Children’s booksellers had a strong presence at the 45th New England Independent Booksellers Association Fall Conference (September 25–27), held at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence. As in years past, part of the programming was organized by the New England Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council (NECBA), including a session on “NECBA Picks: The Windows & Mirrors Project” with Ji-eun Alice Ahn of Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, N.H.; Lauren D’Alessio of Wellesley Books in Wellesley, Mass.; Clarissa Hadge of Trident Booksellers & Café in Boston; Alex Schaffner of Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass.; Rebecca Wells of Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass.; and Beth Wagner (moderator) of Phoenix Books in Essex, Vt.
Another panel, “Selling Outside Your Comfort Zone,” was more geared to handselling, with lots of ideas for selling books and genres that you might not be familiar with. Panelists included Bill Grace of Buttonwood Books & Toys in Cohasset, Mass.; Meg Wasmer of Cabot Street Books in Beverly, Mass.; Jess Wick of Savoy Bookshop & Café in Westerly, R.I.; and Michael Kindness (moderator) of district sales manager at Random House.
Below are tips from both panels regarding handselling and promoting diverse books.
- For the all-important fourth quarter, Buttonwood puts together a list of the most requested genres from the previous holiday season. These categories range from picture books to graphic novels, historical fiction, and clean teen (no sex, drugs, or rock & roll). They also include big books and authors like John Green, The Hunger Games/The Maze Runner, and “grew up reading Harry Potter/Percy Jackson.” There’s also a space for “others we love.” (Grace)
- One of the biggest resources for filling gaps in your knowledge of genres or titles is other booksellers in your store. Borrow their recommendations and read their shelf talkers. (Grace)
- Use staff picks to handsell. “My store staff picks aggressively so we’re ‘talking’ to our customers even when we’re not in the store.” (Wasmer)
- Include customer picks in your store newsletter. (Kindness)
- Ask your reps for book lists, such as the top 10 cozy mysteries. (Kindness)
- Place book recommendations on the store’s Slack (an instant messaging system) so they will be readily available when needed. Try to select books that straddle more than one category. (Wick)
- Keep an updated list near the register with suggested titles by category to help booksellers who are uncomfortable selling in the children’s department. (Wick)
- Post a children’s bestsellers list in the kids’ department. (Grace)
- If you haven’t read a book, scan the blurbs. If there’s one from an author, read the blurb to the customer. (Wasmer)
- Read passages from the book aloud to the customer. This is a good selling tool, especially for poetry. (Wick)
- When speaking with relatives, try to get them to talk about the child, since all grandchildren read above level in their families’ eyes. (Grace)
- Be prepared to answer the biggest question from your previous holiday season. At Buttonwood last year, it was what to give someone who loves videogames. (Grace)
- Instead of telling a child that he or she is too young to read a book, say, “I think you’re going to like this better in a few years.” It lets the book retain its romance. (Wick)
- Bring customers a stack of books with suggestions. “Regardless of their grumpiness, they like seeing a stack that’s been picked for them.” (Wick)
- Have non-children’s staff straighten the kids’ section, turn over the books, and look at the covers to get familiar with the inventory. (Suggestion from the audience)
- One children’s bookseller picks out a board book and a picture book and hands them to booksellers working at the cash register who have no children’s book knowledge, so that they can read them during slow times. (Katherine Fergason, Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass.)
- Stock diverse books even if you don’t think your community is diverse. “Marginalization is not always visible. Remember that you’re buying books for everybody.” (Wagner)
- Hold diverse storytimes. “I’m in Maine, a very white state, and our customers appreciate them.” (Gibran Graham, the Briar Patch in Bangor)
- One way to get more diverse books into the hands of your customers is to have more diverse staff picks. (Wagner)
- Rather than having a specific diverse books display, include diverse books in displays throughout the store. (Robin Sung, Porter Square Books)