Authors at the Airport, Mice at the Expo

Elizabeth Bluemle -- May 4th, 2016

IMG_6549When scouting possible locations for a fundraising event featuring 21 authors, you wouldn’t immediately think of the airport as a potential venue. But in a small city like Burlington, it’s not only feasible, it’s fantastic. Big windows, lots of light and space for setting up, and a series of available rooms for author panels and presentations —plus free parking for the event— made the Stern Center’s annual gala beautiful and unique.

I’d noticed a lot of civic things happening lately at our mighty little Burlington International Airport, so when I had a chance to meet its newest owner, Gene Richards, I asked him what was going on. “This airport was built with taxpayer dollars,” he said, “and it should be available to the community that built it.” One of his favorite recent events was a dinner to celebrate the Refugee Resettlement Program. Food from many international cultures were shared from family to family. It was a way to bring new Americans and longtime Vermonters together. Love that!

The morning sessions were devoted to children’s books and featured Jason Chin, Deirdre Gill, Kate Messner, me with my drummer pal Sue Schmidt, and Harry Bliss. Afternoon sessions were for authors of adult fiction and nonfiction, and included special out-of-town guest B.A. Shapiro (The Art Forger, The Muralist), along with a host of fabulous Vermont authors and presenters: Philip Baruth, Janet BiehlBrenda BuzzellBronwyn Jones DunneBarry Estabrook, Dr. Lewis FirstStephen Kiernan, Jack Mayer, Tracey MedeirosKaren Newman, Joanne Palmisano, Stephen Russell Payne, Willard Sterne RandallBill Schubart, Phoebe StoneTanya Lee Stone, and Katie Webster.

I snapped a couple of photos of the bookselling and silent auction areas during set-up. You can see how beautiful the space is!

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When I asked Mr. Richards if large-scale events—especially one like this, which lasted from 7 a.m. set-up until 9 p.m. breakdown—added additional security pressure for the airport, he acknowledged that there are extra duties, but seemed comfortable with them. “We have more than 700 cameras, and people watching them.” Then he added, with a smile, “I’m always alert.” I believed him, and made a mental note not to ever do anything potentially embarrassing at an airport again. Like the week before, when I had chugged my remaining 16 ounces of water from the bottle I forgot about before security, and half of it spilled down my front.

I was busy selling books most of the day, but the author events I did get to peek in at were well-attended and lively. Because the event was held on a weekday, the Stern Center had invited schools to attend, so there were lots of preschoolers and kindergartners on hand. I had a blast at my own event. I’ll never forget Kate Messner, Jason Chin, and Deirdre Gill “wokka-ing” around the room with the children. Authors are such game individuals! And Laurie Burke, the incredibly gracious, hardworking Stern Center event guru, was extra happy with the Flying Pig thanks to our staffer Laura Heaberlin, who hooked up the Stern Center with her singing partner, 25-year-old Taylor Smith, for a last-minute event substitution. Taylor charmed hordes of tots with his guitar and sweet voice. I’m used to Laura and Taylor’s haunting, complex melodies in their band, Cricket Blue, so it was surreal to suddenly hear that familiar voice piping, “Heads, shoulders, knees and toes” with a bunch of four-year-olds.

We had another fun offsite event: Girl Expo VT, a celebration of all things Girl Scout. Author-illustrator Sarah Dillard had been invited because her new chapter book series, Mouse Scouts, is PERFECT for Girl Scouts ages 7 and up. Sarah’s publisher, Random House/Knopf, arranged for a booth at the exposition center in the big fairgrounds building. I printed up some posters of Sarah’s book covers mounted on foam core, and Sarah designed a third poster with both covers and her adorable mouse scouts that we also printed out to decorate the booth. (I couldn’t find my usual store banner that morning, so made do with this little red one. Ah, well. The posters looked great!)


Author-artist Sarah Dillard, keeping it together better than I was able to during a funny moment setting up the booth table.

