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Wanna Buy Some Art?

December 13, 2002

A year had passed: I noticed a back order, placed last fall, had been cancelled. It didn’t seem right, though. The books are “in print,” and the author, Zella Jackson, was supposed to be in demand as a consultant.

Her books were usually listed as “special order,” which is generally not encouraging. I tried once more to find her and ended up with two email addresses. One message came back undelivered, one didn’t.

A month later, Zella called. Interesting tale …

Years ago, Zella was approached about writing a book on the topic of her consulting work, which is gallery management and selling art. It was not something she would have done on her own, and so the publisher, Consultant Press, offered her a way to get a book published and sold.

Naively, she signed a “standard” contract that gave the publisher considerable rights to her initial book, as well as to subsequent books about the same subject matter.

Well, her books sold, and continued to sell year after year. The publisher was getting on in years and had several recent bypass surgeries. She thought it might be best to re-acquire the rights to her books before the man’s children got them.

The publisher named his price. Needless to say, she was shocked, but she felt she had no choice. The books are hers now … but informing the bookselling world of this change has been challenging.

She has talked to Amazon.com, wholesaler Baker & Taylor (where we had first ordered it), and others, trying to disconnect her books from the original publisher, but she found the usual stickiness of electronic information: It doesn’t want to change.

Anyone who has tried to fix erroneous information in a credit record will understand perfectly. This is one of the frightening features of our “information” society: bad information.

Zella has been busy with her business but intends to focus more on the development of her books now that she owns them again. Right now, she sells her books mostly to and through her clients.

The books read this way, too: They are like detailed outlines that might accompany a workshop or in-depth consulting session.

They might be the next best thing to hands-on guidance — with real-life experiences, tested ideas, common mistakes.

The books we bought are “The art of selling art,” “The art of creating collectors,” and “The gallery management manual.”

Zella also sells books that impress her by other authors at Consultant Press, and we bought a couple: “The art of displaying art” and “Successful fine art marketing.”

None of these are slick productions. They are black-and-white texts that might accompany the consultants at a workshop, and while one might not get the charisma and inspiration of the live consultants, one can still get the benefit of their experience.

There is considerable competition in selling art during the best of times, and when times are tough, artists need more than luck. These books might help some of Salida’s many galleries and artists.

I spoke with Zella for a while on the phone, and I can appreciate the difference between the printed page and the live voice. I hung up quite willing to buy books that were 6, 7, or 8 years old … which I avoid when the topic might be timely or fashionable.

This might be the skill, more than anything, that artists need, but I skimmed the books and found practical advice for even the most reclusive artist.

“Psst … wanna buy some art?”

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