Prepping for Pittsburgh

Cynthia Compton -- June 26th, 2019

If you’re joining me and 350 of my best bookselling friends at ABA’s Children’s Institute this week, you’ve probably spent the last few days scurrying around your bookstore or office, checking items off both the to-do list and circling the open suitcase on the floor, shooing out both pets and reconsidered wardrobe choices.  Here’s a few of the things you need to be SURE to bring.

  1. Business cards. I know that you will probably think this is obvious, and it will be the first thing that you, wise reader, will tuck into your carry-on.  As a “veteran” bookseller of countless BEA trips, Winter Institute adventures, regional trade shows, spring forums, and a half dozen Children’s Institutes… I still forget mine most of the time. I even put a picture of my bulldog, Gordon, on my card, so that  I would be more inclined to want to keep some in my purse… to no avail. If you see me in Pittsburgh, ask me for a business card. It’s about a good a bet as $5 wagered on Maximum Security to win at the Derby – great potential, unsuccessful outcome.
  2. A sweater. Why do convention centers, hotels, and other meeting spaces continue to believe that humans function best at a room temperature suitable for chilling salad plates?  The weather forecast for Pittsburgh is delightful. Inside the meeting rooms, however, it’s mittens optional.
  3. Extra room in your suitcase, OR (this is my veteran tip) a collapsed duffel bag stuffed into your carryon bag. You can always stuff the dirty, worn clothes in the duffel for the trip home, and use your precious suitcase space for books. Last year, on the way home from Winter Institute, I tried to tuck too many ARC’s and signed copies into my backpack, and the zipper gave out just as I was picking up the bag from the conveyor belt after been scanned at airport security.  As I attempted to stuff multiple paperback volumes back into the ripped bag, the TSA professional looked at me and said “ma’am, you know they have movies on the flights, now.”  “That’s exactly my point,” I huffed, and gathered both a dozen ARCS and my scattered dignity as I staggered away to the gate.
  4. Your store Fed-Ex account number, in case you decide to ship books back to the shop.  See #3. Also see #1, because I always forget mine.
  5. A plan or schedule for the education sessions. If you are lucky enough to be part of a team of staff from your store, you can divide and conquer to see all the education sessions and still have time to meet with vendors and resource people, as well as find a few minutes to catch up with colleagues from across the country. Read the session descriptions, make a plan, and take notes that you can share.
  6. A good dose of self-forgiveness, for the sessions you might miss because you get involved in a conversation with a fellow bookseller that is JUST SO VALUABLE that you couldn’t bring yourself to leave. Learning happens in the hallways, over the lunch table, and in the bar, and it’s all the very best kind of education: given freely by colleagues who understand the challenges you face, and who are willing to share their solutions AND their failures. The notes you take on the back of a napkin may be the biggest game-changers in your business this year.
  7. A costume! You really do want to participate in the opening reception, whe children’s booksellers dress up as characters from kid lit. Hundreds of booksellers, away from home, a little alcohol, and cos-play?  What could go wrong?

    Grand prize winner “A Bad Case of Stripes” celebrating in 2018

    Now that you have all those items packed, along with your most regional of t-shirts, a couple of your store totes or buttons to swap, and some donations for the Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring Program, here’s the things to leave behind at home. They will just take up extra space, and you really don’t have room for:

  8.  Hourly checks of email, store register totals, or your Yelp reviews. Let it go. Let the staff you left behind run the store, and let them message you if it’s really, really urgent. It won’t be. If you needed to shorten store hours, or even (gulp!) close one day while you’re here, well, that decision is already made, and now you have the opportunity to make that investment pay for itself.
  9. Hesitation. I struggle, sometimes, with making new friends in a large group, and it often seems that EVERYONE knows EVERYONE when you enter a loud meeting room full of round tables, all filled with folks who are already engaged.  I have two hints for you here (and if you see me doing either of these then just nod and wave), and both of these seem to help: first, go to one of the tables in the front of the room, near the stage or podium. They are almost never full, and the meeting organizers are always thrilled to see you. Often, they have guests or sponsors seated up there that they need to connect with someone – Ta-Da!  You can be a hero AND have people to talk to that don’t know anyone, either.  Second, look for someone who is also standing alone. Just like kindergarten, you can ask if they want to sit with you for breakfast, and just like kindergarten, they will say yes. And you will run into them a hundred times after that, and you will already be friends.   Of course, you and I are already friends, so if you’re coming to Children’s Institute, please say hello. I’ll probably write about you in a blog, or maybe I’ll give you a picture of my bulldog.
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About Cynthia Compton

Cynthia is the mom of 4 kids, a rescuer of English Bulldogs, 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 just completed her term on the board of the American Specialty Toy Retailers Assn, is a past president of the Great Lakes Bookseller Association, and her store was honored with the Pannell Award in 2013.

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