Monthly Archives: April 2011

Lambing Season at the Flying Pig

Josie Leavitt - April 29, 2011

Every once in a while I am reminded that my store is in a rural area. Yes, we’ve got turkeys and deer in the back yard, but I forget that customers are often farmers, and sometimes they’re new at it.
I got a call on Monday from a somewhat frantic woman who was desperately searching for Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep. It seems her first-time mamma ewe had rejected her twins lambs and my customer had her hands full. At first I couldn’t find the book. I took her number and vowed to call her back. I located the book, proving once again the Flying Pig adage: If you wait long enough, we’ll always find the book.
When I called Paula back she was so relieved. Apparently, she had called every bookstore, new and used, in a 100-mile radius of the store and no one had the book. She practically hugged the book. I guess raising two tiny lambs is daunting work.
I called my vet’s office to see if he could help. It seems he and the shepherds had been friends before he moved and he said he would call them. When Paula came to pick her book she looked absolutely exhausted. One lamb just wouldn’t take a bottle. She was worried for him. I made a suggestion of soaking a towel in milk replacer to see if he would take nourishment that way.
I have happy news to report. After a phone consultation with the vet who then dropped off medicine for the young lambs, Buddy and Leggy (Timothy, the lamb’s owner said, “he’s really just all legs”) are thriving young lambs who are running around the barn.
As I was hanging up with Timothy he thanked me for my help and said that only an independent bookstore would go to such lengths, and he lamented that his favorite had closed four years ago, “And there was nothing like it.” I understood what he was saying and took no offense. Every indie lost is felt by many in a lot of different ways.
While, I’m no James Herriott, I like to think I had a small hand in helping young Leggy live. Next week, I’m getting pictures of Buddy and Leggy; I can’t wait.

Author Event Tips

Josie Leavitt - April 28, 2011

I blogged about how to have an author event over a year ago. I wanted to do it again because I feel like some things have so fundamentally changed, that I needed to update things.
– Work with your rep. I cannot stress this enough. Reps are your friend, whether you have a phone rep or are lucky enough to see one in person. If your rep says, “Fill out the author tour grid,” fill out the grid. Some publishers use the grid as a starting place, so don’t shoot yourself in the foot by not doing it.
– When you book an author, make sure you get a confirmation letter from the author’s publicist. Double check the date and time early on in the event process, while you can change things, because if you notice three weeks later that something’s amiss, it may be too late to change things.
– The moment that event is confirmed you need to do several things right away. The first thing to do is place your order, both for the book that the author is touring for and for the author’s backlist (even if the backlist is from a different publisher). The second thing to do is ask the publicist to email you a high resolution book cover, author photo and any press material they might have. This makes life so much easier when it’s time to create your promotional material.
– Once you’ve placed your order, immediately contact your rep and find out how much co-op money you have, and ask what the publisher’s event co-op is. Often publishers will give you 5% of your supporting order to help you out with promotion, wine and cheese or cookie platters, or anything you can dream up. You must get permission before you do anything. Without permission beforehand, you risk losing the money that’s rightfully yours. The beauty of event co-op is your book order then counts for the following year’s co-op pool. In a sense, it’s sanctioned double-dipping.
– Okay, so now you’ve confirmed the event, ordered the books, secured your co-op, now the promotion begins. The moment the event’s confirmed it should go on your website, even if the event is months away. Your website should be a place where customers, new and old, can go see how vibrant your store’s events are. Once the events are your website, make your life easy and cut and paste the descriptions to all the calendar listings in your area.  Calendar listings are an easy, and free, way to get the word about your events.
– Press releases still need to get done, even though some larger city papers don’t use them. Smaller cities with local papers who are often looking ready to use content. Be sure to attach photos in the email. Do not embed them in the press release because then they can’t be used separately, and often papers use the photos in different ways. Send them at least six weeks ahead, especially for papers that come out monthly.
– At least three weeks before the event, set up your event table with the books and a sign that says when the event is. Set up some books at the register and make sure your staff knows the details of the event and can talk about the author’s work with animation and knowledge.
– Now to the social media components. If your store doesn’t have a Twitter and Facebook account, get them. Twitter is a quick, and short way, to let your followers know what’s happening at your store.  Once you book an event, it’s a good idea to send a quick tweet about it. Same thing with Facebook. It’s your job as a bookseller to build momentum for every event your store hosts. You should also set up a Facebook invitation for all your events. You can send this to all the people who have clicked the “like” button on your page. If used well, Facebook and Twitter can really drive people to your events. Also, the power of Twitter and Facebook is enormous, as publicists often follow bookstores. If they like what they see in terms of promotions and how books are discussed, it can help make your store stand out from others, and this can help you get more authors.
– Don’t forget the power of e-mail. If your store collects e-mail addresses, put that info to good use by sending these interested customer news about your store’s events. E-mail blasts are a great way to reach everyone on your list, and this can be thousands of people. The beauty of this is you know that people who are interested in your store are reading information about your store. It’s a much more targeted way to reach customers than a print ad, and it’s a lot less expensive. And, if you’re savvy with your co-op, the monthly fee for your e-mail company is free. Don’t inundate your customers with e-mail. Be selective, be thoughtful and make sure your e-mails are professional looking, engaging and have links that lead back to your website for more information or for book purchasing.
– Events are fun. Yes, they are a lot of work, but when I look at my bestsellers for the year, the lion’s share of them are event books. Remember, the sales possibilities for events do not end with the event. Set up an autographed section in the store and the books will sell long after the author has gone back home. And community goodwill goes a long way when there’s a great event that’s well run.
– Lastly, like your mother always said, send a thank-you note with an event recap to the publicist.

