Monthly Archives: July 2009

A Year’s Worth of Children’s Book Events

Alison Morris - July 14, 2009

As we gear up for our only big children’s author event of the summer with the great Kevin Henkes on Saturday, July 25th, I’ve been thinking about all the amazing events we’ve hosted in the past 12 months and how few of them got mentions here. How could I have left you out of the loop on so many? Because when they come this fast and furious there’s rarely enough time left to tend to much else, let alone write lovely photo-laden recaps of each of them.

What follows is the list (and my sincerest apologies if I’ve left anyone out!) of children’s and YA authors and illustrators Wellesley Booksmith hosted, either at our store or elsewhere, between August of 2008 and June of 2009.


Friday, August 1, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith


Michael Scott – The Magician (Random House)

Monday, Sept. 15, 2008 – school visit at Weston Middle School


Dugald Steer – Monsterology and Spyology (Candlewick)

Friday, Sept. 19, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith


Gareth Hinds – Beowulf (Candlewick)

Friday, Sept. 19, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith



Friday, Sept. 19, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith


Jane Yolen – Sea Queens (Charlesbridge)

Saturday, Sept. 20, 2008 at the Wellesley Free Library


Jane Sutton – The Trouble with Cauliflower (Dial)

Friday, Sept. 26th, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith


Patrick McDonnell – South (Little, Brown)

Friday, Sept. 26, 2008 – school visit at Hardy Elementary School, Wellesley


Patrick McDonnell – South (Little, Brown)

Friday, Sept. 26, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith|

Below: Patrick ponders a fan’s question while Mooch, with sock in mouth, hollers out the answer: "Yesh!"


Jack Ferraiolo – The Big Splash (Abrams)

Saturday, Sept. 27, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith


A CUPCAKE PARTY for the publication of If You Give a Cat a Cupcake by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond (HarperCollins)

Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008 at Susu’s Bakery Boutique


Joseph Delaney – The Last Apprentice Book 5: The Wrath of the Bloodeye (HarperCollins)

Friday, Oct. 3, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith


David Shannon – Too Many Toys (Scholastic)

Friday, Oct. 3, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith


Bill Konigsberg – Out of the Pocket (Dutton)

Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith


A tea party (for humans AND dolls!) for the publication of The Runaway Dolls by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin (Hyperion)

Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith


David Macaulay – The Way We Work (Houghton Mifflin)

Friday, Oct. 10, 2008 – school visit at Wellesley Middle School


Graeme Base – Enigma: A Magical Mystery (Abrams)

Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith


Laurie Keller – The Scrambled States of America Talent Show (Holt)

Thursday, Oct. 16, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith


John Green – Paper Towns (Dutton)

Friday, Oct. 17, 2008 – school visit at Dana Hall


Laurie Keller – The Scrambled States of America Talent Show (Holt)

Friday, Oct. 17, 2008 – school visit at Tenacre Country Day School


Laurie Keller – The Scrambled States of America Talent Show (Holt)

Friday, Oct. 17, 2008 – school visit at Bennet-Hemenway Elementary School, Natick


Kate Klise – the Regarding the… series (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Monday, Oct. 20, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith


Susan Goodman – See How They Run (Bloomsbury)

Sunday, Nov. 2, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith


Tomie dePaola – Brava Strega Nona: A Heartwarming Pop Up (Putnam)

Friday, Nov. 7, 2008 at the Wellesley Free Library

Nancy Castaldo – Keeping Our Earth Green (Williamson Books)
Sunday, Nov. 15, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith


Jacqueline Dembar Greene – Nathan’s Hanukkah Bargain (Pelican)

Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith


A Costumed Santa! – Priscilla and the Great Santa Search by Nathaniel and Jocelyn Hobbie (Little, Brown)

Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith


Zoe and R.W. Alley – There’s a Wolf at the Door (Roaring Brook)

Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008 at Wellesley Booksmith


Mo Willems – Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed (Hyperion)

Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith


Jonathan Stroud – Heroes of the Valley (Hyperion)

Monday, Jan. 26, 2009 – school visit at Dana Hall


Jonathan Stroud – Heroes of the Valley (Hyperion)

Monday, Jan. 26, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith


Bruce Hale – Chet Gecko 14: From Russia with Lunch (Harcourt)

Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009 at the Wellesley Free Library


Christopher Bing – Lincoln Shot (Feiwel and Friends)

Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith


Mary Pope Osborne and Will Osborne – Magic Tree House 40: Eve of the Emperor Penguin (Random House)

Saturday, Feb. 14, 2009 – public event at Wellesley Middle School

Below: Mary and Will answer a question from one of their many, many, many fans.


