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Quail. ive Hawkins.

The art of bookselling: Quail Hawkins and the Sather Gate book shop : oral history transcript / and related material, 1978-1979 online

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man would be of help. If he knew you couldn't sell a hundred copies,
he wouldn't sell you a hundred copies because ninety copies might
come back. If the ninety copies came back, and the publishers had
reprinted the book thinking that it was all sold, there would be a
money loss. So they had to be careful of the quantity that they sold
even though it was possible to return books.

Of course, as time went on they would send out lists of books
that were returnable and when they were returnable, and the people
would then send them back. But I'm not sure that it's an entirely
good thing. It's a great help in getting an unknown author's books
out but there are too many books anyway, and sometimes you can't
represent a new author anyway, if you're a medium-sized bookstore.

Maguire: The publisher's representatives had to really know something about
your clientele then.

Hawkins: Oh, they should. If they were good salesmen they had to know quite
a little bit about your store. Well, when a salesman comes into a
store and talks to the buyer, he has a fairly good notion of the kind
of clientele that's coming in. If he has any sense at all he can
spot it.

But in the earlier days, the book salesmen were bookmen. They
knew their books. They read them and they knew about them, and they
knew whether you could use them or not. Today's booksellers, with
certain exceptions, don't read the books. They get promotion material
from the promotion department telling them that this many thousand
copies have been printed, and they're spending this much money on
advertising, and that so and so's last book sold this many copies, and
all of the information of that sort this is going to be a best
seller because all of his other books have been.

Sometimes the bookmen are aware that this is going to be a flop
and sometimes they aren't. But they go back to New York to what they
call sales meetings, and the editors of the books talk to the salesmen
and try to sell them the idea that these books that they have been
reponsible for are going to be the book. Of course, with so many
thousands being published, there aren't many "the" books. There are a

Hawkins: It's very difficult to tell ahead of time what's going to happen

"because the best way to sell a "book is "by word of mouth. If people
like a book, they'll buy it and if people don't like a book, they're
not going to buy it. A lot of people will buy books to get on the
bandwagon that they might not like, but somebody had to like it in
the first place.

I was thinking of a book that has had enormous success. It
came out as a children's book and didn't do very much the first year,
but apparently it got in the hands of some people who thought very
highly of it and it began to snowball. Once it gets started, then
that's a different thing. The word of mouth goes because many times
people don't want to admit that they don't particularly like what
this is. [tape interruption: telephone]

The book I was thinking about when the phone rang sold absolutely
enormous quantities. It came out as a children's book and didn't
sell very well as a child's book, but then it began being taken up
by adults and it had a tremendous sale. That was Jonathan Livingston
Seagull, [by Richard Bach, New York: Macmillan, 1970.]

Well, I had tried to read it as a Juvenile book. It was about
1972, I think, when it came out and I couldn't see that it was a very
good book. [Laughs] Then, later on, I tried again to read it and I
still don't consider it a good book, but it had a phenomenal sale.
In fact, when I was in Italy in 1973, there was a whole window display
of it. It's amazing.

Maguire: I would think it would be rather difficult to sell a book that you
weren't excited about.

Hawkins: I wasn't selling books in 1973. I had retired. Oh, yes, it is if
you don't like it. I never tried to sell a book I didn't like. If
people came in and asked for it, I wouldn't prevent them, but if they
asked me my opinion I would tell it to them. I never could sell a
book I didn't like. I couldn't sell it. I could wrap it up if some
body wanted it. It isn't mv_ Job to tell them what they should read,
although when I was young I thought it was.

I was a little bit of the didactic type you know, this book is
good for you but I learned after awhile that everybody's entitled
to an opinion. You might not agree with it, but he should have the
opportunity of deciding for himself.


Providing Guidance on Book Selection

Maguire: That's another question that I wanted to ask you whether you ever

felt a temptation to improve the general taste of the reading public?

