Monthly Archives: May 2012

BEA Is Almost Here

Josie Leavitt - May 31, 2012

I woke up yesterday and realized, finally, that BEA is in less than a week, and panicked a little. It’s the usual panic I feel before a trade show: will I be organized enough this year to really make the most of the show?
Right now that answer is a resounding “not so much”. I will be arriving in NYC on Sunday night so I’m ready for the ABA Day of Education on Monday morning. I looked at the sessions again, and am struck thinking this might not be the nuts and bolts that I need. The first session, “Why Indies Matter,” seems a bit like preaching to the choir. We know why matter, we just need for all the online shoppers to know and start making purchasing changes. Although, honestly, I’d go to hear Richard Russo read the phone book, so I’ll be happy.
The next thing on Monday is “Putting the Sell in Bookselling,” which promises to be a galvanizing session. Nothing’s more fun than hearing good booksellers talk passionately about what they love. The roundtables, which follow, also should be equally fun. I am always amazed at so many great things booksellers are doing all over the country. The roundtables are the epitome of the collaborative spirit: everyone happily shares some of their best ideas so that other stores can make them their own and have a great event.
Tuesday is the first day the show floor is open. So, I’ll walk the floor from aisle to aisle, taking my time where I need to and speed up when I know it’s time to move on. I walk the trade show floor a lot like I shop: I scan, assess and then go to where I’m intrigued. This cuts down the time considerably. I am very eager to see if there will actually books in certain publishers’ booths. Last year Simon & Schuster and Harper most notably had few if any books in their booths. I found this very disturbing. I know drayage charges are expensive, but it’s called Book Expo, not Catalog Blow Up Expo. Have fewer buttons and let me actually look at, and hold, books.
Wednesday is the ABC Children’s Institute. I have wondered about the timing of this. It seems to me to be an effective way to keep a couple hundred people off the show floor. Why couldn’t this run parallel to the ABA Day of Education? The day looks so promising and I know half the people (myself including) going to the Institute will be running back and forth to the show floor for meetings or to actually place orders for books. To miss an entire day on the show floor is unrealistic.I know the kids’ day has a wait list and that’s great, but I suspect folks might like the option of doing the show floor and having education, not choosing between the two.
The offerings look excellent with lots of sessions focusing on what’s been going well. I love the idea of Best Practices where other booksellers share what actually works. So often trade show programming can tend toward doom and gloom: how to renegotiate your lease, how to maximize what little you have, succession planning for when you can’t take it anymore, etc. But something that says: this worked and we made money; made community connections, etc., is very exciting and gets me writing down ideas as fast as I can.
Speed dating and the Author Tea are lovely perks. Here, you finally get to meet some of the people whose books you sell day in and day out. New authors can pique your interest in a way maybe their debut novel couldn’t. But know that you’ve met them and spoken with them,  and more importantly, heard their story, their books will stand out all the more. I’ll never forget hearing Watt Key read part of Alabama Moon at a lunch and he got choked up reading an emotional scene. He explained about his dad and more about the genesis of the book. When Cecilia Gallante, author of The Patron Saint of Butterflies, explained before she read that she was raised in a religious commune and the book was about finding and using your voice, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. This enrichment is what makes the trade show special for me.
Of course there’s the auction. Ah, the fun of bidding against people like Mo Williams and Brian Selznick and knowing very quickly that I’m overmatched, but I  keep bidding anyway. It’s fun, silly and all for a great cause. Every year I set a budget, and I must say, except for one very weak moment with Ruby and Max and SkippyJon Jones, I’ve been pretty good.
Do I have my floor plan mapped out? Do I know where all the ABA rooms are? No, but that’s not really the point. Serendipity is what can make BEA so great. That tiny table of sidelines that you know will totally work in your store, running into a long-lost bookselling colleague, having a great conversation with a publicist about something you love, etc. These are what makes BEA great for me. I’m planning on getting a lot of sleep before I leave and just having a ball.