Julie Berry – The Amaranth Enchantment (Bloomsbury)

Thursday, March 5, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith


Mary Amato – Please Write in This Book (Holiday House)

Saturday, March 14, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith


Terry Golson – Tillie Lays an Egg (Scholastic)

Saturday, March 21, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith


Erica Perl – Chicken Butt (Abrams)

Sunday, March 22, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith

Below: Erica Perl signs a Chicken Butt (ha!) for one of her fans, while sporting her signature chicken cap.


Alisa Libby – The King’s Rose (Dutton)

Saturday, March 28, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith


Terry Golson – Tillie Lays an Egg (Scholastic)

Wednesday, Apr. 1, 2009 – school visit at Tenacre Country Day School


Dora the Explorer (actress portraying character)

Saturday, Apr. 11, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith


Chris Bradford – The Way of the Warrior (Hyperion)

Friday, Apr. 17, 2009 – school visit at Millis Middle School


Chris Bradford – The Way of the Warrior (Hyperion)

Friday, Apr. 17, 2009 – school visit at Kennedy Middle
chool, Natick

Below: Chris Bradford poses with die-hard fan Olivia Van Amsterdam, who had already read his book FIVE times before he paid a visit to her school.


Chris Bradford – The Way of the Warrior (Hyperion)

Friday, Apr. 17, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith


Mary Ann Hoberman – You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You (Little, Brown)

Saturday, Apr. 18, 2009 at the Hills Branch of the Wellesley Free Library


Anna Alter – What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe? (Holt)

Wednesday, Apr. 22, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith

Below: In a fun recycling project led by Anna, kids made marigold planters out of old shoes.


T. A. Barron – Merlin’s Dragon (Philomel)

Wednesday, Apr. 22, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith


Kevin Markey – Super Sluggers, Book 1: Slumpbuster (HarperCollins)

Saturday, Apr. 25, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith


Ammi Joan Paquette – The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies (Tanglewood Press/NBN)

Saturday, May 2, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith


Harry Bliss – Luke on the Loose (Toon Books)

Monday, May 4, 2009 – school visit at Tenacre Country Day School


Harry Bliss – Luke on the Loose (Toon Books)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith, co-sponsored by the Foundation for Children’s Books


Catie Copley – Catie Copley’s Great Escape (David Godine)

Friday, May 8, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith

Rick Riordan – Percy Jackson 5: The Last Olympian (Hyperion)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 – public event at Wellesley Middle School

Below: Rick stands with several members of our event staff: Jane Kohuth, Mayre Plunkett, me, Kym Havens, Jack Havens, and Gareth Hinds. (Photo by Mayre Plunkett)


Danielle Joseph – Shrinking Violet (MTV Books)

Thursday, May 14, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith


Megan McDonald – all Judy Moody and Stink Books (Candlewick)

Friday, May 15 2009 – school visits at three local public schools


Megan McDonald – GET MOODY DAY featuring all Judy Moody and Stink Books (Candlewick)

Saturday, May 16, 2009 – public presentation at Hunnewell Elementary School and many Moody activities at the Wellesley Free Library

Below: Megan signs a book for an enthusiastic fans. The people on the patio behind her our enjoying samples of Screamin’ Mimi’s ice cream, flown in from California for the event!


Steve Kluger – My Most Excellent Year (Penguin)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith


Amy Krause Rosenthal – Little Oink and Duck! Rabbit! (Chronicle Books)

Friday, May 22, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith


Peter Abrahams – Reality Check (HarperCollins)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith


Kim Ablon Whitney – The Other Half of Life (Random House)

Saturday, June 13, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith

Michael Sullivan – The Sapphire Knight (Publishing Works)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009 at Wellesley Booksmith

Whew! Makes me tired (but happy!) just thinking about it.

So far the next 12 months are showing lots of promise too, with E. Lockhart, Judy Schachner, Shannon Hale, Trenton Lee Stewart, E.S. Redmond, Kristin Dempsey and Christopher Denise, and Marla Frazee already on the docket. Let the good times roll!

I Love the Library

Josie Leavitt - July 13, 2009

I love libraries. I know this might sound crazy coming from a bookseller, but I love them. I’ve been lucky enough with our store to always be within easy walking distant of the town library. This proximity allows us easy access to the library and they to us. In our old location the librarian would literally walk across the street and she’d be at our store ordering books. Even now in a larger town with the store about two blocks away, weekly I get calls, "Do you have The Last of the Olympians? Can I send the patron over right now?" Yes and yes.

