Monthly Archives: July 2011

Adult Authors?

Josie Leavitt - July 28, 2011

This is my little rant for the week. We are celebrating our 15th anniversary this fall. Like many bookstores we are known for our children’s section, but we also have a pretty great adult section. As we approach planning for our anniversary, we are seeking children’s authors/illustrators as well as adult authors. We have been fortunate to host some truly extraordinary children’s authors, ranging from Judy Schachner to Katherine Paterson. I am not complaining about the quality level of the children’s authors. I feel fortunate to have so many talented people coming to the store. My frustration comes from the challenge to get adult authors to come to the store.
This points up the classic problem that “children’s stores” have. Our clientele is made up of adults who buy books for children. These people come to events with adult authors. Stores like ours and like many across the country, have events that cater to the grown-ups, not just the kids. Yes, our bread and butter will be kids’ events, but our adult events often our best attended events, where we sell a ton of books. Local bookstores are doing more and more and that often means having events that cater to all the patrons of the bookstore. But I’m finding it increasingly difficult to book adult events.
Almost all the publishers have event grids that they ask bookstores to fill out well in advance of the tour dates. I have faithfully filled out event grids for adult events for 10 years, and I think I’ve gotten one author from the grid system. The dilemma I’m facing is how can a store known for its children’s section secure adult authors for events? It’s a situation that is not unique to my store, but affects all children’s stores with great adult sections. Ironically, our bestselling section is adult fiction, with middle grade right behind it. With this dynamic, you’d think I could get adult authors to come to the store. But, not so much.
It’s frustrating to plan an anniversary party as big as 15 years in business, and only have two adult authors (both of whom are local and fabulous) and not get the big names that I’m getting from the kids’ events. Is it crazy to want Christopher Moore, Dennis Lehane, Ann Patchett or Sapphire, to name a few. They sell amazingly well at my store and I know I could have a great event. My store is not is in a huge market, and sometimes that makes publicists shy away from the area. But what is sometimes missed is that a smaller market has less competition, so an event with a big-name author is often the only big event of the night in my town, thereby guaranteeing a full house of eager book buyers.
I sometimes feel like publishers are most comfortable slotting stores as either children’s or adult when they’re planning tours. I can see the reasoning behind this to some degree, but from my perspective, it’s so frustrating. Our event book sales for children’s or adult often wind up as the bestselling books of the year, so it’s a win-win for everyone.  So, as I strive to plan the best 15th anniversary I can, I am lacking the adult balance that reflects my store. I’m hoping that adult tours are being planned later in the season, so there’s some hope for getting bookings and I will keep my fingers crossed that some big-name adult authors will find their way to my store, and others, during the fall touring season.

A Bookish Wedding

Elizabeth Bluemle - July 26, 2011

Do readers get any happier than this? They do not.

It was a beautifully fitting scene: four small flower girls, three ring-bearer boys, and one teenaged cousin all sitting around a wedding table, reading.
Fitting because the bride and groom are both writers and voracious readers. Fitting because the bride was our first Flying Pig employee, almost 15 years ago. Fitting because the bride—we will now refer to her by name, Emily—is her family’s resident “book aunt,” keeping the kids immersed in delicious treasures from past and present.
So how wonderful was it that, in the midst of wedding-planning insanity, Emily took the time to select a book for every child attending the ceremony and reception? While of course Josie and I were in on this little bookish surprise, it was still a delight to walk into the reception tent and see the kids’ table, bedecked with a present at each seat.
Such a generous impulse to give presents at one’s own wedding — and a smart one, to boot. Even though there were babysitters on duty and plenty of arts and crafts for the kids to do (and they did them, oh yes, they did), having books on hand was brilliant. On a hot day, when the adults were primarily interested in enjoying the ceremony and drinking cool beverages, and not as interested in being climbed upon by their adorable yet heat-radiating offspring, a book and a glass of lemonade were a perfect alternative to offer the kiddies.
In my toast to the happy (really, deliriously happy and perfectly suited!) couple, I got to hearken back to the first time I met Emily. She was about 25, plunked down in the middle-grade section of the Flying Pig, re-alphabetizing some of the books. Correctly. I loved her already, but the deal was cinched when she chimed in to a conversation I was having with an 11-year-old about books we loved. Emily clearly knew not only fabulous older classics like Gone-Away Lake and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, but was also up on new titles. The alphabetizing carried a lot of weight, though. When I saw her slip a Betty MacDonald Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle volume into the right spot on the shelf, I said, “You’re hired.” She replied, “Don’t joke.” I said, “I’m not,” and our first hire was born.
In the toast, I also got to celebrate the fact that Emily recently sold her first children’s novel, which will come out in 2013 and BLOW YOU AWAY, as well as a collection of poetry (for adults, not kids). As we’ve long known, our Emily is not only a magical reader, but a magical writer, as well.
So here’s to the happy couple, their creative lives, their bookish generosity — and a brilliant idea for weddings everywhere!

