The ABA’s sixth Children’s Institute, which took place last week in New Orleans, 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 and engaging their communities.
“Expanding the YA Audience: How to Sell YA to Adults”
With Javier Ramirez (moderator), manager of The Book Table in Oak Park, Ill.; Destenie Fafard, event and social media coordinator at Cellar Door Books in Riverside, Calif.; Kim Brock of Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati; Jordan Standridge, children’s lead bookseller at Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore.; and Emily Lloyd-Jones of Gallery Bookshop Bookwinkle’s Children’s Books in Mendocino, Calif.
- “YA is stigmatized because it’s largely written by women, edited by women, and about teen girls. To fight the stigma, we must understand the sexism behind it; our duty as booksellers is to push against it.” (Lloyd-Jones)
- Mix YA in with your staff picks and other displays. (Brock)
- When handselling, “It’s important to speak from the heart about why you like a book.” (Standridge)
- Consider diversity in book club selections as well as your inventory. (Fafard)
- Encourage the customer to read a passage from the recommended book, to get a sense of the author’s voice. (Ramirez)
- On the relevance and resonance of YA for all ages: “Discovering who we are is a universal process that lasts our entire lives.” (Lloyd-Jones)
- On selling to adult readers who may be skeptical of YA: “One of the best phrases you can use is, ‘It’s written so well!’ ” (Fafard)
- Emphasize the timeliness of teen literature for readers interested in current events. “YA is the quickest to address issues going on in our country.” (Standridge)
- “Know your customer and go with your instincts.” (Brock)
- One bookseller in the audience suggested creating a display of “family reads,” a mix of adult and YA, to encourage parents and teens to read and discuss books on similar themes.
- Another attendee recommended shelving YA books in the general fiction section and in the teen section, if your store has adequate shelf space.
“Creating and Implementing Successful LGBTQIA Youth Programs”
With Lynn Mooney (moderator) of Women Children First in Chicago; sweet pea Flaherty, owner of King’s Bookshop in Tacoma, Wash.; Joy Preble of Brazos Bookstore in Houston; Jonathan Hamilt and Rachel Aimee of Drag Queen Story Hour; and Candice Huber, owner of Tubby Coo’s Mid-City Bookshop in New Orleans.
- Hiring non-binary staff enriches your store and your community. (Mooney)
- On the role of booksellers as educators: “Many parents want to be talking to their kids about gender, but they don’t have the words.” (Aimee)
- Be conscious of face outs year-round, not just during Pride Month. (Preble)
- “Queer visibility is enough sometimes. You don’t have to read Heather Has Two Mommies at every storytime.” (Hamilt)
- Solidify your store’s inward and outward facing policies on discrimination and harassment. (Mooney)
- Promote your store’s inclusionary policies and practices through eye-catching signage. (Huber)
- On launching a queer book club: “The point is to create a safe space and structure. It may take a while for people to accept it.” (Flaherty)
- “Try to connect with organizations that are already doing the work.” One example is your local PFLAG. (Huber)
- If you can afford two copies of a book, shelve them in the children’s/YA section and in an LGBTQ section. (Mooney)
- For stores with limited space and resources, one bookseller recommended placing stickers on books to designate them as queer reads.
- However you shelve titles, make it easy for kids to find these books on their own, in case they’re uncomfortable asking staff. (Mooney)
- “Train your staff in how to speak to and deal with parents of queer kids, and how to not accidentally out individuals.” For example, get permission before taking photos of kids and teens at LGBTQIA events. (Huber)
- Listen to customers’ suggestions and requests. (Preble)
- One bookseller stressed the importance of stocking toys and sidelines that aren’t gender-specific.
- “Don’t be overwhelmed. You can get started in small ways and test the waters.” (Mooney)
- When developing groups, programs, and events, be mindful of intersectionality. “Being inclusive of everyone is really important.” (Huber)
- As part of Drag Queen Story Hour, Aimee hosts bilingual readings and a monthly program for kids with autism and special needs.
- On experiencing pushback to LGBTQ+ programming: “Expect it, be prepared for it, but you will survive it.” (Mooney)
“Teen and Tween Advisory Boards as Bookstore Influencers”
With Emily Hall (moderator), co-owner of Main Street Books in St. Louis; Claire McElroy-Chesson, events coordinator at Village Books in Bellingham, Wash.; Chloe Purton, of Books Company in Oconomowoc, Wis.; and Shannon Brewer of BookPeople in Austin, Tex.
- Brewer said of BookPeople’s Teen Press Corps, “The whole point is inclusion and getting teens to feel their opinions matter.”
- When considering prospective members for the Young Adult Review Committee at Village Books, McElroy-Chesson said, “I need to see the eagerness from the teens. I want them to approach us.”
- Purton recruits for her teen board through local educators. McElroy-Chesson also suggested reaching out to school librarians and local homeschool associations for potential members.
