Saturday, January 9, 2016

Sponsor Letter January 9th, 2016

Hi, it's me again.

Before I get too far into this letter, I want to thank all the sponsors out there who will not be renewing this year . . . yeah, you read that right.

Last year, at a time when we were all ready to pack it in, over 800 people stepped up and said that Borderlands mattered. They put their money behind it but, more importantly, they let us know they cared.  It was one of the nicest, coolest, and most wonderful things that has ever happened to me. At that time, I knew I was in this for the long run but, at the same time, I knew that all our sponsors were not.  And that's just fine.

If you're reading this, you're one of the people who made bookselling history.  No store has ever done what we achieved and, even now, people in our industry don't quite know what to make of it.

But now, we're settling in for the long trip.  If we're to stay open, we need to keep on making history.  On January 1st, it was time for sponsors to renew and we needed 300 sponsors by March 31st if we were to remain open through 2016.

On Thursday, the 7th, we made it.  It took just one week for more than 300 sponsors to re-up.

So, if you've been thinking to yourself: "Gee, I really should renew but December was an expensive month." . . . or, as one sponsor wrote me yesterday, "The Canadian dollar is pretty weak right now but, if you need me, let me know and I'll sign up again." . . . or, for that matter, "I live in Texas and, as much as I like Alan's rambling emails, that's all I've gotten out of this sponsorship" --  Please, don't worry about renewing this year.  But, do stay in touch, visit us, and read the newsletter.  If we get in a jam in a few years, perhaps you'll feel like helping out.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  You allowed me and all my friends here to keep on doing what we love.  And in doing so you changed how we look at Borderlands and how we look at ourselves.

In short: you've done plenty, feel free to take a break.

On the other hand, if you want to stay aboard for the rest of the ride, keep on reading.  I'll tell you why every single sponsor over the required 300 makes a huge difference to the future of Borderlands, as well as what we'll be doing with our sponsors this year.

All Best,

PS  Sponsor or not, renewal or not; if there is something I can do for you in the future, just let me know.  I owe you, big time.

The Short Version

1)  You can renew your sponsorship by mail, by phone, in person and, new this year, on-line at

2)  Sponsorships over the 300 level are how we will make it possible for Borderlands to buy a building, which will go most of the way toward ensuring that we'll be around for decades to come.  Our lease is good for about five and a half years but, after that, we're going to have problems.

3)  Because we had so many sponsors than we absolutely needed last year, we're likely going to be able to help local art non-profit Precita Eyes (who painted the mural on the side of our shop) keep their building by giving them a low interest, 12-month loan of $20,000.

4)  Second Sponsors' Open Mic scheduled for Friday, January 22nd at 7 pm.  Please email Greg Roensch at if you would like to participate.

5)  An advance sale for sponsors only of a notable collection is coming up.  Mostly hardcover first editions of 1970s and '80s SF, many signed. For our out-of-town sponsors, books will be viewable on-line at our blog - - probably starting late Friday night, January 22nd.  You can call or email to purchase them if you can't make it to the store. The sale will be Saturday, January 23rd from 10 am to noon.

6)  The 5th (!) Sponsor Social: Thursday, January 28th, from seven to eleven in the evening.  Drinks, food, and a celebration for achieving our goal for 2016.  And, possibly, a Borderlands staff talent show (be afraid; be very, very afraid).

7)  A month of presentations on Tuesdays in February at 7:00 PM for experienced and aspiring writers, along with anyone else who's curious how the book business works.
Feb. 2nd, Alan Beatts, "The Life-Cycle of a Book"
Feb. 9th, Jeremy Lassen, "Publishing Contracts: Good, Bad, and Ugly"
Feb. 16th, Scott Cox, "Public Reading, Tips and Tricks"
Feb. 22nd, Panel Discussion with authors Gail Carriger, Richard Kadrey and Pat Murphy: "Been There, Done That, Wish I Hadn't"

8)  Sponsors' General Meeting, Thursday, March 31st, 2016 at 7:00 pm.  A chance to talk about how we're doing, where we're going, and to give us your advice.

The Long Story

1)  Sponsorships for 2016 are available now!  To order on-line, just use this link: . You can use the link to buy a 2016 sponsorship for yourself, or to give one as a gift to someone else.  (If you have multiple sponsorships to purchase or if you're interested in a "Plus One", you can use the website, but it's probably easier to call at 888 893-4008 or email so you don't have to enter the same info repeatedly.)  A quick reminder that sponsorship benefits apply to a single person -- not a couple or organization. Thanks again to everyone who was so patient while we worked out the quirks with the online form!

Of course, you can also renew by phone, mail or in person.  If you're going to mail a check, please let us know if your email, phone number, or mailing address has changed from last year.

