While much of the focus of Winter Institute 12, held in Minneapolis from January 27–30, was decidedly political, there were still plenty of panels that contained nuts-and-bolts information on bookselling. Some were held in conjunction with the ABC Children’s Group at ABA, whereas others were more general panels with a children’s slant. Below are some of the tips offered by panelists and audience members, organized by educational session.
“Creating and Managing Your Store Brand”
With John Evans of Diesel: A Bookstore in Santa Monica, Calif.; Nicole Sullivan of BookBar in Denver; and Kevin Quinn of Styled Retail in Minneapolis.
- Brand name is objective: the brand is the customer’s perception of your products and/or services, not necessarily the reality. (Quinn)
- Manage your brand by personalizing it, engaging with community in different mediums, and by adapting the brand when necessary in a rapidly changing industry and world. (Quinn)
- Branding begins with the bookstore’s values. Make sure you know what the customer thinks of the bookstore. “The more you engage with the consumer, with customers, the more clear you will be regarding the store’s brand,” Quinn said.
- The exterior and interior of the bookstore should reflect the store’s personality and values. Community outreach and events, should reflect them, too. (Sullivan)
- A store’s social media is part of its brand, including tone and humor. (Sullivan)
- Protect your brand by trademarking the store name and logo. (Sullivan)
- Be responsive, engaged, and inspirational in creating your brand. (Evans)
- Make people feel comfortable inside your bookstore. Make it clear that booksellers are “accessible and experienced and interested in engagement.” (Evans)
“The New Localism: Advocating for a Stronger Local Community”
With Beth Bergman of Wet Paint in Minneapolis; Richard Howorth of Square Books in Oxford, Miss.; Dan Marshal of Mischief Toy Store in Minneapolis; and ABA CEO Oren Teicher (moderator).
- Partner with other local businesses to create an independent business association. (Bergman)
- “Having political power comes from exercising your political power,” said Marshal, who advised booksellers get to know their state and local elected officials. He encouraged booksellers to visit officials with other local business leaders.
- Know exactly what your bookstore means to your community in terms of employment and tax dollars. Have that information on hand when you talk to elected officials. (Howorth)
“ABC Presents: Starting a Children’s Book Festival”
With Cathy Berner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston; Todd Dickinson of Aaron’s Books in Lititz, Pa.; Tom Roberts of Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe in Warwick, N.Y.; and Wendy Morton Hudson of Nantucket Book Partners in Nantucket, Mass.
- Rely on volunteers throughout. Find community members who are interested in growing a festival, graphic design assistance, and social media experts. Allow volunteers to feel ownership of the event. (Berner)
- Collaborate with area schools on volunteer opportunities for students. Talk to schools about giving students academic credit for volunteering. (Dickinson)
- Talk to local bed-and-breakfasts about the festival as a tourist destination and encourage them to offer special rates to attendees. (Dickinson)
- Solicit publishers to send authors and illustrators and create a selection committee to select which authors to invite. (Berner)
- Make sure that tickets are required of attendees, so that your bookstore can collect data to provide to publishers who have sent authors. The data is also helpful in soliciting publishers for future festivals. (Berner)
- In terms of scheduling, an opening keynote, panels, and closing keynote, followed by a mass book signing works well. (Berner)
- Provide writing pads at the festival if writing workshops are part of the program. (Dickinson)
- Start planning next year’s festival eight months in advance. Begin by reviewing the previous year’s event. Start researching authors six months before; finalize your list four months before and start promoting the festival. Place book orders six weeks before the festival begins. (Roberts)
- When storing boxes of books, label the boxes clearly with the author’s name, title, and the name of the festival. (Berner)
“ABFE Presents Hot-Button Issues in Kids’ Books”
With Nicole Brinkley of Oblong Books and Music in Rhinebeck, N.Y.; Miranda Paul of We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) and author of 10 Little Ninjas; Joan Trygg of Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minn.; I.W. Gregorio of WNDB and author of None of the Above; and ABFE’s Chris Finan (moderator).
- WNDB is releasing OurStory app with a database of 1,200 titles reflecting diverse characters and themes. (Gregorio)
- Reach out to librarians and to the community about diverse books. “Reaching out is a teaching opportunity for everybody,” Gregorio said.
- Get involved in the discussion, connect to WNDB on social media, ask for suggestions, and share recommendations. (Paul)
- Make your bookstore a welcoming space, so that people feel comfortable coming into store looking for diverse books. Rediscovered Books in Boise, Idaho, put up a sign welcoming “different populations.” (Paul)
- Create resource materials to accompany books for teachers. “Teachers love resources,” Paul said.
