Monthly Archives: May 2008

Flying Pig Reports from BEA 4

Alison Morris - May 31, 2008

Josie here, blogging from the Internet Cafe, so I’ll be quick. To recap: the Children’s Not a Dinner last night was great. The mashed potatoes in a martini glass were an innovation I’d never seen before and hope to encounter again. Here’s how it worked: picture a steaming chafing dish of creamy mashed potatoes, add to that a mix-in area with choices ranging from broccoli, bacon bits, creme fraiche, sour cream, scallions. Really, it was heaven. Mix in mashed potatoes, it’s like I’d died and gone to heaven. The other food was fabulous as well. I was particularly fond of the caprese salad on a stick. There did seem to be some confusion from attendees about how much to eat as they weren’t sure when food would appear again. Closing the bar before we moved inside caused this writer some stress as I searched in vain for one more beer.

The silent auction was fraught, as always. People mapped the areas they needed to bid on. Many people were frantically running the very spacious room (how nice was it to actually be able to view the art without being pressed against people!) from artwork to artwork. I happily hung by the piece I wanted and am happy to say I got for just under my budget. The live auction, new this year, was very exciting. The Brian Selznick locket from The Invention of Hugo Cabret went for a jaw dropping $1750!

The Author’s Lunch today was really quite good in spite of the missing Michael Moore — Midwest weather once again foils a traveler’s plans. Again, I’m all about the food. I arrived late and found a seat in the back. Quite quickly a man in a tie and women in business suits were ably handling trays with 10 covered plates on them.  I looked about and didn’t see one regular waiter or waitress. As I was cutting my very good chicken, Lance Fensterman of BookExpo announced that Local 11 was on strike. So, here I sat eating a surprisingly yummy meal, while all the while I’d been crossing the picket line. Not something I would normally do. I was faced with a dilemma: stop eating or continue. What would Ariana Huffington do? She seemed okay with it, so I continued. Halfway through lunch, the regular waiters returned and finished the service. I must say, the BEA folks did a great, if somewhat noisy job. I was impressed by their speed at serving a thousand lunches. I can bet there was not one staffer who thought that’s how they’d be spending lunch.

Okay, it’s time for the BEA physical ailments to start. The balls of my feet have a pulse. I guess that’s to really let you know your blisters have a life of their own. You know, I come to this show just about every year and every year I’m surprised at how quickly my body falls apart. The feet are the first to go, then it’s the back. Too many books in non-ergonomic bags. (Note to publishers: swag bags from the Back Saver Catalog for next year!). Then the shoulders go. I never remember to move the book bags around, so one shoulder is in agony while the other escapes fairly unscathed. Then there are the toes. Am I a magnet for rolling bag toe crush injuries or do they happen to everyone? I swear at least twice a day as someone, usually a nice midwestern, rolls over my poor feet as I’m trying to get my bearings. More soon!

Flying Pig Reports from BEA 3

Alison Morris -

Elizabeth here. When Alison asked us to be guest bloggers, I asked for some topic ideas. She gave me several good suggestions, but then she hit on my secret bete noir: checking out the best swag on the floor. I am not, frankly, a swag hag. I am, in fact, swag-impaired. While other booksellers sail by with the coolest stuff — you know, totes autographed by forty-seven Caldecott illustrators, or in the shape of Marge Simpson’s hair, or jeweled Faberge eggs — I am still consulting my floor map to find out why Roaring Brook is not in the same hall as Candlewick. Pins, purses, pens that do animated things when you press tiny buttons — I will, guaranteed, be the last to find out about them. I just don’t have swag mojo. This doesn’t especially bother me, except that I also miss out on those special galleys — the ones tucked under the booth curtains or in locked drawers that only booksellers in the know are authorized to take home — unless a kindly sales rep who knows my unfortunate deficiencies takes pity on me and sets one aside in advance.

Since I did not leave the show floor with any swag except a very handy tote from new (to the U.S.) publisher, Egmont, I interviewed a few people on the subway back to the show hotel. We had time to chat, because we took the wrong line (now there are only three lines, and I used to live in New York, for crying out loud, which has something like ninety, but I still got on the wrong one). Turns out Little, Brown was giving away a very snazzy beach towel. An oversized Art Spiegelman book sample looked extremely cool, and there was a fabled Chronicle tote that starts off compressed to about 2" square (I didn’t see one, so I can’t verify this) and expands to the size of a small hippopotamus.

