Monthly Archives: February 2020

Bookseller Burnout

Cynthia Compton - February 12, 2020

Ahh, February. The season of foil wrapped chocolates, large displays of “blind date with a book” made of brown-paper-packaged titles with teasing little labels, sidewalk salt crunching underfoot on the dusty footprint-filled tile floors of the shop and burnout. Bookseller burnout – that bone-level exhaustion, lack of motivation, tired-hamster-on-a-wheel feeling that hits so very hard in the bleak months of the 1st quarter. If we were lucky, we attended Winter Institute in Baltimore, filled our notebooks with great ideas and our pockets with business cards, flew home exhausted and then the avalanche of ennui tumbled onto our desks. If this wasn’t a year for a conference or even a midwinter gift show, we slogged through the slush of January, shoveling our sidewalks and doorsteps, putting up paper snowflakes in the windows to replace the holiday lights, and waited for customers too few and far in-between. Surely, there is no year as long as the 31 days of January in retail, except that sneaky month of February, which is an era worthy of its own class of dinosaurs.

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Bits and Bobs on a Snowy Day

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 11, 2020

Bookstore days happen in shards of activity. A 10-minute segment of our morning might include:

  • helping a customer find books for her seven-year-old nephew who is suddenly obsessed with rock collecting,
  • calling the distributor to see why a title we ordered a week ago still hasn’t arrived,
  • ringing up a sale,
  • wrapping a birthday gift, and
  • looking up book three in a series a youngster can only remember has “magic” in the title.

On a good day, retail is best suited for people comfortable holding two or three different threads in mind at any given moment. Add to that unexpected weather events, and it’s a whirlwind of crazy. (Scroll to the end for happy puppy-in-snow video.)

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Show Us Your Shelftalkers

Cynthia Compton - February 10, 2020

I have a small shopkeeper confession: when I visit other bookstores, I love meeting new bookselling colleagues, checking out interesting local sidelines and greeting store pets, but mostly, I’m there to read the shelf talkers. Those charmingly bookish handwritten cards, sometimes covered in fancy plastic protectors, sometimes laminated, and often just taped to the edge of the bookshelf are like little peeks into the soul of a store. In some stores they are all written on white card stock, and I marvel at the incredibly neat printing that fits all those words onto that little space. Other booksellers use a color coded system, with each staff member’s blurbs written on their own signature colored paper, so that customers can skip across sections looking for “their” staffer’s picks. Flurries of one color in Romance or Science Fiction give clues to that staff member’s personal favorite genre, and looking at the clusters of colors is like a Venn diagram of the reading preferences of the store team. Even fancier are the stores with custom printed shelf talkers, each bearing a photo of the staffer who wrote the review – in my store, that would be WAAAAY too many pictures of yours truly, but I love the idea, and feel that approach adds a lot of credibility to this “hands free” handselling technique.

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The Worms Crawl In, The Worms Crawl Out

Meghan Dietsche Goel - February 7, 2020

Writing this blog can generate some strange thought processes. The truth is that a bookseller’s brain is kind of a big swirl in which wildly disparate, nothing-alike books and stories and sentences bump up against each other continuously, like mismatched socks in a washing machine (yes, I was just reading A Sock Story by CK Smouha to my 5-year-old tonight). So it’s hard to say what exactly will be top of mind when Thursday comes around. Out of the maelstrom, you can find yourself wondering unexpected things, such as: is physically putting animals to rest a new theme in children’s books? I mean, no, it’s obviously not a “trend.” Sloths and llamas and unicorns can breathe easily. But this week I found myself thinking about two new books that deal with mortality on a very practical level, albeit with different slants and for different audiences.

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How to Build a Heart

Kenny Brechner - February 6, 2020

On a day of questions, two stood out. Here is the first.

“As you are going along writing your book, how do you stay true to your vision for it?” That was the question a high school student asked one of my favorite YA authors, Maria Padian, yesterday during a school visit. This was not only an excellent question, but one Maria had never been asked before by a student. “I lock in on my characters,” she replied.  “Plot follows character and staying true to them keeps the story in line. I always ask myself both what my characters want and what they need. That is a central tension for me and my books are always a journey between those two points.”  

Here is the second question.

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Event Kits, Swag, and Bulldogs

Cynthia Compton - February 5, 2020

Our dear publisher partners are filling our stockroom with lots of shiny padded envelopes, artistically printed boxes, and expensive specialized mailers this month, all in hopes of getting our attention about new book releases this spring. My postal delivery person is cranky, because most of those items don’t fit in the mailbox, and so she has to pull around to the front of the store, leave her vehicle, and carry them inside the store. I was sitting at my desk today with a bulldog at my feet, sorting the mail that accumulated while I was at a trade show last week (see Toy Trends from Spielwarenmesse), and the number of packages (and their varying usefulness) is just remarkable.

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Toy Trends from Spielwarenmesse

Cynthia Compton - February 3, 2020

I’m headed home now from the Nuremberg Toy Fair ( with an iPhone full of pictures,  a suitcase full of catalogs, and my heart full of German hospitality. While toy fairs, trade shows, and gift marts are a rather regular (never ho-hum, but certainly not unusual) part of my schedule as a buyer for the shop, this event is the high water mark in inspiration. Not only is this event larger than anything here in the U.S. (A Postcard from Nuremberg) but it is so beautifully executed at all levels that it is simply hard to imitate. Booths large and small are carefully merchandised, and everywhere it is evident that not only are toys big business, but the design and manufacture of items for children holds a distinct and important set of obligations for quality and care. Languages, distribution channels, and pricing strategies may be different, but the understanding of the value of play and its importance to healthy human development is a value shared as easily as pretzels and good German beer.
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