Tips for Successful Teacher Nights

Josie Leavitt -- October 6th, 2014

Last week I had the pleasure of being on a panel with Karen Rosenthal, children’s events coordinator for RJ Julia Booksellers, about working with schools. The panel should have had four of us but because of illness it was just me and Karen. I have to say, I couldn’t take notes fast enough when Karen was talking how RJ Julia plans, organizes, and runs it two very successful yearly teacher nights.

Teacher nights are a wonderful way to bring educators into a store. But often it can be a hit or miss karen_2propositions that require a lot of effort. Karen made it all seem not only doable, but very profitable and a great a way to build good will. She starts by saving all the publisher promotional items – bookmarks, pens, posters, doodads and whatnot – throughout the year. Then she contacts reps and asks for tote bags to put the swag in, and reps are all too happy to help out. Every attendee gets a bag. They have an ongoing raffle during the night that seems to generate a lot of buzz with the teachers.

RJ Julia has two teacher nights a year. The autumn one, usually in November, is a general night. Teachers are invited for an evening that starts at 5:00. Promoting them is done largely through the existing teacher email lists, the store website and in-store promo. They serve wine and cheese (wine is vital) and do their best to make it feel like a night out for the teachers. Timing of teacher night was something we’ve all struggled with. Four is too early, seven is too late, etc. Karen hit on 5 p.m. as a good time because it gives the teachers time to finish up at school and still get home by seven for their family dinner. Teachers are encouraged to sign up in advance, but it’s not required. The staff takes a quick poll of grade levels among attendees and then quickly booktalks new books, both in hardcover and paperback, for those levels. Then they let the teachers browse while they pull the raffles. All purchases made by teachers that evening, for themselves, or their classrooms, are discounted 20%. This makes the evening all the more fun and teachers tend to buy more for themselves, Karen said, than their classrooms.

The spring teacher night is one where they bring in publisher reps who talk about their books; last spring’s topic was the Common Core and it was packed. Karen asked two or three reps to come in and speak about their books and how they can be used to fulfill various requirements. Kate Sullivan from Random House was at the panel and said for her schedule it’s best to plan four to six months ahead. All the reps in attendance said that they were more than happy to come to a store a do a teacher night with enough notice.

Teacher nights are such a good way to work with all the local schools, public and private, that all stores should really do them. Karen’s very practical tips make it seem easy. And, to bring educators into the bookstore, rather than only having them order via email or phone, is an easy way to build community. The teachers get to see the whole store as they shop in all the sections and they make connections with other teachers they might not know. It’s a win-win for all involved, plus it’s a great way to give away all of the promo items that bookstores are fairly drowning in.

Bookstore staffers, how do you organize your teacher nights? and teachers, what kind of teacher night works best for you?

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Kenny Brechner -- October 2nd, 2014

When I sat down to do Usborne’s frontlist with my rep I found that I was unable to auto import the titles through my POS, Booklog, which uses Ingram’s ipage data. Cross referencing, I found that the titles were literally not in ipage. The reason behind this was then revealed to me, namely that Ingram is no longer carrying Usborne titles. Technically the titles should still have been in the extended first-sticker-book-marketdatabase, it is true, but the fact that they were not presumably reflected the unhappy rift between Ingram and Usborne. To discuss this turn of events I will use two whys and a what. Why this is bad for small to mid-sized Independent bookstores, why it happened, and what it would behoove the two parties to do about it.

I have been doing business with Usborne for 24 years. I consider them an important line. As do many stores our size I do two big buys from Usborne a year, including frontlist and backlist titles. The rest of the year I pick up what I need from Ingram, consolidating it with other restock items. Usborne’s terms strongly encourage large buys, as favorable terms begin at 100 units. The inability to pick up needed items at a wholesaler has a number of negative impacts. Making frequent direct orders to Usborne means worse terms and more work. Furthermore, it penalizes us for testing the water with frontlist, in that if we only order one or two copies and a book sells quickly, we are hampered from getting it back in via good terms. On the other hand if we go big on the initial frontlist buy we are in mortal danger of the buyer’s lee shore, being wrong about a book selling. Finally, the absence of these titles from ipage means that we have to manually create these books in our inventory, a needless, laborious time-waster, particularly as the current frontlist is the biggest in Usborne’s history, over 140 titles.

tnm-pirateAs I understand it the rift occurred because Usborne’s direct sales reps for schools and home parties were losing out from their customers buying from Ingram. Thus Usborne felt that it had to choose between their direct sales reps and having their books available at Ingram at wholesale discount. They tightened their discount to Ingram which chose instead to discontinue carrying Usborne books.

