Monday, January 28, 2008

Winter Institute--Part Three

A number of publishers were hosting dinners on Friday night, I attended the Harper Collins dinner hosted by the indefatigable Carl Lennertz. Before we left for Louisville he wrote those of us attending the dinner to ask if we had any authors we were especially keen to sit near--I requested to be near E. Lockhart (I figured anyone who wrote such books as Fly on the Wall and The Boy Book --books I know would have been my favorite books in the world if they were around when I was 13--would be a fun dinner companion), and was glad to see that my wish was granted!

In addition to Ms. Lockhart I was seated near Elizabeth Bluemle, one of the most fun people you'll ever spend time with, and wonderful booksellers from Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis and Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, IL, both bookstores I've heard so many great things about and been wanting to visit for the longest time. This is the first time I've gotten to go to an author dinner with booksellers who focus on children and young adults, and it was a really fun change of pace.

Saturday's breakfast was without a speaker, instead it was an opportunity to chat with other booksellers about what you're reading--a great chance for me to practice my handselling skills!

After breakfast I went to a panel on the business of publishing. It focused on the P&L, or the Profit and Loss Statement, which is the set of numbers publishers run to figure out how to make a title profitable, taking into account the expenses--production costs, author costs, operating expenses, etc. I actually found it quite fascinating. As someone who is just learning what the difference is between gross and net, margins and profits, it was a very helpful crash-course in business practices and great insight into the minds of publishers and how they make decisions about book design and print run quantities based on their P&Ls (because God knows I wonder what they're thinking often enough--even a bit of clarity can be helpful!).

Another set of publisher rep picks followed, and then it was on to lunch with a panel of experts on the national movement towards shopping independent and local--Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy (a previous staff pick of Dana's), Stacy Mitchell, author of Big-Box Swindle, and Michael Shuman, author of The Small-Mart Revolution. All were incredibly upbeat about the direction of independent businesses, particularly in areas where they have been able to band together as independent business alliances (such as nearby Cambridge Local First or Local First Vermont). They observed that it has often been bookstores that have led the way in forming such alliances and that we should, as centers of ideas and culture, continue to do so--in fact, in the words of Mr. McKibben, it is our "moral obligation."

The post-lunch session can be deadly, but I actually had the most fun at a session at "Consumer Behavior Revealed--The Dating Game." This could be because they, in fact, took an unsuspecting volunteer from the audience and had her play the Dating Game! The point was to learn about what motivates consumers in their decision making processes. The fact is that books can be purchased everywhere--why do people choose one place over another (and, of course, how can we get people to choose to buy their books with us)? We reviewed Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs and looked at how psychological, situational, social, and commercial influences can affect consumer choices.

Dear lord, it's time for me to go and I'm still not done talking about Winter Institute! Well, one more post tomorrow should do it--until then...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Winter Institute--Part Two

After lunch was a choice of more panels, I went to one on inventory management (a fairly dry and boring topic to blog about, but critical for buyers) and one for prospective bookstore owners with a panel of folks who have opened their stores in the past eighteen months. I'm not planning on opening my own store anytime soon, but I was curious to hear what these folks had experienced.

There was an opportunity to go to a rep picks session after that, but I was a little tired of sitting and being talked to so I decided to take a break and start blogging before it all got away from me. I brought my computer down to the second floor, as that's where the free wi-fi can be found, but I ended up doing more talking with others than blogging at that point. I'm so glad I got to meet Michele Filgate, the events coordinator at RiverRun Bookstore, and we spent the better part of an hour talking books. We actually were talking with a librarian--in a nice bit of book confluence, it turns out that there is a conference for SLA, the Special Libraries Association happening at the same hotel at the same time! I kind of feel bad for the librarians---I wonder if they know that just one floor above them is an entire room of galleys for the taking (We actually snuck our librarian friend into the author reception happening so she could meet Augusten Burroughs as he is her favorite author!)

