Unshelved comic strip for 12/31/2005

the Unshelved Book Club at work

Here's how we hoped our Book Clubs would get used. Soon we plan to make high-res versions available online, but even the web versions print pretty well.

My year

2005 was a full year.

At the tail end of 2004 my life made a big shift when I went back to having a day job. I'm having a lot of fun working on a very cool project with some very smart people. It's very different from the cartooning thing, and that's good. My brain feels very well used.

But it takes a lot of time. I work a pretty solid twelve hours a day doing both jobs, and my ever-increasing travel schedule (conferences and speaking) takes a big bite out of my day-job vacation time. Making enough time for my wife and children is a struggle, and I continue to try and figure out ways to use my time better. Hiring my friend and housemate Jana Kincl as store manager was a wonderful move, and in the coming year we plan on transfering more and more operation responsibility to her.

This was the year when my career as a professional speaker really took off. I dabbled in 2004, but I did seven talks in six weeks this fall. Gene joined me for many of those, and our talk really sharpened up. In 2006 we are already scheduled for four state library association conferences, with several other opportunities in the works. I love being up there in front of a crowd, and I'm glad to say the crowds seem to enjoy it too.

This was also the year when Unshelved showed signs of "tipping." A big fat link from Penny Arcade was responsible for the biggest jump in our readership, but it was going up fast all year long. We ended the year with over 25,000 daily readers. Phew! Book sales though our distributor Diamond Book Distributors also showed a noticable surge, and our holiday season was an outrageous success. We had pulled way back on merchandise sales for most of the year because we simply couldn't handle fulfilling orders more than once a month. But once we hired Jana we were unfettered and we rolled out a big line. It really paid off, and more than made up for the rest of the year.

But for me the biggest joy of the year, Unshelved-wise, was when we finally rolled out the Book Club. Gene and I talked about it literally for years, but once we hit on the formula we jumped on it. And the response has been tremendous. I've said to anyone who'll ask that the Book Club is the way we'll get famous, and I still think so.

My working relationship with Gene really changed this year too. We're really settling into this partnership, and the level of mutual respect is way up (and it started pretty high). I am fantastically lucky to have such a great creative and business partner, and even luckier to have such a good friend.

As I intimated, we've struggled with the work-life balance thing, but as always may wife Sara is a force for order and wisdom in the world and I am deeply grateful to have her as my better half.

I'm also very grateful to all the friends and fans who have been so supportive of me in this very full year. Rob, Jon, Sean, Jeff, Marcie, Demeree, Mike, Anthony, Hawk, Dave, Mark, John, Scott, Georgia, and Pam. It's always helpful to leave out last names because if I forgot you it might seem like I didn't. But if I did leave out your name it's only because so many people have been so great that I can't possibly remember them all, let alone list them.

What else... my parents and sister moved to Seattle from Connecticut. It's surprisingly great having them so close. We moved back into our newly-remodelled home, which was a huge relief even if I will have to work until I'm 170 to pay for it.

This was a rough year for the rest of the country and the world as a whole, and it makes the bounty of my life seem quite excessive. I'm toying with some ways to pay some of it back, some news on that in the near future. In the meantime, I wish each and every one of you a very Happy New Year. May 2006 treat you as gloriously as 2005 treated me.


Sometimes I worry about the competition. Before we launched I was sure someone else would start a comic strip about a library and we'd lose all our thunder. I periodically fret about Frazz which is set in a school. I was briefly frightened about Rex Libris until I actually, well, read it.

Today the subject of my concern is Retail, which launches tomorrow. For two reasons. One is that it's about service jobs. Not in a library, but we've always kind of thought the experiences of Dewey and company often transcend their actual workplace. And the other is that it's syndicated. And for all you'll hear me rail about how outmoded that moribund distribution mechanism is, it's still pretty successful in getting stuff in front of a new audience. Twenty papers isn't a lot, but if each paper gains it 1250 readers then they've caught up with us.

In the end I always stop worrying about the competition. It's not really about surface similarities. Comic strips are about characters, and no one is copying ours. And it's not like people only get to read one comic - the tent is big enough for everyone. But I like to be special, and a high-profile comic strip about a similar enough subject can't help but make me feel a little less special.

All that said, I love comic strips and I'm always excited that a new one might tickle my fancy. Welcome, Retail!

A better punchline

Sometimes I think of a better punchline after a strip goes up. Not often, probably because having a writing partner means we have twice as much ammunition to throw at a given setup. But sometimes. Specifically, today. I looked at it and realized that it would be funnier if the anchor were already attached to the pen, but it was mostly out of site, maybe sticking out from behind the desk. Tamara knows it's there, but Mel can't see it. Oh well.

This Unshelved strip

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