Having a bookstore so close to a library is a great thing. There is no competition between us as some might think. We each serve book lovers in our unique ways. There are some of my customers who never go to the library and vice versa. But with the economy being what it is, I’m hearing more of my customers mention that they’ve been going to the library more often. I am happy for them that they are still reading. Of course I miss their business, but I know when I see them, they’re buying things they can feel really good about. I have found that actually calling the local library to inquire about stock is a great way to calm a kid down if we don’t have the book they’re looking for. We have each saved each other from book disasters by having books on hand and reserving them. And customers who don’t know us are always pleasantly surprised to see that I’m recommending they go get a book for free across the street if I’m out of it. The goodwill that this gesture creates comes back tenfold. This sends the message that we’re more invested in you and your children reading; we just care that you’re reading, and we’ll do whatever we can to put that book in your hands.

The library is also a great to place to work with. They have wonderful programming, so if our story hour has been missed by a customer, we can send them over there. Our teen book group, for whatever reasons, has not taken off, but the library’s has, so I send my eager teen readers there knowing that Katie will take excellent care of them. The two-week checkout system at the library often works to our advantage. Kids can’t often finish a book in two weeks. After two weeks, though, they’ll know if they really like the book enough to buy it at my place.

In Charlotte we did more with our library, probably because we knew them better (something I’m hoping to remedy in Shelburne). Elizabeth taught several creative writing classes to kids during the summers, we hosted many author events there when our tiny store proved to be too small, and we did some book talks there. The library also spent a large amount of money at our store every year buying new books. In Shelburne we get the young adult librarian buying books, but no one else. So, this is a wall we need to break down. But these relationship take time and we can wait and build it up month by month.

As the economic downturn has really taken hold in Vermont, I’ve had several customers come in after long absences and confess sheepishly they’ve been going to the library. I assure them it’s okay. I loved, I mean LOVED, the library when I was a kid, I used to go to the library and get John Bellairs books, The Great Brain and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. And I’d always have to renew the book because I was a slow reader. And it was magic to me. I loved the stamps on the card in the back of the book. There were no bookstores nearby, so the library was my book world. I feel as a children’s bookseller, we’ve created a space that’s as magical as a great library, and fun as a cool store.

Fomenting Small Revolutions

Elizabeth Bluemle - July 10, 2009

This is a relaxed, summer-Friday kind of post, and if you wander through it, it just might connect to books and bookselling somewhere down the page.

Back in the late 1950s, my dad and his friend, Tim Sharpe, decided to see if they could start a fad. They both worked on the college paper, so finding a word or phrase to foist upon the Indiana University population seemed a natural choice. Somehow, they lit on the phrase, "The thing is…" as their devilish weapon, and set out to see if they could get it to catch on. They used "the thing is" in articles, interviews, at parties, and so on, and sure enough, it began cropping up all over the place, seeping into the collegiate lexicon. I find this inspiring, if not exactly inspired.

Over the years, I’ve collected my own set of things I would like to change on a wide-scale basis, and now that there’s this opportunity, this forum, this platform for devious idea propagation (I’m talking about Shelftalker here), it is time to crack my knuckles, rub my hands together gleefully, cackle a bit, and begin the mitosis.

There’s a mini-revolution I have wanted to start for quite some time, because I think it’s an excellent idea and might cut down on road rage, specifically mine. I’m talking about changing our habit of flashing brights at other drivers. Nothing is more instantly infuriating than someone flashing his brights at you at night, especially when you don’t have yours on, or you’re right behind a car that does. The initial flash is usually quick and well-intentioned. But then, if you don’t respond immediately, there’s a second brights-attack: overlong, self-righteous, vindictive, dangerous. Brights wars are blinding, and create instant anonymous enemies.

So try something different, something small and easy and, I humbly submit, brilliantly diplomatic. Instead of flashing my brights, I just flick my headlights off and on. It’s just as fast and gets the message across without arising ire. How cool is that? I know that signal is also used to indicate a police trap ahead, but drivers are smart and can figure out what you’re signaling through context, much the way readers confer meaning to unfamiliar words. (Ha! Like how I did that? Connected driving to reading? Cha.)

Okay, it’s not exactly inventing the concept of micro-loans or inventing easier ways of distributing water to thirsty villages (Play Pumps, rolling barrels, etc.), but hey, it could keep someone from driving off the road blinded, or pulling a pistol out of the glove compartment, or, or… becoming vexed, I will be one happy guerilla. So, DOWN WITH BRIGHTS! UP WITH OFF! I doubt I’ll sway the drivers who enjoy these little nighttime duelling matches, but if I can at least get the mild-mannered people of my town to (not) see the light, I’ll be delighted. If you feel as I do, spread the gesture! See what happens.