As you may have surmised from the last sentence, there was a wonderful author reception/signing for the big evening event. My swag: The new collection of short stories from Tobias Wolff, Our Story Begins (another cat out of the bag--he's coming to the store later in the spring! Yippee! I don't know that I've ever blogged about it, but Old School was my favorite book the year it came out, and it remains a favorite. If you haven't read it, you must! There are so many reasons why you MUST read it--a killer coming-of-age story is one, but another is his portrayal of classic literary figures--Robert Frost, Ayn Rand, and Ernest Hemingway. He writes these characters just as I would have imagined them to be. I could go on and on (which I did, embarrassingly enough, when I met him last night...sigh), so instead I'll move on.

I also got Mary Roach's new book, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, which I'm eager to read. I've never read Stiff or Spook, but I've always meant to read her as I know there are lots of folks at the store (both employees and customers) who lover her and, hey, this book's got a topic I can totally get behind (oh, and by-the-by, I have a feeling she'll be coming to our store too! I tell you, Brian is ah-mazing). For the boys at the store I got a copy of Mr. Burrough's new memoir about his father, A Wolf at the Table. I'm not sure who will get it yet--I know that Carl and Chris and, one other person, I think, have his books on their Essential Reads lists, so I might just have to have a sudden-death Rock Paper Scissors tournament.

Finally, for my mom, I picked up a copy of Pocketful of History: Four Hundred Years of America One State Quarter at a Time by James Noles. It takes each state quarter and uses the iconography to talk about state history. As my mom is an avid state quarter collector (and middle school teacher) I thought she would really like it for herself and her students. By the way, in case you were wondering, she's collecting those state quarters for her future grandchildren. And she's not just collecting one set, but two. But no pressure. Sheesh, mom, thanks! I guess, though, it's better than the mom of a friend who, while we were in high school and college, would collect Disney VHS tapes when they came out for a limited time so that her future grandkids would have them. I wonder what she has done with them now that I don't know that they even still manufacture VHS players? Anyways, sorry for that digression...

It's almost time for lunch, so I think I'll sign of for now but more later about my dinner with E. Lockhart and all of today's highlights!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Winter Institute--Part One

Yesterday's travel day went off without a hitch. I had a direct flight to Louisville, and shared it with a bunch of faces I recognized from other New England bookstores. I would guess, in fact, that of the approximately 30 people on board (it was one of those little 48 seaters), at least half were en route to Winter Institute. It meant that I payed even more attention than usual to what the people around me were reading while we were waiting for takeoff.

I had a bit of downtime after checking-in, and then headed over to the Muhammad Ali Center for the opening reception. I know how important networking is, and I know I'm supposed to use the opportunities presented to me to meet other booksellers and develop connections and all that good business practices stuff, but I have to say that I was just blown away with the museum and its exhibits, and spent most of my time exploring the Center. I'm not a boxing fan, but his is a fascinating story and I was completely intrigued.

This morning we had breakfast at 8:00, followed by a presentation by Danny Meyer, the owner of Union Square Cafe and Grammercy Tavern and all those other top-ranked Zagat's restaurants, based on his book Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. I really took to heart his point that our emphasis should not necessarily be on being the best at what we do, but being our customers' favorite. THAT is success.

I know that we can't possibly stock every book that every customer wishes we did. We can't be open every hour, give every discount, or utilize every new technology. And it kills me sometimes. But there are customers, all the time, who tell me when I'm at the register that we're their favorite bookstore. I don't think I've ever really listened to them the way I should. After listening to Mr. Meyer this morning it makes me want to really pay attention to those compliments and take them to heart as much as I do the complaints (why is it so easy to remember every complaint and dismiss every compliment?). What are we doing right for these customers? How can we do it for even more people? And how can we build on those strengths?

Mr. Meyer argues that to become a favorite you have to provide more than service-you have to provide hospitality. What's the difference? Service is a one-size-fits-all method of fulfilling expectations, while hospitality is a dialogue, a one-on-one method that makes someone feel heard and recognized.

Following breakfast was a choice of a number of panel sessions, I chose to go to one on handselling, which was a perfect segue from the topics Mr. Meyer was discussing as it is the art of putting the right book in the hand of each customer who comes into your store. I am still at the apprentice stage of handselling, but if you want to know what great handselling is then ask for Lisa or Paul when you come into the store. Listening to them recommend books, it makes it impossible to not want to drop everything and immediately read whatever it is they suggest. I dare you.

