For the past four years we have hosted a reading for the children who participated in our local PBS Go! Kids Writing Contest. This year we had about 15 kids come to the bookstore and fill our event space with proud families. This is one of my favorite events of the year.
This was what we got to see of most of the young readers.
Picture 15 eager, nervous young writers, who now must be readers, on a beautiful Saturday morning. They streamed in. Girls in fancy dresses, boys in shorts, and in one case mis-matched socks. Ranging in age from first grade to third, they read their stories out loud to a room full of adults. Pretty terrifying stuff, if you ask me. They were great. Some spoke sofastyoucouldbarelyunderstand them and one boy practically forgot to breathe. One second grade girl had written a remarkably beautiful story about a race horse and a Morgan horse becoming friends, which was surprisingly poignant. There were lots of pictures in these stories and every illustration was shown to the audience in a slow arc around the room.
The stories covered a huge range, from a non-fiction animal guide to cows in space. One young boy announced before he read his story, “This is dedicated to my brother Jeff.” They were both beaming with pride. One child had seven, count ’em, seven family members there in support. For an hour not one younger sibling interrupted the proceedings. One boy got a massive case of stage fright, so his sister volunteered to read his story for him.
This was families at their best celebrating literacy and I was thrilled to be part of it.
After a whirlwind BEA we are home. Blisters are healing and galleys are neatly stacked on the dining room table. Exhausted, but happy, I’m thrilled to be back at work.
As if I didn’t already love my staff before, they cleaned the back room! So, I came in to an office with space, which I’ll fill with galleys shortly, but for this brief time, I’m in love. I hope everyone has gotten home safely and has time to get some rest.
Yesterday was the first Children’s Institute at BEA and it got off to a rousing start with the Children’s Breakfast. I love the breakfasts, although I found it a little hard to get out of in bed in time for the actual meal because of the fun had the night before at two very entertaining publisher parties. (I will say the Penguin party at the Top of the Standard afforded attendees stunning views of New York City; the Little, Brown Speakeasy for Libba Bray was glorious. Libba, who has a wonderful, bluesy voice, treated us to a five-song set. And there was something very clever about having our drinks in coffee cups a la prohibition).
Chris Colfer, the actor from Glee, hosted the breakfast and he was poised, charming and warm. John Green was the first speaker and he was really funny. He started by saying he looked up Chris to learn more about him and all he found was fan fiction about the two of them, together. John spoke with passion, hands moving quickly all the time, several times knocking the mic. John mentioned that until he was 10 he thought everyone, including his family, were aliens and he was the only human. It was through stories that he learned his family was human (I know this sounds bizarre, but it’s true). He went on to speak about the power of story because it trumps everything. Yes, the Internet is fun, he said, but reading is an immersive event that demands your full attention and through it you learn about empathy.
Lois Lowry was the next speaker, fulfilling the BEA tradition of two male speaker and a woman. (Why can’t there ever be two women and a man? Maybe next year?) Lois started really funny. There’s a new TSA regulation that exempts folks over 75 from having to take their shoes off at the airport. She said she did the math and she figures Chris Colfer will be taking off his shoes for another 53 years. Lois spoke about writing and suggested that you should write, not about what you know, but what you’re wondering about, what keeps you up at night and what you don’t know. She started The Giver because she was wrestling with the question that her Air Force pilot son asked her during the first Iraq war: why do people do such horrible things to each other? Young people believe they can fix the world and her characters feel the same way. The Giver is about memory and she has the memory of an American flag draped over her son’s coffin when he came home. If we weren’t moved enough by her talk, at this point most of us were in tears. And the main character in the new book Son gets to vanquish evil. We all leapt to our feet and gave her a rousing ovation.
Chris Colfer, bless his heart, came up to introduce Kadir Nelson, but before he did he said, “‘It’s good you don’t have to take your shoes off, because they can’t be filled.” Kadir spoke about his struggle to find a way in to illustrating Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream. He embarked on his own trip to D.C. to see everything for himself. He wanted to know what the trees felt like that provided shade on the hot summer day of the march. I loved that Kadir needed to have his own photo references for the book and wouldn’t just rely on source materials. The depth and details of Kadir’s paintings were gorgeous. I have seen an F&G of the book and it’s quite stunning. Kadir has really captured the spirit of King’s speech. You feel like you’re there and can feel the passion of the speech. To hear him speak of the struggles he had illustrating the dream part of the speech was truly fascinating. These are the things that as a lover of picture books, but not an artist, I never think of. I just enjoy the work.
After the breakfast I went to the Bowker session about Children’s Digital Media. Kelly Gallagher, from Bowker led us through 40 minutes of slides about the latest breakdowns about kids’ books and digital content. I found the presentation interesting and heartening. The news about children’s books and ebooks is not as bleak as the rest of the industry. Yes, there is explosive growth in the adult market, but kids’ books are very much lagging behind. The really good news for children’s bookstores is that the large percentage of purchases made by adults for kids from 0-6 are from browsing and seeing things that catch their eye. Interestingly, kids from 7-12 often come in ready to choose their own books. One thing I found fascinating was the number one reason coming into a store for making a purchase was seeking a specific character or series, which is a huge motivating factor for kids purchasing a book. The next thing that motivated a purchase was illustrations. That delighted to me to the core.
