Friday, March 30, 2012

P.S. What is a Blauthor?

Since my last post where I referred to myself as a "blauthor" (blog + author), I have been asked what it is that distinguishes a blauthor from a blogger.

Blogs, or weblogs, started out as a way for people to document what they were thinking in the moment. Quickly typing their thoughts into the computer, they could post them online immediately, proclaiming their unique take on life out into the world almost as soon as they could think it. The original idea of blogging seems to have morphed a bit into things like facebook status updates and tweets, though the term "blogger" still carries that connotation.

I have a blog. Unlike the original practice of bloggers, I never type type type and then immediately post. Quite often (and the most recent post was definitely an indication of this!), I write and revise and revise and write and revise again before posting. Thinking things through, wanting to say them 'just so', making sure I have no (or almost no!) errors in grammar, spelling or typing is how I roll. Less like a blog and more like an author. Thus, a blauthor.

That's how I look at it, anyway.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Is Handselling Dead?

J.E. Fishman wrote an excellent article. Here it is...go ahead, you can read it. I'll wait...

In the article, Fishman admits not being a loyal customer to one bookstore. If he were, a bookseller might know his taste in books well enough to personally recommend books to him. This is also known as "handselling". In addition to wishing he had a bookseller to recommend books to him to read, as a new author, Fishman laments the decline in bookstores and the decrease in booksellers who might handsell his new book, PRIMACYicon, to potential readers.

As people rely more on online book buying, there is less personal interaction between bookseller and book buying customer. He wonders how he, as a new author, will be discovered because of the decline in handselling.

His is a legitimate concern. However, I don't think he should give up. Handselling isn't dead. It just may occur in different ways and places than Fishman imagines.

When a customer makes a purchase at the bookstore where I work, the register spits out a list of other books the customer might like. Book related websites such as Amazon and GoodReads also provide computer generated recommendations. I agree with Fishman, these are often not very satisfying.

He says that bloggers don't provide personalized recommendations either.

Bloggers, myself included, write about books we like or don't like. Each blog post isn't directed at one specific person, however readers of a particular blog can get a sense of whether they agree or disagree with a particular blauthor (blog + author)* as he or she writes about book. This is actually pretty similar to being a bookseller in a bookstore.

I know this is so because I am both. As a bookseller in a bookstore and a blauthor here online, I recommend books all the time, in person and on the blog. However, I rarely make personalized recommendations on the blog or in the store. In the store there are not many customers whose taste I know well enough, and who also want recommendations from any of us. It's our regular customers who come in knowing what they want or where in the store to go to find their next good read.

Most of the people who ask us for recommendations in the store are people we've never seen before. They don't frequent bookstores very often, but they want a good read. Or they are buying a gift for someone they don't know very well. ("I need a book for my uncle. He likes to read. I haven't seen him in five years. I don't know what he likes to read. But you sell books, so...")

Here on the blog, the audience is too wide to make personalized recommendations.

But handselling isn't just about knowing a person well enough. It's also about knowing lots of good books in different genres.

If you've been reading the blog for a while, you'll know that we have had a 100 handsell challenge at the bookstore. Each bookseller chooses a book and tries to sell 100 copies of that book with a blurb on the Staff Recommendations bay as well as talking with customers about the book. I chose Susannah Charleson's SCENT OF THE MISSINGicon, about Charleson's decision to train a dog to work Search and Rescue. A combination of CSI-like forensics and a great dog story, I thought the book would appeal to a lot of people. It turns out I was right. I was the first in our store to sell 100 copies of the book I chose!

Recommending books in the store with handselling is about finding what a customer is looking for in a book and getting it to them. When I was focused on selling SCENT OF THE MISSINGicon, it was easy to talk to people about it. Lots of people have dogs and buy books about dogs. I kept copies of SCENT OF THE MISSINGicon by my register and talked to people about it all the time. People who might not have heard about that particular title were introduced to it and lots of people (over 100!) bought it. People wanted good books about dogs and I had one.

I keep my eyes open for good books in any genre. I don't remember how I came across Fishman's article, but I'm glad I did. After reading the article, and knowing I wanted to write a blog post about it, I figured I would write a more informed entry if I'd read his book, PRIMACYicon. (PRIMACYicon is currently available in hardcover and also available for the Nook!) I bought it and read it.


