The children’s programming at Winter Institute offered practical advice that booksellers could take home to their stores and put into place immediately, but perhaps none more so than a panel on how three bookstores of very different sizes created successful teen advisory boards: Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif.; BookPeople in Austin, Tex; and the Voracious Reader in Larchmont, N.Y.; ABA senior program director Joy Dallanegra-Sanger moderated. Not only do the boards provide a fun way for kids to share what they’ve read, they also provide invaluable feedback for buyers, particularly on forthcoming books. At Book Passage, one teen has become so invested in the store that when he has free time on Saturdays he stops by the bookstore and handsells; BookPeople hired one former board member as a frontline bookseller.
Several years ago Voracious Reader owner Francine Lucidon began a teen program and offered free pizza and ARCs as a draw. In 2010, to reduce costs, she revamped the store’s YA Alliance for ages 12 and up. Although participating kids still get free galleys, they now pay a $10 cover charge for pizza and lemonade. The number of teens dropping by once a month to participate declined from a high of 40, when the program was free, but has since stabilized. “[Charging for food] really seems to have done the trick,” said Lucidon, who is pleased to have 15 young people attend monthly meetings.
In exchange for their thoughts on YA books and galleys, which Lucidon said “has given us a better sense of purchasing,” she has worked hard to make the store and the YA Alliance a “third place,” referring to a concept identified by sociologist Ray Oldenburg about the value of bookstores as gathering places. “We don’t want to be an extension of school,” she said. “We want to be an alternative, a place to escape to.” She doesn’t require that the kids write reviews of the galleys they read, but she does offer first pick for those who do. Lucidon runs a similar program for younger kids, ages 8–11, the Uncommon Corps of Ravenous Readers. It meets on the first Friday of each month, the YA group on the last Friday.
“I’m passionate about teen books,” said panelist Calvin Crosby, general manager of Book Passage. So when he returned to the store a couple of years ago after a seven-year absence, he decided to indulge his passion by starting a teen group. Because it was important for him to have boys join as well as girls, he contacted area teachers and librarians for their help in finding boys in particular, ages 14-18. He let the group of 24 kids choose their own name, MB14 (“Must Be 14”). They even have a blog.
Like the Voracious Reader, Book Passage gives ARCs to the teens and solicits their thoughts about them and whether the store should carry the finished book. Crosby has found that the members of MB14 are so curious about the entire book publishing process that when an author visits the store they ask detailed questions, including ones about foreign rights. Because younger siblings have embraced their enthusiasm, Book Passage added a second group for tweens.
BookPeople was by far the largest bookstore represented on the panel, and it also had the most ambitious teen group, the 10-member Teen Press Corps, who are recruited from area schools and have to submit a writing sample to be accepted. That’s because the Teen Press Corps is required to write about the books they read. The corps reviews a YA Buzz Book each month, which is marketed to BookPeople customers, interview authors and industry professionals, maintain a blog, and act as the official teen press corps for the Austin Teen Book Festival.
“We’ve worked hard to integrate what the Teen Press Corps does with the store,” said children’s and YA book buyer Meghan Dietsche Goel. “We sell a ton of the Buzz Books. Customers have started looking for that. They are at author events. [The Teen Press Corps] has brought so much to our store.” BookPeople gives back to them with perks like stacks of ARCs, an employee discount, and access to touring authors.
Although the focus of each of the boards is on books, audience member Anne Holman, manager at The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, suggested that booksellers get the teens’ thoughts on sidelines as well, since sidelines play an important role in bookstores. Her idea was one that the panelists said that they would consider going forward. Other listeners wondered about the time commitment. Although Goel acknowledged that BookPeople’s program might be too staff-intensive for many stores, bookstores can pick and choose elements from the BookPeople program and the ones at Book Passage and the Voracious Reader that best suit their needs.