Booksellers across the country are tucking their stores in for a few days in order to attend regional fall forums and meetings. I’m going to borrow the images of Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle’s classic read aloud* this week, so that you can join in to the storytelling (and the flurry of tasks to be done ) with me.
Brown box, brown box, what do you see?
I see a bunch of new product receiving looking at me…. which needs to be done before I leave for Heartland Fall Forum in Minneapolis. I could leave it all for the staff to do, as long as I identify somewhere for them to put the damages. There will be damages, of course, which increase exponentially with the following criteria: if you order only one copy of a book, it is twice as likely to be damaged. If the book is a BIG RELEASE with lots of pre-orders, count on damages to equal the number of books over the preorder amount plus one. If the book is has a silver cover, a clever cutout on the paperback cover, or some kind of strange texture…. well, you knew better when you ordered it, and you got what you deserved.
Red numbers, red letters, what do you see? I see the bills that need to be paid, especially those with the angry looking OVERDUE written in sharpie marker next to the total, before I go. Oh, and maybe I should do payroll now, too, in case my flight home is delayed. Also, I will just lock up one of the store credit cards in the store safe now, because there’s nothing like a business trip to insure that one of those accounts will get compromised.
Yellowed pages, older books, what do you see? I see two sections of returns that need to be pulled this week to make room for the embarrassment of riches in new releases headed our way in October. Keeping up with returns requires the discipline of a mama duck trying to shepherd her little ducklings across the street… just stay with it, even though the process is never pretty or very neatly accomplished. Also, no matter how carefully we try, sometimes a title or two just falls into the storm drain….er… our tote bag.
Blue slips, blue slips… these are the special order forms in our store that require actual research. Either the book is out of print, no longer available from a wholesaler, or requires some bit of extra effort to find. Special orders like these are fun to take, as they are like little games of Clue, but quickly become the demise of poor Mrs. Peacock in the Conservatory with a candlestick. That stack needs to be corralled before I go, or frustrated customers will stampede upon my return, looking for their books.
Green cash, rolls of coins, what do you see? I see a trip to the bank before I leave, to make sure that the cash drawers and the emergency stash is full, and we don’t run out of quarters and singles to make change. While the majority of our store sales are paid for with credit cards, my leaving for a few days will automatically increase the number of customers with crisp $100 bills in hand to make $23 purchases.
Purple prose, self pubs, what do you see? I see a series of careful, kind but clear phone conversations with authors who have dropped of copies of self-published books, expecting front table displays, events, and lots of book sales. We will gently point them toward local writing groups, invite them to our local author signing events, and explain, yet again, how wholesale discounts work.
White Pages, manuscripts, what do you see? I see some serious bedtime reading, some speed reading on the flight, and some hotel room skimming to finish ARCs of authors I plan to meet and celebrate at this event. There is nothing quite as exciting as meeting the writer of a book while the characters are still dancing in your imagination, and the mood of a book is still coloring your own experience. That connection with an author is worth a few late nights of reading before you leave, and a little extra weight in your carry-on bag.
Black clothes, black clothes, what do you see? The inside of my suitcase, as I don’t really have time to be creative (or do laundry) at this point. Packing one color allows for layering in cold hotel meeting rooms and brisk outside evening walks to restaurants, while not having to think very hard while getting dressed in the morning for early author breakfasts. Also, the coffee I inevitably spill on myself while juggling a large paper cup, two signed copies of books, a tote bag, and the meeting room map won’t show quite as much, right?
Golden friendships, those made while seated side by side in a retailer roundtable, at the hotel bar, or in an author event at a regional meeting when you realize that the person next to you has EXACTLY the same issue in her store that you have been struggling with, and has found a solution, or knows a person who can help you. Spending time with colleagues that you may only see once a year, but with whom you can restart conversations without pause and with complete understanding, is like diving into a pool where the water is warm and everyone is welcome.
Teacher, teacher, what can we be? While we all go to meetings to learn, to celebrate, and to connect, we all serve as mentors, too. There will be new store owners, new buyers, new managers, and new authors at each and every regional event. There will be people in cocktail parties and rep arounds and hallways who don’t know anyone, or aren’t sure how to get their questions answered. We can create exactly the kind of community of bookselling that we want it to be – by welcoming those bookish folk to the family, finding the information they need and the people they need to be introduced to. We can make our part of the world just as kind and colorful as the pages we see.
Travel safely, everyone, and come home soon to tell us stories.
*Published in 1967 by Doubleday, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? is a beloved hallmark of toddler bedtime reading, a preschool standard, and has served as an introduction to art for generations of children.