Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday's Ungift Post

And the reason that this is an ungift post is that we're out of so much. I'm waiting until the new year (and after inventory) to restock. We need booklights and boxed cards and puppets and purses and puzzles and well, you name it. I would say our loose cards are in better shape than last year and well, I didn't run out of teddy bears.

In terms of holiday stuff, our boxed cards are still 50% off, but the ornaments and other holiday peripherals are now 75% off.  We tried to build our ornament business, but it turned out our increased inventory brought only a slight increase in sales. Felt ornaments were quite popular, as was a metal angel. Silly green reindeer and owls made out of gourds were both hits, as was a resin bird with a dangling ball ornament. And this resin pheasant we had sold so quickly that Amie was not able to get one.

On the other hand, a new line we brought in with a slightly higher price point was touch and go. The feather trees and ornaments didn't work. The brush kitties and critters and the ceramic origami crane had a fine sell through; the puppies, bears, and doves were duds.

So the cats had the last laugh over the dogs. But in retrospect, they were nicer looking. And like the napkins, it's sometimes just a question of minimums. We can sell this stuff, only not at the level of purchase the vendor required. Sometimes it's important to step back and say, "I like it, but that's too much."

On a positive note, we sold out of holiday gift wrap and tissue, so those are areas we might explore a bit more aggressively for 2012.

It's tricky maneuvering successes and failures.  But that's just part of the business.

Have a great new year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Newsletter Goes Out, The Holiday Hours are Announced, We do a Lot of Year-end Cleanup.

Sometimes it feels like my job is just writing the email newsletter. We sent another one out today, and while it was premature to let folks know about January events, it's never too early to mark your calendar.

However, the big news was reminding folks that we have special hours for the weekend. The bad news is that we are closed for three evenings in a row, due to the way the holiday falls. The good news is that we are open on New Year's Day.  Our hours are:

Saturday: 10 to 5
Sunday: 11 to 5
Monday: 10 to 6

We were originally going to do regular hours on Monday, but with all the football and parades and such, plus the realization that most folks would see this as their Sunday, the odds of us having much business were slim. And on top of that, we needed a time to do a physical inventory.

This knocked our in-store lit group book club to January 9, 7 pm. I've let most folks who are regulars know. Three folks have let me know that they are absolutely loving the new selection, How to Read the Air, by Dinaw Mengestu. And one of our attendees who commutes from Indianapolis probably wouldn't have been able to attend. Another regular mentioned she wouldn't be able to finish the book by the 2nd. But on the other hand, we do share a regular with the in-store sci fi club (they are also meeting 1/9 at 7 pm to discuss Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower) and that gives her a difficult choice. I'm speculating she'll go with the speculators, but she might spend time with each of us.

Otherwise, the day was pretty busy, cleaning up end-of-year details. I put up for payment a number of consignments, and tallied the totals for several fundraiser programs. We sent checks to folks from various shopping nights and tallied the payments for our recent writing class. And yes, we got everything back in order from the Fill the Shelves program at Katie Gingrass. Over 50 books were donated by you. Thanks!

Speaking of donations, we also sent over $700 to Tom Farmer's Partners in Health program. I'm sure they could use the money.

That seems like a lot, but there's plenty more to do. See you tomorrow.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Here's a Look at Our January 2012 Events. Did I Just Say 2012? Yikes.

It's after Christmas and we're back to thinking about upcoming events. Stacie got our press release out and got all our great January delights up on the events page of our website, with the first half featured on our front page. My apologies to a couple of authors I was never able to confirm. It turns out it's hard to get January events in place when you're dealing with Christmas! But here's what we've got:

Wednesday, January 11, 7 pm, at Boswell
Leigh Stein, author of The Fallback Plan
Stein is also a published poet. Her first collection, Dispatches from the Future, is coming out in June 2012. Since we have a pretty active poetry community here, she'll be reading a bit of poetry with her fiction.

Thursday, January 12, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Ayad Akhtar, author of American Dervish.
I'm so excited about this first novel (yes, I read it) by this Milwaukee-area-bred actor/director/playwright and fiction writer. I've got a whole post coming about it in about a week, about when the book lands.

