Carolyn Clapham set up specialist children’s bookshop Storytellers, Inc. in November 2010 with her daughter Katie. Located in the seaside resort of Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, the shop focuses on creating a welcoming environment for its younger visitors and runs a strong programme of creative writing and poetry workshops for children. Katie, who won the Sue Butterworth Young Bookseller of the Year Award at the Bookseller Industry Awards, describes what goes on.
Storytellers, Inc., our independent children’s bookshop in Lytham St. Annes is two years old now. We had our second birthday in December, and a bumper month of Christmas sales left us feeling pretty satisfied with the way things were going. Long enough to enjoy the three days we took off at Christmas, anyway. Now we’re in the depths of January and we’re lucky if more than five people come through the door all day – including the postmen and couriers. But we can’t let the date deter us and we’ve got some seriously committed customers, so it’s onwards and upwards for 2013.
This year I’ve planned a new promotion that will run through the whole year – the Illustrated Year project is based around a calendar that we’ve produced and sold through the shop. The Storytellers, Inc. Illustrators Calendar, designed in-house and printed locally, features an illustration by a top current illustrator each month. In the shop we’ll be promoting each illustrator in their corresponding month with special offers and events. For schools, we put together a bundle that includes a calendar for the classroom and gift-wrapped delivery of a picture book by that month’s artist along with a sheet of activity. I want each classroom to have their own monthly picture book event in our Illustrated Year whilst giving schools an opportunity to refresh their picture book libraries with some new additions.
We make recommendations and suggestions to customers all the time but our own promotions are another way of making sure books that we feel really excited about get some attention, so this month we’re celebrating everything Chris Riddell, our January illustrator. His Ottoline series is already a good seller for us so we want to showcase the incredible range of books he has worked on. We’re hoping to sell lots of his Far-Flung Adventures to our Ottoline addicts and move some of the older readers on to the Barnaby Grimes books and The Edge Chronicles series. I love illustrated fiction and it’s great to have some books for teens that feature such beautiful drawings, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Coraline as well as some classics like Gulliver’s Travels and Don Quixote are all available with illustrations by Riddell.
We’ve retained our single-copy policy to keep our stock at maximum variety, with the rare exception of titles we’re working on with schools or promoting, or pre-orders of the odd new title, but us for ordering two copies of something is a pretty big deal. We know that it’s the diverse range and our knowledge that keeps our customers coming back. It keeps us at a bit of a distance from blockbusters and best sellers. We showcase each month’s new titles on separate display but we make our own bestsellers through my own scheme, Cool Books in School which runs each term. Last term I used Shrunk! by Fleur Hitchcock, Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner and Phantom Pirates by Daren King. They’ve gone down really well and sales on those authors have continued into the New Year. This term I’ll be championing Northwood by Brian Falkner and Shrinking Violet Definitely Needs a Dog by Lou Kuenzler. Work with local schools is really important to us, especially in a month like this when shop footfall is significantly lighter. We take regular orders from several schools in the area now who have signed up to our Schools package, which gives them additional benefits and discounts.
In-store, our four monthly book clubs are another way of boosting sales of books we love and I am thrilled when members come back looking for other titles by authors we’ve read together – especially when it was a book they didn’t expect to like. Last year, my 10-12 group really loved Cathy Macphail’s Out Of The Depths and David Almond’s My Name Is Mina and I got to give a favourite from my own childhood, The Tulip Touch by Anne Fine, a re-boot. The younger groups’ favourite reads were Linda Newbery’s Lob, Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog and Michael Rosen’s The Fantastic Mr Dahl. We put all the current book club selections on display as another way of giving a thumbs up to customers – some of them can’t or don’t necessarily want to join the club but we notice these books have to be replenished even after all the members have collected. Our newest addition – the Crossover Bookclub is attended by adults only and is our biggest club yet. We only read books that would be stocked here so everything is children’s/YA. It’s meant a lot of our existing customers, who previously only bought for children, are now making purchases for themselves too. Mal Peet’s Life: An Exploded Diagram and Lindsay Barraclough’s Long Lankin went down particularly well. I’ve picked a few of the titles published under the Crossover collaboration between Walker and Canongate for this group too.
We meet a lot of voracious readers, often their reading level has surpassed their age and concerned (but very proud!) parents want to know what they can read that won’t involve material that is too mature. There is plenty out there; action series like Skulduggery Pleasant and Alex Rider appeal to girls as well as boys. Young readers looking for real-life stories enjoy the Elen Caldecott books and adventure series like The Laura Marlin Mysteries, which are perfect for pre-teen readers who aren’t ready for romances.
It can sometimes feel like picture books are dominated by Donaldson and Scheffler, the new (and lovely!) Christmas tradition of a TV adaptation means new fans are constantly converted but the hope is that if you come in for a copy of Room On The Broom maybe you’ll be tempted by the new Ed Vere too, or even better –your child will be! We’re committed to choice and variety and as a small business (just Mother and Daughter – that’s it!) we’re always making sure there is shelf space for new writers and small publishers. We’re all in this together!
Storytellers, Inc. 7 The Crescent, St. Annes on Sea, Lancashire FY8 1SN
Ottoline series by Chris Riddell published by Macmillan Children’s Books
Far-Flung Adventures series by Chris Riddell published by David Fickling Books
Barnaby Grimes series by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell published by Corgi
The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell published by Corgi
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell 9780747594802 £6.99
Coraline by Neil Gaiman illustrated by Dave McKean 9780747562108 £6.99
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver illustrated by Chris Riddell 9781406317480 £9.99
Miguel Cervantes Don Quixote illustrated by Chris Riddell 9781844287475 £16.99
Shrunk! by Fleur Hitchock 9781471400070 £5.99
Operation Bunny Sally Gardner 9781444003727 £5.99
Phantom Pirates Daren King and David Roberts 9780857384089 £4.99
Northwood by Brian Falkner 978-1406341935 £6.99
Shrinking Violet Definitely Needs a Dog Lou Kenzler 9781407130057 £5.99
Out Of The Depths Cathy McPhail 978-0747599098 £5.99
My Name Is Mina David Almond 978-0340997260
The Tulip Touch Anne Fine 978-0140378085 £6.99
Life: An Exploded Diagram Mal Peet 9781844281008
Love That Dog Sharon Creech 978-0747557494 £5.99
Lob Linda Newbery 9781849920490
The Fantastic Mr Dahl Michael Rosen 9780141322131
Long Lankin Lindsey Barraclough 978-0552563215
Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy HarperCollins Children’s Books