Monthly Archives: June 2009

What to Do, What to Do?

Josie Leavitt - June 15, 2009

Now that schools in Vermont are officially on summer break, I’ve noticed something I’m not sure how to handle.

School let out on Friday and since then I’ve had four nine-year-old girls ask for one or more books in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Twilight is a fine series. I enjoyed it immensely when I read it. I am forty-four, not nine. I’m not sure what to do with this current phenomenon. I don’t like to judge purchases by anyone in my store, but this troubles me.

These bouncy, pigtailed nine-year-olds seem to have no reason to read these books other than "my friends are reading it." They don’t even like boys. I find asking them "Do you like boys?" is a great weeding-out question for some of the younger set. A giggle, and a sheepish "no" can usually sway them away from any book, except Twilight.

Well, this is the first time in 13 years of bookselling that I’ve had a real problem with a trend. I just think it’s wrong for innocent nine-year-olds to read a book about a vampire love story centered on a 17-year-old girl who loves a vampire. Yes, the first book is fairly innocent, but as the books progress so does the mature behavior, marriage, sex and a fairly intense birth scene. And I wonder how many parents would let their nine-year-old daughters, or sons for that matter, read any other book that dealt with such mature themes.

My fear is twofold — the first is they are coming to a good book too early and they won’t get out of the book what they would if they read it at the right age. The second issue is now that these girls are reading about characters so much older, they won’t have patience or the desire to read about children their own age. It saddens me that for three years parents who have put their foot down to their daughters who wanted to read Twilight before they were 12, have lost the will to make their kids wait. I worry that girls will think Harriet the Spy is too young for them, that The Great Gilly Hopkins has nothing to do with their lives, Walk Two Moons isn’t relevant. It pains me when nine-year-olds head right back to the young adult section and bypass the riches that make up the middle-grade section.

There are reasons books are written for the middle-grade set — they are appropriate for that age child, with maturity level they can handle and a complexity of the story with characters who speak to a child who is eight to twelve. As I explained to a befuddled Dad, kids who are nine and ten and go straight to young adult sometimes don’t come back to the books that were written for them. And that to me is the real tragedy in all of this.

So, how do I, as a bookseller, gently sway parents from buying a book their child is so obviously happy to read, but I feel is far too old? It’s a question I’ve been grappling with, unsuccessfully, for weeks. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

Self-Publishing Tips

Josie Leavitt - June 12, 2009

As the owner of an independent bookstore, I get approached at least twice a week by self-published authors asking me to sell their books. The world of self-published books has changed a great deal since we’ve been open. The quality is vastly improved — even Kinko’s can produce a handsome book. The challenge becomes how to distinguish your book from the multitude we see a year.

I’ve amassed a list of what I’d like to see happen to make this growing area of bookselling as beneficial as possible for both parties. I’ve had some great success with self-published books. So if you’re an author, don’t despair, you can almost always get your book on the shelf. One thing I’ve changed is that now I’ll take one copy of any self-published book on consignment. This involves no risk on my part and it allows your book to spend some time on the shelf.  Just know that shelf space is at a premium. If after three months, the book hasn’t sold, it may wind up in the back room until there’s more room on the shelf.  

One cardinal rule: if you want me to carry your book and you live locally, you should make an effort to shop at my store.

Do: Make your book look as professional as possible.

Have a spiral wire binding (unless it’s a church cookbook), laminated pages or folders.

Do: Send an email with details about your book. I love emails; I can’t misplace them and I can quickly refer to it when I need to. And they give me an easy way to contact you.

Don’t: Come to the store unannounced and expect me to drop what I’m doing to review your book. There’s nothing that puts me off more than this. Respect my time and I’ll be much more disposed to look favorably on your book.

Do: Call to follow up on the email you sent.  This reminds to review the email if I’ve missed it.

Don’t: Be hurt if I don’t remember your book right away. We see lots of books. My lack of memory means nothing, other than I just don’t remember. It’s not a condemnation of your book.

Do: Try to leave a reader’s copy if you want me to carry a novel. I do try to read them and if I like the book, I’ll happily take several copies.

Don’t: Get mad at me for asking for a copy to read. I know it’s expensive to have extra books; if you can’t have a copy for me to read, then maybe an excerpt would be good. I can’t just have things on the shelf I know nothing about. So give me so info that can help me sell your book.

Do: Try to price your book within the market ranges. I know picture books can be expensive to print, but a $25 paperback picture book will be hard to sell.

