Although much of the focus of keynote and featured speakers at Children’s Institute in Portland, Ore., was on diversity and inclusivity, there were a number of educational panels and roundtables on the nuts-and-bolts of children’s bookselling. Below are some of the many tips that bookseller attendees took back to their stores.
“Understanding Development and Reading Styles to Connect with Middle Grade and YA Readers”
With Paige Battle, a librarian at Grant High School in Portland, Ore.; Gen de Botton (moderator) of ABC Children’s Group; Carol Moyer of Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C.; Katie O’Dell at Multnomah County Library in Portland, Ore.
• There’s no substitute for great customer service. Treat teens and tweens as equals. (Moyer)
• “Be informal mentors.” (O’Dell)
• Make a point of letting students know what you’re reading. (Battle)
• “Don’t try too hard to be cool. But do try to keep up with pop culture.” (Moyer, citing the store’s teen advisory board)
• Try the three-pronged Nordstrom Method of recommending a book, which Nancy Pearl advocates: Give the student the book they suggested, a similar title, and a title from left field. (Battle)
• For Game of Thrones fans, focus on a new book’s story and the fact that it’s also an epic fantasy. (O’Dell)
• Graphic novels work well for visual learners. Suggest books like Cece Bell’s El Deafo and Neil Gaiman’s graphic novels. (Moyer)
• Most students prefer physical books over e-books. (Battle)
• “What a load of crap,” O’Dell said of Lexile levels, adding, “This isn’t official policy. It’s like No Child Left Behind except everyone is left behind except six rich kids.”
• “[Lexile levels] are cumbersome: just ask the parent what their kid is reading, what they’ve liked.” (Moyer)
• The brain changes a lot during adolescence, which is why teens are all over the place. (O’Dell)
• Five developmental relationship practices: express care, challenge growth, provide support, share power, and expand possibilities. (O’Dell)
• The relationship between bookstores and libraries should be collaborative. Think of it as an equilateral triangle: school, public library, bookstore. (Moyer)
“Introduction to Social Media: Creating Effective Social Media Campaigns to Unlock Your Bookstore’s Potential”
With Nicole Brinkley of Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, N.Y.; ABA’s Catherine Cusick (moderator); and Sami Thomason of Square Books, Jr. in Oxford, Miss.
• Social media is a tool for branding, reaching potential customers, and creating community and communities. (Cusick)
• Be friendly and professional on all platforms—Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. (Brinkley)
• Facebook offers a good way to highlight things happening locally, including early closures due to weather, and to show that you’re part of that community. (Brinkley)
• Begin promoting author events on Facebook one month in advance. (Thomason)
• “Pair a Facebook event page with a page on your store’s website,” Cusick recommended, to get customers to return to your website for e-commerce, ticketing, or interstitials that ask customers for their information for newsletter signups.
• Event posts should happen at least once a week and should increase the week of the event. Be sure to post the morning of the event, not five minutes before. (Cusick)
• Use Hootsuite for scheduling multiple Facebook posts. It allows you to schedule posts into the future. (Thomason)
• Keep Facebook posts short and be sure to use an image. For consistency, be sure that posts appear regularly, even if it’s a day off or a holiday. (Cusick)
• Different posts serve different purposes. Keep that in mind when you look at the numbers that certain posts generate. There’s more than one way to look at statistics. (Brinkley)
• Animal photos, especially cats, are good plugs for your store, even of the cat doesn’t belong to you. The cat on Oblong Books’s Instagram account is just a photogenic neighbor. (Brinkley)
• On Instagram remember aesthetics and highlight pretty covers. (Thomason)
• Don’t be afraid to anthropomorphize your store on social media. Some bookstore owners post “good morning” and “good night” photos of their stores. (Cusick)
• Two good hashtags to use are: #TBT and #FBF. (Cusick)
• Twitter is the most immediate way to connect to people outside your community. It can also be useful to interact with authors, tag local business partners, and share information about signed copies. (Brinkley)
• A social media campaign is successful, if you’re having fun. If you’re not, it will come across like that online. (Brinkley)
• “You should take a stand on issues that are important to you; your values are what attract your customers to your store,” Thomason said. “Your social media platforms are an extension of this.”
“Parenting Books Roundtable”
With Lauren Savage (moderator) of The Reading Bug in San Carlos, Calif.
• Rediscovered Books in Boise, Idaho, recently moved its small parenting section out of children’s to a shelf below self-help. (Rebecca Crosswhite)
• One bookseller noted that many parenting books look like textbooks that you don’t want to read.
• At Changing Hands in Tempe, Ariz., parents come in asking for skills books—like potty training, divorce, and death. (Brandi Stewart)
• Island Books on Mercer Island, Wash., accepts that it has to have parenting books, even if they don’t sell. (Lillian Welch)
• One bookseller said that his store mixes mindfulness and humor books into the parenting section.
• Savage suggested highlighting that April is Autism Awareness Month. Booksellers suggested stocking: The Mind in the Making by James Harvey Robinson (CreateSpace), Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf (Harper Perennial), Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robinson (Three Rivers), and I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illus. by Tom Lichtenheld (Chronicle).
