The new word for buying books for the bookstore is “curating the collection.” It sounds so important – curating -- but I cannot, for the life of me, consider what I do when I buy books for the shop “curating.” It’s more like “crapshooting.” In other words, there is no way to know ahead of time which of the thousands of books I scan each season will be the “big” books. Sometimes I guess lucky and have plenty on hand; more often, I end up chasing a particular book, meaning always trying to keep up with demand (think – 50 SHADES OF GREY or right now, GONE GIRL).
When people ask me how I decide what to have in the bookstore, I do have elements I take into consideration. Unfortunately there is no magic formula – or I haven’t found it. One of the more difficult things is how early we have to order -- I have already ordered most of my frontlist (new) books for the holiday season and sales reps are starting to make appointments for the Winter 2013 list! Something could happen between now and publication date that makes a book I overlooked into the biggest thing since Harry Potter. I have to trust I’ll figure that out and so will publishers so that they up the print run.
The biggest single thing I keep in mind is the people who shop in my store. Another store may sell 50 copies of Dave Eggers newest book, but truly I have never sold even one copy of any of his books (love you anyway, Dave). That’s not what our customers come in to buy. In general, I sell women’s fiction (book club reads), historical fiction, history (especially local), quirky, humorous books and children’s books of all shapes and sizes. The big blockbuster books aren’t usually blockbusters for me because I can’t match discounts of the multitude of stores, book and other, and online retailers that sell lower than they cost me.
Another decision point is how have books in that series or by that author sold in the past? THE DISCOVERY OF WITCHES by Deborah Harkness did okay at MSB, but I have lots of requests and inquiries about when the next book, SHADOW OF NIGHT, is coming out so I upped my order. It’s even easier with kids books: Yes, I’ll take a bunch of the new Rick Riordan title, the next 39 Clues, the new Mo Willems, the new Fancy Nancy, the new Llama Llama – not to mention that I love all those books. Why? They sold before and they will sell again so I feel confident in ordering in quantity.
Books that are similar in tone and content to other books that sold well are another thing I look for. Both of our book clubs are reading THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL GIRL by Rachel Simon and it has been very popular. It is also “like” THE MEMORY KEEPERS DAUGHTER by Kim Edwards in that it deals with institutions for developmentally disabled people in the 60s. That is where the similarities end, but I would surely recommend BEAUTIFUL GIRL to someone who liked MEMORY KEEPER.
One of the best indicators of success is word of mouth. Customers told me about THE SHACK and it went on to be a best seller in our store. HEAVEN IS REAL is another book that I learned about from customers. A couple of you come in and ask and I listen. GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn is selling well now. It is set in Missouri so I’d brought in one copy, but as customers request it/buy it, they say, “My dad is reading this now and said to buy it” or “My uncle said this is an awesome book.” I love recommendations from you. It all goes back to the first element I mentioned: keeping customers in mind.
The most subjective criteria is that sometimes I buy a book just because I like it and think customers should buy it whether they do or not. Doing this too much ends up in the store being The Books Vicki Likes Bookstore, so I have to be careful.
I’ve missed big books and bought way too many of titles that underperformed (in my opinion). Although I like to think I “curate” an interesting collection that draws customers into the store, on my part it’s more hopeful thinking that I’ve picked books at least some people will want to buy, read and enjoy.