Havkins: Oh course, when you're dealing with children, you have the feeling
of responsibility to see that they are introduced to the very best
because your child's taste is formed by what he eats, you might say.
If he has lots of good things, he will eat good and bad, and he will
like the bad as well as the good, but sooner or later the better
and more sturdy types of books, the ones that have the most meat in
them, will appeal to him if he'd got a mind. His imagination has a
chance to develop.

Now, I remember when my little niece was very crazy about comics.
I didn't care for them, but I didn't think she shouldn't have them
if she wanted to spend her allowance on them, but I didn't want to
look at them. (She was here during World War II.) I said, "You
keep them in your room. I don't want them up in the living room
because I don't like them. You can have them and read them and
whatever you want, that's all right, but in my living room I don't
want them.

One day, I was in her room and she held up a comic classic,
Ivanhoe , and she said, thinking she had me over a barrel, "What do
you think of this? [Laughs] "What have you got against this?"

I said, "I don't have anything against it, but the book I read
of Ivanhoe was about two inches thick and it had rather small print,
and you know as well as I do that there was a lot more in that book
than there is in this. Besides, if these pictures that you see are
the best pictures that you can imagine, that's just fine, but I can
make up much better pictures in my mind than these. These aren't
my ideal. I have things in my mind when I read about these characters
that are very different from these pictures. But if that satisfies
you, that's all right with me."

She looked at me a minute, she stared at me, and then she said,
"You've got something there." [Laughs] In a sense, that is the
reason. You should present children with plenty of good things, but
by no means insist that they read them.

Maguire: You had parents to contend with as well.

Hawkins: Right. I always would tell a parent, "Provide your children

with the good books, but do not ever insist that they read them
because that's the quickest way to make them hate good books that I
know of. The idea of a good book is one that is really delightful.


Hawkins: I had a very amusing experience once. I was talking at a school and
all the fourth through sixth grade children were there in the audi
torium. I read aloud part of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, the first
part of the Mowli story, and I came to an exciting point where Shere
Khan, the tiger, sticks his head in the cave and says, "Give me the
child" and the mother wolf gets up and says, "Look you, hunter of
little cubs frog eater fish killer he shall hunt thee," and I

There was a cry from the whole class, "Go on! Go on!" This was
the whole assembly as a matter of fact, and I said, "Oh, I can't go
on. I have to talk about some other books, but I'm sure you've got
this book in the library here and if you want it, why don't you go
up to the library and get it out and finish it?"

I went up to the library after my talk to have lunch with the
librarian. I got there before she did and a whole stream of little
boys and girls came in, but I was particularly interested to notice
on the shelf five copies of the Jungle Book. Two little boys came
in and they grabbed up three copies and I heard one say, "I guess
this will hold us." Then there were two left and those disappeared
immediately, and then there was a clamor and I said, "They're all
gone. But why don't you go up to the desk and get a piece of paper
and write your names and what class you're in, and in the order in
which your names appear, the teacher will let you know when the books
come in and then you can read them yourself." There was a long line
clear out to the end of the library room to the doorway and beyond
of children wanting to read the Jungle Book. Now, absolutely all I
had done was read a little bit of it aloud and leave it at a cliff-
hanging moment.

While I was standing there, the daughter of one of the women
that worked in our place came. That was Thelma Grant Sandon's
daughter. Jackie I had known since she was born .

She had a little friend with her and she brought her up and introduced
me. They were in the sixth grade and you could see that Jackie was
very pleased that she knew me, the speaker, and she wanted me to
meet her friend. Her friend was trying to let me know that she was
trying to make conversation. She said to me, "My mother wants me to
read classics." She said it in a tone I cannot reproduce, but it
was as if she were proud of her mother for wanting her to read
classics but determined that she wasn't going to. I don't know how
to explain it exactly but that was the feeling I got. So I said to
her, "Do you know what a classic is?"

They both sort of straightened up and she said, "What?"


Hawkins: I said, "A classic is just a book that's so good and is so interesting
that people read it now even though it's an old, old book and has
been in print a long time. But it's still so interesting that people
still read it. Nov, when people stop reading it, it's no longer a
classic. It just dies. But any time it's still read and it's still
enjoyed, that is a classic, even though it's an old, old book."

