Monthly Archives: October 2011

How Stickers Can Save the Day

Josie Leavitt - October 10, 2011

Why is it that if an order from either a publisher or a distributor is going to be messed up, it’s always on a Friday? This past Friday found us scrambling for books that should have come in.
A lovely customer who was on the fence about whether or not to get 14 paperbacks of I Stink to give as party favors for her son’s birthday on Saturday made the decision on Wednesday afternoon.  This meant we only had Thursday to place our order. We called a distributor and were told they had all the copies we needed. So we placed the order and didn’t think any more of it. In a perfect world, and one we usually live in,  except when there’s a deadline for a book, we would have gotten 14 books on Friday.
The boxes came Friday and were unboxed quickly, only to reveal seven I Stink  books. Of course it was Friday which meant we had no time to order more from anyone else. So we scrambled. I called all the other indies in town, sadly only two phone calls were made. No one had the book. I spent much of my morning saying, “I Stink” over and over again, it started to just get funny.
We managed to find three copies of the book on the shelves, so we had 10 all together. We called her and explained the situation. There’s really nothing worse than knowing you’re disappointing a kid. Of course, none of it was our fault, but the mom didn’t see it that way at first. She was mad. I understood that, but there was nothing I could do, so yelling at me wasn’t really going to do any good. And I couldn’t really say perhaps a cushion of a week or so for that many books would have been nice. She wound up speaking to everyone on staff and we all apologized. We all felt bad – horrible in fact.
We wanted to make the party a success, so we added enough stickers sheets for every child to get at least three sheets and some temporary tattoos. The mom came in to pick up the books and was touched by the stacks of sticker sheets.  We apologized again and she vowed next year to order party favors with more of a time cushion.
All was not lost. We kept a good customer happy. We didn’t disappoint a child and that was a great feeling.

Heart and Soul

Josie Leavitt - October 6, 2011

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when the store is full to bursting with all the great books of the fall. Every day the UPS and FedEx drivers unload box after box that we eagerly unpack and try to shelve on our already over-full shelves.
Some of my favorite picture books arrived in recent weeks. Perhaps my favorite of all is Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson. It’s one of the most visually artful books I’ve seen a long while. This book’s lofty aim is to capture the history of African Americans in America, and it succeeds beautifully. This book works on many levels.
The paintings are so beautiful and heartbreaking and inspiring that it’s easy to just following the history through the paintings alone. This allows the book to work with younger children who can have a parent talk about the paintings rather than reading the text. I got lost in the faces that populate the book. From the cover image of a woman holding a baby in field to a burning, fiery cross, to the very last painting of an elderly woman’s open hand holding a button “I voted” about casting a vote for Barack Obama. The art resonates with the reader a long time after they’ve put the book down.
Having the narrator be a grandmother-type who has a sense of humor, is honest and tells a good tale is a wonderful way to approach history. The narrator fills in the gaps the paintings cannot. When the narrator refers to the reader as “honey” or “chile” it doesn’t sound cloying. It sounds like I’m on the porch with her spending a long afternoon hearing her stories and learning the real history of African Americans. What I especially like is the assumption that the reader is family. There was an accessibility to this device that hooked me right away. I felt like the history, my family history, was being told to me, almost as a rite of passage. I think most families have that moment when they sit the children of a certain age down and tell them the family stories. This book is that story.
I have spent hours, literally, looking at this book. I cannot get enough of it. It’s so real and brings the history of African Americans to life in a way no other book has for me. The combination of evocative art and a narrator you want to spend the day with makes this book a glorious success.
And if this doesn’t win a medal, or two, in January, I’ll be stunned.

Pitchapalooza – Great for Your Town!

Elizabeth Bluemle - October 5, 2011

Everyone wants to write a book, right? We had an event on Sunday that I think any town would love: a chance for aspiring authors to pitch their book ideas to a panel of experts and receive  feedback — along with a chance to win an introduction to an agent or publishing house.
Book Doctors” Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully, and Workman Publishing sales representative Katie McGarry, served as the panel of pros to whom our roomful of hopefuls pitched their wares. The way it worked was this: participants RSVP’d for the event, knowing that there would be time for about 20-25 of them to get one precious minute in which to give an “elevator pitch” for their book; in effect, a literary audition.

An anticipatory crowd facing the panel of publishing pros.

After a lively, encouraging introduction, in which David and Arielle gave their own book’s one-minute pitch (“walking the walk,” as Sterry put it) in unison, they each spoke a bit about their backgrounds: David, about being a bestselling author, Arielle about her life as a literary agent, Katie, sharing her background as a seasoned publishers’ sales rep.
Then the team worked from the RSVP list and called up participants one at a time. After each sixty-second pitch (timed exactly and fairly, which took an element of anxiety out of those waiting their turn), the three gave excellent feedback about the structure and content of the pitch itself, and about the book idea and its possible positioning in the marketplace.

Pitchapalooza winner Robert Macauley, with happy groupies.