We sold 120 of Sarah’s books, and—just as exciting—Sarah was approached by the woman in charge of the international Girl Scout convention, who thought she would be a great addition to that conference, which brings together 10,000 Girl Scouts from all over the world every autumn. How cool is that?! Even if we hadn’t sold any books, that connection alone would have made it worth the visit for Sarah and her publisher.

I wish I had had the time and opportunity to take pictures of Sarah’s reading and signing books for all of those scouts. While the sweet spot for Sarah’s books is 7 to young 10, there were 11- and 12-year-old readers who begged their moms to buy the book. That was interesting to me as a bookseller; now I’ll feel comfortable recommending this series—which is so cute, and was reviewed in the New York Times in April— to a broader age range than I would have before the event.

While, in general, offsite events tend to end up more expense than income because of staff time, materials needed, and returns processed and shipped, they are almost always valuable and fun, and lead to great community connections, not to mention the kind of goodwill fostered by collaboration and hard work toward a common goal. I’m definitely a fan of the offsite event. If only I could clone my staff….

Scaring Staffers

Josie Leavitt -- May 2nd, 2016

I think I’m a generally good-natured boss, one who is patient, understanding and kind. This is how I usually am at work, until I’m very tired, then things kind of fall apart. Most of the time I’m very well rested and a delight to be around (if I do say so myself), but the last few weeks of working just about every day had finally taken its toll on Saturday. I was supposed to be off, but a staffer had a flight snafu and couldn’t come in, so I had to work. I was exhausted, cranky and short-tempered, and I practically terrorized my youngest staffer, Lizzy, who had the poor misfortune of working alone with me. Continue reading

The Hard Work of Bookselling

Josie Leavitt -- April 29th, 2016

So often people romanticize bookstore life as one of sitting comfortably, usually in a rocking chair, reading all dweightlifting-sportsman-cartoon-illustration-illustrations-strongman-athlete-41896524ay. This image, while lovely, is very far from the truth of bookstore life. The first thing I tell people who think we read all day is, well, actually, if you see staffers at bookstores reading, the store is likely to go out of business soon. We are busy all day and store work is surprisingly physical. The days can be long and there is a lot of hauling of boxes and many steps taken on a regular day, but throw offsite events into the mix and you really don’t need to belong to a gym. Continue reading

John Locke Considers the Amazon NYC School District Deal

Kenny Brechner -- April 28th, 2016

locke_360x450I am reasonably sure that independent booksellers who work closely with schools feel unsettled by the news that Amazon Lands Major Account: New York City Public Schools. Rather thick for the thin edge of a new wedge in an already unbalanced market. The question at hand is whether working through that unsettling feeling can yield anything productive, rather than a simply cathartic result.

To help us answer that question, expert help seemed called for. Few people can provide greater insight into calibrating the means of maintaining  the social and economic balance essential for a civil society than John Locke. He was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to share his insights with us.
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Nurturing Readers

Josie Leavitt -- April 26th, 2016

Obviously, one of the best things about owning a bookstore is the kids. Daily, little ones come in and have milestones: first goodbye wave at an actual goodbye moment, first word read, etc. For me, though, it’s the first time I see the kids as book-loving adults that really moves me. We’ve been open almost 20 years, and now our first generation of little kids, kids who grew up reading at the store, are now in the mid-to-late-twenties. In the last several weeks I’ve seen a bunch of them and they’re all readers, and I am proud of that, and prouder still of the adults they’ve become. Continue reading

Beyond Bookmarks: How Publishers Can Help Authors and Booksellers

Elizabeth Bluemle -- April 22nd, 2016

Oh, publishers, you do love your promotional doodads. And we sometimes love them, too, but much of the time, they honestly don’t help us promote and sell your books. You might play to your strengths by helping where we need it most. Publishers have entire departments devoted to creating marketing and promotional materials, whereas we stores often have small staffs with varying levels of artistic ability. Instead of sending us 200 bookmarks that only 12 customers will end up taking, or shipping us those books-nestled-in-Easter-grass-in-a-special-fitted-box – which too often arrive looking sad, squished, and decrepit from their postal journey – consider sending us instead:

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Macmillan’s Stalwart Ellen Pyle Holds Forth

Kenny Brechner -- April 21st, 2016
The two of us in action with a stack of F&Gs and Edelweiss onthe screen!