PRIMACYicon is a thriller, with animal rights as its backdrop. Liane Vinson works in a primate lab at Pentalon, a large animal testing facility. Liane finds herself in a dilemma when she discovers that two of the apes she works with have an ability as yet unknown in the primate world. She risks her life to try and save the apes from the lab and its inherent brutalities. Not only is PRIMACYicon a taut thriller with characters to root for as well as to despise; the animal rights aspect provided a moral and ethical situation to care for.

I have already been talking about PRIMACYicon in the store. In addition, you just read about it here. I am betting that some readers of this blog, especially those who like thrillers, will take a look at PRIMACYicon and buy it.

I read what I like. I talk about what I like in the store and write about what I like here on the blog. Both are ways to get the word out about good books.

*Look for more about blauthors in an upcoming post!

You can order PRIMACYicon through the blog. Clicking on the book cover will take you to Amazon's web page for the book. Clicking on the underlined title will take you to Barnes and Noble's page for the book. Ordering through these links helps support the blog. Ordering PRIMACY through the blog helps support the blog...and J.E. Fishman!

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hunger Games Warning

The Hunger Games movie opens tomorrow and people are buying the books (as well as merch...mugs, tote bags, magazines, etc.)

When anyone comes up to the register to buy THE HUNGER GAMESicon, the first book in the trilogy and the only one in paperback, I say, "You know this is a trilogy, right?"

And most of them do.

"And you know that the second and third books are not out in paperback yet?"

And some of them do.

"And that the hardcovers cost a little more than the first one in paperback."

"And that once you start reading, you'll want to keep going, because each book leaves you on a cliffhanger. Just so you know. This is your warning."

And most people laugh. (Which is what I'm going for.)


Thanks for reading the blog! Clicking on the book cover will take you to Amazon's web page for the book. Clicking on the underlined title will take you to Barnes and Noble's web page for the book. Purchasing through these links helps support the blog. You can also "like" us on our facebook page, NOT the New York Times Book Review. And you can send us email: 2of3Rs(AT)gmail(DOT)com.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Trying to Help...and Not Succeeding

A boy came to the Information Desk. He looked about 12 years old. He had dark hair, was wearing a baseball cap, blue shirt and darker blue shorts. He had a book in his hand.

"Can I help you?", I asked.

"Do you have any other books like this one? Not this one, but like this one?", he asked.

"So you'd like a book in the same series?", I asked.

He nodded, but didn't make eye contact. I looked at the book, it was a children's graphic novel about Star Wars. On the cover were drawings of Yoda, a Sith-type character and a soldier type character.


I searched the exact title - "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" to try and get that series. Unfortunately, there are so many different Star Wars series, for all different age levels, with different authors, that it's hard to find the exact series right away. I couldn't find any others in that exact series. I found some that were similar. I showed the boy the computer screen with pictures of covers.

"Is it this one?", I asked.

"No," he said.

"How about this one?", I asked.

He shook his head.

"I can show you where they would be, want me to show you?", I asked.

He nodded his head. I took him to the children's Star Wars section where they would be if we had any others, which we did not. I also showed him the non-children's graphic novel section where we also did not have any other books in that series. I left him and his dad there to look.

About five minutes later, the boy came back up to the Information Desk. His mother was standing behind him. "Do you have any other books like this?", he asked, showing me the same book.

"We don't have any others in the store, I can try and look them up and see if we can order any. Would you like me to do that?" I started searching on the computer to see if I could find any others in the same series. I found a few that looked to be in the same series.

He didn't answer right away. "Do you have any books just like this?", he asked again.

"We don't have any here, today," I said. "We might be able to order some others in that series." I turned the screen toward him. "Is this one you are looking for?", I asked.

He shook his head. "Do you have any more like this?" he asked, showing me the book in his hand.

"We don't have any in the store," I said. "We could order some others if you'd like to do that." I was trying to figure out how to explain it to him better. I wasn't coming up with any brilliant ideas.

"Do you have any like this?", he asked again.

"No. We don't," I said. He walked away.