Hogwash! is a big hit.

It's a challenge to find something Flannery hasn't yet read. Score! (She finished this the next day.)

Nico loving Shark v. Train

Boys, absorbed.

Same boys. One with ribbon.

Anais reads Elephants Cannot Dance! to me.

Of course you want to see the beautiful bride. Our Emily.

Sea of Monsters
Lost Warrior (Warriors graphic novel)
Mysterious Benedict Society
Clarice Bean, Don’t Look Now
Shark vs. Train
Draining Lake
School of Fear
Star Wars Mad Libs
Akata Witch
Nightshade City
Elephants Cannot Dance!

Arrr, Matey! A Splendid Pirate Party

Josie Leavitt - July 25, 2011

We had a great event at the store on Saturday with pirates. We were joined by pirates Captain Q and Crab Claw, who came in full pirate regalia to help author Mary Quattlebaum celebrate her new book, Pirate vs. Pirate: The Terrific Tale of a Big, Blustery Maritime Match. One thing I learned about Mary Quattlebaum is she is organized and the event is great fun, and she makes a rousing Captain Q.
Crab Claw set the tone by getting passersby excited about the event. It was really funny to see people’s head turn as he Arrr-ed at cars. Grown men smiled and honked their horns. Kids poked their heads out car windows and a few people waved.
We had a great time decorating. Who knew one of my staffers had a full-sized pirate flag? It made the room look great and added to all the pirate-y setup. Every child got a temporary tattoo when they first came in. This designated them to be pirates-in-training. All was fine until Crab Claw came upstairs from the street into our event space. Our smallest pirate, who was excited and ready for a fun event and was game for just about everything up to that moment, took one look at him and started wailing, for five long minutes. Poor thing. To her credit, she calmed quickly and was rapt the entire time.
Picture if you will, 25 little kids, all under five, shouting out ARRRR, Ahoy, Matey and, my personal favorite, Huzzah!  It was great. We learned that when Pirate Q raised her hand we all should ARRRR. I Huzzah-ed instead much to the amusement of everyone.
The event was loads of fun. Mary did something that was very clever: she stopped reading just before the climatic conclusion of the story. What a great way to spur sales. But not before Mary showed everyone what was in the pirate treasure chest. The once wriggly kids were stock still and silent as Mary went item by item through the chest. Simple pieces of ribbon were golden threads, old coins were dubloons, costume jewelry were riches, and the pendant had a bewitching quality.
All the kids got a wanted poster that Mary brought, as well as bookmarks. The store provided each trainee a pirate balloon and a bag of gold coin candies. These happy pirates then bought books and went downstairs and bought some more books.
So, here’s a grand Huzzah! for all the mateys who helped make this event so much fun.

Searching for the Right Response to Borders Closing

Elizabeth Bluemle - July 21, 2011

It’s tricky to field Borders-related comments and questions from customers, and even trickier to figure out how to reach out to Borders customers as an indie bookseller, without seeming graceless or unworthily triumphant. It is not a good thing to lose bookstores from neighborhoods, regardless of their provenance, and seeing good people lose their jobs through no fault of their own is truly disheartening.
And yet, there is an opportunity here that bricks-and-mortar stores can’t ignore: the opportunity to reach a new audience, a soon-to-be unserved audience. We want to bring them into the bookstores that are still standing — OUR bookstores, full of deep book knowledge and expertise and amazing selection — instead of relinquishing them to online sales gobblers that don’t put money back into the communities of their customers.
How do we do that most effectively, and without any schadenfreude?