- Put out displays containing diverse books without making an issue of it. “Sell the book, not the issue,” said Brinkley. Set up displays that establish the universal appeal of books.
- Talk up diverse books on social media, tagging WNDB at @diversebooks, and highlight diverse books in your store newsletter. You can even offer to pitch diverse books for an hour to teachers and librarians. (Brinkley)
- Include diverse books as staff picks on shelftalkers. (Trygg)
- Double-shelve books to promote their visibility to people who might not otherwise discover them. (Trygg)
“ABC Presents: Idea Exchange for Creating a Community Space In and Out of Your Store”
With Johanna Albrecht of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, N.C.; WNDB’s I.W. Gregorio; Sara Hines of Eight Cousins Books in Falmouth, Mass.; and WNDB’s Miranda Paul.
- Reach out to community organizations, from arts organizations to schools and libraries. (Gregorio)
- Organize book drives in-store before school visits. (Albrecht)
- Join the regional branch of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. (Gregorio)
- Make explicitly inclusive signs in-store. When hand-selling, always include diverse books. (Albrecht)
- Be sure to stock traditionally under-represented holiday titles. Set up a bay with World War II and Holocaust titles. (Hines)
- Know what diverse books are available (via Edelweiss and also via WNDB’s soon-to-be-launched app), look up demographics of local schools, and hand-sell appropriate titles to teachers and librarians. (Paul)
“Integrating Used Books into Your Inventory”
With Jessi Blackstock of Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Minneapolis; Harriet Logan of Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights, Ohio; Lacy Simons of hello, hello books in Rockland, Maine; and Shane Gottwals (moderator) of Gottwals Books in Warner Robins, Ga.
- Don’t get too attached to the books in your store. “In a bookstore, the reality is you are paying rent or mortgage. There are a lot of books on the shelf, and some of them fetch some money, and some don’t. The more we get rid of and the more we bring in, the higher our sales are,” said Blackstock.
- Be clear about the kinds of books you want and when and how you take them, and you will get good books. Simons created a brochure that spells out what she is looking for and how much she pays. She asks customers to sign it when they bring her books to buy.
- Learn the lingo for antiquarian books: the terms and abbreviations and the condition grades—and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. (Logan)
- Consider paying more to buy books if the customer takes in-store credit. (Blackstock)
- Some stores only give credit. Gottwals makes an exception for college textbooks, for which they pay cash. By taking credit, it allows staff to make mistakes.
- Penny sellers, who sell used books online for one cent, may create the illusion that used books have no intrinsic value, but they do. Supply and demand is the pricing used for all goods. To determine the value of a book, consider salability and interest in your store. (Logan)
- See what other bookstores are doing. Book dealers may come in and buy off your bargain walls. (Blackstock)
- Whenever Magers & Quinn puts a sale cart with used children’s books outside the store, all kids’ book sales go up.
“ABC Presents: Using Nielsen Data to Expand Nonfiction Sales”
With Kenny Brechner of Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine; Tegan Tigani of Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle, Wash.; Carol Moyer of Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C. ; and Sara Grochowski (moderator) of Brilliant Books in Traverse City, Mich.
- “Young readers are never armchair readers,” Brechner said. He encouraged booksellers to make their active nonfiction sections as comprehensive as possible. Those sections should encompass more than books on learning to use YouTube or on coding. At his store a book like Ron’s Big Mission on activism falls under active nonfiction.
- “I like to have a really broad nonfiction section,” said Moyer. She’s less concerned about managing turns than in making sure that none of the books are outdated.
- At Brechner’s store in rural Maine, stocking is personal. He specifically stocks books on rescue vehicles for one young customer.
- The teen advisory board at Quail Ridge is not enthusiastic about young readers’ editions of adult titles. They prefer to read the adult book, like Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.
- Graphic novel histories can work well, like Don Brown’s Drowned City. (Tigani)
- The joke section is active nonfiction and is good for reluctant readers. (Tigani).
- The I Survived series is a gateway for reluctant readers. Work with staff so that they learn to see it that way. (Moyer).
- Kids aren’t thinking in terms of a particular category when they shop at a bookstore. Pair fiction about Minecraft next to nonfiction about Minecraft. Shelve nonfiction board books with fiction ones. (Tigani)
- “Don’t throw anything out,” advised Brechner, who uses old displays from Usborne and Melissa & Doug for new nonfiction titles.
- One way to work with schools and increase school contacts is to get invited to mandatory staff meetings. In advance of the meeting, find out what types of books staffers are looking for and bring a checklist so that they can order books directly from you. You can also set up special web pages for the teachers to view recommended titles included on the checklist. (Brechner)
- Use a label maker to tag keywords in nonfiction so that staff can find books easily. (Tigani)
- Grochowski advised moving displays frequently.