About 20 minutes later the mom came up to the Information Desk without her son. "I need to tell you, he was using his best skills to talk to you. You were a little short with him. He was using the best skills he had."

"I apologize if I was short. I was trying to tell him that the books he wanted were hard to find and that we didn't have them. I apologize."

"He has Asperger's. I just want you to know that he was using his best skills."

"Okay, I can appreciate that, and again, I'm sorry if I was short with him. I didn't mean to be." She walked away.

I told J. about the interaction. "What?", she said. "You. You of all people in the store treat kids with the most respect and you interact with them so well. You take the time to talk to them. I can't even believe that she told you that."

I appreciated J's validation. I do try to interact with kids and as a former teacher and a parent, I think I (usually) do a good job. I did feel frustration in trying to help this child. I know that his mom was trying to let him ask for what he needed, which is a good skill for any child. I just wondered whether it might have been appropriate for her to step in and help him understand that we couldn't find the book he wanted.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Best Way to Send a Message to a Publisher

An Asian mom and her teen-aged daughter came into the store. Mom - slender with short dark hair, wearing a black sweater. Daughter, not so slender, dark hair in a messy ponytail, wearing a blue jacket with yellow stripes. They put a book on the counter in front of my register. It was a Barron's study guide for the GED test.

The daughter explained that they wanted to return it. They didn't have a receipt, but we could look it up with a credit card. She went on to explain that she didn't like the book, that it wasn't helpful for her for the test. She did a lot of the work in it, and it didn't relate at all to the test. She'd wasted so much time on this book, she wanted her return of the book to be her complaint.

I flipped through the book and indeed she had done a lot of the work. In the book. In pen. The accompanying study CD was not in the envelope on the inside back cover.

I explained that we couldn't take the book back since it had been written in and the CD was missing (actually, if the envelope is even open we can't take it back). We can take it back it the book is in saleable condition.

Mother and daughter turn to each other and start talking in what I think is Japanese. After a few minutes, the daughter tries to explain to me (again), how much time she wasted using this book, and wanted to make a point to Barron's by having us return the book to the publisher.

I told her (again), that we can't take it back in that condition, but that they could contact the publisher and make a complaint about the book if they weren't satisfied.

The daughter flipped through the book. She said she'd worked so hard to study for this test. She got another study guide that was very helpful and she'd passed the test. She was upset at all the time she'd wasted. Couldn't we return the book to Barron?

I told her that I could ask a manager, but I was pretty sure that she would say the same thing that I did. I called the manager and asked her to come help. When M. got to the register, I explained to her what they wanted to do, return the book as a way to complain to the publisher. I showed her that the book had already been used.

M. explained that we could not take the book back. We don't return books to publishers for content issues. We were sorry she wasn't happy with the book, and she suggested that they contact the publisher directly.

Mother and daughter turned to each other and have another conversation. M. and I wait patiently. The daughter sighs and walks out of the store.

The mother talked to us in broken, but fairly articulate English. She explained how hard her daughter worked to study for the test. She said that they have only been in this country for two years and that it's been hard to adjust. She said that the daughter is young, she is just a girl, she worked so hard and she wasted all that time studying using this book that didn't even relate to the test. She said she trusted our store and thought that it would be good if we could make the complaint to the publisher by sending the book back.

M. and I took turns telling her that we couldn't do that. We suggested that they write a letter with the book and send it back to them. I showed them the publisher information in the front of the book. That they could also probably find a phone number or email address online. I told them that when customers complain, publishers do listen, and hearing from consumers directly is a more effective method of protest than hearing from a store. M. said that maybe the publisher would be able to do something for them. We were sorry that they were so frustrated and that we couldn't do what they asked.

The woman thanked us and walked out of the store.

A frustrating encounter all around.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Not Sure A Book Is Enough

In my last post, I talked about no longer working in social service. While I don't spend months working with clients any more, at the bookstore we do get asked for help with intense, social service-y situations. This happened yesterday...

I walked up to the Information Desk with some books to be reshelved. "Oh, you would know," S. said, looking up at me from the computer where she was doing a search. "What's up?", I asked.

"There's this woman who is looking for a book to help her. Her teenage daughter is suicidal, has anxiety, is depressed..." she trailed off.

