Author Archives: Kenny Brechner

Confessions of a Galley Slave

Kenny Brechner -- January 29th, 2015

Bookseller to bookseller ARC reviews – honest, direct, and informative, divorced of vested interest – are extremely useful to frontlist buyers. With NECBA’s venerable Galley Review Project having slowed down from a spate, to a stream, to a trickle, they are very hard to come by now. The primary purpose of these reviews was discovery, as it should be, of course. Discovery is the main thing, to be sure, but what of all the sequels of the great series books you discovered? Therein lies the secret shame and source of frustration for many frontlist buyers. The pressure of discovery makes it very difficult to find time to read series sequels that you were dying to read when you finished book one.

My own nightstand is telling. The Whispering Skull, The Infinite Sea, and Knightley and Son K-9, stare ominously at me. “We are out now, and you have abandoned us,” they say. The Mime Order, Half Wild, The Lost City, and The Golden Specific, emanate their own brand of opprobrium. “Be fair,” I say. “Look at your neighbor, The Buried Giant, I promised Pam Kaufman I’d read it.” They are unmoved.” You said you loved us and we are unread,” they say. It really is a dilemma; not only are there the warring promises and duties, but customers ask about Book Twos all the time, customers you handsold Book One to. They have come to share your love of Book One, why haven’t you read Book Two?

Something must be done. I’m galled to the quick, I tell you. With this in mind I did four things. First, I went on a binge read of some sequels I’ve most wanted to read. Second, I came up with a sequel-oriented layout for series sequel reviews, essentially modifying the discovery oriented layout of the NECBA reviews. Third, I posted two of them here as examples.

9780670017133Half Wild, by Sally Green
9780670017133 – March 2105
Viking

Follow up to: Half Bad.

The Lowdown: Half Wild magnifies the themes and qualities of its predecessor in a masterful manner. Both the actions and the perceptions of its characters are subject to multiple perspectives and present an aggressive moral challenge to the reader. For example, lead character Nathan’s first person voice is completely honest, and yet the accuracy of his information and his impressions, as well as the nature of his character and his actions are dynamically unsettled.

The Bottom line: Splendid characters, unrelenting narrative tension, and intellectually engaging scenarios make Half Wild a stupendously entertaining read.

Anguish Level at Having to Wait for Book 3: High

The Core Audience:  Some series’ such as Hunger Games and Harry Potter,  elevated their content from book to book. This is not so of this superb series. It has been upper YA from the get-go and certainly stays there. It is visceral and violent, and its depiction of sexuality, though not graphic, is strong and emotive. Great stuff but not a go-to book for 10-year-olds reading above grade level.

Unexpected Bonus(es): One is always pleased to see one’s own personal activities get a shout-out, and Half Wild delivered a few.

  1. Appetite Suppressant:  Even Julia Child would have been put off by some of Nathan’s meals when he first exercises his gift.
  2. Hiking mountains: Nathan’s tendency to spend any down time he has obsessively doing strenuous hikes will be very welcome to any readers who happen to be hikers.
  3. Porridge. Those of us who make oatmeal for breakfast most mornings will find Nathan’s habit of making his own porridge every morning, even when fattier options are available, to be very bracing indeed. Thank you, Sally Green!

(Series Support Level Scale:

1= Book Two is even better than or just as good as Book One – must recruit more readers for Book One.
2= Book Two is wobbly but still worthy – must make sure readers of book one have got it.
3= Book Two has veered off course badly. It’s game over for the series.)

Half Wild Support Level  = 1

9781620408933The Mime Order, by Samantha Shannon
9781620408933  – February 2015
Bloomsbury

Follow up to: The Bone Season.

The Lowdown: The Mime Order follows Paige Mahoney’s development from Sheol 1 escapee to Syndicate Underqueen. The book succeeds in sustaining interest in its lead character throughout the story; however, the central section suffers from some contrived narrative devices. Shannon keeps using the same method over and over again to move Paige around to all the scenes she needs to have. Paige keeps running off, flouting Jaxon’s standing order not to do that. Jaxon is steamed when she gets back, but lets it go. Though Jaxon is seen to be steadily drinking more, this repeated device has the overall effect of making him seem static and inexplicably treading water. Good scenes certainly do happen in the middle section, but it feels like the author couldn’t figure out how to make them happen credibly. Once the table is fully laid, however, the final section of the book is really strong. The culminating scene, a scrimmage in which most of the syndicate aristocracy, Mime Lords, Queens, and Mollishers, duke it out in an arena to determine the next syndicate ruler, is sensationally entertaining and imaginative.  Even in this moment of triumphant spectacle I did find myself thinking that no ruling elite would have allowed a formal means of succession which involved essentially decapitating itself.

