Monthly Archives: August 2013

Hey, What Are You Reading This Weekend?

Josie Leavitt - August 30, 2013

This is the last real weekend of summer. Many are off to the beach or the lake for one last weekend of relaxation before the rhythms of school and autumn take hold. My weekend will be spent on the shores of Lake Champlain. I’m bringing a few books.
It’s not often that I go away, so to have a weekend on the lake is really special. My friend’s house has a wide porch and a hammock. I plan on swinging gently in said hammock trying to choose from the following books.
The Bat  by Jo Nesbo looks so very good. I love a good mystery. Nesbo is one of the writers I keep hearing about, and selling, but have yet to read. So, I will bring the first of the series of Harry Hole novels with me. I’ve actually already started this one and 20 pages in, I’m enjoying it immensely.
drop Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis is a galley that I’m tucking in my duffle. I’m a sucker for any dystopian book with a “resources are lacking” theme. The book looks very promising and I hope the environmental message is well done.
Katherine Jinks’ new book, How to Catch a Bogle, will also be in my boglebag. I have enjoyed everything Jinks has written. The prospect of a new series by her is very exciting. And a monster rumored to be eating children in Old London is a wonderful premise for a novel. 

Lastly, as if I’ll have time to read all these books, I have one more to add, Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7s came in today and looks fabulous. There is something about this book that looks like spending the day with someone you’ve just met, but know instantly will be your friend. 

So, what are you planning on reading this weekend?

Why She Chose Us and Not Amazon

Josie Leavitt - August 29, 2013

Two weeks ago a librarian called the store for a price quote on 14 copies of Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. This sort of thing never used to be cause for alarm, but lately these price quotes usually pit us against Amazon, and oftentimes that’s a battle we can’t win. I do appreciate the chance to compete, but as I looked up the book and saw it was 41% off (the book is now a mere 28% off) my heart sank. I knew the school would go to Amazon.
Well, I was surprised when Callie came in Sunday and ordered the books with us. I thanked her and told her how much we appreciated the order. I had to ask her why us and not them? “Other than price, Amazon doesn’t do anything for me,” she told me. “We’ve gotten amazing authors to visit the school because of you. And you give to our school in so many ways, it just didn’t seem right.” I practically burst into tears.
Callie gets it. I know we’ve addressed this issue before, but it bears repeating – there is more than savings to consider when you buy a book. Amazon may offer steeper discounts on books than I can even get from publishers (in fact some stores use Amazon as their distributors, the prices are so good), but price is only one piece of the puzzle. Here’s just a small list of what indies offer that no online retailer can compete with:
– The booksellers themselves. Sure, a list of comparable books is handy, but nothing compares to a real person who knows about the books in the store and is there to listen to the customer.
– Selection. Yes, Amazon might have access to millions of books, and, in truth, so do we. We’re just not as glitzy about it. But our selection is hand-picked for our community and that makes shopping at every indie a truly unique experience. We carry required reading for all the schools in the area. It’s easy to find, so when you forgot the title we still know what you’re looking for.
– Personal service. This goes with the first item. But personal service extends far beyond the books themselves. I’ve shared my breakfast with customers who can’t over how good my bacon smells. We hand-deliver books to any of the local retirement and assisted living facilities near us. If you’re sick, we can often drop a book by. Once a very good customer had no car and was desperate for her special order and a bottle of wine. We brought both over and she thanked us with some homemade cookies. Amazon might remember you and suggest books, but they’re not going to know when you’ve been in the hospital or if you just had a baby.
– Educator discounts. Most indies do offer discounts to schools for every book they purchase, not just a select few. Amazon’s discounts are misleading because the majority of their books are not discounted, but the ones that are, are so steeply discounted that folks see only that. We’re actually pricing out a list for a teacher using her Amazon wish list no less, and are discovering that well more than half of her books are not discounted at all from Amazon. This means she’s actually saving money by shopping local.
– Community involvement. This one always gets me as the main reason to shop at your indie. Every indie is firmly entrenched in their community. I have lost count of how much money in the form of gift cards, books and our time we’ve given away in 17 years. Amazon fights every state for the right to not collect sales tax. I not only collect sales tax, I give to the Little League, the library, the schools, the football boosters, the senior center, etc.
– Author events. Indies host countless, often free, author events at their stores. The list of authors who come to independent bookstores is staggering. As best I know, Amazon has never hosted an author event. And while they might do some web-based events, it’s not the same thing as being in a room with a favorite author hearing her talk about her latest book. There is a magic to seeing someone meet a beloved author the first time, or the third or fourth. The exchange between author and audience is truly wonderful and that just can’t happen online.
– School events. How many indies have brought, for free, authors to their local schools? Probably all of them. Being able to bring authors to an auditorium of students is one of the gifts of being an indie. I remember the first time we brought Steven Kellogg to our local school 16 years ago. I walked him in and all the kids started to whisper, “That’s him. That’s him!” Heads turned and all the kids stared in awe with their mouths agape. To this day, I still have kids who were at that event tell me what an impression it made on them.
The list could go on for days. There are countless ways that indies are better than Amazon. There is more to shopping than price. Yes, Callie wound up paying a little more for her books by getting them from us, but we give that back, and more, with all the other things our store offers that just can’t be found on Amazon. And by buying from us, she’s helping to keep us in business and in turn, help her students all year. So in the end, it’s more than just dollars and cents.

