Monthly Archives: February 2010

Dinner with Authors: Delicious Evenings

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 8, 2010

A combined Josie/Elizabeth post. First, Elizabeth:
One of the best things about events like the booksellers’ conference we just attended (the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute) is the opportunity to visit with authors and illustrators during dinners or parties hosted by publishing houses. These are very special evenings, because the bookseller/author ratio is pretty low, so we all get a chance to chat with artists whose work we admire, alongside the publicists who work so hard on behalf of their books. It’s also great fun to meet and chat with other booksellers, something we all too rarely get a chance to enjoy. On top of all that, the food is always tasty, the lighting is flattering, and wine happens.
Last Wednesday evening, I had the great pleasure of celebrating Ed Young and Brenda Z. Guiberson’s new picture book, Moon Bear (Macmillan/Henry Holt, May 2010), with both of its creators. They were actually getting their very first peek at the finished book that evening; the book had been flown straight from the bindery to make the event. It was a small magical moment to see Ed and Brenda huddled together, leafing through their book page by page. It’s a beautiful book. In fact, all of the attending booksellers were laughing in agreement about how easy it will be to sell: all we’ll have to do is set out a stack; they’ll sell themselves. It doesn’t hurt that the language is lyrical and repetitive in just the ways young children love, while sneaking in a whole lot of information about this rare Asian bear. Some of the proceeds from the book will go to AnimalsAsia, an organization that works to rescue and rehabilitate moon bears from pretty horrific circumstances. Two representatives from AnimalAsia made a very moving presentation about their cause. They circulated a fabulous book about the rescued bears, called Freedom Moon.
When it was my chance to talk with Ed about his book, he pointed out secret silhouettes he’d hidden in the moon bear’s white neck bands: on one page, his wife; on two others, his daughters; on a fourth, an honored teacher. Booksellers—heck, all readers!—love hearing this kind of thing. Brenda spoke about revealing the bear’s personality through the adjectives she chose to describe him. Booksellers love this kind of thing, too.
The evening ended with a lovely art print from the book the Macmillan/Holt folks gave us to take home, and a unique gift from Ed Young: hand-painted eggs, each sporting a different study of a moon bear! He had made them while figuring out how to paint his contribution to the Open Fields School Goose Egg Auction in May. The chicken eggs he gave us were autographed, and each one had the recipient’s name on it. *And,* he had painted his own facial silhouette onto the moon bear’s ruff on each egg. Yes, if we had died right then and there, we all couldn’t have gone to a happier book-lovers’ heaven. What cracked me up (yuk yuk; or is that yolk, yolk?) was that he brought these eggs nested in their little cardboard carton, and here we were, a dozen booksellers who couldn’t believe their luck, petrified by the task of getting these treasures back home to the four corners of the country without breaking. Would we need to put them through security at the airport in their own grey bin, and cradle them in our trembling hands all the way home? Fortunately, the restaurant had perfect little containers, and our fears were relieved. At least we could carry them back to the hotel in one piece. Honestly, I’ve been afraid to peek into my container since arriving back in Vermont. When I get the courage to check, I’ll take a photo and post it here.
Now for Josie’s dinner notes:
On Thursday night, about ten booksellers were treated to a very a good meal courtesy of Egmont USA. While Egmont is one of Europe’s largest publishers, it’s relatively new here in the U.S. The dinner was to introduce us to David Patneaude, who wrote Epitath Road, a dsytopian young-adult novel that captivated me during all my down time on Friday. David’s story idea is very creative: a virus has wiped out 97% of the men on earth. Now women are in charge and there is most definitely a new world order. I can’t wait to finish this. [Elizabeth adds: we had an interesting conversation about the book cover, which has been changed from the one you see at left. Both covers are arresting, and booksellers were only semi-joking when we said they should print both as an experiment, since they appeal to very different readers. I can’t wait to read this book, too; I love a good dystopian novel!]
Doug Pocock, managing director of Egmont USA, is a lovely British guy, who unabashedly loves middle-grade fiction. I thought that was pretty cool. Egmont is slowly planning on growing into the U.S. market. Their list right now, while small, is full of some great (and great-looking) books.
Friday night, Bloomsbury took about ten of us to dinner, to meet the author Dr. Cuthbert Soup, author of A Whole Nother Story, a mystery along the lines of the Series of Unfortunate Events, full of humor and fanciful touches. I was struck by how many creative things Dr. Soup has done along the way to becoming a children’s author. What struck me the most was his writing for movies, some of which you’ll know, but I’m not sure I’m allowed to say. I asked him which profession he liked more and without hesistation he said kids’ books. “You can have more fun,” he said. This surprised and delighted me. Dr. Soup is charming and Bloomsbury has him hard at work on the sequel, so we’ll have more to look forward to. I have to admit that both dinners were at the same restaruant which left me wondering if there are no other places to eat in San Jose. I can happily report that the stuffed chicken with mozzarella and prosciutto was equally delicious the second night. I was saddened, though, that we had to leave for the airport before dessert, because the creme brulee was fabulous. (Elizabeth adds: In a rep book talk at the conference, Bloomsbury’s publishing director George Gibson said that “this wasn’t usually [his] kind of thing” to read, but he laughed out loud at every page. After meeting the author, I believe it. He’s hilarious, and you can tell he’s terrific with kids at school visits.)
Back to E:
One last appreciative note: It’s heartening to know that, in this economy, children’s books are one of publishing’s bright spots, and that children’s book departments are a bright spot in general bookstores. Even so, it’s a tough climate for independent booksellers, so special evenings like these bring us back to the magic of what we get to do, and make us excited to return to our stores and recommend books to kids who will love them. Thanks, everyone, for the delightful evenings, to the authors and illustrators, and especially to the gracious and fun hosts of the dinners: Joy Dallanegra-Sanger, Mark von Bargen, and Kevin Peters at Macmillan, Mary Albi and Doug Pocock at Egmont, and Deb Shapiro at Bloomsbury. We know how much work goes into those evenings.

