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Rules for a Slow Sunday

Cynthia Compton -- June 17th, 2019

Most weekend shifts at the shop simply fly by — there are presents to be wrapped, regulars dropping by to pick up “stuff we brought over from the warehouse” (because we NEVER say “Special Orders” at the Bookstore), and new customers drawn in by parties, costumed characters or author events. Last year, we added a Saturday story-and-art session to the mix for parents who can’t attend events with their kids during the work week, and in the summer we extend our Saturday evening hours to accommodate the patio diners at the restaurant next door, who linger in the pleasant Midwestern evenings with another glass of wine and an indulgent attitude for the kids who want “just a little something” next door at my shop. We staff accordingly for all of this activity, and typically have the most members of our team on the floor on the weekend than any other time.

This weekend was a bit soggy, though, with torrential rainstorms on Saturday, and our friends just to the south of us in Indiana faced tornadoes, damaging lightning and high winds. As we mopped up that evening, and I wrung out the loads of wet towels that we had used to soak up the rain driven under all our door frames, I told the crew to just relax and enjoy their Father’s Day at home with their families. The weather would still be iffy, we had no events scheduled, and I wasn’t expecting much traffic in the store on a day meant to celebrate Dads, not kids. I would be happy to staff the register solo, and I could always call for reinforcements if things picked up. Giddy with an unexpected free day, my staff grinned and high-fived, and I vowed to myself that no matter what happened, I would just handle it myself.

I wish that sentence was a transition to “….oh, I was SOOOOO wrong” and I could tell you an amusing little tale about the crazy bookselling day that was simply too busy for words, but we’re going to stay truthful here. It was painfully, horribly slow all day. There were hours that the door didn’t jingle AT ALL with opening and closing, and I checked the switch on the lighted OPEN sign not just once, but twice (OK, it was three times). I drank all my coffee in the first hour, raided the snack box for the good candy twice, and dusted all the fixtures. I pulled four different ARCs from the back room, but just couldn’t settle into anything, and after spot-checking three sections realized that today was finally the day that my entire store was completely alphabetized…. so I wrote notes to the staff praising their diligence, and it was still only 1:30 p.m. I went to the car to get my laptop, intending to pay some invoices and update the staff schedule for July…. only to realize that I had left it at home, and my family was at the movies, so there was no one to beg for a mercy delivery of a keyboard and maybe a slice of pizza. I was well and truly stuck, and the next few hours could be spent in quiet self reflection…. or, I could mop the party room and clean out the junk drawer. I decided, instead, to jot down a little list of “rules” about slow days in retail, so that we could commiserate together. Here’s my hard-and-fast list for hard-and-slow days:

  1. You WILL have a few customers on very slow days, but they will all arrive and leave in the same 10 minute period. They will bustle into the shop, fire several questions at you at once, and generally fool you into thinking that it’s going to be a crazy, busy day. Then will all leave together, (with or without buying an item or two) and you will spend the rest of the day thinking of BETTER ANSWERS to their requests, and titles whose names and authors completely escaped you in the moment will jump from the shelves and beg to be recommended, next time.
  2. Out-of-town shopkeeping colleagues, who are traveling through your town on the way home from vacation or trade shows will only visit on incredibly slow days. They will text and message, wanting to just “stop in for a minute, because we KNOW how busy you are,” and drop by to see your lovely shop — only to witness empty aisles, and you forlornly straightening the plush rack, which is already perfect.
  3. Your first transactions on slow days will typically be returns, which you will handle cheerfully and efficiently, assuring the customer that it’s no problem at all” to return the gift that her son didn’t take to his classmate’s birthday party because they were halfway there and realized they had forgotten the present so they just grabbed a gift card at Target… and after she leaves you’ll cut the ribbon and untape your own wrapping paper and print another price label and take it back to the shelf, where you’ll notice that the shrink wrap on the box is ripped underneath. You’ll be so certain that the negative balance will be covered in the next few minutes that you won’t even check the register totals until several hours later, when you realize that you’re still not back to your starting point, cash-wise.
  4. Re-reading Yelp reviews, Google ratings, and social media comments praising your exceptional selection and customer service will help you feel better for a few minutes, as will several of those little miniature KitKat bars in the staff snack box. Beware, however, of obsessing about the less-than-glowing reviews, and no matter how sarcastic and funny and accurate your carefully composed responses to the online trolls might be, DON’T SEND THEM TODAY. You are operating from a weakened position, and the online predators can sense vulnerability. Do not get drawn into online battles over reputation and accuracy of customer feedback — just go dust something, instead. At least then you’ll be able to see the results, even if they only last a day or so, unlike online comments which are permanently etched into your soul.
  5. Your mother will call, bless her heart, and want to know why “you’re always working.”

