Author Archives: Josie Leavitt

Fun Books for Heat Waves

Josie Leavitt -- July 22nd, 2014

The temperature is hitting in the low 90s here in Vermont, and much of the country is also suffering from the first wave of hot summer weather. People stream into the bookstore and the first thing everyone says, “Oh, it’s so nice and cool in here.” Most folks in my neck of the woods don’t have central air-conditioning, so a store that’s 25 degrees cooler than the parking lot is a good, good thing. People seek a different kind of book during a warm stretch and come in with specific things in mind to help them beat the heat.

nancydrew Generally, the first thing people seek are books that “are easy to get into” and “page-turners.” Clearly, the summer heat has effected the brain of the average reader. It’s like the reading experience is as short as the season, so every book must be a winner. Or, maybe everyone only has room for one book in their beach bag and they want a good story. Even the kids say the same thing. Except they cut right to the chase. “I want something fun to read.” They have no judgment about what they need, they just know they want a pleasing book.

So, this got me thinking about when I was a kid and what was fun for me to read during the long hazy days of summer. I was one of those kids who skipped the middle grade section and went right for the adult horror books. Stephen King, Peter Straub and Mary Higgins Clark were hugely popular with me. I think one of the reasons I only read horror books in the summer was because it was light so much longer, so there was less chance of reading a truly scary part of a book in the dark of night. Some kids like to be scared these days, and honestly, with some dystopian novels being serious nightmare fodder, kids don’t really seek out horror books.

It seems a lot of kids this summer are coming in wanting funny or realistic books that aren’t sad, The greenFault in Our Stars being a notable exception. I love that kids are not leaving the middle grade section too soon. They are craving stories that mirror their lives. This might explain the popularity of the Middle School series by James Patterson with various co-authors, including Vermont’s own Chris Tebbetts. These books, like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, offer up a humorous take on the very challenging middle school time. What’s good about these is they shows the challenges of those hard years with accessible characters who make it all seem okay. Mostly, because none of the character’s exploits are actually happening to the reader. 

There is something delightful about a mystery in the summer. You have time to unravel the plot and guess who might be guilty of the crime. The Westing Game is always a popular favorite. The Great Brain series is old-fashioned fun, and believe it or not, there are still lots of kids who haven’t read Holes yet. The newest addition to the mystery section is Varian Johnson’s The Great Greens Heist which is just flying off the shelves. It’s also funny to me that the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books surge in popularity this time of year. 

So, readers, what do you gravitate towards in the summer? And, booksellers, what books are you recommending this summer?

Credit Where Credit is Due

Josie Leavitt -- July 21st, 2014

I think it’s safe to say that bookstores and credit departments feel like they have an antagonistic relationship sometimes. We both need each other, so being friendly makes more sense. But often the issue of money and paying bills can be fraught on both sides. I have a friend who works in the credit department at a snowboard company and he shared with me some of the things that make him crazy. It was illuminating, to say the least. “If people would just be nice to me when I call about their owing us $10,000 for custom boards, it would be delightful.” He finds customers to be sometimes rude, evasive and generally unpleasant. I can say that I’ve often found some credit reps to be rude and sometimes unpleasant. So, below is a list of things that I think could change the nature of the credit rep/bookstore relationship for good.

- Sending reminders with the statement attached is actually very helpful for me. But do not threaten, directly or implied, that if the check doesn’t get processed by the last day of the month, I’ll go on credit hold.

- I will strive to pay my entire bill by the due date. I know there are stores out there that never miss an end of month bill. But I remember Avin Domintz (former head of the ABA) leading a 2% Solution workshop years ago who suggested taking as long as possible to pay your bills, up to 60 days, to stretch your funds. While I don’t agree with that strategy it brings up the next point.

- Not all publishers will put you on credit hold if you’re two weeks late. Know who these are and pay accordingly.