The Bottom Line: Though it wobbles a bit, the book does carry the core story forward and manages to sustain readers’ interest throughout. Big action scenes, evocative imaginative flourishes, and strong romantic currents will deliver what readers of Book One came back for. Book Three will be life and death for this series.

Anguish Level at Having to Wait for Book 3: High

The Core Audience:  Though published as adult, this is clearly a 16 and up crossover book.

Unexpected Bonus(es):

Great names for syndicate leaders:  The Pale Dreamer, the White Binder, The Hare, the Rag and Bone Man, The Wicked Lady, The Bully-Rook, and many more.

(Series Support Level Scale:

1= Book Two is even better than or just as good as Book One – must recruit more readers for Book One.
2= Book Two is wobbly but still worthy – must make sure readers of book one have got it.
3= Book Two has veered off course badly. It’s game over for the series.)

 

Mime Order Support Level  = 2

Fourth: I put forward right now that booksellers should find a means for producing and sharing series sequel reviews either on local regional listservs, ABC, or some other platform.

The Rhyming Couplet and Quatrain Epitaph Contest

Kenny Brechner -- January 22nd, 2015

Have you heard  that rhyming couplets in picture books are about to be revealed in a prominent medical journal as a serious health hazard? That being, umm, true, it is time to take stock of this soon to be extinct genre. It is time for the Rhyming Couplet and Quatrain Epitaph Contest.

Caution-Biological-HazardFirst of all, though, you may possibly wish to know more about the medical hazards posed by rhyming couplets and quatrains.  Here is what I can reveal at this time. This information is based entirely on what was leaked to me by a contributing scientist who has insisted on remaining nameless at present because “this is the most hazardous research I have ever been associated with. We simply didn’t use enough safeguards, and it is still unknown whether the cognitive deterioration exhibited by our entire team will prove to be reversible.” I’m sure you can understand her reticence. All right – so here is what we know so far.

  1. Rhyming Couplets and Quatrains In Picture Books (RCQIPB) has been  directly correlated  o a neurological disorder in readers called the Bappity Syndrome (BS). BS is marked by the dissociation of words from meaning and context, not only during the reading of the book but for a prolonged period afterwards. Adult readers with a saturation point exposure to RCQIPB were 278% more likely to have automobile accidents resulting from confounding traffic signs, 317% likelier to purchase food they didn’t want to actually eat because it rhymed with something already in the shopping cart, and 9,178% likelier to hug inanimate objects like rugs and mugs.
  2. RCQIPB has been firmly established as a form of malign hypnosis which makes its readers susceptible to the sort of latent behavioral triggers made famous in The Manchurian Candidate. RCQIPB therefore constitutes both a national and a global security crisis.
  3. 53% of subjects given prolonged exposure to RCQIPB experienced catastrophic cognitive decline marked by the gradual subsuming of all verbal and written communications in a nonsensical sub language the researchers termed Ippity, which is marked by communication devoid of meaning in both structure or even purpose.
  4. The findings regarding the effects of RCQIPB on children were found to be far, far more egregious but ultimately reversible if successfully exposed to Harriet the Spy.

These are, apparently, only some of the findings to be revealed in the prominent medical journal. If the article fails to appear that would certainly make this matter all the more poignant, as we would have to assume that these intrepid researchers had succumbed to the effect of BS, and were constitutionally unable to complete their paper.

In the meantime one feels that it is certainly time to write the epitaph for RCQIPB, something along the lines of .

Oh rhymes of which we must henceforth refrain
Think now of all the books of which you were the bane
Find peace and be just at your long overdue fate
Consider how even this rhyming epitaph does grate

And so forth. Post your entry below and be eligible for a sensational prize!

