The ABA’s seventh Children’s Institute, which took place June 26–28 in Pittsburgh, featured a number of educational panels and roundtables on the day-to-day business of children’s bookselling. Below are some of the many tips that booksellers offered attendees for enhancing their stores, engaging their communities, and creating safe spaces for customers of all backgrounds.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Representation in Store Culture and Why It Matters

Panelists: Veronica Liu, founder and general coordinator, Word Up Community Bookshop Librería Comunitaria (Moderator), New York City; Cliff Helm, children’s bookseller, Left Bank Books, St. Louis, Mo.; Christine Onorati, Owner, WORD Bookstore, Brooklyn, N.Y. and Jersey City, N.J.; Patty Bucek, Vibrant Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pa.

  • The most important reason to have a diverse staff is that you get a diverse hiring pool. It’s very intimidating to walk into a space and see a bunch of white faces. (Helm)

  • It starts with your window. It’s very easy to make a window display that is all white and all male. Don’t do it. Be very deliberate in putting your best foot forward. (Helm)

  • Having a diverse staff is how you let people know that you are ready and willing to hire people like them. (Helm)

  • If you have a diverse staff but aren’t keeping them, then do exit interviews. (Helm)

  • Your mission statement and values should be the first page in your hiring packet—this is who we are—make sure it’s also public. (Helm)

  • Look beyond the resume—who is this person? Do they believe in the mission of this place? (Onorati)

  • Build a pathway for great customers to become booksellers. An African-American woman came to an event wearing a shirt that said, “Support black women who write weird shit.” She felt comfortable here. She came to an event. Now we’re hiring her. (Onorati)

  • Don’t be afraid to talk to your employees and say when you don’t know what something means. (Onorati)

  • You have to have a diversity and inclusion strategy in place before you make your first hire—people can see it, that it’s palpable—your whole store has to reflect it. It does take intention and it does take purpose and it does take a lot of thought. (Bucek)

  • People are looking to do business with people who look like them. (Bucek)

  • Build a database. Help promote the activities of organizations in your community—go to them. Get to know them. Go to where they are to tell your story. Get out of the store. (Bucek)

  • Internet penetration isn’t always the best way to reach people. Put paper fliers in laundromats. Reach out to people in Spanish. Think of who you want to have and where they might be looking. (Liu)

  • Mention that you’re looking for people at events where there is broad representation of your neighborhood. (Liu)

  • Do audits of your store. (Liu)

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Conducting a Diversity Audit

Panelists: Molly Olivo, Barstons Child’s Play, Washington, D.C.; Clarissa Hadge, Trident Booksellers and Café, Boston; Belinda Boon, Kent State University, Kent, Oh.; BrocheAroe Fabian, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis. (moderator).

  • Ensure that you and your staff understand what diversity means. We Need Diverse Books offers: “A person of color; Native American; LGBTQIA community; a person with a disability; a member of a marginalized religious or cultural minority in the United States.”

  • “Diverse books” is not a separate category.

  • Focus on quality literature.

  • Remember that readers gain context with texts that help [them] develop their ability to empathize with others.

  • It’s crucial for young readers to experience empathy in order to develop social skills.

  • The ability to select your inventory is a privilege.

  • Before ordering, ask yourself, “Whose voice isn’t represented here?”

  • Seek out reputable lists to support your collection-building.

  • Turn over your old backlist and build a presence of diverse books in your backlist.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Roundtable: All Are Welcome Here! Creating a Space for LGBTQ+ Youth

Moderated by Caitlyn Morrisey, Bank Street Bookstore, New York City.

  • Always consider intersectionality.

  • Make sure LGBTQ+ books are accessible, but not othered. This may mean something different depending upon your location and store.

  • Make sure your store mission is clear and there is language in your book fair contract to avoid pushback about including LGBTQ+ in school book fairs.

  • When buying, before purchasing a title, do your research by looking into the author and for feedback regarding representation.

  • Be sure to feature books that center a range of experiences; don’t center only books about trauma.

  • Don’t gender customers; ask for personal pronouns or use their name. Mirror their language back to them.

  • The number of customers included in representation makes a positive difference; it is vastly more important than the few who might be offended.

  • When handselling, mention specifically how the main character identifies.

  • Offer thoughtful language and support for both customers and employees. Include personal pronouns in your email signature and consider providing personal pronoun pins.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Talking Productively About Content Issues in Children’s Literature

Discussion moderators: Kenny Brechner, Devaney, Doak & Garrett in Farmington, Me.; Summer Laurie, Books Inc. in San Francisco; Javier Ramirez, The Book Table in Oak Park, Ill.; and Sara Grochowski, McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Mich.

