To mark the beginning of the school year, Bookselling This Week recently reached out to several booksellers to discuss what they consider best practices for indie bookstores that work with schools.
An important part of many booksellers’ businesses is liaising with schools and building relationships within the local school community, which includes setting up and providing books for author visits, book fairs, and educational initiatives, plus forging connections with local teachers and school administrative staff through special discounts, teacher nights, and other incentives.
After talking to booksellers from Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers, Second Star to the Right, Politics & Prose Bookstore, East City Bookshop, and Avid Bookshop, all of whom regularly work with their local schools, BTW compiled a list of specific actions, must-do’s, and important deadlines other booksellers can keep in mind during the spring, summer, and fall seasons, and throughout the entire school year.
Kenny Brechner (Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers, Farmington, Maine): During the summer, I identify potential author visit titles and request ARCs to distribute to key librarians and teachers to help pitch the events. Once I have collected the materials, I then send an e-mail to say I have desirable ARCs for them to pick up at the bookstore. It’s particularly important to get an early start on any titles that will potentially involve a bulk purchase by the school for a reading group with the author, especially since some districts require school board approval for orders of over 10 copies. I also touch base with school contacts to see whether there has been any turnover among key partner positions such as librarians.
Lauren Casey (Second Star to the Right Books, Denver, Colorado): We update our store/personal calendars with school holidays, testing, and closures as soon as school calendars are made public in the district, and we start following up with educators about events, author visits, and book fairs as soon as they are back in school, but before the students are back. We also host an educator night toward the end of the summer.
Donna Wells (Politics & Prose Bookstore, Washington, D.C.): We host an educator’s event at the beginning of each school year (September) to give educators an opportunity to renew their membership and update any contact information, and we have our children and teens buyer, events coordinator, and outreach coordinator on-hand to discuss new titles, upcoming events, and outreach initiatives and to help them shop for themselves and their schools.
Prior to the start of each school year, our children and teens outreach coordinator meets with school representatives interested in holding in-store book fairs. Schools are given an opportunity to reserve a Saturday or Sunday during the school year, and families that shop on the designated day can request 20 percent of their purchases be donated to the designated school organization. Teachers are encouraged to visit the store the week of the fair and identify titles available in-store to add to a wishlist. On the day of the book fair, school volunteers help collect book donations purchased from the wishlists.
KB: Once school starts, I e-mail an invite to new school librarian hires to meet with me at the store. I also check in to get the dates for any annual literary events that have author components, such as community reads or pajama nights, so we can plan out which authors to invite and what sort of community outreach might enrich and support the events. I also check in with all the librarians who use our subscription programs, as they will need subscription invoices from me to submit now that the new school budget is in force. We also make arrangements to deliver ARCs collected over the summer to the school libraries that participate in our literacy outreach program.
Hannah de Camp (Avid Bookshop, Athens, Georgia): It’s a good idea to start planning for most of your author visits in May, before school lets out for the summer and teachers became a lot more difficult to get in touch with. I will add visits on if they don’t fit into this timeframe, but only if they are authors or illustrators we are very, very jazzed to get. I like to start planning author visits about three to four months in advance, which is normally when publicists will begin reaching out.
LC: We start booking fall author visits with educators so we aren’t chasing teachers over their summer break, and we send out a store calendar of events for the summer to educators (both for them to attend and so they can share with students and their families).
CC: At the end of the year, we e-mail schools and educators to say thank you for partnering with us, send us your summer reading list, and have a great summer.
Throughout the School Year:
DW: At Politics and Prose, we try to stay connected throughout the year with educators as well as our non-profit partners working with various schools and school communities. We invite partners and potential partners to the store to engage with our space, and we visit their individual sites to understand how best to engage with them and the communities they support.
Our children and teens buyer holds monthly meetings throughout the school year (September through June) for librarians and educators to highlight new and notable books as well as provide an opportunity for us to learn about what books are working well in the classroom, and our children and teens events coordinator sends out regular e-mails to educators highlighting upcoming events. This provides an opportunity for schools to sign up to attend in-store events. In exchange, we ask them to send book order forms home to families of the students that will be attending, which usually helps generate sales.
HDC: I fill out event grids every season and note which authors I think will work well for school visits. It's important to know when your busiest seasons are and plan around them. Fall is often our busiest, and the end of August and beginning of September are always a little nuts due to the Decatur Book Festival (we tend to reap the benefits of the festival’s author appearances since the store is so close).
CC: While it can be hard when publicists are sending lots of e-mails asking for school visits, it’s important to stop for a moment and ask schools what THEY want. Maybe it’s not the author visit; maybe it’s a field trip about running a small business or a curated list to bolster a curriculum unit. Ask schools what they need to help promote reading and literacy in their community and see if there are ways that you can help and also benefit your business.
It’s also important to keep updated records of the schools where you have taken authors, and those schools for which you have hosted field trips and planned book fairs. Make sure to keep accurate, updated records of your points of contact, as schools have a lot of turnover on both the teaching side and the parent-leadership side.