How not to freak out in front of celebrity authors

by Jenna Todd

An author can be a very important person to a reader, someone who, through their books, we have invested much time into. With a busy year of writer’s weeks ahead of us, now seems a good time to ask: How much of that enthusiasm should we display – or hold back – to make the author feel comfortable?

A majority of authors have the fortune of not being recognisable, their author photo and blurb our only tiny glimpse into their personal life. It’s difficult to decipher whether an author actually wants to be recognised, especially if they are just visiting the bookstore as a pedestrian. If they slide through a transaction unnoticed, have we as a bookseller failed at our job? If we do recognise them, should we say something to confirm our book industry insight? Are we required to give some positive feedback in terms of customer interest and sales?

Sometimes, the tides are turned on us. There’s a trick that some authors play on booksellers.
Customer: Do you have “xx xx” in stock?
Bookseller: We don’t have it at the moment, but can order it in for you?
Customer Author: I am the author of this book. Have you read it? Why is it not on the shelf?”

Of course there is the time when an author must step into the spotlight to promote their book. It must be quite strange to emerge from a writing cave to be thrust into spotlight of your readers. Author events must feel like continual birthday parties, where you’re not sure if your guests will turn up.

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Kate Atkinson promoting Life After Life at Time Out Bookstore in 2013

From experience (as a spectator), here are a few don’ts when speaking to an author:

  • If an author has written a book on a specific subject, it’s best to presume they know they know more about the subject than you do.
  • It’s not okay to bring up your own body of work when asking an author a question in a Q & A, or to hijack a Q & A in general.
  • Don’t lead with questions about the author’s divorce and/or love life.

And some Do’s:

  • Do your research, read up on what the author you’re about to meet has been asked before and try and ask something different.
  • Be respectful of their time, be aware of other fans waiting.
  • Engage with authors via social media – link them in tweets with your reviews and book love.

I’ve met a couple of my favourite authors and thankfully, they have exceeded my expectations. That said, I can’t help but turn pink, and as I speak to them the thought that I am actually speaking to them hazes my very ability to concentrate on our conversation. The most important thing I want to tell them is that I am a bookseller and how much I enjoy selling their books.

My friend Emily Adams is a bookseller at Third Place Books in Seattle, Washington which has hosted a multitude of incredible authors, from Paul McCartney to John Green.
“I treat authors like anyone else; they are people doing a job. Give them kind words and a smile. Thank them for visiting your local bookstore, and buy a book at the host store to show your appreciation.”

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The Third Place Team with former President Jimmy Carter, who visited to promote his book A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety. Emily is in the blue floral dress.

I searched even further afield to another bookseller friend, Josh Cook from Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He’s also a published author, so he can offer advice from both sides.

“Think of them like you would someone you met a party once who you thought was really cool. You’d probably go up to re-introduce yourself, but not if they’re clearly having dinner with their family or talking on their phone, or in a rush to get somewhere, and you probably wouldn’t try to talk to them for ten minutes right off the bat. I think the same rules apply for a celebrity you get a chance to meet. Don’t worry about embarrassing yourself or anything like that, just be honest, respect their personhood, and have fun, and odds are they’ll be honest, respectful, and grateful that you’ve shared with them their impact on your life.”

So that’s it, just be nice. Keep it cool. And as I’m writing to a group of wonderful book people, I’m sure that won’t be difficult.

Many thanks to my American bookseller friends Emily and Josh for contributing to this piece.

by Jenna Todd, Manager, Time Out Bookstore, Mt Eden

Helen Wadsworth going for a global perspective in Denver, CO

Helen Wadsworth from The Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop in Ponsonby is one of two booksellers from New Zealand on a plane to Denver, Colorado for the 11th Winter Institute conference, where she will network with booksellers from all over the USA and the world. The Winter Institute is run by our American cousins, the American Booksellers Assocation, and Booksellers NZ is very grateful to have our scholarships sponsored by Canadian eReader company, Kobo. 

pp_helen_wadsworthWe asked Helen (above) a few questions including why she became a bookseller, what she is most looking forward to about the experience, and what she’ll be reading on the way there.