But, no worries. The nice folks at Egmont assure me that, since their tote is made from hemp, if the show floor gets rough, I can smoke it.

Flying Pig Reports from BEA 2

Alison Morris - May 30, 2008

Josie here. First off: One of the funniest children’s authors breakfasts I’ve ever been to. Eoin Colfer MC’ed, and the guests were Sherman Alexie, Judy Blume and Neil Gaiman. The tone was set by Ambassador Jon Scieszka who began the proceedings by actually saying, "This is the ass-crack of dawn early." Well, we had no place to go from there but down because he repeated that phrase several more times and at least one of the panelists embraced it as well. Eoin Colfer took over and more hilarity ensued; he is really one of the funniest people around. Sherman Alexie was also extremely funny and he dropped the F bomb in awe of Judy Blume and considering how often her works are banned, this just added to the morning. Add to that his story of growing up on a reservation and eating "government" food and we were rolling in the aisles again. Sherman said that he wrote for kids who didn’t have their stories told; Judy spoke of her children’s lives as influencing what she was writing; Neil’s daughter spurred him on to write Coraline because she wanted a horror story. To have three truly wonderful writers share the inspiration for their writing while being funny and very moving at 8 am is really a great way to start your day. 

The show floor, was, as always, crowded with eager booksellers, a few live animals, lots of people in costumes ranging from a young Goth woman forcibly handing out postcards to two different penguins and several very large stuffed animal types. The aisles were full. Yes, there are lots of amazing new books and the fall promises to be extraordinary, but I noticed the smaller things.

First, one thing I noticed that alarmed me, I understand why there are massage chairs set up, but tooth whitening? There was actually a large booth set up with four dentists’ chairs promising you teeth up to eight shades lighter in just fifteen minutes. There was no book with this, just a $99 service. And there was a line! 

Second, there’s a new display format sweeping the publishers. Now, admittedly, I missed BEA last year, so this might not be the innovation I think it is, but I was blown away. Galleys are no longer stacked up, they are arranged in circles twenty galleys high. I was reminded of an Andy Goldsworthy sculpture at the Scholastic booth, not a circle, not an oval, but an artisinal arrangement of The Hunger Games; it was just so beautiful. 

After the children’s breakfast, most booksellers are still quite hungry. Let’s be honest, I’m a larger gal, but I think most people have more to eat at home than half a muffin. And seriously, does anyone actually eat Danish anymore? So, I go in search of food after the breakfast. I go right to the children’s hall to see which publishers have good snacks. It used to be every publisher had something you go take away with you that wasn’t just a catalog. Not so much this year. I noticed that thicker the booth carpet, the worse the snacks. Candlewick Press has a reputation for quality candy, we all know this, that might be why every time I walked by they were refilling the empty bowls around the booth. I found some interesting snacks along my travels. The Choose Your Own Adventure booth had fortune cookies, but neither one of the two I got actually had fortunes in them. I guess I had to make mine up. A cookbook booth had red hots and corn bread; I was curious what recipe that came from. Modern Publishing had the most dizzying array of snack items: muffins, plates of Danish (does anyone listen to me?) Fig Newtons, bags of mini chips, Twizzlers and tissue packs. The Elf on Shelf (cutest name so far) folks were smart enough to have Frappucinos and bagels with cream cheese. One booth just had a sad bowl of peanuts and one small stack of Pringles — none of that was working for me at 10am. Cutest cookies: Boxer Books, hand decorated sugar cookies of Ballet Kitty — very nice. And lastly, the best smelling booth: Mo Smells Red. These folks have reinvented the scratch and sniff to be press and sniff. Everything is infused with organic essences, in this case, strawberries, and you just press the button on the book and the smell is released. It also helps that they had Dove chocolate and Hershey Kisses.  