Tuesday, January 17, 7 pm, at Boswell:
David Finch, author of Journal of Best Practices.
Finch's comic memoir concerns his diagnosis of Asberger's Syndrome and how he went about shoring up his relationships, particularly the one with his wife, after the revelation. I've also really enjoyed this book. I'm hoping this doesn't get repetitive, but we've got a lot of Daniel picks on the list this month.

Thursday, January 19, 7 pm, at Sugar Maple, 441 E. Lincoln at KK, in Bay View:
Hannah Pittard, author of The Fates will Find Their Way, along with Patrick Somerville, author of The Cradle and The Universe in Miniature in Miniature (and a forthcoming novel later this spring).
We're back at one of our favorite watering hole for an evening of words and suds. I'm a huge fan of Pittard's novel, as is Stacie, only I'm handling this one solo as Amie and Stacie are soaking up better bookselling practices in New Orleans.

Monday, January 23, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master's Son.
Now I'm a broken record. This amazing novel set in North Korea is going to receive major attention upon release in January. This one Jason read too and his enthusiasm convinced me to jump on the bandwagon. This one I know is going to be a blog post because I already wrote it! It's scheduled for January 7.

Thursday, January 26, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Joseph Michael Rein, David Yost, and Chris Drew, authors of Dispatches from the Classroom: Graduate Students on Creative Writing Pedagogy.
I'm ashamed to say I didn't read this, but I'm hoping for a festive launch event.

Friday, January 27, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Paul Wilkes, author of The Art of Confession: Renewing Yourself Through the Practice of Honesty.
Confession is not just for Catholics, and Wilkes looks at the act from ancient Greece to modern psychoanaylsis. Hey, we sold enough last week to get The Art of Confession onto our bestseller list. Wilkes has ties to Marquette.

Monday, January 30, 7 pm, at Boswell
Steve Boman, author of Film School: The True Story of a Midwestern Family Man Who Went to the World's Most Famous Film School, Fell Flat on His Face, Had a Stroke, and Sold a Television Series to CBS.
With all the nascent filmmakers in the area, I'm hoping we can round up a crowd of folks interested in a story that mixes serious memoir with insidery film school and industry stories.


Oh, and don't forget we still have Lil Rev, author of Ukelele Nation tonight at 7 pm, with his blend of poetry and acoustic ukelele!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

So My Point in All This is That if You Have a Kid who Doesn't Read, but Watches a Lot of Cartoons, You Might Want to Give Him or Her a Copy of Michael Buckley's NERDS.

I know you're probably thinking that when I'm not selling books, I'm reading, and you'd be correct. But there's more to life than reading, right? In my dreams, I'd have very useful hobbies, like gardening and making furniture. Or maybe a suitable intellectual pursuit, like...well, I can't think of one. Perhaps mapmaking or forensics.

But sadly, the truth is that I just watch a lot of television. And it's worse than that--no critically acclaimed scripted shows for me. When I can't sleep at night, there's no greater solace than a block of Phineas and Ferb cartoons on the Disney Channel.

Yes, I'm still as obsessed as the last time I wrote about this. Not only has the show made dimmed my last juvenile cartoon obession (The Fairly Oddparents) but I'd rather watch the boys than any currently airing adult cartoon. I love the way the two plotlines (Phineas and Ferb's project and their sister Candace's attempt to bust them and Professor Heinz Doofenschmirtz's latest evil scheme to take over the tri-state area if he is not busted by Agent Perry the Platypus, whose secret identity, by the way, is Phineas and Ferb's pet) intersect every which way. I love the snappy banter. I love the songs. It's so clever and silly. Sigh. Here's a link to Chill Out, which turns two episodes, including "S'winter", into a chapter book.

So it's no wonder that my taste in books for kids tends towards the silly. I shy away from the worldly older stuff; the books I wind up gravitating to is the middle grade titles, where the humor tends to the silly. I don't mind a few jokes going over the heads of the intended readers, a little gift to the parents who might be reading along. In a way, it all harkens back to my favorite children's book author, which I think you all should know is Edward Eager.