If Borders Can’t Make It…

Josie Leavitt - July 20, 2011

I was saddened this week to read of the total liquidation of all 399 Borders bookstores across the country. I will admit there was a small part of me that was glad to hear the news. I was viewing the liquidation as one less bookselling entity I need to factor in my business plan. But then I started to really think about it.
If Borders, with all of its stores and its immense buying power (and some would add editorial power), vast stock, publisher’s coop funds, prime author appearances, dedicated staff, and great locations can’t make it in 21st-century bookselling, how am I supposed to? The thing that hit me the hardest was the NPR report yesterday about the liquidation. They mentioned two things: the first was there are more than 11,000 people who will be out of a good job by the end of September. And part of the reason Borders failed can be best be summed up by two people, each being quoted on the NPR piece: “I go to Borders to look at the books I want, and then I order them on Amazon.” Ouch, but I’m hearing more and more bookstore owners complain of hearing this in their stores.
Bookselling modes are changing remarkably fast. The challenge for small stores, which might have more nimble finances, is how to win the market in their neighborhood, especially if that is a market that suddenly might find itself without its mega store. Clearly, there’s no magic bullet. I think we, as indies, need to be experts at our store, we need to be flexible and open new sales modes, and lastly, we need to be aware of the vast and talented workforce that will be flooding the market in the next few months and consider hiring them if we have a need.

A Favorite Customer

Josie Leavitt - July 18, 2011

There is a price to pay for having a bookstore in a small town. What makes being in a small town so lovely are also the things that cause the most sadness. We know just about everybody who shops at our store, and if they’re new to us, we get to know them. This is a wonderful thing. We meet the dogs, the babies and the visiting family. Honestly, sometimes it feels like customers are showing us off.
We also know who is sick, and sometimes customers die.  This past week was a rough week. One of my favorite customers lost her battle with breast cancer. I’ll always remember six years ago, when Deb was first diagnosed. She came to the store and told me of her illness. We talked about her treatment, her outlook, and we laughed about wondering how she’d look bald. She asked how I was and I shared with her that my dog was having bilateral knee surgery the same day she was having her surgery.
And this part always makes me tear up: the day before Ink’s surgery we got a note from Deb wishing him for his surgery and recovery. The thoughtfulness of that note just kills me. To be able to think of someone else, even a dog, in the week of beginning her cancer treatment is unbelievable. It become a joke with us. I’d just tease her about and her love of animals and her pre-surgery distraction that would make Emily Post proud and then we’d talk books.
Deb was doing great, wonderfully in fact. Then, in September, she found out the cancer had come back in her chest wall. Surgery was not an option. She started chemo right away, but this time the cancer was really aggressive and she passed away last weekend at the age of 46.
I think everyone who works at a bookstore has customers they’re just always happy to see, no matter what the day. Deb was one of those customers for me. I think like many bookstore/customer relationships, we didn’t socialize outside of the store, but we knew all the details of each other’s lives. I knew about her husband’s bad back and her horses, and Deb would bring her whole family to the store. Her mom visited often and was in two weeks before Deb passed away, getting her a bird song book.
The thing with working at a bookstore is there is a fast intimacy with some customers because of how a book discussion meanders to real life and back to books again. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but there are times that I wish the losses didn’t hurt so much. I’m only grateful we’ve been lucky to have so few.

Update on the Topic of Shameless(ness)

Elizabeth Bluemle - July 15, 2011

In a recent blog post, Should We Protect the Grown-Ups?, I expressed surprise that Shameless, a terrific, funny, thought-provoking book for adults about adult issues like marriage, sex, and midlife identity could be — just by virtue of the subject matter — too volatile for some readers to feel comfortable discussing in a book group setting. My main point, which was a little obscured by the racy nature of this particular book (sex does somehow always trump other topics struggling for a voice at the table), was that as a bookseller, I’ve noticed a growing reluctance of adult readers to engage with reading material that they might disagree with politically, morally, and/or religiously, and this has implications to me for the environment in which we’re raising our kids.
I think societies are healthiest with spirited debate instead of cautious segregation of ideas. So it was with great delight that I learned that several of the members of the book group that had decided not to read Shameless have set up a satellite book group just for discussion of that title. This seems to me a perfect compromise, both acknowledgement of and respect for the group as a whole, and an innovative solution, accommodating those members who have an interest in and willingness to take on this slightly controversial topic.
How civilized. How creative. How … democratic!
My bookselling world is just a little brighter today. Controversy is not dead! Long live shameless book discussions.