We Found Waldo

Josie Leavitt - August 28, 2013

Once again we participated in the Find Waldo Local campaign from Candlewick this summer. This was the second year the event was run and it was even more successful than last year. The whole event was started by Carol Chittenden of Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Mass., as a way to keep shoppers in her town during the summer. It’s a brilliant idea: work with as many local stores as you can and get them to hide a Waldo cut-out in their store. Kids try to find the Waldo. After a month of hunting for Waldo, kids come back to the bookstore for the raffle and give things away. It’s genius.
Candlewick has made it so easy for us to do this. Admittedly, we signed up late for the Waldo event (somehow we just missed seeing in the trades), but we still had plenty of time to get the event going. Every store received a Waldo kit that was full of everything you needed. Computer files that could be personalized and printed out as needed were very handy to have. These files created a passport for the kids with a list of all the Find Waldo Local stores, with addresses, and a spot for the stores to mark up the passport. Then when all the Waldos had been found, the kids either returned for the party or turned in their passports if they knew they weren’t going to be here for the grand prize party.
All the stores who participated last year did so again this year. Everyone was excited for the additional foot traffic in their stores. And, many shopkeepers had more fun just moving the six-inch Waldo standee every day, so the kids wouldn’t know from their friends where he was. The hardware store was heavily into making Waldo very hard to see. It’s funny how many kids forgot to look up when they were looking for him. I loved gently suggesting where kids could find Waldo in the bookstore. We talked strategy with some kids and other kids learned that “look up” doesn’t mean tip your head up at the ceiling.
The beauty of this event was really about community.  Getting kids excited about going to all the shops in the village is really a great thing. I heard from families how much they loved discovering shops they might not have gone into were it not for the Find Waldo Local event. This makes me very happy. And it was tons of fun to see kids streaming out of our store and racing through town, off in search of the next shop with a Waldo.
The moment the event ended, we had shopkeepers and kids asking we could do it again next year. That’s music to my ears.

Neighbors with Food

Josie Leavitt - August 26, 2013

I am very fortunate that my bookstore shares a building with an excellent restaurant. The Next Door Bakery and Cafe, is only open for breakfast and lunch; Next Door is where I often get my breakfast. Okay, often really means three to five times a week. I walk in and peruse the menu board, as if I’m going to get something other than what I’ve gotten for the past five months. They let me order off the kids’ menu because I don’t eat wheat and all the adult selections are full of gluten. I usually order the scrambled egg with bacon and fruit. I asked if they would carry gluten-free bread and they did. So now, I add a piece of toast with that. Before readers start worrying about my eating bacon this often, I give it to my dog. I have even been known to share the bacon with any customer who asks, “What smells so good?”
Next Door has been open a year and they are wonderful neighbors. Our very popular coupons with each other are going strong. Each of our receipts offers 10% off on one item at the place. I’ve seen folks go back and forth four times in one day. We take care of each other and I love that.
The cook knows me well enough now that she’ll usually make me two eggs (really, one egg is hardly a meal) with extra crispy bacon. Not only do they cater to all my food needs, they deliver the food to the bookstore on china plates with real silverware.
Saturday, they went above and beyond. Jesse, the manager (and an amazing pastry chef), saw my food being prepared and he decided to be playful with my food. eggsI was charmed all day by this plate of happy food.