What made you want a career in bookselling?
Books are special – they enrich our lives so much and I love being surrounded by them. I also love the interaction with so many diverse people that book selling provides. And, unlike some jobs, most of the interactions are positive and happy.

Tell us the three main things you hope to get out of your attendance at the Winter Institute?
I’m hoping to be inspired and to come back with lots of ideas for our shop, particularly in terms of events and marketing.

As I’m the book buyer at our shop I’m also really interested in getting some tips from people who have been in the industry for awhile about how they go about choosing and managing their stock. As a relative newcomer to the book business, I’m still learning a lot about the book trade, and I’m looking forward to hearing about how things work in the States and hoping to get a more global perspective on bookselling.

What sessions during the conference are you looking forward to the most, and why?
Well, that’s a tough one because there are so many. One that has caught my eye is the breakfast keynote on the first morning. The speaker is Martin Lindstrom who is the author of Buyology and Small Data: the Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends – all about the psychology of buying. something I know very little about so it should be fascinating.

Another one is about event management for small stores and there’s also Bookselling 101: Introduction to Buying, both of which should be very relevant to my roles at The Dorothy Butler Bookshop.
Vromans
What do you know about the bookstore you will be working with while over there? What will be your focus as a take-away?
I only know what I’ve been able to find out form their website but it looks amazing and big! It’s the oldest and largest independent bookstore in southern California and the guy who started it (Mr Vroman) sounds like really interesting man. He was a photographer and philanthropist as well as a book shop owner. I used to be a photographer, so I hope I get to see some of his photos. He supported all sorts of groups in the local community including Japanese American prisoners in the 2nd world war. He had no children and when he died he gave the shop to one of his employees – the great-grandfather of the current owner.

They have 3 sites in Pasadena, LA and put on over 400 events a year. Obviously I’m interested in how they run their children’s department – I’m keen to see how their systems work as well their marketing and how they communicate with their customers and community.

What are you planning to read in the plane on the way there?
I’ve just downloaded Jandy Nelson’s I’ll give you the Sun onto the Kobo and I’m hoping it will keep me occupied for most of the journey.

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Kiran Dass, from Unity Books on High St in Auckland, is the other recipient of the Booksellers Kobo Scholarship to the Winter Institute. Read her Q & A – and check out our article about the scholarship.

 

 

Bookseller Kiran Dass gets ready to sharpen her skills in Denver, CO

Kiran Dass is one of two booksellers from New Zealand currently en route to Denver Colorado for the 11th Winter Institute conference, where she will be hobnobbing with booksellers from all over the USA and the world. The Winter Institute is run by our American cousins, the American Booksellers Assocation, and Booksellers NZ is very grateful to have our scholarships sponsored by Canadian eReader company, Kobo. 

We asked Kiran a few questions including why she does what she does for a living, what she is most looking forward to about the experience, and what she’ll be reading on the way there.

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What made you want a career in bookselling?
If you’re doing it properly, bookselling can be quite mentally, physically and emotionally invigorating work! I find it stimulating and rewarding from so many different angles.

Every day on the shop floor brings the satisfying pleasure of being able to effectively engage in a dialogue about books with our customers. It’s quite a special relationship, and it’s built on trust, you know. Because when you learn about what sorts of books a customer likes, you are actually gaining quite a personal, intimate insight into who they are and what makes them tick. It sounds like such a cliché, but it’s true, there really is nothing quite as satisfying as being able to instinctively put the right book into a customer’s hands and introducing them to the book they didn’t even realise they were searching for. And they always come back. To be able to open those doors for readers is such a privilege.

Of course, Unity Books transcends being merely a bricks-and-mortar retail space. Bookshops are at the heart of any community. They’re where ideas are formed and shared and that’s the kind of place I want to be. Put simply, it’s the books and the people that make it for me.
unity_auckland

Tell us the three main things you hope to get out of your attendance at the Winter Institute?

I think the conference will be a brilliant opportunity to connect with booksellers from around the world – there will be around 500 attendees. Over ten years I’ve had the absolute pleasure of working for two of the best independent bookshops in New Zealand, and so I’m looking forward to meeting and engaging with people from all different facets of the book trade in an international context. The conference this year seems geared towards best practices for booksellers, which of course is of interest – as a bookseller, I am always keen to refine and sharpen my bookselling skills and knowledge.

