A customer approached me this weekend with a laundry list of books. One title was On The Brink by Henry M. Paulson, Jr. — we were sold out and the books were on backorder. As we headed upstairs he asked how many copies we had sold. I told him we’d sold the initial buy of four. He was incredulous. “Four?!” he exclaimed, causing a look from the shoppers heading the opposite way. “How could you order only four? Everyone knows that book was going to be huge!” We stopped first in the Political Science section and I replied, “Not exactly. Political books are very hit or miss here, and when they do hit, they’ll be hot for two weeks and we’ll never move another copy.” As we headed over to Science, he asked, “How many are you ordering back in? Should I get on a waiting list?” “Sure, I can reserve one,” I replied. “We only have a couple coming back in.” He laughed and said, “A couple? That’s not enough.” I had to laugh this time, “Did you see the stack of Game Change on the front table? A couple will do just fine for us.”
After we talked business books for a bit, I began to wonder how can we better avoid these kinds of situations. How can we make sure that we are properly stocked when books like Game Change, On the Brink, Wench, or The Last Song take off? Where can we get the heads-up so we can get the thumbs up from our customers?
An essential tool for all independent booksellers, and it baffles how many don’t utilize it. With information about the industry ranging from day-to-day bookstore happenings to book reviews to editorials to media alerts, Shelf Awareness is a quick, daily reference sheet even the busiest of booksellers can make time for. SA catches trends, reports early buzz, and is much more handy than searching the ‘net when a customer asks, “Do you know the name of the book that was featured on The Today Show this morning?” Bookstore managers, section leaders, events and marketing coordinators should make reading Shelf Awareness as mandatory as answering the phones and opening the doors.
2. Publisher rep newsletters
Most reps have their own weekly newsletter that highlights upcoming print reviews, media appearances, and pre-publication buzz. Reps make sure we are well-informed when it comes to our stock; while they promote their own books in their individual emails, it is easy to see themes and common topics, pick up on publishing trends, and get even more advanced notice of upcoming media appearances than Shelf Awareness. Reps also know our time is very precious — their newsletters tend to be short, to the point, and formatted for easy reading (bullets, bold typeface, lists). They also focus on the big books and the sleepers; they are a good way to make sure we’re prepared when another book like The Help blows up on bookshelves all across the country.
3. BookPage & the IndieBound White Box
Yes, BookPage is expensive but it is worth it. With a preview for the hot titles for the month, along with reviews, interviews, and advertisements, it is a great way to get basic information. It’s easy to read and even just a quick skim-through will help booksellers recognize the titles reps and Shelf Awareness will highlight on a daily or weekly basis. The IndieBound White Box has more than galleys. Marketing materials, sales sheets, shelftalkers, and bookmarks are only some of the tools packed into this box once a month. IndieBound has done for the independent bookstore what hot fudge did for ice cream; the White Box is like adding sprinkles to the mix. The White Box helps us sell the books our readers should read and want to read. The IndieBound program needs to be a component of everyday bookstore life (but that’s a whole ‘nother post). The white box also lets booksellers know about the mildest sleepers with lots of marketing materials, swag, and talking points. Plus, it includes the upcoming IndieNext picks sheet to help with ordering sometimes two weeks ahead of time. Personally, I get giddy when it comes across my desk.
The most immediate place for the best up-to-the-minute buzz updates is on Twitter. Reps, authors, publishers, bloggers, and other reviewers update fellow bibliophiles to the latest news in the book world. It’s possible to find out who’s on the morning talk shows without turning on the TV, what book made the front page of the book section on any publication in almost any form of print media, and where touring authors will be on any given day. Twitter also gives bookstores a great heads-up: we doubled our book order for our upcoming event with Rebecca Skloot after she tweeted that she’s sold out of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks at every booksigning she’s had on her tour. Now, we won’t have to worry about bookplates and disappointed customers. (Unfortunately, our event with Skloot was cancelled due to circumstances beyond our control – but we were prepared and we still have enough stock for regular handselling [our booksellers love this book]).
What else helps you stay on top of the buzziest books? What other hidden gems help your book radar?
[editor’s note: feel free to include a link in your comment if you feel that you have a source that will really help your friends here at The Bookshop Blog – thanks for sharing]
Image Resource: From Old Books, for info on the image used and a whole pile more of outstanding images.