Author Archives: Kenny Brechner

Compelling Contest!

Kenny Brechner -- October 23rd, 2014

Alliterative Analytical Acuity Alert!

Test your alliterative skills by submitting the Best Behaved Blurb.

First choose one of the following six books. Then submit your blurb by posting it in the comments below using the same single letter as the beginning letter for each word (a, an of, and, the, are, are also allowed). The winning entry will receive a regal reward!

Six Sensational Subjects and a Sample Submission

The Fault in Our Stars

The Hobbit

The Hunger Games

Blueberries For Sal

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

Sample Submission

Otis

This tale of a terrific tractor takes the time to tell of a towering task.  The tiny tractor trundles toward a tempest of  towing trouble. A total triumph of a tractor tale!  

Brandish Blurbs Below!

The Gauntlet of Hyperbole

Kenny Brechner -- October 16th, 2014

A great deal of work goes into bringing a professionally published book to market, which is why  it is painful to see that work needlessly undercut as it nears the finish line. When Edelweiss first became coin of the realm, the markup notes were written by individual reps and the buying experience was a direct extension of the traditional rep and buyer interplay, built as it was on mutual knowledge, respect, candid information, trust, and good faith. While some reps continue to produce their own markup notes, there is a distressing trend to having it outsourced to markup note writers who produce fatuous streams of hyperbole mixing in dubious comparisons to successful books and authors with long strings of adjectives, all of which results in “a light that illuminates nothing,” as Tolkien put it.

Ask yourself whether the following markup note in Edelweiss could possibly tell a professional buyer anything at all that would justify a buy:

“Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the 21st century that goes into some of the darkest, most ultra-Dickensian places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement – and a great gift for its publisher.”

Is it helpful to be told that

“Russell writes with a force that feels nearly explosive; his prose teems with the hyper-connective, barely controlled genius of early David Foster Wallace or Dave Eggers, paired with the gonzo risk-taking and off-the-grid sense of mission of a young Hunter S. Thompson.”

What can we, as buyers take from the information that a given book features

“a wholly original and unforgettable story about our relationship with an animal that has mesmerized us for centuries.”

Or that readers are represented as being in a position to

“Discover the wonder of water in this refreshingly fun and fascinating exploration of rain, raindrops, and the water cycle.”

Or celebrate

the littlest members of the family in this soothing ode to all the wonderful bits and pieces that make up a cuddly, snuggly baby.”

One wants two things from an Edelweiss markup note: candid information and candid opinion. Factual information by itself comes a little short of the mark, as you can see here.

“While the Moonbear stories deal with the many wonders of nature and the outdoors, the Bear in these books is a bit younger, wears clothes, lives with his mother and father and has adventures that are family, school, neighborhood, and friend-based.”

Still, that is a good deal more helpful than pure hyperbole. As here.

“A paradigm-smashing look at the core happiness problem of our era – the feeling that we are too busy, exhausted, or stressed-out to truly enjoy all life has to offer – as well as a surprising and scientifically-proven equation for turning stress into productive energy and busting out of your rut.”

It’s difficult, however,  to bust out of your rut when reading markup notes like that, one after another. When we are continually conjured to…

Imagine The Secret Garden for grownups – a group of misfits who happen to be related to each other, trying to capture the magic, trying to grow strong, trying to grow together, trying to pass down all that is good, all while weeding out that which is not. A search for family, community, and a better life, all inspired by flora.

And that’s the difficulty. How can we go through a catalog with 900 titles and “pass down [to our inventory systems] all that is good, all while weeding out that which is not,” if the markup notes are meaningless drivel whose function is to hype the book to the skies no matter what? This practice is deadening, counterproductive, and, most of all, unfair to everyone who worked so hard on these books.

 

Bookseller Blind Spots

Kenny Brechner -- October 9th, 2014

One of the nice things about buying and handselling is being pushed out of our comfort zones and appreciating the pleasure other readers take in genres to which we are not naturally inclined to give our own custom. Nonetheless, we all have very real blind spots as buyers. Categories we loathe, categories we like too much, categories that decline to offer us any personal interest, all offer the opportunity to incur the ill considered fruits of bad buying decisions.  How to overcome our own biases and pull the best titles across these perilous areas and into our stores?

To explore this idea I have put forward some examples into a spreadsheet, which, as we all know, confers a strict scientific character to any enterprise in which they are employed.

Category

Problem

Solution

Cat Books

They are not dog books

Show them to cat people

Meaningful books

I have the spiritual depth of a goldfish and only the vaguest idea of how deep minds work.

Study the track record of the author. Compare them in your mind to other meaningful books that have sold in the past.

Picture books that demonize electronic media and celebrate reading and physical books

Preaching to the choir, agree with too implicitly

Attain a zen-like calm and be fair-minded and critical

Picture books with goopy rhyme schemes

As Andrew Lang once said, “The urge to parody is really too strong.”