Postcard from Winter Institute

Josie Leavitt - February 5, 2010

I’m in San Jose, California, for the ABA’s fifth Winter Institute, a gathering of 500 booksellers seeking two days of bookseller education. Here are my highlights thus far.
The morning started off optimistically with a keynote by Jack McKeown of Verso Advertising, who gave us a breakdown of a survey that his company did about book-buying behavior (the whole survey is available here). It was a fascinating presentation, full of good news in terms of book-buying habits. Baby boomers and retired folks read the most and they love indies. I’m giving you the down and dirty, but that was the upshot; read the whole survey to learn more. One great thing Verso Advertising is doing is creating and processing a survey for ABA in time for presentation at BEA; the best part about this is, booksellers can contribute questions at the website. Links for all of this should be up on as well as the Verso site. People left the breakfast not only well fed (eggs and two kinds of meat) but encouraged.
After this I headed to the small/medium store roundtable discussion. I love these gatherings with other booksellers. We all come ready to share what’s working and what’s not. About ten tables with eight booksellers per table gathered and covered topics ranging from staffing and how to have robust events to how best to deal with local authors. The ideas were free-flowing. Staffing issues focused mainly on hiring practices. Some stores have a quiz that prospective applicants must fill out by hand, others have typing tests (never a bad idea), and the best thing I took from the hiring part was to let other staffers participate in the interview process.
The discussion really took off when authorless events were discussed. I was blown away by the creativity of some stores. One store is having an Undead in the Dead of Winter event and they’re bringing in a mortician to talk about natural deaths. I believe the store owner said this event was already sold out. Wow. What a fabulously creepy and great idea. Other stores have had cookbook nights with a local restaurant cooking from six of its favorite cookbooks and speaking about the books. Forty people attended the dinner and each bought around $100 of cookbooks. Simple, off-site and a great partnership with a local restaurant, this event was a winner.
Lunch was Rep Speed Dating. Every fifteen minutes a rep would come booktalk their favorite books from the coming season. A quick but informative session. The galley grab after lunch was very busy with folks eagerly trying to get the books they had heard about.
Winter Institute is always a whirlwind of activity that gets me thinking creatively about bookselling in a way that nothing else can. A gathering this large of booksellers who’ve come to learn is exciting and fun.

Know Your Turns

Josie Leavitt - February 4, 2010

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This famous quote has been attributed to Einstein and many business professionals. Who said it is far less important that what it means to a bookstore. Yes, we all have computerized inventory systems (at least I think we all do), but what does that actually tell us?
Well, I thought I knew my POS (point of sale) system pretty well and could navigate it smoothly. Then they went and upgraded on me and now I’m awash in a numbers fest that I’m loving. In one single report I can see the inventory turns (essentially, the number of times times you sell the dollar amount of your inventor. See this website to learn more about it).
Why are turns so important? Well, for one thing, they give an accurate view of what’s selling in your store. The misleading thing about turns is: unless you can see each section, rather the store as a whole, you don’t really know what’s working. I think we all have a sense of what sections do well, but do we know what sections are really not earning their shelf space? Does reference earn its keep? Are you surprised that the how-to section had six turns last year? These are very important numbers to know during lean business times.
In looking the number of turns per section from last year I can see that I should stop buying so many bath books and spend more time making sure that my board book section is jam-packed with goodies. I was surprised at how well the Vermont section did, the message that regional books sell well was reinforced. The Vermont State award books for kids also did very well last year. What this tells me is this section will continue turn over as many times as I restock it. So, armed with this information, I’ll be better able to monitor stock levels and take advantage of publisher deals when they pop up. Sections with high turns mean you can try more things there. Take a chance on a new author in the mystery section if the turns are good. If sections did poorly last year, was it because your selection was bad, or were you just overstocked, or did a new garden center open up down the road with a great book section?
Some of this might seem elemental to savvy bookstore owners and managers, but it’s always good to look at your store a different way if you’re the owner or manager of a smaller store. I don’t number crunch well or often enough. Now the report that used to be a hassle to produce,  I see in seconds. Consequently, I can better manage my inventory, and hopefully in so doing, can make some more money.
I’ve set myself a challenge this year: increase the turns in several underperforming sections by the summer or consolidate or get rid of them and give higher performing sections more space. It’s always hard to trim a section, but when you see in clear numbers that your travel section is not doing very well, then maybe you don’t need a travel section. Better to have all sections be amazing than have some duds that are taking space away from others.
So, I’m off to Winter Institute armed with the newfound knowledge of my inventory. I’m hopeful that while I’m out in California, I’ll learn even more ways to make the most of all my shelf space.

