As I tend to do at the beginning of a new buying season, I dumped out a table full of picture book samples this week to see what our frontline booksellers had to say. There were some great highlights, and I’ll have the full report next week, but first I thought I’d circle back for a minute on previous installments of this series. The truth is that these initial bookseller reactions are just the first step on the path to determining the next staff favorite or in-store bestseller.
The staff joke is that every mind will be changed and raves (and pans) will be forgotten—or reversed—by the time books roll in and enter the actual collection. That’s partially true, and it’s also true that reactions can be different when looking at books within a limited selection versus in the context of the whole store. Our longtime picture book specialist, Merrilee, is famous for writing “meh” on an samples she ends up handselling like crazy or writing “me likee!” on a book she ultimately forgets to recommend. As author/part-time BookPeople bookseller Leila Sales wrote recently, it’s not always easy to predict which books will rise to top of mind when you’re in the moment helping customers right in front of you.
Of course it’s valuable to get this instant bookseller feedback at sample review meetings. But in a store like ours, it’s ultimately the buyer’s job to parse all these reactions, factor in trends compiled over time, and then also think about what we—as a store—want to be talking about in a given season. Frontline booksellers’ perspectives on what sells can, for obvious reasons, be skewed by what they personally like. I can’t tell you how often buyers get notes questioning stock on particular titles that are “selling like crazy” when the sales numbers don’t really bear that out. Booksellers know what they recommend (and they know what they see people stopping and looking at)—but they don’t always see what actually sells through.
So looking back at past picture book sample posts, I was curious to see what ultimately rose to the top! Well, there are the obvious no-brainers, the books that our booksellers love because EVERYONE loves them, like Christian Robinson’s Another. No surprise, that one has been a huge hit. Sure, there were a couple that ultimately flew a little under the radar, but we built nice bursts of energy for a number of them, such as You Are Home, which—with its National Parks focus—was perfect for summer travel season. Look! I Wrote a Book! was our newsletter pick for the month of August, which always gives books a nice boost. And King of Kindergarten was a huge seller for back to school. Plus, bookseller enthusiasm helped flag our store for at least one successful author event (for Truman by Jean Reidy).
Pokko and the Drum from our fall round-up is also already off to a great start and will be included in our annual holiday catalog. In addition to fall favorites, I find the catalog can be a terrific platform for highlighting a few gems from earlier in the year that deserve a little more attention than they got, like Sweet Dreamers or Little Doctor and the Fearless Beast. Here’s what I’m featuring in our catalog for the holidays. What’s on your picture book list this year?
Curious to find out what picture books for winter 2020 are piquing our interest right now? Stay tuned for a new picture book free-for-all next week! Want a sneak peek? Here are some direct quotes from the room:
“I would LOVE to see a 70 year old tightrope walker!”
“Why make a picture book and use bland colors?”
“Wait. Is pink still a thing?”
“Ew! It’s got a possum. No! No! No! No!”