2)  I'll be going into much greater detail about this in the regular store newsletter this month and so, especially since I've already talked a bit about it here, I'll just give the thumbnail sketch.  Our current lease for the bookstore will expire in the fall of 2021.  I fully expect that our landlord will raise the rent by a huge amount.  That sort of rent increase will not be sustainable, unless we increase the cost of sponsorships by a bunch.  When the bookstore lease ends, we will still have four years to go on the lease for the cafe.  Worst case, we could substantially reduce the seating in the cafe, reduce the number of books we stock, and shoe-horn the bookstore into the cafe space.  But even that will only buy us four more years, and then the cafe lease will expire and that rent will also likely skyrocket.

Since all of us would like Borderlands to be around for more than five and a half to nine years, something is going to have to be done.  My favorite plan is to find a building here in San Francisco, buy it, and make it into a permanent home for the shop.  And, when I say "permanent", I mean it.  If we can get a building, I'm willing to set up a non-profit to take over ownership of the store (and building) when I die (or when my brain turns to porridge).

But, to do that we need a pretty big pile of cash.  Commercial mortgages usually require around 30% down and there isn't a building in SF that could house the store that's selling for less than a million dollars.  That's an awful lot of money but, if we can raise the down-payment, the rent that we pay now can cover a mortgage payment on a $700,000 loan.

Last year we had 844 sponsors.  Since we didn't need anything like that much money to cover the wage increase in SF, I managed to put aside more than $60,000.  If we can keep getting more sponsors than we need to cover wage increase expenses, I can keep putting money away.  We might not get to the $300,000 that we need in four or five years, but I think we can get close.  If we're close, there are other ways that I can manage to bridge the gap.

And that's it in a nutshell.  In about five years either the economy crashes in San Francisco (not out of the question), I win the lottery (unlikely since I don't buy lottery tickets), or we manage to scrabble enough cash together to make that downpayment and buy a building.  Otherwise, I'm not sure that we'll be able to stay operational (but, I'll keep trying to come up with other ideas).  And that is the big reason that sponsorships above and beyond the 300 that we need to stay open year by year matter . . . a lot.

3)  An unexpected benefit from the number of sponsors last year (and resulting extra money) is our ability to support another worthy local cause.  The Precita Eyes Muralists Association < > is a non-profit arts education organization that's been teaching folks about the history of San Francisco murals since 1977.  They also teach mural arts, focusing on youth and teenagers.  This year, the original location and current studio was put on the market by the owners.  Not only was Precita going to lose their space, but the long-time upstairs tenants were also likely to be evicted. However, last month, the building owners accepted a purchase offer that will allow all the current tenants to remain in the building.  The catch is that Precita Eyes needs to raise $200,000 by January 22nd. You can read more details about the whole story at Mission Local <>.

I heard about all this because Borderlands has a decade-long relationship with Precita Eyes that started when they painted a mural on the side of our building (one that featured Ripley, our original hairless store cat).  After the mural was seriously damaged and defaced during construction along that side of the building, they came back and repainted it, bigger and better than before.

When I heard that they were asking for short-term loans to help with the building purchase, I thought, "Damn, I wish I could afford to give them a loan."  It wasn't until I thought more about it post-holidays that I realized, although I can't give them a loan, Borderlands can.

I've spoken with the people involved and, pending a few more questions I'm planning on offering a $20,000 loan at a token interest rate.  I feel confident that the loan will be safe (without going into boring and painful detail; the loan is essentially secured by the City of San Francisco).  The way I see it, that money is set aside for our purchase of a building. That's not going to happen in the next 12 months, which is the loan term.  I'd much rather that money be out there, helping an organization that has done so much to make the store and our neighborhood beautiful, rather than sitting in the bank, earning laughably bad interest.  I hope you all approve, since you made it possible.

4)  The last Sponsor's Open Mic was quite a success, and so we're doing it again on January 22nd at 7 pm in the Cafe.  If you just want to attend, you don't need to do anything except show up (although you might want to take advantage of your seat reservation privilege because it might be crowded).

However, if you want to read, you should get in touch with fellow sponsor Greg Roensch at  He suggested the idea and he has been kind enough to take care of organizing the event.  Participation will be open to writers of all levels (as long as they are sponsors), and also open to any type of writing, in any genre.  All we ask is that you keep the reading short -- five minutes max.  So, if you want to read, get in touch with Greg and he'll take care of the scheduling and so forth.

5)  One of the benefits of sponsorship is that you get first chance at new acquisitions when I buy large, interesting collections.  On Saturday, January 23rd, from ten in the morning to noon, you'll have the chance to be first to look over a collection I just purchased. The collection is mostly 1970s and 1980s SF and fantasy with some later and earlier works included as well.  Some of the "big" books are not represented (no firsts of Dune, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, and so forth) but there are some very nice titles including a first of The Forever War by Haldeman, Gilden Fire by Donaldson, the Gregg Press edition of Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories and more.  There are also a number of neat but not hugely valuable titles (for example, I love Circus World by Longyear, but the hardcover first is not an expensive book, just uncommon).

