Many of the panels at the 2015 ABC Children’s Institute (April 19-21), held at the Pasadena Hilton in Pasadena, Calif., focused on the nuts-and-bolts of bookselling. Below are some of the ideas PW collected from sessions held over the course of the three-day conference.

Keynote with Mac Barnett and Jory John

The authors of The Terrible Two met through the nonprofit literacy center 826 Valencia. “Borrow what you like and steal from us,” Barnett told booksellers.

• Work on writing projects with kids and print their writing in book form. When the book comes out, invite their family and friends and give them the experience of a book release party.

• Fill the bookstore with kids’ events all day long and all weekend long, whether it’s thumb wrestling tournaments or staring contests.

• Invite a local food critic and teach kids to do candy reviews.

• Do a workshop on how to write a shelftalker and post the finished shelftalkers in the store.

Best Practices for Greater Diversity

Sara Hines, co-owner of Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Mass., moderated a session on promoting diverse books with Lynn Mooney, co-owner of Women and Children First in Chicago; Hannah Moushabeck, children’s department director at Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Mass.; and We Need Diverse Books board members Aisha Saeed (author of Written in the Stars) and I.W. Gregorio (author of None of the Above).

• Be aware of the books highlighted throughout the store so that they’re not all by white middle-class males. Think about what your display says about your store.

• Add the WNDB hashtag under displays.

• The customers you reach may not be diverse. Reach out to new audiences, especially for author appearances. “It’s hard work, but there are payoffs. It’s worth doing,” said Women and Children First’s Mooney.

• Hire diverse staff, not just racially diverse but also disabled people.

• Pay teen interns so that disadvantaged kids can afford to work in the bookstore.

• Let your rep and publisher know when you say “no” to stocking a book and why it sends the wrong message for your store. This came up recently for Women and Children First’s Mooney with a truck alphabet book that focused on boys and not girls. The one or two girls included were observers.

• Know a book so well that when you pitch it to a customer, you can describe it in terms of its universality. If a customer says, “it’s not for me,” ask why they think they won’t like it.

• Booksellers have power not just in the books they order, but in reviewing them and celebrating them nationally.

• Search out small and midsize houses that make a point of publishing diverse titles, such as Charlesbridge, Lerner, Interlink, and Crabtree. Other resources include bookseller and PW blogger Elizabeth Bluemle’s A World Full of Color Diversity Database (

Buying and Merchandising Nonbook

Vroman’s Bookstore, which is split 70/30 book and nonbook, hosted a conversation on merchandising and buying nonbook items. Three of its staffers, B.J. Hegedus, Alison Keyes, and Danielle Borsch (moderator), participated, as did Jesica DeHart of BookPeople of Moscow in Moscow, Idaho.

• Intermingle both book and nonbook items on displays to tell a story.

• Bring in items that will draw people daily, like Chupa Chup lollipops.

• Don’t just make displays that you like, make ones that your mother-in-law would like.

• Figure out what your customer is looking for online and and make it available in your store, like Coobie Bras.

• A good nonbook buyer has to be a good shopper.

• Buy at least some items on consignment so that there’s no financial risk.

• Even though gifts are nonreturnable, if something doesn’t work, contact the vendor. Chances are they will work out an arrangement.

• Try just a few scents of a candle line to see how they work; you don’t have to order each kind.

• Gifts are seasonable. Don’t overbuy. You don’t want your customers to think that they can buy the same item in six months.

• Don’t buy heavily into licensed items, but be sure to have a balance of what customers want, like Frozen and Star Wars items.

• Seek out local, made in the USA items. Customers are looking for that.

• If you can’t find what you want ask local photographers to make postcards, or craftspeople to make locally themed dolls.

• Consider raising the markup on gifts from 2.3 to 2.4.

• Visit Pinterest and stores like Anthropologie for display ideas.

How to Gauge Age-Appropriate Reading

Judy Bulow at Tattered Cover Book Store moderated a panel on making book recommendations with booksellers Summer Dawn Laurie at Books Inc. in San Francisco and Claudia Maceo at the Twig Book Shop in San Antonio and with Lesley Farmer, librarianship professor at California State University in Long Beach.

• The five-finger rule empowers children. No fingers, too easy; one finger, easy; two fingers, perfect choice; three fingers, might need help; four fingers, ask an adult to read it with you; five fingers, try a different book.

• When parents want their kids to read up, Laurie likes to remind them, “You don’t always read War and Peace. You read People, too.”

• At Tattered Cover, “Parents will say that their child is five years old, and you find out they’re three. It’s very tricky gauging the age.”

• Encourage a breadth of reading.

Reaching Reluctant Readers

Laura Donohoe, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café in Asheville, N.C, moderated a lively panel on how to get reluctant readers excited about books; panelists were Erin Barker of Hooray for Books! in Alexandria, Va.; author Jon Scieszka, founder of Guys Read; Kim Laird, reading specialist at Upland Unified School District in San Bernardino County, Calif.; and Margaret Brennan Neville of The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City. Scieszka told the story of being introduced to a kid and his mother, and having the mother say, “Here’s my son, he’s a reluctant reader.” The boy chimed in, “No I’m not, Mom, I’m a picky reader!” Scieszka appreciated how the son had corrected his mother, as well as the phrasing of his objection.

• Kids are very busy, and a book needs to be very engaging and wonderful for them. You’ll never got a kid to read if you don’t give them something fun.

• Instead of asking “who is your favorite author?” ask kids, “What have you last read? What movies do you like? What games do you like?” Talk to them like an adult. And talk directly to them and not the parent.