"Well," said this little girl, "I think I'd like to read classics."
[ Laughs ]

Maguire: She had thought classic was synonymous with boring.

Hawkins: It couldn't be anything else. So it's a question of semantics lots
of times.

Authors of Children's Books

Maguire: We were going to discuss Book Week activites.
Hawkins: Oh, yes, the Book Week activities.
Maguire: I think you had mentioned some authors.

Hawkins: Did I tell you about what happened at that meeting about the author
that didn't want to come because she thought Well, she called me
and she said that she didn't want to be on the same program with the
person who had recommended her, Howard Pease. She didn't think his
books and her books were compatible.

I said, "Of course, I'll put you on with someone else," and so
I put her with Inglis Fletcher who had just done a children's book,
The White Leopard. She hadn't yet started on her long line of histori
cal novels that made her a very popular author in a later time. Inglis
was an old friend of mine. We didn't call her Inglis, we called her
I had asked her to come for dinner that Saturday night.

I got the programs printed and sent out and, of course, I sent
one to this author. She called me up and she said she was sorry she
couldn't come and talk at all because she didn't want to be on the
same program with this author. I said I was terribly sorry but by
this time I was a little provoked. She said she didn't want to be
on the program with her because she was a worldly woman.

Well, I was taken aback and I said, "Of course, Mrs. So-and-So,
if you feel that way, I'm sorry and we'll take your name off. However,
I am sure there will be a number of people who are disappointed because
it's too late to let them know. The lists have gone out. There are



Hawkins :

Hawkins :

going to be a lot of people who will come expecting to hear you,
and they will be disappointed when you are not on the program. But
I quite understand how you feel."

[end tape 1, side 1; begin tape 1, side 2]

She said, "That's right. I hadn't realized that, of course, there
will be people there who want to hear me. Maybe I could come if
you see to it that I don't meet this author."

I said, "Yes, I'll arrange that you don't have to meet her so
you can come."

I told Peggy this story knowing that she would understand and
she was absolutely intrigued. She said, "Oh, I'm dying to see this
person who thinks I'm a worldly woman!"

On the day of the program I have been trying my best to remember
whether I arranged it for Peggy to speak first, and I think that
that is what I did and that Mrs. So-and-So was going to talk after
wards. Peggy said such complimentary things about her books that
this author was very pleased and gave a very good talk and stayed
and wanted to meet Peggy.

Did they actually meet?

Yes, she met her. She wanted to meet her.

for dinner. I was afraid that things might upset her.

But I wasn't having her
The funny

part of it was that this author that I'm speaking of was an extremely
good author. Her books were absolutely tops.

The fact that a person is a good writer does not mean that that
person isn't a difficult person to handle. Authors are very often
quite difficult as most publishers will tell you. I, being an author
as well as a bookseller, know both sides. I know what the bookseller
thinks and what the author thinks.

The author always thinks that his books are not appreciated and
that there's never been enough money spent on advertising of his book.
There's not been enough showing of his books. Even a person with as
much of a name as Sinclair Lewis was not immune to that. He came by
Sather Gate Book Shop one time and came in and complained because
his books weren't in the window, although he had no brand new book
at the moment. I tried to tell him that we had his books in stock,
but they just happened not to be in the window. But you never can
tell how an author's ego is going to be hurt, and being an author
I know how easy it is to hurt their egos.


Hawkins: On the other hand, when Victor Von Hagen and I did our first book

[Quetzal Quest] , I begged him when he went on a trip in the northwest
not to go into bookstores. Talk to libraries if he wanted to, but
stay away from bookstores. Of course, he went into every bookstore,
and every bookseller there hated anything that either of us ever did
because of his insistence on having publicity He didn't know he was
doing this. He was just trying to make a little publicity for his
own books .

If the publisher brings you, that's one thing. But if you
wander in of your own accord and then tell people how good you are,
they aren't Booksellers have more than one book to sell, and they
are apt to be very cold towards an author, not always , but they can
be. Authors can be a real trial, as I know.

