Kenny Brechner

October 8, 2015

The NEIBA Show Gazette

Lisa Poole and Sarah Goddin of Quail Ridge Books came all the way up from North Carolina just for the HR Seminar. They are counting themselves lucky to be standing that close to my pal Vicky Titcomb.

Lisa Poole (r.) and Sarah Goddin (center) of Quail Ridge Books came all the way up from North Carolina just for the HR Seminar. They are counting themselves lucky to be standing that close to my pal Vicky Titcomb (l.). Please note that I am well aware that this reveals what a lousy photographer I am.

Though on the surface one would think that the task at hand was simple and straightforward, I knew that giving a ShelfTalker account of the first day and a half of the New England Independent Booksellers Association trade show would represent a stern personal challenge for me. Apart from the fact that being opinionated about the proceedings would be rude, Diane, the supreme commander of ShelfTalker, had instructed me to take photos and I am a lousy and under-equipped photographer, particularly on the road as I don’t have a smartphone, just a tablet. Still, one of the big lessons we come to these gatherings to hear reinforced is the importance of stretching our personal barriers and trying new things, so voila.
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We Have a System for That?

Josie Leavitt -- October 6th, 2015

I have a confession to make: if I didn’t co-own the bookstore, I suspect I would have been fired years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very good at my job, I tend to play well with others, but I’m horrible at systems. I’m internally organized in a way that makes sense to me and not necessarily to others, and I have a pretty good memory. This combination makes for some frustration with co-workers. I find systems to be one extra step in a process that I’ve already finished. It’s almost like making a list at the end of the day to cross off all the things you’ve accomplished. I’d much rather just move on to the next task, or take my dog on a walk.

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Finding Readers in Unexpected Places

Josie Leavitt -- October 5th, 2015

Readers of this blog know that I have a dog, Allie. She comes to the store, has gotten letters and books from publishers, and now she’s partly responsible for new customers coming to the store. My dog is part whippet, part Lab, and all needs-to-run-a-lot-every-day. The only safe place for her to do this is the dog park which is down the street from the bookstore. At first I resisted the dog park because honestly, it made me nervous. All those dogs playing and running: how would they all get along? Turns out pretty darned well.

Here’s the thing about the dog park. Dogs play and have fun while the owners just stand around until it’s time to leave. There are benches, and sometimes we sit. There is a fairly committed cadre of us who are at the dog park twice a day. It turns out, just about everyone who goes to the dog park is a reader.

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When a Self-Published Book Is Done Right

Elizabeth Bluemle -- October 2nd, 2015

We see a lot of self-published books at the store. All are by people passionate about their creations and hopeful they will find a broad audience. But while we would love for these books to sell well, most of them don’t, for a variety of reasons. First of all, it’s hard for ANY book, published by any outfit, to rise to the attention of readers. It takes the right push at the right time for a book to take off, and that is an art, not a science. It’s true for all books; that’s just the reality of publishing and marketing. Self-published books have additional challenges. Sometimes the subject matter has a limited audience. Often, the books suffer from poor production values, not having the advantage of professional design. They might feature text that hasn’t been edited for clunkiness or shaped into a satisfying narrative arc. They might present art that isn’t as professional as that found in books published by traditional houses. And the cost of small press runs usually leads to disproportionately high cover prices. All of this can add up to a hard sell for customers.

But every once in a while, we are delighted to see a self-published book like this one.

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The Power of ‘Pax’

Kenny Brechner -- October 1st, 2015

paxPax, Sara Pennypacker’s new novel, has the rare quality of isolating its subject to the point of making the story a living portal for its readers. The story’s motion is rendered in precise parallels and dynamic echoes. Apples fall passively from a tree. A toy soldier is hurled as far as it can be thrown. A boy’s father and grandfather passively remain where they have fallen. A boy, Peter, and his fox, Pax, separated by a moment of falsity, struggle independently to return to where they belong, to be reunited. Porch doors are left open.

A book that successfully explores, describes, and embodies the operation of truthfulness provides a gauntlet of irony for anyone trying to describe it. Labels must necessarily miss the mark, for they are static and the process of truthfulness is dynamic. For example to say that Sara Pennypacker’s new novel, Pax (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, Feb. 2016), is an exceptionally powerful story is as easy and true as pinning down the reasons for that power are elusive and variable.
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The Authors Answer: What Made Your Best School Visits Great?