A Perfect Paean to Older Dogs

Elizabeth Bluemle - May 30, 2012

“Elizabeth, have you read this yet?!” It was our 21-year-old staffer, PJ, chirping about a new picture book. She held it out: the cover a big, sweet-looking dog’s face and neck against a summer-rose sky, with happy kids playing on the shore of a lake in the background. Homer, the simple title.
I’m a sucker for dog books anyway, but then I noticed the author. “Elisha Cooper has a new book?!” I grabbed for it. We’re big Elisha Cooper fans here at The Flying Pig. Then our fellow bookseller, Sandy, chimed in. “We’re going to need to order more.”
I began to read. Homer sits on the porch. What does he want to do today? Chase and race around the yard? No thanks. Explore the field? Thank you, but no.”  As the family (both human and pet) hustles and bustles around Homer, he happily rests, enjoying their activity from his restful perch. They come and go, sharing their discoveries with him—their peaceful scion, gentle and happy. “Do you need anything?” the family asks, checking in. But Homer is content, and as he makes his way inside for dinner, and to sleep on his favorite chair, the simple, perfect text and art bring a big, loving lump to the throat and tears to the eyes. I’m not quoting the last lines because I don’t want to give away everything about this book.
Please note: this is not a sad book in any sense. It doesn’t presage the end of the dog or act as a metaphor for his passing. It’s just the best best book for celebrating the sweet joy that older dogs bring to families. My own dogs are 12 and 14, so it’s just barely possible that the story touches me deeply on a personal level.
PJ is giving the book to her Dad for Father’s Day; Sandy is giving to a neighbor family; I’m giving it to Josie.
Yes, we are going to need to order more copies.

More Is Not Enough

Josie Leavitt - May 29, 2012

This past Saturday we hosted Brian Lies, illustrator of More. More is a seemingly simple story about a Magpie with a hoarding problem brought on by the gift of a marble from a mouse. The words are spare (there are fewer than 20 words in the whole manuscript) and the art is quite honestly, among the best I’ve seen all year. Crisp clear details on every page make this book something to pore over. As the Magpie collects more and more things, you can keep track of what’s been brought into the nest, and then the overflow nests. Younger kids will delight in trying to identify all the objects, all from Brian’s life.
In all the time we’ve had the store, never have I seen a visiting artist paint their car like their book. Sure folks have had stickers, buttons, and bookmarks, but Brian was the first person I’ve seen actually make their into roving work of art that also announces the signing.  Brian pulled up in his Cube and it was simply gorgeous. The car was as shimmery as something a Magpie would pick up and put in a nest. It was also great at drawing a crowd. But nothing drew a crowd more quickly than a five foot wide bird’s nest made out fabric.
Brian and his wife Laure are a well-oiled event machine. They’ve been together over 20 years and they are a seamless pair. He’s just barely started to say what he needs and she’s already got it. The nest is built up on an inner tube with fabric sticks Brian sewed himself. As if this massive nest weren’t enough of  a draw, you can fit in the nest! So, every kid who biked or walked by hopped in for a photo and then most of those saw the book and came up for the event.
Brian’s event style is extremely engaging. He practically acts out the book, pausing long enough to walk the book around the room to show all the kids the artwork. Brian brought original paintings from the book. As lovely as they were, I always worry about the art. Brian, who clearly has absorbed the lesson of the book, told me, “They’re just things.” Yes, that may be true, but there are so beautiful.
I asked Brian about the significance of the leg band on the Magpie. It was pure artistic serendipity. The band has the numbers 314 on it. This is the beginning of Pi, which is what they call Magpies in England, and also symbolizes a multiplier of things. And, more importantly, it makes the Magpie in the book a specific bird, not just any bird. I loved that answer. This again reinforces why author events can be so enriching. Brian also told us the story behind many of the objects in the book. His grandfather’s trombone badge, keys to his first apartment,  and

To continue the Brian and Laurel event show, as if the nest and the car weren’t enough, they brought all the fixings for kids to make their own nests. The kids could see all the shiny things that Magpies are drawn to. The more than 50 attendees had a great time. I was thrilled by the crowd because we were competing with many other things, chief among them the very first day of the Farmer’s Market, which draws hundreds.
I loved this event. I loved the fun of it and the magic of it. But more importantly, I loved Brian and his wife for doing everything they could to make the event special. I doubt there’s a kid around who’s not going to remember standing up in a bird’s nest and seeing the real art that was used in the book. Events can be memorable for so many reasons and Brian’s event worked on many levels. One of the best parts was hearing people in the audience nod when the Magpie hoarding gets out of control and how he deals with it. There’s nothing more gratifying than an audience that gets it and wants more.

Happy Memorial Day

Josie Leavitt - May 28, 2012

Hi there, ShelfTalker readers, we are taking today off to enjoy the holiday.
I’ll be reading Red on Red by Edward Conlon; I hope you’ll be reading something equally good.
Have a Happy Holiday!

