A Whale of a Tale Children’s Bookshoppe pulls in some of publishing’s biggest authors—including J.K. Rowling and Jon Scieszka. Owner Alex Uhl (featured above) accomplishes it by partnering with schools and libraries for her events. Though her store is small in size, Uhl is big on ideas.
While she likes to give new authors opportunities, it’s not easy to promote a first book. “Especially in the libraries,” says Uhl. “There needs to be name recognition to pull in an audience.” But once in the local library, her events can accommodate 500 people or so. “I bring all the books. We can set up a green room for the author. It makes it more comfortable.”
Well-known authors can get away with just a signing, says Uhl. “But I think the way you fall in love with an author is to hear them speak, and have the author introduce their book to an audience. If you don’t have that opportunity, it’s hard to climb the ranks.”
For new authors, she recommends school visits. “First, the book has to resonate, so I can match the author to a school. Some schools do a better job than others. Over the years I’ve worked with teachers to let them know what makes a good event. If the kids aren’t prepared, it doesn’t go as well.”
Another way Uhl works with schools is to accept their purchase orders. “I have a few principals whose teachers come here to pick out books. They have a dollar amount per student. Sometimes I’ll order classroom sets.
“You have to stay pretty competitive for that, so that means some deep discounts. It’s also a lot of work, but I’m willing to do it. You don’t make a lot of money, but I believe that the more you give, the more you get back.”
Alex Uhl in her store, as depicted in the background of this illustration by FANCY NANCY illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser.
Uhl offers her patrons a level of service that’s not usually possible online or in the big box stores. She knows the books, as well as the authors. The shop walls are decorated with original sketches from some of the most celebrated picture book illustrators. Robin Preiss Glasser, of FANCY NANCY fame, has even captured Uhl’s likeness in one of her books.
A Whale of a Tale offers its guests cookies and an inviting atmosphere for browsing. Little wonder, then, that a young customer declared the store her favorite place in the whole wide world. “We were closed on Memorial Day, but I had to come into the store to get some work done. One of my regulars—a little girl with her grandparents—pulled up just as I did. She was so happy to see me. Why wouldn’t I open the store for her?
“It becomes a community of families. I’ve been in business long enough to see kids grow up, and then bring in their own children. That’s the most rewarding thing.”