This past Monday, we submitted our large opening order to our wholesaler and a second order to a remainder dealer (for bargain books). The volume count just topped 11,000 and there will be a last minute order to catch the newest titles on the bestseller lists as January is also a big month for new releases.

A bookstore of just over 2,000 selling square feet can fit this many books. And, there is a lot of data about what books are available, what’s on the bestseller lists, which books just won awards, and what is currently selling in U.S. independent bookstores. That’s the good news.

The bad news is there is a lot of data about all kinds of books. While doing our planogram made it clear how many books we’d need to fill the shelves, selecting the titles was time consuming.

Our shelf-talker introduces Sweet Pea, the little New England sheep that began as the star of a self-published book.

Our shelf-talker introduces Sweet Pea, the little New England lamb that began as the star of a self-published book.

How time consuming? Susan Savory, our Paz & Associates colleague who develops opening inventories for our clients, has always estimated that it takes her about 100 hours, but this also depends on the size of the bookstore. That’s a lot of time. With Mark and I joining in on the selection, we went way over 100 hours.

Now, I know first-hand why it takes so long. It’s tedious, it’s detailed, and, it’s important. Inventory is the single biggest cost of owning any retail store.

When you’re selecting titles, it goes beyond the numbers. It’s about the people who live in your community, those you especially want to be enchanted when they shop in your store, and it’s about the character of the store and the special aspects of your region.

Imagine that each title on the spreadsheet requires a decision. You want each to resonate in your market because you need them all to sell … and hopefully within three to four months so you can reach your inventory turns target.

Tomorrow we’ll do our second pop-up shop, the last one before we get busy with the process of setting up the store. Last time, some of the new National Book Award winners we stocked didn’t sell out. How could this be, we wondered. The truth is that people need help making decisions. They need more information.

So, we got busy writing shelf-talkers and grabbing reviews. While we as booksellers make decisions on what to buy and why … customers need information too. Now, we have personal notes about why the books are interesting, heart-warming and worthy.

Even though buying the opening order became tedious and tiring, we ended each day talking about some of the remarkable books and authors that were part of our day. Their stories, research, artwork, and writing talent enrich our days.

We can’t wait to share all of this with our community.

Last week during our full week workshop, we discussed book industry trends and talked about the future of reading and interest in bookstores. In this high tech world, it seems we still thirst for something real: real conversation, real friends, real book recommendations, real books.

Silicon Valley's Face In A Book has doubled its size.

Silicon Valley’s Face In A Book has doubled its size.

One of the past Paz grads came to mind, Tina Ferguson, owner of Face In A Book in Eldorado Hills, California. Tina’s husband is a Facebook employee and as parents immersed in the technology industry, Tina acknowledged that her friends were limiting screen time and encouraging their children to have their face in a real book. Today, Tina has just expanded her store. Business is strong and she’s having a wonderful time owning a bookstore.

By the cover of the Lands’ End catalog that arrived last week, it’s not those of us in the book industry craving quality time to think and interact. The headline of the Lands’ End catalog reads, “Rule #1: unplug. There is no rule #2. QUALITY. TIME.” The image chosen for the catalog is a family gathered around a picnic table in the yard.

Today’s world is demanding. We are pulled in many directions and our gadgets demand our attention throughout the day. How nice to unplug and have an authentic experience.

Reading a book. Talking with others about books. Browsing bookstores. Those are truly authentic connections.

Today I’ve been watching all of the regional bookseller associations report their weekly bestseller lists. Go Set a Watchman remains at #1 for Fiction, even the skeptics from my book group agreed to add a lunch discussion so we could get in a conversation while the book has been grabbing attention everywhere.

There’s a saying in the book business that all publicity is good publicity.

The latest controversy is over Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman. May it keep on selling and prompting valuable dialogue.

The latest controversy is over Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. May it keep on selling and prompting valuable dialogue.

Even though Harper Lee’s book has been widely criticized and some people have complained they’ve been duped that the book is new, the country is curious. To Kill a Mockingbird is an American classic and sadly, the story of equality and racism is still unfolding.

In bookstores across the U.S., the conversation is happening … about racism, great novels, sequels and prequels, what makes a classic, humanity, hope, and why we need literature.

Controversy is fine. It signals that we’re thinking critically about a lot of things. Authors and books offer us these opportunities to keep searching, learning, evolving. Books bring us out of our lonely corners and connect us with what is meaningful.

But first, we have to buy the book and be part of the conversation.

May books continue to make us uncomfortable about our unfinished work, and prompt us to change and grow for the better.

It’s a wonderful topic! And, you’ll see magazines pose the question to authors and celebrities, but it’s also a perfect question for bookstores to ask their customers … and to use on shelf-talkers around the store.

Once you get on in age you realize: there simply is not enough time in life to read (or re-read) everything you want to read. You stop trying to get through the book you are not enjoying. You don’t read a book just because a friend told you “it’s good”.

We want to find people who appreciate the same kinds of books we love. So now we know that the Amazon reviews are rigged and laden with paid placement. There are so many more books and many more reviews per book, but who do you trust?

Shelf-talkers are often written only by staff, but there are a number of local experts who could be helping shape your section ... and engage customers

Shelf-talkers are often written only by staff, but there are a number of local experts who could be helping shape your section … and engage customers

This is the #1 opportunity for any independent bookseller. The challenge is, how do you keep up with all of the books being published? The major publishers crank out hundreds of thousands each year and now with independent publishing so easy everyone who wants to write a book is or has, finding something good to read is more and more difficult.

So why not take the online reviews strategies into the bookstore? Some stores have featured reviews by select customers, but not nearly enough stores do this and with not nearly enough customers to create buzz and interaction among customers.

Imagine seeing book displays and shelf-talkers with quotes from your:

  • school principal on the best books on helping children succeed in reading and in life
  • master gardener on choosing the right plant for your region
  • physician on the best books for weight loss and controlling diabetes
  • respected pastors with books that helped them deal with loss, disappointment, divorce
  • wedding planner for the best tips on personalizing that special occasion
  • chef or restaurant owner on what cookbooks they use at home
  • book group member who also is a fan of fun mysteries
  • teacher who loves history

All communities have people who are specialists on some topic. Why don’t we engage these folks? They’ll not only refer people to the bookstore, but they’ll feel honored you asked. People will mention those reviews on shelf-talkers and the store name will be spoken throughout the community.

People find reviews helpful. Let’s use them, give them credibility, and tap local experts and local readers. Imagine having personal recommendations throughout the store in each and every section … now that is a rich and meaningful stop at the bookstore and no  one would ever leave without several ideas of what to read next.