Surely there must be a better solution than to penalize a completely different class of customers, small to mid size Independent bookstores, over a dispute involving direct sales customers. I see two possible options, though I am sure others might be found. First, that discount restrictions could be made to direct sales accounts at Ingram, while maintaining regular terms to bookstores. Second, that Usborne could provide better terms for smaller orders from bookstores, thereby recognizing that they are the only wholesale outlet at present. Those of us who spend a good deal of every day working hard to make our customers happy would appreciate something along those lines here. I am sure that we would all like to be able to say again…

Crashed Witch Outside Bookstore

Josie Leavitt -- September 30th, 2014

Every year, for the 18 years I’ve had the bookstore, I have always wanted to do a Halloween decoration outside the store that was funny. On Sunday I finally achieved thishat goal. I am not a crafty person; in fact some would say I’m the opposite of good with an artsy project. But this weekend I was driven to create a crashed witch on a tree in front of the bookstore. A crashed witch is quite simply making it look like a witch crashed into something. I’ve always found them amusing and thought it would a nice touch for the store.

I looked up what I’d need on the internet. Witch hat, hair, gloves, cape and witchy legs and of course, a broomstick. I left work and gathered my supplies, all easily obtainable from the hardware store, the local drug store (which was very well stocked in witchy ephemera) and the craft store. Tools were gathered and my co-worker PJ was a stalwart and able helper. Plus, as we kept saying as the witch took shape, “This is fun!” Sunday was a strange retail day that afforded big expanses of time where we could both work outside as we were customer-less, then we’d get really busy, then we’d have quiet again to work on the witch.

It was a little more complicated to do than I thought (isn’t that always the way with projects), mostly because the tree was large and the staple gun wasn’t quite cutting it, so I had to go back to the hardware store, not once, not twice, but three times to get things I needed as problems revealed themselves or it became evident that I’d forgotten something. PJ tried on the witch hat, then modeled the hair and then got busy affixing them together. We then stapled it to the tree and assembled her legs. In a perfect world we would have longer legs with striped tights, but neither one of us could find striped tights, so we substituted pre-made witch’s legs that were a little smaller than we’d hope for, but still worked. We stuffed a pair of kitchen gloves with bubble wrap as well as the sleeves of the body, so she’d look real. As it took shape, there was palpable delight from both of us.

witchFinally, she was done. She looked great. To create something funny for folks to notice when they’re stuck in traffic at the light by the store pleased me no end. And, to make it even funnier we added a sign above her head: Don’t drink and fly.

Keeping Business in the Village

Josie Leavitt -- September 29th, 2014

My store is in a village filled with wonderful shops. All of the business owners got together, first on Facebook, then via email, then in person to try and figure out the best way to work together to bring people in our town and get them to stay here to shop. Many wonderful things have come from these gatherings.

First, and perhaps best, is we all got to know each other better. Some photo 2shopkeepers I count as good friends, others I don’t know as well. All own stores or restaurants that I patronize, so it’s been nice to work together to increase business for all of us. We were originally focused on doing something special for Small Business Saturday in November, but our attention quickly turned to creating a brochure we could all use to highlight our stores and restaurants. It’s easy to think that just because we all know what treasures exist in our village, visitors do as well. This is just not the case. Parking issues make some folks stay where they’ve started and not venture forth. The goal with the brochure was to not only give customers a map of our village and surrounding shops up the road, but to encourage them to patronize all of them by offering a discount. Working together created something truly wonderful.

photo 1The brochure is eye-catching and professional, and it includes all the stores, save one (who didn’t want to participate because they don’t believe in discounting) that were happy to pass on a 10% savings to customers who used it. There’s a check box on the back that lists all the participating stores that allows for store stamps or initial to indicate the discount has been used. Customers then take their brochure to other stores and shop and save. The beauty of this system is it gives one family or shopper just one brochure to keep until they’re done shopping, so we’re not giving out multiple brochures to one family.