So right now, my series of the moment has been NERDS, which of course stands for National Espionage Rescue and Defense Society. It's about five misfit kids at Nathan Hale Elementary School, just outside of Washington DC. By day, they are picked on for their weaknesses--one has allergies, another asthma, a third is a tubby kid with a taste for paste. Secretly they are agents of the government, and their weaknesses have been enhanced with nanotechnology to become strengths. Duncan the paste eater, for example, becomes Gluestick, who shoots out a super stickiness that lets him walk up walls and the like.

And no surprise, Michael Buckley has helped develop shows for Nickelodeon and The Cartoon Network. And according to the books, he is also a former NERD, code name Beanpole.

When I read the first volume, I thought the whole series would focus on Jackson Jones, the newest member. He was a bully who turned into the tormented when he got some big ugly braces, hence, code name Braceface. He's brought in to help foil Dr. Jigsaw, whose evil scheme is to put the world's continents together. I can't remember why, as this was two books ago. Not all the kids are comfortable with a former bully being one of the team, but as in all the volumes, there's a lesson to be learned. Hey, you can't win a Colorado Children's Book Award and be nominated for similar awards in Florida and Iowa if you don't have a lesson, can you?

But it turns out that each volume offers a moment in the sun for a different NERD. M is for Mama's Boy, in which the gang must confront a ray gun that infects nanotechnology with computer viruses and effectively hypnotizes the machinery, focused on Duncan Dewey. Dewey, code name Gluestick, is the only NERD whose parents know of his secret identity, and his father, a auto mechanic, is not particularly happy about the situation. Neither is his sister, who is irritated by having to move to Arlington for Dewey's special needs.

Then in The Cheerleaders of Doom, Matilda Choi, code name Wheezer, gets the spotlight. In this adventure, Matilda has to infiltrate cheerleading camp to find a device that opens up parallel universes. The problem? The universes are being plundered for things like plastic surgery, and also world domination. Another problem is that Matilda is a tomboy and thinks cheerleaders are stupid.

I'm glad to say that all three volumes are fast-paced and funny, but also smart, with some ideas for a kid to contemplate. In other words, they are also teacher friendly. Now my only problem is that I have almost a year until volume four. That's ok, I still have eight volumes of the Sisters Grimm series to read, and that one is even more popular, so I figure I have a nice future of fun reading ahead. Plus volume 8, The Council of Mirrors, comes out next May.

Hey, if you have your own favorite silly series (or stand-alone) for kids, why not recommend it in a comment?

Daniel Goldin, code name Snortysneeze

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Our New Releases This Week are Almost Entirely From the Penguin Group.

Because publishers don't release too many books in December, it's exciting to get a Penguin shipment of new titles for 12/27 on sale. They are mostly reprints, but who cares?  Finally something new!

The highest-profile fiction paperback release in the carton was The Discovery of Witches , by Deborah Harkness. This was a surprise bestseller for Viking last winter. Hey, not that they didn't work hard, but everyone knows that breakout titles don't always break out. Jason was one of the many folks out there who read it and thought that it hit the market of folks who ran out of Sookie Stackhouse novels. That's a lot of folks. The next title, Shadow of Night, is currently scheduled for July 2012. Feel free to have us hold a copy for you.

In nonfiction, the lead would be Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Though I didn't read Chua's memoir, that didn't stop me from having some engaging conversations with folks who read the book. Several of our customers found the story itself quite different from the press that surrounded it. Was this a parenting manual that advocated a Chinese-style upbringing? Or was Chua being a bit more coy about the whole thing, acknowledging her own inability to live up to the ideal.

The Dispatcher, what's that? Jason has it scheduled for our new mystery case. I asked him, and he told me that his previous novel, Good Neighbors, sold quite well for us and won the CWA John Creasey Dagger first novel award.  The previous novel was based on the famous Kitty Genovese case. The Guardian says the new book "reads at a cracking pace." I don't know what kind of pace that is, but it sounds positive.