  • The important thing is to allow for voices to be heard. (Brechner)

  • Caitlin Jordan, Kepler’s Books. Menlo Park, Calif.: As a store, you make a commitment to what values are important to you.

  • Tegan Tigani, Queen Anne Book Company, Seattle: Keep re-emphasizing to publishers about positive stories that work. Tell your sales rep. Tell reps what doesn’t work, so they can take it back to their houses.

  • Forget the “other”-ing. Be attentive to language. We’re all one family. We need more editors paying attention.

  • Vote with your store dollars.

Buying & Selling: Subscription Boxes

Panelists: Lauren Savage, The Reading Bug, San Carlos, Calif.; Kathy Burnette, The Brain Lair, South Bend, Ind.; Kim Tano, Powell’s Books, Portland, Ore.; Sami Thomason, Square Books, Oxford, Miss. (moderator).

  • Poll your newsletter subscribers and staff and ask what they’d like to see. Then create a mission statement with your team for the box. (Tano)

  • Savage, who did a Kickstarter campaign from 100 subscribers, says: This is not something to go into lightly. Create a solid business plan first. It’s a big undertaking.

  • Consider: Who’s my target audience? How large do I want this box to be? Do I want to include sidelines? (Thomason)

  • If you include sidelines, don’t do single-use sidelines. (Tano)

  • Do themed boxes and then personalize them within the theme. (Burnette)

  • Find your niche and find what isn’t out there. (Savage)

  • Don’t do books you don’t read. (Burnette)

  • Cap your service to do what you can handle. (Burnette/Savage)

  • With personalization can come requests that are offensive. Be prepared. (Savage)

  • Use organized fulfillment, spreadsheets, and order tracking. The bigger you are in size, the more difficult it can be.

  • It can take days and multiple employees to assemble boxes. Budget time. (Tano)

  • You don’t want it to become a chore. Don’t grow faster than you can promise. (Burnette)

  • Save feedback from people and respond based on it. (Burnette/Savage/Tano)

  • Remember you can’t ship media mail if you have sidelines in the box. (Burnette)

  • Use media, from press releases to postcards and social media, to spread the word. (Tano)

  • Cost the books out in advance by assuming the most expensive suggested retail price for the book. (Burnette)

  • Think about the size of your space and whether or not it can accommodate the boxes and stock. (Savage)

  • The initial survey for personalized boxes should ask about what the reader likes, doesn’t like, what TV shows they watch, and more. (Burnette)

Programming & Partnerships: The Art of Reading Aloud

Presenters: Tegan Tigani, Queen Anne Book Co., Seattle; Jonathan Hamilt, Drag Queen Story Hour, New York City; Anastasia McKenna, The Twig Book Shop. San Antonio, Tex.; and Angela Whited, Red Balloon Bookshop,St. Paul, Minn.

  • When picking a book for kids under three, be mindful of length. Picture books with roughly four sentences for every two pages work well; anything more than that could be too wordy. (Whited)

  • Vary the reading with break-out activities inspired by the book. (Whited)

  • Remember to maintain eye contact with your audience. (McKenna)

  • Pause at page turns to encourage kids to think about what will happen next. (Tigani)

  • Feel free to use your poetic license—improvisation can make readings more lively. (McKenna)

  • Experiment with different voices, volume, physicality, and performance styles to bring characters to life. “You have something inside you already; you can sprinkle in something extra.” (McKenna)

  • Practice is crucial. “Honor your talent. Never try to read cold.” (McKenna)

  • Hamilt of Drag Queen Story Hour often chooses books with gender nonbinary characters, or changes pronouns for more inclusive readings.

  • “The art of storytelling is not about finishing the book cover-to-cover; it’s about conveying a message.” (Hamilt)

  • The goal is “to create a safe space for kids to play with all the colors in the crayon box.” (Hamilt)

  • Don’t be afraid to express emotions. “Part of the reason I do storytime is because I feel the kids deserve authenticity.” (Tigani)

  • Tigani uses asides to introduce new vocabulary, ask questions, and draw in the audience.

