Monthly Archives: February 2019

The Rights and Wrongs of Taglines

Kenny Brechner - February 28, 2019

Most YA taglines are not so bad. Unfortunately so, since The Scarlet Pimpernell is right in observing that “there is nothing quite so bad as something which is not so bad.” Great books deserve great taglines and when they don’t have them it is a miss. Take the tagline for Sally Green’s The Smoke Thieves.

“Revenge. Romance.

Power. Money. Magic.

Which one are you fighting for?”

Personally it is none of the above. I’m fighting for a catchier tagline. There is a lot to be said, after all, for a memorable one. An example of a truly great one is Grave Mercy‘s “Why be a sheep when you can be the wolf?” I also commend Cinder‘s “Even in the future, the story begins with Once Upon a Time…” and The Beginning of Everything‘s great tagline, “Everyone Gets a Tragedy.” I love that. It’s both true and totally apropos to the book.
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Bright Ideas for a Dreary Winter Season

Cynthia Compton - February 27, 2019

One of the benefits of the slower first quarter in the store is the opportunity to move things around, change sections, and try something new. As inventory is sparser, and we’re honestly doing quite a bit of “fluffing” out shelves, in which we spread out fewer items to make the store look full and inviting. Great titles and sidelines that were overlooked at the holidays have a chance to shine in the gentler late afternoon sunshine of February, and this shopkeeper has the opportunity to redeem herself in the eyes of her staff, as they wrap items (in Valentine’s Day paper!) that were received early last fall for 4th quarter.

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The Best Reading Snack

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 26, 2019

Reading is, generally speaking, a cozy act. It’s an activity of immersion, in which the outside world falls away while we are deep in the sea of story. Some of my happiest childhood memories include the perfect pairing of a book and a snack, and uninterrupted hours in which to enjoy them. My grandparents lived on a lake in Indiana—you can hardly NOT live on a lake in Indiana; there are about 1,700 of them—and I used to take a book, a glass of lemonade or iced tea, and cold celery stalks with peanut butter or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich out to their little people-powered pedal boat and paddle my way over to the tiny lake next to ours where no power boats were allowed, and spend hours pedaling around the lake, reading in the sunshine.

Our boat was smaller and a little lower to the water than this one—I liked to trail my left hand along the top of the water as I pedaled, right hand holding my book. (Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons, Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr)

It was bliss. But while peanut butter makes for a sustaining reading meal, it was not my absolute favorite reading snack. That was…
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‘All the Better to Eat You With, My Dear!’

Meghan Dietsche Goel - February 22, 2019

From Little Red Riding Hood to Maurice Sendak’s Pierre to William Steig’s Doctor De Soto, the risk of being eaten has long been one of the most persistent threats in stories for children—although it’s also a fate marked by astounding reversals. The lion regurgitates its prize or a woodcutter cuts a grandmother from the wolf’s belly, letting readers glimpse the darkness at the heart of the forest, yet escape knowing that all is not hopeless in the end. While being gobbled up isn’t precisely the biggest danger facing most kids these days, it represents something primal about living in a world that can chew you up and spit you out if you forget to pay attention.

‘Lenny the Lobster Can’t Stay for Dinner’ by Finn Buckley, Michael Buckley, and Catherine Meurisse

This life lesson has, sadly, yet to be learned by unworldly Lenny the Lobster. When his fancy dinner party invitation arrives in the mail, he’s elated. Lured in by the prospect of an elegant party like the trusting fly into the spider’s parlor, his inability to read the room quickly leaves our hapless lobster at the mercy of a ravenous, lobster bib-wearing horde. Luckily, Lenny isn’t alone! He’s brought the reader with him to this ill-fated soirée (and a knowing narrator to nudge things along). Continue reading

The 2019 Anatomy of a Frontlist

Kenny Brechner - February 21, 2019

The three-week stretches during which frontlist buys tend to congregate on our calendars like a row of teeth, with only one or two gaps between rep appointments, is always a bit of a gauntlet. Can we think of Edelweiss as a form of exercise in which steady immersive usage improves one’s performance? That’s a toughie but I’m thinking probably not. Use may make master but overuse makes for surliness and inattention.
In any case, I’m hustling today to get through all the sales kit materials for my Penguin Young Readers Group Summer 2019 rep telephone call tomorrow morning and I figured on taking this opportunity to revisit the Anatomy of a Frontlist, and make a 2019 edition. The original post contained a list of what I hoped to find in the F&G box. I reworked that list for today’s post. Here’s the 2019 version.

  1. At least one book, hopefully two, that I absolutely love and can handsell to the nines. Ideally it would be an easy handsell, whose interplay of text and illustration is gestalt and intrinsically engaging. A true store favorite like Sophie’s Squash.
  2. Around five strong books which fill evergreen needs at the store, great new baby gifts, sibling anxieties, birthday books, books that have a moose in them, solid new entries by established authors and whatnot.
  3. Some really strong nonfiction titles that have both school library and in-store appeal.
  4. Something totally unexpected that I learned from and will be fun to show customers.
  5. A friendship renewed. At least one next in a series book whose predecessor we handsold like crazy, an ARC we can’t wait to read ourselves, not simply out of hedonism, but as a public safety matter. It is our duty to make sure the sequel is safe for the future handselling on which the series depends.
  6. Finally, recognizing that most of the books will fall into the category of being not so bad, and being mindful of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s observation that “there is nothing quite so bad as something which is not so bad,” I hope that one of the books will be spectacularly ill considered, a la Bronto Eats Meat, just for the edifying window it provides into the industry and humanity in general, and the appreciation for quality titles which we should never take for granted. All right then, off to the task at hand.