• It’s a great opportunity for booksellers, because you are outside the classroom. You can say things like “This book probably won’t be OK with your teacher, but because you’re you, here’s....” and then hand them a book.

• When you run up against parents who only want their kid to read the classics, show the parents your shelf of Newbery winners, as “pseudo classics.”

• Most parents don’t think of graphic novels as reading material; try talking to them about the importance of visual literacy, to make them feel better about it. Tell them that it may look like a comic but it’s actually a graphic novel, and actually has a narrative arc.

• Another way to work with parents is to upsell them. If they insist on Treasure Island, suggest pairing it with a National Geographic fact book.

• A lot of booksellers forget that nonfiction has a lot of narrative heft. Booksellers should be responsible for knowing their nonfiction section.

• Give kids a choice in your store. Load them up with books and then say, “You don’t have to like any of them.”

• To gently guide readers without insulting them, try saying, “Everyone’s reading this and you know, it’s not my favorite. You want to read something better?”

Marketing to Grandparents

Johanna Albrecht, Flyleaf Books (Chapel Hill, NC., moderated an informative session on ways to reach out to grandparents, who potentially are excellent customers; panelists were Jennifer Armstrong of Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, N.Y; and Ketsia Julmeus of Books & Books in Coral Gables, Fla.

• You don’t want to presume the shopper is a grandparent. Find a delicate way to figure out what is the relationship.

• Consider collaborating with neighboring stores if they have a senior citizen day.

• Shelftalkers with little developmental milestones really help, such as “really great for newborns” and “at six months they’re reaching for their toes.”

• Grandparents really love to buy gift editions of classics. Carry paperback editions but also stock the really nice hardcover editions. She – “and it’s usually a she” – often wants a keepsake edition of a book she loved as a child.

• Offer weekly discounts to grandparents on kids’ books and sidelines. Think about giving the grandparents’ discount to great-aunts and godmothers.

• Books & Books offers gift baskets; Julmeus calls them “a great way to market to grandparents. Ask the budget, gender, theme, and then create a book basket. People love them.”

• Try reaching out to retirement communities. Their staff is often very protective of its residents, so look for individual residents to advocate for this kind of service. Offer a selection of graduation books or holiday books. Have books pre-wrapped as gifts

• Think about doing a grandparent and grandchild book club. Grandparents haven’t read a middle grade book in many, many years. It’s a great way to connect with their grandchildren.

• Encourage grandparents to come in during the week, when there is time to handsell. There isn’t time on the weekends, when things are more hectic.

• Do in-store wish list cards and keep them on file. Grandparents and other family members come in and ask for the wish lists.

Birthday Party Rentals

Booksellers Cynthia Compton of 4 Kids in Zionsville, Ind., Barbara Khan of Jack & Allies in Vernon, Conn., Lauren Savage of The Reading Bug in San Carlos, Cali., and Amy Thomas of Pegasus Books in Berkeley, Calif., shared tips on adding birthday parties as a way to draw customers – and revenue – into stores.

• Get kids to make birthday wishlists at the store.

• Another benefit to birthday parties is that they happen year-round. Nobody came out during the “ridiculous weater” in New England this past winter, except for kids’ birthday parties.

• To get started, canvass your area and see what the going rate is for birthday parties at places. Panelists recommend not advertising your prices.

• Make it easy for yourself up front by keeping it simple. Add things like food or more crafts and activities after you’ve nailed down the basics.

• Successful parties are book-themed, and comprised of a story time, a craft, an activity or game like Bingo, or a treasure hunt, and sometimes things like a parade or dressing-up. For a Fancy Nancy Party try nail painting.

• It’s important to bear in mind the space. With kids younger than five you’ll often have parents in the space, too, so it can get loud and crowded.

• Cross-promotion with other local businesses like pizza places, bakeries, frozen yogurt shops, etc. can help with supplies for the party and coupons to put in goodie bags.

• Use teenagers to help run the event. One panelist suggested “theater kids are awesome for this.” The number of kids should dictate staffing needs. A party of 14 kids usually requires one host and one assistant; for 20 kids, add another assistant.

• Promote the parties with signs next to the book: for example, “Ask about our Pinkalicious party.” Be sure to keep revamping the party concepts, however, to get people to come back, as some kids return to the same parties.

Starting a Children’s or Teen Book Festival

Liesl Freudenstein of Boulder Book Store in Boulder, Colo., moderated a panel with Cathy Berner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Tex., coordinator for the Bookworm Festival for Emerging Readers, Tweens Read, and TeenBookCon; Diane Capriola of Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Ga., children and teen program manager for the AJC Decatur Book Festival; and Meghan Goel of BookPeople in Austin, Tex., program director for the Texas Teen Book Festival.

• To ensure attendance, reach out to educators and librarians to bus their kids to the event.

• Finding a team for logistics is crucial, since booksellers mostly liase with the publishers and coordinate programming.

• Start the event with an energizing talk/keynote/game show with authors.

• Bring in partners with venue access.

• Author care is important: you want them to spread the word to publishers and other authors that they had a good time.

• It’s good to get popular authors but also new voices, you might be surprised by how popular an author will be, if they really engage the audience.

• Predicting turnout is tricky. The events are free so people can bring their own books, but try to suggest buying from the fair/bookstore to help support the event.

• The big online retailer doesn’t put on fairs. Have the emcee ask for support by buying books at the fair with “housekeeping” remarks at the beginning, or have entrance to the signing line granted with the purchase of a book.

• Publishing reps will sometimes pay to have booths at festivals to preview their lists. At the Decatur Book Festival, a TV network even previewed their new shows.