What sessions during the conference are you looking forward to the most, and why?
The Education for International Booksellers session will no doubt be fascinating and useful in terms of exploring trends in U.S. bookselling. I think it will be an interesting discussion led by a panel of experienced American booksellers who embrace adapting the fast changing challenges of bookselling. Americans are world-class at marketing any product, and at Unity we keep a keen eye on American literary trends so I think it will be an informative and valuable session.

Because I am interested in the wider arena of the book trade and the different relationships within it, the Economics of Publishing session will provide an insight into the financial and logistical realities of publishing and how this relates to bookselling.

The retail bookselling session looks like a practical crash-course on the essentials of opening a new bookshop or buying an existing shop. Let’s find out the nitty gritty of what this takes!

Backlist titles are one of my passions – those enduring personal favourites that you can really get behind, so I’m really intrigued by the Backlist Bookswap Party, too. To be honest, I just want to get to as much as I can during the conference, and to talk to as many different people as possible!

book_soup_LA

What do you know about the bookstore you will be working with while over there? What will be your focus as a take-away?
Book Soup! When I found out I was being placed in a bookshop in Los Angeles, I secretly (well, actually not so secretly!) crossed my fingers and hoped that I would end up at Book Soup because I have heard that it is similar in spirit to Unity Books and their stock looks absolutely amazing – my manager Jo is a big fan of Book Soup and described it as “Unity Books x 3!” And many of our customers who have been there come back raving about it. I think I did an excited little dance on the spot when I found out my Book Soup wish came true!

Of course, I am a huge music nut and Book Soup proudly proclaims that “Book Soup has been serving readers, writers, artists, rock & rollers, and celebrities since it was founded by Glenn Goldman in 1975!” To me, that sounds like just the ticket. They also hold a dizzying array of in-store author events which I am looking forward to observing – and amazing authors, too. They recently hosted a book signing for Grace Jones when her memoir was published. The idea of a week at Book Soup immersing myself in the culture and dynamic of the shop is absolutely thrilling. I’m really keen to observe and learn more about their bookselling practices and the nuts and bolts of the running of an independent bookshop in the States.

What are you planning to read in the plane on the way there?
Oh, I’m really excited about this one. I’ve been saving this book for months. Fortuitously and in a rare instance, I don’t have to read for reviewing purposes while I’m on this scholarship, which means I can read a book for my own pleasure and immerse myself without having to have all my critical faculties blazing from all angles and having to stop every paragraph to scribble down notes.
cv_a_manual_for_cleaning_women
So I am taking Lucia Berlin’s extraordinarily singular and wonderful A Manual For Cleaning Women which I started over the Christmas break. To be honest, while I’m a huge fan of classic short stories by Richard Yates and John Cheever, I don’t tend to gravitate to short stories. But as soon as I read about Lucia Berlin and her backstory, I knew I’d love her before I even began. And two stories into this collection, I wasn’t wrong.

And of course, I’m looking forward to firing up my Kobo eReader!

Helen Wadsworth, from the Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop in Ponsonby, is the other recipient of Booksellers Kobo Scholarship to Denver. We will feature her answers to similar questions back on this blog tomorrow.

If you are just now wondering how on earth you get chosen to receive a Kobo Scholarship, let Cherie Donovan know you may be interested in applying for 2017 – she will make sure you get the form once applications are open in the next couple of months.

Tinderbox Conference for NZ children’s writers and illustrators

tinderbox

Tinderbox is fast approaching.

Tinderbox is an amazing conference for all NZ children’s writers and illustrators. It offers four days of workshops, panels and presentations, as well as the opportunity to work on a live project to be published after the conference.

We have a full line up of speakers and presenters, including the brilliant Andy Griffiths, and with multiple streams of events to choose from there is something for all writers and illustrators: the new, the upcoming, and the well-established. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn, to be inspired, and to spend precious time with both peers and heroes.

The conference incorporates three full days on site, Friday cocktails at the Children’s Bookshop, dinner on Saturday, and a dedicated Illustrators Day on Monday while the writers go exploring.

