Monthly Archives: May 2014

“Every Journey Begins in the Bookstore”

Josie Leavitt - May 30, 2014

The Celebration of Bookselling luncheon at BEA on Thursday was a mix of excitement, gratitude and a call to arms. There was an almost universal thanks for indies and what we do. Richard Peck summed it up best by saying, “Every journey begins in the bookstore.” He didn’t say the journey began online, or at a chain store. He remembered his childhood store and thanked them. Every journey begins with a  book, and James Patterson created the call to the arms to keep all the indies.
What I love about these lunches is seeing so many authors in one place and hearing from them. So often, there is a division between the children’s books and the adult books, that we don’t always mingle for big meals. To hear the range of authors almost all universally sing the praises of indies and their meaning to their career is always gratifying.
Jesmyn Ward, I think, put it best: “Thank you for being family.” I sometimes forget that authors, no matter what level of fame they’ve achieved, are still people who get nervous, who doubt and who need support. And to be an independent bookstore staffer, we can find ourselves having profound effects on the lives of writers and illustrators at varying stages of their careers. When they are young readers, we talk to them about books, we encourage them to try new things and, if we are lucky enough to be a long-standing store, we see some of them come in with their own books. Maggie Stiefvater recounted a memory of going to her local store when her first book was published and the bookstore staffer held the door open for her so she could leave with her stack of books and her three-year-old. The symbolism of this is obvious: indies open doors for authors and the books we love.
Every speaker shared an anecdote about their local store, save for Kate DiCamillo whose speech was an homage to E.B. White. Always funny, she summed up writing and owning a bookstore pretty well; “as long as you love, it will be okay.” Truer words were never spoken. Tom Nissley, who once came to BEA with an Amazon badge, is now two weeks away from opening his own independent bookstore in Washington state. Talk about walking the walk.
James Patterson, who has rightly become the darling of indies for putting his money where his mouth is by giving away one million dollars to independent bookstores, received a standing ovation when he walked in. In his acceptance speech he addressed the elephant in the room: Amazon. He pulled no punches in suggesting that ABA start working harder to stop Amazon’s desire to have a monopoly on bookselling, publishing and book buying. He dared to say things that we all think: when is someone going to do something? He suggested that the future of literature and the part it plays in our culture is in danger and when will we as a group get the word out that the fewer publishers there are, the fewer books will be published. He said the lower the profit margin for publishers means that fewer risky, literary books will reach the shelves. We need to get going with this and get in the press, both large and small publications, to educate consumers and to get others involved. Yes, it’s great to order online, but at what cost? Who outside of the publishing world understands the complexity of what’s happening with the Hachette – Amazon tussle? “We must latch onto this issue with vigor, passion and urgency,” Patterson said.
I was lucky enough to get a chance to speak with him briefly after the lunch. it’s not every day I say to a bestselling author: “Thank you for having the balls to say what we’re all thinking.” Thankfully he smiled and said I was the second person to say that to him that day. I hope we all keep being galvanized and continue to realize that all journeys need to begin in the bookstore.

Remembering a Moment with Maya Angelou

Elizabeth Bluemle - May 29, 2014

Maya Angelou speaks to the Glide Memorial church congregation during Sunday morning services in 1993. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

