If you were at the Romantic Times convention in Orlando recently, you may have seen a particularly attractive redhead running around with a killer smile and a To Die For tiara. Not that a tiara — or any accessory of excess, come to think of it — is out of place at RT, but this tiara was not for the Queen of the Faerie Ball. This jeweled crown sat on the head of one of our industry’s most revered and adored individuals: The Bookseller of the Year.
This year, that honor went to Dena Russ of B&L Books in Altamonte Springs, Florida. And this week, it is our privilege to have Dena join us at MSW to talk about the thing she does better than anyone else: sell books! Boy oh boy, can this gorgeous woman sell books!
Let me back up a little. I’ve called Dena a friend for a few years now. We first met at RT in Daytona and she saw my name tag and paid me the ultimate compliment: a fangirl squee! We bonded instantly. Dena is an articulate, energetic, adorable fan of books in general and romance in particular. When I walked into her store later that year to do a signing, I instantly knew it reflected her personality. Bright, light, and packed with F-U-N, Dena runs a bookstore that makes a visitor feel welcome, happy, and ready to buy. Well-organized, spacious, and browser-friendly, B&L Books is a destination store for many readers, despite a multitude of alternatives in malls and strip centers all over central Florida. I’m thrilled to call her a fan because when she likes your books…she sells the hell out of your books!
So, it was no surprise to me that Dena was selected as Bookseller of the Year, but apparently it was to her! She’s agreed to take a pause from her fantastic handselling today and answer few of my questions. In addition, she’s promised to pop in periodically to answer any questions of yours, chat about books, or just make you all smile. To keep things lively, I’m going to randomly select one question/comment and the winner will receive a copy of an ARC that Dena just finished and says she lurved. (Go ahead, you can ask her about it!!) So comment or question and ein an Advanced Review Copy of HUNT HER DOWN, the next Bullet Catcher book.
So, if you don’t have the pleasure of already knowing her, let me introduce you to one of my favorite people in bookselling….Dena Russ, Romantic Times 2009 Bookseller of the Year!
Congratulations and welcome to MSW, Dena! Please tell us how your felt when they announced your name at RT as Bookseller of the Year?
Thank you! I am delighted to be here and can honestly say that I was completely and totally surprised when they called my name. I had no clue and was honored to get the title. This is an award all booksellers should strive to get and feel proud to earn.
You’ve heard the horror stories. Chains closing stores. Indies getting squashed. Distributors shutting doors. Sales are down, retail sucks, the economy is in the tank. However, B&L books is enjoying success and profit, experiencing growth while stores in the near vicinity are closing. What’s your secret?
There is no secret! I am very passionate about my job and what I do. I love making people happy and want them to read books they are going to enjoy. But if I had to narrow it down I would say one of the main things is the awesome computer program we use, and the other would that we make our customers feel special…after all, they are. My personal goal everyday in my store is to make sure each and every customer walks out with a smile on her face and a longing to get back in here.
Yes, bookstores have closed in my area, but they didn’t have a computer database working for them, and those booksellers conducted business strictly by memory. That’s hard to do! The computer program we use does many things, but primarily it keeps track of all the books customers read. I can’t keep track of what they buy at the other stores, but if they bought it at B&L, I know it. So I can suggest more like it. Even better, I know what they’ve read, so when that customer walks in the story, I know what’s coming out tht they will like. Customers are looking for knowledgeable staff and they expect you to do everything but read the book for them — which I do, by the way. I am an avid reader.
I guess my customers always feel special because we cater to them. We always suggest purchases, make sure they know what’s coming out from their favorite author, and can guide them to similar authors as well. I think that’s the key to my success.
I’ve been there and you have an incredible atmosphere in your store. How do you do it?
Thank you! I do what ever I can to make a customer’s experience fun and worth their precious time. As an independent store, we don’t have to play by corporate rules, we make our own. We have more flexibility and control over our store. We know most all of our customers by name and when they walk in, they are greeted with a “Hey Holly, I have something you are going to love!” Everyone likes to feel wanted — that’s human nature. And it keeps people coming back. Our customers are like extended family!
I can vouch for that! Just last week, I met several readers who identify themselves as “Dena’s customer.” It’s like an elite club! How do you develop relationships with readers — it can’t all be the computer system. How do you determine what they’d like and how do you keep up with the market?
I talk to them! People want to be talked to and enjoy themselves. We are not a library, so in our store, everyone is welcome to get loud and have some fun! When a customer comes in and asks what she should be reading, I really talk to them about what they like or dislike, about what movies they love, what authors they’ve read in the past. That is usually all I need to steer them to the right author.
Do you do any kind of special promotions?
The only kind of promotions we do in our store is put up cover flats at least 5 weeks in advance — so authors and publicists, please send me your cover flats! The customers are always looking at my cork boards to see what is coming out next.
Who are your favorite authors?
With so many to choose from that is hard. I absolutely love Roxanne St. Claire (I swear I didn’t pay her!), Karen Rose, Lori Foster, Allison Brennan, Jordan Dane, Marlis Melton, Lora Leigh, Lorelei James, Mariah Stewart, Shannon Butcher. The list could go on forever because I love romance!
What trends do you love? Miss? Have had enough of?
I love the whole bodyguard, Navy SEAL, tough macho man hero, and I love the suspense. And of course don’t forget my cowboys! I love them. I guess I would say I miss time travel and would like to see more of it. What have I had enough of? Books taking to long to come out —LOL! There isn’t really any area I personally have had enough of, but my customers might say they are over the whole vampire thing, but certain paranormal authors will always be strong sellers.
Has the popularity of e-books affected sales for you?
Not really, because your hard core booklovers love just that the book. I have several customers who do ebooks, but still buy the book in print.
What can authors do to make your job easier/better?
Send cover flats! I would love to get more promo materials like bookmarks and covers and of course the ARC’s are great. If I get a book before it is published I read it and then know who would want to read that book. Please mail them to:
990 N.S.R. 434, Suite 1140
Altamonte Springs, FL 32714.
Dena, you have rightfully earned the coveted title of Bookseller of the Year! Congratulations and thank you for all you do to get our books into the hands of readers!
Readers and writers – anything you want to ask Dena about books, the market, sales techniques, or wearing a crown with such style, now’s your chance! (Remember, one comment wins and ARC of my September 2009 release, HUNT HER DOWN.) We love you, Dena!