Tinderbox will be held on 2 – 5 October 2015 at St Catherine’s College, Kilbirnie, Wellington. Registrations are still open, but please be quick. For more information check out the blog at tinderbox2015.blogspot.co.nz, join us on Facebook at Tinderbox2015 or email us at 2015tinderbox@gmail.com.

from the Wellington Children’s Book Association

Using Facebook for customer engagement works for Atlantis Bookstores

Article supplied

Atlantis Books opened its first shop in April this year and it already has another two stores. Co-owner Fraser Newman puts a lot of their success down to social media.

“This is a very powerful tool for booksellers,” Fraser says, “In the past booksellers laboured over newsletters and reviews in newspapers. Now we can reach our customers instantly at any time of night or day – and it is fun and interactive.”

Atlantis Books has seen its following on Facebook boom with over 2,900 likes already. Fraser says, “We’ve noticed we can say something on Facebook and immediately we’ll notice people coming into the store responding to it. I cannot overstate the case for good social media engagement.”

Atlantis_imagination

Facebook, at least for Atlantis, has until now replaced the need for newsletters and other forms of advertising, though they still market heavily in local newspapers in their three cities.

“Newsletters are good for a certain demographic. But you only get to send one out once a month or so, people rarely read them and you don’t know who you are targeting.”

Targeting is a major factor in Atlantis Books’ success on Facebook. The page’s ‘Insight’ feature allows staff to see who is on the page. They can then shift their focus appropriately. Fraser sometimes sets goals when he sees the demographics moving too far in one direction. For example, when the balance of under 24 year olds shifted too far toward female fans, Fraser carried out a drive to appeal to male under 24 year olds as well.

“This keeps us grounded. We want to be a mainstream, mass market bookshop for the average punter. Our Facebook page has to reflect this. Therefore our goal is always to have a good bell-curve distribution for our demographics. It is never going to be perfect though. Younger people are on Facebook more than older, and females are more likely to engage on a page than males.”

Another thing to look out for are Facebook rules.

“A lot of people miss these,” Fraser says, “But Facebook can actually be quite strict. There are rules around images, advertising, give-aways and competitions. People need to be familiar with these and not be lax on following them. As your page grows people will notice when you break the rules and dob you in. There is nothing worse than planning a promotion and then having Facebook pull the plug on it.”

This is important because one of the most successful ways to grow followers on a page is with competitions.

“Dollar for dollar competitions do more for a page than anything else. Sometimes we’ll have 100+ people enter a competition and we sell a lot of the same book afterwards because people are sad they missed out.”

The key to a good competition is a worthwhile prize (no reading copies thank you!) and a decent question people have to answer in order to get some engagement with customers. It is also important to remember that the prizes should not be just fiction but reflect the different areas of the shop.

“Too much of the book industry is geared up for fiction sales,” Fraser says, “But they are only a small part of total sales. Your Facebook page should reflect this.” (below is a selection of comics available at their Whakatane store.)

comicbooksAnother way to get people engaged is with open ended questions or fill in the gaps. Social media users love to share their ideas, even if no one else is really listening. So simply chucking discussion points out there can really get people going.

At the end of the day though success on social media comes down to having an attractive online personality and putting in the hard work.

“Don’t just just put up photos of your new releases,” Fraser says, “People want substance and a little fun.”

ENDS

Article supplied by Fraser Newman, Atlantis Bookstore

How to Choose a Book*, by Jenna Todd

*at your local independent bookstore.

Prepare yourself
Put away your phone! Fill up your parking meter! Your bookstore is ready and waiting for you.

Are you ready to have a conversation? Are you ready to be led down the path of the unknown? It’s time to stand shoulder to shoulder with your literary comrades as you take part in one of the most precious and personal tasks known to man: choosing a book.

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An inviting Time Out Books window

The Great Good Place
As you step into your local store, you will feel something quite powerful. That’s the power pp_Ray_oldenburgof words. These books are written and published with you in mind and this bookstore is filled to the brim with titles chosen by booksellers, for you.

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg (right) believes that alongside your home and work, you need a place where you can gather and be part of a community. He has coined this The Third Place.

