Bookselling by the Numbers

Cynthia Compton -- September 27th, 2017

 

FIFTEEN (15): Minutes until Story Time, so here’s our countdown of today, dear readers:

FOURTEEN (14): (besides being the number that I always have to spellcheck when I write – sorry, Sister Augustine) is the total number of the floor tiles between where I’m standing (at the register) and the back counter where I left my coffee. My rapidly cooling, just purchased coffee that I brought in from the car to sip before story time, but is now just out of reach, as I am trapped with a very disgruntled customer who wants to return a book she purchased for her granddaughter, as it “has offensive language.” Quickly offering an exchange or a store credit (glancing wistfully at my coffee while doing so) I ask if there’s another title I can get for her. She pulls the printed copy of an email from her granddaughter out of her purse—oh, wait! I remember this list! I helped her!—and points to the second title requested. (The first, of course, was the book I sold her.) “That book is a bit more high school in tone,” I say with that one-raised-eyebrow look that somehow warns most people that I don’t wish to offend, but might suggest something else. “Well, it’s what she wants.”  (SO WAS THE FIRST BOOK, LADY!)  “Absolutely. Would you like that wrapped?”

THIRTEEN (13): The age when I once thought readers moved from the quaint confines of middle grade reading into the brave new landscape of the young adult section. Not so much. Childhood compression, books-into-movies-into-Netflix, and the escalating media onslaught of content dumped on the heads of our kids has made those lines blurry at best, and sadly shortened the length of time that children spend in the middle grade chapter books. I don’t bemoan the loss of innocence as much as I mourn for all those stories that there now isn’t time to read, all those afternoons lost on My Side of the Mountain or in the waves off the Island of the Blue Dolphins.

TWELVE (12): Versions of Peter Pan on our shelves (my name is Cynthia, and I have a Tinkerbell problem); toy catalogs on my desk from companies currently shipping “squishies” (the hot toy trend of the moment); and opened boxes of crackers, pita chips and snacky carb things in our back room piled on top of the fridge. All of this needs to be ruthlessly dealt with, right after….

ELEVEN (11): Phone calls to make about 1) Damages  2) Missing books in an order 3) Un-ordered titles that were shipped—”no, thank you, we don’t need anything on auto repair this week.” 4) Damages 5) “I don’t remember why I called, but since I’ve been on hold through most of the Hair soundtrack, let’s just review the available credits on my account” 6) Damages.

TEN (10): Events at the store in the next two weeks. Ten events. For some bookstores, that’s just a regular week, or a light one. For us, it’s the invasion of Normandy planned on a cocktail napkin. The wall above my desk is covered with Post-its, my phone is full of dictated reminder memos that I will never remember to retrieve, and the front counter is stacked with clipboards, each containing precious sign up sheets, book orders, and random sets of hash tag totals. (WHAT DOES 36 MEAN ON THAT LIST?) Ten is also the number of beads in a decade on my rosary, which will not leave my pocket until this flurry is complete.

NINE (9): Books that I need to read to introduce speakers at the upcoming regional booksellers conference. Reading nine books? No problem. Remembering nine books…. well, as long as they don’t all have characters with long elvish names and talking trees, I’m good. (I once heard Tamora Pierce say that the problem with a lot of fantasy books is that they never stop to water their horses. I now read every “quest” book like an equine vet tech.)

EIGHT (8): Shelves for the Banned Books Week display. Seven of them are stacked with face out titles, and the middle shelf contains all the spine out books that I will rotate into (hopefully) empty spaces as they sell. Eight shelves. Some 60 books that I have culled from the list, all of which I love, all of which break my heart, both in content and in their history of surviving protest and censure and removal. I love them fiercely, like rescued pets, who come to us with pasts full of hurtful words and isolation, and who deserve to spend their time with shiny new covers in face out displays, highlighted by passionate shelf talkers and the security of permanent status on the backlist order.

SEVEN (7):  The current number of unshelved books behind my counter. They are not unshelved because they were just received, but rather because no one on staff knows where to put them. They don’t *quite* fit in any of the standard sections, and there’s no themed table top or counter display currently into which they can be tucked. They are not candidates for the Island of Misfit Books, but there are too many of them to employ the time-honored bookselling technique of just popping them on bookstands right in front of the register, selling them to someone waiting for gift wrapping, and moving on…..   #norestock

SIX (6): Children under the age of three who are currently happily occupied at our train tables, the play kitchen and the hot dog cart in the front part of the store. “Would you like a Popsicle?” one young friend asks me, offering a wooden ice cream cone and a charming grin. “Yes, yes I would,” I reply. “How much do I owe you?”   “Ummmmm….. seventy thirteen.”  “Here you are”, offering a small piece of scrap paper on which I have quickly drawn a smiley face and “7013”. Transaction concluded, I set my “popsicle” down by the register and turn to the next customer. “Can I pay with a drawing, too?” he asks.

FIVE (5): How many times this week that the UPS driver has pulled up out front, made the “SOOOOOO BIG” sign with his two hands apart, and pointed toward our back entrance. It’s the bounty of the rapidly approaching 4th quarter, all boxed and taped and (hopefully) shrink-wrapped to prevent damage, all headed into our already chockful little space.

FOUR (4): Staffers scheduled to work this weekend. It won’t be enough, but it’s football season, homecoming, midterms, and there’s a big country music concert on Saturday night, and the staff availability on the scheduling software looks like a baseball box office score in a no hitter…. 0, 0, 0, 0…. So it’s also the number of meals I will probably have delivered to the store to keep those stalwarts strong.

THREE (3): Months that make or break our year, financially, and they’re here. Three months. Minus that last week, which is all returns and gift cards and special orders, because if we do this right, we won’t have much left to sell after the sleigh is loaded.

TWO (2): times today that a customer hugged me. Take that, big box. You can have all the greeters and special coupons and doorbusters you want…. I bet you don’t get a phone call from the husband when a customer is in labor, or get invited to a four-year-old’s birthday parties, or high school graduation open houses, or hold anyone’s hand while they cry quietly in your store over a child being left out of a friend group, and wanting “a book or something to help.” Two times just today, when a customer told me that we are like family. That kind of reward will hold us through all the crazy.

ONE (1) day at a time.

 

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About Cynthia Compton

Cynthia is the mom of 4 kids, the walker of 5 dogs, and the owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana. The 2600 sq. ft. childrens store was founded in 2003, and hosts daily story times and events, birthday parties, book clubs and a large summer reading program. She is a current board member of the American Specialty Toy Retailers Assn, a past president of the Great Lakes Bookseller Association, and her store was honored with the Pannell Award in 2013.

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