- Who is your credit rep? Get to know him or her. I am getting to know my Random House rep because I asked her if her workload doubled with the Penguin merger and she said, “Pretty much, yes.” We had a lovely chat and now I’m not afraid of taking her calls because she’s fun. I think credit reps can be demonized because we are at odds with what they represent: our ability to pay bills and the shame that comes with having a hard month and needing to juggle who to pay.

- Be honest with your rep. Rather than avoiding calls or emails, take the bull by the horns and do one of two things: actually pay the bill you’ve been forgetting to or tell them why you can’t pay the whole thing. Offer up a payment schedule and know that you might be on hold for a bit.

- Credit reps can send statements that include all available credits. Baker and Taylor comes to mind as the chief offender here: the monthly email reminders do not include any of the credits. Why? Surely this is easily accessible account info to include.

- This brings me to the thing that bothers me the most: emails that say how much I owe for everything I’ve purchased and not just what’s due by the end of this month. Please don’t make me do math every time I need to pay. If we’re talking about what’s due for July, then don’t include all my open invoices (which can sometimes be things that aren’t due for another month or two) in that email.

- Do not make me send an email every time I want credits applied to my account. Of course I want you to apply the credits! No bookstore is ever going to say: No, please don’t use my credits from returns to pay all or part of my bill, let me write you a check for the entire statement balance.

- Another thing to add to that: do not send me a statement with credits and debits that aren’t tallied up. Again, let your spreadsheet tally things up for me, so I don’t have to add up all the open invoices and then subtract the credits. Having to do that work for you is irritating and it’s often the part of the task that gets interrupted because we all get called away from our desks so much.

- Be nice to your credit rep. They have a hard job. They’re under the gun to collect this money and more often than not, they are extremely reasonable if you actually speak kindly to them and offer a solution. And, they have more control over your books getting shipped out than anyone else. So, it’s helpful to treat them with respect.

- Lastly, pay your bills on time and this won’t even be a problem. But, should you over-extend or have a big school delay their payment to you or you’re waiting for the event returns to get logged in the publisher’s system, be patient and honest.

As more and more publishers merge and we’re writing bigger checks to fewer companies, it’s going to be vital for all of us to have strong relationships with the credit departments. I know I’m planning on spending much of my day today making sure I’m all ready for the end of the month.

 

Beach Books and More!

Josie Leavitt -- July 18th, 2014

It looks to be a great weekend for going to the beach here on the East Coast. I’m actually planning to zip up to a friend’s house on the lake and read, swim and generally have fun by not working. I always like to do a thorough check of the galleys that await before I go away. I noticed an envelope on my desk that was soft and inviting. There is always something exciting about the seasonal promo mailings. What does the publisher think we’ll use or need? Will it be helpful? These are clearly subjective issues, as everyone has different tastes, but I think it’s easy to agree that we could all use a beach towel or two, and maybe a beach bag to tote around our books.

beachbagWhat I didn’t expect, and honestly, have never seen before was a towel that is also a beach bag. Call me simple, but I marveled at this delivery from Hyperion for Jennifer Donnelly’s new book, Deep Blue. The envelope sat on my desk, from yesterday’s mail,  I opened it and at first I thought it was a nifty beach bag, but then Sandy suggested that it did something. A bag that does something? I opened it up and it turned into a towel, and back again. Okay, this is clearly simple fun, but still, I was delighted. And it holds a lot.

Then seemingly in a parade of beach things, we got a towelsdelivery from Scholastic suggesting that I needed to lounge by the water. Their package came with many things. A beach towel, sunscreen (how did they know I was out?), a water bottle ,and a bag. Okay, that is a full set of fun things needed to not only enjoy the summer, but to enjoy it safely. All the necessary items are included, down to a book. Sure, I might complain about reduced co-op funds being available, but getting promo items that are not only useful but fun is always a lovely thing.

sunblockAll these beach-going items are making me consider what books to bring to the lake this weekend. In addition To Catch a Falling Star, I’ll be bringing some adult novels with me: the new Sarah Waters galley, The Paying Guests, and also the new Chris Bohjalian, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands. What will you be reading while you, hopefully, lounge by the water?