My second small-revolution idea comes from an eco-conscious customer, who mentioned a cooking show host adjuring people to cut their pasta water quantity in half. Yep, that’s it. You need about half the amount of water for your pasta and potatoes that recipes call for. There’s an easy way to conserve water that I never would have thought of, and am happy to pass along. Someone Twitter it, would you? Think how much water could be saved even if word got out only in Manhattan. I lived there for years; I know how much pasta you NY people eat. Many social movements use rhyming slogans to get the message across; everyone learned "Loose lips sink ships" in history class. So here’s my (tongue in cheek) offering: PASTA (NOT RICE): HALF THE WATER IS NICE! See? Pass it along. It’s stupid, but you might well remember it next time you pull out the penne.

Thirdly, I recently got my dander up about the phrase, "Man up." It’s a great phrase, fun to say, punchy, economical—a happy coinage all the way around. But it also happens to leave out the half of the population that does truly, wildly "man up" kinds of things like, oh, say, pushing live baby people of out a canal the size of a nickel on a regular basis. I’m already straining the sensibilities of this distinguished publication with that last sentence, I’m sure, so I can’t in fact share my solution to the "Man up" problem, at least overtly. "Woman up" doesn’t cut it, by the way. It just sounds lame, and like it’s trying too hard. That extra syllable drains all the punch out of the thing. "Girl up?" I picture a kid in braids. "Chick up?" I don’t think so. Sounds like you’re about to grab stilettos and a purse. Why are so many of the synonyms for women diminishing? Hmm, "Gal up?" Maybe if you’re on a horse. 

At the risk of offending the faint-of-heart and damaging my professional reputation, I will merely hint that my one-syllable replacement for the word "man" in the phrase starts with a "v" and rhymes with "badge." It’s jaunty, naughty, too crass for polite company but excellent as a surprise laugh-getter at a pub when your female buddy is lining up that perfect two-ball shot to the side pocket, or for psyching yourself up for a particularly unsettling task. "Just __ up, baby," you tell yourself, "You can do it." And then you roar in a Helen Reddy kind of way.

So, "BADGE" UP! It’s about time.

Fourthly, I think we should all read one book in a genre we think we dislike, and possibly surprise ourselves.
For example, adults who dismiss children’s books have a huge treat waiting in store for them; I love seeing the light go on once they discover the challenge and artistry in great writing for children. Of course, I think we should buy those books at an independent bookstore, because we can get knowledgeable recommendations from someone there who will be able to tell us which of the genre’s titles we are likely to enjoy. And then I think we should come back here and post which books we read and whether or not we still hate that genre. No fair picking the worst of the bunch on purpose. You must make an honest effort. So challenge your friends and yourself to BRANCH OUT WITH BO
just once this summer.

So, to recap:





Finally, I just need to report that yesterday, we received a strawberry-apple-rhubarb pie and some gourmet ground coffee from a customer who was thanking us for giving her an ARC when she was having a bad day. How lovely is that?! You publishing types may be off to the Hamptons in jitneys, and for that, we retail weekend warriors envy you, but this Saturday and Sunday, we, too, will enjoy the fruits of our labors. Literally.

Now, go forth and foment! Or start your own. What’s your revolution?

Galleys Galore

Josie Leavitt - July 9, 2009

Owning a bookstore, while lovely, comes with a lot of stuff. Catalogs, more catalogs, publisher kits, and galleys — lots and lots of galleys. I love getting galleys, don’t get me wrong. It’s really important to read the books before sales meetings so we can make intelligent decisions about what to buy and in what quantity. And I still thrill at reading a book six months before it comes out. After 13 years, I’ve got some treasures — a galley of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 and Because of Winn-Dixie, to name just a few. These are galleys that we’ll always keep. Then there are the galleys I enjoyed, but don’t want to keep, add to that the galleys I didn’t have time to read in 1998, and the galleys that don’t fit with my stock, and I’m basically drowning in them.

But, I cannot throw a book out, even a galley. I can’t do stripped cover returns because you’re supposed to throw out the books after you mail the covers to publishers. I just can’t do it. So now I am left with mountains of galleys that have literally taken over my mud room. I actually put eight feet of shelves in there, so the galleys would have a home. The shelves are already full with last year’s and this year’s galleys. Elizabeth and I have a new system: we keep galleys for this year and last year. The rest now need homes.

