ran like mad.

In the next few seconds, transiting between smug certainty and utter bewilderment, I made a tremendous discovery: French works. Say the secret word, and a waiter will indeed bring you a cup of steaming hot rocket fuel, whether he likes you or not. Sit in someone else's seat on a train, and you will learn that "ma" and "mon" really do mean "mine." I realized that I had endured years of repetitious language drills, secretly assuming it was all just a hoax. "No one," I thought, "really talks this way. If I ever get to France, not one of these words will do."

Last Friday, an e-mail arrived that brought me back to that moment of discovery. "Why is Amazon e-mailing me?" I wondered, as I scanned my inbox, "Did I do something wrong?" (This is what I always think.) Then I saw it. "Sold! Ship Now!"

"Huh? A book? Someone bought a book? From moi?"

Yes, indeed, in only one week, bereft of an adequate inventory system, packing material, or even an introductory how-to manual, someone had ponied up for my lovely copy of Sara Midda's book on Provence. Apparently, Amazon is not a hoax, any more than France is. If you list a book that someone wants, sure enough, it will be sold. And make no mistake: You will receive money for it. In this case, about $30 smackers.

Nothing could have surprised me more. Or scared me more. What if I damaged the book? Is Saturday a business day? Will anyone care if I mail it in that perfectly sized, albeit scrounged box from my eBay stash? And more importantly, now what am I going to write about? During the week between listing my first books and selling my first book, I'd been making notes about my experiences in this new found venture - notes mostly along the lines of, "Can this really be a viable second business for me? Can I really earn any money at it? Mmm. Riveting stuff.

Now, of course, I'm wondering if this is the only book I ever sell? So, I still have my doubts. But I can add two items to the very short list of things I know with utter certainty: French works; and sells books. And maybe, so do I.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Interested in helping Brenna succeed at bookselling? Send your feedback (advice, suggestions, etc.) to and we'll publish the best of it every month.

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