Monday, 2 November 2015

Three Independent Booksellers and How They Buy

November's Words and Pictures focus is on the adults in publishing–those who choose, edit, buy, and sell our books for young readers. 

We asked a sample of independent bookshops to give us a peek at how they buy children's books.


The three bookshops featured this week are: A Festival of Books, a new bookshop in Chipping Campden with a special emphasis on books for children and young people; Saint Ives Bookseller in Saint Ives, Cornwall (owned by Mabecron Books Publishing, which also runs Falmouth Bookseller and University Bookseller in Plymouth); and Chicken and Frog, a children's bookshop in Brentwood, Essex. 
The most successful launches/signings are when the author really interacts with the audience.

1) Realistically, is there anything an individual author can do to help his or her book be bought by a bookshop like yours?

How helpful are book signings/launches?

Natasha & Jim at Chicken & Frog: Book signings can work really well, especially to put the focus on a new author. Having said that, we have to push signings a lot from our side, in order to get people interested. If publishers provide posters/boards that helps a lot too. 
The most successful launches/signings are when the author really interacts with the audience – answering questions, colouring sheets, sharing their book etc.

Emily at A Festival of Books: I do read emails and letters from authors regarding their books and try to reply as best as I can to each one. It does help if there is an image or images relating to the book. I will always read any copies that are sent and give feedback too. I am very new to bookselling but I do think children like to meet authors and hear about their books first hand. School visits work best for me instead of signings.   
Saint Ives: To be completely honest there is not a huge amount they can do. I feel by the time we see or hear about the book it should sell itself to us! Book signings can be helpful, though with the size of our shop and in peak times it is really much better for authors to pop in and sign stock rather than have an advertised signing/launch. A lot of the time when this happens we have the book in (I’m sure authors check discreetly before revealing themselves) but sometimes it is nice to be informed when a particular author is in the area to give us a chance to make sure we have the stock we want in.



2) What are some trends you are seeing in the books you buy? What do you see too much of? What would you like to see more of?

Chicken and Frog: That’s a tricky one. Books are certainly becoming more diverse, to reflect our society, which is great. We don’t stock any ‘character’ books, as often the quality of the content is not as good as other stories.

We need more high-quality early reading books. Johnny Duddle’s crossover from his picture books to short novels is a perfect example. The text is not easy, but the illustrations are still there to boost a younger reader’s confidence and interest.
We need more high-quality early reading books.

A Festival of Books: I see a lot of books in the fantasy genre about young girls who have to save someone or be really brave/strong etc although so far I have enjoyed them all.  I would like to see more mystery/crime for kids. 
I would like to see more mystery/crime for kids.
Saint Ives: There do seem to be too many Fault in Our Stars-type around...



3) What would you estimate is the average "shelf life" of a children's or YA book in your shop before you decide it won't sell?

Chicken and Frog: I’d say three months, although sometimes a book will then gain popularity and begin to sell. However, if we can’t hand sell a title within three months, it tends to be one for the returns box.

A Festival of Books: Around six months but some books are ones I really believe in that are maybe too obscure/special and I keep them a bit longer.

Saint Ives: If a new book doesn’t sell in six months or so I’m afraid its gone (our take is that if it hasn’t sold in the summer it isn’t going to sell). Generally an older book has to sell 2/3+ copies a year to become a stock title, though this can be more in winter when we really have to tighten up on the stock. 



4) Who buys the books: the adults or the children? At what age do children start choosing their own books?

Chicken and Frog: It varies considerably. Often pre-schoolers know what they want, and are drawn to covers, textures etc. They choose their own. Adults tend to choose if it’s a gift or for a child who is not keen on reading.
Parents/grandparents etc will often want to go for a ‘classic’ that they are familiar with, rather than a book that may suit the child they are buying for. But, we are on hand to offer advice along the way.

A Festival of Books: Generally the adults but the children have a lot of influence, I notice that children age 9+ will come in and pick and buy their own.

Saint Ives: Both adults and children. 1? Believe me we’ve had some very adamant children wanting their Peppa Pig book! But more often 6/7+.


The self-publishing news was not all good....
Our customers won't pay for a book that doesn't look professionally produced. 
5) Do you buy self-published books? 

Chicken and Frog: Not often, no. The book market is saturated and quality is high. We know our customers – they won’t pay for a book that doesn’t look professionally produced, which is often the case with self-published picture books.