This bookstore opens its doors everyday just to be your Third Place. It wants to be a part of your routine, a place of comfort and discovery.

2-22 unity 4

A mere corner of Unity Books Wellington – start here and work your way out!

Judge a book by its cover
Start big.

I recommend you make a round the whole store at least once. This is where unexpected surprises may come your way.

Narrow down.

Choose your section – Fiction! History! Cooking! Cultural Studies! Scan the covers or spines. Let the fonts and colours tell you to grab them. Let’s be honest, there are so many books with terrible covers. Covers where you know the stories’ protagonist would despise their outer skin. But don’t let this deter you.

Something will lead you to pick up a book and it’s hard to explain how and why this happens. The best way to think of it is as a fateful match.

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Time Out Bookstore staff in 2012. They may not be dressed in evening wear in-store…

Ask the experts
Floating around the bookstore, will be some very happy people. These are your booksellers.

They have been hired because they, like you, love to read. They have towering piles of books, surrounding their sleeping heads, hoping to absorb the words so they can pass on their opinion to you.

Your bookseller will probably ask you a few questions. What are some of your favourite books? What have you read lately? Watch them carefully after you answer, as you will see their brain calculating and eliminating. Then follow them around the store as they mumble to themselves, putting together a curated pile for you.

IMG_1498[1]Making the final decision
By now, you may have gathered quite a pile of books and, unfortunately, these choices just may exceed your budget. (Ed’s choices from her review pile to the side!)

This is where you will have to a) thinking about your upcoming reading spots and b) get in touch with how you’re feeling.

Will you be carrying this book on a plane? Or will it sit firmly on your beside table?
Do you feel like delving into a new author? Or would you little to settle into a familiar voice?

The elimination process is a difficult task, but you will make the right choice. Read the first paragraph of all your finalists and, somewhere amongst their text, one of them will whisper the strongest, “I’m the one!”

Heck, you may just give up and say, “I’ll take them all!”

wonka_golden_ticketCongratulate yourself
You have not only just gained a precious item for your bookshelf. You now have a ticket to any time or place. Your imagination will be stretched and you will discover something you would not have known before.

This book will sit upon your shelves for years to come. Its cover will become a memory trigger for this exact moment of purchase and the unfolding moments in which you absorb its tale.

Conservations will be sparked as future guests to your home approach your bookcase, tilt their head sideways and finger its spine.

This new book is yours, but its story will be shared. And that’s pretty special.

by Jenna Todd, Manager of Time Out Books, Mt Eden

Do you love international YA literature? Kiwis do it just as well!

Since Eleanor Catton won the Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries, people have become more aware of the quality of our local fiction. Which is amazing. But did you know that our YA fiction is of the same quality as much that is produced overseas? No? Well let me educate you about a few of our top YA novelists writing right now.

Trilogies and series’
First of all – trilogies and series’. Internationally, trends have driven our teens through magical boarding schools (Harry Potter), paranormal and vampires (Twilight), dystopias (The Hunger Games), and extreme political situations (Divergent). Note that not only did these trilogies sell incredibly high volumes, they have also become films.

cv_juno_of_tarisLet me begin with one of my favourites. Fleur Beale wrote an incredible trilogy from 2008, beginning with Juno of Taris, about the life of a girl who was born into an isolated island community. This community is under a bubble, to protect them from the environment which they are led to believe by their ruling elders has been polluted to unliveable standards. The book questions the accepted, it has a gutsy heroine, and it has just a glimmer of magic to boot. The three books are Juno of Taris, Fierce September, and Heart of Darkness (all published by Random House).

cv_dreamhunterIf you want magical realism (think Patrick Ness, Philip Pullman, Margaret Mahy), you cannot go past Dreamhunter / Dreamquake by Elizabeth Knox. The world of Southland draws you in, and makes you feel like anything is possible. I remember reading this for the first time, and wishing so much that I was reading it aged 13 or 14, simply to be closer to what I was like then, ready to believe that dreams were catchable, that magic was real. This has more recently been supplemented with Mortal Fire (Gecko Press), which is itself due a sequel one day!

cv_the_crossing_tnMandy Hager writes trilogies and stand-alone books with equal aplomb. The trilogy that comes to mind as an excellent dystopia based on an extreme political situation, is ‘The Blood of the Lamb’ series. Composed of The Crossing, Into the Wilderness, and Resurrection, the trilogy is prefaced on a ‘last survivor’ cult that operates from a ship in the Pacific Ocean. The storyline covers racial inequality, political persecution, and other broad dystopian themes. It is hard-hitting, and wonderfully written.