She was TALL. She strode down a hallway with purpose and large-boned grace. She was awe-inspiring. She was Maya ANGELOU, for crying out loud, and I was 23 and starstruck to be in the presence of the poet and memoirist who had rocked my world with her words in high school and college. Dr. Maya Angelou was truly larger than life, and I got to breathe the air beside her one afternoon in 1989.
We were both in a San Francisco church in the Tenderloin district. She was visiting friends, the Reverend Cecil Williams who ran Glide Memorial Church with his poet wife, Janice Mirikatani. I was working on a publishing project with some amazing kids in one of Glide’s many community offerings, an afterschool program funded by my then-boss, Frederick Furth. Dr. Angelou had agreed to write a foreword for the children’s book of writings and drawings and, during one of my meetings with the Reverend Williams and Ms. Mirikitani, she appeared. In person. Right there in the very room we were in!
I don’t think I formed more than a few words, probably something along the lines of, “It’s an honor to meet you.” But my soul was aloft, soaring with the joy of being in the company of one of the most searing, honest, funny, brave, beautiful writers our nation has ever known, not to mention the most formidable presence I have ever encountered. Her manner exuded dignity and the strongest sense of self of anyone I’ve ever met. I was deeply humbled.
And even better, I was inspired, and trebly so a couple of days later, when I attended the Sunday church service at Glide that Maya Angelou guest-led with Cecil Willams. She strutted, she spoke, she sang. She mesmerized. A congregation of hundreds — from the wealthiest socialites to the most struggling Tenderloin families — hung on her words, laughed and whooped and lifted their voices in a joyous chorus of hallelujahs, praise and song. THAT is what church is all about: community and celebration, a gathering in. It was revelatory.
I would have loved Maya Angelou’s great spirit and admired her defiant, triumphant resilience even if all I had ever glimpsed of her was her writing, but I am eternally grateful that I was given the thrill of experiencing, close-up, for a few brief moments, the presence of that extraordinary woman.
Rest in peace (and laughter and poetry), Dr. Angelou. Phenomenal, indeed.
Maya Angelou at Glide Memorial

Maya Angelou at Glide Memorial Church. No photo credit accompanied image at photo source:

Please feel free to share your own memories of Maya Angelou and her words. Weren’t we all lucky to have met her?!

Goals for Book Expo

Josie Leavitt - May 27, 2014

As Elizabeth and I prepare to leave for Book Expo tomorrow we made a list of some of the goals we’d like to accomplish in New York. This is our 17th show and we have found it enormously helpful to make a list of what we’d like to get done; then we can divide and conquer and to get the most done. So, this year’s list:
– The first on the list is to remedy is my total forgetting to get tickets for the Children’s Breakfast. Our dear friend (and guest blogger) Kenny Brechner is accepting the Pannell ward and we’d love to see it, but I missed the chance to get tickets and now the link is gone from the website.
– We need to take advantage of show specials. This requires doing some work today about what backlist the store needs and anticipating summer book needs. But the specials are usually quite good and can help make the summer a profitable one.
– Finding new sidelines. This usually falls to Elizabeth, who has a uncanny knack for discovering totally off-the-beaten-path items that leave our customers remarking, “You have the coolest things.”
– Bringing our own Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters that crop up by Friday. You know, if the Javits Center wanted a new revenue stream they’d sell Band-Aids along with the $10 cups of coffee. Nothing is more uncomfortable than hobbling to a drugstore toting massive bags of swag to buy moleskin and blister aids.
– Meeting folks from publicity departments. Often, getting to know a publicist is the best way to get events arranged. It’s so much nicer to make a real connection with these folks than just filiing out the event grid.
– Saying hello to my phone reps who are actually at the show. Again, putting a face to the voice is always fun and I usually learn something really great about my reps that enriches our relationship.
– Seeing our friends and colleagues is not a just a goal: it’s the highlight. I missed the show last year, so I’m really eager to see everyone again.
– Trying not pack too much linen. Sure, it  looks great at 8 a.m. but by noon after going to a breakfast and walking up and down the show floor all morning, that crisp look becomes something similar to a crumpled tissue.
– Saying no to swag I’ll never use. I cannot stand it when I unpack the boxes I’ve shipped back to the store and realize that I’ve taken totebags full of things I don’t want: tiaras, things with feathers, stale jelly beans, etc.
– Oh, looking at the new books is also fun.

The Reading Habits of Mrs. Cook’s Class

Kenny Brechner - May 22, 2014

Last week I visited Mrs. Cook’s fourth grade class at Farmington’s Cascade Brook School for our annual Galley Review Project. You can see the kids coming up to sample the wares, below. After my book talk and their galley grab I interviewed them to learn a bit more about what they are reading and why. Note how many kids like nonfiction titles or books with an historical element.

Kenny: What book have you liked the most this year and why?
Emma: My Sister the Vampire. It’s a great series where the mom is a vampire and the dad isn’t and one of the sisters is a vampire and the other isn’t and you won’t know right away.
Sam: The 7th Harry Potter book. I loved it because I loved the whole series.
Reese: Dungeons and Dragons books. I play Dungeons and Dragons a lot and the books really help me play better. I like that.
dangerouswatersBrian: Dangerous Waters. Naturally, because it’s a mystery; plus it has history.
Breanna:  Finally! It’s about a girl who has to wait really long to have her wishes for when she is finally going to be twelve and do all kinds of stuff she has always wanted to do.
Evan: The Minecraft Essental Handbook. It’s awesome
Many voices: Yeah!
Anna: I Survived the Nazi Invasion.
John: I Survived the Shark Attacks.

