Dear Publishers: A Bookseller Wish List

Cynthia Compton - January 6, 2020

It’s early in the bookselling year, and while tomorrow (January 7) will be a big day in book releases, there’s still time, I think, to put in a “wish list” to our publisher partners for things that would make bookselling their titles so much easier and more profitable for everyone. Christmas and holiday sales are behind us, everyone is (mostly) back in the office, and we can still request a few minor concessions before everyone boards a flight to Baltimore for Winter Institute, or gambles with putting their name into the Book Expo Booth Duty lottery (for surely that exists, as no one really wants to work 12-hour days at Javits keeping their hands and feet clear of the pyramid of ARCs that will disappear in minutes after the stampeding horde of freebie grabbers at 9 a.m., or avoid the line of celebrity autograph seekers that wrap around every tangential booth and aisle like a hungry python, obliterating displays and preventing productive meetings with actual booksellers?).

Here, in no particular order, is a wish list from booksellers to our publisher friends, with Happy New Year greetings and home-baked cookies attached:

  1. Numbered Series: If a book is part of a series, please, please, please put a number on the spine. You don’t have to review the series title on the cover (although that’s super helpful) but if you want us to sell multiple volumes to readers who ARE ALREADY FANS (so the work is done, friends – let us both take their money) for the love of heaven, number the volumes. If they buy the wrong one, it costs us money to run their credit card on the return/repurchase. If they don’t know the titles (which are often similar) it’s SO MUCH EASIER to ask how many volumes the reader has already consumed.
  2. Series color palette: Similarly, if pubs could stay with the same “look” to a series until its completion, and then undertake a cover redesign, we could avoid so much confusion. If volumes #4 and #5 have a contemporary cover, perhaps with younger looking characters (which is a trend of the moment), we lose the readers who supported you for books #1 through #3.
  3. Incomplete Boxed Sets. I will go on record, right now, as a non-fan of boxed sets, for books are not read in boxes. They are shelved in a myriad of ways, and rarely does the “boxed set” create any loyalty that makes a reader stay with a series to its completion. If anything, boxed sets are talismans or souvenirs of reading lives long past – they are proof of a reading stage that is over. Often, they are gifted to children as prescriptive reading “here, this is a series that I LOVED at your age. Here’s the boxed set. Read them all.” Yeah, not really. ¬†Worse, for the collector, are boxed sets of volumes one through three, when the series is currently at book #5, and may not be done. Just leave the boxes alone until the author’s contract is complete, and then add something to the complete set that makes it worthwhile for the return reader, and for the bookseller to discuss with customers. Personally, I vote for a hand-drawn map of the fictional world of the author, or a letter written by the editor with some “behind the scenes” changes that were made to the manuscript. Give us a reason to shelve and sell the cardboard box, or just put that marketing money into a better discount or a longer author tour.
  4. Edelweiss Tour Grid geographic limits: Oh, my goodness, we don’t all have bookstores on the East or West Coast, and yet we manage to sell a lot of books! No, Chicago is not the only city in the Midwest, and it’s pretty cheap to do a three-state tour that doesn’t include NY, NJ, and a “name-your-East-Coast-state” or a western U.S. swing. If 10 percent of the grid requests could start in “flyover states” we’ll do all the work, I promise. We know EXACTLY how many miles are between St. Louis and Indianapolis, and we’re willing to plan stops on the way. Give the soybean-and-corn people WHO READ some love, please. Often I open emails from my publisher reps reminding me that grid submissions are due, only to open the list of 30-40 authors on tour to find that NONE OF THEM is due to visit my part of the country. Ever the optimist, I submit anyway, and am inevitably disappointed in the outcome of those carefully constructed event plans. Later in the season, I will receive unsolicited emails from publicists asking me to build events for authors “who will be available on this one date.” Happily, I scramble to accommodate, but it’s not my best work, and it’s not what authors deserve.
  5. Book fair versions of new releases not available to bricks-and-mortar retail: Oh, this a tired song, and the 2020 chorus is unchanged, so just sing along with me. When frontlist titles are offered in a cheap paperback version via book club agreements, we struggle to sell the full price hardcovers in bookstores. Never mind that we host the authors, do midnight releases, send emails to previous series fans, and offer all our store amenities (in my case, that’s grandparent discounts, allowance discounts for kids who use their own money, frequent buyers club, advance copy book clubs, free books to local school media specialists and a teen review organization) but good grief, WE SOLD THESE TITLES WHEN NO ONE KNEW THEM. If for legacy and loyalty to the channel that makes titles and authors succeed only, throw us a bone. Let us sell the books full price, on release date, and make it special. Your author is special. We can make them believe it.
  6. Direct-to-consumer marketing online. Maybe the process of this creating this list is making me overly bold, but what’s the point of wishing if it doesn’t include a bit of the magically “impossible”? When my customers receive emails directly from publishers, they assume that I am part of the transaction. I am not. When publishers identify readers and customers in my community and don’t share them with me, those readers do not become bricks-and-mortar visitors – in short, they become bookstore orphans, who rely on Amazon algorithms to recommend their next reads – and often, they are disappointed. So much money is spent in maintaining the publisher/bookseller channel, and yet this fundamental step in the partnership is trampled upon. Market your books, your authors, and your events, dear publisher friends. But use US to be your channel. We are here, in the very communities where your readers live. We are hosting your authors, we are promoting your frontlist, we are stocking your backlist, and we are paying rent to have a physical showroom (and coffee, and story time, and whatever else) right here. Let us sell your books, too.
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About Cynthia Compton

Cynthia is the owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana, a 2600 sq. ft. childrens store founded in 2003. She serves on the board of the American Booksellers Association, is a past president of the Great Lakes Bookseller Association, and is a former member of the American Specialty Toy Retail Association board of directors. 4 Kids was honored with the Pannell Award in 2013 and has received numerous "best of" awards in the Indianapolis area. The opinions expressed in her posts are her own, and sometimes those of her english bulldogs.

8 thoughts on “Dear Publishers: A Bookseller Wish List

  1. Laura Harrison

    I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a parent tell their child to put down a new hardcover (even if it is on sale), because they can get it at the school book fair for a cheaper price. How can you compete with a book being sold at a fraction of the retail price?

  2. Dawn Castor

    Speaking from a librarian point of view–I loved your first two suggestions! and can I add to please leave some room at the bottom of the spine for a spine label? I hate covering up part of the title!

    1. Cynthia Compton Post author

      Dawn, I’m so glad you mentioned this. As an avid library patron, I agree. (And thank you, btw, for all you do. Libraries are lighthouses of hope in a stormy world.)

    1. Cynthia Compton Post author

      Thank you, Anna. Is it (not) surprising that a week later, I have added an item or two?
      Here’s to finding our bookselling fairy godmother soon!


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