The two of us in action with a stack of F&Gs and Edelweiss on the screen!

Bookselling in a rural area means many things, and one of them is that I see very few reps in person. Even when I have assigned field reps it is still by phone. From the major houses only one drives all the way up to central Maine to see me: Ellen Pyle of Macmillan. If you assumed that the fact of her making that effort indicated something about her character as a rep you would be right. Ellen is an intrepid and energetic individual, a voluminous communicator, and a tireless, thoroughgoing advocate for both Macmillan and her bookstores. When she crossed the threshold into DDG yesterday I made the move to corral Ellen and lure her into employing the Pyle propensity for strong communication into taking interview form.

Kenny: All right Ellen, the Young Adult novel you wish had been around when you were 12?

Ellen: Rain, Reign!  It’s not difficult to read, it’s wonderful to read. Wonderful. It’s so encouraging.

Kenny: A culturally superior alien was looking down her nose at human creative endeavors until you showed her this picture book?

Ellen: The Pout-Pout Fish for its soft encouragement of good behavior in toddlers and aliens.

Kenny: Your favorite fall kids’ book?

22065080Ellen: Oh definitely Vassa in the Night. While it’s a little dark, the writing is so imaginative and superior that you just flow along with the story. I love this book!

Kenny: Your thoughts on the evolving role of reps?

Ellen: Edelweiss has made our job a little more intense, a little more detail-oriented, but it has also allowed us to be better reps because it has forced to think a little more about what we’re saying about the books to our buyers.

Kenny: If you could change one thing in the book industry what would it be?

Ellen: Our relationship to other media. I’m constantly hearing that they’re happy that Independent bookstores are surviving when in fact they are thriving.

Kenny: Biggest mistake children’s buyers make?

Ellen: Allowing personal prejudices to color their purchases.

Kenny: Hmmn. The constant struggle, eh? How about the smartest thing children’s buyers do?

Ellen: Read galleys.

Kenny: Phew! Thanks, Ellen!

Ellen: Thank you!

Book Recommendations and Warnings

Josie Leavitt -- April 20th, 2016

Most independent booksellers, especially ones in small towns, know their regular customers quite well. We know not just what sorts of books they generally enjoy, but we also know about their life. Sometimes, this knowledge informs what books we recommend for better or for worse. All good books reflect life as we know it and have themes that can sometimes be hard. Our knowledge of a customer’s life has us making some snap decisions about what books suggest. There is also an art to good bookselling and there are many factors that contribute to a certain recommendation.  Continue reading

This Is How Authors Support Local Indies

Josie Leavitt -- April 18th, 2016

Our love affair with John and Jennifer Churchman, authors of the wildly popular Sweet Pea & Friends: The Sheepover, continues to grow strong. John and Jen hatched a plan with their publisher, Hachette, to give Vermont independent bookstore a real break at being the only stores to pre-sell their second book, Brave Little Finn, by offering 1,000 numbered books well before the October 4th release date. All participating stores got 50 books, with the possibility of getting more if sales warranted. The Churchmans announced the deal on Friday around noon. By 12:01 my phone was literally ringing off the hook. By 2 pm I was calling John, literally begging for more books as I had blown past my 50. Selling this book has been so much fun. Continue reading

Books That Are Friends

Elizabeth Bluemle -- April 15th, 2016

Recently, I had the great pleasure of hearing editor Neal Porter share some of the picture books he has published over the past few years, along with some upcoming treats (School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson is brilliant and endearing! Best Frints in the Whole Universe by Antoinette Portis is such silly fun – you can’t NOT read it out loud! Yuyi Morales’ Rudas: Niño’s Horrendous Hermanitas is hilarious and visually mesmerizing!).

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