“Fostering an Inclusive Environment for Staff and Customers with Disabilities”
With Kimberly Cake of Enchanted Passage in Sutton, Mass.; Susan Kusel (moderator) of [words] Bookstore in Maplewood, N.J.; and Drew Sieplinga of Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis, Minn.
• It doesn’t require a lot of money to make a store accessible. Wild Rumpus invested just $200 to transform its store: it moved its shelving to create aisles that are 36” apart; took baskets of books out of the aisles and moved them under display tables; added clipboards for customers who can’t reach its high countertops; and purchased a portable ramp since it didn’t have enough space to create a permanent one. (Sieplinga)
• When Cake opened her store last fall it was important to her to have an accessible space after discovering that there were many places she could not bring her preemie daughter and all her equipment.
• “Be warm and welcoming to everybody. With every customer, listening is important. You want to help. But be as low-key as possible,” Kusel said.
• “The majority of disabilities are invisible,” Sieplinga said. One staffer at Wild Rumpus has fibromyalgia and has to sit down every hour, and Sieplinga herself has intractable epilepsy.
• “Sometimes some of our customers need training,” Cake said. One of her staffers has Tourette’s, and she explains to customers, “I have a tickle in my eye.”
• Offer sensory storytimes for kids on the autism spectrum or who have other disabilities, and/or
immuno-sensitive storytimes with no bright lights, no music. Limit to no more than 15. (Cake)
• [words] offers special second Sundays programming for kids with disabilities. In addition the owner, who has a child on the autism spectrum, has a training program for autistic kids.
• “When you make a store accessible, you make it better for everyone,” Sieplinga said.
“Running a Successful Children’s Department Staff Meeting”
With Kelsey April of Savoy Bookshop & Café in Westerly, R.I., and Bank Square in Mystic, Conn.; Laura DeLaney of Rediscovered Books in Boise, Idaho; Valerie Koehler of Blue Willow Bookshop (moderator) in Houston, Tex.; and Aubrey Nolan of WORD in Brooklyn, N.Y.
• At Savoy, April hosts one-on-one meetings with staffers over the course of a week, an idea she got from owner Annie Philbrick, who does that at Bank Square. She also hosts quarterly all staff meetings during the business day at the store.
• Nolan also likes to do one-on-one check-ins, but in her store they are walk-and-talks like those in The West Wing. “It’s a good way to prompt thoughts about the section,” she said.
• At Rediscovered, DeLaney hosts weekly meetings, and she buys everyone a coffee. Among the topics are book talks to remind staffers why they wanted to work in a bookstore.
• When Koehler introduces a new idea to the staff, she tells them that they’re not going to discuss it. She just wants them to think about it. That way she avoids negative knee-jerk reactions.
• Nolan tells staff not to bring her a problem unless they have an idea for a solution.
• At Waucoma Bookstore in Hood River, Ore., Jenny Cohen has a notebook where staff can write anything they want to talk about at the next staff meeting, even if it’s how other staffers should cut apart boxes.
• Instead of a physical notebook, try a Slack document. Other programs to consider are: Asana Project Management, Wunderlist, Dropbox, and Google Drive. (DeLaney)
• Send weekly e-blasts to staff about author events and other store information. (April)
• Make sales goals fun. For the holiday catalog consider turning it into a game of fantasy football. (DeLaney)
• Games are also a fun way to move unsold items that have to go. At Blue Willow, the store has Reindeer Games. If somebody wants to buy an item that has been identified as part of the games, the staff offers to wrap it and takes it in the back room and photographs it.
• Give meetings fun names like “Mini Winnie,” a staff development and training day patterned after Winter Institute. (April)
• Invite local experts to staff meetings: a librarian to talk about doing storytime with puppets or a police officer to talk about dealing with homeless people in the store or shoplifting. (DeLaney)
• Have a mini-rep pick presentation during the staff meeting. If the staff gets particularly excited about a title, be prepared to change your buy. (Koehler)
• Food is a good way to bond. Try hosting a staff potluck. (April)
“Careers in Bookselling—How to Grow by Doing What You Love” Roundtable
With Tegan Tigani (moderator) of Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle, Wash.
• Contact your regional booksellers association director to volunteer and/or talk to your store owner about working with your regional association, suggested Emmy Widener of Changing Hands in Tempe, Ariz.
• “Part of my strategy is not to be boxed into [just bookselling],” said Noëlle Santoas, who is opening The Lit. Bar in the Bronx, N.Y., as early as this fall. “I have a book club with 400 members. I blog about my journey [to opening a bookstore]. Being a passionate person, opportunities find me. I’m able to command honoria to speak at colleges on being an entrepreneur. It’s afforded me opportunities.”
• One bookstore owner suggested making a list of projects and letting the staff pick the projects that they want to do.
• Talk to the reps directly or work through your store buyer to get galleys that interest you and to review for the store and for the IndieNext list. (Widener)