Teacher Training and Indies

Josie Leavitt - September 13, 2010

I’m happy to report that our two days of teacher in-service training are over and went quite well. In the spring we approached our local school district about the idea of us doing book talks and a picture book creation seminar for the teachers, and they were thrilled with the idea. Elizabeth will blog about her picture book seminar separately.
Our goal was to reach out to teachers who might not know about us and the store and wow them with our knowledge of books and how to use literature in the social studies curriculum. Our first day focused on the third and fourth grades. The social studies curriculum ranged from basic geography, mapping skills, Vermont history, early settlement, and the beginnings of government. The second day incorporated fifth through ninth grade on more American history.
We tried not only to think outside the box (such as using dystopian novels to discuss government and mapping), but also tried to come up with books the teachers didn’t already know. The Vermont history proved to be quite challenging as there just isn’t a lot out there. We did find some great historical fiction books from a small publisher that no one had heard of, but were thrilled to find. I also found a great Old Maps of Vermont on CD, that the teachers loved. We sell these CDs at the store and they are a county by county map of the state in 1857 and 1869, searchable by town, street or landowner name. These were a huge hit.
Elizabeth and I created a 320-book annotated bibliography for the teachers, sorted by date. This was a risk as giving them all our hard work in 20 pages meant they could take it anywhere, say to Amazon, to place their orders. Bu we had faith that they would order from us, and we really wanted to amaze folks who don’t know our store. Teachers were suitably impressed at the hard work that went into the bibliography. We considered the document not just for teachers, but a wonderful resource for our staff to have on hand when folks come in seeking historical fiction titles.
We were forbidden by the District to do an overt sales pitch to the teachers. We were there to share our knowledge, but making connections and sales was an obvious goal. I wish I could say we got lots of orders from our two days of teacher education. Sadly, we got one, for $104. Several teachers spoke of their desire to shop local and order with us, but it’s been three weeks since the training, and nothing other than the one order. I know some schools mandate where teachers can buy books, say Barnes and Noble, even though our discounts are identical.
I’m trying not to take it to heart because budgets are tight, but I had a real low moment during the work session when two teams of teachers got on their laptops and made a book order from what we’d talked about from Amazon. It was all I could do to contain myself and not shout out about our teacher discounts and our customer service as I passed out goodie bags to all the attendees, our tote bags filled with a galley, a Flying Pig pen, teacher materials and several newsletters.
In the weeks since this event several teachers have emailed how much they loved our presentation and our bibliography, and yet, we’ve only gotten the one order. I’m officially at a loss at what to do about getting teachers to break old patterns and order directly from an independent bookstore. I can talk until I’m blue in the face about savings being greater at indies than at Amazon for most paperbacks, and that the money stays in the state,  but the perception of greater savings at Amazon and the chains is getting really hard to fight.
Booksellers, how does your store get teacher orders? Teachers: do you have a choice of where you can order?

11 thoughts on “Teacher Training and Indies

  1. Annie

    I work in a different part of the book business–wholesalers and publishers who specialize in the school market–so I understand your heartbreak and frustration. It is very difficult to get teachers to break their ordering habits. If you can find the margins and the district is agreeable, one thing might try is giving the district an incentive to promote ordering through you. For example, for every $X in orders received from the training, the district will get Y. Typically this is a credit toward additional books that the district supervisors can use or you could think of other “value add” things like arranging an author to do a school program or something. If you make it worth their while at the district level, the prohibition on promoting ordering from the store may just fade away. Plus, the district itself will be encouraging the teachers. Oh–and the holy grail of school promotion–figuring out a way to be their book fair vendor in a way that can still make you money!

  2. Carol B. Chittenden

    Since you aren’t allowed to make a sales pitch, and you’ve given them a fabulous presentation filled with all kinds of goodies — next time you should be able to charge admission or charge the district a fee. Perhaps the fee could be reduced by X for each order placed witin Y days of the presentation, or for each order over $Z.00.
    I share your disgust, if not your tact and self-restraint, in dealing with these teachers. All weekend I was overhearing teachers tell each other how to use large school ordering companies to advantage, while they shopped our shelves and made notes. I understand teachers work hard at a difficult job — but why do they fail to recognize that we do likewise? That WE, not those big companies, are paying the local taxes that pay their salaries? Etc., etc., etc.

