Monthly Archives: January 2010

Would You Like a Bag?

Josie Leavitt - January 12, 2010

Would you like a bag? It’s a simple question. One that I must ask countless times a day. Maybe it’s because I live in Vermont and we’re supposed to be eco-friendly up here, so folks seem to take an inordinately long time to answer the question. I can see their thought process: I shouldn’t get a bag, it’s wasteful. I only have two books, I can just carry them out and put them in the car. My car’s a wreck. But it’s a nice bag, and it’s recycled paper. I shouldn’t get a bag. Oh, but I’d re-use this one. I can recycle this one. And on and on it goes. In the meantime I have customers in line waiting to get rung up who know how they feel about bags.

The bag issue is starting to loom large at our store. We are currently out of most of our bags and are deciding what/if to reorder. Yes, all of our bags are made from recycled paper with a minimum 30-40% post consumer content, so I feel good about that. But does every purchase automatically warrant the offering of a bag? Invariably, when I neglect to offer a bag, they want one, and when I do offer a bag, more and more, an Envirosax or some similar folds-up-to-nothing-bag that holds 100 pounds gets flung out of purse in a strident flourish, making me feel foolish for even offering. Sometimes, I can see someone really struggling about the bag issue. I tell them, "It’s okay to want a bag, really, it is." Bag guilt shouldn’t happen.

The great thing about bags is they are advertising for your store. Ours is a destination store in a tiny downtown (two streets). The parading of our name about town is minimal, so we don’t get a ton of pop from folks seeing the bag. What does provide great advertising are our lovely canvas tote bags with our logos. Again, these are eco-friendly, made from recycled cotton with soy-based ink from a women-owned company in New Hampshire. These totes show up everywhere. We’ve had folks send of pictures of their bag (similiar to what kids do with Flat Stanleys) from Russia, Greece, and South Africia. My painfully shy mom uses her in Connecticut and regularly gets stopped by another shopper wanting to discuss the Flying Pig.

We give our tote bags away as a premium. You spend $75 at once, you get a free tote. We buy in bulk, so it’s not expensive for us to do that and people will often spend up to $75 just to get the tote, so this works. I see them every day at the market, which pleases me everytime.

So, back to the bag discussion. We must continue to offer bags, obviously. Just as we’ve done recently with our gift wrap, we’ll keep making it as green as possible and only hope that folks have made their bag decisions before they come to the front of the line. And if they take one of our bags, at least they can feel good about it.

Katie McGarry: A Great Rep

Josie Leavitt - January 11, 2010

The publishing world is changing these days, and until last week I was not particularly saddened or enraged by job cuts until my Simon & Schuster rep, Katie McGarry, was among the several field reps who were let go last week in favor of a telephone sales force.

What I can say is how much I enjoyed working with Katie over the past decade. Katie’s humor and smarts made meetings with her a joy. In the last few years we’d taken to having breakfast at Shelburne Farms talking about ourselves and a little bit about publishing. After breakfast we’d take our coffee to Adirondack chairs overlooking Lake Champlain and go through the samples and the catalogs. It was heavenly. Honestly, if you want me to buy more of your books, feed me a little first,  and tell me what you love from your catalog.

Katie knew her books. Even when S&S restructured her job a few years and she did adult books as well, she hit the ground running and could speak conversantly about the entire list. And let me tell you, an S&S list is possibly the largest list out there — the kids’ catalog alone usually hits 300 pages. She took her time to get to know our store and what we stocked, so a 300-page catalog involved a lot of skips. There was never pressure to buy books. I would often buy books on the strength of her saying she loved it. Her descriptions of books were to the point, and she let me read the F&G’s without talking about what happened to the duck. She had her own opinions about the books and that was refreshing. She would always let me raid the back of her car for galleys. She never got mad when I lost my catalogs. She loved our dogs and they loved her (this can’t be said for everyone). I always felt like Katie was working for me, not the other way around. She finessed the system when trying to get us authors for events. 

