Author Archives: Josie Leavitt

Everyone Gets Punchy This Time of Year

Josie Leavitt -- December 16th, 2014

‘Tis the season for booksellers and customers to get a little loopy from the pace of the holiday season.  Here’s how you know the season is in full swing:

- We laugh more. This is a great defense mechanism and one that makes work a little more fun. Instead of panicking at the UPS man whose cart is so full with book boxes his tires are actually going flat, we just start laughing at the enormity of his delivery. We chuckle through receiving 20 massive boxes, trying to call all the customers who have gotten their special orders, shelving all the books and restocking the shelves that are now looking bare. Laughter helps in so many ways, even if it’s not totally appropriate and we’re just laughing because someone made a silly noise while eating a cookie.

- Book requests from customers get very specific this time of year and can be challenging. Someone came in yesterday and asked for a book “…about a cheetah who teaches an adult something special and doesn’t die at the end.” She had the good grace to chuckle a bit when asking this. I’m not sure if my face betrayed my total lack of ideas, or if she knew this was a tough request. (We never found a suitable cheetah book, but I did convince her to shift gears and get My Family and Other Animals  by Gerald Durrell.)

- This time of year booksellers are always hungry. Most booksellers tend to get to lunch far later than they should on a regular day, but during the holidays, when lunchtime is a busy time at the store, we push lunch back even more. Yesterday, Elizabeth and I didn’t eat lunch until just after 5 pm. This is not good. Going that long without food just means that you’re brain isn’t working as well, so requests of cheetah books seem unnecessarily difficult and amusing. Plus, my stomach was growling loud enough that customers heard it and told me to go eat!

- When there’s a lull, it can get silly. For some reason, I’ve been delighting in throwing balls of paper at unsuspecting staffers. I try to bounce one off someone’s head into the recycling. They’re so shocked they just stand there looking indignant, which just makes me laugh even more. No one has yet thrown paper at me, but I would welcome it.

- There is never enough coffee.

- I wouldn’t have it any other way. As hard as a this season is for retailers, it’s also fun. Sure, it’s exhausting and the level of detail is painstaking, but there is something really exciting about selling so many books and knowing that there are going to be some very happy people on Chanukah or Christmas opening books that are perfect for them.

Second Week of December Recap

Josie Leavitt -- December 15th, 2014

As we enter the last 10 days before the holiday, it’s time for my recap of the previous week.

- Sales continue to be great. We are ahead of last year, even with the snow (and school snow days) and are continuing the trend of folks spending a lot more per purchase than they did last year or even the year before. Yes, we have lost some customers to the e-book world, but the ones who are buying physical books are buying heaps of them. Customers are finding that they can get a lot of shopping done at the store whether it’s for books, toys, games or stocking stuffers. We are happily wrapping and giving out sugar plums by the pound.

- Who knew that Pioneer Girl  by Laura Ingalls Wilder would be the hot book of the season that is 9780984504176utterly unavailable? I’m sure the publisher, South Dakota Historical Society, was taken by surprise as well, judging by the late date of the reprints.- Shipping issues continue to plague us. One distributor seems to have at least one box (if not two) go missing with every delivery. Theses errant boxes do eventually show up, but often it’s after someone’s deadline for their special order. Customers are not as understanding about these shipping issues as they could be. Of course, this makes sense because they all have deadlines, too. Another shipper seems to get our primary warehouse deliveries to us on time, but ones from our secondary warehouse take up to a week longer to arrive, which is several days later than normal. So, Elizabeth has spent a lot of time on the phone trying to sort this out and get things reshipped.

- One of our staffers, who loves the craziness of holiday shopping, had to go to California for her ailing sister. Darrilyn’s last workday of the year was Saturday. Being down one person is hard enough, but to lose someone who absolutely thrives on the chaos that is the holidays is a tough blow for the store. She and I created a tiny competition among the rest of the staff for who could sell the most of their five favorite books. Her top book is Being Mortal and it’s currently beating my top book, Nuts to You, by a tiny margin. But with 10 days left to go, it’s anyone’s game. And we’re all selling Darrilyn’s choices with gusto.

- When one staffer goes down, the others step up. Short of cloning ourselves, there’s not much to be done except pick up extra shifts. Everyone has taken at least one of her shifts so we’re essentially covered, but it’s going to be a challenge this week until David comes back from college and helps save the day by working December 20th through 24th.