Thomas: The Percy Jackson series all the way up to House of Hades. I like mythical fantasies.
Emily: The Nancy Drew books. I just read one where a statue that looked like Nancy went missing and then she was challenged to find it. That was great.
Kenny: What books are you looking forward to coming out?
Thomas: Blood of Olympus!
Kenny: Aha.
Thomas: Definitely.
Emma: My Sister Is the Darkness. It just sounded so great.
Kenny: How did you find out about it?
Emma: I was looking for more about the My Sister Is a Vampire and found it when I was typing.

John: Can I pick a book from the ones you just brought in?
Kenny: Sure.
John: Poop Fountain!
Unidentified source: No. I want that one.
Donovan: I want Undead Pets!
Kenny: Great! What book have you read that disappointed you?
Emily: Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew/Slumber Party. It was way too easy. I figured out the mystery too soon.
Emma: Bone – the last one in the series. I just didn’t like it.
Kenny: What book has a friend recommended to you that you liked?
Anna: Raymond and Graham Rule the School. I enjoyed that one.
Caleb: The Hardy Boys. My grandmother gave me two of them. I own them myself. They’re mine.
Kenny: That’s awesome. When I was a kid I read The Secret of the Old Mill when I had a 105-degree fever. It was totally intense! I was terrified reading it.
Reese: I liked Survivor. it was about people on an island and it was really exciting!

Sam: I liked Middleworld, the first Jaguar Stones book.
Kenny: That is a good series. The Mayan Death Gods are more fun to read about than to meet.
Sam: Yeah.
Emily: My friend gave me Zombie Dogs and that was fun.
Mason: I really liked I Survived the Nazi Invasion.
Kenny: So that I Survived is a good series?
Whole class: Yeah, definitely!
Kenny: Thanks, everyone.
John: Do we get to read the books you showed us?
Kenny: Absolutely!

Embracing the On-Sale Date

Josie Leavitt - May 20, 2014

The on-sale date in the publishing world is a big deal. Every Tuesday morning we begin our day with shelving. The stacks of books we’ve received the day before, or more likely the week before, can now find their rightful home on the shelves. Sometimes the stacks of books are huge, and sometimes not, but we respect the on-sale date, even if it’s for a board book.
I understand the reason behind the on-sale date is to make sure no book gets sold early and thereby giving an unfair advantage to certain stores. But I do think sometimes that the on-sale date is getting a little out of hand. Boxes of books arrive daily that we cannot shelve, even though they are books that people want. I’m not talking about embargoed titles like Harry Potter, but paperback early readers or nonfiction titles about insects. These are books no one is lining up for or having a midnight party to celebrate. Why can’t I shelve them and free up much needed space on my counter? Because I can’t, that’s why.
I know this because I saw a note that my staffer, Laura, put on a stack of books yesterday. The note itself is actually quite funny. The “It’s the law!” part really tells me she’s fully embraced the on-sale date issue. The truly funny part of this is she’s the only one who does the shelving on Tuesday mornings.
Publishers out there: why does the on-sale date apply to so many books, not just the hot ones?

“The Constant Thirst”: An Interview with S.E. Grove

Kenny Brechner - May 19, 2014

Last week Summer revealed that The Glass Sentence was her top Summer reading pick. This revelation not only piqued my interest but clearly called for some kind of follow up. Author S.E. Grove was kind enough to agree to step in here and answer a few hard-hitting questions about her new book!
Kenny: You touch on the importance of integrity in both cartology and history. Just how horrifying is a failure of the intent to be truthful?

