Monthly Archives: August 2019

Hey Authors, Let’s Talk!

Meghan Dietsche Goel - August 30, 2019

A few weeks ago, my ShelfTalker colleague, Cynthia Compton, wrote a pair of posts about the relationship between authors and bookstores, offering some tips for authors on how to avoid some common missteps. Her post clearly tapped into some feelings, as she mentioned in her follow-up that she found herself answering all kinds of commiserating emails from colleagues. Speaking as a fellow book buyer, her post perfectly captured some of the ways bookstore outreach (especially from self-published authors who are often just learning the dynamics of the book business) can go awry. But the truth is that it’s not just self-published authors who can stumble in this arena. What her post actually made me think about was what I’ve learned as a bookseller about navigating author relationships over the last 14 years and some of the times I’ve landed in awkward territory with authors myself, despite my good intentions.
While authors and booksellers are natural partners in so many ways, especially on a local level as each of us enhances the other’s voice in the community, there are still places where our priorities and perspectives unavoidably diverge. And whenever that happens—in business just as in life—awkward conversations or misunderstandings can ensue. Here are a few things I’ve learned that I think help us booksellers do a better job dealing with authors too: Continue reading

Autumn’s Portal to Great Books

Kenny Brechner - August 29, 2019

The approach to the Glade of Seasons is made by walking into a remote field whose location I have been forced to keep secret. At the edge of this field stands a formidable boulder with a drawing on its side of a wooden door. Those with an appointment may push open the door and then step through it into the Glade. So it has always been during my many visits over the years to interview the seasons as to their forthcoming book picks. Today, as I made my way to our annual interview with Autumn, I found not one but three boulders, and each with two doors drawn on them.
Feeling a bit out to sea I located the original boulder and on it the original drawing of a wooden door. I pushed. It swung open and I walked into the Glade. Autumn stood there waving at me. She had a book in her hand which I recognized as The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern.
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Spring Ahead, Fall Back

Cynthia Compton - August 28, 2019

It’s late August, which means that we are concurrently planning fall school author visits, community holiday events, ordering Christmas gift wrap and bags, selecting paperbacks for book fairs from backlist catalogs, and ordering spring 2020 frontlist. My plush rep informed me that we’re “too late to get in on Easter, but there might be some closeouts left for Valentine’s…” while my email inbox is filled with Halloween promotions, that are evidently still available. It’s 90 degrees outside, and the air conditioning needed to be serviced again, but every single prepack and stand-alone cardboard picture book display that has arrived this week has pictures of snowmen or Santa on them. (Which is OK, I suppose, because it’s going to be a Christmas miracle if I can fold any of them correctly, and if the giant cardboard toppers actually fit in those little pre-cut slots. Is it just me, or are the standees just getting bigger and bigger heads?)
The kids are back in school, and we need to hurry and get the Fall Break travel display put up, right after we finish Banned Books Week lists and mock Newbery ballots and find a place to store those unsold sand and water toys. (It’s the yellow ones that are left over. It’s always the yellow ones, isn’t it?) In spite of the warm afternoons and long twilights, parents have shifted their birthday gift choices away from kites and archery sets, and the sidewalk chalk sits dejectedly on the shelf next to the suddenly popular sets of scented pencils, just perfect for math class, and there’s a run on responsibility charts and puzzles with state capitals. Books of knock-knock jokes always sell well at this time of year, which reminds me, once again, that we just don’t pay teachers or school bus drivers enough, truly we don’t.
The practice of retail is always a careful balance of managing lead time and being “in the moment” — we need to have holiday displays up early, to give parents and teachers time to read aloud books about the upcoming season — but the store itself must also celebrate the current occasions in children’s lives. So while we may be quietly putting Halloween titles on lower shelves in early August, and we’ve been collecting books about autumn leaves since June, we are still displaying titles about fireflies and making pyramids of bug catchers. There is a constant pushme-pullyou between not appearing to jump on the bandwagon of big box seasonal hoopla, but recognizing that shopkeeping runs on several timelines simultaneously: customers expect that we have the most current thing, the NEXT big thing, and that somehow, sometime, we’re planning a season or two ahead so that all that stuff arrives when they didn’t know they needed it, too.
Our sales reps are obviously caught in the same time and space loops, as they email us weekly about backlist offers due to end on Labor Day, titles to stock up on because they are included in the fall regional catalogs or some media promotion, while anxiously trying to book appointments for their spring lists…. arranging routes for sales calls through our states while avoiding late summer vacation traffic, teacher appreciation nights, and booksellers either exhausted from the end of tourist season or hesitant to buy after a long quiet summer. While they field frantic phone calls tracking titles for currently touring authors, they are telling us about books scheduled to launch next year…. a lifetime away in the brains of shopkeepers worried about how many pumpkin books will sell before the icicle lights need to be strung in the front windows, and how many part-time staffers will be needed in December. It’s difficult to look at 2019 sales reports for first quarter when the make-or-break part of our year is still ahead, and to optimistically jot case quantities for spring titles while wondering about tariffs and snow days to come. But order we must, as we shuffle spreadsheets with contracts for Holiday Marts and book order forms for schools — while wondering, hopefully, if there will still be tomatoes at the farmers market this weekend, and if we have enough bug nets left to finish the season.

