A Bookseller Reading Challenge for 2020

Cynthia Compton - January 1, 2020

My social media feed is currently full of links to interesting 2020 reading challenges, from those open-ended bingo-type boards created by libraries to lists populated with titles on a single theme. In the last week, I have been encouraged while scrolling to make this the year I read: books by only living authors, all women authors, books by authors who are immigrants, 12 books in translation, a “genre-per-month,” a book published in the year of my birth followed by one from every subsequent year (this one actually intrigues me), a book by an author from each mapped country on the globe, and a Bard Challenge to reread all of Shakespeare’s plays in a single year.

While I love scanning these menus of reading prompts, and marvel at how many creative ways that book choices can be plated, I know that in reality, I face a steady diet of ARCs, manuscripts, and “oops I missed that bestseller because there was no advance copy” as I crunch through volumes during 2020, just as the reading buffet has been for all my years in bookselling. As booksellers, we are often so caught up in the prereading to place frontlist orders, reading an author for event-hosting responsibilities, reading to be a good guest at a publisher-sponsored conference dinner, reading for nomination to a list, or just reading to know what the rest of our community is talking about, that we don’t really have the luxury of wondering “what should I read next?” just for fun.
When I travel, I do try to read by zip code, and seek out books set in the places I’m visiting, or at least penned by authors who call that city home. For many of us shopkeepers, though, our trips tend to be bracketed around industry meetings, and so we head home with stacks of MORE BOOKS to be read than we left home with, as publishers share their upcoming season’s bounty, and colleagues send us texts to pick up new releases in the galley rooms from their own favorite writers. And so, annual online reading challenges are never more than window shopping, and while fun to browse through on New Year’s Day, won’t really make our list of resolutions.
A couple of items, perhaps, we SHOULD make the time to read this year. Perhaps our 2020 will be more peaceful, more productive, and a little more profitable if we take time to skim:
Our own store employee manual. (Wait, you don’t have one? Report immediately to the nearest website with employee manual templates, plug in your store name, and start editing. Better yet, delegate this project to your staff or partner to come up with a first draft.) Perhaps in 2020 we can let go of doing everything ourselves, because we will finally train enough people to step in. Let’s make this the year that we really read job descriptions, figure out who has too much to do and who needs some new projects to keep things interesting, and share the wealth.
Our Top 100 list of bestselling backlist titles for 2018, and transfer it to a spreadsheet by publisher to be ready for re-order on the next special, or when we need a few more titles to make a publisher’s minimum order. Aside from a few novelty titles and some movie tie-ins (I’m looking at you, Scottish Donkey and live-action-Disney-movie-of-the-moment), I can guarantee that most of these books will stay on our top selling lists IF WE HAVE THEM IN STOCK.
The local school system’s calendar, paying special attention to holidays that fall on school breaks. This year, for example, Easter falls on April 12th, just one week after our local Spring Break, so that ALL the bunny basket fodder will be sold in the last five days, a challenging merchandising and volume puzzle for our staff. Halloween falls on a Saturday, meaning that teachers everywhere will rejoice (no sugar hangovers to battle in math class) but retailers who rely on high school and college students for weekend help may need to offer time-and-a-half to keep All Hallows Eve covered.
While we’re adding these items to our TBR pile, let’s eliminate the following from our reading lists:
Most online reviews of our businesses, unless they are laudatory or kind. Delegate handling the Yelp, Twitter, Google and Facebook trolls to your most acerbic staff member, and let them write blistering responses to the cretin who takes your store to task for failing to offer tech support for their Kindle, or for failing to stock their favorite out-of-print version of I’m a Little Teapot. Pass the response around to the entire staff for a collective giggle, then delete it and get on with your lives. You just can’t fix stupid, and let’s make this the year we stop trying so hard to make everyone like us all the time.
Long, complicated on-sale date agreements from publishers that you must sign to “guarantee” shipment of hot titles to your store. Just sign it. YOU won’t make an error about on-sale date, because you are a bookselling professional. ¬†You also may not receive the books anyway. It’s an uncertain age, and the only thing we can influence is our own blood pressure.
School book fair flyers, unless they are from your own store. Do you really need to visit ads distributed by PTO’s (that you support through multiple donations) and teachers (for whom you coordinate free author visits and overlook order deadlines for autographed copies) only to see your front list titles discounted by 70%, or paperback copies of highly marketed titles that make your store’s pricing policy look like gouging? I think not. Just skip over the newsprint flyers, and avert your eyes from the seesaw of guilt-based marketing to parents.¬†Maintaining a healthy blood pressure is clearly a theme for me this year, and I’m eliminating unnecessary aggravation in my reading choices.
But just for fun, because I am a bookseller, and one that is privileged to spend my days with young readers and those who love them, I am going to add one specific reading suggestion to your book list in this first month of the new year. Do you remember your very favorite book as a child? The book that you read yourself, and lost yourself in to pages and the story? Maybe you read that book again and again, or maybe just once, and it has stayed with you always. Go back and find that book, that story that made you fall in love with the printed page and all its possibilities. Go find the book that made you a Reader, and dip into those pages once again. Read the one that started it all for you, and remember how it felt to never, ever want that book to end.
Oh, and be sure to tell us about it.
Happy New Year, bookish friends.

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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.

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