We’ve been struggling with our picture book section at the shop for some time now, and by “struggling” I mean that while the category is selling well once we locate the suggested title, often the finding of that exact book has been a bit of a challenge for frontline booksellers in a hurry. The last two years have seen big growth in nonfiction sales, and while some of these fit nicely in that “Who Was….” spinner from Penguin, there’s a LOT happening outside those charming little biographies. We have seen an uptick in interest in nonfiction all over the store, from coding books to germ science, sports to baking. Feminist girl power books, yoga how-to’s (I’m still waiting for someone to do “Can Your Mama Asana?”) and lots of history are getting picture book treatment; our increased sales show that these subjects are definitely in our customers’ bedtime story rotation.
Staff favorite title about a very special service dog.
Writers, illustrators, and designers of picture books pay a lot of attention to the “page turn,” which is the manner in which a book’s text and art invite readers to turn to the next page. There’s an art form to deciding which lines of writing will grace a page, which pages remain blank, where to place the text on a spread, and whether to finish a sentence within the spread or make the reader turn the page to find the sentence ending.
As you can imagine, books filled with surprises, like The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone and Michael Smollin (Golden Books), gleefully and appropriately employ cliff-hanger page turns.
In the tradition of Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book, here’s a quick primer on best practices for customer service in the bookshop, with a little help from some favorite picture books.
Wind-up toy wonderland.
One benefit of working in a bookstore in which I only pick out one department worth of inventory is that I am constantly gifted (or cursed?) with the experience of discovery when I least expect it. Our store offers an enormous selection of gift items, clustered in baskets on the stairs, artfully arranged on fixtures and slatwalls, and curated by our talented gifts buyer Cassie Swank—who talks a lot these days about sloths and geodes and witchy candles. Cassie’s craftiest trick? She positions this case of wind-up toys right at the cash registers. I have yet to get through the line with my kids in tow without picking one up. Continue reading
Our summer off the floor sales have, in keeping with the weather, been pleasantly feverish so far. I’m always interested to see what’s moving fastest and why. What is the breakdown between handselling, and word of mouth driven sales, which titles have caught fire from face-out display alone? Are there any titles which are not selling as I think justice demands? The answer to all these burning questions lies below.
Picture books have been more prone to surprises than other sections. For example, why has Lora Koehler’s The Little Snowplow been selling so well this summer? Did a week of temperatures in the 90’s make people nostalgic for the Maine winter? Surprising but possible. I had absolutely no idea how Greg Gromley’s The Prince and the Pee book would do. Picture books on urinating, however worthy, are somewhat hit and miss. This one has been a hit. Our top seller though has been the fabulous Grumpy Monkey. We have not needed to handsell it much. It draws customers in like a grumpy tide. People pick it up, open the pages, and take a copy home.
Through the serendipity of vacation* reading, I spent two days last week with two memorable heroines of young adult titles to be released this September. It is interesting, isn’t it, how the ARCs in a tote bag, stuffed in the back of your car, manage to rearrange themselves into a perfect order to be plucked out while sitting on the deck at the vacation house? I make it a practice to pull titles without discernment while on holiday, and just plow through the next available paperback galley, without regard to store schedule or nomination deadline – relying instead on the benevolence of the literary universe to put “just the right book” in my hands. The universe rarely disappoints, and this week I am humbled by its generosity and inspiration.
Just four years ago in April, I remember standing in front of a meeting of Catholic high school cheerleaders and fellow parents here in Indianapolis to offer a quick prayer for the team’s year of performances, football halftimes, and competitions ahead. I ended my petition with the following words: “Lord, there are 276 mothers and fathers in Nigeria who would give anything, anything at all, to be thinking about only their girls having fun and competing safely tonight. For those parents, whose daughters were brutally taken away from them, just survival is a dream. Please, please, keep those girls safe, and know that people all over the world are worried and trying to help them get home.”