- The right incentives can inspire teens to participate—and keep coming back. For example, McElroy-Chesson brings pizza; Brewer offers gift cards and unlimited access to ARCs; and Purton gives a 20% discount to members and their families on the day of board meetings.
- Brewer accepts nontraditional forms of reviews and reader responses, such as animated films and calligraphy. “Giving [teens] the ability to express what they feel about a book in their own way really changed the way we approach the Teen Press Corps,” she said.
- On members aging out: “This is YA. It’s okay if a member’s age doesn’t have ‘-teen’ in it anymore.” (McElroy-Chesson)
- Ask members of the group what they’re reading and what they’re looking forward to across all media (film, television, etc.), to generate discussion and learn about trends. (Brewer)
- “Once you get kids warmed up to you and each other, they’ll keep talking.” (Purton)
- On parental permission and waivers: “I’ve never had a parent say no, but it’s important to ask.” (McElroy-Chesson)
- Purton prints all teen blurbs and reviews for staff, as a way for them to keep up with books they may not have had a chance to read.
- Consider ways to engage teens outside of monthly meetings. Regular attendees of BookPeople’s teen board have first choice of the authors they’d like to interview at the Texas Teen Book Festival. (Brewer)
- McElroy-Chesson stressed the need to be up front with guardians that teens will be selecting their own ARCs, which may contain mature themes. “I’m not about to be the content police,” she said.
- “It’s all about community outreach and genuine enthusiasm. Teens can see through it if it’s false.” (Brewer)
“How to Run Successful Virtual Author Visits”
With Stacey Ashton (moderator), head of operations, sales, and marketing at Fabled Films Press; Tracey Hecht, creative director of Fabled Films and author of the Nocturnal series; Kathleen March, children’s manager at Anderson’s Bookshop in Downers Grove, Ill.; and Donna Mantei and Susan Nielson, founders of Island Tales Bookshop in Newport Beach, Calif.
- Find an engaging author. If you haven’t met them, check them out on social media or via video. (Ashton)
- Ask publicists, “If you can’t send me the author, what are the chances of setting up a Skype visit?” (March)
- “I really don’t do anything differently for virtual vs. in-person visits. It depends on the group.” (Hecht)
- On the advantages of a virtual visit: “Kids get to see the authors in their work environment. That can be empowering.” (Mantei)
- “Your online competitor can’t do this, and it’s very low cost.” (Ashton)
- Advertise upfront that this is a virtual visit, as opposed to a live signing. With enough notice, you can try to get autographed bookplates for attendees. (March)
- Develop a marketing plan to engage the community, just as you would for a live reading or signing. (Ashton)
- “We’re digital immigrants, whereas these kids are digital natives. Tech problems come up, but we don’t panic.” (Neilson)
- Find an event space with a reliable internet connection and test the technology before your event. (Ashton)
- From an author’s perspective, a test is a good opportunity to get a feel for the teacher or bookseller and for the group’s engagement with the book prior to the visit. (Hecht)
- Ashton recommends using Google Hangouts and toggling between showing the author and displaying their presentation on the screen. After setting up, “The bookseller doesn’t have to do a thing.”
- If you use an iPad for the visit, passing around the screen to audience members “adds a level of intimacy.” (Mantei)
- “It’s important to follow up after the event.” Take a screenshot of the visit and post it on your store’s social media platforms, and get endorsements from participants to use in future marketing. Make sure your store’s name is prominent. (Ashton)
“Reaching Underserved Communities”
With Angie Tally (moderator) of Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, N.C.; Brein Lopez of Children’s Book World in Los Angeles; Sarah Holt of Left Bank Books in St. Louis; and Colin McDonald of Seminary Co-op in Chicago.
- “One thing we like to remind ourselves,” said McDonald, “is our community owes us nothing, so we need to be outgoing.”
