Okay, it’s hardly feeling spring-like in Vermont, so why am I talking about summer reading? Because now is the time smart booksellers plan for the annual summer reading season. There is always more that can done to prepare for the summer reading lists that help drive readers into the bookstore.
We all know the ritual of summer reading. These days though, summer reading lists are intense, long and often accompanied by substantial work that sometimes needs to be turned in — during the summer! Gone are the easy days of “read three books.” Kids come in with page upon page of books sorted by the genres they must pick from. There is even a reading list for kids as young as first graders. The challenge for bookstores is how to make the books from most lists accessible and, more importantly, how to make the reading seem fun.
There are a myriad of ways for a store to get organized for summer reading. The first thing to do is get hold of all the school’s lists. This can be a daunting task depending on the number of schools in a store’s area. This is the time of year to start calling around for the lists. It may feel early, but there are eight weeks of school left. We keep all the lists in a folder for easy reference. So many kids come in without their list, the day before they leave for camp, that parents really appreciate our having the list to refer to. The real reason to get the lists this early though, is to take advantage of backlist promotions.
By planning ahead, it’s easy to get many of the summer reading books for a better discount than normal, if there’s a promo going on. This little bit of planning ahead could mean that for every summer reading book you sell, you could make an additional 4% per book. Do a brisk business with reading lists and that can really add up. Also, the more direct publisher orders you do, the more you’re adding to your coop pool, and that’s always a lovely thing. And, planning ahead means you’ll have the books in when kids start coming in for them.
We dedicate a bookcase to summer reading. It’s arranged alphabetically by author, so families can zip in and get the title they’re looking for. This makes it easy for the kids to see all the books and pick the one(s) they’re most likely to read and enjoy. We also all try to read some of the ones we might not be familiar with so we can recommend as many books as possible. So often parents come in, while getting ready for camp, with this five-page list, and are just as bewildered as their children. It’s really helpful if we can go through the list with them and help find the best books for their child.
Some stores send home flyers with an order form. Which works well for a lot of communities. We have never done that, but we have set up a summer reading list section on our website. This has proven to be a very smart idea. So often customers go someplace else for the summer, but they want to shop local with us. The website list makes it easy for them to do that in one easy place. Schools can use their local store and their website as a way to make money, by making the entire summer reading list part of an in-store book fair, so every time a customer orders a book from that list, the school gets 20% back in store credit to use at the store.
I’d love to hear from other booksellers and librarians what they do to get ready for summer reading.