Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bookseller Interview: Rachel Heath of King's English Bookshop

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Rachel Heath is the children's marketing manager at The King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City.

Thank you for joining us at Cynsations! Could you please tell us about The King's English Bookshop, especially with relation to books for kids and teens?

The King's English Bookshop opened in 1977, and in 35 years we have grown to become a leading independent bookstore in Utah with an excellent national reputation as well. We are proud members of the American Booksellers Association (ABA), Indie Bound Commerce (IBC), and Local First Utah, which our owner, Betsy Burton, helped launch and is still an active leader for.

Our children’s room is one of our strongest assets. We have a strong reputation among readers, publishers and fellow booksellers for our taste in children’s literature. We have an incredibly strong staff (all of whom read the books we sell, of course), an astute buyer (with twenty years of experience and her own national reputation among publishers), and a welcoming atmosphere, complete with a gigantic bear for snuggling.

How did you become interested in working for the shop? What background led you there?

As is the story for most anyone who works in books, I have been a reader from the very beginning. I grew up on books. My mother served with the Children’s Literature Association of Utah (CLAU) for many years so books are in my blood. Her extensive knowledge in children’s literature is one I will always aspire to. She took a job in the children’s room of The King’s English Bookshop when I was thirteen and I too considered myself an employee of sorts ever since, with frequent visits, small tasks at events and gift wrapping for the store for a number of holiday seasons.

What sorts of children's-YA author/illustrator programming do you do at the shop?

 
As the Children’s Marketing Manager I get to schedule everything relevant to the children’s room: author visits, story times, book-launch parties, writing workshops, children’s book clubs… you name it, I arrange it. And I love it.

How do you connect with children's-YA authors/illustrators -- through publishers, independent publicists, etc.?

Carol Lynch Williams at The King's English
I work with publishers and publicists from all the major publishing houses, encouraging them to send nationally known authors to The King’s English.

Utah is currently swimming in talented, local children’s and young adult authors that have sprung up here and a favorite part of my job is to make sure our local authors and illustrators are properly celebrated.

Planning a successful event is hard work. Publicists sometimes help us plan events; their help is always appreciated. But if authors, especially local authors, are willing to work on their own events, we’ll almost always say yes. An author’s efforts determine half of each event’s success.

Do you do outreach/events with the local author community? Could you tell us about the book scene in the Salt Lake City area?

For an independent store “community” is key. I work hard to establish strong relationships with the authors here. I believe it is important that they know they have someone on their side. It’s true that not every book is a match for our store; in which case we won’t invest ourselves in it. But when a local author is connected to us we will sell books for many of their off-site appearances.

Salt Lake City is very big on the YA scene right now, but we also thrive in all genres of children’s books. The King’s English is in a residential neighborhood surrounded by families who, to our great delight, value books and reading.

If you're open to authors/illustrators contacting you directly, what's the best way to go about that?

 
Ally Condie with bookseller Rachel Heath
E-mail, as opposed to a phone call or dropping by the bookshop, is the best way to introduce yourself. Tell me about your book and what your connection is to the area.

What will you do for this event and how many guests do you expect to bring on your own? Who is your publisher and how can the bookstore get access to your books? Do you have a distributor?

My e-mail address is Rachel@kingsenglish.com and anyone who answers the phone here would tell you that.

How far in advance do you schedule events? How do you market them?

For a good turnout we try to plan everything at least two months ahead of time. We go through a number of different marketing techniques to try to pull in the best audience possible for each event. We start with briefings for the local media as well as in-store advertising. We print materials, set up displays and publicize through social media.

What tips to you have for authors/illustrators in planning a bookstore event?

Social media can be a wonderful thing. Our most successful author events owed a lot to the author’s work on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. Family and friends are great resources as well. They already love you and want to support you and can be helpful in drawing a crowd.

Some authors have implemented their own marketing ideas, advertising that they will be raffling some of their own prizes and/or serving refreshments. But it all comes down to publicizing the event.

What are some innovative ideas that worked well in your store?

We use a lot of Facebook and Twitter ourselves to encourage the audience to come. Posting the right words at the right time can offer great results.

What shouldn't authors/illustrators do?

I’ve said it a lot but it bears repeating: authors can’t expect the bookstore to be responsible for the success of their event or book sales.

A bookstore is only going to reach those who shop there or actively come to author events. If sales for the author’s book haven’t been strong there it’s illogical to expect an enormous turn out of curious, new readers. Authors have to find ways into other parts of the community and encourage them over to the shop for the event.

That being said it is also important to not over-saturate a community with author visits. If you are signing at one shop one week and the shop close by the next you can expect unprofitable turnouts as well as perturbed booksellers at each.

How should authors follow up after an event?

 
I love receiving thank-you notes from authors after an event. Who wouldn’t? It’s smart PR on the author’s part. It not only keeps them in my memory bank, but also encourages me to work with them again in the future.

Rachel with Dan Wells, S.J. Kincaid, Veronica Roth & Aprilynne Pike


Cynsational Notes

Interview with Book Store Owners Mitch Kaplan and Betsy Burton from C-Span video library. Peek: "Discussion with booksellers, Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books (Coral Gables, Florida) & Betsy Burton, co-owner of The King's English (Salt Lake City, Utah)."

3 comments:

Elizabeth Fama said...

What a nice peek into the The King's English, which I've heard so much about.

Carolee Dean said...

I met Anne Holman, General Manager of The King's English, at the Mountains and Plains Independent Bookseller's Conference last year. We sat together at the Children's Author Breakfast. I've been wanting to visit the bookstore ever since. Thanks for this peek inside.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

It's a charming store, Elizabeth! A must-visit for anyone residing in or traveling to Utah.

How lovely, Carolee! Glad to provide that peek!

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