- Th first big snowstorm of the year took not one day but two to finally get out of town. The first hit caused us to close early on Wednesday because the roads were looking really bad. The second blast of the storm caused so much tree damage at my house that until all my neighbors helped clear the trees, the snowplow man couldn’t come. Staffers who live in Burlington were able to come in at the regular time. I wasn’t able to get there until after one. We were all just grateful that didn’t happen on the weekend.

- The only thing that I’d like to change about this season is the music. We are stuck on the same bad five CDs and I’m starting to lose my mind with Barbra Streisand’s version of Jingle Bells.

First Week of December Recap

Josie Leavitt -- December 8th, 2014

The holidays are solidly upon us. The bookstore is filled with customers and books, lots and lots of books. I’ve decided that every Monday through Christmas, I’ll do a little recap of the highlights of the previous week, good and bad.

- I was totally surprised the find that there were shipping delays of up to three days with two of our candycanelargest distributors this week. It felt a little early in the season to have to say to customers, “I’m so sorry your book isn’t here, we’ve had shipping issues with our warehouse.” Here’s the thing, customers don’t really care about our shipping issues. They have their own issues. Most folks who order books the first week of December have to ship out their books, so any delay for them feels huge and sets them back on their ability to send out their packages. This is why we give out sugar plums all month. Nothing says it’s all going to be okay more than yummy candy.

- All retailers crunch numbers this time of year and we’re no exception. Our days the past week have been up considerably from last year. Interestingly, the number of transactions are actually lower, but people are spending a lot more per transaction. This tells me they are finding and buying more.

- Our annual newsletter stills drives book sales better than almost anything. Folks have come in asking for it, and they’re returning to the store with their marked-up newsletter and piling up the books. Customers have come to trust the newsletter recommendations (it helps also that Elizabeth does such a wonderful job with the graphics that it’s visually appealing and just fabulous). The newsletter display case is still the best one-stop shopping we’ll have all through the end of the month.

- Customers are in a good mood. Some folks are coming in to just look and get a sense of what they want and they’re happy with the choices they’re finding. People are taking a lot of care with their purchases. One woman spent two hours in the store surrounded by books and Post-its trying to decide what to get for her very large family. We helped her amass the stacks and then let her be, checking only periodically to see how she was doing. Five hundred dollars later, she was done. We helped her to her car and couldn’t help but smile when she said she’s not even close to done shopping yet.

- The print book is far from dead. Many customers are deliberately eschewing online shopping and e-books in favor of actual books and talking with real people about them. Many Vermonters have embraced the Shop Local movement and this can only help all the brick and mortar stores.

Retailers, how was the first week of December for you?

Distract and Delay: How to Tame a Toddler

Josie Leavitt -- December 5th, 2014

There are lots of challenges for toddlers in a bookstore. The biggest one might be not being able to leave the store with the one, two, or three things that have caught the little one’s eye. Many things in a bookstore are at child height and that makes it easy to see shiny things to play with. The problem arises when it’s time to go home and that new beloved toy has to remain behind. We have several toys and two stuffed dragons that any child can play with while they’re here and usually it’s easy to explain the kids why they can’t take those home, “The dragon lives here, but you can visit anytime,” is a line that’s always worked well. Kids inherently seem to understand that creatures need to stay at home, wherever that home is.

The problem arises when a child, usually under two, starts yearning for something that they can’t have and they can’t really play with. We like to make the bookstore as fun as possible, so we have perfected the “distract and delay” technique. It’s easy to do. If the distraction works well, we don’t even usually need the delay part of the equation. Parents are all too happy to help with this game as it gives more time for shopping without tears and everyone has a better experience.

Yesterday, young Addie, no more than 18 months, came in with her mom. Things were going quite well until she discovered the bucket of bath squirter toys. Upon being told to put back the toy she had fallen in love (a blue tugboat) little Addie pretty much lost it. The tears were flowing and then she hit that high-pitched kid’s cry that hurts your ears and your heart. I was recycling packing paper, the kind that’s clean and recycled, when I had an idea. I went over to her and crumpled it, making as much noise as I could. I asked her if she’d like the paper to keep and take home. I showed her some things she could do with the paper: make noise, make a ball, create a super hero cape, etc. The tears slowed and a smile emerged. I gently gave her the paper and she crinkled the paper all the way to her car with a broad smile.