But the real joy of this brochure is how it came out. It’s a full-color tri-folded thing of beauty that would have been prohibitively expensive for one store to do on its own, but split 16 ways it only cost each store $50. So, by working together we created something that has driven business to all our stores and not broken anyone’s marketing budget.

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to Banned Books Week

Elizabeth Bluemle -- September 26th, 2014

On Wednesday, right in the middle of Banned Books Week, a mom and her four children came in to the store. As we were ringing them up, we were talking about content in an adult book one of her high schoolers wanted to read. The mom was explaining where she draws the line for her teens, and her middle-grade daughter piped up. “They just banned a whole bunch of books today at school. Divergent, The Hunger Games, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Fault in Our Stars and all the other John Green books….”

I said, “They banned those books?! Here?? During Banned Books Week?!?”


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Why Lying Is So Hot Now

Kenny Brechner -- September 25th, 2014


One clings to the belief that effects have causes, that, for example, Young Adult trends have reasons. That may not be so, of course, perhaps the endless parade of ballroom gowns on YA cover models is just the void getting in a good one. Nonetheless, when I noticed an obvious new trend in YA frontlist I decided to eschew the epistemology of despair and try to come up with a reason.

Lying has always been a popular term for book titles, of course, but between 9/14 and 6/15 the floodgates have opened. Here is a title sampler: Even When You Lie to Me, Liars, Inc., Krakens and Lies, Lies We Tell Ourselves, Secrets and Lies, Little White Lies, Sealed with a Lie, Dead Girls Don’t Lie, Perfect Lies, Lie for Me, An Angel Torched My Homework and Other Lies, Big Fat Liar, and Trust Me I’m Lying.

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The Stars So Far (9/22/14 Update)

Elizabeth Bluemle -- September 23rd, 2014

You’ve been asking, and I’ve been working on it, and now it’s here! The updated round-up of this year’s starred reviews for youth literature from BooklistThe Bulletin of the Center for Children’s BooksThe Horn BookKirkus ReviewsPublishers Weekly, and School Library Journal.

So far this year, 789 books have received 1267 stars from these esteemed review sources. 

This is an insanely detail-laden process, and as careful as I try to be, there may be oversights here and there. If you want the cleanest version of this list, check back a week or two after each update, when I’ll have been alerted to anything that needs fixing.

Please remember: starred reviews are counted only when they have been officially published publicly by the review magazines. Often I receive emails about books that will be starred in upcoming issues; please only send me corrections if the review date has passed and the magazine or web review has already appeared to the public. {EDITED TO ADD: I have just been alerted to a problem with the Kirkus stars. Some titles receive online-only stars that do not appear in the Kirkus print index files. I will be tracking these down as best as I can, but would appreciate assistance for titles that received online-only stars from Kirkus.) Publishers, please alert me to any oversights at ebluemle at, including the review sources and dates for the starred reviews.  Thanks! Please do not send VOYA 5Q5P titles. I will post a separate list of VOYA “perfect ten” scores for 2014 in December.  

Finally, if you are purchasing books inspired by this list, please strongly consider using an independent bookstore. You can find online indies through An independent bookseller (me) compiled this list on behalf of everyone who lives, loves, and works hard in the service of books and children. Thank you! 

P.S. Please drop a note in the comments section, if you like. Would love to know how and by whom this list is used. The feedback fuels the next assail.


Brown Girl Dreaming. Jacqueline Woodson. Penguin/Paulsen, $16.99

Family Romanov, The: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. Candace Fleming. Random House, $18.99

This One Summer. Mariko Tamaki, illus. by Jillian Tamaki. First Second, $21.99 hc, $17.99 pb

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Celebrating Good Staff

Josie Leavitt -- September 22nd, 2014

It’s sometimes easy to take good bookstore staffers for granted. This all changes when someone goes on vacation. My store is small with a very tight-knit staff of six, including Elizabeth and me, who co-own the store. Fall seems to be the season when folks go away and their absence is felt from the first day of their vacation until they return to work. It’s far more than just having someone else at work, it’s the realization of what they contribute that makes it hard when they’re gone.