I dug around and found a hardcover! Jeffrey Zaslow's The Magic Room came in, a multi-generational story about a Michigan bridal shop. Zaslow is known for working on bestsellers such as The Last Lecture, Gabby, and Highest Duty, but this is more akin to The Girls from Ames. The focus of the story is about six women who go to Becker's to find the write dress, each with very different stories, but in the end, the book becomes a portrait of marriage itself. It is said that a lot of folks get engaged over Christmas break, so if we had a bridal table, this would be a good addition. We don't, so Zaslow's book is in the Boswell's Best section.

The reprints are also available as Google ebooks from our website. The originals will be forthcoming.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Many Paperback Bestsellers Have Regional or Boswell Event Connections, or Both, but Our Two Biggest Fiction Titles are Also Among the Most Lauded of 2011. In Books for Kids, the Hardcover Picture Books Soar!

This week we broke the 100-copy mark in paperback for both The Tiger's Wife and The All of It, but what different paths they had. Obreht did it very quickly, and we're probably trailing most large bookstores. On the other hand, Haien's sales have been steady and even building since Patchett's visit in June, and we're #3 on Treeline, meaning many other stores haven't figured out this book's secret pleasures. I figured I'd see where we are on Treeline for Tiger's Wife too. We're #20 out of about 200 reporting stores, which is certainly not bad. One store has sold almost ten times the copies we have. That's like looking at the Grand Canyon.  There are also a few at the bottom that don't have copies, so I'm guessing those are just ghost servers for multi-store locations or something like that.

1. The Tiger's Wife, by Téa Obreht
2. Swamplandia, by Karen Russell
3. The All of It, by Jeannette Haien
4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
5. Best American Short Stories, edited by Geraldine Brooks
6. Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
7. The Help, by Katherine Stockett
8. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
9. The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein
10. Room, by Emma Donoghue
11. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
12. The Bird Sisters, by Rebecca Rasmussen
13. Ukelele Nation, by Lil Rev (event on 12/29 at 7 pm)
14. Wizard's Dream, by Louisa Loveridge Gallas
15. The Girl Who Played with Fire, by Stieg Larsson

Though I didn't read The Bird Sisters yet, I read enough reviews and the profile was such that I found myself suggesting it to a number of customers. 1940s-era Spring Green, Wisconsin?  A Kirkus review that states "A bittersweet, charmingly offbeat debut introduces spinster sisters Milly and Twiss looking back on a life of complicated emotions and early heartbreak?" A lovely interview in the Journal Sentinel for her appearance at Next Chapter for the hardcover? The bookseller formula in my head concluded that it would likely be appreciated by many gift recipients.

Paperback Nonfiction
1. Gimbels Has It!, by Michael J. Lisicky
2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
3. Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff
4. At Home, by Bill Bryson
5. F in Exams, by Richard Benson
6. We are Wisconsin, by Erica Sagrans
7. Bay View, by Ron Winkler
8. Your True Home, by Thich Nhat Hanh
9. The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
10. The Death of the Liberal Class, by Chris Hedges
11. Hitch 22, by Christopher Hitchens,
12. Unlikely Friendships, by Jennifer Holland
13. Apollo's Angels, by Jennifer Homans
14. Hidden Reality, by Brian Greene
15. The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal

While talking about what we did and didn't do this year, it's notable that I ran out of room (or forget to set up) a regional table for the holidays. Folks found the books anyway, but it felt liket there weren't enough out there for something solid at the beginning of the season. Then these various titles from Arcadia (pictured is the North Point Milwaukee Lighthouse book) and the Wisconsin protest books popped up sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas and by that point, we could barely put together a sign. There's always next year...