One thing I forgot to mention was without a doubt my favorite part of the show is seeing my bookselling friends. We’re all limping and complaining of aching backs, but we’re having fun.
I noticed yesterday while I was walking the very crowded show floor that the size of the totebags being given out are just enormous. I am not a fan of large totes. Especially when the totes in question are half the size of the person carrying the bag. It seems to me that by 11 am the first day only the most ardent, galley grabbing show goers could fill their bags. And most of the bags I’ve seen were full, some ridiculously so.
I think the rule of thumb for tote giveaways is they shouldn’t also be large enough to double as a weekend bag.
I always marvel at the stamina of folks who can carry an overloaded tote bag all day at the trade show. I don’t pick up anything anymore, unless it’s unique. A tote with posters reveals a first timer to the show. Everyone knows posters become shredded paper by the end of the day.
So, on my first day of walking the floor I was struck by the bags, the sheer number of people, and the lack of books in many of the big publisher’s booths. As disappointed as I was by the lack of books, I was awfully impressed by how good the light boxes with covers looked.
Well, the first day of BEA ended with a sort of ho-hum reaction from many attendees, myself included. The problem was Monday was billed as the Day of Education and there was very little education to be had, and for many who came in very early in the morning, or stayed over an extra night in New York City, this was a disappointment.
I feel like the ABA has weighted all its educational endeavors in the yearly Winter Institutes. The problem with that lies in the attendance cut-off of 500 booksellers. So that leaves many booksellers who are still eager for learning opportunities. And there were very few to be had on Monday.
I arrived in time to hear Lynn Sherr interview Richard Russo about Why Indies Matter. This was a very relaxed conversation, but it was not a galvanizing event. No one left fired up or feeling better about indies. I know I left thinking: well, Amazon is going to be the death of all us. Richard said that his new book, Interventions, was above 200,000 in its Amazon rank until this past weekend when Amazon sent out an email to everyone who had ever bought a Russo title. By Saturday, its rank was just over 1,000 (currently it’s 2,335). To hear an admired author talk about his success on Amazon was so disheartening.
But I loved it when he said, “Publishers need to find a spine,” as did the audience, judging by the rousing applause. He was speaking specifically about why publishers sell e-books on Amazon for $9.95 the day the hardcover comes out. Richard rightly likened Jeff Bezos to a schoolyard bully who everyone’s afraid to stand up to. I couldn’t agree more. But I also know how tight things are for publishers, so there’s no real easy answer.
There was a lot of free time built into the day, and that ultimately felt frustrating. I chose not to go to Indies Internationals, but I did go to the Roundtables and I tried to listen to the Creating Community Connections, but I could barely hear. There were three Roundtables in one room and it was a struggle for all of us to hear what folks at our table were talking about. I noticed that there were several empty rooms in the hall that could have housed each of the Roundtables and that might have been more conversation if we’d broken up.
I did learn at the Roundtable that World Book Night was extremely good for all bookstores and everyone is excited for it for next year. Another thing that has stores very eager for the summer is the Where’s Waldo promo that Candlewick is doing. I’ll have more on that later, we’re doing it and I think it’s a great way to get customers into lots of stores in your community. Some stores charge for all off-site events and they’ve found it really successful. This surprised me as some folks charge $10 in addition to a book. That seems like a lot to me, but more power to them for trying to not only recoup costs but make a little money.
If I were in charge of the schedule, next year I’d change some things. The first thing I would do is either not have the Day of Education as a separate day, or I’d fill it with multiple sessions that offer real education. The second thing I would do is move the Children’s Institute day to the first day, before the trade show floor opens, so children’s booksellers don’t miss a whole day of the show floor.
More tomorrow from BEA.
I was reminded anew about the power of asking for a deal the other day. I usually ship returns via UPS because, well, it’s easy and for the few dollars more it’s worth saving staff time hauling boxes to the post office. As I do periodically, I priced out the same 35-pound package with Fed Ex, the post office and UPS. UPS came in a lot higher.
I then experimented with shipping via Fed Ex. I set up my account with Fed Ex taking advantage of my ABA member deal. Sadly, my Fed Ex driver didn’t even have a hand truck, so he was not thrilled with seven 40-pound boxes. What should have been picked up in one day took three, so now my normally uncluttered receiving area was a mess. Okay, this was not a resounding success. I then took two boxes to the post office.
The problem with the post office is you have to bring it to them. This means putting our small hand truck in the car, loading and unloading the car and then waiting in line. I’m still waiting for the boxes to arrive at the publishers. I paid for a delivery confirmation on the returns that were shipped media mail. While I like saving money shipping, I also like getting returns credited to my account as fast as possible.
Okay, now I’m back to UPS. My driver is wonderful. He’s been our driver for years and really has become a friend. Mark was none too pleased to see us shipping out with Fed Ex. I explained why and then asked if there was anything UPS could to make it less expensive. He thought I should speak to a manager; he actually set up the meeting. So, on Friday I met with the regional account manager. Before I could say my name, he told me that I would be saving 18%! Wow. All this because he looked at my account history and saw that we qualified for greater savings with shipping. And there are all sorts of bonus savings I can have if I ship more intelligently by grouping multiple boxes to one address.
So, on the eve of BEA, I’ve already learned a great lesson: there’s never harm in asking for a discount.