Flippity flappity flunk
Don’t bring in the junk

YA books in which the female protagonist’s stomach does flips when exposed to the love interest

Physical inaptitude for understanding

Iron-willed suspension of disbelief

This is just a tiny sampling of the epic shoals that lurk beneath the surface of unwary buying. If anyone wants to confess their own greatest challenges in this area and share their best solutions, toss them in below!

 

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Kenny Brechner -- October 2nd, 2014

When I sat down to do Usborne’s frontlist with my rep I found that I was unable to auto import the titles through my POS, Booklog, which uses Ingram’s ipage data. Cross referencing, I found that the titles were literally not in ipage. The reason behind this was then revealed to me, namely that Ingram is no longer carrying Usborne titles. Technically the titles should still have been in the extended first-sticker-book-marketdatabase, it is true, but the fact that they were not presumably reflected the unhappy rift between Ingram and Usborne. To discuss this turn of events I will use two whys and a what. Why this is bad for small to mid-sized Independent bookstores, why it happened, and what it would behoove the two parties to do about it.

I have been doing business with Usborne for 24 years. I consider them an important line. As do many stores our size I do two big buys from Usborne a year, including frontlist and backlist titles. The rest of the year I pick up what I need from Ingram, consolidating it with other restock items. Usborne’s terms strongly encourage large buys, as favorable terms begin at 100 units. The inability to pick up needed items at a wholesaler has a number of negative impacts. Making frequent direct orders to Usborne means worse terms and more work. Furthermore, it penalizes us for testing the water with frontlist, in that if we only order one or two copies and a book sells quickly, we are hampered from getting it back in via good terms. On the other hand if we go big on the initial frontlist buy we are in mortal danger of the buyer’s lee shore, being wrong about a book selling. Finally, the absence of these titles from ipage means that we have to manually create these books in our inventory, a needless, laborious time-waster, particularly as the current frontlist is the biggest in Usborne’s history, over 140 titles.

tnm-pirateAs I understand it the rift occurred because Usborne’s direct sales reps for schools and home parties were losing out from their customers buying from Ingram. Thus Usborne felt that it had to choose between their direct sales reps and having their books available at Ingram at wholesale discount. They tightened their discount to Ingram which chose instead to discontinue carrying Usborne books.

Surely there must be a better solution than to penalize a completely different class of customers, small to mid size Independent bookstores, over a dispute involving direct sales customers. I see two possible options, though I am sure others might be found. First, that discount restrictions could be made to direct sales accounts at Ingram, while maintaining regular terms to bookstores. Second, that Usborne could provide better terms for smaller orders from bookstores, thereby recognizing that they are the only wholesale outlet at present. Those of us who spend a good deal of every day working hard to make our customers happy would appreciate something along those lines here. I am sure that we would all like to be able to say again…
bigpirate

Why Lying Is So Hot Now

Kenny Brechner -- September 25th, 2014

sealed-with-a-lie-9781481400527_lg

One clings to the belief that effects have causes, that, for example, Young Adult trends have reasons. That may not be so, of course, perhaps the endless parade of ballroom gowns on YA cover models is just the void getting in a good one. Nonetheless, when I noticed an obvious new trend in YA frontlist I decided to eschew the epistemology of despair and try to come up with a reason.

Lying has always been a popular term for book titles, of course, but between 9/14 and 6/15 the floodgates have opened. Here is a title sampler: Even When You Lie to Me, Liars, Inc., Krakens and Lies, Lies We Tell Ourselves, Secrets and Lies, Little White Lies, Sealed with a Lie, Dead Girls Don’t Lie, Perfect Lies, Lie for Me, An Angel Torched My Homework and Other Lies, Big Fat Liar, and Trust Me I’m Lying.

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Free Books!! Take As Many As You Like!

Kenny Brechner -- September 18th, 2014

We all know that the biggest return on a book is sometimes had by giving it away. This is something we think about in different ways. When a publisher sends me a free finished copy of a book I always provide it the courtesy of reading any accompanying letter carefully and taking a close look at the book. If a giveaway promotional item strikes me as particularly creative and apropos we make sure to carry out its prime function: give it away to customers.

As a bookseller I always try and be mindful of recognizing when a meaningful moment to give something away presents itself. For example, after a classroom ARC review project I don’t normally leave the ARCs in the classroom. Last year, however, one student was so taken with a particular book that it was very striking. The teacher tried to assure him that a library might have a copy when it came into print. It hit me that there was no possibility, in this boy’s life, that he would be able to buy it. I slipped it to him and the teacher later told me that, though she couldn’t get into the details of his home life, it had meant the world to him. Not all giveaways are created equal. Nor is there any formula for recognizing the important ones other than learning from examples encountered in the course of experience.