S.E. Grove

Sylvia: Perhaps from a certain point of view it is not so horrifying, since both cartologers and historians have to accept that nothing they make can ever be completely truthful. There is too much that is unknown, both in our world and in the world of the Great Disruption. But the intent, as you say, matters a lot. To make a false map of the world or to knowingly recount a false history is an abuse of power. We rely on the makers of maps and histories to draw the world around us and the past behind us, and distorting those willfully is, I think, a great transgression.
Kenny: One can easily see that traveling to other ages is drawn from your personal experience. Which age would you most like to return to and which age do you hope never to return to again?
Sylvia: I’ll think of “age” here as a precise place and time, because there aren’t any places I San Pedro de Atacama-3wouldn’t return to – there are plenty of place/times I wouldn’t return to! I traveled once by myself to San Pedro de Atacama, an oasis town in the Chilean desert. Because I was traveling alone, every moment of the short trip was intensely observed: I remember the brilliant colors of the hills and the constant thirst; the way I felt exaggeratedly heavy from the heat; the incredible relief of the chilly nightfall and the pleasure of eating by a fire. I’d return there in a moment. As for ages I hope never to see again, I’d prefer, as many people would, never to return to who I was in adolescence. Fourteen was particularly bad: a constant sense of indecision about what was right and wrong and what was permissible for the person I had not yet become. I wish I’d been as level-headed as Sophia!
Kenny: The idea that because Sophia was not moored in time freed her up to perceive the world more deeply was very intriguing. Is this a principle that has deeper roots in the book?
glasssentence2Sylvia: Yes, in the sense that it will be an essential trait for Sophia in all of the Mapmakers books. And yes, in the sense that time and timelessness are at the heart of how people experienced the Great Disruption. Being lost in time is what everyone felt at the time of the Disruption, and this is what Sophia experiences at every moment. The idea of turning a flaw into an advantage isn’t new, but I still find it powerful – particularly for this age. Some thirteen-year-olds (like me, as suggested) feel like they are all flaws! It can be wonderfully empowering to think about those flaws in a new light.
Kenny:  Blanca is a fascinating character, both sympathetic and terrifying. To be lost in a surfeit of memories is a very evocative disorder. Is this a danger we should all be wary of in a different guise?
Sylvia: When you put it that way, the analogy to information overload is very tempting. Perhaps we should be wary! My thought had more to do with awakening the reader’s awareness of grief, and in particular grief caused by loss. One of the important forces in the book is empathy – it’s what drives Sophia in many instances, and it’s what emerges at the book’s climax. Empathy also opens one up to others in a way that can be overwhelming; having a character lost in a surfeit of memories is a way of showing the plight of the unprotected empath. Besides, I think we are accustomed to villains who act out of hate and anger, but the villains I’ve always found most interesting are the ones who are comprehensible, and seeing something beyond hate and anger helps to make them so.
Kenny: The Glass Sentence has more warm, intelligent, capable, caring adults than one usually finds in an epic fantasy. How did that come about? Where are the conniving aunt and uncle and the vicious bullies?
Sylvia: I actually didn’t notice their absence until you pointed them out! I purplefairycertainly believe there are conniving people and bullies in the world (and someone who is a combination of these will emerge in the second book), but I’ve always enjoyed adventure stories in which the obstacle emerged from circumstances, not from people. Books that depicted a child involved intimately with cruel people always stressed me out when I was a young reader, and I want readers to enjoy these books. I liked finding protagonists with puzzles in front of them, and I hope that’s what readers will find here.
Kenny: Which books did you reread the most times as a child?
Sylvia: I pored over Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books of Many The illustrations as much as the stories were mesmerizing to me. Also A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth, Anne of Green Gables, and a couple very battered poetry anthologies.
Kenny: What can you share about book two?
Sylvia: Book two will be called The Golden Specific. I can tell you that Sophia and Theo return, along with a number of new characters. A large part of the story takes place in Boston, and another big piece of it takes place in the Papal States. And we get to learn more about what happened to Minna and Bronson Tims, Sophia’s parents. And, of course, there are maps!

Kenny: Thank you, Sylvia.
Sylvia: It was my pleasure!

