My desk at the store looks like a disaster area most days. I try and try to keep it clean, but it’s almost an impossibility, as so many things land on it each day requiring (or at least requesting) my attention. Much of this "stuff" is the detritis of the projects I’m working on here (frontlist buying, backlist reorders, events scheduling, filling school orders, responding to customer requests, and so on, and so on, and so on), but much of it is also just "stuff" that comes my way via the mail. As it does EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. In copious quantities.
You might be thinking, "Oh, please. You work in a bookstore. How bad can it be?" I thought maybe it would help if I SHOWED you, so I removed all of the padded envelopes that had been stored in my "empty padded envelopes" storage space under my desk and piled them atop one another. Lorna and I estimate that this pile, containing 56 envelopes, reflects the number of padded envelopes that arrives in our buying office over the course of just two weeks. In other words, each of us receives 14 padded envelopes every week, on average. (There are weeks in which we receive considerably more than that.)
Most of the padded envelopes in our onslaught contain catalogs or galleys or marketing materials, but many contain copies of finished books that publishers are hoping we’ll find the time to read and/or talk up to our customers. And of course this doesn’t count the BOXES that we also receive, or the skinny, flat envelopes most of us think of when we hear the word "mail."
Of course, all of this pales in comparison to the number of e-mails most of us receive in a given week (250 came to my work account during my recent vacation week), but the e-mail at least isn’t visible to those who visit our offices, unlike the piles of mail that have an actual physical form. All of this is to say that if you visit your bookseller friend’s office, don’t be horrified to find it overflowing or downright "messy." And if you contact a bookseller friend via snail mail or e-mail don’t be surprised if it takes ages for you to hear back from them.
The trade-off is that thanks to that bookseller friend you’ll probably never again have to pay for padded envelopes or medium-sized moving boxes, which seems like a pretty fair exchange to me! When I visited Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Mass., they were happily advertising their efforts to share the wealth: a well-labeled box out front advertised the store as the perfect stop for FREE BOXES.