Jude, Jeremy and I will be going through all the books prior to the sale and pricing them. Come down at ten Saturday morning, come in through the cafe, and you'll find them in rows on tables (and, probably, on the floor -- it's quite a lot of books).  Since buying them before we take the time to grade, inventory and shelve saves us a bunch of work, I'm going to give you a discount of 10% off the marked price as well.  This is the first time we've done this and I think it'll be fun.

In case you can't make it to the store, we're going to try something.  Friday night, after we've unpacked all the books, I'm going to take a series of pictures of the spines.  Then I'll post them at the sponsors' blog -  I think that the pictures should be high enough quality that you'll be able to zoom in on your computer and read the titles.  The prices probably won't be visible but at least you'll be able to get a good idea what is on offer.  If you see something you're interested in, drop us an email at the sponsors' address - - or give a call after 10 AM PST.  We'll give you the price, answer any questions you have and, if you're still interested, we can complete the sale and ship the book to you.  I know that it's not a perfect system but, short of inventorying all the books first (which is impractical), it's the best solution I've come up with.

6)  The 5th (!) Sponsor Social: Thursday, January 28th, from seven to eleven in the evening.  Drinks, food, celebrating achieving our goal for 2016.  The party will be a potluck, as before, so please bring along some food or drink to share. (These parties are a great opportunity to show off your favorite "I-save-it-for-the-guests" recipe -- I'm thinking of you, Mr. Blood-Orange Brownies, and you, too, Amazing Home-Made Pizza People!)  I don't have a lot of activities planned (because: holidays) so the staff may be providing entertianment.  At least for some values of "entertainment".  I promise it will be a . . . thing.

7)  As I mentioned last month, this February we're going to do a series of presentations for sponsors who are writers or who are just interested in how the book business works.  They'll take place each Tuesday night and start at seven pm.  Here's what I've got planned:

Feb. 2nd, Alan Beatts presenting "The Life-Cycle of a Book" - How do books get to stores?  What happens after the author delivers a manuscript?  How do they "go out of print" and how do they come back?  Why are those little numbers on the copyright page?  What the hell is a "copyright" anyway?  I'll explain all that and more.

Feb. 9th, Jeremy Lassen, "Publishing Contracts: Good, Bad, and Ugly" - Publishing contracts are some very strange critters and, despite what you might hear, there is no such thing as a "standard" contract.  Jeremy has been purchasing publishing rights for over a decade and he'll share with you the things you should love in a contract . . . and the things you don't ever want to see.

Feb. 16th, Scott Cox, "Public Reading, Tips and Tricks" - A great reading can do more for a book's sales at an event than just about anything else.  But authors, understandably, tend to spend most of their time alone, writing; not practicing how to deliver their lines.  Scott's background as a professional stage actor makes him uniquely equipped to give pointers on how to present a reading that will "knock 'em dead" every time.

Feb. 22nd, Panel Discussion with Gail Carriger, Richard Kadrey, and Pat Murphy, "Been There, Done That, Wish I Hadn't" - Our guests will talk about lessons they learned in the course of their varied careers.  We're going to try to get them to share some of the worst mistakes they made, as well as asking about the advice they wish someone had given them at the start.

8)  We're having a Sponsors' General Meeting on Thursday, March 31st, 2016 at 7:00 pm.  I'd really like to have a chance to talk with you about how things have gone through our first year as a sponsored store.  I want to know what we've done right, what we've done wrong, and what we can do better -- as well as answering any questions you have.  Also, I need to talk with you about some ideas I have for the future.  What I have in mind is something much like the meeting we had last year, which was the genesis for what saved the store.  I'll outline where we're at and then ask for comments.  I hope to see as many of you there as possible because some of the topics on my mind are pretty important.

I started this letter with a thank you.  Seems right to end it that way too.  It is absolute truth that, were it not for the sponsors who have continued to support us in 2016, I would be in doubt as to whether Borderlands will be here come April 30th.  Thank you for removing that doubt and for, once again, voting with your dollars that bookstores matter, independent businesses matter, and Borderlands matters.  Thank you all.  I'm so happy that you'll be coming along with me for the next year.


  1. Love all of the plans! I'm excited about the writing-related events, but I teach night classes far away from SF and probably won't be able to make any of them. Are there any plans to record them in some way? That'd be great for those delightfully dedicated out-of-state sponsors, too.

    1. Hi Wintersweet,

      Interesting you mention that. I just was corresponding with another sponsor who had the same question. I'm not sure exactly how were going to record the classes or where we're going to post them but we will be doing it. Look for information in the next sponsor note at the beginning of February.


  2. Start posting those classes and more events online and I would be thrilled to be a sponsor! (I live in Florida.) :)

  3. Hi jennielf,

    Sounds like a deal to me. Do you subscribe to the store newsletter? That'll be the fastest way to find out when we start live streaming and posting event videos. Or you can watch this blog or follow us on Twitter @borderlands_sf

    All Best,