Tips for Customers on Shopping at Indies

Josie Leavitt - August 23, 2013

I have often wanted to create a list for customers on how best to enjoy shopping at an indie. So, here goes.
– Be patient with us. Part of why folks love indies is the personalized attention. This often pulls someone away from the register. While we always do our best to triage the counter, it can be hard to extricate ourselves from the other customer. Do not hesitate to ask for help.
– You don’t need to apologize for not knowing a title. No one does. Just describe it as best you can and let us do what we do: find books with scant information. We love this challenge.
– If you have a hard name to spell, please spell it slowly as we take your special order.
– If your children are systematically destroying the store, it might be time to run around the building and then come back. Or, perhaps it might not be the right time to browse. We’re always happy to hold a stack of books for you for when you have more time.
– If you’ve decided to buy the book at Amazon or another store, you really never need to share that with us.
– Be discreet taking pictures of book covers to buy later from someone else. We see this and it hurts.
– If you’ve had a great experience, please feel free to share with us.
– If you’ve had a bad experience, please tell the manager, not the folks on the floor. And please do tell us, we are always striving to get better and need to know if we’ve failed you in some way.
– Know that ordering a book is a multi-step process. Generally, the book you ordered yesterday afternoon will not likely be in at 10 the following morning. While overnight delivery for books is often obtainable, sometimes, especially for books ordered at six p.m., it might take two days.
– Please tell us your name. We like knowing who you are.
– If there’s an author you love, please tell us. We love talking about books with everyone.
– Lastly, always check first before you bring your animal into the store, but know that I will always say yes to dogs and no to potbelly pigs.

Modern-Day Event Marketing

Josie Leavitt - August 22, 2013

When we opened the bookstore 17 years ago, most event marketing took place in the newspaper or on the occasional radio spot. Most customers did not have active email accounts yet, and no one had a smart phone. Oh, how things have changed. Today’s event marketing looks more like an exercise in using every available form of social media and working to reach customers where they live: on their mobile device. As an aside, we’ve had more customers give their cell phone as their primary contact phone number for special order calls, and lately folk have been asking if we can text them about their book.
Promoting an event today is a much fluid thing than it was in 1996. Yes, papers still have deadlines, but the online world makes things easier. Here’s a sampling of what we do for an event.
– The first thing we do once an event is confirmed is put it on our store’s website. In doing this we get the following things from the publisher: author photo, book cover and a press release, if they have one. This is the cornerstone of the marketing as it really allows us to say as much as we’d like about the event. We put in reviews of the book, links to the author’s other books (all links lead right back to our website), and photos, etc.  Plus, it allows for easy cutting and pasting into other marketing tools.
– The second thing we do is write a press release. If the publisher was able to provide one, then we’ll edit that to suit our needs. I will say that editing is so much easier than crafting from scratch, but I understand if publishers don’t have press releases. We then email all the local papers, TV stations and our public radio a copy of the press release, the book cover and the author photo. In a perfect world we’ll email these five to six weeks before the event.
– Thirdly, we do calendar listings with all the media outlets we sent press releases. It’s often the case that press releases never get sent on to the calendar listing folks, so it’s always a good idea to just fill out the calendar listing page on their website.
The following things we do, but in no particular order:
– Create a Facebook event page for the event. The timing of this can be tricky. Every time you add an event on Facebook, it let’s all the people who’ve “liked” your store know that you’ve just added an event. This is only a problem if you’re bulk-adding events because then each event listing dilutes the previous one. So, I try to add one event a day. Then, about a week before the event, I’ll invite folks to come to the event.
– Update the store’s Facebook status to reflect the confirmed event and then change status to remind folks about it. Never underestimate the power of the same-day status update to drive folks to the store. Spontaneous people are often able to respond to event listings on the same day of the event.
– Generate a QR code that leads to our event’s page on your website, or our Facebook event page, and put that on all in-store flyers and posters about the event. I never really thought people scanned those QR codes, but they do. I’ve seen folks do it every day at store. It’s just another way of leading customers back to your store with the event.
– Tweet about the event. I have to admit that I’m not a fan of Twitter. I don’t really understand it and I wonder how people can see my tweet if their feed is constantly going. But some people swear by the power of Twitter, so we tweet. In a perfect world we’d do a teaser tweet when we booked the event and then maybe a weekly reminder tweet until the days before the event and then daily tweets. Tweet the day of the event, repeatedly. Just like Facebook updates, tweets can hit someone at just the right time to make them decide to come to the event.
– Creating and sending out an email blast is vital for any event. All the email programs now allow you to create something that looks good being read on a phone. The timing of this varies according to your store. We like to see the blast go out the week of an event. If it’s more than a week out, folks tend to forget about it, if it’s a day away, it’s too close. Five days from the event is a good time for the blast to land.
– Lastly, don’t forget the best advertising of all: word of mouth. Chat up any and all events at the bookstore. Have a display set up by the register with flyers customers can take home, and tell everyone on staff to talk about the event. I’ve had more customers come to an event because we were excited about it and made a big deal of it.
Event/promo readers, how do you use the internet to help you promote events?