Technology Will Save Us

Josie Leavitt - April 26, 2011

It’s easy to despair when confronted with ever-constant barrage of news that books are dead. Every day folks come in for recommendations that they’re going to download on their e-readers, so in this electronic age, it’s sometimes the littlest things that can make a bookseller’s day.
Twice today customers thrilled me and made me realize that there’s hope for the book and book-related products.
The first was a customer who ordered an actual book on CD from us. She loved the book so much, she wanted to be able to listen to it again while she was driving to and from Boston. A CD! Someone actually wanted a book on CD. She didn’t want to download it — didn’t know how, truth be told. It had been a while since I’d sold a book on CD, I forgot they were discounted and almost charged her full price, which she happily would have paid. She then ordered two more books on CD for her summer trips. She loves having the CDs and knowing where she stopped and not having to worry about listening to a book on her son’s iPod that can shuffle the tracks.
The second customer came in to order a book she already downloaded. She had a parenting book on her phone and she loved it so much she wanted the actual book. This customer decided that reading a book, especially a reference-type book, on a three-inch screen was frustrating. She found it hard to switch back to chapters that she wanted to refer back to: “It’s impossible to take notes or underline. ” Her husband just didn’t understand why she needed two copies of the books. And she came to the realization that text on phone doesn’t necessarily make something into a book for her. When she left I breathed a sigh of relief.
So, if customers want to try technology, get disappointed, or feel the need to augment their experience, I am more than happy to be there to fill gaps and remind people that books are really a complete experience.

For Your Listening and Dancing Pleasure: Songs about Books and Writing

Elizabeth Bluemle - April 25, 2011

I’ve been looking for an excuse to share the first song below with all of my book-loving friends and colleagues, so I’m taking it as a sign that the blog tool ate the post that was supposed to appear today (which I spent hours on, by the way, arghh). So instead of hearing all about the Texas Library Association annual conference, and my agent’s annual client retreat (which I will write about as soon as I can bear to reconstruct the whole post again), I submit to you a small collection of some of my favorite songs about books and writing. If you listen to none of the rest of them, do bend an ear for Moxy Fruvous’s “My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors,” an anthem for the long-suffering partners or book addicts.
(Edited to add: videos were embedded here, but are not showing up. Trying to fix; check back later!)
Moxy Fruvous — “My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors” (Thanks to Kevan Attaberry for introducing me to this one!)
Cake — “Open Book”
The Beatles — “Paperback Writer”
Patty Larkin — “The Book I’m Not Reading”
Harry Connick, Jr. — “I Could Write a Book”
and the Frank Sinatra version:
Pat Benatar — Wuthering Heights
Women in their 40s will most likely remember loving this song — literary passion on the radio? Heaven. (I prefer Benatar’s version to Kate Bush’s 1978 recording (although if you want a chuckle, check out Bush’s two videos from that era on YouTube).
Talking Heads — “The Book I Read”
Elvis Costello — “Everyday I Write the Book”
What are YOUR favorite songs based on or about books and writing?

