An hour after the BookExpo America show floor opened on Wednesday afternoon, approximately 50 people gathered in a conference room to hear a panel of booksellers discuss best practices for store events.
The panel featured an A-list of booksellers from both general and children’s specialty bookstores: Megan Goehl, children’s book buyer at BookPeople in Austin, Tex.; Cynthia Compton, owner of 4Kids books & Toys in an Indianapolis suburb; Becky Anderson, co-owner of Anderson’s Bookshops in the Chicago suburbs; and Valerie Koehler, owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Tex. Sourcebooks national sales manager Heidi Weiland moderated.
When scheduling events, the booksellers suggested, focus both on the intended target audience and reach out to the local community by partnering with an organization or group to attract that audience. Koehler suggested building relationships with local organizations by noting what community organizations customers belong to. “Keep track of who is who, what they’re doing, and what your customers are engaged in,” she said.
Compton, disclosing that the biggest fear of booksellers is that “you will do everything right in promoting an event, and no one will show up,” suggested that booksellers keep in close contact with partner organizations beforehand to prevent such a situation. “Check in with them before the event; hold them accountable,” she said. She also emphasized that the bookseller not “leave the author alone, ever,” and that it’s a good idea to have them come a little early to sign pre-orders. Koehler said that with YA author events, it’s essential that the author be informed that he or she is expected to promote the event on social media to their fans to bring an audience into the store.
Anderson admitted that she has seeded audiences with her children when attendance has been sparse, and Koehler said that teen employees who come in after school to shelve books and perform other tasks are “required” to attend late afternoon author events that are held in the store after school visits and to ask questions.
While discussing how to build relationships with schools, the four booksellers were adamant that booksellers should reach out to media specialists and teachers and build relationships with them. “It’s a lot of bureaucracy, but it’s very important to reach out to be on [school districts] bid lists,” Koehler said, while Anderson told the audience to invite teachers and librarians to open houses to start building a relationship with them. Audience member Dave Richardson of Blue Marble Books in Ft. Thomas, Ky., said that since teachers and librarians are over-worked, parent-teacher organizations can be engaged as allies in bringing authors into schools.
All four panelists urged audience members to take advantage of Scholastic’s release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child this summer to organize store events. “There are so many Harry Potter fans out there,” Goehl said, “This is a really great opportunity to engage your community.”