Last year, S&S restructured again and Katie’s territory changed. She called to say that she would no longer be our rep and I got choked up. I felt the loss of Katie immediately; I knew I had not only lost a great rep, but no longer would we have an excuse to have those wonderful breakfasts. Katie is just a lovely person, whose meetings I looked forward to, whose funny stories I loved hearing and would often repeat, who happened to just love books. She would handsell her catalog the way we handsell books in the store.

Katie is a great rep, and some smart publishing company, which realizes the value of two people sitting down face to face, should snap her up in a heartbeat, and make sure her territory includes Shelburne, Vermont. 

Prevent Fines, Record Reading with This Handy Calendar

Alison Morris - January 8, 2010

Last week when we asked readers to share their Reading Resolutions, did you include plans to return your library books on time OR record more of the books you’ve read? If so (or if not), feast your eyes on this handy and inexpensive ($4) tool for logging one’s borrowing and/or reading!

My favorite guilty pleasure blog, Design Sponge, recently featured the Overdue Book Calendar available from Etsy seller Aunt June (a.k.a. Lauren Hunt), and I was charmed, charmed, charmed by this clever creation! Each month of the calendar features drawings of 13-15 books with blank spines, on which you can record the titles of your library books and their due dates. OR (this is what I’m thinking…) you could use the calendar as a simplified reading log. Instead of recording books you borrow, record the books you’ve read, and the date when you did so. If you write small enough, you could even record a short review beneath or alongside the book’s title information. That way at the end of 2010, you’ll have a wonderful visual reminder of all the books you read this year! (Or, if 13-15 spines per month won’t cut it for you, you’ll at least have a decent sampling.)

For $4, Aunt June will e-mail you a PDF of the calendar. You can print out as many 8.5 x 11 copies as you’d like on your home computer or get your calendar(s) printed at a local copy shop.

What a great New Year’s gift for all of your reader friends!

Ordering Nightmares

Josie Leavitt - January 7, 2010

It happens to all of us who order books — we make mistakes, sometimes huge mistakes. Sometimes publishers make mistakes and send vast quantities more than you ordered.

So, as we enter a new decade, I’m curious what has been your worst ordering nightmare?

In a fit of "they’ll run out of it" frenzy, I somehow ordered eight cartons of Annie Leibovitz’s A Photographer’s Life several Christmases ago. While I absolutely adore this lovely, important book, it was $100 and each copy weighed 7.5 pounds. When I stacked my cartons, now magically in stock everywhere, I feared the floor would buckle. I still have some copies because it’s just too expensive to return.

Elizabeth ordered eight sets of the entire Little House on the Prairie series with the black and white illustrations several years ago when it was rumored they were going out of print because the covers were redone. While we love the color illustrations, there is something lovely about the original. Of course, the books never went out of print (the redone covers with photographs of real kids was the version that went out of print) and we had more than enough Little House to keep us stocked for quite a while.

I usually find full-sized wrap to be too long for wrapping a book efficiently, so I generally have my gift wrap rolls cut in half. Feeling smug with my frugality, I ordered a new wrap without checking its size first, and asked for the ream to be cut in half. Well, when the wrap arrived it was teeny tiny. It’s so narrow we can only use it for mass market titles; it’s fairly useless, but it’s pretty.

So, please, one and all, share your ordering mis-ship nightmares, over orders, or other stock miscues.

Resolve for the New Year

Josie Leavitt - January 6, 2010

As I get ready to head back to work next week, I’ve made some resolutions for the store. There’s nothing like really going over the previous year’s numbers to make me realize that some things need to be run a little differently.

– First and foremost, order more from the publishers. I know it’s so easy to get seduced by the distributors and their overnight service, but the discount loss cannot be underestimated in this economy. It’s easy to see, when really looking at the cost of goods sold, that the profit margin for publisher orders is just better, often 4-6% more, and that can really add up. This requires planning ahead a little more and being a lot more organized, and honestly, that can only be a good thing.