- One audience member suggested setting up some nonfiction displays with headers like: “For the Future Anthropologist” and “For the Future Dentist.” This signage can be especially helpful for customers looking for birthday presents.
With Paul Hanson of Village Books in Bellingham, Wash.; Cynthia Compton of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Ind.; and Libby Manthey (moderator) of Riverwalk Books in Chelan, Wash.
- Get your restock staff together for a day so that they can discuss best practices. (Hanson)
- Figure out your “par” level: the minimum you need to have on hand, on order, and to be ordered based on monthly sales and getting three turns. For a steady seller like Goodnight Moon, for example, it could be eight copies. For a fast seller, as much as 50 copies. (Hanson)
- “I am passionate about data. I have scads of reports on every single item. I’m a fanatic about turn by shelf and by section. In a children’s store, where everything has to be new and shiny—and people chew my products—I have to pay attention to margin,” said Compton. “In the toy business, you can ask any owner the top 10. I want to know that by section and why. I want my staff to be able to recite that.”
- Early on Kristen McLean, now with Nielsen, warned Compton to pay attention to midlist. “Beware the guilt-ridden midlist,” McLean said. Booksellers can tie up too much money in midlist inventory.
- The entire staff should know about turns, all the way down to high school students. (Compton)
- Run reports with increasing frequency based on your biggest sales times: monthly, quarterly, and then weekly in the fourth quarter—daily leading up to Christmas. (Compton)
- Paying attention to margins is good customer service. You need to have the books the customer wants. (Jeanne Costello of Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colo.)
- To decide what picture books to move to backlist, put new books on a spinner rack and track sales for three months. Make them earn a place in the store. (Brechner)
- Push your sidelines local and push margins down. (Compton)
- To deal with shrinkage, work with your local police department, said Hanson.
“Converting Social Media to Sales”
With Dan Graham of Book Soup in West Hollywood, Calif.; Kelly Justice of Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Va.; and ABA’s Phil Davies and Catherine Cusick (moderator).
- “Animals always work wonders! We try to take and post a picture of every dog that walks in the shop, with the owner’s permission of course,” Graham said.
- Kelly Justice, owner of Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Va. suggests picking a system for internal communication and sticking to it—that can be using a Post-It note or the Slack app. (Justice)
- Partner with authors to do “virtual events” when you are the bookseller of record for a particular title’s pre-orders or special signed copies. Some publishers will create a special ISBN for signed editions. Or you can use an in-house SKU.
- When you can’t get an author into the store for a signing, get book plates.
- Add a non-intrusive pop-up to your site to harvest email addresses of people visiting your site. Don’t forget that mobile needs to be set up differently.
- Thank-you’s go a long way—both to customers and to staff. Thank every person who tags you in a post.
- Post printed-out letters, tweets, and pictures you get in the store to help motivate your staff.
- “Children’s bookstores need, by their very nature, to be safe spaces. But it is the books that are the safe space and the store itself is a ‘portal’ to that space,” said Sarah Bagby, owner of Watermark Books in Wichita, Kans.
- “Children’s stores need to have integrity—to know the business, the books, and find ways of representing points of views, that may seem political to adults that are appropriate for children,” said Valerie Kohler of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Tex.
“ABC Presents: Successfully Selling and Merchandising Graphic Novels”
With Heather Hebert of Children’s Book World in Haverford, Pa.; Marika McCoola of Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass.; Michael Bender of Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Michael Link (moderator) of Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, Oh.
- Don’t overlook nonfiction. Titles like those from Smithsonian Science are appealing to all kids. (Hebert)
- Graphic or illustrated versions of the classics can be a gateway. “Good art will sell it,” said Bender.
- Graphic novels are good titles for language learners.
- “Titles that appeal more to adults or are strange, odd, or peculiar get faced out on the top shelf,” said McCoola.
- Give the section a quirky or interesting name that will appeal to adults and children alike: Graphica was suggested by the audience as one that parents go for because it sounds “classy.”
- Check out Toon Books’s website for instructions on how to read a graphic novel with a child and grade-level appropriate titles.
- Parents who are suspicious of graphic novels should turn to a book like Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.
- When selling through a school book fair, books cannot be priced more than $12.99 or people will not buy them.
- “Re-readability is a key for graphic novels,” said Hebert.
- Graphic novels are also often overtly “diverse,” primarily because they are visual.
- Regarding manga: It’s best to have a sign up that says you will order anything people ask for. It’s impossible to keep the series in stock because they are long and difficult to keep track of.
- The ALA has a good list for kid-friendly manga series and titles to recommend, as does School Library Journal, said Kuo-Yu Liang of Diamond Book Distributors.