The Last Chance Guessing Game

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 19, 2014


Kikkerland’s Decision Maker, a very popular item at the store this time of year.

This is make-it-or-break it time for indie booksellers. These last days before Chanukah and Christmas mark our last chance to order with publishers and distributors in time for our customers’ deadlines. That means it’s our last gasp at guessing which books are going to be popular, which classic titles are suddenly going to resurge, and which of our newsletter books and staff picks will take off. Every year, there are national bestsellers and unexpected sleeper hits (like Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which Josie mentioned in Monday’s blog post, and now Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See), whose publishers were caught off guard by the book’s success and are now frantically trying to reprint, stock, and ship before the 24th.
We can’t anticipate every single sought-after title, but we do our darndest. And we know what we personally always recommend for gifts, so we need to stay on top of those in addition to everything else. For example, this time of year, we know that we can sell as many of The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor as we decide to stock. The same is true of Ray Bradbury’s short stories, Pablo Neruda’s Odes to Common Things, and The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty.
In addition to asking our fortune-telling Decision Maker (pictured above) whether a particular newly released title is likely to fly off the shelves, we also consult the following:

  • Bestseller lists from the major newspapers, IndieBound, and the New England Independent Booksellers Association
  • “Best of the Year” lists from 8 to 10 review and newspaper publications
  • The NEIBA Holiday Catalog
  • Our own bestsellers from the past six weeks, trying to spot rising trends
  • Classics, which always sell extra well during the holidays
  • Newbery, Caldecott, National Book Award, Coretta Scott King, and other award winners

We also check stock on our shelves, trying to fill missing gaps in popular series (always ordering extras of the first and last volumes, which sell about five times faster than the books in between) and trying to predict if there’s going to be an unexpected run on quiet backlist hardcovers. The Borrowers series is quiet much of the year, but sees a decided uptick in December, as do all of the classic series (Paddington, Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Winnie the Pooh, Madeline, Babar, Narnia, Charlotte’s Web, and so on).
This is the time of year when national media outlets are releasing all of their “Best of” lists — some of them as late as this week! — so we will have unexpected requests for sleeper titles that crop up on those lists.
On busy days, we may have more than 100 transactions, which may not sound like a lot in an 8-hour period, but when you consider that each transaction will likely include handselling of several individual titles, not to mention ringing up gift cards for teachers, tracking down stray boxes from distributors, wrapping presents, and trying to find needle-in-the-haystack single books that have been misshelved, well, it’s a lot of transactions! And it’s a LOT of fun.
This Sunday, we’ll place the last of our pre-holiday orders, cross our fingers, and play chicken with the tides of holiday shopping. Wish us luck!

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