Taylor Mali Reads "Reading Allowed" Aloud

Alison Morris - February 3, 2010

Poet Taylor Mali is pretty well known in educator circles, and I’m guessing half the world’s teachers have his poem “What Teachers Make” taped to their walls. (If they don’t, they should.) It was only recently, though, that I discovered his poem “Reading Allowed,” which is too good NOT to share here.
Embedded below is a video of Taylor reading “Reading Allowed” aloud. I will warn those of you watching at work that, um, the start of this poem is pretty sexy. If you’re worried someone will overhear and be offended, keep the volume low at the beginning, then turn it up! If you’re worried someone will see you blushing, then… Best watch this one at home.  ; )

The Pigeon Finds a… (ahem)

Alison Morris - February 2, 2010

Warning: Inappropriate humor! (But I just can’t help myself…)

Today I discovered that whenever someone purchases Mo Willems’ book The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog from our store, the title is truncated on their receipt, so it looks as though they’ve purchased a book that is, um, not appropriate for the picture book section. (Take the last 4 letters off the title above and you’ll see what I mean.)

Inappropriate as it may be, I can’t help picturing the image, rendered in Mo’s playful style, that might appear on the cover of such a book. Or the text balloons on the interior, which (to be honest) wouldn’t have to change that much from those in the Pigeon books. Here’s a page from Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, so you can, um, see what I mean…

I know, I know. It’s terrible!!

But I’ll bet several of you are laughing.  ; )

A Winter Institute Preview

Josie Leavitt - February 1, 2010

I am lucky to be going to the ABA’s fifth Winter Institute this week. Wi5, as it known, promises to be several days of focused bookseller education and a chance to see old friends. While I’m not crazy about flying San Jose, California (it’s a whole day of travel from Vermont), a break from the Arctic weather will be welcome.

The timing of WI5 is good. After a crazy busy holiday season, the regular slow days of January always cause alarm, so it’s good to learn some new things, get fired up again. I am regretfully, now that the whole Macmillan, Amazon, iPad, etc, news has taken hold, not going to be there for the technology day. However, I’m glad that every participant will be given a memory stick of the session handouts (way to save the planet, ABA!) so I can read what I missed. It’s good that both Elizabeth and I will be going, so we can divide and conquer and go to as many sessions as possible.

Sessions I want to attend include:

– Graphic Novels: An Amazing Marketing Event & Opportunity for Independent Retail. Folks from Diamond Book Distributors will help us learn the graphic novel market and how to really promote graphic novels in your store. I know there is only one section of my store I’m afraid of and it’s graphic novels, so I welcome a chance to learn from experts.

– Edelweiss for Fun & Profit. I just need to learn more about the new ordering capability of this program from the folks at Above the Treeline. I have been a little daunted by it thus far, so a session devoted to it could make my life as a buyer so much easier.

– Handselling 201: Using the Digital Age to Your Advantage. I’m not even sure I understand the description, but I’m intrigued enough to go.

B- uying and Selling Non-Book and Gift Items: Let’s talk about getting products in your store with better margins. Someone from the National Association of College Stores will speak about what’s hot on college campuses, and give tips on how to choose non-book items.

This just covers Thursday — phew! Add to this mix breakfast, lunch, drinks and dinner with friends and it’s a great day.

Friday promises to be just as full with sessions on renegotiating your lease (in this economy, who wouldn’t benefit from this); and creating and maintaining a magazine section — something I’ve thought about, but wondered if it would work in my store. ABC (Association of Booksellers for Children) is presenting The Gen Z Reader: Understanding the New Reader of the Post-Electronic Age. I’m looking for inspiration with this session, as I’m despairing about customers who have become "the electronic reader," and I’m not sure what to do.

Let’s not forget one of my favorite parts of WI: Rep Speed Dating. Twice during the Institute reps will show you the highlights from their lists. All I know is I’m at table 11 for both "dates" and am dying to know what the rep picks for the season will be.

Winter Institute gives booksellers a chance to learn and get inspired for the challenges of the year ahead while strenghtening the friendships made through the year with other booksellers. Seems like a win-win if you ask me.