There are a number of animals known to possess oracular power such as the raven, the owl, the antelope, the pig, the mole rat, and the Gaboon viper. Not many people, however, know that the most prognosticatory of all animals is actually the octopus. We have learned this obscure but useful fact at DDG due to the remarkable oracular exploits of Mervyn, the store octopus.
With the Early Bird Sale coming up this Saturday, that fun annual event in which Downtown Farmington merchants open at 6:00 a.m. and have special sales till 9:00 a.m., it was time to test Mervyn’s powers. After all, the Early Bird is a window into the holiday season to come and a good opportunity for Mervyn to flex his oracular muscles.
The following handwritten note was on my storefront counter one morning last week, as I arrived in the quiet pre-dawn hours to enter some backlist orders and ponder the impending holiday event schedule:
I stole a lip balm. And I never ment to. It was an awful choice and I feel really really bad because I realized it was wrong. It was $8. So I am willing to give you 10$. I learned from my mistake and will never do it again. Again i feel really bad please forgive me. – Sarah*
Calendar conflicts and backlist specials were quickly set aside, and I looked for a note from my evening staff with more details. In their usual conversational shorthand, this was the story I gleaned from the post it notes on the register:
A 9- or 10-year-old was brought to the store by her dad, who stood about 10 feet behind the girl as she approached the counter. She offered the handwritten note, and then explained what she had done. Our bookseller thanked her for her honesty, and then looked up her parent to ask for direction. “She needs to pay for it, and then give it back.” The staffer did as asked, and the embarrassed child left the store. From the staffer: “She was totally ashamed. We didn’t make a big deal about it, and we sure hope she’ll be back.”
Megan McDonald shares a photo of her three-year-old self flat-out on the pavement, having a tantrum. We’ve all been there.
When the funny, powerhouse author of the Judy Moody and Stink series, Megan McDonald, came to town to celebrate her new book, Judy Moody and the Book Quiz Whiz
, she was on the road, she had a fever, and she still enthralled hundreds of children — as well as one of our toughest adult customers (more on that later). It takes a true professional, a natural entertainer, and a gracious human to pull that off.
It helped that Megan’s traveling companion, her calm and tour-seasoned husband Richard, was on hand. Their easy, fun rapport with each other and those around them made even the more workmanlike aspects of a tour, like the lengthy school order book-signing process, enjoyable. (Note to publicists: I think all major tour planning should include in the budget an author’s most trusted and favorite person to come along for the trip—perhaps instead of media escorts, who are occasionally a little chatty for introverted authors needing downtime. If those traveling companions are as nice and as helpful as Richard, they are well worth the investment! I’m not surprised that Candlewick Press, our host publisher for the event, was on the ball.)
“So, you’re just a children’s bookseller, right?”
I looked up from my laptop screen, which functioned this weekend as my point-of-sale, store management tool, and receipt printer at an offsite event for crime and mystery writers, where I had been working for the last three days.
“Well, I don’t think there’s a “JUST” in that question, but yes, I do own a children’s bookstore. May I ring those up for you?” I gestured toward the stack of mysteries and thrillers in her hands, as I reached beneath the table for one of our store canvas totes, for her purchase surely totaled over $100.
“I just meant… you sell kids’ books. You aren’t a REAL bookstore, right?”
Last week I briefly previewed our staff’s seasonal picture book review session, but I promised a deeper dive into all the reactions. From a septuagenarian tightrope dancer to a disgruntled egg seeking some sun to a celebration of those who protect Earth’s water, we found a lot to love! As always, there were plenty of bold pronouncements in the room.
“I would LOVE to see a 70 year old tightrope walker!”
“Why make a picture book and use bland colors?”
“Uh… Humpty Dumpty’s a lot on the creepy side!”
“If I don’t like the pictures, I don’t read it.”
“Ew! It’s got a possum. No! No! No! No!”
“Wait. Is pink still a thing?” Continue reading
“Cynthia, you have some phone messages. They look important.”
