Secrets of a Children’s Bookseller: Adult Nostalgia and Book Buying Trends

Do you remember your favorite book from childhood? It could be Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf, or maybe it’s Miss Rumphius  by Barbara Cooney (that’s mine!). Thinking about that book probably makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. You LOVED it! So, of course your son, daughter, granddaughter, grandson will love it too!

This holiday season I found a large percentage of customers making gift purchases based on these exact emotions. They’d ask for that treasured book (be it out of print or not) with hopes of sharing the feeling they had as a child. On Christmas Eve, I walked into our classics section and found it plucked bare. Little House on the Prairie, The Chronicles of Narnia, Charlotte’s Web, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables – all had been purchased, wrapped, and now sat under trees with bright shinny bows.

I think there are two ways to look at this trend. On one side, these books DO stand up against the test of time. They’re classics, timeless, and just plain good! But on the other side of this discussion, I think some might argue that not all classics appeal to today’s kids. Some are slightly outdated and harder for today’s audience to relate to. In this second case, I think adults are buying classic books because they feel nostalgic about them. They hope their kids (or grandkids) will love the book as much as they did, and it’s that hope that gets them to take it home and put it under the tree. Ultimately, this comes down to why someone buys a gift (or any product). In this case its about the feelings and memories the gift-giver has about a book. There’s a ton of great new books on the shelves these days, but sometimes that can’t compete with the joy of sharing a loved classic.

This leads us (as writers) back to the age-old point that books need an emotional punch. Books we loved as kids stay with us because we are connected to them emotionally and something in them has resonated over the years. Look back at your favorite classic and see if it still holds up today. Why? Why not? What about the book makes it timeless? What makes it memorable and worth sharing?

Secrets of a Children’s Bookseller: Hot YA and Holes in the Market

Continuing my review of popular children’s books this holiday season, today I’m gonna talk about YA. I’ll cover the individual titles that were really popular and mention a few common request that I had a hard time fulfilling (that’s right – holes in the market that need to be filled!!).

Hot YA Titles this Holiday Season:

  • Legend by Marie Lu (this is a debut novel and it’s doing really well!)
  • Blood Red Road by Moira Young
  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
  • The Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare
  • The Hunger Games by Susan Collins
  • Apothecary by Maile Meloy
  • Inheretance by Christopher Paolini

Holes in the Market:

The following are common requests that I had a hard time fulfilling for customers (please write these books so we can sell them!!).

  • Sport books for girls. Usually this is for a customer who has a daughter who isn’t into romance themed books. This reader plays sports herself and wants to see strong female characters!
  • Dance books for girls. I did have Bunheads (Sophie Flack) and Audition (Stasia Ward Kehoe) on our shelves to recommend. However, some customers wanted dance books without too much romance, or dance books that were not about ballet.
  • Books with Latino protagonists (this goes for both girl and boy books). We need more!! Please write them!

Secrets of a Children’s Bookseller: Series Make Spectacular Gifts!

Earlier this week I talked about the hot picture books of this holiday season, and today I want to jump into the older age groups of Jr. Fiction, Middle Grade, and Young Adult. Although there were lots of spectacular individual books that sold well this holiday (and I’ll get into that in another post) I can’t help but deny the fact that the big sellers are the books that come in a series. Parents, Grandparents, kids, they all go crazy for __________ (insert child’s favorite book series here).

I have a few theories as to why series sell so well:

1) When a kid gets excited about a book, they don’t just have a passing interest. They are PASSIONATE! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: kids run, scream, and jump for joy when the next book in a favorite series hits the shelves. They’re ravenous! And any parent who sees a kid get this excited over a BOOK (rather than…say, um, Angry Birds) has the good sense to buy them the rest of the series for Christmas. And they do.

2) Book box-sets make great gifts! I found that many adults were looking to buy two or more books (per kid) for the holidays. Nothing makes shopping easier than the suggestion of a great new series that has a box set. In fact, most customers asked for box sets rather than the first book of a series. It’s the holidays, they want to splurge a little and get a nice gift!

3) Book series are a lot like your favorite TV show. After you’ve read the first book (or watched a few episodes of a TV show) you’re invested. You know the world. The characters feel like your best friends and you want to hang out with them. You already know what to expect and don’t have to start from scratch with a  book that could be good…or could be a total dud.