When Sleepers Awake

Kenny Brechner - May 15, 2014

We plan. We scheme. We craft hand-selling narratives that we imagine, often correctly,  will resonate with customers. Nonetheless what actually gathers steam and sells is always fraught with interest, surprise and serendipity. “All right then,” you say. “Out with it! What books have been selling really strongly for DDG over the last two months, and why are they selling? What sleepers have awakened?” Deep questions. Deep waters.
whoisdrivingWe’ll move up the age ladder, mirroring the movement of life itself, as we must, since our subject demands sobriety and philosophical and spiritual depth.  Well then, the board book that has been flying off the shelf here is Leo Timmers’ Who Is Driving? Why? A good vehicle board book is always welcome, and this one is terrific! Charming illustrations, just the right blend of action and consistency, and a fun toddler-size puzzle on every page.
Moving on to picture books, two wordless ones have been standouts. A good wordless book is fun and easy to share with customers since they inherently involve engaging with the visual narrative without any question of who is leading the train. Mathias Picard’s 3-D wordless undersea adventure, Jim Curious, has been a huge hit. It’s absolutely amazing, and that fact is immediately apparent. What really puts it over the top is that it comes with two pairs of 3-D glasses, meant for sharing, which was a brilliant stroke. The little things!hankfinds A real wordless sleeper for us is Hank Finds an Egg, by Rebecca Dudley, who constructed everything used in the photos. Visually fascinating and a great story, there is no question that Hank finds, rather than lays, an egg. In terms of traditional Picture Books, Superworm has been a big hit. Superworm provides infectious fun in a read-aloud, and that is always welcome and appealing. Our top seller, however, has been Jenny Offill’s Sparky. Not loving Sparky would be heartless, and heartless people are not those in search of a good picture book.
Climbing up the ladder of life to Juvenile titles, we have had two series standouts. The Timmy Failure books and the Heidi Heckelbeck heidiiheckbooks.  A customer once shared with me that their family has a read-aloud every evening and that their third grader had been reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid. She was glad her son liked it but it was not a source of broad family appeal.  A book that everyone can love like Timmy Failure is a pearl beyond price. Heidi Heckelbeck seems to be just right for many young readers. One can show parents and children many different options but the quest ends with Heidi and our sales reflect that. Finally, Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, The Milk has been big. Goofy, funny and playful, Gaiman hit the spot with this book that celebrates both quirkiness and going the extra mile, or hundreds of miles, for your kids.
wereworldbookfight Moving up to Middle grade, one of our top sellers is Jonathon Stroud’s Screaming Staircase. It looks as good as our heart-felt pitch makes it sounds, not to mention the Bartimaeus connection. Rooftoppers, Knightley and Sons, and Cats of Tanglewood, are all wonderful, imaginative stories that are perfect for smart and strong young readers. Rise of the Wolf is itself a quick-riser that has great fast-paced action and no one can resist us when we wear our wolf and lion masks!
halfbad Our number one Young Adult book by a runaway is Sally Green’s Half Bad. There are three primary reasons for this: a great cover, my obsession with selling it, and a dip into the text confirms the promise of a spare, powerful first-person narrative that will suck you into a dark and entertaining vortex. Other top books, other than The Fault in Our Stars that is, are Dan Wells’ Partials series, the Lunar Chronicles series, and Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. Partials is another book that kids come back to after being shown several other dystopian options. Miss Peregrine and Cinder are books that look great and are great, a winning combination!
What’s sleepers are running off your shelves? We’d love to see your comments.