– Have more events. Again, a lot of the books on our year-end bestseller list were ones from events, even events that weren’t very well attended. The sell-through on event books after the event continues to thrill me. This year we’re already planning more authorless events that will bring customers to the store while simultaneously creating something fun for the community.

– Beef up the Vermont section. Regional non-fiction books did astoundingly well this year. Admittedly, we had some great local books come out this year, but in general this section always does well.

– I hear every bookseller say this when I talk with colleagues, but claiming co-op needs to be more of a priority. It’s essentially free money just sitting there, waiting for me to ask for it, and ask for it I will. And the more direct orders I make with the publishers, the more co-op I’ll have.

– I need to not wear so many hats. This is the year where I’m really going to try to delegate more. I don’t need to be the one who orders all the books for events. Someone on staff can take responsibility for that and I won’t have to worry about it so much. And I bet there will be fewer moments of "Uh-oh! We don’t have books and the event is next week."

– Make sure to take one full day off a week, every week.

– Lastly, try to re-read this list monthly, so I don’t lose my focus.

I’d be curious what other booksellers have resolved to do differently in 2010, and what you hope the change will bring.

Hail to the Chief (Katherine Paterson)

Elizabeth Bluemle - January 5, 2010

The bright-burning torch of the national ambassador for young people’s literature has been passed: from the estimable and mischievous Jon Sciezcka to the estimable and mischievous Katherine Paterson, and we couldn’t be more delighted with both parties.

Motoko Rich of the New York Times has written a lovely article about Ms. Paterson, and I don’t want to repeat what has been said there. But I would like to say congratulations and thank you to both ambassadors. The multi-award-winning Mr. Scieszka has been a joyful and lively helmsman at the wheel of national awareness of and appreciation for children’s books (you didn’t realize that the "National Awareness of, & etc." is a ship, did you?). He has made something real, vital, and valuable out of what could have been a merely ornamental role.

To declare Ms. Paterson an ambassador for children’s literature is, of course, a redundancy. She participates in several international conferences on behalf of children’s literature, literacy, and peace. She has won countless awards for her individual works of fiction, and no fewer than 23 awards for her entire body of work, including the prestigious international Hans Christian Andersen Medal for Writing, and Sweden’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. The Boston and New York Public Libraries deemed her a Literary Light and a Library Lion, respectively, and she was even declared a Living Legend by the Library of Congress in 2000.

You’d think a person might rest on her laurels after all that, but no: Ms. Paterson has also been on the board of the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance since its founding and has served as its Vice President. She continues to travel widely, speaking and listening, writing and advising, learning and teaching.

In short, she is not only a brilliant, wise, and funny writer, but a tireless advocate for children around the globe. She’s also an exceptionally inspiring speaker. Not too shabby. She would be an utterly daunting role model, except that she won’t stand still long enough to be put on a pedestal, and wouldn’t stay there if you succeeded. There couldn’t be a better person to represent children’s books and the interests and concerns of both children and the people who write and create art for them.

I hope you’ll all add your cheers, anecdotes about Jon S or Katherine P, and/or any hopes for what might be achieved in children’s literature over the next few years. Oh, and Happy New Year!!


Many thanks to the photographers: Photo of Jon Scieszka with his ambassador’s medallion by Michaela McNicholy. Photo of Katherine Paterson in Sweden by Helene Komlos Grill. Living Legend medal image found here.

Vacation Thoughts

Josie Leavitt - January 4, 2010

I am on vacation. A real vacation, where I have nothing, absolutely nothing to do. The store is in the middle of its two-week holiday, and is closed, so there are no distractions from there with phone calls about book orders or staffing issues. With this much free time I breathe easier. The "shoulds" are silenced for a little while, and that is a huge relief.