Flying Pig Reports from BEA 1

Alison Morris -

Howdy. Elizabeth here. Can we just say that it’s distracting to have the convention in L.A.? The show hotel is extremely convenient, not only to itself (we only have to go down the hall, past the elevators, and around the corner from our room to get to the education-day meetings), but to the Times Square-esque neighborhood of Hollywood Blvd. and Highland Ave. I grew up in L.A., but twelve years in quaint, billboard-free Vermont have turned me into a country bumpkin agog at the traffic and crowds, and charmed by the famous Hollywood Blvd. stars in the pavement. Note: there are still some blank stars at the intersections, in case anyone’s considering a career switch.

Snapshots from Thursday:

The mood during the day of education was extremely cheery and collegial. It actually felt like a regional show, in the best ways: bookseller friends from near and far chatting, talking books and budgets and buzzing about the ABA’s new BookSense-replacing initiative (more on which later, we’re late for the children’s breakfast!).

Seminar highlights:

The Association of Booksellers for Children rolled out its New Voices list: 25 top new titles by debut authors, two of whom spoke at lunch: Cecila Galante, whose YA novel, The Patron Saint of Butterflies, is a huge bookseller favorite, and Marie Rutkowski, whose clever, lively new middle-grade fantasy The Cabinet of Wonders seems poised to take off. Cecilia’s book is a fictionalized account of her own experiences growing up in a cult; she reduced many of us to tears with her gentle but impassioned talk about the importance of voice for children whose identities have been muted. Marie spoke about vision — literal and metaphorical blindness — and its relationship to her childhood and novel. Publishers had sent finished copies and galleys of all of the New Voices choices (packed, might we add, with the kind of attention and care we could only wish for from some warehouses), and booksellers were kids in a candy shop at the galley grab.

Co-Op seminar: we know about co-op, of course, and berate ourselves for not pursuing it more. Mark Kaufman (from Paz & Associates) and Libby Cowles (an incredibly efficient co-op-claiming-queen bookseller) shared some tips. New tidbits: publishers like to see their names and the book price info in ads (tiny print is fine). February is a good time to get annual co-op summaries from wholesalers; a percentage of those sales gets added to your publisher-direct sales for the total co-op pool. (You send the tear sheets from the summary to the publisher, and they do the math. Hurrah!) Even publishers without formal co-op plans can be approachable and open to requests. The industry standard for advertising/promo co-op is $50 for a 50-word blurb and jacket cover. Circulation doesn’t matter, but if you’re going to be moving a lot of books, ask for more. Finally, don’t forget to use publisher co-op to help pay for holiday catalog newspaper insertions or mailings. 

Josie here, on Budgeting and Monitoring:  Only Avin Domnitz could make a three-hour number-crunching seminar riveting. Handy hint to all booksellers: Avin’s dog is named James Dean. This info is usually good for swag at his seminars. One great thing I learned was the ABA has downloadable budgeting sheets that go right in Excel. You just plug in your numbers and the calculations are done for you. Now, it’s really easy to see what you need to be more profitable. Landlord beware: I’m ready to renegotiate my lease like a pro after the very informative session, the upshot being know your area and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want; every landlord wants a bookstore. Remember that all educational hand-outs are available at, so if you couldn’t make to LA, you can still reap a lot of the benefits. I feel like I’ve gotten to see my bookselling friends a lot this year between the regional show, the Winter Institute and BEA, and it’s great to touch base so often with like-minded people who share my passion for books.

I’ll Have BEA Guest Bloggers When Pigs Fly!

Alison Morris - May 29, 2008

Which means potentially just a few hours from now, and/or at various points this weekend!

While, as I mentioned previously, I’m not attending BEA this year, two of my fellow booksellers, the honorable Elizabeth Bluemle and Josie Leavitt of The Flying Pig Bookstore in Charlotte, Vt., will be more than ably filling my ShelfTalker shoes during their busy BEA weekend. If and when one of them can steal away from the show floor and find a computer, they’ll be letting us know how things are going and what we are missing. Later they’ll fill us in on what they thought was especially entertaining or informative or in some other way worth attending/seeing/doing/reading at this year’s show.

Stay tuned for ShelfTalker, Flying Pig style!

