Category Archives: Blog
One of the best things about teaching and giving seminars is that it makes you think about subjects you might not otherwise have thought about. I was approached by Edmaker about giving a keynote address for Library Journal‘s New Ideas in Collection Development & Merchandising workshop. They suggested calling it “How to Merchandise Like a Bookstore.”
I’d never thought about merchandising from the point of view of an organization that’s not really selling anything, and it really led me into a new way of thinking about the work librarians do. The traditional definition of merchandising involves convincing people to buy something. Change that word “buy” to “borrow,” and it’s precisely the job of the librarians that are working to develop and expand their collections. Bookstores don’t carry a book unless people buy it; libraries don’t carry a book unless people borrow it.
Last week, I presented the keynote to a group of librarians. There were some great questions and discussion topics, and it really underscored how much a library has the same goals and objectives as an independent bookstore (or, in my case, a community-owned co-op bookstore) and how easy it is for us to work together.
The slides from the presentation are available here for download (it’s a 5.1MB PDF file). As always, I welcome comments and questions on the presentation!
Last week at the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association (MPIBA) fall tradeshow, I put on a seminar titled Bookselling by the Numbers, where I discussed some of the various metrics used for measuring success of a bookstore. I spent most of the seminar, however, talking about inventory strategies and how they change depending on whether you’re looking at profit margin, cashflow, inventory turns, or return on investment. The concept for the seminar came from Leonard Shatzkin’s monograph, The Mathematics of Bookselling, but I made quite a few changes, as the business is a bit different now than it was in 1997—especially given the recent renaissance in indie bookstores.
Topics covered include:
- Pick your metrics: Profit, Cashflow, Turns, and ROI
- Sales per Square Foot vs. Sales/Rent
- Your hidden money drain: Carrying Cost
- When you can live with Lower Margins
- Doing the math on Wallpaper
- Profit and Cashflow with Remainders
- Doing the math on Returns
The slides from the presentation are available here for download (it’s a 1.1MB PDF file). As always, I welcome comments and questions on the presentation! If you didn’t attend, it may be a bit difficult to get the whole message, as the slides are just meant as accompaniment to the presentation.
I will be signing copies of the Yellowstone edition of Who Pooped in the Park at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone Park on Friday, August 5 and Saturday, August 6. If you’re going to be in or near the Park, stop by and see me! I will be in the lobby, right outside the gift shop, 11:00 to 6:00 Friday and 11:00 to 4:00 Saturday.
The Old Faithful Inn is one of my favorite places to sign books. Since there’s no wi-fi there—and no cell service to speak of—everybody is focused on the world around them instead of their phones. That, of course, includes me. Sometimes, when there’s nobody looking at my books, I’ll just jot down random thoughts. A lot of the ideas for my new book (Gary’s Guide to Successful Book Signings) came from the Old Faithful Inn. I’ve made plenty of book signing observations from Yellowstone Park, so I’ll skip those this time, and just ruminate on the differences in recent book signings.
The Who Pooped signings in the big national parks generally draw nature lovers, and most of the people that stop by the table are in no hurry to be anywhere. The idea of a book about poop throws a few people, but most are intrigued by it. The crowds at the NYC bookstores that hosted my Who Pooped signings (Book Culture and Bank Street Bookstore) were definitely different. By the time I was done reading, they were ready to buy a book (hopefully) and hit the road. Very few people wanted to just hang around and chat. Quite a few people—including bookstore owners—found the subject matter offputting. My publicist was told by two different stores that animal poop isn’t an appropriate subject for their stores. Luckily, the stores that hosted me were open-minded and fun, and the people at the Central Park Conservancy thought the book was a cool idea.
The Myths & Legends signing in NYC was a whole different world. It was about storytelling and drinking tea. The people who came hung out to chat and ask questions. The store owners prepared different tea samples for different stories from the book. It wasn’t like a national park book signing where I wait for people to stop at the table. I just stood and told stories. If you’ve never visited the Monkey Cup in New York City, stop and see them. It’s worth the visit!
Next week, I head to New York City on a book tour. The schedule still isn’t completely nailed down—why have a final schedule a week before the trip?—but I’d love to have you join me at one of these public events that we do have finalized. All of the events are completely free and no reservations are required. I’ll be signing books at all of them.
Lots of people want to have written; they don’t want to write. In other words, they want to see their name on the front cover of a book and their grinning picture on the back. But this is what comes at the end of a job, not at the beginning.
I’m one of those authors that enjoys the writing and that euphoric moment when you pull the author copy out of the package and hold the fruits of your labors in your hands. I don’t agree with the last part of Elizabeth George’s quote, though. For most writers, that isn’t the end of the job. There is still a great deal of work to be done promoting your book. It is, however, the transition from a solitary work shared only with your editor (when said editor can take a few minutes away from laughing maniacally and sharpening red pencils with a switchblade*) to something your cadres of adoring fans can enjoy.
Some of the real fun of being an author happens during the writing. That moment when you sit back and realize you’ve crafted the perfect sentence. When you figure out how to resolve that nagging inconsistency in the backstory. When you catch your botched pluperfect before the aforementioned editor sees it.
For us extroverts, though, most of the fun happens after the book hits the streets. We love standing in front a roomful of people to read our work, sitting at a book signing table with a line of fans in front of us, seeing our tweets shared far and wide.
Yesterday, I got to experience a joyful moment in the gloaming, that brief period between the arrival of the first books and the start of the hectic marketing campaign.
Almost a year ago, while working on Who Pooped in Central Park, I realized that I needed the kids to encounter a bird expert in the park. I toyed with different ideas for the character until I was struck with an epiphany: I know the perfect person!
Dominique Paulus is an artist who paints, among other things, birds. We have one of her original paintings hanging on our living room wall (“Woman Power,” seen at right). She’s been my friend for years, and we’ve chatted quite a bit about birds when she’s in my bookstore shopping for bird books.
So I wrote Dominique into the book and had her spend several pages telling the children about the birds in Central Park. I sent my illustrator (the incomparable Robert Rath) a photo of Dominique and she became a part of the plot. I couldn’t resist hinting to her that I had a surprise coming, but I did somehow restrain myself and not tell her what I’d done. Yesterday, on the official release date of the book, I gave her a copy of the book and showed her the pages that featured her.
Things that may seem minor to us, like a dedication or acknowledgement in the front of a book, mean a lot to people. Watching Dominique’s face when she saw herself in this book was a wonderful thing. As writers, we have many ways to change people’s lives. It’s up to us how we use them.
* To Will Harmon, my editor at Farcountry Press: I’m sure you don’t actually sharpen your red pencils with a switchblade. I’m guessing you use an axe.