In the book business we live by several dates: publication date, the date a book is coming out, and the on-sale date, the date we can actually sell the book. The problem arises when the publication date and the on-sale date don’t match. Or, more often is the case that we receive a carton of books from a publisher and are told, via the bright orange sticker on the box, what books we can put out the shelf and what books need to wait for their special day. The issue for smaller stores is for the most part we get these books at least two weeks ahead of when we can actually put them on the shelves. So, now they’re just taking up space and not earning their keep.
I can understand why it’s important that we all adhere to the strict on-sale date for big books. These are the books where selling them early would give a store a distinct advantage in the marketplace, like selling the last Harry Potter book three days earlier than everyone else. These titles are embargoed and have strict on-sale dates. This terminology implies the other on-sale dates are suggestions. This is not the case. We take these dates seriously and I think the publishers take them even more seriously.
Here’s what seems to be happening. Everyone thinks their books need that special Tuesday release. But why? Is it really necessary for a middle grade novel, a picture book about some ducks, or a realistic YA mid-list hardcover to languish on the back counter for a week rather than be on the shelf? Why do so many books now have on-sale dates? Why can’t we just put them out when we get them?
I know this might not be a burning question for most people, but for the people who receive and shelve books every day, it is.
It happens a lot that little kids get excited when they hear that the author of a favorite book is coming the bookstore. They get excited for different reasons than you would think.
We are fortunate enough to have Loren Long coming to the store on March 19th. We have a lovely display of his books on our flying pig table. The table is the first thing you see when you open the door. Therefore, it was no surprise when this little guy came in and started exclaiming, “Otis books! Otis. Mom, it’s Otis.” I wasted no time telling the family that Loren Long would be coming to the bookstore for a visit. The little boy was so excited. Sadly, he thought Otis the tractor was coming to the store.
I gently explained that the man who wrote and illustrated the stories was coming. “No Otis?” He looked at his mom, lip starting to quiver, “Otis won’t be here?” I tried really hard to sell this little guy on the event. “Wouldn’t be great to meet the man who created Otis?” Judging by the river of tears, the answer was no. The mom made a point of taking a flyer about the event and promised to bring her son to meet Loren.
This tiny meltdown proved one thing: when kids love a character in a book, they LOVE the character. It’s easy, as adults, to forget that kids, especially the younger ones, think all the characters are real. This little boy has a relationship with Otis, not the author, yet.
I can’t wait for the two of them to meet.
It happens to many families: children grow up, move out, go to college, and their parents are left trying to figure out what to do with all of their stuff, especially their books. Book sales come along, too, and families clear the shelves to donate the books their children no longer look at (or that they think the kids no longer look at). The teenaged kids may be too old to want to re-read their childhood favorites, and too young to be nostalgic about them yet, or think about saving those books for their own kids someday. And the parents just want to de-clutter their lives. But judging from the number of young adults (in their 20s and 30s) coming in to the store searching for long-lost treasures their parents threw away, those books might be worth hanging on to.
With e-books starting to take a bigger bite of the children’s market, and the economy the way it is, the print runs of physical books are likely to decline — which will make those family favorites even harder to find once the grandchildren arrive. Cheap buys aren’t always as easy to find at garage sales and online as they used to be, and hard-to-find books can cost a true fortune. It’s often not the ubiquitous classics that customers come in looking for, but the more obscure books, books that caught a child at exactly the right time for fascination. I remember my own lost-book cravings; as a twenty-something, I needed to get my hands on Harry and Wende Devlin’s Old Black Witch (now back in print from Purple House Press) and How Fletcher Was Hatched, and Remy Charlip’s Arm in Arm: A Collection of Connections, Endless Tales, Reiterations, and Other Echolalia (which was recently back in print through, sniffle, Tricycle Press).
I recently heard about a great way to decide which books to keep and which to give away. One mom, a customer of ours, told me she throws a special “book day” every year when she goes through her three sons’ shelves to clear books for the library sale. Even though her sons are now 11, 14, and 15, they gather the books they’re going through into a big pile on a comfy rug, and go through them. They read all of the picture books aloud — which her sons LOVE doing; it’s sanctioned and justified cozy time — and reminisce about the chapter books. It’s pretty clear during that process which books are keepers and which can be sorted out of the mix without pangs. What a thoughtful mom, and what a fun afternoon!
Readers — which books do you wish your own parents had saved, and which of your child’s books will you keep?
Our regular storyteller for our weekly story hours is JP. She’s been our reader for six years and has built a very loyal following. JP is on vacation this week, so I filled in for her. This was no easy feat.
People love JP. She gets handmade gifts at Christmas from the kids who go to story hour. Some little listeners invite her to their birthday parties. She hands out stickers and does a fun craft. I do none of those things. I just read the stories. But I don’t do it like her and the kids know it.