  3. Kenny Brechner

    That’s such a big topic! Anyway, there are always people in districts who don’t get it and never will, aka the amazon teachers at your session. On the other hand there are plenty who do and will. The thing is to put your energy into finding new friends in the district, building a base with good service and personal connections, and outflanking problem administrators once enough people in a district are part of the Pig family. I’ve thrown myself into relationship building with area school districts for years and it is a slow building process with sudden breakthroughs and occasional heartaches.

  4. Sandy

    As a retired teacher, author of children’s materials, and presenter of teacher workshops using PB at all levels, I will tell you that I include close-to-a-rant about using indy bookstores in every teacher encounter. Indies are unmatched for ordering and for just the kind of resources you describe. I make the point that they should ask about discounts, ARCs, book clubs for kids, promo materials, and suggestions about the latest/greatest books out there. Shipping costs are usually nil because the books can be picked up. Some stores that are very local will even drop orders off at schools.
    Have you contacted the Vermont SCBWI author/artist members who might be making presentations in your schools? If they would suggest to schools that a particular bookstore be used when advance-ordering the books featured in their programs you might offer to give “face” display to their books in your shop in exchange. In addition, if they have traveled and are staying overnight in the area anyway, you might book a “free” author talk and signing at your shop that evening to benefit their sales (and yours).
    With all that said, is there any way that a non-Vermonter could access the annotated bibliography you developed? It sounds like a great match for my topics, too.

  5. Anna

    Hello, I am a school librarian and order more books than anybody in the school. I use a vendor that works especially with school libraries, I do have to choose a vendor that is approved by the district, but, the real reason I work with this vendor is because they make it so easy for me. The one time I ordered books from an Independent bookseller down the street, I was very dissatisfied with their service, there was a mix up that was their fault, and they made fixing that mix up a hassle for me. It was so much trouble that I decided I would never do it again. Teachers have different ordering habits and needs than librarians do, but you definitely have to make it easy for them to buy from you because they are going to choose the easiest and cheapest option. You definitely should not have given them the bibliography at the presentation, maybe you could have had a copy of the bibliography projected onto a screen behind you while you referred to it and told teachers that copies of the bibliographies are available in the store. Other incentives? Put special coupons in their goody bags that they can use on top of their educator discounts, or maybe offer a back to school special, for every order over $X you will receive a $10 gift card to be used in the store. Have an event for teachers in the store; tell them that this one night you will double the educator discount. Anything to get them in the store and convince them that they should keep on coming back.

  6. Anne

    As a teacher for many years and now a school librarian, I read your posting with great concern. All of the suggestions given by others are great ones that you can easily do. But I bet the one thing that you can do that may make all the difference is to tell the teachers themselves what you are up against. Tell them how you want to be their bookstore in their community. Tell them what your discounts are and how much it means to you to have their business. In all likelihood they have no idea. Ask the teachers what is needed from their perspective not someone at the district office. Get a children’s author in your store for Educator Day and offer a buy 2 get 1 free book. Have a book exchange. Keep things ongoing throughout the school year. Teachers love it when they are not forgotten. Another thing to consider: Involve the students and their families. Offer to give a teacher a free book from their childhood and it can become an ongoing staff collection for their school library.

  7. DaShannon

    I’m sorry. Thank you for taking the time and interest to do this. Unfortunately even the educated sometimes just do not understand how rude it is to take someone’s hard work and effort and then go elsewhere to order. I know around here people still just don’t think about the implications of buying independent and local. Carry on! Hopefully you will win them over in the long run when they stop by your store during the holidays. Discount coupons always draw our staff into local stores.

  8. Spellbound

    As a fellow soldier in this war, which is what it feels like some days, I can’t say I’m shocked by the lack of sales or the implicit waiting-to-order-online attitude. Saddened, angered, but not surprised.
    Actually sitting in your store at your event ordering from your competitor, though? That, I believe, is a new low.

    1. shelftalker elizabeth

      Oh, no, not in our store. That would have been too demoralizing. They were in a school classroom down the road.

  9. jackie

    Schools are complicated to deal with because sometimes the teachers place orders, and other times it has to come from a distict office, so you never know who to contact or reach out to. It can help to register yourself as a vendor at the schools because sometimes they can only issue purchase orders to a list of approved vendors.
    I wish you all the luck and hope you get a return on all of your hard work! And I hope some of those teachers read the PW blogs!


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