Maguire: Was this a regular practice, having authors come to speak during
Book Week?

Hawkins: That was one particular time. I often would have maybe one. That

was the only time I had two authors every day of the week. I really
exhausted my authors by that time.' [Laughs] But this area is full
of authors. There were many, many authors of children's books living
in the Bay Area and some very fine ones too. Even now there are many.

Beverly Cleary,* by the way, worked for Sather Gate Book Shop at
one time. She was a children's librarian, and she worked for us for
a couple of years, I think, in the early part of World War II. Then
she went in as a librarian into the army and was an army librarian.
But this was before she had written any books. Then after the war
She started writing books, and you know her books are tremendously
popular. This year one of her books received a Newbery** honor award.
It just nearly had it.

*Beverly Bunn Cleary, born in 19l6, began writing children's books
in 1950. Her humorous stories have enjoyed tremendous popularity,
and she has received several awards .

**This prestigious award, named for British bookseller John Newbery,
has been bestowed annually since 1922 on the most distinguished
children's book published in the United States during the previous
year; it is awarded by the Children's Services Division of the
American Library Association.


Decision to Work for the UC Press


I wanted to talk about your Job at the UC [University of California]
Press. This was around


Yes, I went in in August, I think, of 195 1 * and I left in July 1961.
So I had about seven years' work there. It was a mistake in one way
because I was not very happy at the Press, but in another way it was
an extremely good experience for me.

I had reached a stage where I felt that I needed something to
make me more alert to books to grow. I had come to sort of a
plateau. At this particular time, I was about to lose Jeanne-Marie
Lee as an assistant due to a discussion over salaries. The powers
that be and she couldn't agree, and I begged them to keep her because
I was then buyer, and I needed her very much. There wasn't anybody
experienced enough to take her place. In fact, I don't remember
clearly, but I have a feeling we hadn't anybody really for second in
command at all, and it was getting on toward Christmas time. It was
the last of August, the beginning of September, and that's about the
time we were getting in our fall books.

She was actually doing some buying in the children's department?

She was helping. She sat in on the buying. I did the actual buying,
but she could make suggestions and if I agreed with her, I certainly
took her suggestions. I had been training her for some time to be
able to do the buying in case I was ill or anything so that she could
handle it, and she was doing the buying of the stock. I allowed her
to do that because I wanted her to have the experience.

So I was having dinner with a friend of mine who was sales and
promotion manager at the Press and she needed an assistant. She began
describing what the job was, someone to write copies for jackets
"blurbs" as we call them in the trade and someone to call on some
of the bookstores and to help with the selling and to write ads and
that sort of thing. So I said, "That sounds as if you're talking
about me . "

She said, "You wouldn't consider coming would you?"

I said, "It never occurred to me." I wasn't thinking about it,
but I was feeling upset over this business about Jeanne-Marie so my
friend said she'd talk to the boss about it.


Havkins: They offered me the first step in the pay, and it was only thirty-five
dollars a month more than I was getting. I told her that I wouldn't
think of leaving Sather Gate Book Shop for thirty-five dollars a
month. She was so eager to have someone that she offered me or the
boss there, Mr. Fruge offered me the second step. I've forgotten
how much it was now, but I think it was a little over four hundred
dollars a month. I had been making about $350 and this was quite
a bit more.

I said, "I've got to talk to Mr. Kahn, and I will not leave if
they pay me the same amount that you offer me." So I went to tell
Mr. Kahn and he said that if I felt I had to do it, why, of course,
that was my business, but would I please talk to him in the morning.
I talked to him at his home. I was very disturbed emotionally about
this because I loved my work, and I couldn't quite see why I was
doing this except I was upset over Jeanne-Marie not being kept on
for ten dollars a month more than they wanted to give her.

Maguire: So it wasn't that you were tired of the work you did at Sather Gate?

Hawkins: No, no. I was on a plateau as far as growing was concerned, that I
realized. I wasn't expanding. It was pretty much work I knew how
to do, and I was sort of treading water a little bit.