Kathy Space: Penguin Kids Inside Sales Rep Extraordinaire

Kenny Brechner -- January 15th, 2015

I wanted to take a moment today to recognize someone who has been an outstanding industry colleague of mine for many years, my Penguin Kids inside sales rep, Kathy Space. Kathy has been my rep at Penguin for her entire tenure there, 17 years. My Penguin inside sales reps have all been good, but Kathy has been exceptional. Always passionate about her job, always focused, effective and personal in her outreach, Kathy has been a consummate professional.

kathyspace

That’s Kathy in the middle on the right. When I was NECBA co-chair, back in the day, and was putting together an education program for the NEIBA trade show called How to Make Publishers Love You, we invited Kathy to be on the panel. A few of her NECBA buyers went out to dinner with her afterwards. None of us had met her in person before. Even the napkins were excited to get to meet her in person.

The depth of her professionalism has never been more evident than in this last year. With the Penguin/Random House merger the clock has been ticking on Kathy’s time there. Rather than coasting to the end, Kathy continued to be an enthusiastic and dynamic proponent of Penguin’s children’s books every day of her last year there. She continued to work with me on all my recent schemes to promote any favorite books that happened to be Penguin.

Over the years I worked with Kathy on all kinds of DDG educational outreach programs, in-store promotions, and institutional purchase order researching issues beyond number. We had a lot of fun and sold a lot of books by working together. When I first had the idea to bring a class set of ARCs for review in 2003 it was Kathy I called. Through Wereworld campaigns and Common Core price quote marathons, Kathy was my go-to rep.

Things change, as you may have had occasion to notice yourself. Things come to an end. The PRH merger means a new rep for me. It doesn’t mean my new rep won’t be great. It does mean, however, that it is time to take a moment to recognize someone who’s been a terrific book industry colleague to many of us for many years. It does mean that is time to say a goodbye, and the best wishes ever, to Kathy Space.

An Interview with the Year 2015

Kenny Brechner -- January 6th, 2015

Another Year walks among us now and I am pleased to offer her insights into what lays ahead in this exclusive interview!

Kenny: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

The Year 2015: Don’t be silly. It’s my pleasure, Kenny.

Kenny: I’m curious about your portrait. You appear to have just received some profoundly good news. Had you just heard about your appointment as the Year 2015 from The Council of Years?

The Year 2015: That was a grand moment too, but the scene captured in my portrait occurred last week, when I received the letter back from the Upper Council concerning the Damocles Edict. I was so pleased!

Kenny: Hold on a moment. I’m a bit out to sea. The Upper Council? The Damocles Edict?

The Year 2015: Well, Kenny, the Council of Years is a subcommittee which operates under the aegis of The Upper Council. When a new Year is appointed one of our first tasks pertains to making a submission regarding the Damocles Edict, which is then reviewed by the Upper Council.

Kenny: I see. Can you tell us about this Damocles Edict? I mean, I’m familiar with his sword and all.

The Year 2015: Yes, it is the same idea but on rather a larger scale. Actually, you may not want to know about this.

Kenny: I think I do.

The Year 2015: Hmmm. Well, many members of the Upper Council take rather a dim view of humanity. An edict for your destruction was passed in the Year 1520. However the incoming Year 1521 made a case on humanity’s behalf and the edict was revised so that each incoming year must submit one human artistic production made during the current year to The Upper Council. The chosen production should be of such a character as to show humanity’s ability to both perceive what is of fundamental importance and to work toward attaining it. Humanity was given an abeyance of ten years by The Upper Council. If the annual submission is not deemed worthy the number of years until destruction is then reduced by one. If the submission is particularly strong the Council will sometimes raise the counter back upward!

Kenny: Unbelievable. That’s terrifying.

The Year 2015: Yes, you can see why the edict was renamed The Damocles Edict. In any case my submission was of particular importance as the number was down to one.

doryKenny: *Gasp*. I guess the fact that we are holding this conversation indicates that you chose well. What did you send the council?

The Year 2015: I sent them a copy of Dory Fantasmagory. They absolutely loved it and raised the number all the way back up to 10! Unprecedented!