This sort of exchange is why independent bookstore are important. My co-workers covered what I was supposed to be doing, receiving, and gave me five uninterrupted minutes to placate the unhappy tot. The mom was thrilled. Addie was delighted, we were all smiling when they left the store, and we had averted a crisis. Exchanges like this create a bond between customers, no matter what age, and this kind of connection builds good will, which is always a good thing.

Attention Publishers: Please Stop Doing This

Josie Leavitt -- December 2nd, 2014

I suspect this is not the first time I’ve complained about this, but I have to do it again this year. As I ready my store for the onslaught of the holidays, the back room is full to the brim with overstock, toys, and a myriad of things awaiting the flurry of restocking needs. In short, my mind is solidly on the holidays and being ready to have as many books and stocking stuffers as folks need. My mind is not on event grids or summer 2015 galleys. Yet, I find that every day I’m inundated with another box, or two, IMG_4111or even three, of summer F&Gs and galleys. One box even said: Open Immediately! and it was for a book that was coming out next July. The photo on the right was just what came in Friday: all of it is for Summer 2015.

Maybe I manage time differently than other booksellers, or perhaps it’s the nature of a small store without a dedicated buyer, but I’m finding a little oppressive to get things in from UPS these days because so much of it is for things that are six months away. Every day these boxes arrive and every day these boxes get shunted to a corner until I have time to deal with them. You know when I have time to deal with? January. Why can the publishing world not realize this and send these things after the holidays?

I am making a plea right now for all publishing companies: send these things just one month later. That’s all I want, one month where I don’t have to get things that are irrelevant to my daily existence as a bookseller. Want me to order more books for the summer 2015 season? Then send me things later. I would challenge anyone in publishing to work in a bookstore for a week during the final push of the fourth quarter, and then they could see how getting these things in late November or December is actually counterproductive to their cause.

And the event grids that are due at the end of this week are insane. There’s a grid that’s due tomorrow and another one on Friday. Filling out a grid actually takes time, thought, and a level of planning that I just don’t have at the moment. I know everyone has their own scheduling needs to meet, but surely, the publicity departments can wait until January 3rd to get a grid. By forcing a tight deadline on something when most stores are too busy during the workday to deal with it thoughtfully seems insane and ultimately hurtful to all involved.

So, publishers, please reconsider the timing on these things for next year and send us grid requests and boxes of galleys when they’ll be received with open arms and joy and not with a shaking head.

Should Adults Read YA?

Josie Leavitt -- November 24th, 2014

I love reading young adult literature. There are lots of other adults who feel the same way, but there are also plenty of adults who feel that reading YA is somehow not worthy of their time. I have a new friend who revealed that she doesn’t think adults should really be reading books written for teenagers. We have had several heated discussions about this. These I Read YAdiscussion always seem to end with her saying there’s a reason the last young adult book she read was when she was a young adult. There is also the subtle implication that the writing for young adults isn’t up to par with that for adults. I went ballistic when she dropped that bomb.

Lobbying for a beloved book genre serves only to crystallize how much I love it. There is so much richness to YA literature: great characters testing the waters of increased independence and the pitfalls that come along the way, fun topics, plots that don’t get bogged down in extraneous tangents that seem to befall so many adult novels, and there is something wonderful about reading about young people who are finding their voice and making grand mistakes along the way. My friend’s answer to all of this is counter with that she’s reading her way through the Penguin Classics series and that feels more significant to her. I countered with reading long-dead white men might not be as enlightening as she thinks.

Her insistence that some would consider Jack London a young adult writer and the last one she read, fell on deaf ears. I was practically hopping up and down throwing suggestions at her: Laurie Halse Anderson, M.T. Anderson, John Green, Ellen Wittlinger, etc. There is such a range just of realistic fiction, not to mention great fantasy and speculative fiction for teens, that the list of authors to choose from is staggering. I’m getting her The Book Thief because that’s one of my all-time favorites and has sold very well to adults who would never think of themselves as readers of young adult literature.

So, dear readers, what one book would you recommend to a very oppositional adult reader who is convinced that young adult novels are only for kids?