Books for Kids
1.  Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, by Sherri Duskey Rinker/Tom Lichtenheld
2. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick
3. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
4. Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick
5. Mouse and Lion, by Rand Burkert/Nancy Burkert
6. Cabin Fever, by Jeff Kinney
7. Wildwood, by Colin Meloy/Carson Ellis
8. I Want my Hat Back, by Jon Klassen
9. I am a Bunny, by Ole Rissom/Richard Scarry
10. Blowin' in the Wind, by Bob Dylan/Jon J. Muth*
11. Everything On It, by Shel Silverstein
12. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
13. Me, Jane, by Patrick McDonnell
14. Bluefish, by Pat Schmatz
15. Inheritance, by Christopher Paolini

Thanks to Amie and Jason for finding more copies of our top titles. It's tricky with picture books in particular,  because you need a long reprint lead time (the books with color printing mostly come from China) and they don't really start selling in quantity until the last minute. And while you can place bets on a few titles (Amie bought a LOT of Wonderstruck up front, for example), you just don't know what will show up on the best of the year lists.

*Mr. Muth is best known on his own for 2005's Zen Shorts, and also illustrated last year's City Dog, Country Frog for Mo Willems.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Present from Random House Inc.--The Books Keep Coming. Plus Hardcover Bestsellers for This Past Week.

This blog post almost turned into a meditation on industry practices in the world of tiny independents among several big players, but I decided that these bestsellers are meaty enough to save that rant for another day. But I will say that The Art of Fielding would have been our #1 fiction title and Steve Jobs are #1 nonfiction title if we hadn't run out of copies the last week.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James
2. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
3. 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami
4. The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides
5. 11-22-63, by Stephen King
6. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
7. The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain
8. The Prague Cemetery, by Umberto Eco
9. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
10. The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes

Interestingly, our sales are almost triple of James's last at this location when it was a Schwartz, despite having total sales only a bit more than this location had at the time. Similarly, our sales of the new Erik Larson are more than ten times what they were at the Downer Schwartz for Thunderstruck. Are these much bigger titles or is it the slightly different profile for the store? I'd say it's a bit of both (more the latter), but lest you make some sort of generalization, remember when I was talking about how V is for Vengeance outsold U is for Undertow at Boswell? Well, both sales trail T is for Trespass at the Downer Schwartz.

Note to Stephen King--though small potatoes, I'm proud of just passing the 50-copy mark for 11-22-63. But more than that, we're still working on Skippy Dies, one of your favorite things of the year in a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly. Just crossing the 30 mark for hardcover and paperback, and we promise to continue working on it.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson
2. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson
3. Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
4. A History of the World in 100 Objects, by Neil MacGregor
5. The Swerve, by Stephen Greenblatt
6. Arguably, by Christopher Hitchens
7. Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, by Chris Matthews
8. Catherine the Great, by Robert K. Massie
9. Then Again, by Diane Keaton
10. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand

History, bio, history, bio. Jason's Lake Effect pick, The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War, was #14 for the week. I guess you have to get to Goodnight Ipad to find a humor title, and I guess that's another book we could have put in fiction. Our bestselling cookbook is Cook's Illustrated Cookbook; it never occurred to me to consult with Jason that there was a hole in the basic cookbook slot this fall. I would say that after Diane Keaton, our bestselling celeb memoir is Bill Maher's The New New Rules. Both it and Goodnight Ipad are from David Rosenthal's Blue Rider Press.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Last Hurrah!

I sit here eating my lunch from Sendiks down the block--a turkey leg, stuffing, and mixed vegetables.. We're open until 6 but we're already lighter in traffic. Amie asked if I wanted to open at 9 instead of 10 and close at 5, but I told her that if I were opening, I didn't think I could make it by 9. It turns out that I was up until 12:30 last night, worrying about everything I did wrong for the season.

For some reason it gives me a thrill that we went through a lot of our giftwrap. Our volunteers from Eastside Senior Services were great and they raised a lot of money for programs. I might note that they were not quite as thrifty as booksellers. We usually try to save and reuse our scraps. Note that I learned that's fancy ribboning where you really bring in the donations.

That said, I overordered reams last year, but at least two of them were finished by the 24th (pictured). Next year I get to order again. We ran out of packaged Christmas wrap, which hasn't happened in our first two years.