 

 

A Book Wagon in Vermont

Josie Leavitt -- July 14th, 2014

I walked into work on Sunday and saw a massive stack of graphic novels on the counter. The stack was so large I thought that perhaps someone on staff was reorganizing the entire section. Just as I was about to ask about it, a woman in pigtails with a sharp focus added more to it, apologizing for taking over part of the counter. I assured her amassing a large pile of books is never a problem. I asked about the sheer number of graphic novels she was purchasing and she said they were all for the Starksboro READ Book Wagon.

I followed her back to the graphic novel section, which was fairly decimated, and asked more about photo-32the Book Wagon. Secretly, I’ve always wanted a Flying Pig Book Mobile, so the idea of a Book Wagon was intriguing. The customer, Mary O’Brien, the Book Wagon coordinator, explained the simplicity of the wagon. First let me explain that Starksboro is a lovely small town in rural Vermont, with surprising pockets of poverty and a population of under 1,700. Once a week a volunteer (they rotate weeks) drives to the three trailer parks, three day care centers and the old school house. Children get to pick out one book and keep it. Forever.

This is not a lending library on wheels, this is a free bookmobile. Mary explained that the number of free books they’ve given away just keeps climbing, up from 65 at the beginning of the summer to just over 90 last week. Think of the ripple effect of this. Ninety kids took home books to keep last week. Almost 100 children added a book to their personal collection, or started a collection. To own a book when there might not be any in the house is a huge thing. And the Book Wagon team seems to be very attentive to what the kids have been clamoring for. Mary only bought graphic novels and board books. She knows these kids and wants to have books they’re eager for, or have asked about, on the wagon. The wagon raises money for these book purchases through donations and a yearly auction, and they spend it wisely. We helped Mary stretch her budget by offering 20% off all her purchases.

Imagine you’re a kid in one of these seven locations when the book wagon, which sadly is just the volunteer’s car (I was hoping for an ice cream truck with shelving) pulls up: you get books brought to your location. So, if no one can drive you to the library, you can still get books. You get to browse among the titles, many of which are available on the wagon because you said you wanted them, and you get to take one, read it and keep it. The validation for young readers with the READ Book Wagon is just marvelous. The power of the written word is being reinforced every week. And the Book Wagon folks seem to divide their purchases among several independent bookstores, so everyone benefits. So many people wonder about how to get kids to be readers – the Starksboro READ Book Wagon has that all figured out.

He Bought It Himself

Josie Leavitt -- July 7th, 2014

Lots of kids see their first real taste of independence at the bookstore. Whether it’s being able to bike to the store alone, or pay with their own money (see my blog post about how the way children pay), kids enjoy a certain freedom at the store. With this freedom, and lack of prying parental eyes (or those of friends), comes the ability to choose what they really want.

Usually, these purchases are for the fiction titles. Kids will come in clamoring for the latest John Green book or the next book in a favorite series. Last week a boy, about 10 or so, came in holding a bike helmet, hair plastered to his head, and strode to the counter.

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How Folks Order Books

Josie Leavitt -- July 1st, 2014

After owning a bookstore for 18 years, I have seen special-order requests come in many ways. Normally, special orders come from customers who are actually in the store, or calling up. But as lives get busier the special orders have been coming to us in a variety of clever ways.

Let’s face it: people multitask just about everything now. Often this means when they see me, they remember that there was a book they wanted to order. Funnily, or irritatingly (depending on my mood and available time), they will follow me around the supermarket describing the book(s) they’d like me to order for them. Do not misunderstand me, I love that folks want to order from us and don’t just go online and order when they think of the book they need. It’s just odd to be doing bookstore business while I’m buying toilet paper and dish soap.

