Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Basking in the Awesome

Sarah Bunting's Tomato Nation has raised $101,280 dollars for an organization called Donors Choose in the last month. Check that number, people: $101,280. That, my friends, is the very definition of "awesome."

Let me give you a little background. Donors Choose is an organization that helps US teachers fund projects for their classrooms that they otherwise could not afford. The teacher comes up with a project, researches the costs, then writes up a proposal and sends it in to Donors Choose. Someone at Donors Choose vets the proposal (they ask teachers to include a 15% Project Fullfillment in their proposals to cover their own labor and costs, but they do not require it), then puts the proposal up on the website. Anyone can then click on that propsal (there are many ways to search for projects on the site) and make a donation to fund all or part of that specific project. All donors get a thank you email from the teacher once a project is funded, and donors who fully fund a project (or donate $100 or more to a specific project) get a box of thank you letters from the class that they've just helped. Once a project is funded, Donors Choose buys the materials from the proposal and sends the materials directly to the teacher, so you know that your donation is going for exactly what you intended it for.

Last October, Donors Choose beta-tested a Blogger's Challenge, asking prominent bloggers to pick some projects and challenge their readers to fund them. Sars set her initial goal at $25,000, and promised to shave her head if they made it to $30,000. Crazy-wonderful Tomato Nation readers raised the money in a week, and Sars dutifully shaved her head. This year, the contest ran full out, and Sars outdid herself: the initial goal was $35,000; at $40,000, she agreed to go to work all day (she works at 30 Rock in New York), do a dance at lunchtime in the courtyard (the Angela post-kiss dance from My So Called Life), and go out for drinks after work all while wearing a tomato costume (and being filmed for posterity); at $45,000, she'd throw in another $5,000 herself. Claire Danes (who has supported Donors Choose in the past) contacted Sars and said if the donations reached $55,000, she would also donate $5,000, bringing the total to $60,000. It took the Tomato Nation 3 1/2 days to break all these goals, forcing Sars to up her goal for the month to $100,000. On October 24th, the final project in her challenge was funded.

Let's think about that for a minute, shall we? Over 15,000 students across the US have been directly affected by the generosity of 1099 individuals, all in 24 days. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it. It was so much fun that I was inspired to start this blog, simply for the privelege of joining the challenge next year and pitting my Geek Nation up against the mighty Tomato Nation.

So get ready, Bunting. Next October, it's a Donors Choose throwdown!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Shameless Plug (tm Rick)

I've got a couple of book reviews up over on Revolution SF, one for Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts, and one for Norm Partridge's Dark Harvest. Both books were excellent and are highly recommended.

I've also compiled a list of the top 6.66 ghosts, with one on devils still to come, so keep checking back there for more Halloween-y goodness. These lists are always fun, because inevitably someone's absolute favorite gets left off the list, causing great consternation. And what could be better for Halloween Eve than a healthy dose of consternation?

I hope I managed to list your faves, and if I didn't, let me know what I left off, and why it should be there.

The Science of Selling Books (part 1)

That faint sound of grinding gears that you hear is retailers ramping up for the holiday season (yes, I know it's not even Halloween yet, but that's not going to stop the creeping holiday-ism from spreading). I've spent the last 15 holiday seasons on the sales floor of a bookstore, and I've learned a few things: 1) don't go for the leopard-trimmed santa hat unless you can pull it off, 2)it ain't Christmas if Eartha Kitt ain't singing "Santa Baby," and 3) people always wait till the last minute and are therefore desperate for you to suggest books for them to buy.

Now, we've all got our favorites, but the key to handselling on the sales floor is listening, not talking. You need to cater your responses to the needs of the customer; Max Brooks's World War Z might be the best book you've ever read, but if the last book your customer read was by Nicholas Sparks, then a zombie book just isn't going to cut it, no matter how awesome it is. So you need to ask some questions: What kind of books do you like? Who's your favorite author? Is this book a gift for someone else?

It seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how many sales opportunities are missed because the clerk doesn't take the time to find out what the customer really wants.