Our own John Greens
In terms of stand-alone, issues-based novels, there are few hotter right now than John Green. With his abilities on social media, and his hard-hitting topics, he is a hard one to beat. But I would say that there are several of our very own authors who come close.

cv_see_ya_simonFor instance, David Hill. One of David Hill’s first massive publishing successes (in 1992) was See Ya, Simon, in which the narrator’s best friend is a boy with muscular dystrophy, who doesn’t have long to live. This book was picked up around the world, and has been translated into many languages. David has written around 30 YA titles, all with strong believable characters, dealing with recognisable teenage emotions and dramas. (Others I would recommend are Duet, and My Brother’s War).

cv_the_nature_of_ashMandy Hager also comes to mind when thinking about health issues, with books like The Nature of Ash, which sees a teenage boy struggling with caring for his Downs Syndrome-suffering brother, while navigating the apocalypse. More recently, Dear Vincent, deals head-on with death of a sibling; as does Anna Mackenzie’s The Shadow of the Mountain.

Let me also mention Kate De Goldi, with her crossover award-winner The 10pm Question. Also Penelope Todd, with the trilogy Watermark (still available in e-book format), which itself is faintly reminiscent of something more otherworldly, classic children’s trilogy The Halfmen of O, by Maurice Gee. While on the topic of Gee, let me just recommend the Salt Trilogy – it is rather wonderful.

Can you tell how much I love kiwi dystopian YA trilogies?

The Children and Young Adults’ Book Awards
WhenWeWake_CVR_128x198x21.5_FA.inddThe YA section of the New Zealand Children’s and Young Adults’ Book awards is always strong, and I always wonder how the judges can possibly choose a winner. This year, Karen Healey was one of the contenders. Healey is somebody you cannot fail to mention while discussing and recommending current kiwi YA fiction. Author of four books, two of which are part of the When We Wake trilogy, she is one to watch for her very real teenage voices. Pick it up.

If you like your YA set in the past, Tania Roxborogh and Anna Mackenzie are both ones to watch. Each have written broadly about teen themes, so they aren’t one-trick ponies, but I would recommend Banquo’s Son and the others incv_cattras_legacy Roxborogh’s trilogy for those who like their teenage problems with a 12th-century dramatic twist; while Mackenzie has two titles in the Cattra’s Legacy trilogy out so far, set in medieval times.

For action along the lines of Robert Muchamore’s CHERUB series, but keeping it kiwi, you can’t go far wrong with Brian Falkner. He has been publishing great action books for teens for many years now, and is currently in the midst of a series called Recon Team Angel. One stand-alone that I must recommend, from a few years ago, is Brain Jack. I seem to remember reading it over a few hours when I got my hands on it. Another author to check out both current and past titles of along these lines is Ken Catran – he writes stand-alone books packed with drama and excitement.

The wonderful thing about writers of YA in New Zealand is that I haven’t met one I didn’t like. They are humble and generous, while writing these incredible books that transport teenagers all over New Zealand into different worlds. Let’s hope that the melding of Random House and Penguin doesn’t interrupt this incredible industry. Or perhaps it will prompt the creation of a new company: does anybody fancy starting a new publishing house dedicated to good-quality kiwi YA?

By Sarah Forster

People I haven’t mentioned, who are also worth looking up (i.e. I think this piece is long enough): Bernard Beckett, Barbara Else, R.L Steadman, David Hair, V. M Jones, Jack Lasenby, Ted Dawe, Joy Cowley, Adele Broadbent, Melinda Szymanik, Alison Robertson, Maryanne Scott, Sherryl Jordan (I loved her writing as a kid), and newcomer Rachael Craw. If there are more I have missed, please add your recommendations in the comments!