Help for New Hires

Cynthia Compton - August 26, 2019

Our summer crew has dispersed, our college student employees are back on faraway campuses, and last year’s high school helpers are only available for precious short after-school shifts (as long as there’s not a home football game, a pre-cal test the next day, or a cute bunch of boys on the soccer team this year….).
In short, we’ve been hiring booksellers, which means training and explaining and showing-then-watching every single task in our business, hoping that some of this voluminous amount of information will stick before the holidays begin, when we just don’t have time for inexperience or hesitation. Every year, the process reminds me of childproofing our home before each new toddler pulled away from creeping around the coffee table, as we new parents crept around on the floor looking for dangerous things that might poke or trip an unsteady walker in the space. We tried to imagine every potentially dangerous interaction, and altered the environment to remove the hazards.
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A Solution to Amazon’s Counterfeiting Problem

Kenny Brechner - August 22, 2019

In response to the recent New York Times article, Paging Big Brother, further exposing the proliferation of counterfeit books being offered for sale on, the company made these observations by way of rebuttal and explanation.
According to Amazon, and as reported in Publishers Weekly, “The solution for ensuring that no alternative books to titles that are still protected by copyright appear on Amazon’s—or any other bookstore’s site—is ‘a single source of truth for the copyright status of every book in every country,’ Amazon said. Such a source ‘would help all booksellers,’ Amazon added.”
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Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture

Elizabeth Bluemle - August 20, 2019

Chaos Walking will be in theaters in 2020. Now’s your chance to read this extraordinary novel by Patrick Ness first!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The Wizard of OzMary Poppins. Movies made from children’s books can mean blockbuster sales for Hollywood, and can be joyful, enduring touchstone experiences for families. Often, children may not even know that the movie they’re seeing is based on a book, or that—as in the case of Mary Poppins—the book may be markedly different in tone or content from the film. These days, producers hungry for good stories eagerly snap up film rights sometimes even before a book has been published, and the movie may hit the public scene shortly after the book’s publication. Is this a good thing? Do movies broaden the reach of a book, or are we losing readers to the silver screen? I think a little of both.
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Dear Bookstore Owner, P.S.

Cynthia Compton - August 19, 2019

I whined a bit in my blog post last week (Dear Bookstore Owner) about my frustrations when working with (mostly) self-published authors and their sometimes ineffective marketing techniques to promote their new books. As you may remember, I offered some advice on how these newly published writers could best approach independent bookstores and potentially endear themselves to the owner and staff, rather than antagonize or damage the relationship before it even begins. Clearly, this is a common concern among my bookselling colleagues, as I spent a good chunk of the weekend responding to their commiserating emails and messages, reading LOTS of humorous (and horrifying) tales of hand-to-hand combat…errrr…. promotion techniques used by authors on the prowl, and tut-tutting over the sadly lost time and energy that all of this can take.
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The Next Generation of Booksellers?

Meghan Dietsche Goel - August 16, 2019

Today was the first day of school in my household, which means we had three other days this week not filled with summer camp or any other pre-programmed activity for my incoming second grader. With my husband out of town for work, he agreed to come down to the store with me for a few days. The truth is he actually looks forward to it. He gets to read all day, we get to go out for lunch, and they serve chocolate milk in the café. It’s really not such a bad life! That being said, while I did work a little bit from home this week, he still put in about 18 hours at BookPeople, which isn’t nothing. Of course it didn’t hurt that he was here the week the newest Dog Man came out. Thanks, Dav Pilkey!
Staci, BookKids Inventory Manager, had the same situation with her seven and 11-year-olds this week, so it made me think about the life of these (not entirely voluntary) second generation booksellers. On the plus side, bookstores are great places for kids to hang out. We welcome kids into the store on a daily basis, so it’s not exactly disruptive to have a few extras around—and there’s no shortage of reading material to entertain them. On the flip side, whiling away six well-behaved hours in one spot isn’t on the list of top 10 favorite activities for most kids. So what’s a kid to do when their parent hauls them to the store for the day? We have a lot of parents on staff at this point, and we all benefit from our store’s kid-friendly work environment, so I decided to find out what some of the other booksellers’ kids have to say about their time here. The consensus? Sure, we put them to work sometimes, but they also get to grab a nap when they need one, discover a good book, or sometimes even get into character. Continue reading

The 2019 First Among First Day of School Books

Kenny Brechner - August 15, 2019

I am a little worried about our annual selection of the best new back to school book, DDG’s First Among First Day Of School Award. We’re always hoping to find a great new book to join the likes of past recipients such as Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School, and Steve, Raised by Wolves. My concern is that we have two such strong contenders this year and I would be galled to the quick to see the contest devolve into that darkest of ironies, a playground brawl.
Our two finalists are Mo Willems’s The Pigeon HAS to Go To School! and Chris Van Dusen’s If I Built a School. Both books are already part of a store favorite book series. In the case of the Pigeon, Mo Willems said in 2014, that the Pigeon Needs a Bath was the last Pigeon book he would write. Pigeon fans were dashed. Mo spoke too soon. Pigeon was not done with him. With The Pigeon HAS to Go To School!  his many fans rightly rejoiced, as is a worthy new member of the revered Pigeon canon and a terrific First Day of School Book to boot.
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Dear Bookstore Owner

Cynthia Compton - August 14, 2019

Dear Bookstore Owner/manager/to whom it may concern,
I recently published my new book, THE BEST KIDS BOOK EVER WRITYN, and it’s already a bestseller on Amazon. I am offering signings and (limited) storytimes for bookstores, and am willing to offer you the chance to host an event. You can order copies from my website: or I have several hundred books stored at my home which will go quickly. The book is a retelling of a beloved family tale that my grandfather wrote and submitted to Reader’s Digest, and the illustrations were done by my incredibly talented daughter, who is in the 3rd grade (she is homeschooled). The story offers moral lessons of obedience, honesty, hard work and adherence to family values as it follows the story of a  lovable dinosaur and his pet fish, and will be popular for families and in classrooms. Please respond with your proposal for stocking and promoting my book in your store, and I will let you know when I will be available to make an appearance.
This author  (note: please do not respond to this email, as this is my personal account. My book website is: and I check those messages every Monday)
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