Here a Padded Envelope, There a Padded Envelope

Alison Morris - May 28, 2008

My desk at the store looks like a disaster area most days. I try and try to keep it clean, but it’s almost an impossibility, as so many things land on it each day requiring (or at least requesting) my attention. Much of this "stuff" is the detritis of the projects I’m working on here (frontlist buying, backlist reorders, events scheduling, filling school orders, responding to customer requests, and so on, and so on, and so on), but much of it is also just "stuff" that comes my way via the mail. As it does EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. In copious quantities.

You might be thinking, "Oh, please. You work in a bookstore. How bad can it be?" I thought maybe it would help if I SHOWED you, so I removed all of the padded envelopes that had been stored in my "empty padded envelopes" storage space under my desk and piled them atop one another. Lorna and I estimate that this pile, containing 56 envelopes, reflects the number of padded envelopes that arrives in our buying office over the course of just two weeks. In other words, each of us receives 14 padded envelopes every week, on average. (There are weeks in which we receive considerably more than that.)

Most of the padded envelopes in our onslaught contain catalogs or galleys or marketing materials, but many contain copies of finished books that publishers are hoping we’ll find the time to read and/or talk up to our customers. And of course this doesn’t count the BOXES that we also receive, or the skinny, flat envelopes most of us think of when we hear the word "mail."

Of course, all of this pales in comparison to the number of e-mails most of us receive in a given week (250 came to my work account during my recent vacation week), but the e-mail at least isn’t visible to those who visit our offices, unlike the piles of mail that have an actual physical form. All of this is to say that if you visit your bookseller friend’s office, don’t be horrified to find it overflowing or downright "messy." And if you contact a bookseller friend via snail mail or e-mail don’t be surprised if it takes ages for you to hear back from them.

The trade-off is that thanks to that bookseller friend you’ll probably never again have to pay for padded envelopes or medium-sized moving boxes, which seems like a pretty fair exchange to me! When I visited Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Mass., they were happily advertising their efforts to share the wealth: a well-labeled box out front advertised the store as the perfect stop for FREE BOXES.

A Commencement Speech for the Record Books (and the Lesson Planners)

Alison Morris - May 27, 2008

A week ago I spent a wonderful three days at my alma mater, Smith College, catching up with fellow members of my graduating class at our delightful 10-year reunion. The general consensus was that none of us could believe 10 years had passed so quickly! It seems like it was only yesterday that our class processed into the Quadrangle wearing matching caps and gowns, eagerly awaiting the diplomas we’d receive only AFTER we managed to sit through a terribly clichéd and uninspiring speech by that year’s commencement speaker, Elizabeth Dole.

Fortunately when members of the Smith College class of 2008 return for THEIR 10-year reunion a shockingly short time from now, THEY will not have to roll their eyes at the memory of words tossed their way en route to Diplomaland. They will no doubt look back with great fondness on the speech by the accomplished woman selected to salute them and send them on their way. They were treated to the genius, cleverness and well-chosen words of Margaret Edson (Smith College class of 1983), playwright and kindergarten teacher extraordinaire.

If you’re thinking Edson’s name sounds familiar, it could be because in 1999 she won a little award called the Pulitzer for her superb play Wit. The play was also the recipient of the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, the Drama Desk Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Lucille Lortel Award, and the Oppenheimer Award. In 2001 It was made into an HBO film starring Emma Thompson that won the Emmy that year for best TV movie.

If you ever have the chance to see Wit performed live, GO. Before you do that, read the script. And before you do THAT, watch Edson deliver her commencement speech for this year’s Smith graduates. (Don’t just read the transcript, WATCH it!) Doing so will give you a taste of her (what else?) wit, a sense of her precision with language, an understanding of her gift for delivery, and hopefully an enhanced appreciation for teachers (if you don’t already appreciate them to their full extent, which you should).

To all you educators out there, Edson’s speech is a brilliant nod to you and the work that you do. After you’ve watched it, be sure to share it with others who’ll appreciate it too.

How Much Is That Froggy in the Window?