Okay so, here’s what was HOT in Series this holiday season:

  • The new Diary of a Wimpy Kid Book: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney.
  • Susan Collin’s The Hunger Games is still selling like we are in the games and our lives depend on it.
  • With the release of Inheritance by Christopher Paolini (the final installment of the Eragon Series) these books were a common request.
  • The Lost Hero series by Rick Riordan.
  • The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz.
  • Steampunk is gaining traction with both The Clockwork Prince by Casandra Clare and the Leviathan Series by Scott Westerfeld doing really well.
  • The Rangers Apprentice series by John Flanagan.
  • Origami Yoda and Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger
  • As for in Early Series and Jr. Fiction, we are always (year round) selling tons of books in the Magic Tree House series (Mary Pope Osborne). Other popular series include The Rainbow Fairies (Daisy Meadows), Ivy and Bean (Annie Barrows), the Warriors series (Erin Hunter), and the Geronimo Stilton series (Geronimo Stilton).
  • And of course, good old Harry Potter is always a common request!

If you’ve got an idea for a great series (particularly in Middle Grade), hop to it! I think this is a trend that will be around for awhile.

Secrets of a Children’s Bookseller: What’s Hot in the Picture Book Market?

To start off my Book-seller’s sneak-peek into the trends of the 2011 holiday season I thought I’d begin with picture books. And I’m happy to report that picture books are not dead! In fact, picture books sold wonderfully this holiday. The following is a re-cap of some of the hot books, trends, and requests that I got this season:

The Big Books of 2011:

These are individual picture books that we sold stacks and stack and stacks of!

  • I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
  • Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
  • The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmet
  • Stars by Mary Lyn Rae (Illustrated by Marla Frazee. Marla is a bit of a local celebrity, therefore the sales of this book may be related to her local fan base. Not to say this book isn’t awesome, because it is. However, this is a great point  for authors and illustrators – get involved with your local bookstores. We love you and your community will too!)
  • The Lego Ideas Book by Daniel Lipkowitz (This isn’t a picture book, it’s a non-fiction book of ideas of things to build with your left-over legos. It fit with this age-group which is why I’m mentioning it here, and it sold like crazy!!!)

And a few awesome honorable mentions that were also pretty popular:

  • Pirate vs. Pirate by Mary Quattlebaum
  • Llama Llama Home with Mama by Anna Dewdney
  • Press Here by Hevee Tulette
  • Every Thing On It by Shel Silverstein
  • Itsy Mitsy Runs Away by Elanna Allen

The Princess Trend

Princess books are still very popular! In fact, it’s the number one answer to “What does your three to six-year-old girl like?”  There are a lot of options already out there for princess (or very “girly” themed) picture books, including: Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor, Pinkalicious by Elizabeth and Victoria Kann, Lady-Bug Girl by Jackie Davis and David Soman, and The Very Fairy Princess by Julie Andrews. But it seems there’s always room for more. Plenty of parents needed NEW books as they already own the traditional go-to girly books mentioned above.

In contrast, there is also the “anti-princess” trend. This is when a parent comes in and wants to steer their daughter away from their obsession with princesses. In these cases they want a strong girl character who is independent, fun, and into things that are not pink, glittery, or covered in neon polka-dots.

Boys Love Trucks

The number one request for young boys (ages 2 to 6) are trains, planes, and automobiles. It’s so popular that we actually have an entire transportation section of the store. There are a lot of great classics in this category, from The Little Engine That Could to Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. But some new popular titles include Otis by Loren Long and Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Dusky Rinker. Also non-fiction automobile books are popular, particularly those with lifting flaps and sounds.

Boys also love dinosaurs, sports, astronomy, and science. These are popular requests as well (and we do have whole sections for them too). However, many of the books on these shelves are primarily non-fiction rather than a traditional picture book.

The Cute Cuddly Animal Phenomenon

In general the number one picture book request is phrased like this: “Show me all your books with ____________ (insert cute cuddly animal) in them.” Usually this will be something like owls, or puppy dogs, or monkeys. Occasionally they will be something odd like moose or lemurs. It seems that kids go through phases where they’re really into one animal. The other reason this question is so popular (particularly around the holidays) is that adults like to give the gift of a book AND a stuffed animal. Pretty much any animal is game, the requests for “insert cute cuddly animal” are pretty vast so have fun with your next picture book character.

There’s Something for Everyone

This is only a small glimpse into the number of books sold over the holidays. Most sales are highly individual, and I spend a lot of time walking through the store giving suggestions based on the customer’s idea of the type of book they want to give for the holidays. The above are a few examples of things I noticed selling particularly well, or questions I was asked over and over.

Lets not forget that trends are exactly that – trends. And just because it’s popular today doesn’t mean it will be popular next year, or even in another city or state. I work at one small independent bookstore, so of course my observations will be skewed by our customer base. Still, I think it’s fun to see what’s doing well!

Happy New Year Everyone!

Secrets of a Children’s Bookseller: What was HOT this Holiday Season?

Alas, as many of you have noticed, I’ve not been very active on the blog this past month. Despite my absence online, I swear it has all been for a good cause! For you see, I’ve just spent the last 6 weeks (of holiday shopping mania) selling children’s books! And I’ll tell you, there’s no better way to get a snippet of whats selling in the kidlit market than to work in the children’s department of a bookstore during the big holiday push.