A Wimpy Kid Extravaganza!

Josie Leavitt -- November 21st, 2014

As Jason Wells said on Wednesday, “I’ve been trying to get Jeff Kinney to Vermont for seven years.” Wednesday, the Abrams publicist delivered for the Flying Pig and a several other bookstores in northern New England. That we were thrilled is an understatement. That the more than 500 kids from Williston Central School were thrilled is beyond an understatement. There was much coordination that happened to make this event so much fun. First off, a new Wimpy Kid book, The Long Haul, came out just two short weeks before the event, so everyone was thrilled at the timing. Coordinating an author visit to a school that involves the whole school is no easy feat. We worked very closely with Karen, the librarian at WCS, who was on board from the first email inquiry about Jeff’s visit two months beforehand.tourbus

Every school visit needs a cooperating angel within the school. Without such a person, there is a lot of frustration and feeling like you’re hitting a brick wall. Once, I tried in vain, to get a Newbery-winning author in a school years ago and was met, not with exuberance, but with a stonewall: “We see him as intrusion, not enrichment.” Not much to say to that except thanks for being honest, if misguided, and we went to another school. Karen was a true champion of this event. She worked hard with the maintenance crew to get the gym set up for 500 kids. It was adorable — so many classes sat on big blue mats to protect the floor. Book order form were sent home to all the kids and there were no details that weren’t attended to right away.

The other thing a school visit needs, especially when the visiting author is as famous as Jeff Kinney, is someone from the publisher who spells out everything that he will need. Jason left no stone unturned as he laid out what Jeff’s requirement were, from microphone, podium, computer and screen, to how big the parking lot was (the Wimpy Kid tour bus is not a mini van). Abrams made it very clear that Jeff would do an-hour long presentation that allowed for 15 minutes of questions. gymfloorHe would autograph books ahead of time and not personalize them. This made it very smooth. All the kids who wanted a signed book got it delivered to the school the day of the release so there was no book business during the event. This made for a very easy event for all involved. I have to say, out of all the school events we’ve done, I’ve never seen such well-behaved kids in my life. They were quiet in their total excitement, I guess some were in awe, one little boy was practically shaking from joy at being in the same room as the creator of Greg Heffley.

Jeff is a real pro at speaking. His talk is engaging, very funny and supported by a great Power Point that’s full of humor. The kids were all just leaning in and listening. I always wish I could follow kids after an author visit to see who was really moved and who started writing because of the visit. Jeff’s call to action was quite simply: don’t wait till you grow up to start becoming an expert, start now. I could many heads nodding along with him. The kids left the gym energized and buzzing.

I snuck onto the tour bus, because, well, I just had to. Please note, that even when I’m relaxing, there’s always a good PW to read!  meinbusWhen I returned to the bookstore, I was thrilled at how smoothly the event had gone. Imagine my surprise to find a beautiful bouquet of flowers on the counter from the school thanking us for Jeff’s visit!smallflowers

The Perils of Recycling

Josie Leavitt -- November 17th, 2014

Every bookstore does it: we all recycle. Most stores do not have our rule: If you take out the recycling, you must bring your cell phone with you. This rule exists for safety. Our trash area is a hazard at best. We share two dumpsters with the restaurant next to us and the adjoining apartments. Generally, taking out the trash out should not imperil staffers, but our dumpster is protected in a wooden enclosure that has a hair-trigger locking mechanism accessible from the outside.

At least twice a staffer has dutifully taken out heaps of recycling, struggled with raising the lid of the dumpster and then had the main door of the enclosure shut on them. Once that door shuts, there’s absolutely no way of getting out short of scaling the eight-foot high wall because there’s no latch on the inside of the enclosure. I should say that our recycling dumpster house (what we refer to it as) also contains the trash dumpster that we share with the restaurant. Needless to say, the trash area can get out of hand and quite smelly and is a place no one would willingly spend time.

The first time this happened, young David had his phone with him (one of the joys of younger staffers is they always have their phone with them). I wondered why he’d been gone so long when the store phone rang and he said he was trapped in the dumpster. Once I stopped laughing, you have to admit, it’s hilarious that someone got stuck in there, I walked over to the dumpster and let him out. He was laughing, too. The second time this happened, PJ, was recycling and she brought her phone with her. It was a Saturday morning and the store was very busy. Sandy was the only other staffer working. She answered the phone and it was PJ explaining that she was trapped in the dumpster area. Sandy quickly apologized to the customers and ran out to release PJ after explaining the peril she was in.