But that really wasn't it. What it really was was that I felt
I had been undercut by not being given support that I needed. Buying
was a tough job and, of course, when I was given the job as buyer,
I told Bill Garrett that I couldn't do it alone, that I needed very
much to have him help me with the adult buying because I had never
done any buying for adult books.

He, of course, sat in with the adult buying and we bought
together. I never, never tried to do it all by myself because I
felt that certainly when it came to stock, he knew what to get. He'd
say, "Get thirty-five copies of The Prophet by Gibran," and I would
say, "My, that's a lot," and we'd sell twenty-five copies in no time.
In fact, I think he said to get seventy-five copies, as I remember
it now. He was excellent. He knew very well what we could use.

I liked my work. It wasn't by any means because I didn't like
it, but I felt I couldn't go on unless I had help that was proper.
I was vulnerable, you might say.

The next day Mr. Kahn and Mrs. Herbert talked to me. Mrs.
Herbert had a friend, who was in the office in the university, who
had access to what the salaries were. When they offered me the first
step the exact amount that the first step was on the job that I had
been offered I was really so upset to have them think that for that
amount of money that I would leave them, that I couldn't talk. I was


Hawkins: When I said that that vasn't enough, they didn't say, "What are you
being offered?" They didn't make any gesture and I couldn't "bring
myself to say, "If you'll pay me so much I'll stay." And I vould
have. I would have right then and there.

Maguire: Did they know what was "behind any temptation on your part to go to
the Press? Did they know that you felt you needed some more help?

Hawkins: I had made it very clear that I felt that they made a mistake not to
keep Jeanne-Marie. So I accepted the Job and, of course, then they
had to hire Jeanne-Marie because there was nobody else. Then I
think Mr. Garret became the buyer of the adult books. He was quite
competent and I know did a very good job.

But that's how I left Sather Gate Book Shop, and I left on two
weeks notice. I took a vacation before I started the new job. I
went up to Heritage House near Little River in Sonoma County and
spent the week there and did the book list, the check list, for the

Years with the UC Press

Hawkins: Then I went to the Press. I stayed there six years but it was not a
happy time. It wasn't really the kind of work that I was geared for.
I missed contact with the librarians and all of that, although I did
have some contacts with librarians. I did go to meetings like the
California Library Association meetings and things of that sort.
And I did assemble and handle various exhibits for conventions held
locally. I was in charge of exhibits. For instance, when the American
Medical Association met in San Francisco, the University Presses
would have a combined exhibit of their books. Yale, Harvard, Columbia
and other university presses would send exhibits out to us, and the
Stanford University Press and the University of California Press
would run the exhibit together. Things like that. I enjoyed it.

But I was just simply not in the right place. It wasn't my cup
of tea, really. I found writing blurbs for scholarly books very
difficult. I found scholarly books, many times, somewhat dull with
lots of Jargon that only experts understood. To try to write Jackets
wasn't something I knew much about. I was greatly helped by Lucy
Dobbie who was one of the main editors. She was extremely kind to me.
Harold Small, when he finally accepted me as working for the Press,
became very friendly.

Maguire: Were these very specialized books?


Hawkins: Oh, in those days, yes, very specialized. Some of them were not, of
course. Some of them were really quite interesting for the general
public, such as the catalogue for Morris Graves which was a beautiful
book. They had some very fine books, there was no question about it.

But, I grew. I learned a lot in a very hard way. I really
learned a great deal and I'm grateful for it, although I didn't have
a very good time. I was overpaid and I didn't produce as much as I
should have. I was just in the wrong place, and I was too old to
cut my losses and try to get another job, so I hung on until they
eased me out .

Decision to Return to Sather Gate

Hawkins: It was one of the best things that ever happened to me because my
blood pressure went down immediately from 236 over 110 to nearly
normal. I went back to Sather Gate Book Shop. I^was contemplating
a part-time job at the Sierra Club which Mr. Fruge had suggested I
might do, but it was very obvious to me that this was going to be a
full-time job at half-job pay, and I didn't want to get involved in

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