Though I don’t have access to official book selling numbers, there are a number of ways to tell what books are selling like hot-cakes and which are floundering in the dust. For example:

  • Take a look around the store and you can get a great idea of what’s doing well. Such as — that pile of display books that was towering yesterday and is gone today…yup, it’s pretty safe to say that’s selling well!
  • Shelving books from receiving is another great way to see what needs re-stocking. Particularly with books we only have one or two copies of.
  • And of course actual requests from customers helps you to get a sense of what they’ve heard about and want to buy.
  • And lets not forget the hand selling. A book-sellers life is about lots and lots and lots of hand-selling!

I’ve decided to break down my observations from this holiday season into a few categories as to better organize what’s hot in which sections. I’ll be posting the following reports throughout the week:

I hope your holidays were spectacular and that the coming information helps inspire you for the New Year!

Traveling Through the Digital Landscape (Part 2)

Continuing my notes from Emma Dryden’s 2011 SCBWI LA talk on publishing and the digital landscape, this post will cover the challenges publishers and authors are faced with as the marketplace keeps changing. Be sure to read PART 1 on the development of digital technology and how it affects the way we read.

Who Gets What Percentage?

  • Currently publishers take in 50% of profits from e-books.
  • Self-published authors get 60%  to 80% of their royalties.
  • Barnes and Noble currently has 25% of the e-book market.  Apple has been interested in purchasing Barnes and Noble so they can compete head to head with Amazon.

Google is No Giggling Matter:

  • Pay attention to Google! They are trying to put out-of-print books into digital devices.

Do Agents become Publishers?

  • There is a new trend of agents and agencies doing editing, cover design, and even some publishing.
  • Andrea Brown Agency and Dystel & Goderich are becoming agency consultants.
  • This is a controversial concept. Is an agent really the perfect publishing partner? The jury is still out on this topic.

New Publishing Outlets:

  • Retailer Publishing
  • Author Publishing
  • Children’s Publishing by: tik-a-tok, inkpop, and figment.
  • UTales is a new platform for illustrators and picture book writers.
  • Indies on Demand
  • Great places to share content include: youtube, itunes, flicker, blogTV, Glogs, Skype.

How does a Publisher Stay Competitive and Fashionable?

  • What keeps a publisher making money?
  • They need to consider Google editions and Google affiliates. How do you control what is on Google? What is fair to the copyrights?
  • How do we deal with piracy? How do we determine what’s free and what is not?
  • “Don’t pirate this book because your friend needs the money vs. Buy this book so you can read it.”
  • Publisher’s Competition = Online Vendors. How does a publisher make themselves a better outlet for authors than these other outlets?
  • Publisher’s Competition = Self-Publishing
  • Publisher’s Competition = Print on Demand (POD) (Such as: Lulu, iUniverse, or Amazon.)
  • The relevancy of the publisher will be diminished if they are not involved in the digital market.
  • Publishers are asking: Who are our customers and why are they our customers? The answer used to be the bookstores, but that is changing.

Changes in Customer Choice:

  • Consumers are now starting to demand some choice in what they consume.
  • There is a growing trend in creating objects that a customer can purchase and customize.
  • We’ve moved from average mass media to the individual.

Author Interaction with His/Her Audience:

  • Lots of interaction is happening online now in “The Cloud”
  • Are authors ready to socialize? Do they want to create a dialog with their audience?
  • Do authors want to create a shared experience online with their audience?
  • What’s your web-utation (play on the word reputation).
  • As an author do you provide your audience with a website that includes: backstory (yours or your books), photos, contests, surveys and reviews, and songlists? Do you create content that your readers can share?
  • Listen, participate, talk with people (not at them), create relevant content, and show respect.

Some Social Media Statistics:

  • Facebook has 760 Million subscribers and the median age is 38.
  • Myspace has 100 million subscribers and the median age is 31
  • Linked in has 100 million subscribers and the median age is 44.
  • Twitter has 200 million subscribers and the median age is 35.
  • Google Plus is growing (no stats as of yet) but is a blend of social and professional.

Some Interesting Digital Things to Look Into:

  • Social Networking:
    • Online social networking for books: Goodreads
  • People to Follow on Twitter:
    • Open Road Integrated Media
    • Scroll Motion
    • Callaway Digital
    • Ruckus Media Group
    • Mindiemoms
    • Goodreads
    • Write4kids
    • drydenbooks
  • Other Fun Stuff:

Closing Quote: “We need to raise a new generation of writers and artists not for our nation’s economy, but for our nations soul.” – Mark Seigel

Emma D. Dryden began her career in children’s publishing in 1986 as an Editorial Assistant at Random House Children’s Books. She was then hired as Associate Editor for the legendary Margaret K. McElderry, whose eponymous imprint was a part of Macmillan Children’s Books, and was later named Senior Editor of the imprint. After McElderry retired, Emma was made Vice President, Editorial Director, and in 2005, Vice President, Publisher of Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books, imprints of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, a position she held until May 2009.