Crisis Reads

Elizabeth Bluemle - May 25, 2012

When the ship hits the rocks, what do you want to read? Lately, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, as friends and loved ones have been ricocheting through big changes of all kinds. What I’ve found, over the years, is that in times of trouble people of all ages return to beloved books from childhood. (They also, notably, turn to poetry. But that’s another post.)
When 9/11 happened, once people’s equilibrium had returned enough to focus on books, our sales of “comfort books” skyrocketed. We’re talking Ramona the Pest, Betsy-Tacy, The Great Brain, Superfudge, Strawberry Girl, The Moffats, Half Magic, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, The Dragon of Lonely Island, A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears, The Borrowers, The Enchanted Castle, Anne of Green Gables, the Casson family books, the Moomintrolls — these were the top choices of 12-year-olds. We always sell these kinds of books steadily, but the sheer NEED for them after 9/11 was remarkable. Adults sought the same kind of comfort, and found pickings a bit slimmer: My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley, and 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff are a few of our favorite recommendations to folks traveling through tough times.
When houses burn down, pets die, friends move away, parents divorce — kids want happy books, escape, a return to safe, comfortable, orderly worlds with humor, gentle adventure, loving family and friends, and the kind of suspense that doesn’t make your heart beat in the same tense rhythm of dread that has been preoccupying real life.
Josie and I have a dear friend, a wonderful poet and former formidable Manhattan English teacher, who is 85 and suddenly shifting into hospice care. Her 18-year-old grandson is visiting from Oregon, and today we saw him for the first time in many years when we dropped by. He greeted us with a beautiful open smile and a hug. “The first book I ever read,” he told us, “came from your bookstore.” It was The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and we remembered helping our friend find just the right book for her somewhat struggling young reader, 10 years ago. The book was a turning point for him; he felt it to be his first major reading success, the one that gave him confidence to embark on what has become a love affair with books.
“What are you reading these days?” we asked him, expecting to hear Insurgent (he’d loved Divergent) or another high-octane dystopian fantasy.
The Wind in the Willows,” he replied, with that beautiful smile.
Of course.
Readers, what are your favorite books, and your children’s favorite books, when your hearts need soothing?

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Josie Leavitt - May 24, 2012

I have talked a lot about community in ShelfTalker, and usually I mean the community of the bookstore, our customers specifically. But as an owner of a business in a village, I have a whole other community available to me, the one made up of other businesses.
Our village is small. It’s really only two streets with just over a dozen other businesses and restaurants. I couldn’t live without many of these people. They make my life richer because they are independent retailers who are deeply passionate about what they do. Knowing that these other retail establishments were in Shelburne was a large part in our deciding to relocate there. Plus, they take really good care of me and my store.
There is a real collegial spirit amongst all of us. Part of it could be that we don’t compete for customers, but essentially all of these merchants who understand and appreciate all the businesses of the village. I’d be lost every day if it weren’t for Village Wine and Coffee. Their iced double shot skim latte is my drink of choice, and anyone can order a “Josie” and they’ll make it for you. When I’m stranded alone at the store, often someone will run one over for me.  I’ve hustled books and gift cards to the coffee shop staff when they’ve needed things and they were stuck at work.
Deb at the Shelburne Country Store orders our holiday sugar plums that we give out to customers by the fistful in December. She also has provided many author gifts of homemade delicious fudge. We commiserate about how parking in town is getting harder and we strategize about we can work together to make it better. She gives us a discount as we do her.  On days when staff is weary, JP, our most petite staffer, runs over to get “vitamins” for everyone from the barrels of penny candy.
Another independent store in the village is called Arabesque, an upscale home goods store. Tracey, the owner, frequents the bookstore and we give a gift certificate to her charity every year. It’s a lovely place for presents and I always make a point to stop in during the holidays.
These other shopkeepers understand my struggles and I theirs. We always talk about getting together, but we can never find the time. So, rather than formally meet, we chat up a storm whenever we see each other. These are the stores I happily direct my customers to, especially when they’re new to the area. Nothing makes me happier than being able to send people to the other stores that I know are great and give the same level of customer service we strive to provide. We are proud of our little village and want to people to spend as much time as they can shopping here.
So, my community isn’t just my customers, it’s these retailers, they are the backbone of the village, and I just hope I look after them as well as they look after me.