I try to give away as galleys as I can at teacher’s nights, but honestly, that’s just a drop in the bucket. The past two years I’ve given away the rest, box by box. I know you can’t give galleys to libraries or schools, but there are lots of other worthwhile places to give galleys. Elizabeth and I try give as much thought to our galley gifts as we do to customers in the store. In the fall, the Vermont prison system got three boxes of galleys: one for the men’s prison, one for the women’s and one for the high school. Prisons are often an underserved institution. And because children visit their parents, kids’ books are fine to donate. 

I like to give boxes of books to our local Ronald McDonald House — lots of picture books for the kids, lighter fiction for older kids and easy reading for the adults. We have a massively long stapler that makes stapling F&G’s very easy. This way the picture books read like real books. This past spring we gave a box of galleys to a customer who works with at-risk youth teaching them reading and poetry. This box had a range of reading levels from age eight to adult; all the books were a real hit and we got the nicest thank-you letter. One thing we do to cut down on the shipping costs, although media mail isn’t that much these days is have a local contact for the organization pick the books up. They’re happy to do it and saves a little time and money.

One of my favorite things to do with galleys, especially ones that are for the current year, is give them to one of my kid customers to read and review. I try to be organized enough that I’ll get the buy/not buy reviews in time for my actual meeting. I’ve got an amazing 12-year old right now reading for the store this summer. Her reviews are so well written and thorough I feel I’ve read the book. Her comments are great: "Would be a great book if I were an eight year old boy. I’m not, but I liked it anyway, in a simple way." I have one boy who just puts a post-it on the galley with a very simple YES or NO. Sadly, his reviews, brief as they are, tend to get to me about a year after I need them.

Obviously, our staff takes galleys, but we have a rule at the store — if you take a galley home, you have to find it a new home, it cannot come back to the store. I counted the galleys in my mudroom and I’ve got over 300 just for this year alone. Lots of galleys and lots of great books. Fall is looking awfully good. A year from now, I’ll have to find places for all of these books. But for now, I can enjoy them.

I’m always curious what other stores do with their galleys. If you have a second, I’d love to know how your store deals with them.

Kindle at Poseidon’s Gate

Elizabeth Bluemle - July 8, 2009

I was planning to post something very summery and blueberry-related today, but that will have to wait. A queasy-making tidbit of information earlier this week about the possible next evolution of e-books led to discussions among horrified readers and booksellers: specifically, Amazon’s purported contemplation of adding advertisements to the "pages" of Kindle e-books (more on this in a moment).

While our reaction was universally negative, one bookseller colleague did more than recoil, exclaim, shudder, and back slowly away from the news item. Kenny Brechner (owner of DDG Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, and co-chair of the New England Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council) borrowed Jonathan Swift’s pen, and his message is too funny, too timely, and too terribly apt not to share with you. The blueberries can wait.

Kenny writes:


Anyone wondering how e-books will really bring progress to the act of reading need wonder no further. Just read the quote below from today’s Shelf Awareness.

" is applying for several patents on ads in e-books, according to Slashdot, which has links to the Patent & Trademark Office (oldfashioned) paperwork. One example: "For instance, if a restaurant is described on page 12, [then the advertising page], either on page 11 or page 13, may include advertisements about restaurants, wine, food, etc., which are related to restaurants and dining."

What a fabulous idea, but why stop there when digital texts can do so much more? Thirty second video ads when readers access a new chapter are a sure thing, of course, but what about hyperlinking the text itself? Who wants to read this by Virginia Woolf…

"The wheelbarrow, the lawnmower, the sound of poplar trees, leaves whitening before rain, rooks cawing, brooms knocking, dresses rustling–"

When you could be reading this…

The wheelbarrow, the lawnmower, the sound of poplar trees, leaves whitening before rain, rooks cawing, brooms knocking, dresses rustling–

What an improvement! I mean to say what well turned phrase isn’t made more sublime by turning a profit at the same time. For example E.R. Eddison’s lovely prose can easily be embellished thus…

With such fancies, melancholy like a great bird settled upon his soul. The lights flickered in their sockets, and for very weariness Gro’s eyelids closed at length over his large liquid eyes; and, too tired to stir from his seat to seek his couch, he sank forward on the table, his head on his arms.

Fabulous. One thing I’m sure of is that if Richmond Lattimore had been asked what his one regret concerning his magnificent translation of Homer’s Iliad was, Lattimore would have opined the lack of advertisments linked to the text. How sad it is that he didn’t live to experience the following…

Then looking darkly at him spoke resourceful Odysseus: ‘Son of Atreus, what sort of word escaped your teeth’s barrier?

Setting a book down to absorb a compelling passage will be a thing of the past. Who can pause to reflect while he’s pausing to watch commercials on his e-reader and making purchases between sentences. We’ll all be too busy interacting to be reflecting. The term reading itself will probably have become passe at that point. Hmmmmn. Greading?