- Reach out to community leaders in low-income areas to create events like a pajama storytime with food and diapers. (McDonald)
- Set up a library of gently used books that teachers who work with low-income kids or foster programs can use to get books for their students. (Lopez)
- Fundraise to bring authors to schools in underserved communities or to get buses to bring kids from those schools to other schools where they can see authors. (Lopez)
- Adopt a school in a low-income neighborhood and give every kid a book on a regular basis. To start, ask customers to sponsor the program through an annual donation and/or donations at the register when they purchase books. (Holt)
- Make cold calls to companies to fund events such as bringing kids to the store to build their personal libraries by letting them pick a book to read under $20. Be specific about the program and your needs. (Lopez)
- Support hospitals and clinics by supplying new books that they need. Put out baskets of those books by the register and encourage customers to buy them to donate. (Lopez)
- Consider creating a nonprofit arm of the bookstore that can accept donations, including bequests in wills. (Holt)
- Try piggybacking with a local nonprofit while you set up one of your own. (Tally)
- When you choose your board, seek out people who will be active board members who can assist with tasks like researching grants. (Holt)
- Work with family court to provide books for children. Choose fun books, not ones about their situation. (Lopez)
- Poetry slams can be a good way to get people from diverse parts of the community to come to the store. Try a battle of the schools, with the winning school getting an author visit. (Lopez)
- To encourage different types of kids to come to the store, create fun events that aren’t necessarily book-related. Try a Stand Up Comedy Night or Karaoke Night. (Lopez)
- Invite classes to the store for a writing workshop on how to write a shelftalker. (McDonald)
- Post signage and make store displays that reflect your store’s concerns, such as “Refugees Welcome” or “We Want You Here.” (Holt)
- Show your support for local protests. Instead of closing down like neighboring businesses during a recent one, Left Bank invited demonstrators into the store to charge their phones and handed out water and granola bars on the street. It also stocks “Black Lives Matter” signs and has sold more than 2,500 to date. (Holt)
- Dedicate a window each month to art from different schools, not just affluent ones. (Lopez)
- Find out what books parents in your community are looking for. As a result Children’s Book World now carries books in Braille. (Lopez)
“Beyond the Bookstore”
With Valerie Koehler (moderator) of the Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston; Amy Thomas of Pegasus Books in San Francisco; Drew Sieplinga of Wild Rumpus in St. Paul, Minn.; and Clarissa Murphy of The MIT Press Bookstore in Cambridge, Mass.
- “I started saying ‘yes’ to everything, because that’s how I live my life,” said Murphy. “And that’s how I meet all the people here. You go home inspired.”
- “I started going to NCIBA [Northern California Independent Booksellers Association] things, and that was my first fatal step,” said Thomas, who encouraged booksellers to get involved with their regional associations.
- Maybe begin even closer to home and consider getting involved with your neighborhood business association, which can also raise the profile of your store. (Sieplinga)
- When you do go to regional meetings or trade shows, whether on your time or the store’s, report back on what you learned. (Murphy)
- Having staff attend regional shows and national events can turn them into professional booksellers. “It makes a difference to our bottom line.” (Thomas)
- Reach out to the executive director of your regional association, tell them what your skills are, and find out how you can get involved. (Sieplinga)
- Being involved is one way to make sure that your concerns are met, said Sieplinga, who has used those connections to work toward disability rights.
- Sign up to read for Indies Introduce or other committees. (Murphy)
- Create incentives to get other booksellers in your store to nominate books for the IndieNext list, by offering a gift certificate if their recommendation gets printed. (Sieplinga)
With Eva Chen (Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes), director of fashion partnerships at Instagram.
- Booksellers should be on Instagram: 80% of people on Instagram follow a business, and 75% take action after being inspired by a post. (But that doesn’t necessarily mean they make a purchase.)
- The sweet spot on Instagram is for people between the ages of 18 and 34.
- Think of Instagram feeds like meals: no more than one to three posts a day.
- Don’t spend a lot of time on your grid. You want it to be bright and cheerful, but most followers only go there once.
- To sell on Instagram, you need to tell a story. To be effective, do it in an organic lifestyle way.
- Find ways to make it easy for your store to use its Instagram account. Set up regular posts like a Throwback Thursday that features classics. People come to Instagram for guidance.
- To build followers, use specific hashtags (like #bookstagram) and post consistently.
- Tag people. If you have an author coming to the store, tag in both the image and the caption. If a celebrity stops by the store, use the person’s hashtag. It will reach more people.
- On your feed, don’t use landscape images. Keep in mind that most people stop watching videos after a few seconds.
- Have local flavor, join the conversation, and have fun. Think of it as a virtual water cooler.
“Booksellers and Librarians Working Together”
With Megan Bannen (The Bird and the Blade) of Johnson County Library (Kansas); Melanie Britt of Octavia Books in New Orleans; Leah Moore of Northshire Books in Sarasota Springs, N.H.; and Susannah Richards of Eastern Connecticut State University.
- Many stores have Educator Nights; try offering a Librarian Day that is district wide. (Morse)
- Even if the store isn’t doing the whole book fair for a school library, try working with the library to fill the book gaps in the book fair that it’s offering. (Britt)
- Many libraries welcome the opportunity to work with bookstores, especially on author events. Events get double the outreach since both groups promote them. And bookstores, unlike libraries, know how to sell books. (Bannen)
- Pay attention to the library conference schedule and arrange to sell books at conferences held in your area. (Richards)
- Give a discount at events for librarians and educators. To increase purchases, 10% is not enough. (Richards)
- When you fill out the grid for publishers for the authors you want, keep in mind local authors for Educator Nights and Librarian Preview Events. (Richards)
- One bookseller in the audience recommended working with the library on more than author events. Game nights can also be a success. Bannen noted that libraries want to provide experiences.
- Develop relationships with local librarians, who then trust you to pick out the right books for their school when they have to use up their budget. (Ellen Richmond of Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville, Maine)
- One bookseller who overheard a customer say that the bookstore and the library are in competition responded by sending a Letter to the Editor at the local newspaper. As a result, the bookstore and library have begun working much more closely together.