Kenny: Phew. Well spotted! It is a sensational and wonderful book, and I can certainly see how it would save humanity from extinction. Can you share with us some of the other books written last year that you considered submitting?

The Year 2015: Sure! First of all, bear in mind that books which essentially explore and describe the fallibility and quandaries of humanity, however poignantly, do not make for wise submissions to the Upper Council. Hence such books as All The Light We Cannot See, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, or Deep Down Dark, regardless of their excellence, are not quite the thing here.

Kenny: Point noted. Though I would think that lines like this one from Deep Down Dark, “The mine is like him: flawed and neglected but worthy of respect and love,” might be persuasive.

The Year 2015:  That is a marvelous passage, but the Upper Council would have found it to be affirming of their prejudices rather than redemptive. All right then. Two books I did give a great deal of consideration to were The Glass Sentence and The Magician’s Land. Maintaining personal integrity amidst a fractured world, the ability to grow and be strengthened by gnosis, to achieve responsibility and unfettered atonement seemed fruitful to me. I would have felt confident submitting them to the council. Two others I gave thought to were Vanilla Ice Cream, and Julia’s House for Lost Creatures. Those are both books which I felt would have turned the Council’s thoughts in a constructive direction.

Kenny: One last question. If your submission had failed and the Damocles Edict had fallen, would you have died or ceased to be along with humanity?

The Year 2015: No, but I would have been out of a job.

Kenny: Gotcha. Thanks so much, both for taking the time for this interview, and for saving humanity.

The Year 2015: It was my pleasure on both counts, Kenny.

The Oddest Week of the Year

Kenny Brechner -- January 2nd, 2015

georg-wilhelm-friedrich-hegel-german-philosopherIf Friedrich Hegel had been a modern-day independent bookseller, the period between Christmas and New Year’s would have been his favorite time period. It is the most dialectical week of the year, I mean to say. Consider the sudden extinction of momentum, followed by the retrograde motion of reflection and exhaustion arcing back around and then upward toward restoration and re-invigoration. Consider also the spiraling vortexes of inventory taking and replenishment, alongside the retrograde action of accounting and tax preparation. It’s Reason in History made flesh, and I’m certain Hegel would have loved it. Speaking for myself, I cannot claim to be so lofty. I find it to be the oddest, most disorienting week of the year. That being so I sought some guidance from Friedrich Hegel himself.

Brechner: One thing I wonder about is whether to bring Plenty More back in with numbers. Normally cookbooks don’t sell much outside the fourth quarter but that one is just so exceptional.

Hegel: Oh indeed. I think you should. Eating vegetables is hardly a seasonal event, and the book’s novel organization, aligned with its stunning graphics, give it every indication of being a world historical cookbook.

Brechner: Thanks. Was there any strong seller this season that you do think was very holiday-specific despite not having an overt holiday theme?

hegelHegel:  This may be hard for you to hear but I’m going to speak of Crap Taxidermy. I know you did wonders with it but with the holiday season gone by it will go back to being a fun thing to flip through at the store and cease to be the perfect gift for anyone with a sense of humor.

Brechner: I hear you. But what about the bigger picture, that subtle sense of transition, of the store’s identity shedding a skin and needing to be slightly reinvented at the very moment one feels most inclined to coast and preserve its culminating annual moment? How does one embrace the annual mundane year-end pressures when one is least disposed to them?

Hegel:I can understand your sentiments, but movement has no sentiment.  And whether you direct it or are simply subject to it is your province. But think, does the helmsman ride the storm only to run upon a reef in calm waters the next day due to inattention?

Brechner: Good point. Well, thanks for sharing your perspective with us.

Hegel: Not at all. And do bear in mind, as you move forward, that our epoch is a birth-time, and a period of transition. The spirit of man has broken with the old order of things hitherto prevailing, and with the old ways of thinking, and is in the mind to let them all sink into the depths of the past and to set about its own transformation. A very happy New Year to all of you.

A Tale of Two Counters

Kenny Brechner -- December 26th, 2014

The holiday season, for booksellers who are at the store every day,  is a single long wave and as it begins to recede tired minds sift through the happy debris of warm, funny, odd, and intense moments that remain. Here is a woman coming in to replace the Elf on the Shelf which the family dog had mauled. “It’s not his fault,” she reported. There’s a four-year-old girl telling us how she’d picked out  Uni the Unicorn as a gift for her father. “He’s going to love it so much!”

mainestonemirascope

Our friends at Mainestone Jewelry.

