A Series Plea

Elizabeth Bluemle -- April 26th, 2013

My Dearest Publishers, Editors, Jacket Designers, and Marketing Folks*:

We need to talk again about how you can make booksellers and librarians and — most importantly, your kid customers — extremely happy. Every week, we booksellers spend a lot of time with your series books: shelving them, tracking them down for customers, restocking them, and looking up the on-sale date of the next eagerly anticipated volume. All this serial contact means encountering certain frustrations again and again, and there are a few very simple things you folks can do to bring joy and delight to the land:

  • Standardize your title/series treatment with Bowker, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, etc., so that when we fetch new titles into our systems, they don’t need editing. You would not believe how many variations of book and series title treatments we see. Titles might show up with or without the series name; if the series name is part of the title, sometimes it precedes, sometimes it follows, the individual book title. Sometimes the series title is abbreviated. Sometimes the numeral (e.g., Book 5) appears; sometimes it doesn’t. I’m not entirely certain that this is completely under publisher control; it’s possible those companies specify different preferences or make their own edits. But I suspect it’s more a case of lacking a single style sheet through the years. if that’s the case, then please, for the love of all things holy in publishing, standardize your in-house format for series. I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent editing our own series titles so our staff can find books quickly and easily. When a child says, “I need book 16 in the Magic Tree House series,” or “What’s book 9 in the 39 Clues?” or “What’s the next book after Scorpio Rising in Alex Rider?” etc., we want to answer them right away from our impeccable, easily searchable inventory records.
  • List your series numbers on the spines! There is nothing easier you can do to help customers, booksellers, teachers, and librarians — and yet there are STILL holdouts. I cannot think of any positive reason to omit this very simple and helpful piece of information from a book’s spine. And please make it easy to read, as high contrast as good taste allows.
  • Please list the entire series, in order, in a list in the front matter of the book. Parents spend a lot of time hunkered down in the fantasy section, flipping frantically through books trying to find the magical list of what’s in the series. (Obviously, those lists in the early volumes will be incomplete as each new volume comes down the pike, but they could conceivably be updated with subsequent printings.) Oh, and that antiquated convention of omitting the title of the book you’re holding in your hand from that front-matter list of the books in the series does not serve your readers. Include all the titles, and please do so in a way that makes it crystal clear what is the order of the series.

I think if the publishing folks who work on series titles spent a week (heck, even one afternoon!) working at a bookstore, you’d quickly understand the day in, day out, non-stop demand we have from customers, both kids and adults, needing series help.

Thanks for listening! Enjoy the gorgeous weather.

*Marketing folks — We know you’re not responsible for any lapses in series design efficacy, but you are included here in the hopes that you will use your prodigious influence to encourage change where needed!