What astonished us was how GOOD all the pitches were! I’m not just saying that, either. Either this event draws only the really committed writers dedicated to their craft, or Vermont is just jam-packed with talent. Probably both. Many of the writers were known to us as customers; several surprised us with their literary aspirations. A few were published authors already, there to test out ideas in new genres. And some folks were new to the store altogether. All of them were a true pleasure to listen to, and that is no small feat when your own profession is basically encountering book pitches in some form or other all day long. Every memoir pitched had an interesting hook and subject matter; the novels were fresh and intriguing. It was a fascinating afternoon.
The “panel of pros” were equally terrific. Their comments were helpful, positive, focused, and honest, and each had a unique perspective to share. It’s not always easy to tell people what isn’t working about an idea or a proposal, but these three folks are so experienced in the field that they can articulate the challenges clearly while also pointing writers in the right direction to make the pitch (and possibly the book) better, more effective, more appealing to the first round of gatekeepers in a book’s life. Thoughtful and kind, they proved themselves the best kind of shepherds.
They also were generous and savvy book promoters, offering a free 20-minute phone consultation to anyone who purchased a book at the event. That’s a valuable incentive for a customer, and we sold a lot of books that day!

Co-authors (and co-habitators), husband and wife team Sterry and Eckstut, with adorable daughter, Olive.

After everyone had pitched, the judges conferred and came up with a winner. “It was difficult,” they announced (and they meant it), “but one pitch was particularly well-crafted and polished and publisher-ready.” That pitch was given by Robert Macauley, a triple threat in the form of a writer, minister, and physician, whose pitch introduced an epidemiological thriller. Macauley’s two children had accompanied him, sitting attentively through the entire event, applauding for everyone, and quietly but enthusiastically high-fiving and hugging their dad after he gave his pitch. When he was announced the winner, they whooped happily, a wonderful cheering section. Everyone left with a happy glow and some great ideas for taking the next step with their work.

Fabulous Workman Publishing sales rep and panelist, Katie McGarry.

Speaking of kids: we’d been under the impression that children’s books were NOT eligible for the Pitchapalooza, so we’d taken pains to articulate that in our promotional materials. But when one participant (who hadn’t seen that caveat) pitched her picture book to a welcoming panel, and we spoke with the panel afterward, we discovered that all genres had been on the table after all. Whoops! We could easily have a Pitchapalooza event entirely devoted to children’s and YA books, and I think it would be just as packed, if not even more so. I think we’re going to plan one, and soon.
Pitchapalooza was a wonderful, well-attended event, and I recommend it to booksellers everywhere. The participants were extremely appreciative, not only of the panelists, but of our bookstore for making the event happen. It’s just one more example of the kinds of things bricks-and-mortar stores can offer a community that online shopping can’t provide.

A Bliss-ful Event

Josie Leavitt - October 3, 2011

This past Saturday we had the pleasure of hosting Harry Bliss, who spoke about his newest book, Bailey, an utterly charming picture book about a dog who goes to school. The beauty of the book is Bailey remains a dog, he doesn’t try to be human to fit in. He steadfastly remains a dog and this is where the hilarity comes in.
I told Harry this and it bears repeating here: I don’t think there is anyone out there who channels a dog better than Harry. For those of us familiar with his New Yorker cartoons, he often captures the thoughts of a dog beautifully, and Bailey is no exception. He goes through the trash in the cafeteria to find lunch, gives bones as gifts and has an ongoing battle with a squirrel. One thing Harry said about Bailey that I found particularly amusing is Bailey’s got his own world, like Snoopy had his own house. He’s got a little dog house and his own cubby. This seemed really important to Harry and it really works for Bailey.
Any event with Harry is magic. He loves to draw for the audience, and this audience was made up primarily of children. One kid has seen Harry all three times he’s been to the store. He participates fully in the “draw a squiggle” part to the presentation. This is where Harry gives a kids a Sharpie and they make a line and from that, Harry makes a cartoon. I am amazed every time that Harry can see a line and turn it into something magical.
Two faint lines turned into a Darth Vader cartoon. Every time I watch Harry draw, I wonder how he can see anything other than lines. He said he’ll often create a squiggle when he’s working at home to get himself started for a day of drawing. It’s like a warm-up at the gym. I see a squiggle and all I’ll ever see is two or three lines that look like, well, two or three lines. The kids were literally hanging off their chairs, waiting to see what Harry would do with their lines. The smallest child, about 18 months, could barely reach the easel, so her squiggle was quite low. Harry turned it into a mushroom patch with a monster. Pretty cool.  The very first squiggle, four simple lines, turned into a werewolf, with a great caption: There’s a hair in my soup.
The kids were in awe of how quickly he created something out of nothing and the parents really wanted to know how the cartoon process worked. Harry often works from a drawing first and then tries to get the caption. He explained that he’ll do two drawings a day, if he’s not working on a book. I can’t imagine that. I always envy artists. To be able to draw must be such freedom. I see a blank page and wonder when I can start writing on it. It would never occur to me to draw on it to fill it up.
The great thing about an event with Harry is all the kids got to keep their art. They might be too young to realize these are things worth hanging onto, but they sure understood they were magic.