Don’t: Not listen to your local bookseller’s advice. No one knows the market better than your local indie. Listen to their hesitations about carrying the book. See what you can do to modify the price. We had one self-published book that was really overpriced; we recommended a different printer and she got a much better price. As a consequence of the lower price we were really able to sell the book. I think by the time the print run ran out, we’d sold over 200.

Do: Think regionally.  You’re much more likely to get your book placed if it’s got something to do local region. We’ve had good results with a book about boxers in Vermont.

Don’t: Expect a Vermont bookstore to carry a book about California ponies. 

Do: Have an invoice for consignment available when you want me to carry your book. In a perfect world, I would have my own form, but sometimes we run out, and it’s really helpful if you can keep track of the paperwork.

Don’t: Expect me to buy three copies of your book. It’s not personal; it’s business. Better to have the book on the shelf than not at all. We sold thirty copies of a Chapbook on consignment and it worked out well.

Do: Tell your friends and the press (if you live locally) that your book is available at my store.

Don’t: Not tell me if you’re going to be featured in the local paper.  Nothing is more frustrating than getting caught by surprise by not having a book on hand that’s been featured in the paper.

On the whole, the future looks bright for self-published books. With the increase in quality, the stigma of self-publishing is going away. Remember to make your book look as professional as possible and be patient.  We want you to succeed and nothing is more exciting than seeing a self-published book take off.

One new Don’t: Please don’t use the comments field to promote your own book. Those comments will be edited. This is a space for conversation, and as tempting as it may be to mention your titles, this isn’t the right venue for that. Thanks for understanding.

On the Street Where You Read

Alison Morris - June 11, 2009

Picture a world comprised of book covers, book spines, and people cut from actual book pages. That’s the world created by Apt Studio and Asylum Films in the stop-motion video "This Is Where We Live" that they produced for the 25th anniversary of 4th Estate (an imprint of HarperCollins in the U.K.) some seven months ago, though I only just stumbled upon it today, completely by accident! I love the whimsical quality of this short film and am especially taken with the thought of paper birds emerging from paper trees. Beautiful!

If you enjoy this video you might also enjoying taking a peek at the production stills and watching the short time-lapse films of the animators cutting out scenes, the production team building the sets, the crew filming the shots, etc.

This Is Where We Live from 4th Estate on Vimeo.

Summer Reading Should Be Fun

Josie Leavitt - June 9, 2009

I am really glad I’m not a kid this summer. I have just amassed all the summer reading lists for the schools in our area. Why do so many schools feel compelled to force classics and only classics on kids during the summer? Why not mix it up, with some classics and some more current books? I understand wanting to expose to the classics because of the wrting and big themes, but these things exist in lots of Young Adult literature.  I’d get creative if I were planning an entire summer reading list — such as, if you want to read Twilight you must also read Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

I am very curious what you Shelftalker readers would put on a summer reading list for kids in the 7th to 12th grades. Next week I’ll tally the results and we’ll have our own Shelftalker list.

I’ll get the ball rolling with four of my choices:

The Human Comedy by William Saroyan
Collected Stories of Eudora Welty by Eudora Welty
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

So, let’s make a great list!

Yes, I Think About These Things

Josie Leavitt - June 8, 2009

It seems once a week or so, I like to voice an opinion about the publishing world. Today, my thoughts alight on invoices. I’ve been in this business now for thirteen years and I’ve come to know the different publishers’ invoices all too well. It’s minutia, but it’s my world.

Let me walk you through a shipment. We order the books, the books arrive in at least one box, often times several boxes, and then the fun begins. Where oh where is the invoice or packing slip that allows us the receive the books? Some publishers, most in fact, will indicate on the box which one has the needed papers. Although I’ve yet to discern the magic behind which box the distributors put the invoice in. But then, where in the box is the elusive slip? You’ve got to root around the box to find the paper. Some publishers leave it on top. More often than not, it’s crumpled at the very bottom of the box and there’s no way to Houdini it out there, like whipping a tablecloth out from under a china setting, without taking out all the books.

I’ve noticed a trend with shipments these days: duplicate information in the guise of a packing slip and an invoice. In Simon & Schuster’s case they are identical, as far as I can tell, and they’re stapled together.  If they’re stapled together, do I really need a packing slip? Why not just the invoice, which is the piece of paper that I keep? Ingram and Baker & Taylor have packing lists in every box, which is fine, I guess, but then you still to have cross-check everything against the invoice. One thing I love that Ingram does and wish more publishers would take up, is a packing list taped on the outside of every box. This way, when eager customers come in, I can scan the boxes quickly and efficiently, thus impressing the impatient shopper when I can find his book quickly among the six boxes I’ve gotten in that day.