I had been out of the store for a day or two, helping one of the 4 kids (see my store name) move from one city to another for her new job, and expected to have a stack of pink message slips upon my desk, but most would be of the “We’ll have a manager in your area on Tuesday, and we’d like to discuss the wholesale credit card rates your business qualifies for” variety. Oh, there might be a couple of “will your store provide books for our author luncheon event?” queries and some “United Church of Very-Well-Meaning-Ladies-in-Cardigans-Making-Baked-Goods Holiday Bazaar booth opportunities,” but typically if my staff feels that something is critical when I’m not on-site, they judiciously offer my cell phone number, or text an S.O.S: CYNTHIA!!!! We got double-shipped the sticky unicorn poop… do we keep it or ask for a call tag?
These messages were all much more terse, and I could tell from the first-names-only and the 1-800 phone numbers that these were credit rep calls, and they needed immediate attention. I filled my coffee cup and plugged in my laptop as I settled into my desk chair — well, first I moved the stack of damaged books awaiting return instructions and the crayon picture of a dinosaur (?) that a young customer dropped off for me — and began to dial.
© Robert Adrian Hillman | Dreamstime.com
The other day, I was perusing some gift catalogs. One of them featured nicely made bookmarks boasting a list of “books to read before you die.” I love a good list, and I would like to carry bookmarks full of fabulous reads to offer my customers, but this particular one was a catalog of the same old hoary classics that always crop up in conversations about “the canon,” and were all by American and European authors, mostly from the prior two centuries. Some of the books were fabulous, some seemed like really arbitrary choices, and all were by white, mostly male authors, exclusively about white people. (I was particularly amused by the inclusion of Ernest Hemingway’s Men Without Women
, which did seem to characterize the whole list….)
It was the middle of a busy Saturday afternoon at the shop, with lots of moms and dads and kids filling the aisles, selecting birthday gifts and next-in-the-series books to read, and I looked up from the register (where I was quickly searching for an armadillo puppet from Folkmanis for a customer that Ingram NEEDS TO STOCK) to meet the gaze of a new customer at the front counter.
“Are you qualified to ummmm….. recommend books for my child, or do you just work here?”
Both the interruption and the question took me so totally by surprise, I took a second to inhale, and in that instant, two regular customers, who were close to the register, began to laugh. Bless their hearts, they both just spontaneously laughed, and in that extra second and tacit endorsement, I gathered both my composure and my pride and replied “Well, I’ll try. What are we looking for today?”
As I tend to do at the beginning of a new buying season, I dumped out a table full of picture book samples this week to see what our frontline booksellers had to say. There were some great highlights, and I’ll have the full report next week, but first I thought I’d circle back for a minute on previous installments of this series. The truth is that these initial bookseller reactions are just the first step on the path to determining the next staff favorite or in-store bestseller.
The staff joke is that every mind will be changed and raves (and pans) will be forgotten—or reversed—by the time books roll in and enter the actual collection. That’s partially true, and it’s also true that reactions can be different when looking at books within a limited selection versus in the context of the whole store. Our longtime picture book specialist, Merrilee, is famous for writing “meh” on an samples she ends up handselling like crazy or writing “me likee!” on a book she ultimately forgets to recommend. As author/part-time BookPeople bookseller Leila Sales wrote recently, it’s not always easy to predict which books will rise to top of mind when you’re in the moment helping customers right in front of you.
There is no trickier species of in-store event than those featuring Young Adult authors. One yearns to grasp reliable keys to success, replicable ones, as science demands. Architecture is where we should be looking. Behind every successful in-store Young Adult event lies architectural elements both hidden and visible. Having had two good in-store YA events recently I returned to them with a forensic lens. The resultant, rigorous examination revealed two important architectural elements that contributed mightily to their success.
The first deals with the architecture of book signing displays. There are some designs that can only be carried off when you have the critical mass of books which an author event allows. The ideal design should also form a shape which allows the display to be a conduit for the ancient powers of the universe, to be erected on a nexus point, on a ley line of bookselling. For our book launch of Shana Youngdahl’s stellar debut As Many Nows as I Can Get we tested my theory that the beehive shape is the ideal one to insure the success of an event.