Fire at a Bookstore

Josie Leavitt - April 19, 2011

In the years I’ve been open, there have been a handful of bookstore fires throughout the country, but Sunday night there was one close to home, and it’s shaken me up.
The Book Cellar, in Brattleboro, Vt., suffered potentially catastrophic losses in a five-alarm fire that took more than 150 firefighters from 25 fire departments in Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire to extinguish. There were no injuries, but the people who live in the 59 apartments in the building will need to find new places to live.
I have never been to the Book Cellar, but I’ve become friends with its owner, Lisa Sullivan. She and I serve on the Advisory Council of the New England Independent Bookselling Association. She’s also a regular at the children’s meetings that NECBA (New England Children’s Bookselling Advisory Council) four times yearly. Her insight into bookselling has always been engaging. She’s quick to laugh at the absurdities of our business and she’s always someone I’m happy to talk to. And she’s just full of great ideas that, with her blessing, I freely emulate.
Fire and bookstores are a devastating combination. The flammability of everything is so potentially destructive. And if the fire doesn’t destroy your inventory, the sprinklers surely will. The photos and the videos on the local news here show a massive fire on the upper floors of the building. The bookstore, on the ground floor, appears to be sooty and water is just streaming down the front door. The big question now is, how safe is the building? A structural engineer will make a determination soon and until then everyone waits.
As a bookstore owner, I feel for Lisa and her staff. Although I can’t know exactly what they’re feeling, I can only imagine how I’d feel if I saw my store in the aftermath of a fire, and it would be tragic. I have emailed Lisa to find out more, but have not heard back.  One thing I do know, Vermonters will rally behind Lisa and her much-loved store, just as they did on Martha’s Vineyard when Bunch of Grapes suffered a massive fire almost three years ago.
So,  while we wait to hear the fate of the Book Cellar, go to your local indie bookstore, record store, restaurant or coffee shop today and tell them how much they mean to you and your community, and since you’re in there, buy a little something, too.

A Lovely Partnership

Josie Leavitt - April 18, 2011

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of provided the books for the South Burlington, Vt, public library annual tea and author talk. This is the second year we’ve helped the library sell books during their author talk; last year the author was Julia Alvarez and this year’s author was the mystery writer, Katherine Page Hall.
I love this event because it allows us to work with a local library which is something we really enjoy. And what makes this event even more special is there’s a Barnes and Noble half a mile away, and the library deliberately choose to work with an independent bookstore. And the author, bless her heart, has stipulated in her contract with HarperCollins that an independent bookstore, if one’s available, should always be used to provide books for her signings. I cannot tell you how gratifying it is that an author and the library are both striving to work with indies. It’s this kind of partnership that will keep indies alive and well.
The tea itself was just delightful: Fancy china, finger sandwiches and trifle. While I was busy selling books, a gracious library volunteer brought me a tasty plate of cookies, sandwiches, strawberries and a cup of tea in a saucer. Patrons were thrilled, the author talk was enlightening about mysteries, and we sold books, which was really just icing on the crumpet.

Candy! Oh, the Candy!