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Toys and Trends of 2019

Cynthia Compton - February 20, 2019

Like my friend and blogging colleague Elizabeth Bluemle, I have spent the last few days at the Javits Center, visiting the 116th annual NY Toy Fair (see Elizabeth’s fun roundup at Lions and Tigers and Toys, Oh My).

Climbing the stairs to “catch em all” at Javits.

I come to this event wearing several hats: as a board member of the American Specialty Toy Retail Association, I have some “hosting” duties at social events and use the opportunity to catch up with colleagues and projects; as a shopkeeper I have orders to place and vendors to visit in order to see new releases and make plans for the ever-important fourth-quarter sales; and as your personal ShelfTalker ambassador, I spend my time in the aisles looking for toy trends of the year. Some of these trends are actual types of products (like slime, putty, and modeling compounds), some are themes (like llamas, yetis, and pineapples), and still others are play patterns or reflections of our current societal interests (like superheroes and obsession with bodily functions). As I attempted last year in Postcard from Toy Fair, here’s my impressions of this year’s themes in play so far.
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Lions and Tigers and Toys, Oh My

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 19, 2019

Photo from GearBrain

When I tell the untutored that I’m heading to Toy Fair in New York, their faces turn young and wonderstruck. “TOY FAIR?!” they say. You can hear the seven-year-old toy fanatic who lurks inside us all. It’s hard to burst their bubbles and tell them that, while this giant annual exhibit at the Javits Center is indeed filled to the rafters (literally) with toys, the convention itself is all business.
In order to get through the door, buyers have to provide two pieces of personal identification proving they work for their stores, along with three invoices totaling $1,000+ each for past toy purchases from various companies (not easy for smaller stores to provide). Not only aren’t children allowed into Toy Fair—admittedly, that could lead to meltdowns of epic proportions—but spouses aren’t welcome, either. Everyone who attends must be an exhibitor, an official buyer, or press. It’s pretty wild.
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When Your Winter Institute Boxes Arrive

Kenny Brechner - February 14, 2019

That’s Frank Domenico on the right, my great Ingram in-house rep. This photo is from an old NEIBA event but Frank was at WI14 stationed in the shipping area. Ingram provided the shipping services and even though other Ingram folks tried to get Frank to take a break and leave the shipping area, he refused and stayed there the whole Institute taping boxes for people and guarding the room all night!

The books and swag we ship back to ourselves from Winter Institute are time capsules of a sort. We experience the conference, packing up the books we pick up at author dinners and receptions in the shipping area as we go. The conference ages in our thought in normal time only to be reset suddenly when those shipped boxes reappear.
This phenomenon was particularly marked for those of us on the northeast this year given that the shipments were coming from Albuquerque. Truth to say they arrived last week and I had intended this post for last Thursday; however, a time-sensitive topic of importance was unfolding and I put this post off until today. That was unfortunate for two reasons. First, putting off a post which is literally about the interrelated flow of experiences over time exposes one to dark irony. Second, I am home this afternoon with a rare head cold and the Brechner brain is operating at around 5% of normal capacity. A terrifying thought, I know, but let’s not dwell on that.
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Hooks, Lines, and No Sinkers

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 13, 2019

The opening sentences of a book, like the first moments of a movie, set the stage for the story. First lines create expectations in readers, and the best storytellers use them to make a promise to us about the experience we are about to have. They set the tone for the entire book—not an easy undertaking. Because first lines are so important, and so challenging to do well, and so much fun to read, I scour ARCs (advance reading copies) every year looking for great openers. I’ve been doing this fairly regularly since 2010, and wow, have there been some incredible first lines! (I usually quote M.T Anderson’s in these annual great-first-line posts, because he is the undisputed master of first lines, but I shouldn’t repeat myself, so you can read some of his—along with other doozies) here.)
What follows are opening lines from books from winter and spring of 2019. (Please note: almost all of these are taken from ARCs. If you authors have revised these lines for the finished books, please contact me so I can edit. Here are the best first lines I’ve discovered so far: Continue reading

Gifts from Customers

Cynthia Compton - February 12, 2019

Customers give me things. Some call from the Starbucks drive thru down the street: “I need a birthday present for an eight-year-old girl, she’s a really good reader. Can you have it wrapped and run it out to the car – the baby is asleep – and do you need coffee?”
Some give me colds. “Do you have any ACHOO!!! oh, sorry! tissues? We just stopped by to find something for Matthew, here, to do. He’s been home from school for two days with a fever, and is just getting so bored! I thought a trip to the bookstore might cheer him up.”
Lots of children bring us pictures they’ve drawn, which I tape to the wall behind the counter, after careful discussion and admiration of their subject and technique. Some young friends bring me “treasures” – a favorite was a little boy who came in with a baggie containing some red string, a rock and a little plastic wheel. When I asked him if he wanted me to trade him something for this gift (every children’s shopkeeper should have a drawer full of stickers and publisher swag for just this purpose), he said “No, you can just keep it up here to look at it.” And I did.
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