[Elizabeth here again now.] *stands, laughing, albeit a tad bitterly, and applauding* Just when you think Kenny’s essay can’t get any better, he coins "greading." Greading. I had to repeat that because it’s so perfect.

What do you think, dear readers, about the possible future of ads in e-books? One assumes the books would be free or very cheap to download, subsidized by the ad revenue. Free and cheap attract many people, especially in tough times.

As we draw ever closer to the world depicted in M.T. Anderson’s Feed, where advertising is ubiquitous, the Internet is wired directly into people’s (excuse me, consumers’) brains, and a market economy is integrated into every aspect of life — I find myself wondering how to counter it. The Obama generation is at least somewhat ad-wary, and perhaps the following generation or two will have enough memory of a time before ads were woven into T-shirt chips, peppered over every web site, and downloaded into e-books to find something wrong, abhorrent and degraded about that ubiquity. But American culture is nothing if not eager to embrace the new, even if we sacrifice a little something (or a lot) in the process, and I wonder if advertising is even now so normalized, so present in nearly every crevice and corner of private life, that soon we won’t even notice it any more.

To leave on a slightly happier note, perhaps the pendulum will swing all the way back until we come to this:

Upsell, Baby, Upsell

Josie Leavitt - July 7, 2009

This is a quick post about the art of upselling. Upselling means getting customers to buy a little more than they came in for. As I told my staff, if we can get six customers to buy one more $15 book or toy, that’s almost a hundred dollars more towards the store’s bottom line. Do this every day and you’re suddenly having a month that’s three grand better than it would have been.

Upselling isn’t hard selling. There’s no buyer’s remorse involved — that should never happen at any store. Customers should leave content and happy with their purchases, not feeling queasy because they bought too much, or bought the wrong thing.

Upselling is asking questions and knowing your stock. A grandmother was in the store yesterday and she had been offered help and said she was okay. I came in and saw her and asked if she was finding everything. The fact that she was going book by book in the transportation section let me know she had only a rough idea of what she wanted. She said, yes. I pressed gently, "How old is the child?" Well, they were her grandsons ages three and four and she wanted a book they could share, but didn’t know what the family already had. I suggested a truck matching game that we had four of, that’s great but wasn’t selling. She bought that, as well as a truck hardcover. If I hadn’t mentioned it, she would have never found the matching game or been really happy about it. And then, because she bought two things for them, she bought two things for her granddaughter.

Another family came in yesterday looking the picture of summer: a mom and three sons. The older boy found something right away, but the little guy was having a hard time. He was offered help, but shyly said no. His mom had tried to get him to choose a book. Finally, the family was checking out, and this little guy looked so sad. I asked him, "Are you sure you don’t want a book?" He looked at his mom and she nodded it was okay. Well, now the whole family got involved, telling me what he liked last month and how well he reads. I gave him The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles and he took it and looked pretty happy about. Then I remembered A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears and ran to get it. I showed it to him and included the whole family in my little book talk. They bought that, too.

Upselling takes handselling up a level. It’s being aware that your customer is looking for something they don’t even know they want. It’s asking someone who’s buying books for other people, "What about you? Do you need a book?" Sometimes, it’s just getting them to talk more about who they’re buying for. It’s the enthusiasm and art of handselling with a keen business eye (don’t recommend things that are you’re out of) and soft touch. While I didn’t upsell six people yesterday, (I only got to four), I did earn the store about $75 more just by asking questions and listening. It was a pretty good day.

My Summer, So Far

Josie Leavitt - July 6, 2009

In a previous post, After BEA, the Work Begins, I mentioned a list of things I had hoped to accomplish after the trade show. I thought I’d give an update. Well, I’m happy to report, I’ve made some progress.

Teacher outreach has been oddly successful. In my other life I am a stand-up comic who also teaches stand-up comedy. One of our staffers met Elaine, the local school superintendent, at the store for lunch two weeks ago. I saw this as a golden opportunity to plug the store and my teaching as a staff training exercise for teachers. Elaine was intrigued and politely nodded. Well, she called me the next day and asked me to teach all sixteen principals in my county stand-up comedy at their annual retreat. Wow.

All sixteen principals in one place! It was heaven. I taught them comedy, they laughed and they did well, I plugged the store and all were receptive to me following up with them about the Flying Pig. I handed each one our last newsletter, a Flying Pig pen and our teacher brochure — if you work with schools at all, make one of these. It’s easier than explaining over and over again what your discount policy is, and it’s a tangible thing teachers can take back to the business office. Plus, it makes you look very professional. I made a real contact with the curriculum and development staffer and we’ve set up a meeting later in the summer to discuss how the Flying Pig can provide Continuing Ed credits to teachers.