Over the course of Emma’s career she’s edited nearly five-hundred books for children and young readers, ranging in format from board books and picture books to poetry anthologies, novelty books, non-fiction, middle grade fiction, and YA/teen fiction and fantasy. As publisher, she oversaw the annual publication of more than one-hundred hardcover and paperback titles. Authors and illustrators whom Emma has edited include Ellen Hopkins, Karma Wilson, Susan Cooper, Alan Katz, David Catrow, Raul Colon, Shelia P. Moses, Marjorie Priceman, Lee Bennett Hopkins, David Diaz, and Paul Zelinsky.

Traveling Through the Digital Landscape (Part 1)

Emma Dryden spoke at the 2011 LA SCBWI Conference and gave a very in depth talk about how the digital marketplace is changing the business of books. I took so many notes I’ve had to break this into two posts. Part one will cover how kids interact with technology and fiction, how this is influencing the business, and some of the key factors that have changed the landscape. Part two will look into how the book business is adapting and the challenges it’s facing to stay competitive, as well as some of the new models that are surfacing due to self publishing. This is a big hot topic and Dryden was very thorough! Enjoy.

Dryden pre-empted this talk with a reminder that we should never forget that story matters most!

Kids and Technology:

  • The landscape of technology is a place kids know intrinsically.
  • Paper is not something kids are used to interacting with.
  • Most children are media consumers by the time they are one year old.
  • Kids are not linear.
  • Kids brains have adapted to a digital dialect.

How Interaction with Digital Technology is Changing the Way We Read and Acquire Information:

  • In the absence of bursts of stimulation we now get bored faster.
  • The way we read is different and changing. How we interact with an object is changing.
  • The internet creates a whole new area of narrative. One people can explore and drive.
  • It’s become more important for one to know how to search for a fact, rather than to know the fact itself.
  • Does heavy technology use diminish empathy, whereas fiction creates empathy?

Our Connection to Fiction:

  • Our experience of fiction is based on: literacy, imagination, and human connection.
  • Fiction allows us to think for the sake of thinking.

How is the Book Business Changing?

  • The digital world is changing the book business and we had better adapt!
  • Print is not going away for the sake of digital, but we are moving to a model that uses both.
  • It pays to be flexible and on time when it comes to this new digital landscape.
  • Some smaller publishers are taking the e-only option and no longer printing books.
  • Libraries need to become more like Lady Ga Ga and less like Lady Bird Johnson.
  • Technology should not or need not drive a story.
  • Storytellers and illustrators are our best guides as to how the landscape is changing and how it should change.

Things that Changed the Game:

  • Apple created the iPhone in 2007
  • Amazon came out with the Kindle in 2007. Currently there are 15 million kindles in the hands of consumers.
  • The recession hit us hard and created more start-ups.
  • The e-book battles began.

Things that Continue to Change the Game and Influence the Market:

  • In 2010 the Sony Walkman was retired.
  • Apple baked the iPie and wants to eat it too.
  • The expanding book market changed to create less cost book production through digital sources. (Less cost not NO cost).
  • E-Books are everywhere! It is estimated that 50% of book sales will be E-Books by 2014.
  • What’s your app-titude? Apps are changing the market as well.
  • Pottermore is influencing and changing business models.
  • We are easily distracted by new devices.

What about Picture Books and the Digital Market?

  • Picture books do still matter! And they still are selling. Electronic media should not be a threat to picture books, it should be a supplement!

Stay Tuned for Part Two:

  • In part two, Dryden brings up issues of Agents becoming publishers, self publishing, new business challenges, and customer choice.

Emma D. Dryden began her career in children’s publishing in 1986 as an Editorial Assistant at Random House Children’s Books. She was then hired as Associate Editor for the legendary Margaret K. McElderry, whose eponymous imprint was a part of Macmillan Children’s Books, and was later named Senior Editor of the imprint. After McElderry retired, Emma was made Vice President, Editorial Director, and in 2005, Vice President, Publisher of Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books, imprints of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, a position she held until May 2009.

Over the course of Emma’s career she’s edited nearly five-hundred books for children and young readers, ranging in format from board books and picture books to poetry anthologies, novelty books, non-fiction, middle grade fiction, and YA/teen fiction and fantasy. As publisher, she oversaw the annual publication of more than one-hundred hardcover and paperback titles. Authors and illustrators whom Emma has edited include Ellen Hopkins, Karma Wilson, Susan Cooper, Alan Katz, David Catrow, Raul Colon, Shelia P. Moses, Marjorie Priceman, Lee Bennett Hopkins, David Diaz, and Paul Zelinsky.