A Different Viewpoint

Josie Leavitt - May 14, 2014

Flying Pig staffer Darrilyn Peters contributed this one about what it’s like working with us.
Woo hoo! I’m about to give you the lowdown on working at the Flying Pig Bookstore for Josie and Elizabeth. That’s right, Josie said I could just let it rip. Would you trust your staff to do what I’m doing?
First, let’s just stipulate from the outset that these two women love books, love kids, and love this community. I know: don’t we all, you’re thinking. And you know what, you do. I owned my own independent bookstore for 10 years and there is simply nothing else quite like it (not just the truly depressing aspect of calculating your financial return per hour worked).
Now I have the benefits without the financial stress of ownership. Colleagues and customers  keep mentioning books I’ve never heard of and share their enthusiasm with such joy, amazement, gravity or hilarity. And then there are the books that haven’t even been published yet, the ARCs. Publishers, please keep sending them (yes, Josie’s right about skipping all the elaborate packaging!). Just send the book, the great find that you really believe in. And let’s not shift to digital ARCs; my eyes are killing me already. It’s the physical book you pick up and say “what is this?” that matters. I could give you a list of the fabulous ARCs I’ve read over the years. I’ll bet you have some treasured ARCs too.
Then, of course, there is just the sheer zaniness of working at the Flying Pig. Josie is a professional stand-up comedian. This means two things if you work for her. First, you will laugh a great deal and not always at the most appropriate moments. Second, stand-up is a spontaneous art form, one where the artist reads the room and adjusts accordingly. In other words, someone may not be enthralled with long-term planning. Or even short-term planning. This may explain why they hired so many compulsively organized staff members who just happened to have a passion for reading (and a penchant for nagging?). Do all good managers have this kind of hiring intuition?
But even while always working on the run at the Flying Pig, we know there are standards. Elizabeth is a gorgeous writer, an author of marvelous books for children, and a Pied Piper to kids in search of a great book to read. She produces flyers, newsletters, interviews, and documents that make us all proud to work here. Josie does comedy that matters, that helps to heal, that says that we are all in this together.
And they co-own a bookstore, run in their own inimitable styles.  The truth is, it’s hard work but it’s a lot of fun.

What to Read This Summer?

Kenny Brechner - May 12, 2014

Kenny Brechner here, with a ShelfTalker guest post. With summer on the horizon, and summer reading lists on our mind, we are fortunate that Summer herself agreed to share summer1some of her list with ShelfTalker’s readers.
Kenny: Thank you for taking some time to visit with us on this Spring afternoon. You must be very busy with your advent just a month away.
Summer: I’m delighted to be here, Kenny. Thank you for relentlessly tracking me down.
Kenny: Sure. Now many people produce Summer Reading Lists, of course. Is it correct to see yours as a kind of platonic form concerning which all others are but shadowy reflections?
Summer: All I’ll tell you is that I do take into consideration my foreknowledge of the character of the season to come and the interrelation of book narratives within the larger story of the environment in which they will be read.
Kenny: Hmmn! Is there one book that you see as most capturing this upcoming season?
GlasssentenceSummer: Absolutely! When considering new books and how they relate to summer I don’t think about them being set during summer so much as embodying important characteristics. For example, it was a long winter and a late spring this year and many people will be mindful of experiencing summer as something to hold onto, slow down, savor, and make last. That’s why The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove is my top pick this year. It is so diverting and full of wonder that readers will want to slow their reading down somehow, not wanting the story to end. This is a terrific story of a talented girl whose parents have been lost while adventuring in a world in which time has taken on the role of being a physical form of natural disaster, causing the whole world to be fractured into different ages. Lead character Sophia is left to be raised by a highly interesting Uncle. You may be interested to learn that Sophia’s interest in exploration and adventure to find her parents is partly grounded in hard science and experience since The Glass Sentence‘s author actually is a refugee from our distant future.
Kenny: Amazing! That does make sense though. Any other noteworthy picks?
Summer: Knightley and Son is just the thing for smart kids looking for humor and characters they can relate to. It’s big fun and slips in just the right amount of depth, detective work, and fatuous self-help books that are pure evil. Summertime, with its inherent comfort, is a great time to be pulled a little out of that zone, and Half Bad is the book to do it. An amazing read. It affords the sublime fascinations of an alluring, unsafe narrator set in a deeply grey political landscape whose powers are determined to be black and white at terrible cost. Its readers find themselves carried and then swiftly captured in an irresistible current of intrigue and imagination as visceral as it is boneseasonelegant.
Kenny: Totally agree. Not be shallow here, but what about a book that does have summer as its setting?
Summer: Cynthia Lord’s new book, Half a Chance, is my pick there. This warm and appealing story is meticulously constructed and balanced. It contains, for example, one age-appropriate moral dilemma, (and not 12), and a handful (rather than an avalanche), of internal metaphors. It also sports one finely rendered stroke of foreshadowing, characters with clear and true voices, and a single difficult topic, the onset of dementia in a beloved grandparent, which is thoughtfully explored. Great stuff in just the right measure for the 9 to 13 year old set.
Kenny: What about older, more mature teen readers? Are there any adult books coming out that will make great crossovers for them?
Summer: Well, The Bone Season, obviously. Now that it’s in paperback booksellers would be well advised to get some in the YA section straightaway. The Bone Season is a book of powerful characters and maddening secrets, and its resistence to hand those secrets out on a platter is indeed part of the book’s charms. Dive in, I say! In August Lev Grossman’s stupendously good Magician’s trilogy wraps up with The Magician’s Land. If you are only going to read one coming of age story this century that should be your move.
Kenny: Those are great choices! What about a backlist series that has been neglected but which has your name all over it?
Summer: Wereworld. I mean if you really could be entertained to death I’d worry about recommending it! One big scene after another, breakneck action, bold and unexpected plot turns, unbelievable fight scenes. No Ranger’s Apprentice fan should spend the summer without Wereworld. Get with the program!
Kenny: Awesome, thanks so much.
Summer: It was my pleasure.