One of these moment I wanted to share occurred a week ago, last Thursday that is. Sam, one of my college staffers, was looking around the store for interesting items to help demo the Mirascope sitting on our cash register counter. A fun thing about the Mirascope, winner of the Best Science Toy at our Stocking Stuffer of the Year Awards, is to try out different objects in it. He had the idea of going two stores down the street to Mainestone Jewelry, one of my favorite local stores, and a very good neighbor.  They have a display of small stones for 25 cents each.

twocountSam was away much longer than expected. He returned with a cup full of intriguing objects, small stones, pins, medallions, and broaches. “They couldn’t stop playing with it,” said Sam. “They gave us all this stuff for free.” I immediately sent him down with a free Mirascope as a thank you. Ten minutes later customers who had seen the Mirascope on the counter at Mainestone started filing into the bookstore to buy them from us.  In five days, between our two counters, I had sold all 64 Mirascopes I’d had on hand when I sent Sam down the street. It wasn’t a calculated marketing move, just the holiday season at work among downtown neighbors.

Exercising Through the Holidays

Kenny Brechner -- December 18th, 2014

I was changing into my bathing suit last Friday morning in the locker room at the UMF Health and Fitness Center. It was 8:00 a.m. and there were five other grizzled middle-aged male regulars on similar missions, when the following conversation ensued.

“So Kenny, how many years have you had the bookstore now?”

“Twenty three.”

“Man, that’s a long stretch.”

“It has been a long run.”

“What do you attribute the store’s survival to?”

“Going to the gym every day.”

That answer was the source of a good group chuckle, but apart from being a bit of an overstatement it isn’t entirely a joke. Truth to say I had decided that this week’s post was going to be on the topic of how to survive the pressures of the holiday season, and I had come to the conclusion that every bookstore owner must have one big everyday activity outside the store that helps us make it across the finish line. For me that is a swimming workout.

FARswimP122712d

The UMF HFC pool: a holiday season bff.

The holiday season is, of course, by far the most strenuous time of the year for booksellers. So far, at DDG, we are having our best December ever by a large margin. As of last week my eyes have been starting to close a little earlier in the afternoon every day regardless of my caffeine level. It might seem counter-intuitive to put in an hour of vigorous exercise every morning before going into the store, but I think it is actually more important than ever.

First of all it clears one’s thoughts and gives a real chance to think through what needs to be done at the store. Second, it “sets one up amazingly” as the saying is, so that one is in peak form for the period before exhaustion takes over in the afternoon. Third, it is tremendously good advertising for the store.  More than any other time of year, when people see me at the gym during December they always think about the store, ask how we are doing, and are reminded of the need to come down to the bookstore for holiday shopping. In the first hour of business in the morning I always see people roll in that I had just spoken with at the gym. Furthermore I take orders between sets in the pool, in the locker room and elsewhere. This last Saturday, for example I was on the stationary bike for a warmup when a local dentist marched over.

bostongirl“Do you have the new book by the author who wrote The Red Tent?”

“Oh, The Boston Girl,” by Anita Diamant, eh?”

“Yes! I heard  her on NPR. It sounded great.”

“I’m sure I do have copies in stock.”

“Can you hold one for me?”

“Well, there is still a mile and a half of water between now and when I get to the store. I might forget but I don’t think I will. I’ll give you a call to confirm that it’s on hold. Give me a shout if you don’t hear from me.”

“Awesome, I will.”

I did remember, and she came in and bought gifts for everyone on her list. Exercising through the holidays? It’s the best advertising and the best medicine there is!

 

A Giant Earmuff Launch

Kenny Brechner -- December 11th, 2014

Most of the time when you are driving, things go as expected with minor changes or surprises here or there: the house at the top of the hill has a for sale sign, a tree has fallen. Every now and then, however, something truly startling happens. The same is true of going through a lengthy frontlist catalog on Edelweiss.

