Thursday, September 8, 2016

Schuler Books: An Indie Interview with Whitney Spotts by Carol J. Verboncoeur

Schuler Books has been a staple in the mid-Michigan community since 1982 with stores in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Okemos. Schuler Books hosts a variety of fun and informative events including: writing workshops, book clubs, author readings, story time and so much more. Events coordinator, Whitney Spotts was kind enough to give us a glimpse behind the scenes.

Tell us a little bit about your job at Schuler Books? 

I manage the author events for three Schuler locations, so every day is a little different! I spend an inordinate amount of time on email, corresponding with publisher contacts, local media, and authors, but the best part is obviously hosting the authors. I've met so many interesting people, and been exposed to so many different subjects than the normal person. There's always something to enjoy or learn from. 

Was there an event at your store that remains particularly memorable? Something surprising that happened, a wonderful chain reaction, or a day that went terribly wrong? 

My favorite events have been the times I've worked with David Sedaris - he is always hysterical and you never know what will happen (like unexpected raunchy jokes over the intercom). On one particular tour, David was collecting and telling jokes from all of his fans. There was one woman loudly complaining about how long the signing was taking, and in a quiet lull, everyone, including David, loudly heard her say "He has to tell every person  some goddamn joke." You could hear a pin drop and David sweetly cocked his head and said, "Well, I guess I'll have to sign your book next." The woman turned purple and slowly walked up to the table, just mortified. He grabs her book, smiled and said, "You wanna hear a joke?" It was the best thing I'd ever seen.

What advice can you give to authors and illustrators who are preparing for bookstore appearances?  

First off, know whether you will be talking, or just signing. If you're talking, every presentation is a little different, so just be sure to communicate with the bookstore. Some authors do full-scale presentations with visuals like a slide-show, others simply talk and read. It makes no difference to us - we just want you to be comfortable so that the presentation goes smoothly. So do what feels natural to you, and rehearse it a little before your first talk. Readings aren't done as much anymore (except for picture books) -- most readers want to know the story behind the book, what your process is, what got you here. If you do decide to read, definitely keep it short: 5, no more than 10 minutes or people get antsy.

Do you have any particular advice for children’s authors and illustrators?

For children's book authors and illustrators, I would just say that you should have practiced reading your story aloud, holding the book or whatever demo instruments you have. Rehearse the presentation. We love it when authors and illustrators have their own activities or activity sheets; we are happy to print-off copies and provide supplies -- just let us know in advance so we can prep the space or any supplies you need! Be very clear what you need and what you will be bringing.

Tell us about some of your upcoming events at Schuler Books.

I am SO excited about what's coming up this fall. We have confirmed a stop on the Jan Brett Gingerbread Christmas tour at our Okemos store on December 3rd, and are working out the details for an event at our Grand rapids store with Patricia Polacco! We are also excited to have middle grade author Mike Lupica to tour Okemos store on Sept. 19th as well as hosting a zombie themed event for middle grade author Max Brallier at our Lansing store on October 29th! It's going to be an awesome fall season, so keep an eye on our website for details on these and other events!

Carol J. Verboncoeur writes middle grade fantasy and science fiction under the pseudonym, CJ Verb. Her blog History Bites shares quirky bits of history and delightful treasures from museums near and far.  She is a docent at the Michigan State University Museum and serves on the executive board of the Capital City Writers Association

Coming up on the Mitten blog: An SCBWI-MI volunteer tribute, Behind the Conference Scenes, and another round of Hugs and Hurrahs. We want to trumpet your good news! Please send your children's writing or illustrating news to Patti Richards by Sept. 25th.

See you next Friday!
Kristin Lenz


  1. Good advice. We all dream about those bookstore signings, but have heard the stories about the poor author sitting alone with his pile of books. Any advice to make sure that doesn't happen (besides inviting my entire family)?

  2. It is all about knowing your audience, and being able to reach them. As you begin the publishing process, it is a good idea to develop a mailing list. Not just friends and family (though please include those, too!) but also reading groups, businesses, and those that would be within your target audience. Also, some books are better fitted to a signing-only, vs. a talk with signing. And that varies bookstore to bookstore, and city to city.
    The event coordinator will typically suggest the best option for your book, and will factor in things like: other events in town, time of day, time of year. The bookstore WANTS you to be successful and sell your books. And an experienced event coordinator will be able to determine which format will be the best for achieving the highest sales.

    Another thing to do is ask to have your book on consignment in the stores for several weeks on display (high visibility) before requesting an event. This will allow sales to speak for themselves, and will help you gauge local interest.

    Also, distributing a press release to local media about your upcoming bookstore event and adding your event to online local calendars will work wonders to broaden your reach.