Having said that, we do stock a fantastic range of London guides, StepOutside. They have been tried and tested on our own children and are superb.

A Festival of Books: Yes, but I need to read them first to make sure I can really get behind them.
At the end of the day we are a small business.
Saint Ives: This is the tricky question. Very rarely and when we do it is almost universally sale or return. We try not to as, on the whole, they really do not look as polished or sell as well as those published by the major houses, and space is at a premium. It may not sound a lot but with the added administration of keeping track of what you’ve sold, where all copies of the books are, making sure the author has been paid and dealing with various authors checking either in person or by phone as to whether their books have sold (over what can be lengthy periods of time), and the issue of what to do with unsold books, it really isn’t worth it for us. The trade discount is never as good as we get from the larger publishers (obviously I can understand why on the whole), a lot of self-published authors are extremely unrealistic–at the end of the day we are a small business, and if I’m not reordering a Robert Muchamore book back in because we’ve only sold two copies of it this particular year and we’re short on space, I don’t particularly want to be taking an unknown author’s book for less profit. I’m sorry but there it is. 

6) There has been a lot of discussion around the topic of boys' not reading. Do you think there is a real problem? 

Chicken and Frog: Not really–they often read in a different way. Boys (and this is a generalisation) like shorter chapters, fast paced narratives or well formed non-fiction that they can dip in and out of. If a book lacks a male protagonist, it is usually by-passed by boys, which is not the case as often when vice versa.

Graphic novels are also a positive way into reading, not just for boys of course. Phoenix Comics publish an eclectic mix of graphic novels, as well as their weekly comic–all are extremely well written and illustrated. 

A Festival of Books: I think there are definitely more girls reading than boys, but I think boys need the push more than girls. Girls tend to try anything, but when a boy finds something he likes he will stick with it. I don't think there is a problem, but there could be in the future if we lose readers now, as they are the ones who will keep reading alive for their children. If they are not reading when they are older, their children will not either. 

Saint Ives: No, not really–we occasionally get adults in asking for recommendations for boys who are hard to keep reading but I notice this less and less now. I wonder whether the advent of books like Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates have bridged the gap and encouraged “weaker” readers onto other books.  Non-fiction books too seem to be good at the moment which boys also enjoy. Both boys and girls of various ages often come in to choose and buy their own books though I think you will probably always get that older teenager who is not as interested for the time being (of both sexes!). 
The range and standard of children’s books is continuing to rise, as people realise that children deserve excellent literature. This makes us very happy booksellers!
_____________________


The standard of writing I am reading is fantastic, from established authors and debut authors alike. –Emily at A Festival of Books

On an encouraging note, Natasha and Jim of Chicken and Frog added: “The world of books is forever changing, which is exciting, yet daunting at the same time. YA is a tough sell for us, as the YA reader doesn’t necessarily go for a ‘real’ book, but favours other platforms.

“The range and standard of children’s books is continuing to rise, as people realise that children deserve excellent literature. This makes us very happy booksellers!”

A big thanks to the independent booksellers who took the time to answer our questions! Here is more information about their shops. 

Chicken and Frog
7 Security House
Ongar Road
Brentwood, Essex CM15 9AT
Tel. 02177 230068
https://twitter.com/chickenandfrog
The shop's Facebook page

Cambrook Court
Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire 
GL55 6AT
Tel. 01386 840726
The shop's Facebook page

2 Fore Street
Saint Ives, Cornwall TR26 1AB
Tel. 01736 796676
https://twitter.com/stivesbooks
The shop's Facebook page


6 comments:

  1. Read and enjoyed! A good glimpse into the world of independent bookshops - perhaps the most satisfying places of all to buy books. Was floored by the 'we don't stock any "character" books' comment from Chicken and Frog. Er, what are 'character' books?

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  2. Interesting post. It's often so easy to focus on the perspective of agents and publishers with regard to what the trends are. This was really fascinating to read the perspective of people who are selling the books to the intended audience.

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  3. Maybe character books are books with television or movie characters? That's what I assumed, but maybe I was wrong.

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  4. Such an interesting read. So valuable to get the bookseller's view of the industry. Wonderful. Thank you!

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  5. The wonderful David from P&G Wells will be selling books again at this year's conference - I think we need to take him aside ask him the same questions.

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  6. Done, Jan! His answers will appear in a later feature.

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