Oh, this is a total pipe dream, and slightly off topic, but wouldn’t it be great if the our boxes could get packed so our special orders were all together in one box and we didn’t have to rip open all the boxes to organize all the special orders. Wouldn’t that revolutionize the holidays?

Once we’ve found the invoice and now must check off what’s come in. There are no uniform-sized invoices in publishing. Penguin seems to have the smallest, although they have this weird habit of having a page of invoice info and then a "This page intentionally left blank," followed by more book info, and another page "intentionally left blank." So, what should be a two-page invoice turns out to be four pages with half the pages blank. Surely, the printers at Penguin can just keep printing an invoice rather then skipping every other page.

If I get a big shipment in, we generally tear the invoice apart, rebuild it and staple it, so it’s easier to manage.  Random House invoices are very wide, with about eight columns of information: the UPC code, the ISBN 10, the ISBN 13, the number of books per carton, then what you ordered and the price. I really only need three of these columns, but must wade through all of these to get what I need. Oh, and is it just my aging eyes, or does Random House seriously need to get some toner? The print is so faded I can barely read the numbers. These invoices can only be processed by our younger staff. These two publishers have only black print on white paper with very little space between the lines. This can make it difficult to see.

MPS invoices are just enormous. There’s the book info which is large, easy to read and nicely organized with contrasting blue and white paper and black ink. Then there’s the whole bottom part, about three to four inches long, that’s blank. It’s perforated and must be torn off from the main invoice. Again, I wonder, why can’t the paper and the printer work together to eliminate waste and bookseller irritation? However, given the choices, I’d much rather have an invoice I can easily read, so if I must tear off paper, then so be it.

I know this is totally mundane, but, in a perfect world here’s the invoice I’d have: large enough to easily read, with every other line of the paper a different color, only the ISBN 13 number (although secretly, I haven’t switched to it yet, so I just type the 10 digit number), the quantity I ordered, the price and my discount, and it would include the shipping charges, thus saving me the inevitable phone call to find out what they were.  The paper would be of a normal size with no waste, intentional or not. 

Oh, and all the discounts would be a little bit higher.

After BEA, the Work Begins…

Josie Leavitt - June 4, 2009

Better than a Sham-Wow: great ideas from BEA that actually work!

The following is my compilation of the most important things I need to do since returning home from BEA.

Oh sure, BEA was fun, but now it’s time to implement all the ideas we heard about. I can’t help but remember what John Rubin said last year at Winter Institute, that if we didn’t implement new ideas within 10 days, we weren’t going to. Okay, I’ve been home five days and I’ve made some awesome lists, but it’s time to lay it all out so I can make sense of it. So here goes.

The educational session, Thought Leadership, has really lingered with me. The main thing I’ve absorbed is thinking differently about getting into the school system and how this can lead to future sales down the line. The whole premise of Thought Leadership is how to patiently build relationships within your community and having the faith to know that it will pay off with future sales. There are book fairs which everyone conceded were not good money makers; however, they are a great way for the school community to see what makes your store stand out from Scholastic’s book fairs. And it gives you a great chance to showcase your unique stock. I will now try not to say "no" to the next school that asks me to do a book fair. I’ll say "yes" and see what happens.

The other thing I really learned from this was to become a provider of continuing education credits for teachers.  Take book talks and a teacher night which most of us do already. If your store registers with the local district office, you can get set up as a provider of continuing education so the attending teachers can use it to fulfill three hours of continuing education credits. You continue to provide your expertise, but now your target audience can get even more out of your presentation. You can also take the show on the road and help provide part of an in-service day for schools. You get paid a nominal fee for the service and your store is exposed to more teachers than might otherwise come in to shop. I just love this idea. It’s the perfect marriage of what the store already does and what local educators need. I will update this as I progress through set-up and implementation.

One piece of advice I came away from the Small and Medium Store Roundtable was to not check my email as often as I do. It can distract from my real list of things to do. Every morning, or right before bed, I will make a list of four to five things I would like to accomplish. I will keep the list doable and not leave work until they’re all done. I think a five-item list stand a very good chance of getting done. Often putting out the small fires of day-to-day retail can get in the way of the big picture, like getting into the schools. So, one of my list items will be a step toward reaching a long-term goal.