"The daughter is suicidal? And she's looking for a book?" I asked. "Shouldn't she call a crisis line or something?"

J., also standing at Info and S. both nodded. "Um, yeah," J. said. "But she wants a book."

"Okay," I said. "Is she in the section? I'll go see if I can help." As I turn in the psychology aisle, I see a woman with dark hair, a hot pink v-neck shirt with a lime green gauze-y jacket. She has a wire and black bead necklace and heavy eyeliner. She is on the phone.

"Do you need some help?", I ask quietly, looking right at her. She nods. "Can I call you back? I'm in the bookstore and someone is here to help me," she said, ending her call.

"I do need help," she said, looking at me.

"It's about your daughter?", I said, not wanting to launch into a discussion of depression and suicide if she wasn't the right customer.

"Yes," she said. "She's got a lot of anxiety and depression and she's suicidal." She dove right in. "I had to take all the pills out of my house. She has a suicide plan. She doesn't want to go to her dad's house, which is where I think the problem really is."

I've listened to Therapist talk about enough calls from her mental health crisis line job to know that if someone has a suicide plan, then it's serious.

"I'm wondering if you shouldn't call a crisis line or something, if she has a suicide plan..."

She interrupts me, "Oh we already have an appointment to see a counselor, and her doctor knows about it. I know that if she starts doing something crazy, then I take her to the hospital. She has a lot of anxiety and she is depressed. Either she's crying or she's furious or she's sleeping."

"Which can be signs of anxiety or depression," I said.

"Exactly. Her anxiety level has gone down some since we've made the appointments and she's seen her doctor. She was a victim of a sexual crime, and she has PTSD. We don't know what else she has, like if she has any kind of disorder."

"What is it you're looking for, exactly? Is it a book to help you understand what she's going through? Or a book to help her understand?"

"My doctor said to come to the bookstore and ask the people there what books are good about depression or anxiety or suicide."

I gave her a few anxiety workbooks and showed her two books on depression with similar titles, What to do When Someone You Love is Depressed. I handed her a book on suicide. I showed her COPING WITH ANXIETY. With her arms full of books, she said she had to choose. She decided to buy the book about suicide.

I'm not sure a book was enough help for her...but that's what she wanted. I hope her daughter is all right.

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

5 minute meeting

I started back at a bookstore after 20 years away, raising kids, teaching school, working in social services. In social services, I worked with at-risk families. We saw domestic violence, alcohol and drug addiction, and mental illness on a daily basis.

We had meetings that lasted hours in which we'd go over our cases with public health nurses and other professionals in the county. We worked with families for months, sometimes years, sometimes seeing significant change for the better, sometimes not.

I knew I was in a good place when I started one of my first shifts back at the bookstore and we had a "Five Minute Meeting". These were held at the beginning of each shift to update everyone on any changes in procedures or any big new releases or any special happenings for the day. AND, sometimes we went around and answered the question...What are you reading?

This is a work meeting? It's 5 minutes long? And we get to talk about what we're reading? I love it.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Getting Them the Books They Want (or Trying...)

A woman with long grey hair, angular features and wearing a long red coat came up to the Information Desk. "There's a book that was in one of your emails and I want it. I think it was a memoir and I think it was about Zimbabwe, but Zimbabwe wasn't in the title. What is the book? I want it."

Another bookseller and I both tried to help. "A memoir? And something about Zimbabwe? We can try and search..." Both of us did searches on the computer and didn't come up with anything.

"Don't you know what is in your emails?", she asked.

"Well, I read them," I said, "but I don't remember all the books mentioned in every email." (Just as I do not know every title and every author of every book in the store.)

She seemed peeved. "Well this book was in one of the emails you sent out. You should know what's in them."

"Do you remember any word in the title? Or the author's name?", the other bookseller asked.

"No I don't. But it looked really interesting and I want to see it. It was in one of your emails. Surely you can find out what was in the email."

"Well," I said. "We can find out what our current promotions or coupons are that went out in an email, but we don't have access to the emails that only have book recommendations or suggestions in them." The customer looked frustrated. All this time both of us are still searching on the computer, using key words and category searches but no title or author searches because she doesn't know them.