I Miss Paper Catalogs

Josie Leavitt - May 23, 2012

It’s true: I miss the pounds upon pounds of paper catalogs that I used to get every season. Yes, I hated the waste of them, especially when I’d get three sets of the same catalog. Recycling them was a pain in the butt. But I’m learning that there’s nothing like a good catalog. I figured out why this is. A well-done catalog is a lot like a good magazine and it harkens back to another time.
Sitting in the evening perhaps while watching TV, it was very easy to pick up a catalog and thumb through it and make notes. I could pick it up and just as easily walk away. All I had to was just dog-ear the page and come back to it later. It’s considerably more complicated now with the advent of Edelwesis, the on-line ordering system that works with more than 40 publishers, including most of the large houses. I also love Edelweiss, well, parts of it at least, and this is the conundrum for me as a buyer: I have one foot in paper and one in electronic, and each is lacking.
Edelweiss’s order entry ease is worth its weight in gold. No longer does it take hours typing in ISBNs from the paper catalog into your computer. An entire frontlist order can go into your system literally within minutes, thereby saving you heaps of time.  The ability to see and order backlist titles along with the frontlist can make for more intelligent ordering, especially if your store uses Above the Treeline which can show sales numbers for authors, titles, etc. The supplemental information is lovely, but often I don’t read it. You can’t skim in Edelweiss and that is a problem for me.
There is a leisure with a catalog that I don’t find with any computer-based online ordering system. Perhaps it’s me, but I cannot do computer orders during the workday.  The ordering happens during off hours, at least for me. I’m finding that during those off-hours, I do not want to spend even more time in front of a computer screen, even if I’m happily watching The Deadliest Catch and could be doing something else as well.  The paper catalog can follow you around the house from the tub to the kitchen when you’re waiting for water to boil. These are places my computer seldom goes.
I’m thrilled for savings in trees and paper waste. I know it makes more sense to deliver the catalogs electronically with their instant updates. Every add-on and cancellation shows up in Edelweiss. But I’m surprised at the real melancholy I have when I have to order on the computer and can’t just thumb through a catalog, mark it up  and then talk to my rep to make the order. Yes, I still talk to reps, just not as often; some I haven’t actually spoken to in a year.
So, what can I do? Well, I’m not sure, since a year ago I was heralding the demise of the paper catalog. I guess I will have to muddle through and savor the few catalogs I have left to see, and stop complaining about the computer ordering and really make it my friend.

First Graders Who Shop

Josie Leavitt - May 21, 2012

Last Friday morning we had the pleasure of being visited by the Lincoln, Vt., elementary school’s first-grade class. Someone’s grandmother had donated $200 to the classroom for building up the library for the incoming first-grade class.

Kids look at the non-fiction selection.

At 10 a.m. they arrived, polite, shy, and eager to shop. We had taken a great variety of levels one through four I Can Read books and spread them in small stacks on every available surface in the two picture book sections. We thought that system would cause far less chaos than kids trying to look at the books from the spinner where we keep all the early readers and chapter books.
The teacher suggested I go over how to handle the books so the books stayed looking new. I was in a silly mood so I said to the kids,”These books are new, so you have to look at them carefully. Be gentle turning the pages and don’t bite the books.” I didn’t really think anything of it at the time, but when the teacher asked a student to repeat back the rules and she said, “We can’t eat the books.”

A happy reader.

These kids were so well-behaved it was stunning. Quietly they sought out their favorites and were decisive young shoppers. One young man came to the counter and said about his Henry and Mudge, “I liked these a lot when I was younger.”
The kids spent all the money in less than 20 minutes and then they were gone, in a blur of giggles and even a few hugs.

Standout MG and YA Covers This Month

Elizabeth Bluemle - May 18, 2012

Once in a while, I blog about book covers that drive me crazy because they are either overdone, mired in trend and cliché, or are impossible handsells. I figure it’s time to celebrate some standouts, too, and I think we’ll make it a monthly feature. Here are some of May’s MG and YA covers that are a little different, catch the eye, and just leap into kids’ and teens’ hands.

Little Dog Lost by Marion Dane Bauer (Atheneum). Major kid appeal. I mean, come on. Who could resist this cover??

The Fire Ascending by Chris D’Lacey (Orchard). This series has consistently provided readers with striking covers, and the latest one is no exception.

Unlikely Friendships: The Dog & the Piglet and 4 Other Stories of Animal Friendships by Jennifer S. Holland (Workman). Do I really need to annotate this one? I didn’t think so. The coos and “ohhhs” from kids when they see this speaks volumes. Baby animals for the win.