Ah, Summertime

Josie Leavitt - July 14, 2011

The rain has finally stopped, for the most part, and the weather is better. This can only mean one thing: the summer visitors have arrived. These visitors come in three forms: the returning visitor who usually has a home here; the “passing through” tourist, who literally stumbles upon us; and finally the tourist who doesn’t stay in our area, but arranges their trip to stop at the store. Each member of these groups helps to contribute to making July and August the best sales months after December.
The returning visitors mark where we are in the summer. If I see the women from the Point’s book group, I know we’re into July and their amazing pace of reading a book a week has begun. There is a small island in Lake Champlain, Garden Island, off the Charlotte coast (just south of the store) that boosts a handful of houses and a customer who emails her orders a week ahead of her arrival. She comes in with her daughter who is now reading young adult books. They come the first day of vacation and buy about seven books per family member. It’s like they’re going to be at sea for months. I love it.
Some families are here the whole summer, and others spend a few days or weeks in town. All of them are good customers. We seem to pick up right where we left off the previous summer. Partly because we only see them for a few weeks, it’s really easy to see how much a child has grown as a person and changed as a reader. So last year’s early readers will now find middle grade recommendations coming her way.
The passing through tourist is the one who happens upon our store for the first time. I’m noticing this year that more and more of these customers do not have an independent bookstore where they live. This saddens me and makes me wonder what’s happening to the stores. I don’t dwell on that, though, choosing instead to focus on making their experience at my store special. You see, often the passing through tourist can become the type who arranges their vacation based on our hours.
We are blessed that Vermont is a place lots of people come to visit. My job as a bookseller is to make people want to come back to my store whenever they’re in the area. We had a woman who would come every year to visit her uncle in New Hampshire. Sarah would plot out her trip to work with our hours. She was always a huge collector of children’s books. Her girlfriend worked at a bank and she would convert all her spare change into two dollar bills. Sarah would then take her currency to the bookstore and spend all her two dollar bills. One year she spent $1,500 on books and paid for all of them with two dollar bills. Sadly, her uncle passed away and her travels don’t bring her to Vermont anymore.
There’s one more category of customer that I love to see: the regular customer who actually has more time to read. These are the folks who always buy one book at time during the rest of the year. But summer allows them to indulge in buying the stacks of books they’re always holding back on. There is a glee to these purchases. Passionate readers with more time on their hands is a lovely thing to see.
I look forward to every summer day because of the old friends I’ll get to see and the new friends I’ll get to make.

Back-Room Discoveries

Elizabeth Bluemle - July 13, 2011

And this is the AFTER shot.... Trust me; it looks better!