I was going through the Simon and Schuster Winter 2015 books when the frontlist equivalent of a moose standing in the middle of the road came into view. I had the shock of seeing that something profoundly local to Farmington, Maine had become the subject of a new picture book coming out from one of my favorite non-fiction picture book author-illustrators, Meghan McCarthy.

(Photo courtesy of Ann Bryant:/Sun Journal)

(Photo courtesy of Ann Bryant:/Sun Journal)

Meghan’s previous works such as Pop: The Invention of Bubblegum, Daredevil: The Daring Life of Betty Skelton, and Aliens Are Coming: The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast, have all been showstoppers. It was thus with equal parts surprise and pleasure that I noted the January 2015 publication of Earmuffs for Everyone: How Chester Greenwood became Known as The Inventor of the Earmuff.

Earmuffs for Everyone explores not only the life and inventions of Chester Greenwood, but also the way in which some inventions, whose origins are in fact shared among several inventors, sometimes become popularly attributed to only one of them. This attribution is often due to the workings of creative public relations which come to resonate in the popular imagination. Thomas Edison’s “invention” of electricity is a good example. Today the back story of how the attribution came to reside with Edison rather than with Nikola Tesla has become of increasing interest. This is true of earmuffs as well, and McCarthy’s charming book recounts how what started out as a patent, and the successful production of a new variation in earmuffs by the young Greenwood ultimately become Chester’s attribution as the sole inventor of the earmuff itself. That story is filled with Farmington history and lore, and is delightfully recounted by McCarthy.

Chester Greenwood Day, which falls on the first Saturday in December, is a state holiday in Maine and the biggest day of the year in Farmington. It features an annual parade, a Greenwood flag raising, and a host of other activities. S&S had been planning on launching the book on Chester Greenwood Day, and from that point on I began working with them, and with Meghan, to make it a success. There was a lot to do.

greenwoodparade

(Courtesy of Bobbie Hanstein/The Daily Bulldog)

The Day started with the annual parade. It was snowing and throwing down some freezing rain but the town was undaunted. Meghan rode in the Chamber of Commerce Float.

meghanandchester

(Courtesy of Bobbie Hanstein/The Daily Bulldog)

Next came the flag-raising ceremony, which Meghan participated in along with Chester Greenwood himself, portrayed by Clyde Ross.

earmuff1

After Chester gallantly offered a somewhat chilled Meghan a cup of hot chili, she dashed back to the bookstore for the book signing. We had a big crowd of around 70 people and sold 80 books.

earmuff5

Each book was signed with a custom illustration of Chester Greenwood.

Our next  task was to have Meghan judge the Chester Greenwood Day Earmuff Coloring Contest. We had more than 300 entries! There were 31 winners, one Grand Prize, a signed copy of the book, and 30 other prize winners, who all received a special pair of ‘Earmuffs for Everyone’ earmuffs provided by Simon and Schuster.

The Grand Prize winner is determined!

Prize Winner Aby Lord holds up her entry and her earmuff prize!

The Grand Prize winner was the only entry to transform the earmuffs.

The Grand Prize winner was the only entry to transform the earmuffs.

As the judge said of Leigha Higgins' winning entry, "Sometimes it pays to ask!"

As the judge said of Leigha Higgins’ winning entry, “Sometimes it pays to ask!”

What’s Selling Out of the Gate

Kenny Brechner -- December 4th, 2014

The opening days of the holiday selling season are always a time for bookstore buyers to be paying the closest scrutiny of how our handicapping of frontlist titles is playing out on the floor. What high-profile titles are selling to expectation? What dark horses have appeared? We wonder these things anxiously, seeking to fend off the great peril of being caught short on hot titles.

sandwichsmallTwo of my store’s bestselling titles this season are in the same genre, books for five- to eight-year-old girls, which has made for an exciting two-horse contest here. Pre-race favorite The Princess in Black, with its humor, adventure, LeUyen Pham illustrations, playful subversiveness, and Shannon Hale, a name brand that stands for quality, has been selling extremely well. Running right alongside it, however, is dark horse contender Dory Fantasmagory. How can this be? Well, when you are incredibly funny and heartwarming, when you deftly render the power of shared imaginative play and family interplay, when you have immortal lines like “Give me that banana. I’m calling Mr. Nuggy,” when you are in fact as all-around ridiculously wonderful as Dory Fantasmagory, then you are going to sell like crazy for us.