The last thing I want to get done is send the follow-up emails to the publicists I met. Each one said in response to my inquiry of arranging an author visit was, "Send me a proposal." Okay, proposals are item number one on tomorrow’s list.

In case you were like me and didn’t get to all the booths you wanted to find out about specials, this link will lead to a listing of all the show specials. Some theoretically expired with the show, although I’ve always found this to be a flexible deadline, especially if you call pleading while placing your order.

Summer is also a great time for huge deals. Penguin is having an awesome series of specials. If you need to restock the perennial favorites Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Katie Kazoo, and Hank Zipzer, there is a great buy-two-get-one-free deal which works out to saving a whopping 66%. There are more specials so contact your rep for all the details.

Random House, long known for not having specials, is having a great one through the end of July. Place a minimum order of 50 units and you get an extra 3%

So, like a Sham-Wow, I hope this post can be used again and again to make your bookselling life easier and maybe more fun and profitable.

Still Smiling

Josie Leavitt - June 1, 2009

Nothing crash lands you back to rural Vermont faster than coming home from a great BEA in exciting New York City to your house with trees down and no power.  With little else to do but clear tree limbs I had lots of time to reflect on the show.

One thing that struck me about this BEA was it was more about networking and seeing friends than doing hard-core book business. I must admit, it’s hard to do business when you’re barely on the floor. I found much better places to hang out this year. Maybe it’s age, I like to think it’s wisdom, but I didn’t run around all crazy. The ABA lounge was great.  I found several children’s booksellers in there on Thursday and we had our own “state of the business” talk that was as informative as the educational sessions.

Friday, of course, was the Not-a-Dinner and (mostly) Silent Auction. Loads of fun. Changing the order around seemed to really work with the program first and then the food. The sponsor publishers and invited guests had the only open bar in the hotel until the dinner start and, boy oh boy, was it hard to tear folks away from that bar. Why must all of us in publishing be such clichés? The program was hosted by the very funny Shannon Hale, who set a great tone with her charm and good humor.  I was moved when Shannon let her emotions about introducing Katherine Paterson (clearly a hero) get to her. It was lovely and reminded me of the lasting power of words and how affecting a body of work can be. 

The auction seemed successful (even if you only count how much I spent) although I don’t have final numbers yet. The milling around and talking to booksellers, author and illustrator friends was fun. I had a task to approach women with red handbags to see if they had inadvertently taken an envelope off the auction table. Well, this dandy excuse allowed me to have a reason to speak to Sarah Dessen, Kate DiCamillo, and Judy Schachner as well as many other nice and accommodating women. I lost track of my task when I started chatting with Brian Selznick. (For the record, he didn’t have a red handbag.)

I really liked everything about this new format except two things: no bar before the program except for the publishers’ invited guests and no mashed potato bar.  The food was more substantial this year and I really appreciated the forewarning that the food would begin at 7:30, so I could plan my lunch accordingly. Oh, and the art was just astoundingly good. So many amazing pieces — it was a little overwhelming, but in a great way. Everywhere I looked there was another gorgeous piece. I left Friday night with more than I could carry back to my hotel, and a budget that was broken, but I was, and still am smiling.

Saturday was very busy, again, not on the show floor. Elizabeth had a signing at Candlewick for her book Dogs on the Bed. What should have gone from 9:45-10:45 am didn’t end until 11:30, because there were so many people. So I did what I do at her BEA signings: bounce around happily and take pictures of her chatting and signing. It never gets old.

A real show highlight, provided by Little, Brown. At 1 p.m. we were whisked away with 15 other booksellers to a swanky hotel on the edge of the meatpacking district where we got to have tea with Julie Andrews. Julie Andrews! She and her daughter Emma Walton were joined by illustrator Jim McMullan to speak about their poetry collection, Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies. What an accomplished and fun trio. Nervous booksellers (I can’t speak for everyone but Elizabeth and I were nervous, and I was sitting properly, back straight, minding my P’s and Q’s) got a chance to get to know these three in a relaxed setting. My advice to all booksellers: order it by the carton for Christmas.  You won’t be able to keep it on the shelf.

Lastly, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Jerry Pinkney at dinner on Saturday. I love him. When he started off the conversation by asking why people Twitter, I knew we’d have a good time. And his new book, The Lion and the Mouse, is simply stunning, practically wordless with illustrations to just pore over.  I don’t want to jinx the book, but have plenty on hand in January.

Well rested (with no power, you go to bed early), I’m re,ady to face my regular workday. But I’m still beaming from a great show.