Programming & Partnerships: Working with Title 1 Schools

Panelists: Rebekah Shoaf, Boogie Down Books, Bronx, N.Y. (moderator); Angie Tally, Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, N.C., children’s buyer and event coordinator; Cecilia Cackley, East City Bookshop, Washington, D.C., children’s buyer and event coordinator; Kim Krug, owner, Monkey See, Monkey Do… Children’s Bookstore, Clarence, N.Y.; audience member Alexandra Bynoe-Casden, Greenlight Bookstore school partnerships manager.

  • Title 1 funding is available to schools because at least 40% of the students enrolled qualify for free or reduced lunch. That means that as a bookseller, you shouldn’t and can’t make inadvertent assumptions about what kinds of students are in Title 1 schools. (Shoaf)

  • Working with Title 1 schools is profitable—the schools themselves often have a great deal of funding that is earmarked for books, so if they’re going to spend that money they should spend it with you. (Shoaf)

  • The way that you may already be doing author visits may not work—preorder forms or post-order forms—and an outside funder may be distributing the books. (Shoaf)

  • Title 1 coordinators at schools can access additional funds through federal grants. Indie bookstores are good partners for grant applications because they have existing publisher relationships and can help take the money that schools would use for honorariums and put it straight into books. (Tally)

  • Use B to B discounts with publishers for higher discounts. (Tally)

  • Ask school partners what they need. What do they want? You’ll be very surprised. Sometimes it’s not author visits. They may need help with other book and literacy-based programming. (Tally)

  • Do reading field trips to the bookstore from the local schools. Think beyond just author events. For example, you can do workshops on how to run small businesses, or help find funding to let students pick books for their school library at a discount. (Cackley)

  • PTAs/PTOs: sometimes you’ll have a very strong advocate who just wants to make it happen and they usually have funding available. (Krug)

  • Don’t undermine a district’s priorities, even when it’s hard. Put on your dancing shoes. Don’t undermine anyone’s position or role. (Krug)

  • Host an educator night, and have a teacher talk about pedagogy—it’s a night for educators to network—or invite an author who is relevant to them. Have reps there, but have education be the focus. (Bynoe-Casden)

Programming & Partnerships Roundtable: Programming for the Older Crowd: How to Get Teens to Show Up and Shop

Led by Kristen Gilligan of Tattered Cover in Denver.

  • Gilligan says that soon after she and her husband Len Vlahos bought the store in 2015, she knew she wanted to reach out to teen readers. She modeled her efforts after examples from Hicklebee’s in San Jose. It started small. Some of what she did:

  • Established relationships with local schools. Teachers recommend teens for advisory board, contribute to teen newsletter, sometimes help with programming.

  • Started teen newsletter.

  • Established Colorado Teen Book Con in 2016 (author signings and panels; food trucks, etc.)

  • Began a teen advisory board. It started with just a few kids, but via word-of-mouth teens came out of the woodwork to join. The two Tattered Cover locations each have a teen advisory board of 60 kids each.

  • Groups meet roughly once per month for 1.5 hours. Store has guests to do program every time. Examples: Publisher reps Skype in to do their pitch so teens feel like buyers; a literary agent came in to offer a wide scope of the book industry; a children’s buyer came in to talk about their job; a short story author did a workshop; a local Denver company who produces magnets that say “Yay Reading!” came in to talk about marketing.

  • Engaged teachers to send students to the store who might enjoy the teen advisory board.

  • Dedicated web page for the teen advisory board links from the bookstore’s site.

  • Teens won’t follow the store on social media. That’s just how it is. Teens said their preferred communication about the advisory board was email.

  • Create a teen newsletter (Gilligan uses Constant Contact for distribution). Anyone who comes to a YA event automatically gets signed up for it.

  • Her husband, Len Vlahos, who is also a YA author, launched a teen writing group.

  • Gilligan says to nurture teen involvement: teens write for the teen newsletter; teens write reviews/shelf talkers/reviews of ARCs; Gilligan asks teens to help with social media posts, and teens introduce guests and are author escorts at Colorado Teen Book Con; teens volunteer at the store, and two have become part-time employees; teens recommend who should be invited to Teen Book Con; their opinion on ARCs can assist with purchasing decisions; teens write newsletter content. “They become invested in you and your business and that spreads,” she says.

  • Spread the love, pay it forward. Even if teens don’t buy stuff, they provide input that carries weight. They give us back marketing and a voice we don’t have. “It does come back to you. You have to trust the long game. Kids come back with their babies to buy books.”

  • Clare Doornbos, Book Passage, Carte Madera, Calif.: As a result of my teen group I was asked to judge an art contest at the local high school. It’s a long-term view; we are building future customers.

