As I tend to do at the beginning of a new buying season, I dumped out a table full of picture book samples this week to see what our frontline booksellers had to say. There were some great highlights, and I’ll have the full report next week, but first I thought I’d circle back for a minute on previous installments of this series. The truth is that these initial bookseller reactions are just the first step on the path to determining the next staff favorite or in-store bestseller.
The staff joke is that every mind will be changed and raves (and pans) will be forgotten—or reversed—by the time books roll in and enter the actual collection. That’s partially true, and it’s also true that reactions can be different when looking at books within a limited selection versus in the context of the whole store. Our longtime picture book specialist, Merrilee, is famous for writing “meh” on an samples she ends up handselling like crazy or writing “me likee!” on a book she ultimately forgets to recommend. As author/part-time BookPeople bookseller Leila Sales wrote recently, it’s not always easy to predict which books will rise to top of mind when you’re in the moment helping customers right in front of you.
There is no trickier species of in-store event than those featuring Young Adult authors. One yearns to grasp reliable keys to success, replicable ones, as science demands. Architecture is where we should be looking. Behind every successful in-store Young Adult event lies architectural elements both hidden and visible. Having had two good in-store YA events recently I returned to them with a forensic lens. The resultant, rigorous examination revealed two important architectural elements that contributed mightily to their success.
The first deals with the architecture of book signing displays. There are some designs that can only be carried off when you have the critical mass of books which an author event allows. The ideal design should also form a shape which allows the display to be a conduit for the ancient powers of the universe, to be erected on a nexus point, on a ley line of bookselling. For our book launch of Shana Youngdahl’s stellar debut As Many Nows as I Can Get we tested my theory that the beehive shape is the ideal one to insure the success of an event.
The Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. Not too shabby for a little city!
Dead bodies and meth mishaps aside, it was a great event. (More on those in a moment.)
Every four years or so, the inimitable David Sedaris comes to Vermont for a night at the Flynn Center, our area’s biggest theatre, which seats around 1400 people.
Much has been written (and reviewed in bookseller training seminars) about the value of signage in the bookstore. Helping customers navigate the visual overload of all those sections, all those face-outs, and all those reading options requires clear, large, legible, and easy-to-see signage in every part of our stores. In a children’s store, we must also take into account that some of our customers are young readers, who may not have the vocabulary (yet) to discern “Non-Fiction” from “Biography,” or “Graphics” from “Middle Grade.” The caregivers and chauffeurs of those young readers may be distracted by younger siblings, lots of requests for impulse toys, and trying to locate the nearest bathroom, so they benefit from lots of signs, too. From the moment they enter (is there a sign large enough to get customers to glance at their watch or smartphone for the time when we clearly have been trying to close for 20 minutes?) to the inevitable request for a changing table (“do you see the BATHROOM sign over there in Middle Grade? It’s in there”) to the politely worded “STROLLER PARKING AREA” in our story time space, there’s just no font size or lighted placard large enough to make sure that all visitors see and read them.
As I pack my car with supplies for setting up the Texas Teen Book Festival at Southwestern University this weekend, I can only hope everything goes according to plan. Luckily, we’ve done a lot of planning, but when you head into a huge event there’s always the chance things can go awry. Granted, even when something goes wrong it’s usually more in the “we left all our signage at the store” category versus the “snowed in at an abandoned ski lodge” kind. But, as I mentioned last week, scary stories have been on my mind.
Because I don’t have much time to write this week, I thought I’d share a few of my own spooky staff selections from the store (written by one slightly cowardly, not-so-fearless reader).
Hoodoo by Ronald Smith: This eerily atmospheric Southern Gothic tale set in 1939 Alabama stars 12-year-old Hoodoo who possesses no magic, despite bearing his family’s traditional mark of power—a heart shaped birthmark under his eye. Despite this magical ineptitude, he finds himself facing down the powers of darkness in the form of an ominous stranger who wants Hoodoo to pay a familial debt…with his soul!
