Melissa Bourdon-King was born in Toronto and worked at Mabel's Fables children's bookstore for 12 years, first as a frontline bookseller, then as inventory manager, and then as general manager. In 2015, her love of the industry but her need for an adventure took her to Kelowna, British Columbia where she worked for Bookmanager, helping bookstores across Canada and the US. In 2018, she realized how much she missed putting books into customers' hands and decided to open Once Upon a Bookstore, a children's bookstore in her beloved and adopted hometown of Kelowna. The store will open in July 2019. (See how you can help here.)
Melissa agreed to answer our bookseller questionnaire in this instalment of our series, 5 questions with:
1. Which author would you most like to have for an event in your store (living or dead)?
I've been in the book industry a long time (16 years) and have had the pleasure of working with so many amazing Canadian and international authors, but there's one author who remains on my event bucket list if for no other reason than I am a huge fan, and that is Australian author Garth Nix. I first read his book Sabriel as a 11-year-old girl and it remains one of my favourite books to this day. It would be a huge honour to have him sign my collection and to pick his brain about the Old Kingdom.
2. What attracted you to bookselling?
When I was in grade 10 in Ontario, we had to take a 0.25-credit course called Careers in order to graduate. The class was considered a bit of a joke by 99% of students, but the one thing I got out of it was that we were supposed to pick a job we would like to apply for. I had just recently done my bi-monthly visit to Toronto landmark Mabel's Fables Bookstore, and I thought: "Who wouldn't want to work there?" So I wrote up a resume and cover letter pretending to apply to the store. Except then my mother got involved, and actually sent the resume and cover letter in to Eleanor LeFave, the owner, and then before I knew it I was being hired! It was all kind of a blur, but I knew even from those first few months there, that this was the perfect place for me. I was in love with the store, in love with the stories, and there continues to be few things that bring me greater joy than knowing you are putting the perfect book into a customer's hand.
3. What's your favourite bookselling war story?
My favourite one is a story I heard recently that's not my own, but I feel is very relevant to booksellers everywhere.
A woman came to an independent store looking for a business book — she didn't know the title but knew it might be red with the word "good" in it. The bookseller, whose store carried a good selection of business books because of their location and community, knew right away the one she was talking about and brought her over to the section. She asked for eight copies, which they had, and she happily brought them to the register. But as she was at the counter, she said, "Oh, this book is $3 more per copy than on Amazon. I should probably leave these here and go order them online." Now at this point, many a bookseller may have lost their cool, or become emotional, but this bookseller took a deep breath and said, "Do you have a moment to talk about this?" The customer replied that they did, and here's what the bookseller said:
"You're able to leave these copies here, and go order them online, and you will receive them sometime in the next one to four days, but, when you walked in, you weren't even sure what exact book you were looking for and we helped you find it. We also have exactly the number of copies that you need, so you can head back to the office right now and begin implementing your education and training strategy. So I guess you have to ask yourself whether price is more important than immediacy and service."
The customer immediately apologized and said, "I'm so sorry. I don't know what I was thinking." She thanked the bookseller for gently reminding her of what was important and walked out of the store with the eight copies and a smile on her face.
I just love this story.
4. What is the most pressing issue facing bookselling today?
For Canadian booksellers, I believe the most pressing issue is distribution — getting the books into the store. US booksellers are able to get books in 24 to 48 hours from certain publishers and wholesalers; as Canadian booksellers, we just don't have the same level of access. I know that efforts are continually being made by Canadian publishers and wholesalers to get stock to stores more efficiently, but I feel we are still at a disadvantage to our American friends. Inventory management is such a critical part of keeping a store in the black and being able to replenish books that are selling more quickly is vital to the health of all booksellers in the age of online retail.
5. What forthcoming book are you most excited about?
How will I pick just one? I'm a huge YA enthusiast, and one of my favourite authors, Maggie Stiefvater, has a new series launching this fall. I'm also beyond excited for the new Pigeon book by Mo Willems, and, as a child of the early '90s, knowing that Sharon, Lois and Bram's Skinnamarink is coming out just fills me with joy.
BONUS: An aunt comes in looking for a gift for her niece, who likes embroidery and Proust, just got a new job on a cruise line, and whose beloved schnauzer just passed away. What do you recommend?
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson — it's a lush romantic story of a woman who meets a man in the burn unit of a hospital after he's been in a horrific car accident that has left him quite disfigured. She tells him that they're lovers, and have been across centuries, and the novel unfolds with her telling him their love story across the ages. It is lush, it is vivid, it has everything — I read it one summer when I was travelling through Europe and it was a perfect companion.
Great answers to these questions. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.
Find all of our bookseller responses to this questionnaire here.