Do You Need to Spend Money on Ads?

Josie Leavitt - May 8, 2014

Modern booksellers are faced with different ways of advertising. Every week, I get besieged by reps who walk in and extoll the virtues of their website, newspaper, local first coupon book, school directory, etc. Every week I make a decision that is usually no. I am not heartless (although the more persistent reps might disagree) — I am being pragmatic.
All retailers have an advertising budget, but increasingly, I’m finding that the most lucrative approach is often to spend less money in a more targeted money. I live in a place where there is one daily paper, the Burlington Free Press. It’s a fine paper, but one that is getting smaller and one that fewer people read in the paper format. Most folks I have know I have shifted to the online version. The alternative weekly paper, Seven Days, is much more widely read, but also prohibitively expensive for a small store. We ran a six-week ad package in Seven Days and lost money because our coupon didn’t bring in enough sales to warrant the expense. One thing I’ve learned about ad money is that there better be a way to track its success in a real way. This is why we do coupons. As the coupons get redeemed we write on them if it was a new customer or an old one and how much they spent. Then, when the campaign is over we see how much customers spent. Sadly, the print campaign just wasn’t worth the money.
I don’t understand web advertising much. I’m not sure how effective it is. I understand the concept of click rates, page views, and all the other things that go along with internet ads, but I’m not sure how well it works for a bookstore. Do people who frequent bookstore spend as much time online as people who would just buy a book at Amazon? That’s hard to know. I’ll be honest, I don’t really like online ads when I’m on a site. I find them annoying and try to minimize my screen so I can only see the article I want to read.
Increasingly, the advertising that works for our store is free. Our Facebook page is like a massive ad for the store. The only money I spend there is the occasional push to get more “likes”, and I’ve never spend more than $100 in a year. People spend time on Facebook and seem to enjoy the posts we put up about books and events. When we have events we ask folks how they heard about the event and increasingly they say Facebook. This is hardly scientific, but it does help me to know where folks are hearing about things.
We have a great thing here called the Front Porch Forum which is a free online neighborhood bulletin board. You can post anything from needing to borrow a power washer to recommendations for dentists to posting bookstore events. More communities have similar things and call them by a plethora of names. We post on there frequently when we have events. Our staff is diverse enough that we get pretty wide coverage of our area (you can only post to your neighborhood forum, so it’s helpful to have friends who can re-post for you in their forum). For whatever reason, these forum emails are among the first people read. You cannot get more local than your neighborhood Front Porch Forum, and these are book readers. Yes, they’re reading the Forum online, but they believe in shopping local. These are our people. We posted three days ago about Jon Muth coming and within hours had 30 RSVPs and that number keeps growing.
The last free advertising we do is our email blast. We have almost 3,000 people on our email list. Not all these people live locally, but all have chosen to be on the list and are therefore letting us know they’re interested in the store. Sometimes the out-of-town people are the book collectors who will order signed copies of books when authors and illustrators come to visit. We do not overwhelm folks with our blasts, because nothing hurts more than folks who want to opt out. These blasts land in email inboxes at good times of the week, usually Thursday or Sunday mornings. It’s very easy to track the effectiveness of these by the number of people who open the blast and then what they click on in the blast. This kind of information, while a little creepy, does help us figure out what kinds of links work best and that’s useful. We also attach a coupon that folks can print out or have on their phone to redeem at events.
So, I’m curious, what advertising has your store found to be the most effective?