Conversations with Customers

Cynthia Compton - October 24, 2018

Those of us who sell books to and for children are rewarded in many ways. We spend our days with young readers who are honest in both their requests and their reviews, and who see us as the “good kind” of adults who like the same things they do, and who remember how it feels to be a kid without acting like it’s a big deal. Of course, kid lit is big business, too. In many years, we are the tail that wags the publishing dog, as our markets expand, our sales increase, and our licensing revenue commands attention (if not always respect) from our colleagues in the general book market. (We don’t say “adult book market”, because it sounds a bit, well, “adult.”)
As a part of that giant and still growing children’s publishing marketplace, those of us in independent stores really have the best gig, in my opinion. We interact with all the market segments — the authors, the publishers, the distributors, the sales reps and marketing team — and every piece channels all that effort through us to reach the customers. The kids. The people that we get to talk to, and read with, and hear from in our shops every day. This week, I’m going to share just a few days of those stock dividends, by letting you listen to of a few of my conversations with young customers.

“Missus Sintya, we have a dog. He can’t read books. I telled him my book, though. He liked it so he stayed in my bed. He mostly stays in my sister’s bed, but she didn’t have books in her bed, just her phone because she isn’t supposed to have her phone but I won’t tell because did you know my sister is MEAN? Except to our dog. And she pushes me on the swing. And she gives me her books. I love her. But the dog loves me better for stories.”
“Lady, can you play trains with me? My mom is in the bathroom. She will be right back, but my brother is poopy again. He wears diapers. Do you wear diapers? Me, either. But I will play trains with you, and we can wait for my mom like friends.”
“Do you have any books about the war? We do. Is there a war that you are really interested in right now? “I like books about the war with the bombs. And the people who rescued Jewish people. Do you know about that war? I do. That was a sad time, wasn’t it? And reading about brave people is always so interesting, and it helps me. Do you feel that way, too?Yes. And I want to be a person who stops wars like that. I want to be a peace person, who rescues people.”
“I like dinosaurs and excavators. And rice. But no peas in it. Do you like dinosaurs?” I do. I bet you know a lot about them. Could you show me some dinosaurs that you like? “I like dinosaurs that eat jungles. And T-rex’s if they are nice.” Do you think that dinosaurs would like rice, if they had someone to make it for them?  “Not with peas, though.”
“Cynthia, I read those ARCs. Could I look at the shelf in the back for some more?” Of course. Was there anything in that stack that you really loved? Should I put any of those titles on the top of my pile to read next? “They were mostly good. This one, though, you need to order like a bunch in the store, and then just like have one of those book club nights with some food and stuff. And maybe get someone to talk about it.” OK. I will read that next. What kind of person would you like to have talk about it? Someone not a mom. Like, you’re OK, but not you. Like, not someone that knows people. Maybe someone who knows about  parties and drugs  and stuff.” Totally. I think that’s a great idea. If I plan that, can I tell your school or anything? Or maybe just have the book club at the coffee place? “Yeah. That. I’m going to look for some more books now, is that OK?”
Mom, pushing reluctant nine-year-old: “Tyson, tell Miss Cynthia what you need.” Hey, Tyson! What’s up? “I have to read a book.” OK. Is this for school?  “I have to do a report, and dress up like them.” Oh! Are you in fourth grade this year? “Yes. And I have to be a Hoosier. And make a poster. And dress up and talk about it.” Got it. So, is there anyone you thought of already, or should I just show you some ideas and you can pick? ” I want to be a sports star, or an astronaut, or mostly a cooker.” Well then, you’re in the right state. We have all of those. Why don’t we start with the chefs – those are the people who cook, right?
“Do you have any books about lint? Or fuzz?”
“Is there another Dog Man book yet? Why does that take so long? I read it already.”
“I like really thick chapter books that don’t have any magic. It’s OK if there’s witches, but no magic.”
“Is there kissing in this book?” No. “Is there kissing in this book? No“Is there kissing in this one? No. (barely audible customer sigh) You know what, there’s some kissing and stuff in this one. I’ll leave it here, in case you want to look at some of these. I’m going to help that customer, OK?
“I love to read.” Me, too. “Do you get to read books whenever you want?” Not all the time, but a lot. “That’s really lucky.”  Yes, it is. And I get to talk to you about books, too. That’s the lucky part.

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About Cynthia Compton

Cynthia is the owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana, a 2600 sq. ft. childrens store founded in 2003. She serves on the board of the American Booksellers Association, is a past president of the Great Lakes Bookseller Association, and is a former member of the American Specialty Toy Retail Association board of directors. 4 Kids was honored with the Pannell Award in 2013 and has received numerous "best of" awards in the Indianapolis area. The opinions expressed in her posts are her own, and sometimes those of her english bulldogs.

4 thoughts on “Conversations with Customers

  1. Leslie Hawkins

    The other day a 7-year-old barraged me with a series of rapid fire questions, ending in this string:
    “What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?”
    “What’s your second favorite?”
    “What’s your third favorite?”
    “Who invented words?”
    Those last two were real stumpers!

    1. Cynthia Compton Post author

      Leslie, I could name ice cream flavors all day long….. Butter Pecan. Moose Tracks. Pineapple. Rocky Road. Cherry Garcia. Butter Brickle. Chocolate with brownie bits (every chain has this, but they all have different names. It’s one of the only known cures for PMS.)
      But who invented words? Wow, what did you say?

  2. Kelly Carey

    Thank you so much for sharing these conversations!!! They are equal parts hilarious and a brilliant reminder to consider our readers as we write! (And PS – now I want to work in a bookstore!)

    1. Cynthia Compton

      Kelly, we are ALWAYS accepting applications. (truth be known, we don’t have people even fill them out until we’re pretty sure they’re joining us, as I don’t want to be responsible for keeping all those files.) And our little shop is probably not a good commute for you – but if I had a wish, it would be that EVERY AUTHOR work in a bookstore, if only for an afternoon. Preferably an afternoon when we are busy, and the author can have conversations with both kids and parents in the aisles, and staff in the stock room. If we could arrange some type of national author internship program OUTSIDE OF 4TH QUARTER I would be its most enthusiastic shopkeeping supporter.
      (and thanks for the kind comment – may you have a creatively brilliant week)


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