Ideas from Other Booksellers

  • One bookseller suggests putting a recommendation sheet inside the ARCs you give to the teen advisory board. The sheet will contain recommendations for books similar to the ARC.

  • Food will get teens into the store.

  • A local middle school art teacher came in and did an art journaling program, then a girl from that decided to have her birthday party at the store for a similar event.

  • Do non-book events.

  • A local third grade does a local history walking tour for school and the bookstore is one of the stops.

  • Give kids a proof-of-attendance card and they can get credit with teachers for showing up at author visits and events.

  • Have teens create a wish list of books they’d like. Keep it at the store so that parents, grandparents, etc. can purchase items from the list. Maybe put it online, too. (Doornbos)

  • Get store activities on the agenda that the principal at the local school sets for weekly meetings.

  • Send invitations to teachers and librarians saying “give me your top readers.” Make it exclusive, to be asked to join the teen activities or teen advisory board.

  • In college towns, get the bookstore to be one of the stops on freshman orientation tours of town.

  • Feature teen-branded shelfies.

  • Host a special lunch at the school library and invite kids who have checked out the most books.

  • Patty Norman at Copperfield’s Books in Sebastopol, Calif. “Kids love to see themselves at the store.” Every couple of years, she asks teens who buy books what their sport is. She has them take “Get Caught Reading” style photos of themselves doing their sport and including books with a tagline like “Read One for the Team.” They make posters to display at store and she also publishes them in a book. The kids are super creative. Swim team photos of diving in while reading a book, gymnast reading hanging upside down, basketball player reading while dribbling, etc.

Programming & Partnerships: Customer Loyalty Programs

Panelists: Cathy Fiebach, Main Point Books, Wayne, Pa.; Bethany Strout, Tattered Cover, Denver; Dave Richardson, Blue Marble Books, Fort Thomas, Ky.; and Dane Ferguson, Ferguson Books and More. Grand Forks, N.D.

  • Loyalty programs are a way to get more foot traffic into the store. We give them a cash offer with a purchase, but they have to use it in their next visit. (Richardson)

  • We have the ability to text our loyalty customers directly. We had a Jan Brett signing, and the publisher was so impressed with our turnout because we were able to text. Emails are OK, but texts arrive 100% of the time. (Ferguson)

Buying & Selling: Buying Non-book for the Holidays

Panelists: Lauren Coleman, RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn.; Cynthia Compton, 4 Kids Books & Toys, Zionsville, Ind.; Angela Schwesnedl, Moon Palace Books, Minneapolis; and Donna Wells, Politics & Prose, Washington, D.C.

  • Buying non-book items is something you should be doing every day. It’s a constant, ongoing process. (Compton)

  • Use the opportunity to always have a sideline that supports your book display. (Compton)

  • Losing a tooth is a gift-buying experience. (Compton)

  • Trying to find puzzles with diverse representation is challenging. (Wells)

  • We do themed displays placed on the edge of a wall going to our café. We put things at kids’ eye level too. Try to make it appealing so that people want to browse. (Wells)

  • Early on in my retail career I learned: the smaller the item, the closer to the register it should go. We have an entire rack of what my staff calls “shut up toys.” They are also near the cash wrap. A phrase we like to use: “Did you want to pick out something for me to tie on top?” (Compton)

  • When to put out Christmas items: No later than October. People need the opportunity to see the items a couple of times. You can always sell out and reorder. Get your Christmas wrap out in September. It helps people to start thinking about it early. (Compton)

  • When ordering items online, be sure to look at packaging sizes. You have to know where you’ll be able to display it. (Wells)

  • I order all the way to Christmas Eve. Grandparents are in town, gift cards need to be redeemed. Also, birthdays happen all year round, and customers want to see fresh items. Mass market retailers look terrible after the holidays: shelves are depleted and leftover stock is damaged and nasty. Don’t be that store. (Compton)

  • Compton keeps very detailed sales data for her store: I think it’s really important to see opportunities in your data. “That’s really working? Let’s do more of that!”

Buying & Selling: Books in Translation

Panelists: Marika McCoola, Porter Square Books, Cambridge, Mass., and author-illustrator (moderator); Claudia Bedrick Zoe, Enchanted Lion Books, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Jen Kraar, City of Asylum, Pittsburgh; Nicholas Miller, NorthSouth Books, Vestal, N.Y.; and Isabel Sanchez Vegara, author.