Have Wimpy Kid Van, Will Travel

Josie Leavitt - August 21, 2013

Yesterday we hosted our best-ever authorless event. We were fortunate enough to have a three-hour visit from the Wimpy Kid Mobile 8. Picture the cover of the newest addition to the series Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck on the side of the van. A really cool van. This van has been driving all over the country getting kids excited about the newest Wimpy Kid book that’s not even coming out until November. And, boy, were these kids excited.
We promoted the appearance of the van and its book trailer, giveaways and photo ops heavily, and the kids who showed up early were so excited. The love that kids, a true split between boys and girls, have for this series still boggles my mind. These kids are loyal readers who just wanted a chance to see more Wimpy Kid things. They didn’t mind that there was no new book. They just wanted to see the van and get some Wimpy Kid stuff. Abrams is so smart to make this an event that literally runs itself. All we had to do today was save some choice parking for the van.
The van was run by two really great guys: Solomon and Trey. They took pictures, handed out sticker sheets, and even told kids about the discounts we were offering on pre-orders of the eighth book. Their energy never seemed to flag in the near 90-degree sun. Kids were excited, and after they got their picture taken under a larger-than-life Greg Heffley, they streamed into the bookstore. And they bought lots of books.

wimpycar solomonandtrey


Desperate Want? Or Regular Want?

Elizabeth Bluemle - August 19, 2013

Our bookstore’s town of Shelburne, Vt., celebrated its 250th birthday this weekend. I always forget that American towns can be older officially than the United States itself (probably because I grew up in latecomer states Arizona and California) so I had a bit of a shocked moment doing some math before reassuring myself that I am not 13 years older than I thought I was. But I digress. The celebration brought people from near and far, and the sales weekend was fun and brisk. With all the families filling the store together, we had some memorable moments.
A mom and dad and their three kids (ages 4, 6, and 8) were in the store picking out books. The dad was reading to his four-year-old daughter while I helped the mom and her two sons. They assembled a stack of possibilities to choose from, each chose their allotted couple of books. But the eight-year-old was unhappy. He had an urgent whispered conversation with his mother, and then I heard her say to him, “Desperate want? Or regular want?” Instead of immediately rattling off “Desperate want! Desperate want!” her son actually stopped and took some time to consider, and concluded that it was a regular want. They put the item on a wish list at the store to come back for another time. I loved that this family had developed a shorthand system for delaying gratification in a way that seemed to work for all of them.
Another customer, a 10-year-old girl, was looking at books and had assembled a little stack. She was calculating how much she had to spend and how much the stack would cost, and then discovered that yet another book she had been looking forward to had a new addition to the series. “That could be my $10 book,” she muttered to herself. I had to ask, “Your $10 book?” She said, “I play the violin, and every time I practice 30 days in a row without missing, I get $10 to spend at a bookstore.” I loved that! One of our staffers, David, is a high school senior who is a wicked saxophone player and practices six hours a day. “I want in on that deal!” he told the girl, who beamed.
A young man in his 20s with a friendly mountaineering beard came up to order a fancy bird atlas for his mother’s birthday. He was such a nice guy, browsing around the store with his girlfriend, and we chatted for a while. When I asked for his name so I could tag the order, he said, a little shyly, “Well, you probably have my parents’ names in there.” When he told me who they were, my jaw actually dropped with surprise and recognition. “You’re little Zachary?!” I said. “Noooo!!” We’d known him during our Charlotte years from a little kid until his early teens. The last time I’d seen him, he was about 13 (and beardless). Now that he’d reintroduced himself, I could see that his sweet smile was the same one he’d had as a little guy. He told me all about his life out west working for a mountaineering organization and gave me a big hug before leaving the store. I had the happiest glow, like an aunt with itinerant nieces and nephews who crop up unexpectedly.
My very favorite event over the weekend was a chance to catch up with a writer friend from the Vermont College MFA program several years ago, who now lives in Calgary and was traveling through the U.S. toward Montreal with her fantastic family. Trina’s two daughters are 10 and 6, and we had a blast finding them books to read. Trina also somehow managed to find a kids’ book on the Canadian boreal forest, which has been sitting on our shelves for 10 years at least and has such a skinny spine you can’t even read the title, especially on a crowded shelf chock-full of books — all thicker and more assertive — about habitats. Really, I couldn’t have found that needle in a haystack in the store if I were looking for it; Trina and her family must have been a “desperate want” home for that little book.