Josie Leavitt - April 15, 2011

We’ve been having a lot of events lately, and last night was one of my favorites: Gesine Bullock-Prado came to the store to promote her newest book, Sugarbaby: Confections, Candies, Cakes & Other Delicious Recipes for Cooking with Sugar. I like to cook, but as many home cooks have discovered, there is a fear to working with sugar, because it always seems so hard, and so easy to mess up.
“Never apologize when you work with sugar.” Gesine’s sage advice resonated with all the attendees. There is something liberating about being told it’s okay to make mistakes. Gesine’s demo was full of humor and fact. She’s very funny and her presentation was peppered with many laugh-out-loud moments.  I learned there’s a huge difference between sugar at 247 degrees and at 250 degrees. On the left are some of the tools of the trade. A marble slab, orange flavor, glycerine, and baking soda; and just to the right is the induction stovetop that works magnetically. It was all magic. Heating sugar turned into a glob on the marble that Gesine slowly worked to cool it so it could be turned slowly into orange taffy. First she cooled it, then added some flavoring and color. When it was cool enough, participants donned gloves with a spray of Pam and twisted the taffy. We watched, transfixed as it changed color and texture. Gesine spoke about mouth feel and how caramel is different than taffy because of the glycerine that’s barely added to the sugar. When all the pulling was done, and the taffy was properly aerated, we could have some. Shyly at first, people sampled the taffy. And it was so good.  Smooth, flavorful and just delicious. I confess, I used the ruse of needing to get a better picture to help myself to another piece. Shameless, I know, but totally worth it.
The tips were abundant: Don’t spend $200 on a sugar spinner, take a whisk and break the metal apart so you’ve got tines. Just as effective and far cheaper. A lot of sugar recipes need an interfering agent. The way Gesine describes it sugar-making is a rebellion. The sugar wants to do its own thing which usually involves sticking to the sides of the pot, the interfering agent shakes things up and changes the sugar. It’s all fascinating and yummy. When the sugar reached 240 degrees, the room was filled with the lovely smell of homemade candy.
As if the taffy weren’t enough, then she made spun sugar, sort of grown-up cotton candy. Lovely delicate strands of sugar that fall on the table and then gathered into a nest-like shape. Hard to photograph the strands, but the technique is really fun to watch. You take the modified whisk and dip in the sugar and then you sweep it across the workspace. Really, it’s so simple. Even the young candy-makers had no problem mastering the technique. The sugar nests were gorgeous and each a different color because of temperature differences. As the sugar hardened the strands got thicker and less delicate, but they were still show pieces.
Events that are hands-on are delightful. Events where the author leaves behind a massive roll of orange taffy are, well, bliss.

The Cat’s Meow

Josie Leavitt - April 14, 2011

It’s not every day that Erin Hunter comes to Vermont, let alone my store. So, yesterday was a special day.
The day started at the Charlotte Central School in Charlotte. Erin (not her real name, more on that in a moment) was early and hung out in the library waiting for the fifth and sixth graders to arrive for their assembly with her. Two fourth graders bounded over, holding hands, actually squeezing each other hands as to say, “Can you believe it? Erin Hunter.” They were in awe. It was adorable. These were among the three fourth graders who actually protested to their teacher that it wasn’t fair that only fifth and sixth graders could go.
Erin Hunter is the pseudonym for four writers, the chief among them is Victoria Holmes, who was visiting yesterday. She explained that the series began with her being asked by HarperCollins to write a book about cats. Ironically, she’s not a cat person; she’s allergic. She shares writing duties with three other writers, whose job is to execute Victoria’s very detailed plot points. They chose the name Erin Hunter for “very commercial reasons: they wanted to be alphabetically near Brian Jacques, whose readers of the Redwall books might find the series very compelling.
Victoria is a wonderful speaker. She’s very honest about her writing and her desire to write about death and violence. Her cats are dealing with some real issues. She’s incorporated her love of martial arts (she’s a black belt in judo) with the Warriors series. She also likes to kill her characters and inflict harm on them. She starts every new book with a character list and sees who she’s bored with and who will die. The kids were as shocked as they were fascinated.
At one point Victoria talked about one  of the clans, the River Clan of cats that swims. She said rather offhandedly, “Have you ever tried to wash a cat?” Well, proving their youthful need to connect, about ten kids  mentioned something about their cats in water. The kids were  awestruck, but got over their shyness to ask lots of great questions about writing, plot points and character names.
After the school visit we shifted venue to the Shelburne Town Hall. To give you a sense of the volume of books written by Erin Hunter, I took a picture of the sales table. The afternoon event was attended by over 150 people. Some teen fans even came in homemade cat ears. There were serious fans, fans from the beginning who really LOVED the series. One of them asked a question, “What advice do you have for someone who wants to be a writer.” Her answer was surprising. “Do anything but write. Do the things that will give you experience so you’ll have something to write about.”
The audience was almost reverential in their zeal for the series. This was a very happy thing, as they bought books literally by the armload. It was a fun day for all. Old fans were thrilled and new fans were excited. It was so refreshing to be in a room with so many readers eager for more books.
And while she might be allergic to cats, Victoria Holmes sure has embraced them, and in the process, has made legions of fans who don’t mind a little talk of destruction and death.

Nic Sheff: Astounding Speaker

Elizabeth Bluemle - April 12, 2011

Nic Sheff speaks to an enthralled audience.

