Author Archives: Josie Leavitt

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?


School Book Fair Update

Josie Leavitt -- November 7th, 2014

As promised, I am reporting back on the in-store book fair we did with our local school. In my earlier post I spoke about working with one of our local schools on building community, shopping local and aiding the school with an easy fundraiser. We hosted a 10-day book fair at the store and have just now tallied all the numbers. I’m happy to report the book fair did well, but could have been better. Of course, I had very high expectations and was secretly hoping for a 10-day sales parade, and instead got a steady stream of customers.

The key to success for all in-store book fairs is the promotional effort that goes into them. In this instance, the school did everything right. All the families got flyers when school started and then again the week before the book fair, explaining how it worked. There was a wonderful article in the local paper about it, the kids all knew; even the visiting kindergarten class that week knew about the book fair. The PTO did a great job. We had it up on our website, Elizabeth made signage for the registers and the front door, so everyone coming in knew about it. We even dedicated our outdoor sandwich board to promoting the book fair.

The kickoff cocktail party with wine and cheese was packed. Lots of parents with their kids heaped their stacks of books on the counter. Folks were planning ahead that night and I thought that kind of enthusiasm would translate to every day of the fair. Not so much. It seems that with any organization, there is a dedicated core of supporters who really do a lot of the heavy lifting, and that was clearly evident with this book fair. We saw a lot of the same families during the 10 days who were working very hard to buy as many books as they could during the fair. They were great. They were cheery, appreciative and lovely. There just weren’t enough of them. We did have Halloween the last weekend of the book fair, and I wonder if that caused some families to lose focus in preparation for the holiday.

One of the best parts of the book fair was getting new customers into the store. There has been a big influx of new folks to town, so the book fair was a great way to introduce them to the store. And the goodwill the book fair generated was well worth it. Plus, we got a preview of what some of the hot series and books for the holidays are likely to be. In the end, though, I’m a tiny bit disappointed because I wanted to give the school a bigger check, but in the end it’s about patience, and when we do this again in the spring or next year, it will only getting bigger as it becomes a tradition.

Saving the Day, Indie Style

Josie Leavitt -- November 4th, 2014

Independent bookstore owners are very collegial. We all understand that we need to work together to thrive. This ethos extends to the daily referral to customers of trying another indie for a desperately needed book, to helping out with events and just getting together for a drink to talk about the business of books. It’s not every day I get to feel like I’ve donned a cape and swooped in to save the day.

Yesterday morning I got a call from another bookstore owner whose store is about forty minutes away. She sounded really unhappy. (About as unhappy as I was three years ago when I was down three staffers for a huge event, and she came to the store and helped with register during the event.) I asked what was wrong and she said through a wry chuckle, “I didn’t get my Wimpy Kid books. Did you?” Today is the big release day for  Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul. Embargoed titles now arrive so close to the release date that a missed shipment means a store won’t have books in time for an early morning release party, as my friend had planned. I hadn’t gotten any shipments yet, but I told her I would call immediately once the UPS delivery had arrived. About an hour later I could hear the groan of the hand truck’s tires as my UPS man, Bart, brought in the 11 cases of Wimpy Kid books I’d ordered. I received the books and I called my friend back.

Once I accounted for the 180 books sold to a school for our event with Jeff Kinney, and took out my photo-33special orders, I was confident that I could offer her two cases of books and still have plenty for what my customers would need. She was ecstatic. I set her 64 books aside for her. She arrived in short order to pick them up. And, in true indie fashion she showed up with presents that the whole staff could enjoy. Homemade carrot cake muffins that were big enough to be lunch and a bottle of my favorite wine (which leads me to conclude that she must have shopped locally at the wine store across the street). I shared the muffins and took the wine.

The books were offered at the same discount I purchased them and a check was handed off and she took the two cartons and could rest a little easier knowing that her 7 a.m. release party would actually have books. There have been times we’ve all needed help from other stores to bail us out of tough situations. Once we needed more event books ourselves when Kate DiCamillo was speaking and two local stores helped fill the gap created by a missing box of vital books. Mis-ships happen and generally it’s not a crisis, but the day before a huge release, it is. It felt good to be able to help.

And, the muffin tasted great at the end of the day with a glass of wine.

Flashlight Time

Josie Leavitt -- October 31st, 2014

On Halloween, it only seems fitting to talk about reading with flashlights. No, this is not a scary post, but rather one about a mom and her reading twins. My friend, Deb, has twin eight-year-olds: a boy, Henry and a girl, Lisa. They are readers, and Deb is a single mom with a full-time job. Hers is a busy house and the kids are rambunctious, but really good.

They shop at the store and came in a few weeks ago. Harry was disappointed I was out of Star Wars books (how that happened, I’m still not sure). Liza had camped out in the middle grade section and was going through exclaiming,”Read it, read it, loved it” at all books. This girl had read everything, so it was fun to challenge to introduce her to books she hadn’t read. Eight seems like the perfect age for longer books that are part of a series, so she left with Fablehaven and The Book of Elsewhere.

