Thursday, May 21, 2009

And From Up North: A Trip Through the Greenwood (Bookshoppe, that is!)

by Shrinking Violet Field Reporter Mar'ce Merrell

Before the internet was in everyone's home and chain bookstores were fewer, aspiring writers for children and young adults spent hours among the shelves of their local independent bookstore. It was one way a beginning writer could read fifty first sentences of the day's fiction for inspiration or discover what sort of books publishers were marketing. While it may be easier today to go on-line for information, a writer (especially a Shrinking Violet) is missing out on an opportunity to meet the very people who may one day hand her book to parents, grandparents and your loyal readers: your local independent bookseller.

Imagine your hand wrapped around a large hot tea or creamy latte (okay, it's summer for many of you- an iced tea or lemonade), walking among the shelves of Greenwood's Bookshoppe in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Greenwoods' Small World, the kids section, is set apart from the adult world, a few steps above the main floor with warm lighting and a stay-here-awhile ambience. The books are organized by themes (fantasy, mysteries), by Canadian authors, by series and on each shelf, green tags reveal a Young Readers Choice Award Nominee, a Staff choice, and all-time favorites. 

You think like a writer while you're here pulling books you'd never consider buying, asking yourself what makes this story special? Who would read this book?. You read first sentences of books that are award nominees or winners. You read last sentences of the same books. If you're like me, you create a list of titles you'll order from the public library because there's no way you can afford to buy all these books. And then, an employee asks, "Can I help you?" If you're like me, you'll answer a dozen times. "No, thank you. Just looking." However, a little courage in this situation can pay huge dividends. 

Years ago, right before my first book was due to come out and I was feeling about for a second one, I found my voice, "I'm doing a little research and looking for some inspiration." The conversation wasn't a long one, (booksellers hear the same phrases we writers do from people who want to write, but haven't started), but I walked away feeling I'd met someone who wished me well and would be willing to answer any questions I might have. It's difficult to put a value on inspiration. Or a supportive smile. An independent bookstore like Greenwood's is a local writer's cheering section at the back of the auditorium, one that holds their lighter flame high during the dark weepy ballads.

Karen Wickstrom, primary buyer for the children's and young adults collection (on the right in the picture) and Shannon Colgan, bookseller and avid reader sat down with me to answer questions authors might have about their local bookstore. Read all the way to the bottom to find out how authors can help themselves get better shelf space and more sales.

How do you choose your books? 

We look at past records of sales to see what's been popular, we consider school curriculum tie-ins because teachers shop here, we look for cool titles based on interesting ideas, and we listen to the sales reps from the publishers.

How much of the choosing is gut instinct? 

We know what won't sell. Disney products don't do well here. And we're always looking for a unique title that we can handsell  (For a peek into some of their choices, follow this link to see their favorite picks. Greenwood's Bookshoppe suggestions. I guarantee there will be books on this list you won't see in your bookstore.)

What does an independent bookstore do to compete with a chain? 

We pride ourselves on customer service and staff knowledge. We're always talking to adult customers about what their 10 year old granddaughter or daughter might like to read next. We know many of the books we have on our shelves so we can make informed suggestions. Those customers will come back. We are also willing to do research to track down a book and we're good at dealing with vague questions. (It's about a girl and a dragon and the cover is red?) We'd also like to add that we can bring in out of print books for a customer – that's a service that many of our customers appreciate.

Tell me about hand selling books. 

We all have books that we've read or that we know about from one another. We know they're great books that kids enjoy reading, but they might not get as much attention because of the cover or they haven't won an award yet. When we discover someone who is looking for that sort of book, we suggest it. (It's as easy as that- they just put it in the customer's hands.) We hand sell many, many books to overwhelmed book browsers. There is so much choice.

Over the past 30 years, what has been your favorite promotion? 

It's got to be the Harry Potter events. They took so much work but the kids loved it.

What have been your favorite author events and why? 

Caroline Lawrence was here with The Roman Mysteries and she kept the kids entertained with the most bizarre questions about history. And a local author/illustrator, Lorna Bennett (M is for Mountie) was high energy and got the kids very involved. The kids had a great time.

What were this year's sleeper hits? 

The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong, Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison

What subject trend are you tired of?

 Fairies. And vampires could taper.

What can authors do to help themselves at the local bookstore level?

Self-promotion is so important. We have a local author, Marty Chan, who is in schools all over the city and kids come in asking for his books. And the books are funny and set here in Alberta. It's important to get reviewed, too. Shelf space, though, is a very small part of the equation.

So, Shrinking Violets, that's the report from Greenwood's Bookstore.


About Mar'ce Merrell:

Mar'ce's latest project is a seriously cake-infused young adult novel, The Cake Princess, to be published in April 2011 under the Feiwel & Friends imprint, Macmillan US. The Cake Princess has inspired all matter of baking, from endless kitchen creations, a friendly obsession with British Food TV star, Nigella Lawson, and a blog written in the main character's voice of the novel. Chantal posts a new cake for weekend baking each Friday and Mondays are how to days. Wednesdays are all about giving cakes away.


Mary Hershey said...

Mar'ce! Great profile! Feel like I've been there now.:-) And I don't want to leeaaaavvvve!

I LOVE what you've said, Mar'ce:
"An independent bookstore like Greenwood's is a local writer's cheering section at the back of the auditorium, one that holds their lighter flame high during the dark weepy ballads."

Congrats to Shannon and Karen for this great shop!

Mary Hershey

tanita✿davis said...

Wow - a bookstore that gives you a "stay awhile" feel and the feeling that someone out there wishes you well -- invaluable. This sounds like a fabulous place.

Anonymous said...

Another great profile--another great store!

Sherrie Petersen said...

I'm loving reading about all these bookstore in fabulous places that I want to visit. Might be time for a road trip :^)

Anonymous said...

Oh, I love Greenwoods! I used to live in Edmonton, and it was always a wonderful escape to sneak in and browse their shelves. Thanks for this great profile of a fantastic indie! :)

Beth Fehlbaum, Author said...

Very cool post. Thanks!

Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience
Ch. 1 is online!

Anonymous said...

P.S. Had to help promote this great indie -- I just blogged about this post! :)