Then it was off to lunch where our speaker was Gary Hirshberg, the C.E.O. of Stonyfield Farm. I have to admit that I wasn't expecting much, but his presentation was AMAZING. Like, really, truly, moved me amazing. He believes that business and the environment don't necessarily have to be at odds--in fact, doing the right thing for the environment can actually be profitable for the bottom line as well as profitable for world. And he puts his money where his mouth is. He writes about it in his book Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World, which I don't think I ever would have read without hearing him speak and now can't wait to start. Mr. Hirshberg's dedication to doing the right thing isn't a front, or good P.R., but is a way of life for him that I think not only inspired me but a lot of other booksellers in the audience. I think there might be a movement coming in the publishing and bookselling community where we really look at the industry and exernality (this is a new concept I learned today at lunch) and environmental economic effects.

(By the way, a very cool and informative website is for Climate Counts, a non-profit started by the Stonyfield Farm people that makes it easy to make consumer decisions based on company environmental policies. Check it out!)

Well kids, it is midnight, and time for me to head to sleep. But I'll try to get up a bit early to write more while it's all still fresh in my head...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What I've Been Up To Lately...

Dear Lord, how did it get to be nearly the end of January already?

It's funny, this is a slower time for the store in general, but here in the basement we are SUPER busy with our buying season, looking at what's coming up for the spring and summer. So far I've seen our reps from Macmillan, Perseus, the University of Chicago Press, Wiley, and Hachette. I'll try to give you my picks from each soon.

Right now I am super-psyched as I'm getting ready to head down to Louisville, Kentucky for the American Bookseller's Association's Winter Institute. I think it's just the break/energizer I need. And lucky you--you'll get to find out all about it! My present to myself this Hanukkah was a pretty new laptop and she'll get to take her very first trip with me tomorrow when I bring her along! So look for some posts from an exhausted but jazzed bookseller over the next few days.

More soon!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Winter Events

So I just want to crow a little bit...

USA Today had a "Winter Books Preview" and, wanting to be a good bookseller (and just wanting to know what other folks are excited to read), I checked it out. And you totally should, too, as the interactive feature they have at the top is just really damn cool. the article are mentioned four top picks for literary fiction: The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller, The Reserve by Russell Banks, Lush Life by Richard Price, and Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. And their top pick overall was Geraldine Brooks's People of the Book.

So why am I crowing? Because in the next few months we will be hosting FOUR of the above authors! Geraldine Brooks will be here January 8th, Sue Miller will be here on the 16th, Russell Banks on February 5th, and (shhh...I don't know if I'm even supposed to be telling you this yet...) Jhumpa Lahiri will be here on April 3rd. I have to give mad props to Brian, our events coordinator, for really putting together the best events schedule I have seen in a long time (you can see the list of all our author events through January and February here).

By the way, you can officially be jealous of me because I have read Unaccustomed Earth and it is spectacular. I don't know how Jhumpa Lahiri does it, but she just hits a home run every time. And I need to finish the current book I'm reading this weekend so I can get through People of the Book before Ms. Brooks gets here next week! I am really excited for this one.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Our Bestselling Titles of 2007

Happy New Year!

I thought I would add to the never-ending end-of-the-year roundups that happen right about now (What can I say? I'm a sucker for lists). So here is the Brookline Booksmith Top 25 Titles of 2007:

25. Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
(pretty impressive that this book made the list considering it has been out only three months!)
24. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
23. Intuition by Allegra Goodman
22. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
21. Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
20. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
19. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
18. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
17. How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
16. The Gathering by Anne Enright
(by the way, you can come meet her at our event on Friday, February 15th!)
15. The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon
14. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
13. Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
12. The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud
11. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

And now for the top ten...
10. Boston Restaurants 2007/08 by Zagat
9. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
8. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
7. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
6. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
5. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
4. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
3. Fist Stick Knife Gun by Geoffrey Canada
2. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

And drum roll please...our bestselling book of the year...
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Here's to another awesome year of fantastic books!