So many people ask me about how I choose books for the shop I thought I would share with you the top secrets of the trade, passed down from bookseller to bookseller via an ancient ritual.
Each month I literally go through hundreds of books from many publishers and decide what to order for the upcoming months. Did you catch that? Hundreds of books. And on big months, I would say thousands when you look at October lists (pre-Christmas) and dealing with over 20 publishers. Can you imagine, as a bibliophile, how you have to rein in the urge to buy it all? I seriously feel like cackling “mine, mine, mine, they will all be mine!” but I refrain and act professionally when all I want to be is a kid in a candy store.
So the secrets? There are none. There is not even a specific equation for choosing the books we sell but there are some important factors. Let me elucidate:
Is it a good book?
Yes, I know this seems really basic, but you’d be surprised. Every book I stock doesn’t have to rock my world or change my view of society, but I have a preference for well written and well crafted novels containing characters you can relate to. Believe me, there are many books out there that don’t have these qualities but yet they crowd publisher lists
We, my staff and I, read a lot of what we stock about 3-4 months prior to release, the publishers issue reading copies and it really helps us sort the wheat from the chaff so to speak. I love both non-fiction and the more literary style novels, Courtney loves crime, fantasy and fiction, Laura loves children’s books, historical fiction and general fiction and Neek is the fantasy and young adult queen.
If we don’t read the whole book, we often get a sample chapter to see the writing style and get a grasp of the content. This makes a lot of our ordering decisions for us. If the author is really well established we generally rely on their reputation. Having said that – there are a few established authors I don’t order in, as their writing has turned woeful and I can’t honestly recommend them. Patricia Cornwell, I’m looking at you.
Quite often I or a member of staff will champion a book, basically, read it and fall in love with it and recommend it to everyone we know – because we just want to share its sheer awesomeness. I love this, because it means we’ve found a great book and we get to have other people discover it too. It’s a bookseller’s biggest thrill and I order bucket loads of those books when we find them.
Who is it for?
One of the advantages of being an independent bookstore is that we have our own community of readers. Quite often I will order in a book because I am specifically thinking of particular customers when I order in a title; often along the lines of “Oh, she’s doing a degree in anthropology, she will love this” or “wow, he has been looking for something on this, it’s all about wolves in their natural habitat”. You get the gist.
To be perfectly honest, it’s like I am picking out birthday presents for customers every month, making sure that everyone will find something they love on the shelf. Which is really fun.
Seriously, really fun.
Yep, I’m going to say it. A book can be amazing and wonderful or shoot rainbows from its pages but if the cover is really bad (I’ve seen some shockers) then I won’t order in as many. So really, this is a quantity decision rather than a “will I get it” decision.
As much as people protest that it is shallow to contemplate a cover in a book buying decision, it really isn’t. Many people won’t give a book as much of a chance if the cover doesn’t reflect what is described through the blurb on the back. The cover will attract the wrong people who will read the blurb and feel a disconnection with the book already. Game over.
Does it fit in with the shop?
I have seen some great business books, fabulous sport books and a variety of amazing design books. But we do not have a place for them. I will order on customer request, and will mention those books to particular people but we have a limited space and we simply don’t have enough demand for some books.
Outlay – do I have enough money to put it on the shelf?
I would love to order some more of the quirkier and beautiful design books as well, but at $200+ a pop that is a lot of money to be tied up sitting on a shelf for the off chance. So we keep it to a restrained amount.
Same as I would love to have a range of deluxe edition leather bound volumes. But then I would have to cut back elsewhere, so for now, those will wait.
Being in a business, I have to watch where my budget is spent and as I don’t have a wealthy benefactor or rich silent partner (I am currently seeking candidates for these positions, applications are open) I have to stick to that damn budget or go broke spectacularly.
Things that do not factor in:
The publisher offers a free bag/hat/steak knives with the book. If the book isn’t worth reading, then no amount of free stuff is going to help.
“Love this book or your money back!”
“We guarantee this book!”
“This book will do the dishes for you!”
All well and good, and to be fair, the promise is usually right – it is quite often a good book, but if it isn’t, it won’t be on my shelf. There would be nothing worse for someone to read a bad book and then have to go online to ask for their money back. That’s why booksellers are here – so we can help people make the right choice on what to read in the first place.
Only having what I want to read
Let me assure you – this is NOT the case. I will happily go on for the rest of my life without reading about composting, knitting or what really went on in the Korean War. Other people DO want to read about these things (I know, hey?) so I supply a selection that I know to be well researched and well written.
So that’s about it.
I hope you have enjoyed that little foray into what I do on a constant basis for my little bookstore. It’s a never ending task which I am happy to say, I love to bits, even if it can get overwhelming at times. I mostly get it right but can still get it wrong… apparently I’m not perfect. Who knew?
Tanya – TLC Books