  • We talk a lot about mirrors and windows and sliding glass doors. The next step is bridges to other cultures. (Kraar)

  • You have to look at books on a case-by-case, sentence-by-sentence basis and think about what may be gained or lost in translation. (Miller)

  • Bedrick encourages booksellers not to shy away from international literature that is “a little unusual or unfamiliar”—to give young readers the opportunity to encounter different ideas and cultures. “Kids are wide open.”

  • Kraar agrees, saying, “Kids are fine with [books in translation]. It’s the gatekeepers who are often looking for familiar stories. Walk through the books as much as possible—the words and images—and have a conversation about translation.”

  • Books in translation can be a great thing for immigrant children and families, who are looking for books from their home country to share with new friends. (McCoola)

  • The U.S. market is so varied, foreign literature can fit into that diversity. (Miller)

  • “Get to know and love the books yourselves.” And look for recommendations. Librarian Betsy Bird offers an end-of-year roundup of noteworthy kids’ books in translation. (Kraar)

  • Use translated books in storytime to build awareness and enthusiasm. (McCoola)

Advanced Bookselling & Special Topics: Marketing Events to Ensure a Home Run

Panelists: Nichole Cousins (moderator), White Birch Books, North Conway, N.H.; Joy Preble, Brazos Bookstore, Houston; Colin McDonald, Seminary Co-op Bookstore and 57th Street Books, Chicago; and Stephanie Heinz, Print: A Bookstore, Portland, Me.

  • Success is dependent on lead time. Put information out early and make sure to promote up and coming events—people want to know. (McDonald)

  • Develop a marketing timeline that begins four to six months before the event date. (Heinz)

  • Begin advertising the event on social media up to four months before the event, but don’t oversaturate your feeds. (Preble)

  • Don’t post identical content on all your social media feeds; your best customers follow all your accounts. Post the same information, but with a different presentation. (Heinz)

  • Schools often have funds to bus students to events, but they need weeks of lead time. (Preble)

  • When considering partnerships, don’t underestimate yourself in terms of what you offer. You do have influence. Think of all events as community events: success is dependent on your whole community. (McDonald)

  • Be creative when thinking about what you can offer partners. For example, student volunteers could be offered a private meet-and-greet with the author. (Preble)

  • Break out of the mold of finding partnerships after booking an event. Consider partnerships when pitching and have those conversations then. (McDonald)

  • For preorder campaign collaborations with authors, create a landing page detailing how to order the book and with promotional information for the author. (Heinz)

  • Preorders are the lifeblood of school visits. Have a one-sheet for administration and librarians, set a minimum sales goal, and partner with the publisher to add incentives. (Preble)

  • Think about the choices you’re making in terms of events and campaigns. Be thoughtful and be sure the featured books align with who you are and fit your brand. (McDonald)

  • Embrace being a little weird. What makes you stand out? People show up because of what sets you apart. (Heinz)

  • Host authorless events. Loosen up and find your brand. (Preble)

  • Develop an editorial calendar for social media and plan ahead. Schedule posts for times of increased traffic. (McDonald)

  • Tap into your store’s personality and use that voice for social media. (Heinz)

Well-Read Black Girl Workshop

Led by founder Glory Edim, with appearances by Elizabeth Acevedo, author of The Poet X and With the Fire on High; Hannah Oliver Depp, owner of Loyalty Bookstore in Washington, D.C.; and Kathy Burnette, owner of The Brain Lair in South Bend, Ind.

  • The hosting bookstore acts as facilitator. The goal is to center black voices and create a welcoming and affirming place. (Edim)

  • Being a well-read black girl means feeling confident and that you belong. There is no one way to define being well-read. (Edim)

  • We need a wider range of books showing black characters living their own stories and having their own strength. (Depp)

  • Equity, diversity, and inclusion start with representation in the bookstore. (Edim)

  • The facilitator should be an ambassador, a part of the community and sharing the mission. (Edim)

  • To change the readership of your store, find strategic ways to reach a more diverse audience. Be honest and transparent. (Edim)

  • Connect with educators and community organizers. (Edim)

  • Consider how your selections nurture readers as a whole. (Edim)

  • Never turn down an opportunity to speak and do outreach. (Burnette)

  • Create a welcoming atmosphere by greeting customers and making a conscious effort to face-out books that center a wide variety of experiences. (Acevedo)

  • Have conversations about the selection as literature and art, not just about diversity. Elevate the conversation. (Edim)