One would think that after two shut-in accidents the landlord would fix the locking mechanism, but no. So, our rule of you must have your cell phone with you to recycle or take the trash out now remains firm. And really, all it does is serve to keep staff all the more connected as there’s nothing more bonding than being rescued from a trash dumpster by a colleague.

Special Orders During the Holidays

Josie Leavitt -- November 14th, 2014

Every day in bookstores across the land, folks call to order books. They order books that they’ve heard of or seen on radio, magazines or at a friend’s house. Sometimes they have all the information and it’s a simple process. More than likely, they have part of the title and then the fun begins.

The most helpful part of the special ordering process is the title, obviously. Oftentimes, though, people will call up with the publisher name, the date of publication, the author name, then the title and then the ISBN. Try as I might, I cannot get these folks to just tell me the title, which is really all I need. I know they think they’re being helpful, but searching by publisher is too vast, date of publication helps a little, but not really all that much. I hate to derail these customers at all because they’re so proud to have all the information. So I tend to wait patiently while they give me all the info and then scramble like mad when they get to the title. And, honestly, thank goodness for folks with the ISBNs, that does make it so much easier, except when they’re missing a digit, or more than likely, I’ve misheard a digit and have to ask them to start over.

The folks who have partial titles are the most fun. Someone yesterday ordered a book about running and said, “Run is in the title.” I couldn’t help but chuckle, just a tiny bit, and so did the customer. The customers who give me fits are the ones who can’t quite remember where they heard about a particular book. We try to stay on top of the latest media blitzes, so we can at least anticipate what someone might come in looking for. We also try to know what NPR shows air at what time in our local market. Folks often come in and say, “I heard about it on Vermont Public Radio.” VPR talks about a lot of books every day, so our job is to know the schedule because then we ask the customer what time they heard about the book and we can go to that show and look it up.

So, dear lovely readers as you prepare for the holiday season here are some easy tips for faster ordering:

- Try to get the title (I know sometimes this can be hard, but it’s so enormously helpful.) Try writing titles down, unless you’re driving. Even partial titles can be enough for us to go on.

- Know where you heard about the book. All bookstore staffers are also very good detectives, so any details are enormously helpful. Telling us you saw a book at your friend’s house is even okay, as we’ve actually called people after someone told us this.

- Allow us enough time to get you the book. Most books can come within a matter of days. Books often come overnight, but not if they’re ordered after noon.

- Lastly, be patient with your booksellers as he or she tries to get you the right book. There are a myriad of sources at our disposal and we don’t always get the right info from the first few places we look.

- And finally, please order from your independent bookstores this holiday season because we will take all the time necessary to find that book for you.

Cutest Stocking Stuffer, Ever

Josie Leavitt -- November 10th, 2014

It’s that time of year when all bookstores are getting ready for the onslaught of the holidays. Seasonal book displays are out, sidelines are filling the counters in inviting, spontaneous ways, and the back rooms of all stores are filled to bursting. I spent much of yesterday receiving boxes of yummy doo-dads and trinkets. The fun part of this job is discovering what has been ordered for the store as I do none of the sidelines buying, so every box was a revelation of fun.

As I near my 50th birthday this week, I have come to accept that I can no longer get through any day, especially one at the bookstore (see Elizabeth’s plea to book designers about tiny fonts) without reading glasses. I have reading glasses on every surface and in every drawer. And I am forever misplacing them. Imagine my utter delight when I unpacked a box of Eye Bods. These are nifty IMG_4072paper weights that double as a place to hold glasses. They have personality and come in three colors, blue, green and white. It’s easy to spot a winning sideline when everyone on staff wants to buy one for themselves or for a near-vision challenged relative. Within moments of setting up my little Eye Bod man, I’m calling him Poindexter, we sold three. These embody the best of sidelines: useful, fun and double-purposed. They are the right price for a fun gift at only $9.99. Perfect for office Secret Santas and for filling the toe of a stocking or for the fourth night of Chanukah.

Retailers, what are some of the sidelines you’re just loving at your store?