My point is, if you do more than work at the bookstore, offer that skill, i.e. book talking, creative writing, team building skills, etc., to the schools and it might be a way to get into the school system. I know of one organization that hired a belly dancer to break up an all-day conference. Every time the principals or teachers see you and have a good experience, they are more likely to want to do business with you. I’ll continue to update as the news warrants. I’m viewing getting into the schools as building one relationship at a time. It’s a slow process, but I’m ever hopeful.

Trade show specials have been a huge boon for us this summer. I did the math and we’ve saved well over $1,000 on orders just since June 1st just by taking advantage of backlist deals. Sometimes, it’s too easy to just go to the distributors, but we’re now rotating all the major publishers weekly to maximize our discounts. Random House, Penguin and Simon & Schuster are pleasingly speedy.

We’ve also done two Business to Business orders for bulk orders, and that saved us hundreds. Business to Business is offered by most publishers and it’s a great way to save money on single-title orders of at least fifty copies per title. Every publisher is different on their rules on their Business to Business, so ask your rep about the rules. This is also a great thing to remember for the holidays and corporate giving.

Yes, while it may be the heart of the summer, it’s actually time to start thinking about the fourth quarter, if you can believe it.

A Visit to The Center for Cartoon Studies

Alison Morris - July 2, 2009

What’s it like to spend every day drawing comics in the company of and under the tutelage of other comics pros? Last November my fiancé Gareth Hinds and I got a taste of this life when we spent the better part of a day at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt. We were there to give a joint lecture (our first!) to CCS students as part of their "Professional Practices" course, at the invitation of CCS Fellow Alec Longstreth. What we quickly discovered was that our hour-and-a-half talk could easily have been twice as long, given the amount of material we had to cover. Gareth talked about his experiences with both self-publishing graphic novels and working with a traditional book publisher (Candlewick), the process of how he creates his work, what digital tools he’s currently working with, and more. I talked, as a retailer, about what trends I see in the world of comics and graphic novels (in particular what I see as it pertains to kids), what I look for in a book as a buyer, what seems to be selling, what really irks me, etc. I brought examples of both good and bad graphic novels currently on the market for kids, plus a handful of comic book-inspired picture books to pass around in an informal "show and tell." 

After our lecture we got to chat briefly with James Sturm (affording me the opportunity to gush, again, about my love for Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow). When I asked James what he’d been working on recently, he explained that he’d just completed a how-to book for kids about drawing comics that had been a unique challenge for him, one greatly aided by the input of his own children. That book, which you’ve already guessed if you read my blog post from last week, is Adventures in Cartooning, a book that I’m calling one of my favorite books of the year. (As an aside, I’m also saying that about When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Have you read it yet?? It is SO COMPLETELY WONDERFUL!! But I digress…)

After our short talk with James, Alec swept Gareth and me off on a tour of CCS and walked us through the gist of the program, which looks like one SUPER COOL "school" if I do say so myself! CCS makes its home in the small town of White River Junction, a short drive from Hanover, N.H., home of Dartmouth College, and an even shorter drive from The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vt. (one of my favorite independent bookstores — stop in and say hi to Penny and Liza for me). This is an area I came to know quite well during my days as the Children’s Book Buyer for the Dartmouth Bookstore, which was then an independent but is now (sadly!) a Barnes and Noble. At the time (eight years ago), White River Junction was a rather depressed place — a small railroad town with a few unique jewels in its battered little crown, but too few attractions to draw many visitors. The arrival of CCS and a number of other creative collectives, though, have helped to breathe a bit more life into the place, making it now a much bigger draw for artists and independent businesses like the chic and cozy Tuckerbox Café (where Alec, Gareth, and I enjoyed a very tasty lunch). The town even received a few recent accolades in Budget Travel Magazine, who called it one of the "10 Coolest Small Towns" (population under 10,000) in the country.

By following the very quaint-sounding directions "At the Polka Dot diner, veer right," it’s easy to enter White River Junction and make your way to the front door of the CCS central hub, housed in a former department store called (seriously) Colody’s Surprise Department Store. ("Surprise! We’re a department store! Sorry if you came here seeking groceries.")

If Colody’s complete name doesn’t have a kicky comic book feel to it, I don’t know what does. Even the fonts on this old sign (which is hanging up inside CCS) scream comics to me — especially the  "FOR THE ENTIRE" bit.

The room below is a lecture room on the first floor of the main CCS building. And that’s me, standing at the front of the room, gesturing about… something.

In the hallway outside that lecture room hangs a small, changing gallery of original art by great comics artists.