Uni 10-11The Princess in Black isn’t the only book featuring a unicorn with an alternative lifestyle that is doing really well this year. Amy Krause Rosenthal, continuing her recent tradition of delivering great picture books, has produced Uni the Unicorn. The book has a simple dual storyline featuring a unicorn who staunchly refuses to believe that little girls aren’t real, and her little girl counterpart, who is equally unswayed by her non-unicorn-believing friends and family. Uni the Unicorn has not only been delighting its core audience, it overcame my core disbelief that I could stand behind a unicorn picture book.

Another surprise unicorn seller for us has been Phoebe and Her Unicorn: A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle. This graphic novel, with its snarky unicorn, heroine with attitude, and sophisticated humor, has a really broad range of appeal from 10 to adult.

secretlifeofThere is always one book that I feel coming in might be a total flop or a great seller. This year that was The Secret Life of Squirrels. Nancy Rose’s book filled with actual photographs taken by her of a squirrel, Mr. Peanuts, as he engages with elaborate miniature sets she built and placed on her porch, was obviously odd, but would it be a curiosity or an impulse buy? It is an impulse buy. We have been selling it like crazy.

Finally, in the crowded world of super cute animal photography books, a la Unlikely Friendships, which make for good family gifts, there is a real standout this year: Harlow & Sage (& Indiana). This photograph-laden account, narrated by a weimaraner named Harlow, recounts his friendship with Sage, a miniature dachshund. After Sage’s death a dachshund puppy appears in the house. Can he have a new friend? The book is simply so cute that it takes a strenuous act of will NOT to buy it.

Love to hear what surprise sellers you are seeing…

Yes, We Want to Use That Display But Where Can We Possibly Put It?

Kenny Brechner -- November 26th, 2014

Thanksgiving, as you may have noticed, is tomorrow. One thing I’m thankful for is having some great staffers working for me. Getting ready for the holiday season presents a world of challenges for us but which of them, I am sure you are wondering, constitutes the biggest challenge for our staff.  Well, the single hardest thing for them is working out how to absorb all the new items we receive during  October and November, and still display them in a dynamic way. We have limited space and books and sidelines simply do not sell if they are not displayed to the nines. As my assistant manager Karin Schott put it, “One requirement of being a bookseller is to have some spatial reasoning ability.”

Home sweet home for the new mixed Wimpy Kid display,

Home sweet home for the new mixed Wimpy Kid display,

Most situations yield to a quick Darwinian solution; however, many times it is clear that something serious has to give, and that a creative solution is called for. We do not despair. I am against that. Instead we hold a strategic, mobile conference, marching in a group around the store, floating ideas and taking measurements.

Here is an example of a recent dilemma. With the release of the latest Wimpy Kid book I ordered a mixed backlist display, not necessarily expecting to use the physical display itself. When we put it together, however, everyone liked it and wanted to use it. Personally, I felt that it was worth the effort to try to find a place for it because of its ability to attractively display backlist titles over time, and because the three-dimensional birds on it were so great. Nonetheless it was quite wide and tall. There was simply no place to put it out in the open floor without creating visual problems, foot traffic issues, and preventing UPS and Fed Ex hand trucks from getting into the receiving area. It was going to have to go against a wall somewhere. Things looked bleak but we refused to believe that there wasn’t a display unit or table somewhere along the wall that couldn’t be moved someplace else within the store.

The black display unit, a refugee from the children's alcove, cozies up to its new neighbors at the front left hand wall of the store.

The black display unit, a refugee from the children’s alcove, cozies up to its new neighbors at the front left hand wall of the store.

After a good deal of onsite discussion and measurements a plan was reached. A low rectangular table near the door could be placed in a space next to the Wind-Up display near the cash register, while the rolling cart there would fit behind the window up front. In the space where the table was a black wooden display unit from our children’s alcove would be moved and the Wimpy Kid unit would go into the children’s alcove against the wall.

Not only did it work, but all the impacted displays were the better for it. Just one more staff triumph in a long line of them running up to the holidays this year. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, all of you ShelfTalker readers!