He looks a bit fragile, like a big-eyed, appealing teen from the 1970s, longish hair and army jacket not quite enough to mask the slimness of his frame. This youthful quality is partly what makes 28-year-old Nic Sheff (Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines; We All Fall Down: Living with Addiction) such an easy author for kids to relate to, but what really grabs them is his openness about his years of struggle with addiction, his recovery, relapses, and hard-won recent years of sobriety.
Before his evening visit to The Flying Pig, Sheff speaks to 150 high school students at a nearby school. He tells them how uncomfortable he had been in his own skin as a kid, and how that feeling of ugliness found a temporary (and false, numbing) relief through smoking pot. He shares with them how the desire for emotional escape led him to seek other drugs, including meth, his first experience with which made him feel like a superhero — and how he spent the next six years trying unsuccessfully to feel that way just one more time.
The kids are transfixed, silent and on the edges of their seats as he outlines those dark times and the rays of hope that occasionally penetrated them. Reading, Sheff says, helped him realize he wasn’t alone in feeling like a freak. Writing helped him understand how and what he was feeling. Sheff tells them that rehab was not what he expected; there was no instant pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and he wasn’t “cured” after his 30 days were up. He was drug-free, but with no idea how to live in a world without his usual crutches, without the tools he had relied on for years. As a very young man, it was hard for him to envision a social life without any drinks or drugs. He felt like his life was over, and so he tested his limits with alcohol and other substances he hadn’t had trouble with before. Surely, he thought, he’d be able to have a drink or two like a “normal” person. But of course addiction is a tricky beast, and his brain and body being what it is, he wasn’t able to be “normal” with any mind-altering substances.
After years of ups and downs, progress and failures, injuries and near-death experiences, great patches of his life spent scrounging and stealing money to feed the fixes, Sheff was finally able to put all the pieces together and find a rehab program and method (including being responsible for a beloved crazy rescue dog) that has worked for him for two years now. He looks forward to his upcoming wedding this summer, and says he’s never been happier or felt more grateful for his life. And that it’s still hard, every single day.
This is the story he shared with the kids, and with us at the bookstore that evening, too, and it was one of the most moving events we’ve ever had. There is something so honest about Sheff’s delivery, so thoughtful and open in his expression. He doesn’t place blame or dodge responsibility; neither does he self-flagellate. Instead, he simply shares his experience as clearly and directly as possible, and there’s something almost revolutionary about being in the presence of that kind of open-eyed, open-hearted sharing. Even when the occasional audience member asked tough questions (a police officer at the school talk was fairly confrontational with him, and an attendee at the bookstore evening asked him some questions that seemed aimed to needle), he handled himself with amazing grace and an impressive amount of respect and tolerance for the questioner.
One of our customers who came to the evening event just posted on our store’s Facebook page: “Thanks for bringing Nic Sheff to town; what an amazing human being and inspiration he is!!”
Booksellers, we wholeheartedly recommend these compelling books — and their equally riveting author — and hope you have a chance to share them with the high school teachers and librarians in your communities. Here is a young man who talks about very real issues of drug use and abuse without glamorizing them for a single second. As someone who’s been through so much and come out the other side—with the scars and ongoing challenges to show for it—he has so much to offer students who are locked in their own cages of moderate to severe self-loathing and unease. For school districts uncertain about inviting a former drug addict to speak to the kids, all I can say is, Nic Sheff is the opposite of a bad influence. He might even prove to be a life-changing speaker for some kids in need.

Blogging Anniversary

Josie Leavitt - April 11, 2011

I just realized that last week marked Elizabeth’s and my two-year anniversary of writing the ShelfTalker blog. It’s been a pleasure to write about the book world. Every day something happens at the store that I want to talk about. And honestly, my customers and friends don’t necessarily want to hear about it, so it’s been delightful for me to have an outlet to discuss the book biz.
In looking through my posts from the past two years, I have noticed a trend in my writing: I like writing about kids with books. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a child bounce up and down because they’ve fallen in love with a book. Every day that I get to see the power of books on a family, and to be able to share that with the readers of ShelfTalker is a wonderful thing.
I looked through some of the comments from the last two years and was struck anew by how great our readers are. I read a lot of blogs, but I seldom, okay, never, take the time to comment on what I’ve read, so it’s a delight to get comments from our readers, some of whom have helped me understand the book world better.
I have no idea how the bookselling landscape will change, but Elizabeth and I will continue to give you our take on it. So, thank you for a great two years and we look forward to sharing our thoughts with all of you.