If you were going to choose your absolute favorite book of 2012, what would it be? How about your favorite 125, across all ages and genres?
Every November, we create a colorful book review newsletter filled with our favorite releases from the current year. This turns out to be 125 to 150 books, give or take, each reviewed by one of our booksellers, Josie, or me.
I design the catalog, and we’ve used just two different printers for the finished product since 1996, when our newsletter was four pages in one color, and printed on a traditional press. Now it’s sixteen pages, full-color, printed digitally on partially recycled paper with gorgeous soy inks. The end result is something we’re proud of: it looks beautiful, uniquely represents our store and its booksellers, and is filled with treasures. With a mailing list of around 5,000, it’s an expensive piece to print, and we use it all year long as a selling and promotion tool, so you can imagine how carefully we weigh each book that goes into it.
It’s not an easy task to whittle down a year’s worth of titles, fiction and non, to just 125 goodies for all ages, from babies to adults. There’s always the risk of forgetting to include a book one loved passionately in January or April, whose memory has been buried by months of subsequent releases. There’s also the chance that something extraordinary has come out that we just didn’t happen to read. There are difficult decisions that must be made: we can highlight just 8-12 titles for each age group, and that small group will ideally represent a balanced mix of genres (realistic fiction, fantasy, nonfiction, poetry, sports, humor, etc.). This means that if we love five MG friendship stories, we may only be able to choose one or two.
We also like to feature unusual titles, wonderful books by small presses, and midlist titles that deserve a “lead-title” readership, so sometimes a well-known, starred-review book won’t make the newsletter because we know it will still get all the sales it deserves through successful national promotion.
This means that some of our loved titles just won’t make the newsletter. We’ll still handsell them, of course, but the newsletter is prime real estate for our store—and many authors and artists are alert to that. This creates a little added pressure. The children’s book field especially is a small and close one; it can be awkward to run into someone whose book we loved but didn’t put into the newsletter for one of the reasons above. Once, several years ago, I saw a local author at a book conference, and he let me know how hurt he’d been that, the prior year, his book hadn’t been included. We hadn’t even known his book had come out; the publisher didn’t have a sales force in Vermont, and the author hadn’t sent it to us himself, so it wasn’t anywhere on our radar. It was eye-opening and distressing that he’d carried around a sense of rejection and hurt feelings for a whole year about a book we’d never even seen.
The best part of choosing books for Pig-Tales is reading them. We sort through the stacks of ARCs all year long; each staff member keeps an eye out for potential newsletter books. This really ramps up in July, as we round the second half of the year and I start keeping a spreadsheet of titles we’ve all been loving. We comb reviews, compare notes with fellow booksellers, and try not to have too much overlap with the NEIBA and ABC catalogs, which we also offer to customers.
So now is our critical juncture: Flying Pig booksellers have been sending me their lists of books they love and think would be perfect for the newsletter, and Josie and I are compiling our lists.
What would make YOUR newsletter, dear readers? What are your 2012 can’t-miss must-reads? (No fair nominating your own book!)