When Michiko Kakutani decided to review Jonathan Franzen's new novel Freedom* well before its on sale date, our customers were rather confused. As Franzen is also on the cover of Time magazine this week, it makes it seem like it was less the jumping of the gun than a planned campaign. It helps us build holds, but I think sometimes it makes customers who are on the fence between us and ordering online to go in the other direction. So we have customer holds on the book, but not as many as we do for Mockingjay, by the way.
I think our customers have figured out that it's not unusual for a book on the front page of the New York Times Book Review to go on sale the following Tuesday. If they are one of my customers from the East Side of Milwaukee or Shorewood, it's usually not an issue. At the same time, I have regular customers from Fox Bay, Brookfield, Oak Creek, and Waukesha**. Many of them are regularly good customers, but I don't usually get the chance to bring them back in less than a week. We do a little Ingram-direct-to-home, and we have a few customers that build up to $50 (after which we don't charge frieight***)
The trick is trying to convey the difference between firm on sale, soft on sale, and who-knows-when on sale. And even we get a little confused when publishers mix firm on sale and soft on sale in the same box. Last week we had a customer trying to get our copies out of the back room of The Power (the follow-up to The Secret). Fortunately we didn't have it, so I didn't have to hear a bookseller say, "We have it but we're not selling it to you." So much easier to say, "We don't have it."
Nowadays, most of the publishers let you know within a day or two when you should be getting your new books, that is, if you keep track of all the scheduling changes. I used to try, but that's one thing that's harder for a small store to do. And for smaller publishers, we often have no idea. They designate a pub date, and usually keep to it, as they adjust shipping dates over what can be a two-month window. In the old days, I remember books that would have a February pub date that would ship in November to get the Christmas sales. Now most larger publishers will let you know if it's been moved up (or you can check one of several websites) but for less-than-lead-titles from smaller publishers, we often just don't know. They're usually working like us, a little tight on staff and resources for what they want to do, so it's just a happy, old-fashioned surprise when the book comes in. And you know something? I like that.
*Conrad read Freedom and loved it. Everything's in place for Franzen's follow up to to The Corrections to be a huge hit. Isn't that nice when that happens to a literary novel?
**Yes, I know I have wonderful customers from other wonderful neighborhoods of Milwaukee and its suburbs. Gauge how hard it is to come back by how close or far it is from the listed locations. And for another post, why is it so hard for some people, and so easy for others?
**If you are sending books from a bookstore you like to your home, please consider sending it to your work address. It saves us a substantial amount of money. Of course I wouldn't put How to Quit Your Job on that order.