The page below was drawn by Craig Thompson of Blankets and Goodbye, Chunky Rice fame. I’m looking forward to the future publication of his book Habibi, of which there are periodic sneak peeks on Craig’s blog.

Here we are now in the basement of CCS where it’s a clear a LOT of work gets done — some of it digital (see the assorted computers and scanners in use below)…

and some of it manual, as these various book-binding apparatuses would suggest.

Now we’ve left the main CCS building and walked a short distance up a side street to a different building. Of course, you wouldn’t know we went outside and walked a short distance, because I was too interested in our conversation with Alec to have remembered to have taken any photos during that part of the tour. (Oops.) This building is home to "The Inkubator." This is studio space where students (and maybe recent alumni…? clearly I should have written this post last November!) can ruminate and sketch and research and sketch and ruminate and sketch and so on.

The place was empty when we were there so it had this sort of "holy" feeling to it — quiet and filled with the glow of softly filtered light. (Insert sound of angels singing here. Singing about comics, that is.)

I like the "no frills" look of this space, below. To me it says: we come here to draw comics. PERIOD. Distractions be damned!

Evidence of a work in progress…

Ideas percolating…

Evidence of research. (Comic book clutter has such great visual appeal, I think.)

From the Inkubator we walked over to an old fire station that’s now home to the Main Street Museum (which has been called, according to the CCS website, "Vermont’s strangest museum") and The Schulz Library, which houses an extensive collection of comic books, graphic novels, and books about cartooning, plus zines and mini-comics too.

Unfortunately the Schulz Library was closed the day we were there, so we didn’t get to explore the shelves, but I did at least manage to press my lens up to the glass and take an interior shot for you.

And that pretty much concludes the photos of our tour, apart from this one very important shot of our tour guide, below. That’s Alec on the left and Gareth on the right.

I say this shot is "important" because (while it may not be clear at first glance) I think it says something about the dedication that cartoonists, long overlooked as "artists," often have to their less-appreciated-than-it-ought-to-be craft. See that beard Alec is sporting? Starting with a clean head and face slate in August ’08, Alec vowed not to cut his hair or beard again until he was completely finished with his in-progress graphic novel Basewood. The race now going on between his beard and his book is, sadly, a bit one-sided, because the beard (and the hair on his head) is allowed to grow all day, every day, while Alec has to spend many of his days doing work that currently earns him a living, and as such the book progresses only in those "off hours" when he finds time for penciling and inking. The good news, though, is that Basewood is indeed moving forward, perhaps in part because the length of Alec’s hair is driving him slightly crazy. Whatever the case, I applaud Alec’s very hairy commitment to the cause, knowing all too well that’s it hard to carve out time for your creative pursuits when your "paying the rent pursuits" have a tendency to interfere.

You can chart the remarkable progress of Alec’s hair/beard growth on his "Basewood Beard" Flickr set and chart the progress of Basewood (about 60% completed!) on his blog.

On a personal note, it was really gratifying for Gareth and me to give a presentation together at a place that attracts as many esteemed lecturers as does CCS, and to be able to publicly display the overlap between our insights into the worlds of books and comics. We came to the book business from two very different places (him from the worlds of illustration, comics and self-publishing; me from the worlds of education and retail), but in our daily at-home conversations we see how neatly these two things complement one another. It was a treat to get to show some other folks that fact too, and immensely gratifying to be praised by CCS students after our jam-packed-with-information session. Each of us has given plenty of lectures and presentations on our own, but it’s nice to know now that, yes, we’re actually pretty good at doing this together.

SO, for this great opportunity, those warm fuzzy feelings, and a terrific tour of CCS, we owe a super belated "thank you" to Alec for having us visit his class and for saying on his blog that our lecture was "awesome," and to James Sturm who suggested Alec contact us in the first place. For the record, we think that CCS is AWESOME too! Who wouldn’t love a school that coaches you on a daily basis in the nuanced art of drawing comics, then awards you an illustrated certificate, drawn by someone like Jim Rugg, when you graduate??

To read more about CCS and have a good laugh, download the PDF of their "How To Booklet," which is a fantastically fun bit of literature created by Kevin Huizenga, whose book Curses is on my list of favorite graphic novels for grown-ups. To see more photos of CCS, search for the keywords "Center for Cartoon Studies" on Flickr. To learn why the art of comics really is an ART, read Adventures in Cartooning by James Sturm, Alexis Frederick-Frost, and Andrew Arnold, then move on (or "graduate") to Understanding Comics and Making Comics, both by Scott McCloud. OR just go read Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. If that book doesn’t demonstrate the extent to which sequential is "ART," I don’t know what does.