I got to the store as story hour was set to begin. I’d already selected my books and I got settled in the picture book section and sat on a cube. Two little girls came over and stood practically at my knees. A mom and an eight-month-old were on my left, a very patient 15 month-old sat in the back. There were three other kids who hung around for the parts of the first story. Then they kind of sighed and wandered off. Clearly, they wanted JP. I smiled ruefully at this and kept reading.
One little girl had taken to just resting her whole head, turned to the right, on my knee so she was three inches from the books. When I had asked her what her name at the start of story hour, she said almost sardonically, “Eve, the big sister,” and she pointed at a tiny tot in a snuggli. I liked these kids immediately. They were ready to be engaged and have fun.
They guessed along with me during the reading of Oh No, George! as to what George do next. Would he eat the cake? Would he chase the cat? These kids were rapt and willing participants in the guessing game. A very honest little girl, in response to one of the questions about what George would do, simply looked at me and said, “I don’t know.” That’s why little kids are great. They just say it like it is. They’re not worried, yet, about what the right answer is, they just know what they know.
I felt honored that after my last book, one of the kids picked out a book and asked me if I’d read it.
It happens almost weekly in a small town. Kids who shop at the bookstore see me out of the bookstore and wonder how that can be. Kids often think adults just live where they see them the most. Teachers, librarians and doctors all reside for kids in their workplace. We don’t have homes, we just live at work.
I was reminded of this fact twice this week in very adorable ways. On Monday nights I teach stand-up comedy in Burlington. The class before mine is a lovely collection of third and fourth grade girls who are studying drama. Every week when the elevator opens and these kids pour out looking for parents, one little girl shyly looks at me and smiles. I smile back and wave gently. She has been overheard saying to her fellow thespians, “She’s the bookstore lady.” The other kids turned around and I waved again. They just saw a grown-up, but to Tara, I was her bookstore lady: the one who just recommended a book for her two-weeks earlier.
Yesterday, I was getting my mail at my local, tiny post office and I had to stop at the counter. Debbie, the postmistress, was showing a pre-school group the inner workings of the post office. I poked my head in the back and there were 20 little kids, in groups of ten holding hands, while they looked at the bins of mail. Debbie said, “This is the bookstore lady. She’s here for some mail.” Several faces looked up at me. One little girl said, “I know you.” And then it spread through the whole class, with six little kids all looking at me saying, “Oh, you are the bookstore lady.” They were charming. I got my mail and left. Smiling all the way to work.
I love being the bookstore lady, or sometimes I’m the Flying Pig lady. After 16 years, I’m getting used to being the Flying Pig lady, although sometimes I wish we had named the store the Lovely Gazelle. It would be so nice sometimes to hear, “Oh, it’s the Lovely Gazelle lady. ” But if little kids shyly smile at me when I’m at the grocery store, I don’t much care what they call me.
Most bookstore back rooms can tend towards chaos. Mine is no different. The chaos in large part comes from the sheer number of galleys we receive. There are some days our small store gets five galleys, some days even more. And all these books need to find a home.
Usually this home has been a large book box. We always have the best intentions of sorting the boxes either by genre or by date, or in a perfect world by juvenile and adult titles all sorted by date. We were good with the first three boxes to label them roughly by publication date, but with boxes four through nine, the system fell apart. And here’s something you probably can already guess: books in the bottom of the stack of nine boxes seldom got read, because, well, who is really going to take the time to heave all the other boxes aside to get to them?
Elizabeth took matters into her own hands last week and did something revolutionary. She ordered a bookcase for the back room. Sure we have shelves in the back room, but those are primarily for overstock and for returns. There really was no place for the galleys to go, except in their boxes. This all changed when the bookcase arrived.
It fit perfectly, except for that pesky 84th inch. It seems our floor is uneven enough that we lost an inch of ceiling height by the bookcase’s wall. Luckily for us, we have a good friend who’s a carpenter. Amy came over and lopped off an inch hoped it would fit. It didn’t. The floor was just that uneven that Amy had to shear and sand down the case to squeeze in. But, lo and behold we have a bookcase in the back room that’s only for galleys now!
Picking great reading material just got a whole lot easier.
On February 26, we received a box of books from a publishing house filled with titles that don’t go on sale (strict on-sale dates, not just pub dates) until the middle of April. That’s more than a month and a half away.
There are a few problems with this, two small and one big:
- Storage in bookstores is always at a premium, so finding a place to house books we can’t sell for six weeks is an issue.
- When mid-April rolls around, will we even remember these titles and where we stashed them?
- With 30-day terms, we will be expected to pay for the books weeks before we are even given a chance to sell them.
We appreciate some lead time with titles, but this is excessive, and the payment issue is notable.
Publishers, please re-think sending out books more than a week or two out from the street date. If you must send them further in advance, please extend payment terms by an appropriate amount. Otherwise, we are in effect paying you for you to rent space in our office! And that is not smart by any reckoning.