Most independent booksellers, especially ones in small towns, know their regular customers quite well. We know not just what sorts of books they generally enjoy, but we also know about their life. Sometimes, this knowledge informs what books we recommend for better or for worse. All good books reflect life as we know it and have themes that can sometimes be hard. Our knowledge of a customer’s life has us making some snap decisions about what books suggest. There is also an art to good bookselling and there are many factors that contribute to a certain recommendation. Continue reading
Our love affair with John and Jennifer Churchman, authors of the wildly popular Sweet Pea & Friends: The Sheepover, continues to grow strong. John and Jen hatched a plan with their publisher, Hachette, to give Vermont independent bookstore a real break at being the only stores to pre-sell their second book, Brave Little Finn, by offering 1,000 numbered books well before the October 4th release date. All participating stores got 50 books, with the possibility of getting more if sales warranted. The Churchmans announced the deal on Friday around noon. By 12:01 my phone was literally ringing off the hook. By 2 pm I was calling John, literally begging for more books as I had blown past my 50. Selling this book has been so much fun. Continue reading
Recently, I had the great pleasure of hearing editor Neal Porter share some of the picture books he has published over the past few years, along with some upcoming treats (School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson is brilliant and endearing! Best Frints in the Whole Universe by Antoinette Portis is such silly fun – you can’t NOT read it out loud! Yuyi Morales’ Rudas: Niño’s Horrendous Hermanitas is hilarious and visually mesmerizing!).
Here is a list of three things which, once you come in possession of, you feel a powerful need to share.
- Good advice
- An epiphany
- A great book
For example I came into some excellent advice the other day by way of experience. Here it is. Never train voice recognition software when your dogs are barking in the background. Heat juice donuts worms cattle of of of of of of .* Unimpeachable good advice if there ever was any.
Now that I’ve shared that, I’ll move onto an epiphany. Booksellers who read and love young adult books think about crossover appeal all the time. Suppose one has a great YA book which one is sure has crossover appeal. How and when to break the ice with an adult reader who is not accustomed to reading YA?
On a recent sunny Sunday three Massachusetts booksellers piled into a car and drove the 75 miles to help Annie Philbrick unpack stock for her new store, Savoy Books, in Westerly, R.I. All along the winding road, book and management talk bobbed to the surface again and again, never interrupted for long by stunning views of little harbors, long stone walls, and varied mansions. “Have you read …?” “Didn’t you love …?” “What do you think about that new one by the guy who wrote …?” “Have you ever had to fire anybody? How did you do it?” “Is a café really worth the extra stress?” Jan Hall, recently retired from Partners Village Store in Westport, Mass.; Vicky Titcomb, manager of Titcomb’s Bookshop in Sandwich, Mass.; and Carol Chittenden, former owner of Eight Cousins Books, Falmouth, Mass., were on the road again.
Sundays at the bookstore are often fun. Usually, I am alone at the store and I always enjoy that as the rhythm of day is slower and easily handled by one person. Yesterday, I brought my dog to the store with me after letting her pick out a new toy at the pet store. This was a mistake, but a funny one later in the day. Cute children, mostly out with their fathers, abounded. There is something lovely about Sundays at the store. People have more time to browse or read to their kids, and kids are very relaxed.
Like many bookstores, we get a lot of business from customers who special order books. This is the life blood of many stores. Special orders keep people coming into the store and that’s always a good thing. My favorite part about special orders is being introduced to books that I might not know about. Often special ordered books are then ordered by us to stock. It’s like having 100 book buyers a week helping curate the inventory. There is a rhythm to orders that feels natural to booksellers, but not necessarily to customers. So I’ve created a list to help with how the cycle works.
– The very first part of ordering a book for a customer is often helping them remember what book they want. Usually they have part of a title and often remember the book cover was blue. It seems the majority of covers on adult fiction titles are, in fact, blue, so that’s not as helpful as it could be. But it does tell me they’re not thinking of a mystery whose covers are often black.
– Once the correct book is verified, we order it. Special orders, especially time sensitive ones, go on distributor orders because we can get them in two days, sometimes even the next day if the timing is right. We have next-day shipping with our distributors, so they get the order, process it and pack the books up for delivery. Then UPS and Fed Ex work their magic and the next day cartons of books arrive.
– Then depending on which distributor is fulfilling the order we either get the books before noon the following day or after five. There is a huge disparity with delivery times that actually affects our business. Getting a shipment in before noon allows us to receive it and call all the special orders before two. This allows folks time to pick up their books the day they come and that’s always fun. I still marvel at how excited folks are when their books come in. I totally understand this because when I order books for myself I’m just as excited when they arrive.
– Books ordered at 10 in the morning are not likely to come by the end of the day they were ordered. While I love this kind of enthusiasm, it’s physically impossible for a book to come in the day it was ordered. I still have customers who call seven hours after their books were ordered wondering why they’re not in.
– We always call our special order customers the minute the order is fully received. We tag the books for the right people, call them and then put the books on the special order shelf.
– Calling to check on an order is always okay, but there is no need to call every day. Bookstores ask for your phone number so we can contact you.
– Murphy’s Law also dictates that the more time critical a book is for a customer, the more likely it is to hit a shipping snafu. At least once a week, we are missing a box from a shipment. Why that one box didn’t make it on the truck, no one really knows. All I know is that I don’t have the box that contains the book that someone is absolutely desperate for. And no matter how deftly we explain the shipping issue, it’s always our fault in the customer’s eyes.
– The special order process is complete once the customer comes to pick up their book. Usually, this is extremely timely. Although, periodically we go through the special order shelves and call folks who’ve had books for a month that haven’t been picked up. Often, people are just busy and forget and are happy to have the reminder. Occasionally, someone will say that they got the book elsewhere and while that stings a tiny bit, it’s also very human and speaks to really needing a book right now.
So, dear readers, please keep special ordering books! We love it and love getting to hear about different books.
Issue books do their part to make the bookselling world a little bit better place to be sure. Nonetheless it is a rare issue book that transforms its subject into something relevant to every reader. Loss is universal, of course, but a transcendent issue book embodies that universality by making a story applicable to readers not currently experiencing the issue.
I love being surprised by customers. A couple in their sixties wandered into the bookstore last weekend and spent quite a bit of time in the mystery section. The male half of the couple eventually approached the counter in search of a new author to try. He’d had to take one off his ‘list of twenty,’ he said, because that author’s books had declined over the past several, and this gentleman was finally giving up on him.
“Your list of 20?” I was intrigued. If there’s anything I like, it’s hearing how different minds process information, or organize themselves.
I have a new friend and we were having lunch Saturday. The conversation turned from her cheese-making venture (if you want delicious cheese try Fairy Tale Farms cheeses, they’re amazing) to favorite books. I often get this question and usually my mind goes blank almost immediately. But I did manage to pull a list together after I was flooded with favorite book covers. It’s always hard to talk to adults about favorite books because so many of mine of are young adult novels. I presented my list and Lisa’s face dropped with the mention of one title. Continue reading