You may recall the story of Vermont hobby farmers John and Jennifer Churchman, who self-published their picture book locally, were blogged about here in ShelfTalker, and subsequently hit the publishing lottery, winning a three-book deal from Little, Brown in a bidding war among five houses. Now, two and a half years later, the Churchmans (The Sheepover, Brave Little Finn, and A Farm for Maisie) are ushering in their fourth book, Alpaca Lunch. The book may be releasing today, but preparations for its launch began at our store back in January, when we received our first pre-order. Continue reading
The seasons pass (publishing seasons, that is) and we frontlist buyers cannot help but observe obvious trends in picture book as they appear before us in our buying materials. The Fall 2018 lists have two marked trends. The first one is books that convey the idea that we all have differences and we are all alike in having those differences. We find similarities in language, color, and dress, and we share other similarities with those who sound and look differently from us, curiosity, anxiety, the potential for an enriched and expanded belonging. The second trend involves books that seek to convey a meaningful context for the stark ills which trouble our world in the present: war, bigotry, prejudice, and other forms of dangerous misapprehension, exclusion, and violence.
It is hardly surprising that the ills of the world, which are so engrossing and concerning for most of us right now, are front and center in the Fall frontlists as well. What we should tell children about the troubles of our time, their history, their present, and the means for their redress, is a timely preoccupation if there ever was one. It is the centerpiece, for example, of a major anthology being released this September, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices. For this book, 50 acclaimed diverse authors were asked to answer the question “In this divisive world, what shall we tell our children?”
I’m afraid I ran out of time to write a very thoughtful blog this week. Between catching up from being at Children’s Institute and prepping for our annual overnight inventory on Sunday night, things got a little tight. So I thought this week I would just give you all a little window into some of the prep that goes into putting on an operation like inventory at a store like ours.
Store 2 books counted and marked “Do not scan.”
Now that we have a bookfair warehouse and a separate POS system, that inventory needed to be taken into account differently this year. We obviously return a lot from the season, but we do keep books that we absolutely know we’ll need again come September (why pay shipping on books we’re just going to re-order?). So earlier this week, Ellen Greene and Rachel McGinnis from our bookfair team worked to get those books counted and reconciled. Meanwhile, teams of inventory managers and buyers and receivers at the store have been working hard to make sure everything we have in the store is clearly sorted so that our scanning team knows what needs to be scanned and what does not. We technically have a separate “store” in our point of sale system just for large festivals and conferences, so those books need to be kept separate and not scanned with the rest. Of course, they do need to be counted, so I personally spent much of the week counting, sorting, and tracking down those discrepancies. Booksellers have been diligently alphabetizing, and our inventory managers for each section have amped up their regular cycle counts—scanning sections and running discrepancies in advance of inventory to make our job just a little easier. On Sunday, one of our longtime booksellers will also pull out and alphabetize into baskets some kids sections that can’t really be alphabetized normally, like early readers, coloring books, 8x8s, etc. (really books that are shelved in waterfalls and spinners). We also do a turn around the section and pull out any display copies that aren’t in inventory—books we put out to show off the insides of easily damaged books that normally live in shrink wrap. And then we’re as ready as we’ll ever be! Continue reading
There is no question that many of us share the pleasure that Frog and Toad took in tales of terror. “Frog and Toad sat close by the fire. They were scared. The teacups shook in their hands. They were having the shivers. It was a good warm feeling.” We are glad to learn from Clark Ashton Smith that “The skies are haunted by that which it were madness to know; and strange abominations pass evermore between earth and moon and athwart the galaxies. Unnameable things have come to us in alien horror and will come again. ” Why are we cheered by nameless horrors and fetid vapors wafting up from forgotten vaults? The answer to that question lies in the pages of Small Spaces, the middle grade debut of Katherine Arden, whose justly acclaimed adult novels, such as The Bear and the Nightingale and the Girl in the Tower, have blended Russian folklore and history in a sublime manner.