They’re Starting a Library

Josie Leavitt - August 16, 2013

I know I often begin a post by saying how much I love the kids who shop at my store, and today’s post is no different. I’m not sure if these kids are just amazing because they’re country kids or if they’re just great kids.
Yesterday, my first customers were two sisters. Gwen, 15, and her 10 year-old sister, Kate, who were shopping in the young adult section. I asked if they needed any help and they both turned to me with eyes wide and smiling, “Yes.” We went to the computer because they weren’t finding the books they wanted.  Gwen took out her journal (the journal she made herself from an old hardcover) to consult her book list. Sadly, the meticulous book list is kept in pencil and didn’t photograph well. Suffice to say, it was the most organized, thoughtful and loving book list I’ve ever seen. Clear handwriting with annotations for every book. Pages and pages of books were listed; it was quite amazing. I asked the sisters what they were doing and I got back an answer I never expected.
“We’re starting a library at our house.” That’s a great idea. But it gets better. They’re not just adding books to an existing library, or a few shelves here or there. The younger sister is actually giving up her room, moving in with her sister (who is willing to share her teenaged space) and creating a library from scratch in her old room. “We’re going for a Downton Abbey kind of library.” They were beaming as they talked about it.
They are on a budget, so they were very thoughtful about the books they picked. They’re starting with paperbacks (I wish I could fund hardcovers for them), and they want historical fiction and some fantasy titles. The sisters conferred on titles, although Gwen is clearly leading the cultivation of the collection. Judging by the number of gift cards they both had, I’d say all of their birthday presents come from our store. The sisters left with a book and ordered seven more.
I thought about these two a lot since they came in. I just love that their parents are letting them change up the whole house to make a dedicated space for their books and giving them free reign to design and fill the library. And that this makes two young people so happy, just fills me with joy. I’m reminded in this age of Kindles and e-books, that the physical book does still matter greatly to more folks than I can possibly know. And honestly, what a great way to start a retail day.

End-of-Summer Scramble

Elizabeth Bluemle - August 15, 2013

I think most teachers would not be surprised to hear that, in the last couple of weeks before school starts, kids descend upon the bookstore to pick up all those summer reading books they’ve been procrastinating reading. But I’ll bet those students would be pretty surprised to discover that it works both ways; their teachers are scrambling, too. More on that in a moment.
All summer long, but especially in mid-June right when school lets out and reading lists have just been handed out, and now in mid-August when that reading deadline looms large in the windshield, we help kids sort through their schools’ reading lists. This involves scrolling through what are often pages of proffered titles — different for each school, of course — in order to find five or six possibilities to booktalk that we think will most appeal to that young reader based on his or her interests and preferences. I’m always sad when the only thing a student seems to care about is finding the shortest book. Not only does that cut out some terrific reads, but it’s not even a reliable barometer of readability; some slim tomes are a slog, while other, longer books fly by. Reading time is as relative as spacetime.
I do think it would make struggling readers feel better to know that their teachers are also racing to meet the deadlines of the new school year. They are allocating precious budget money to fill their classroom libraries, to buy multiple copies of titles for reading groups, and to find perfect fits for the new Core Curriculum guidelines for their curricula. We help the teachers, too, of course, pulling up lists of historical fiction and scientific nonfiction, titles about explorers and mathematicians and kids throughout history who have done important things, picture books and chapter books that open worlds for young readers. It’s useful that I used to be a school librarian and elementary school teacher, and that Josie was a high school English teacher, and that our staffers have various broad swatches of expertise.
It’s a collaborative effort, this summer scramble to get the best books into the hands of kids and the good people who shepherd them through the landscape of learning, and it’s a delightful challenge.