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Uprooting Evil in School Purchase Orders

Kenny Brechner -- September 11th, 2014

The good news is that one of your elementary school educational partners has $5,000 of grant money to spend on a new Common Core resource area for reluctant readers and she is going to spend it with you. How can there be any bad news, you ask? Actually, there can be many layers goodnewswbadnewsof it. Your educational partner, as do many of her colleagues, has turned to direct solicitations from specialty educational publishers for most of the titles on the purchase order. Some have come from catalogs that have been sitting in a closet for 10 years. More importantly, some of these specialty publishers, such as Pioneer Valley Books, will sell to you only at the same non-discounted rate that they will sell to a school. Others are selling product at very high rates and are very labor-intensive to get. Worst of all there are those that won’t sell to retail bookstores at all. You want to keep the business, and you want to deserve the business. What to do?

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First Among First Day of School Books

Kenny Brechner -- September 4th, 2014

edda2It is in the nature of pyramid style table displays that something has to be on top. This is a dark irony when it comes to books about a child’s first day of school, since elementary schools are not meritocracies and stark Darwinian undertones are not quite the thing in kindergarten anymore. Ah well, there it is.

Now if you look at the top of the display you’ll see my new go-to book for the first day of school, Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School. When you read the pages of Edda you will encounter all the qualities that constitute a perfect first day of school book. It’s reassuring, funny, and full of both challenge and adventure.

Edda is the youngest Valkyrie in Asgard. As much fun as she has helping seek out unruly monsters, feasting, and riding magical animals, Edda yearns for some companionship with children her own age. Her father, Odin, has the answer.  Edda can attend school down on earth.

The story excels at finding constructive comparative humor in all the things Edda finds challenging and is struggling to adapt to. For example…

9780805097030_il_6When adventure rears its head it is a parent’s job to be entirely calm, peaceful, and supportive of the experience. Tove Jansson fans will recall that when Moomintroll decided to swim down into their flooded house to retrieve breakfast plates from the kitchen the Snork Maiden protested, saying “Tell him not to, please, please.”  To this Moominmamma replied, “Well, why should I if he thinks it thrilling?”

This peaceful relationship with adventure and wonder is the sort of parenting you’ll find in Edda too. When Edda makes friends with a boy in her class, Odin takes the two of them off to Asgard on his flying horse for a play date, and the Mom of Edda’s friend waves them off with the same cheerful grace one might have expected were her son being driven to a friend’s house in a minivan.

In the end, it is not surprising at all that when …
9780805097030_il_7Why wouldn’t they!

The Infallible Nature of Your Staff

Kenny Brechner -- August 28th, 2014

There are different methods of gauging the success of frontlist picture book titles based on in store resources. These ordering criteria methods vary in their probability of success. Here is a chart.

Ordering Criteria

 Objective Evaluation of Success

Actual Percentage of Success

I love the book Infallible in theory but fallible in practice 82.73%
Bloggers heart the book on Edelweiss Fallible in theory and practice 27.99%
A potpourri of industry types heart the book on Edelweiss Fallible in theory and practice 50%
43 booksellers heart the book on Edelweiss Okay, okay I’ll bring it in 82.73%
My rep really did love this one Okay, okay I’ll bring it in 82.73%
The blad was shared around the store after someone fell in love with it and everyone loves it infallible in theory and infallible in practice 100%

A quick glance reveals that the final method of uncovering high probability handselling success stories is i-dont-like-koala-9781481400695_lgby far the best. It doesn’t happen often but when it does it is hard to argue with the certainty of success. For example when I came into the store last week I found an f&g of a book coming out in April 2015, I Don’t Like Koala, sitting on my chair. “Read this one,” I was told, “it’s awesome.” Over the next few days every staffer made certain that I had read it because it was either “awesome,” “great,” or totally wonderful and hilarious.”

Is it all those things? Of course it is. Look at the chart. Everyone will like I Don’t Like Koala eventually. You see even if they are so misguided as to not like it immediately Koala will handle it himself. That’s what he does with his terrible eyes and his warm, mysterious, determined heart.  Terrific illustrations and a great story, what’s not to like?

Our Regionalizer Software Is Unveiled

Kenny Brechner -- August 21st, 2014

There are those out there that feel that independents should be focusing less on decency, culture, community and fair play and more on innovating like Amazon does. With that in mind we at DDG have developed some exciting new software that is sure to have a strong impact both financially and culturally on the marketplace.

cruiseRegionalism is something that I hadn’t given a thought to until I started buying books professionally. Maine is a hyper-regional state. I soon learned that a book about a Vermont 10-year-old who crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a rowboat, singlehandedly saving 5,000 people from a sinking cruise ship along the way, would garner no interest at all in Maine. On the other hand a book about a Maine 10-year-old who saved an inchworm from being stepped on by her sister would be a big seller. I learned that Mainers feel that any Moose found in New Hampshire woods are either lost or, more probably, kidnapped.

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