Today we’ve got Elizabeth Anker, owner of Alamosa Bookstore on the line! We appreciate Elizabeth for being here and sharing her expertise about children’s books. Lots of great info so keep on reading!
Q: Elizabeth, you’ve been a past children’s buyer at another independent bookstore. What made you decide to open your own store?
I had initially thought of buying that very independent, but the current owner took it in a different direction than I wanted to go — largely opting to sell used books. I love kids’ books too much to get too deep into the used market. (Kids’ books don’t usually survive long enough to make used books.) Since there did not appear to be a store that catered to kids, I decided to open one.
Q: What were some of your concerns – and hopes – when you opened Alamosa Books?
My biggest concern was the economy. We put the whole thing on hold for over a year. But it seems that book sales are rather independent of economic conditions. Evidence from other booksellers around the globe indicates that books are one non-essential that people will continue to buy even when they cut back drastically elsewhere. In fact, early in the recession sales of books actually increased relative to other retail sectors. Amazing, isn’t it!
My fondest hope is to give to this community what I had growing up in college towns — a place to discover the ideas of others. Where you can read in a corner or giggle with your friends. Where you can find something that you never knew you wanted, and find that it becomes dear to you. A place to be inspired. I don’t think there is anything like that in Albuquerque, nor even in Santa Fe.
Q: Why do you specialize in all things children’s: ie: fiction, non-fiction, educational, picture books, novels, stuffed animals and toys and novelties, etc.
I really truly prefer kids’ books! I love the art in picture books — and the sly humor. I love YA novels in all styles. And I love learning. I really never grew up, certainly never lost my inquisitive nature.
Q: Tell us about some of your events at the store.
We have such a variety. For all ages and tastes. We may have come close to featuring every YA and children’s author in the state in our first 18 months of operation. Plus we have regular book club meetings and story time. And we have had many of this state’s fabulous poets both for individual events and group readings. We’ve even had open mic music nights in the summer — largely for teens (they stay rather late. . . ) We’ve done everything I think a store can do to make this store an ideal location for events of all kinds.
Q: What is your favorite thing about being a bookstore owner?
Buying new books! I love seeing the creativity. I can hardly resist a catalog of books! Makes for an overfull store sometimes.
Q: Share with us some of your favorite books from childhood.
See, now, I just can’t answer this question. I have always been a reader, and I really love all sorts and everything. Even as a kid I had piles of books and haunted libraries. I read quite a lot of Sherlock Holmes as a kid. I loved British fantasy and wanted desperately to live in either Rivendell or Gormenghast. I read The Trumpet of the Swan thirty times by the time I was twelve. In my teen years, I read a boatload of science fiction and much of what is called “the classics” though I did tend to gravitate to the edges (liked Tortilla Flat much more than Grapes of Wrath, Gogol over Tolstoy, etc.). But in the midst of all this fiction, I would read history books and philosophy. Loved science and math. The only things I really have never liked are touchy-feely self-help books and straight up, meet cute, boy gets girl romance.
Q: How do you see the landscape of children’s literature evolving: as far as the type of books being published, as well as electronic books?
Obviously, there is an explosion of young adult and middle grade fiction. It’s overwhelming. It makes my job as a bookseller absolutely essential — because how can any non-professional keep up! And I think the most creative and original plot-driven fiction in the last decade has come out of the kid market. The biggest change though is the sheer volume of books printed. A bestseller in the children’s market — a book that kids all over the globe will buy and read — is wonderfully new — kids are reading!
Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily all roses because the pressure publishers put on writers to pen that huge book drives emulation. When one book succeeds there is a rash of the same book released about nine months later, just like in the adult markets now. Witness the glut of dystopian fiction that is largely vying for a piece of the Hunger Games pie. That wasn’t true ten years ago in the children’s market. There weren’t huge books to emulate, so writers were given quite a bit of creative latitude.
I’m not sure I like the bestseller mode of publishing, and I really don’t like its incursion into the kid market. And it’s self-defeating. I mean, to find the next book every kid will want to read — to find the next JK Rowling — you have to take on risk as a publisher (and a bookseller), not push an author to write in a certain direction. So while there is an explosion, there is already a trend toward discouraging the kind of originality that produces that next huge book. It’s a self-perpetuating conundrum. Particularly in a tough economic climate where risk is squelched at every opportunity.
As to electronica. . . I just don’t know what will happen with e-books in the children’s market in the near future. I don’t think they are even close to inventing an electronic equivalent of the picture book, for one thing. I would love for workbooks, quickly dated reference books and textbooks to go totally electronic. However, the devices they have now are not really interactive — just turning pages back to find something you forgot is a chore on devices like the iPad or the Kindle. So technology has to improve quite a bit before that is feasible. I would also love to see mass market novels for any and all ages converted to e-books. These are the things that only withstand one reading — both the physical book (usually the spine) and the story. They really are a waste in print.
That said, it is difficult to see what role a bookstore would play in selling e-books. And unfortunately for this bookseller, I’m quite sure e-books are the future. It is so cheap to produce and distribute an e-book (without significantly lowered retail prices) that in my store’s lifetime, books will all become electronic. So eventually, I’ll be an anachronism. But for now, I’m just politely ambivalent toward the whole e-book thing.
Q: What is the process of purchasing books? Catalogs, ARCs, sales reps, reviews? How do you decide what to put on your shelf space and how is it different from other bookstores?
Long and never-ending! I am playing hookey now. We get catalogs — electronic for the bigger publishers, otherwise paper. We have field reps (those who know our store because they visit) for only a few publishers. Most publishers have telesales reps; many have banded together under group reps like Tom Faherty (an agency that sells over 30 publishers of all sizes). So we really don’t have a lot of tailored help in buying.
I use the ABA Next list and the NYTimes Book Review, but neither of these sources is terribly kid focused. I spend quite a bit of time online, and I read trade journals and newsletters constantly. I also read almost all the ARCs that come to our store. We get boxes of advances from the ABA every month, plus we are starting to get a good selection from each of the big publishers for each season.
I honestly don’t know what makes me decide to buy a book. It is highly intuitive. I know who comes into our store, and I know who I would like to draw into our store. I know what those people will buy. So that is part of the equation. I also want to have as broad a selection as possible and strive to find unique offerings. I nurse a bit of intellectual vanity and love to have prestige books poking out here and there. And some things I buy just because I want it. Because it tickles my fancy. And I have such a lot of fancies.
So I guess my buying process is about as individual as I am. I have my unique points and my commonalities just like everyone else in the world, and the store’s selection reflects that. What is on these shelves is kind of a window into my mind. . . scary as that sounds. . .
Love that last line, Elizabeth – a window into your mind! That is exactly what you’ve shared today on From the Mixed-Up Files! Thank you so much for your time and knowledge and expertise.
Next time you’re in Albuquerque, go visit Alamosa Books – it will be one of the highlights of your trip! You’ll probably walk out with a stack of fabulous new books and gifts for everyone in the family!
Kimberley Griffiths Little’s favorite places to hang out are bookstores and libraries. Her middle-grade novels with Scholastic are The Healing Spell which won the Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2010 and is on the Bank Street College Best Book of 2011. Circle of Secrets will be published October 1. Please visit www.kimberleygriffithslittle.com to download free guides for teachers and book clubs.