As I was ringing them up Liza was talking about what book to start at flashlight reading that night. I asked, “What is flashlight time?” Both kids started smiling. Deb explained that after bedtime, once they’d been all tucked in and the light turned off, each child was allowed to read with a flashlight until he or she fell asleep, or Deb noticed the light was still on. They don’t have headlamps, or flashlights with an on off button, but rather the kind of light that if your hand presses the bar, the light stays on. The beauty of this is when the child’s hand drops off in slumber, the light no longer stays on. This is genius and seems smarter and safer than a light that’s always on.

I love this idea. The mom knows her little readers are going to stay up reading (and read all over the house, at all times), so she’s made it part of their routine, rather than getting mad at them. They stay up a tiny bit later and get to have some stolen reading time that is part of bedtime. Reading has been made important, and fun, at their house ;I can’t think of a better way to support young readers.

The Power of Working Together Locally

Josie Leavitt -- October 30th, 2014

We are less than a month away from the real start of the holiday shopping season. Once again, it’s a shortened time because Thanksgiving is late this year. This year, though, Small Business Saturday, on November 29th, looks to be enormous for my town. Why? Because all the stores are working with each other to create massive buzz about why it’s important to not only support smaller stores, but to support the ones in Shelburne, Vt.

Last month I wrote about Keeping Business in the Village and what we had done to promote our village to shoppers. In November we are launching an all-out campaign to reach beyond our town and get folks in the rest of the area to come down to Shelburne to shop for the holidays. The beauty of this has been two-fold: there is a core of dedicated business owners who have the time to coordinate this (I am not one of them and am grateful for these energetic souls) and are doing most of the heavy lifting. They regularly communicate ideas and promo thoughts, and have been working with advertising sales folks at radio stations and the local papers to secure us good spaces. This kind of effort is wonderful. And it’s really smart to only have three people “deputized” to do this for the group rather than each person researching, reaching out and reporting back. Things are streamlined and efficient.

Not only are things easily handled, but because there are so many stores participating, this whole effort is not expensive. For a contribution of $200, each store will be featured in flights of radio spots on two different stations, and ads in four local papers. The graphic designer already has everyone’s logo and store write-up from the brochure, so there’s nothing for stores to do but chime in about the radio copy and suggest tweaks. For us this is huge. It saves us to just work and not design ads, gather logos, etc. There are so many details to coordinate and we’ve proven how well we all work together because the brochure was a huge hit and seemed fairly effortless.

The great thing about working with other business owners are the ideas folks come up with. The first idea that would have never occurred to me is a massive raffle for over $500 in gift cards. One lucky winner will get all the $35 gift cards from each store. This is a very sizable prize and one that will keep folks filling out raffle forms in all the stores and what a fun prize to win during the holidays. I never think of these things and if I did, a one-store raffle isn’t all that impressive, but a raffle with 12 stores is much more attractive.

The last thing that’s going to work is that all the stores will be using the same ad copy on their email blasts. The level of thought that’s going into this is impressive to me. The four coordinators of this effort have really thought of everything. They know that this kind of solidarity and continuity reinforces the message that Shelburne businesses are working together to support each other. Small Business Saturday is a huge day for stores like mine and by the collaboration with 11 other stores, it should be an amazing day.

I’d love hear other ideas of what your town or village doing to get ready for Small Business Saturday.

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Josie Leavitt -- October 22nd, 2014

Yesterday, three groups of kindergarten kids came to the bookstore to learn about community. They were visiting several stores, and even the bank, as they ventured forth from school to see what’s in the village. I looked out the front door of the store and saw the kids crossing the street like ducklings, all holding hands and walking in pairs. They entered the store, 15 or 20 at a time, in three shifts, and each class brought a new level of unintended hilarity.

The first group came in and I was ready to read some stories about communities. One great thing about owning a bookstore with an author was being able to read her book Tap Tap Boom Boom to them. Then they got to meet Elizabeth and that was pure delight. Here’s what I learned with kindergartners: they are gloriously random. When asked if anyone had been to the Flying Pig before many hands went up and the following things were said:

– I have a pig at my farm. And a baby dog.

– I like bacon.

– One time, when I was three, we had a dog.

I realized I had to get them back on track, but another little hand went up.

– I’m allergic to dogs.

Okay then. I’m not sure how teachers handle this stream of consciousness every day. The next class was really good about staying on topic, but the last class started with one shy boy raising his hand almost right away. He was nervous, but clearly needed to share.

– If you use scissors, you have to put them the right way when you’re done. Because (he was miming cutting with his hands) if you don’t, it could cut up all your paper.

And lastly, my favorite part of having kids come to the store is asking them to guess how many books we have. The answers started small, with 25 being the most guessed. Elizabeth explained that one shelf in the picture book section had at least 100 books, so they shifted their numbers up, to 101. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any cuter, one boy shouted, “Infinity!” and I was completely done in.

These classes come twice a year to us and every time I marvel at seeing so many little ones in the picture book section. I’m so used to seeing kids with their parents, that seeing them all together, 15 of them filling the picture book section with room to spare, touches me and reminds me that these are the next generation of readers. As they were leaving, one little girl said, “I love books!” I felt proud to be part of their world.