So, with nothing pressing on me, I find my thoughts turning to the store in a more relaxed, reflective way.  I have time to really think about some of things that really worked. They were sidelines, handselling and the next book in a series.

It’s always interesting to me how well sidelines do in a bookstore. Our stuffed animals along literary lines work well. It’s fun for folks to buy a gift book and then ribbon a small stuffed animal to the outside of the package. This is best done with a basket of stuffed animals by the register that are all under $8. Funky toys, silly trinkets and funny cards are good sellers. The New Yorker cards are by far our bestsellers, and at $3.50 apiece there’s money to be made, especially when most people buy them in bunches. I marvel at our sidelines as I have nothing to do with them. These very cool things come in and I’m seeing them for the first time. Sidelines are the domain of my partner, Elizabeth, who even on vacation, is combing through catalogs looking for things that are unique and fun.

The power of handselling continues to amaze me. I watched during the holidays as customers came in with their newsletters marked up, but would still want us to talk about the books with them. If someone on staff loved a book, as JP did with Tumtum and Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall by Emily Bearn, we can sell it hand over fist, sometimes just by saying, "JP loves this book." People come to indies for a variety of reasons, but it was driven home over the holidays that they mostly come for us, the folks behind the counter who read enthusiastically and recommend books with passion.

Lastly, the thing that struck me was the continued success of franchises, for lack of better word. Twilight continued to sell as the moms of the teenagers got ahold of it and slunk in begging for more. I must say, with the exception of Harry Potter, I’ve never seen more kids, especially younger kids, pre-ordering a book like they did with the fourth Diary of a Wimpy Kid. As soon as the publication date was announced these kids were making their orders, and release day was a blur. The latest Alex Rider, Percy Jackson, Mysterious Benedict Society and Hunger Games titles all had kids and parents streaming into the store. Kids today are very savvy about release dates. They are on their favorite author’s website, and they are sometimes more on top it than booksellers. Some have learned the very hard lesson of worldwide publishing rights, as I patiently explain why I just can’t get that book from England.

I have one more week of vacation bliss, and while I’ll continue to think about the store, right now, as you can see from the photo, we’ve got some snow here in Vermont, and I’m going to snow shoe.

What Are Your Reading Resolutions for 2010?

Alison Morris - January 1, 2010

Happy New Year, ShelfTalker readers! If you’re like me and a large section of the population, you’ve probably been making a few resolutions during the past 24 hours. If so, were any of yours reading-related? In wanting to put together a post about reading-related resolutions I went digging for some examples of the type of challenges we readers sometimes set for ourselves.

Celeste Ng, a blogger for the Huffington Post, recently announced her 10 ambitious "Readerly Resolutions" for 2010, which include her intentions to "borrow a Kindle and read an e book," "go to more author readings," "subscribe to a literary journal (not just the New Yorker)," and "re-read an old favorite."

Last year, Kelly Watson of Romancing the Blog resolved, among other things, to read one YA book for every adult book she read, to try to read at least one author that’s new to her every month, and to read "at least two books from the genres [she] avoid[s] like the plague: Horror and Western."

Also at the start of 2009, the bloggers of the Eleventh Stack blog of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh each announced their intentions for the year. I loved reading their well-intentioned and wide-ranging remarks. Renee resolved, for example, to write reviews of everything she’s read (a resolution I should be making myself); Irene resolved to finally read Moby Dick from start to finish; Julie resolved to read or re-read all the books about which she’d be leading discussions at the library; and Bonnie resolved to "get a bus pass and stop driving to work. Since I got my parking pass, my reading habits have become deplorable. I know that if I’m riding public transportation, I have at least an hour of reading time guaranteed every day."

How about you? What are your reading resolutions? Announce your intentions here and at the end of 2010 we’ll check back in to see how many of you actually read or did what you resolved to do. Perhaps by publicly announcing your intentions you’ll be increasing the odds that you’ll actually follow through!

(The 2010 image at the top of this post is by Francesco Marino.)