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Missing Threads, Found Books

Josie Leavitt -- June 24th, 2014

We all have them, those loose ends of our lives that occasionally make us crazy, like trying to find an old roommate from college or trying to recall the name of the book that delighted us a child. While I can’t really help find someone’s old college buddy, part of my job is trying to decipher just what the book threads might be.

On Sunday a lovely woman and her daughter came to the store. The daughter, eight, sought spooky books, and lots of them. Laura, our in-house spook-meister, was on it, finding the girl lots to choose from. While the daughter might have been utterly thrilled, her mother was vaguely dissatisfied even after we’d found her a novel about biblical women (not my strong suit).

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How to Talk About Amazon

Josie Leavitt -- June 23rd, 2014

Okay, it’s come up again: what to actually say to customers when Amazon rears its head in the bookstore. Signage is one thing: you put it up and hope folks understand. (See Friday’s post for more on clever signs.) But having a discussion about Amazon (or big other online or big box competition) in the store can be very tricky. Emotions come on surprisingly fast from both sides and there is a very delicate balance between education and annoyance.

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Fighting Back with Signage

Josie Leavitt -- June 20th, 2014

Amazon made news again yesterday when it unveiled its the Fire phone (read the announcement here). That Amazon has entered the smartphone arena seems fitting for Jeff Bezos’s ego, but I doubt it will make a dent in the iPhone or Android market. But this Fire phone has some scary technology that continues to cement the closed loop of Amazon users: “…a further means of locking consumers into the Amazon ecosystem” by allowing people to snap a photo, or a jacket blurb, or even part of the text on the page and then be taken right that product’s page on Amazon’s website where they can download the book in the store. Once again, Bezos and his merry band of players are trying to take it right to the heart of the indies, although, really, as my coworker Darrilyn aptly said: “Don’t you think people who get this phone don’t set foot in a bookstore, or any store anymore?”

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Do Books Need to Make Noise?

Josie Leavitt -- June 16th, 2014

There are certain books that make booksellers go a little bonkers. Often these crazy-making books are the ones that come with sound chips.

Who thought “Oh, hey, reading’s a quiet activity that can be shared with a child on your lap, let’s make it less about time together and more about NOISE?” Sure, books with sound chips make it easier for children to enjoy without a parent around, but as technology gets better, the chips get louder and the batteries seem to last forever. I recently ordered two potty training books (one for boys and one for girls) and they came with a sound chip of applause – lots of lots of applause and whooping and hollering. These books were faced-out (seems like every toddler is being toilet-trained this month) and they got a lot of attention. Am I missing something here? Why would reading a book about potty training need an applause track?  Unless the book is being read in the bathroom by the toddler then, really, why?  And even then, why?

The problem with noisy books is, as the bookseller who has them knows, you can’t then complain about a child getting a full-on standing ovation for 15 minutes playing with the book. Of course kids like the novelty of noisy books, but their appeal wears thin after just a few minutes to adult ears. If the clapping and whooping it up of the potty book weren’t bad enough, the truck books with the incessant back-up beeping noise is enough to make you homicidal. There’s always the one page that gets played over and over again.

All books with sound chips come with the plastic tab in the back to prevent the chip from going off until the book is taken home. I swear that kids, even newborns, today are smart enough to have figured out that the tab needs to go before the joy of the book can be savored. It’s easy to get that tab out, but for some reason, it’s really hard to put it back in. Very clever. And some days there are little tabs everywhere in the store. And here’s the thing: parents don’t like noisy books because they can’t take the noise either. I’ve often had aunts and uncles not buy books with sound chips “…because my sister will kill me.”  So, why do these books continue to get made?

Lastly, it’s one thing to have two seconds of a noise when a certain page gets turned, but to have a full 10 seconds of noise is practically unbearable. I know 10 doesn’t sound like a long time, but count to 10 right now. Do it again and now imagine a concert hall of applause. Repeat this until you’ve lost your mind.