I only wish cleaning the bookstore office were quite as exciting as my title implies. But despite the lack of actual shenanigans, my recent compulsive cleaning endeavor — from about 3:00 to 11:30 pm on Monday— did yield forgotten and found treasures.
Bookstores receive a lot of boxes. A LOT OF BOXES. If you’re ever moving house and need to pack up your library, forget the supermarket; it’s a bookstore you want. We do tend to re-purpose those boxes ourselves, too, for storage. In our backroom, we had accumulated nine big boxes of ARCs — nine! — over the past few months, and it was high time to go through them. When I did, I found so many galleys I’ve been wanting to read! Kekla Magoon’s Camo Girl, for example, as well as Bigger Than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder, and Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. I searched in vain for Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus; ditto Lev Grossman’s The Magician King. I may not have found everything I was interested in, but my haul was impressive: after separating out the ARCs I figured my staff would want to go through again, and making a couple of giveaway boxes, I loaded four cartons of MG and YA ARCs into my car to join the stacks at home. Score!
Going through so many ARCs all at once had an unexpected and interesting benefit: it allowed me to see some fall cover design and topic trends (fodder for upcoming blog posts). It will also allow me to put together a post (like the one I did last season) featuring great first lines from upcoming books. Win!
I unearthed some refills for our Drinn cell phone holder display, in a color we haven’t had before (white). I found the second rotating display to hold six more styles of these popular 3D motion bookmarks we carry. Wahoo! I’ve been wondering where that went. I found a Lucite endcap book holder I’ve been wanting for the cookbook section. Came across a local author’s dropped-off review copy; now I can read it and return that phone call about how many we’d like for the store. Found a mangled book I’ve meant to call the publisher about replacing. Still can’t figure out how it got like this (see photo, right) without an actual mangle. Theories? It’s embarrassing to admit, but these small discoveries are intensely satisfying — little ticks off the endless mental checklist of “Where’s that thing I put in that place that time?”
Under a stock table were two boxes Josie and I sent home from BEA. About time we opened them and revisited the treasures within: signed art, signed ARCs, a couple of great posters, some tasty promo items for raffles and prizes, and, erm, four business cards from publishing people I need to get in touch with. (It will be so much easier now….)
Pumpkin 'volunteers'!Perhaps my favorite discovery of the cleaning project was actually outside the store. “Remember that Halloween pumpkin that fell off the deck and then got buried by snow?” Josie said, pulling my arm and leading me to the edge of the bookstore porch. She pointed down to the little bed of gravel and dirt bordering the flower bed, where a sweet green burst of leaves shaded three yellow blossoms. “We’re growing pumpkins,” she said. And for some inexplicable reason, that accident of happenstance and nature made me very, very happy.
What have you lost, and what have you found, in your back rooms?

Summer Reading

Josie Leavitt - July 11, 2011

This past weekend, my sister-in-law turned 50 and we had family visiting for the weekend. I was curious who was reading what. So, I started asking questions. Or, in some cases just looked at the cover while they were still reading.
Interestingly enough, the adults were not all reading a book. My sister-in-law confessed to having time only for the New York Times, another friend just finished Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and felt compelled to say, “Well, I didn’t read it, I did the book on tape.” Even though books on tape, CD, MP3, etc, have been around for years, people always have to qualify that that’s how they read a book. It’s the same thing! I will say Liz was the third friend to have listened to Bossypants read by Tina Fey and I think that makes for a wonderful reading/listening experience.
A good family friend, with a very tough, intense job, confessed to reading Be the Pack Leader by Cesar Milan. Her dog is a year and a half, and while not normally a non-fiction reader (she is on the library waiting list for Peony in Love), this one spoke to her.
The kids of the family  had no problem just reading all the time, unlike the adults who made conversation when they might have preferred reading over talking.  My nephews, who are eight and 12, and my 16-year-old cousin constantly had their heads in books. It was actually funny. Sunday, whenever there was a lull in the conversation or we weren’t on the boat, these kids were reading.
Summer for the boys seems to be one of re-reading. They’re both taking time now that school is over to go back over their Tintin collections. The eight-year-old is reading, and loving, the Secrets of Droon books, and is going back over the ones that really thrilled him. The 12-year-old is re-reading the Rick Riordan book Throne of Fire. I sense he’s stalling a bit on the seventh grade required summer reading.
Calyn, the teenager, had raided our stash of galleys and was halfway through with Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens. What I like about Calyn as a reader is she’s actively reading and questioning what she’s read. Last night she asked if some of the portrayal of blondes in the book was a little too over top. And before I could say anything, she said, “But that’s what makes it funny.”
Sunday morning she came down from the guest room and said, “You have to carry this in your store.” She handed me Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson. She then proceeded to tell me why she loved the book. Her energy and enthusiasm for the book were lovely to see. Here is a kid who’s not jaded and just really loves talking about books with me, with her friends, and honestly anyone she thinks might enjoy a particular book.
All of these kids have smartphones, computers and access to iPads and e-readers, but all three of them are choosing books. Not only are they opting for the books, they’re opting to read, just for the joy of it and because it makes them happy.
I look to these kids as the future of the business and they have done much to brighten my bookselling spirits.