There will, of course, be relief on those painfully slow days, but it will arrive late. Just as you finish carrying out the trash (only one bag, and it wasn’t even full) and close the bathroom door after admiring the gleaming sink and the freshly mopped floor, and straighten the front table for the final time, a boisterous, large, extended family with six kids, two sets of parents, and a set of grandparents will arrive after their early dinner next door. Mayhem will ensue at the play tables as the preschoolers scatter toys and trains, the older kids will grab titles from the book spinners as Grandma wants to see what they’re reading “just to get birthday ideas, you know,” and dads will race the remote control cars around the party room. The moms will chat, oblivious to their kids’ multiple entreaties “MOM! This is that thing…. that thing that Trevor got for his birthday that you said I could have if I saved my allowance and I have enough money but it’s at home and can you buy it and I’ll pay you back…. MOM!” and spend the next 15 minutes (10 of these will be AFTER your closing time) extending their family celebration. Then they will leave. They will comment, kindly, “what a nice place you have,” as the kids argue over who gets to ride home with Grandma and Grandpa, and someone has a meltdown because they “never get anything” and Dad decides that it’s just time to go home RIGHT NOW as he hefts a tired wailing toddler over his shoulder and heads to the Suburban in the parking lot.

You’ll survey the mess, lock the front doors, leave a note for the opening staff that you’re “sorry about the clutter… it was a bit crazy today,” and go home. Some days require more than a KitKat, and we can all start another list tomorrow.

Austin Teens Report on Best / Worst of BookCon 2019

Meghan Dietsche Goel -- June 14th, 2019

As a bookseller, I’ve attended BookExpo many times (and blogged last week about my personal buzz book of the show). But even though it’s sort of the second half of the same event, BookCon is a whole different beast that I’ve never personally experienced. This year, Maddy and Colleen from BookPeople’s Teen Press Corps made the trek to New York for BookCon for the fifth time, so I asked them a few questions about what they like best and worst about the event, what’s changed over the years, and what they’d like to see more of next time. From exciting debuts to long signing lines to sore feet to great swag, it sounds like an exhilarating, slightly chaotic, book-filled weekend to remember! Continue reading

The Sequel Audit

Kenny Brechner -- June 13th, 2019

The expedition ship Discovery

For many frontlist buyers reading sequels is a luxury we can rarely afford. The character of new series demand our assessment. The unknown is our stock and trade. Once the quality of a series opener has been settled favorably we tend, when the ARC of the next book appears, to quash the beguiling desire to dive back into familiar waters. The duty of discovery is a heavy taskmaster.

Yet perhaps duty sometimes takes a different form. Consider the potential consequences of a first book of a series which we handsold with particular vigor and conviction, casting a great many of our customers into its current. Do we not have a moral obligation to know whether that current will deliver its promise, and that our trumpeting of the arrival of book two is merited?
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The Play Is the Thing

Cynthia Compton -- June 12th, 2019

I’m spending five days in Pittsburgh for the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association annual Marketplace and Academy with several thousand of my closest playmates — so come join me for a playdate, and let’s talk toys!

ASTRA’s annual event is part educational conference, part tradeshow, and all fun and games. It’s also the place where I discover new brands and products, and finalize my ordering for the rest of the year, divided into multiple shipments and delivery dates. We have a saying in toy retail: “If it’s not on the water in June, it’s not on the shelves in December,” reflecting the importance of booking orders early for holiday sales and catalog publication. This year, in the shadow of impending tariffs, that saying could be more true than ever before.
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Are You Book ‘Poly’?

Elizabeth Bluemle -- June 11th, 2019

A few of my childhood go-to’s. I’d usually have three or four books going at once.

One of our regulars, Lincoln, came to the store the other day with his dog, Zeno. This isn’t unusual; Lincoln and Zeno often end up at the bookstore after their jaunts through the woods and lakeside trails in our town. What was unusual was that Lincoln wasn’t looking for a book. “I’m reading five at the moment,” he said, “and while I’m tempted, I can’t add another to the mix.”

This led to a lively storewide discussion of reading habits: who reads one book at a time, and who likes to have several books going at once. (The store was split about 50/50, though that may be an atypical sampling.)