"Well never mind," she said, giving up. "I guess I'll have to go back and get more information."


Dr. Johnson called the store the other day...

"I need a copy of T.J. Parker's THE JAGUARicon. Do you have it?"

"We do, we should have one copy. It was released in January and we have one left. I'll put it on hold for you," I said.

"Yes, do that," he said. "How did I miss that release date? It's been out since January?" I can almost see him shaking his head. "Well, what else have you got there that I haven't read yet? You know what I like, only hardcover, first edition."

I do have a pretty good idea of what he likes to read, though I do not know what he has or has not read yet. Quite often when I suggest something, his response is a brusque, "already read it." But not always. I look over the new (hardcover) in mystery display, reading out titles and authors to him that I think he might read.

"Robert Crais?", I say, "He has a new one."

"Yep, already read it. What else you got?"

I list over a dozen other authors and titles. Dr. Johnson mostly responds with, "already got it" or "yep, just finished it."

But sometimes he doesn't.

"Here is a new author you might not be familiar with...Daniel Palmer. His new book is HELPLESSicon. You might like it. His first one was DELIRIOUS which I read and enjoyed. He's a new author for you, but he writes the kind of books you like."

Gruffly, "Okay, put it on the pile."

By the end of the phone call, I have eight hardcover books waiting for him to look at.

I didn't see him come in, but K., who waited on him, said, "He bought all but two of them." And one of them was the new author I'd suggested! I'm starting to like the curmudgeonly old doctor.

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Five Finger Test

I got a chance to work in the children's department the other day, a delightful departure from my usual routine. A former elementary school teacher and a former parent of young children (I'm still a parent, the kids are out of the house and on their own), it was fun to be in the children's section.

I approached a mom and her daughter. The mom had long dark brown hair, some of it clipped on top of her head. She was wearing an off-white sweater and jeans. Her daughter looked to be seven or eight and had long brown hair.

"Can I help you find anything?", I asked.

"Actually you can," the mom said. "Can you help us find a good book for her to read?", she asked as she gestured to her daughter, who was holding THE SISTERS GRIMM: A VERY GRIMM GUIDEicon.

"Sure," I said. The book you have there is part of a series, THE SISTERS GRIMMicon, which is fun, though I have heard is a little scary," I say as I walk over to where the series is on the shelves. I pick up the first one in the series and hand it to the girl. "Do you know how to see if a book is not too hard or not too easy for you?"


She shook her head.

"Here's what you do," I said. "It's called the Five Finger Test. Start reading a page, any page. You aren't reading for the story, all you're doing is looking for words you don't know. When you come to a word you don't know, hold up a finger. If you have more than five words on a page that you don't know, the book is probably too hard for you, and it would be frustrating for you to read. If you have less than one or two words on a page that you don't know, then the book is probably too easy for you."

"You are wonderful," the mom whispered to me, smiling. "This is great. I've never heard of doing that before."

I opened the book to a random page and handed the book to the girl. "Go ahead, just start reading. When you find a word you don't know, hold up a finger."

She started reading to herself, mouthing the words. She got to a word, shook her head a little bit, and said, "I don't know that one."

"Okay, hold up a finger," I said. She kept reading. Right away she found another word she didn't know, and then another and another. She got to five before she was halfway down the page.

"It looks like this book is probably a little too hard for you right now," I said. "You don't want to choose a book that's too hard, you'd just get frustrated trying to read too many words you don't know and you wouldn't enjoy the story. If there are a couple of words you don't know on a page, you can usually figure out what they mean from the rest of the story." She nodded, looked up at me, smiling shyly, and handed me the book.

"What have you read before that you've liked?", I asked.

"IVY AND BEANicon," she said quietly. "I just read the first one."

"Oh, great! That is a series, so there are more of those right over here." I took them over to the IVY AND BEANicon series, and handed her the second in the series. Her eyes shone.


The mother said, "Thank you so much! My name is Olivia, and this is Camille."

I held out my hand and shook Camille's hand. "Thank you for coming in today," I told the girl. "Enjoy your book!"

The mom whispered to me again, "You made her feel so important, I could tell. Thank you so much!"

"Sure," I said, smiling. "Have a good day!"

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