Laura took her first real vacation two weeks ago, her first since she started last year. She’s a stalwart worker who wears many hats easily. It seemed to me that she was gone far longer than 10 days. Folks who needed help in the poetry section were done no real service by me in her absence. I’m on the sales floor more when someone’s away, which is a good thing, but it’s also hard. There are so many things that need doing at a bookstore other than selling books: ordering and returning books, planning events, paying bills and more bills, dealing with damages, following up on special orders, etc. Having a good staff means these things can not only get done, but I get help with them. When someone’s gone there is a void. I realized while I was working more to cover Laura’s shifts, that she’s great at working with customers with whom I don’t connect with as easily. I could no longer hand her customers I found hard or wanted to know about things, like poetry, that I didn’t know. She’s great on the phone and follows up on little details that I sometimes lose track of.

Working in a bookstore is fun but it’s also hard work. People who say, “I want to open a bookstore when I retire” have no idea how much energy it takes. The fun of having a good staff is that we fuel each other. One person’s energy can flag and someone else can help out and help rejuvenate the other. Plus, talking about books is galvanizing and wonderful fun. Darrilyn, who is away for the next two weeks, and I always have long discussions about the latest mysteries and which writer’s new book disappointed or thrilled. Sandy, who has recently returned from a jaunt to Italy, is unfailingly polite and fills the historical fiction void with ease as well knowing the best picture books. All our staffers are wonderful and that makes going to work all the more fun. So, bookstore owners, take a moment and tell your staff how much you appreciate them, before they plan their next vacation.


Free Books!! Take As Many As You Like!

Kenny Brechner -- September 18th, 2014

We all know that the biggest return on a book is sometimes had by giving it away. This is something we think about in different ways. When a publisher sends me a free finished copy of a book I always provide it the courtesy of reading any accompanying letter carefully and taking a close look at the book. If a giveaway promotional item strikes me as particularly creative and apropos we make sure to carry out its prime function: give it away to customers.

As a bookseller I always try and be mindful of recognizing when a meaningful moment to give something away presents itself. For example, after a classroom ARC review project I don’t normally leave the ARCs in the classroom. Last year, however, one student was so taken with a particular book that it was very striking. The teacher tried to assure him that a library might have a copy when it came into print. It hit me that there was no possibility, in this boy’s life, that he would be able to buy it. I slipped it to him and the teacher later told me that, though she couldn’t get into the details of his home life, it had meant the world to him. Not all giveaways are created equal. Nor is there any formula for recognizing the important ones other than learning from examples encountered in the course of experience.

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Help Shape the Diversity Evolution

Elizabeth Bluemle -- September 16th, 2014

This blog post title may sound a little grandiose, but I don’t think it is. I can’t tell you how hopeful I am becoming about the prospect of real and lasting change toward meaningful diversity in the children’s book field. I’m trying to figure out how I can be most useful in this effort, and am enlisting your help.

Now, I’ve been blogging about this topic for years, as have countless other writers and editors and bloggers, but it hasn’t been until the past year that it finally feels like all of the individual voices and efforts have started to have a cumulative weight, some real momentum. And this real desire for change comes with a whole lot of questions about how to be effective.

Since National Public Radio’s three-part series on diversity in publishing (my part on bookselling diverse titles is here), I have heard from many, many people who appreciated the discussion. A few were parents who wanted to let me know they hoped their local bookstores would beef up their multicultural selection and that publishers would provide a whole lot more variety of content; others were listeners who wanted to know where to find my diversity database; the majority were authors of color asking for my help getting their books noticed by publishers.

And I honestly don’t know how best to help with that last one. I’m not an agent or an editor, and the jobs I do already take more time than I have. I suspect these writers, like all writers, represent a range along the spectrum from beginner to editor-ready.

How can I help these writers get their work seen?

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