Friday, June 13, 2008

Dedication and Drive with Capital D's!

Anatomy of a Dream Job: Serve as bookstore host for the First Lady (and the Secret Service), JK Rowling, Lemony Snicket, Jamie Lee Curtis, Marla Frazee, Marlee Matlin, Julie Andrews, Kevin Henkes, Darren Shan, Frank McCourt; receive thousands of advance reader copies and assorted publishing house schwag in the mail every week (FREE!); research catalogs, books reviews, websites and blogs looking for great new talent; talk about books all day long with other people that love books as much as you do; continue this for seven days a week for months on end.

Could life be any sweeter?? According to Alex Uhl, owner of A Whale of a Tale Children's Bookshoppe in Irvine, California --- NOT!

Oh, yeah, maybe a little sweeeter. . . serve a one-year term at Shrinking Violet Promotions as Independent Bookseller of the Year!!

And without further ado, Robin and I are thrilled to *officially* crown Alex Uhl, generous community leader, literary activist, owner and lover of books as our new reigning Queen for 2008!!! (Insert sound of trumpets and beating flutter of hundreds of doves' wings.)

Our new Queen is legendary among industry booksellers, educators, editors, publicists, patrons, authors and illustrators, as someone who has what it takes to drive business to her door, despite competition from the chains. Her unique formula of community outreach, a big, busy event calendar, and a dedicated team of bibiliophiles has put A Whale of a Tale right smack dead center on the industry’s map. It was her passion for children’s books that inspired her as a young mother of an infant son to start growing this remarkable dream. In 1989, having done her homework and market research, she launched her first business. The rocket with her name on it is still making its amazing trajectory.

When we featured her shoppe back in May, Robin shared Alex’s commitment to “karmic marketing” as evidenced by her $40,000 contribution to her community during the past year. But beyond the financial support, Alex is committed to helping authors get their books in the hands of the public. She recognizes that it is the big name authors that bring customers out of the malls to her store. "Celebrities are the icing on the cake. We really want to bring up new people and help them when we can." And it's that very notoriety that gives her the opportunity and influence to give the rest of us a leg up when she can.

Which is not to say that we should all give her a call Monday to set up a signing, and could we please have the pretty tea service that she used for the First Lady? Events are expensive to host, and Alex is a savvy business person. She says it doesn’t serve anyone to host a signing that no one attends. She notes that even being a celebrated author isn’t a shoe-in for a successful events. She was gracious enough not to divulge the names of authors she has had to babysit when no one showed up for their signing. (I say give them a dust rag and put them to work!)

As a parent and business owner, she knows too well the many demands on families’ time these days, even during the weekends with parents racing their children off to sports, parties, and various family committments. A succesful signing is hard work and requires a great deal of planning and coordination.

Alex keeps her rolodex is full of authors she has met and is constantly looking for connections and opportunities to promote us. (God, I love this woman!) She genuinely likes having authors stop by to introduce themselves and chat about their work. “… I just got a lovely note and book in the mail from an author. I love that. Doesn’t mean I can stock the book, but I will file the info away and perhaps sometime I’ll find a place/space or tie-in for it.”

I asked Alex what authors and illustrators can do to help a bookseller host a signing. “Word of mouth—tell your friends! Use your mailing list, and your email contacts. Let everyone know about the event. “

She finds print ads expensive and don’t necessarily do the trick. But getting the word out to everyone you know and the people that they know can be powerful.

I wondered if there was any book that she really pined to have written or illustrated herself. She laughed and says she is a better critic/editor than writer. But, she does get some really great ideas for books when she is the shower. But by the time she gets to work and submerged in her day, they evaporate like the shower's steam.

“I really love what I do—it’s an extension of who I really, really am. I don’t take it for granted.”

And does she look great in a crown or what??

The official receving line for our new Queen starts here--please queue up, and say hellloooo! Curtsies optional. (Don't worry-- she's an introvert, too!) And while you're here, the first person to tell us what pretty-darn-famous illustrator has Alex as an illustrated character in the book will win a copy of said book, and just maybe we'll be able to get it autrographed for you. Good luck!


Anonymous said...


Where were you in the early eighties, when I was going to UCI and would have LOVED to visit a bookstore like yours? :)

Just another reason for planning a trip back to see how the town's grown, I guess!

R.L. LaFevers said...

All hail, Queen Alex!! (said with a deep curtsy)

What a great interview, Mary! Talk about an ideal bookseller! And an introvert, too! How perfect can she get?

Robin (using her monthly allotment of exclamation points in one day.)

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

"Alex keeps her rolodex is full of authors she has met and is constantly looking for connections and opportunities to promote us. (God, I love this woman!)"

Me too.

Anonymous said...

Very, very impressive! The crown is a good fit on Alex.

Much congratulations!