Thornhill by Pam Smy: New to town, a girl looks out from her window at the abandoned orphanage next door. 35 years earlier, a girl faces danger and darkness in that very building. As their stories intertwine (one through words and one through pictures), chilling truths emerge. Haunting and tragic, this ghost story will thrill readers looking for a good scare.
Most degenerative problems have tipping points for those impacted by them. This is true of individual problems such as an increasingly sore hip or a leaking furnace, and also of issues that impact larger number of people such as anti-trust concerns and climate change. I say tipping points because we often take some action—a letter to Congress, a larger water bucket, buying a hybrid—and yet the persistence of the problem takes us to a new tipping point along our unresolved continuums.
There is a degenerative problem that all bookstores face that hit a tipping point for me last week. I received a purchase order from a non-profit which called for 10 copies of 10 different titles. This sort of purchase order invoked a preventative measure for a problem I have been concerned about for some time: increasing prices for backlist titles which have not been issued a new ISBN.
Is it just me, or are damages out of control lately? By ‘damages’ I mean the multiples of unsaleable books that arrive from publishers and distributors alike, dinged and dented, pages folded over inside and jacket covers torn. If you don’t regularly work in the receiving part of a bookstore (and by ‘receiving part,’ I mean you just don’t work anywhere in a bookstore) then you may not be aware of just how much time and inventory is lost in the shipping and delivery process of our industry.
Here’s a summary of our Monday at my shop this week: we received 16 boxes of books via UPS, from a total of 5 publishers and 1 distributor. Two boxes were full case packs (36 copies) of a book for an author school visit this week. The others were a mixture of new releases and backlist orders, and a couple of mixed copy seasonal displays. In addition, our mail carrier brought 3 small boxes of ARCs, and a couple of those giant envelope-type packages created by sealing two squares of cardboard on four sides around a book or two with an inch or two of adhesive. (For the record, if terrorists or spies ever wanted to smuggle sensitive material into the U.S. via our postal service, those hermetically sealed cardboard packages are clearly the most tamper-proof method, for they take our staff a good 20 minutes, a case cutter, and a pair of garden shears to pry a corner open in order to liberate the Frozen 2 sticker book inside.)
Justice Sonia Sotomayor socks from Maggie Stern Stitches.
Even though my non-book budget is mostly allocated for the year, with orders of scarves and candles and buttons and holiday cards and pretty things arriving in heaps of boxes from now through mid-December, I still discover fun things I can’t resist buying for the store while exploring the trade show floor at NEIBA, our New England Independent Booksellers Association’s fall conference.
I remember when our regional trade show exhibits were so filled with vendors they could barely fit into the convention center space. Every major publisher and most small publishers exhibited books throughout the giant room, and ‘sidelines’ vendors (sidelines are non-book gifts, greeting cards, games, and toys) had at least two or three aisles of tables. Now the show floor is much smaller than it was in the glory days of the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s, and is set up for just one day instead of three. Still, it continues to hold surprises.
I have just returned from the 2019 Heartland Fall Forum, the immensely successful regional show hosted by GLIBA (Great Lakes Independent Bookselling Association) and MIBA (substitute “Midwest” in the acronym and lather, rinse, repeat) in Cleveland. On the five-hour drive home (given the option, we drive in the Midwest, for the highways are clear and the scenery gorgeous), I drank a lot of coffee, and thought fondly of past regionals in the 17 years of my bookselling career.
It’s getting spooky around here!
Scary stories can be irresistible. There’s just something comforting about letting yourself get scared when you know you’re not in danger. But how do you walk right up to that edge of manageable fear without falling over? The truth is that, while I like the idea of scary stories, I’m actually a total chicken. As I told a middle school field trip this week, I almost got kicked out of a sleepover in high school for screaming too loudly at the previous cinematic iteration of Stephen King’s It. (Or, really, my friend’s mother brought out a pillow for me to scream in so she wouldn’t have to listen to it anymore.) Continue reading