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The Hunt for a BookExpo Buzz Book

Meghan Dietsche Goel -- June 7th, 2019

As Elizabeth mentioned this week, BookExpo has become less about book discovery for booksellers and more about other kinds of business conversations. Partially because I have been trying to mix it up between conferences—especially with Children’s Institute in the rotation—I’ve missed BookExpo the last couple of years, but I enjoyed being back. Coming to New York always offers the value of meeting more people from the home office, so I took advantage of the chance to set up some business meetings. I also walked around and had some first-hand conversations with smaller presses and graphic novel imprints. You know, one thing I find challenging as a buyer is to differentiate true YA-appropriate graphic novels from those that are really for adults in some of the mixed catalogs, especially when they aren’t sold in by graphic novel specialists. (Make a kids and YA Edelweiss catalog, Diamond Books!) So I took the chance to make the rounds and ask all my questions, which was great!

While there’s certainly less book discovery at the show now, I still always leave with my thoughts focused around at least one book that I really want to tell people about, and this year, that was the remarkable Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. Set in the near future, Emezi depicts the utopian aftermath of a righteous revolution in which a group of legendary “angels” has rooted out the “monsters” of society and eliminated evil wherever it lurked—in government, law enforcement, or behind closed doors at home. Now, in the idyllic enclave of Lucille, residents rest easy, secure in the knowledge that the monsters are forever gone and everything has changed. Continue reading

A Field Trip to Remember

Kenny Brechner -- June 6th, 2019

I got an unusual, bittersweet but wonderful phone call six weeks ago from a kindergarten teacher at Rumford Elementary. Rumford is a mill town about 40 minutes from Farmington. Rumford Elementary has two kindergarten classes with a total of 48 students. It turns out that the teacher had been curious to know how many of the children had ever been to a bookstore. The answer turned out  to be none.

She had called me in the hopes of rectifying that sad fact and we arranged for an official field trip to our bookstore. Friday, May 17th was a rainy day and we were excited to see a yellow school bus appear in front of DDG.

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An Unlikely Storytime

Cynthia Compton -- June 5th, 2019

My mother, who is 92, lives in a nearby assisted living residence, and I visit her in the mornings on my way to the bookshop. We sit together at her breakfast table with three other ladies, and while they eat (cornflakes or oatmeal, followed by scrambled eggs and toast, or pancakes on Tuesdays and Thursdays) I drink my coffee and jot down my staff projects list for the day. I share tales of store events and funny customers, and they give advice about store layout (too many places don’t have enough chairs, or good light) and staff attire and shelf height and well… everything, including an admonition to “put on a little lipstick, dear, before work.”  I sometimes tuck a new impulse item or two in my bag for their amusement, and leave behind both publisher swag and puzzles with damaged boxes that are headed for our clearance rack – new puzzles are very popular in the activity room, and those shiny padded envelopes that some publishers use for ARCs are just perfect to recycle to mail packages for great-grandchildren’s birthdays.

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BookExpo, Sidelined?

Elizabeth Bluemle -- June 4th, 2019

I think I’ve only missed two or three BookExpos — that former lion of trade shows for the book industry — in 23 years. Held every spring, BookExpo was the arena for serious bookseller education, for us to see all the upcoming fall books, socialize with colleagues from around the country, meet with publishers and publicists, collect some prized autographs from authors and book-writing celebrities, and attend dinners and parties held by publishing houses celebrating their star book lineup for the fourth quarter. We can still do much of that BookExpo, but it’s become a shadow of its former self for many booksellers.

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The Games We Play

Cynthia Compton -- June 3rd, 2019

Our weekly story time and preschool activity schedule (This Is the Way We Sweep the Floor) has a new addition this year, and it’s been such fun to implement that I wanted to invite you to play along, too. On Wednesday mornings we are now hosting “Stories and Play,” a 30–45 minute session devoted to the literacy of games, introducing preschoolers and their parents to the value of table games. The idea for this session began during last holiday season, when our staff noticed that games for the five- to eight-year-old set we selling briskly, but those games targeted for younger ages of two to four were not turning as well. We began to talk about all of the pre-literacy and verbal skills that are strengthened and supported by these types of games, and how easily we could incorporate game play into a story time, just as we now use art and music. As an easy-to-plan and even easier-to-run summer programming idea, I’m sharing the dice and spinners with all of you, too.

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