Elizabeth Bluemle -- September 29th, 2015

Once in a while, I’ll throw out a question to my author pals on Facebook, and I’m always amazed by their generous responses. Recently, I asked, “Authors and illustrators: What have schools done to knock your socks off when you visit? From the simple to the sublime, I’m interested to share with our schools and for a possible PW post.” Well, the replies poured in, and there are so many great anecdotes and tips for schools that I could not deprive ShelfTalker readers.

The responses fell into a few major categories: preparation, creativity, and thoughtful attention to the small details.


James Preller: My go-to line is that authors don’t do school visits, schools do author visits. An important distinction. It is the small details that matter most. I am always happiest when students and teachers have spent time with the books. Like everything else in life, the more they put into it, the more they get out of it.

Kate MessnerMy best visits – both in-person and virtual visits – have happened at schools where kids are immersed in reading the books and creating related art of all kinds on their own. I’ve visited a number of schools where students made welcome signs & hosted a talk-show type interview for the school wide PA system: 

All-school reads make for really amazing author visits, too – I liked the twist on this that Melissa Guerrette & her school came up with. Instead of choosing one-book-one-school, they did a one-author-one-school project so that younger kids read my Ranger in Time chapter book and older grades read Capture the Flag. Melissa also did extensive, detailed blog posts about this so it’s a great model for other schools to follow:

Jan Carr: In one school, the class had read all my picture books, and had discussions before I arrived about what the commonalities of the various books were, though on the surface the books were very different. The keen-eyed kids had noticed threads that ran through – in language, characters, structure, themes, etc. So when I arrived and we talked about process, they were VERY tuned in and got so much more out of it. I agree with James Preller, that schools get out of it what they put in in preparation beforehand. Familiarity with the books is key.

Deborah Underwood: One school stands out because it was supremely organized, and clearly Author Day was a big deal to everyone there. There was a school-wide poster contest, and they even decorated the teachers’ lunch room for our lunch – tons of stuffed animals everywhere because of the animal nonfiction I’d written. After lunch, I was escorted to the library to sign, and class by class, the kids who had purchased books were escorted to the library. Each kid got a cookie, and there were chairs set up for them to sit in while they waited. So there was no signing chaos, and I got a chance to talk with each kid individually.

I also loved that visit because it was near where my dad lives, so he came along. Two of the kids asked him to sign their books. :)

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Underpants and More!

Josie Leavitt -- September 28th, 2015

We are very lucky to be hosting Dav Pilkey next week who is touring for the 12th Captain Underpants book: Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir-Stinks-A-Lot  He’ll be going to two schools and doing a store event. Often publishers will send along some promo items that can be copied and distributed for the events. This is always hugely helpful. These kinds of things help create a richer event that the kids and these promo things are great fun. On Wednesday one of my co-workers texted the following message: “You won’t believe the swag you got for Captain Underpants event!!” I arrived at work the next morning expecting a box of pencils or tattoos. What I found instead was staggering. Continue reading

Random Hilarity at the Bookstore

Josie Leavitt -- September 25th, 2015

A quick note to our faithful readers. ShelfTalker had been subjected to a spam assault this week and we were unable to post our usual blogs. The tireless crew at PW worked very hard to get us back online and we are hopeful that everything has been fixed. Enjoy.

This past Sunday had me laughing pretty much all day with customer interactions. The weekends tend to be busier and funnier than the week. The random moments of hilarity came in many forms and they still make me laugh. Often little kids are the most funny and they don’t even know why, and then the slew of truly odd customer requests still has me scratching my head and tittering.

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Elision Master vs. Word Runner

Kenny Brechner -- September 24th, 2015

The release of Amazon’s new speed reading feature “Word Runner” came just as DDG’s own algorithmically controlled electronic speed reading program “Elision Master” is being released. To help give consumers a sense of what their market choices are, here is a feature breakdown.

Visual example taken from page 421 of Tolstoy’s War and Peace

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Dogs, Books, and Blogs

Josie Leavitt -- September 18th, 2015

Some readers might recall that I posted about my new dog a while ago. Since then, I’ve gotten not one but two letters from publishers with books for me to read on a dog theme. The first book was an adult book about dogs, and earlier this week I received a package from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. Jessica Van Buren sent me a personal note about reading the ShelfTalker blog and my new dog. With the note she included four books about dogs for me to add to the bookstore collection about kids and dogs. What’s so lovely about this is two-fold. Continue reading