Steampunk: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, with illustrations by Zdenko Basic and Manuel Sumberac (Candlewick). While the audience for this one is perhaps narrower than, say, Animal Friendships above, this is such an arresting cover for a classic novel that teens are fascinated and willing to dive right in.

Endure by Carrie Jones (Bloomsbury). Okay, let me explain. Even though this cover falls into the photo-of-a-partial-face trend that has been done a thousand times, it (and the other covers in this series) set the bar for how these parti-faces can work well. It’s also the gold; okay, it’s probably mostly the gold. But because gold figures into the world of these stories in a significant way, there’s a *reason* for using it that goes beyond mere aesthetics.

Stickman Odyssey: The Wrath of Zozimos by Christopher Ford (Philomel). Many cartoon covers are jam-packed with images, which some kids like but which overwhelm others. This cover has a great combination of comic appeal and … energy rendered in a restful way: focused, not frenetic.

Railsea by China Miéville (Del Rey). This one is just cool. The treatment of the title font is unusual, the cover image of the tracks hasn’t been done to death, and everything works together to create interest.

Readers, what are some of your favorite MG and YA covers this month, and why? (No fair nominating your own.)

Howard Just Gets It

Josie Leavitt - May 17, 2012

Tuesday evening I had the pleasure of selling books at a joint event with the Shelburne and Charlotte libraries, which hosted Howard Frank Mosher. Howard is another example of a great writer who calls the Green Mountain state his home. He came to Shelburne Town Hall to talk about his newest book, The Great Northern Express: A Writer’s Journey Home.

Photo credit: Richard Sassaman.

I’ve met Howard before, but had never seen one of his presentations. This man is not only funny (hysterical, actually), but he’s extremely passionate about independent bookstores. Howard started his three-month  journey five years ago after successfully completing radiation therapy for prostate cancer. His book is about his 20,000-mile journey across the country in the Loser Cruiser, a seriously beat-up Chevy Celebrity, to visit as many independent bookstores as he could.
A lot of authors love independent bookstores, but in Howard I sense someone who truly grasps not only the fragility of our trade but the richness we provide to our communities. Listening to Howard recount his journey was a travelogue of just about every indie bookstore in the country. He went everywhere, stopping at Wild Rumpus where they had a free-range chicken in the store, to That Bookstore in Blytheville where Howard heard the story of a young writer seeking the help of the owner, Mary Gay Shipley, with a manuscript. That writer wrote two decent novels, and then the third one was the hit. The writer was John Grisham and his loyalty to Mary Gay extends to every book he’s written since, as he signs the first 500 for her store.
Howard was warm and clearly enjoyed recounting his tales with us. There was the encounter with a mother moose who had saw Howard as a threat to her baby. The audience was laughing along with him as he told us how he held up his organic coffee and said, “Stop Moose,” to no avail and then booked it to the hotel entrance just to the left of the now incensed very large animal. There is a joy to Howard that is infectious. The crowd of more than 70 was rapt and laughing throughout his presentation. Peppered throughout his talk, complete with slides, was his love of the uniqueness of indies. In fact, out of all the stores he went to, the only store where absolutely no one came to the event was the only chain store he went to.
He has made it a mission to explain to audiences why indies are important to their communities, why indies are important to writers (just look at Mary Gay Shipley with John Grisham), and how indies help to keep all ranges of books available and how indies help maintain the myriad of editorial voices that can champion a small book and give it the space it needs to thrive.
Howard’s website reflects his dedication to indies. On the “books” page, the order of where to purchase the books is: Galaxy Bookshop, his local bookstore (and a real gem of an indie in Hardwick, Vt.), Indiebound and then Amazon. People, book lovers especially, notice where the Amazon links are on author’s websites.  That Amazon is listed third is breathtakingly refreshing. It’s a sad fact that when other authors list on-line sources alphabetically Amazon is always first and Indiebound, well, isn’t. I love that Howard lists Galaxy first. He is supporting his local store and making a conscious decision in doing so.
Everyone who got a book signed shared a personal story with him about his books. One woman brought up a very beat-up copy of Disappearance purchased in 1982 for him to sign. It was fascinating to see her go from wanting the book signed just to her – it was one of her favorite books of her first year of college – to then have him add the names of her sons (the oldest is graduating from high school next month) and her then husband. I know this because Howard chose to sign, not at the table we’d set up, but standing a foot away from me while I rang up sale after sale.
I was charmed to bits and will laugh about a lot of his stories for a long time. But more importantly, I feel like that with someone as eloquent and charming as Howard preaching about why indies are important, more folks might just get it the way he does.