Alison Morris - May 23, 2008

I had a fit of jealousy when I looked at Matt Tavares’ blog last week and saw his photos of the sculpture that sits in the window of Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Georgia. As you can see here (thanks for the photos, Matt!) the sculpture is of a mother frog reading to her little frog. And what book are they sharing? The stunning new book Lady Liberty: A Biography, written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by (of course) Matt Tavares.

It was obviously no coincidence that the frogs were hunkering down to read this particular book, on the occasion of Matt’s visit. And that’s what makes me SOOO jealous of this piece of sculpture. You can CHANGE the book in the frogs’ hands!! Is that not the coolest thing ever??

We have no fancy schmancy sculptures here at Wellesley Booksmith and, let me tell you, I’m now dearly wishing we did. Between seeing the frogs at Little Shop of Stories and the admiring the fantastic chair that greets you outside Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Mass. I am ready for some big fancy piece of metal to come OUR way!

Does your bookstore or library have a great piece of sculpture you’d like to share with the world? If so, snap a photo of it and send it to me. If I get a few good ones I’ll do a follow-up post featuring them. Just drop me a note at shelftalker at gmail dot com.

Show Us Your Typos!

Alison Morris - May 22, 2008

Let’s say you love polar bears. And you love books. How can you put the two together, for the price of, oh… an ACTUAL polar bear? By buying Ibride’s Joe Bookshelf, that’s how! Yes, Joe will allow you to shelve your books in a melamine polar bear for just a little over two thousand pounds Sterling. (That’s over four thousand dollars, for those of you NOT painfully aware of our dollar’s current standing.) But hey, you’d expect to pay a lot for what this bookcase can deliver! To quote directly from the (misspelled) ad copy on Made in Design, "Thanks to its big dimensions, you can put inside everytrhing you want : boobs, CD, DVD, any objects…"

Yes, that’s right. Joe will actually hold BOOBS.

Ladies, get in line.

No BEA for Me This Year

Alison Morris - May 21, 2008

I’m not going to BEA this year. Like many others on the East Coast, the owners of our two sister stores (Brookline Booksmith and Wellesley Booksmith) decided that it was just too expensive to justify sending staff all the way to L.A. for the event. The reader in me is sorry to have to miss out on two plane flights, as I could use the uninterrupted reading time, but the rest of me is happy not to have to endure two lengthy days of travel and the aftermath of much trade show fatigue. May has been booked solid with trips and events, so I’m telling myself that it’ll be a relief to be able to spend at least ONE weekend at home this month.

But, oh, it is TORTURE to have to turn down all the invitations I’m getting!! To think that I’m missing a cocktail party with Sherman Alexie and Trenton Lee Stewart! And dinner with the lovely Laurie Keller! Lunch with Mem Fox! The biggest loss to me, though, is having to miss out on all the fantastic ABC programming, in particular the newly revamped ABC dinner (now being called a "not a dinner") and (mostly) silent auction — my favorite and best chance to see an incredible assortment of original works of art by all my favorite illustrators. Even Gareth will have a piece there this year, but (sigh…) neither of us will have the pleasure of seeing it on display.

I have to say, too, that I’m sorry to miss out on visiting with the wonderful in-house people I only ever get to see at this one time of year. I know publicists often get a bum rap in the book business, as their positions (in large houses at least) tend to be the low-totem, rotate-them-in-and-out types. But I have gotten to know a LOT of truly fantastic, intelligent, incredibly hard-working publicists, and I’m just as sorry not to be crossing paths with some of them this year as I am sad to be missing out on the authors and illustrators they’ll have with them. And, oh, the conversations I have with editors at BEA!! It’s the one occasion in which I get to pick their brains with my "How did you make this work?" and "What’s so-and-so like?" questions, and I’ll miss having those conversations this year.

It’s going to be odd, actually, to have a spring/summer season with out that energetic little shot in the arm that comes from comparing notes with my fellow comrades at arms.

Think of me, all of you, when you’re learning the secret little scoop on this book or that book and this author’s past or that illustrator’s propensities. I will certainly be thinking of you (and tuning in for the occasional podcast)! I look forward to hearing your takes on this year’s best totebag and the year’s worst costumed character. And let me know if you hear of anyone tying the knot on the trade show floor, as I jokingly blogged about last year. I’d be especially sad to miss THAT spectacle!