When folks come up to me, I worry that I might be complaining, and many have good reason. We accidentally sold the last copy of a book on hold to the wrong person, for example. Fortunately Conrad was able to find a copy elsewhere as a replacement.  Another customer was promised a book that we didn't have--our books at the Gingrass Gallery always trip people up and I have to figure out a way to fix that for next year. Note to inventory software folks--it would be great if copies on hold (as these sort of were) would somehow be flaggable as unavailable.

But sometimes it turns out that they are coming to compliment us. They usually have to assure me, as a panic appears in my eyes. I had an interesting one this morning. A nice man came up to me and reminded me that a few weeks ago, he came in to the store and wanted to buy a hardcover that was full price. He asked if we'd match that infamous website's prices, or even come close. My bookseller said we were unable to do this (but note that if you came in for 100 copies, we might be able to work something out.)

But today he told me he changed his mind. He'd gotten such good service in his last two visits that he realized we wouldn't be able to give if we were focusing on price. In fact, he realized we'd probably be out of business. He admitted he wouldn't use us for everything, but at least now he understood the store's value. And he also understood the contract that's implicit when you visit a retail store and use their services.  And for that I'm grateful.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Why are Many Indie Bookstores Doing Well This Season?

My friend sent me an article from Seattle, noting that indie booksellers in the area were doing well this season. And why are the booksellers doing well this season?

"Booksellers credit it to signs of a rebounding economy, a desire by customers to support independent stores and the appeal of a traditional book — especially as a gift."

Four booksellers were quoted*, as well as two trade organizations. I was sort of surprised that their reasoning was different from mine in one major respect--nobody noted the closing of all the Borders stores as being a factor. At one point, there were 16 Borders in Washington, according to the news piece, and I suspect that a dozen were in metro Seattle.  Even with the stores struggling in 2010, and with the expectations that most of that business would go to the web or chain stores, some of it had to trickle back to indies, right?

It would be interesting to compare major market stores that had a Borders effect with small market stores that had no competition that went bust. I suspect the gains would not be rebust, even in markets where there is a desire to support independent stores and an acknowledgement that books are a good gift. I don't have time to do this, so I leave it to a full-time reporter. And I've even got a title for you: "A Tale of Two Bookstore Markets" or something like that.

I think this is human nature, based on my digesting of non-academic behavioral psychology books over the years. When things go badly, we fault outside forces. When things go well, we credit ourselves.


In the "books we ran out of" category, we were definitely suprised about an end-of-year sales pop for Plenty: Vibrant Recipe's from London's Ottolenghi. For one thing, the book came out in March and had steady but not outstanding sales for us. For another, we had books on loan to the Katie Gingrass Gallery for the Fill the Shelves event** Though we mark said books in a return file, it doesn't take the books out of "on hand" and if someone's looking quickly, this can cause problems. And finally, we had a few requests that didn't get communicated well enough for us to bring our stock level much above the special orders. My bad!

Yotam Ottolenghi has a worldwide reputation regarding vegetarian cooking. The cookbook was praised as "a vibrant and versatile collection of mouth-watering dishes that elevate vegetables from paltry side-dish status to superstar prominence." And apparently his "New Vegetarian" column in The Guardian is quite popular. I wish we'd had more. I can only say "Oops." I suspect we'll continue to sell the book well after Christmas.

*And I can say that I bought books in three of the four stores quoted on my recent trip to Seattle.

**The Fill the Shelves event is still going on at the Katie Gingrass Gallery in the Third Ward. Buy a book to give to the Milwaukee Public Library. You'll get a donation acknowledgement and a special bookplate to place inside the book. And yes, they are also out of The Art of Fielding.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Most Rambling Blog Post Ever

Every time I start a blog piece today, it degenerates into randomness. I'm not going to write for long, and I'm hoping I can come up with some coherent thoughts for tomorrow.

We sent out an email newsletter. Here's the link

Jason was on Lake Effect yesterday. Here's another link.

Alas, there was a small chance that we would be able to get some copies of The Art of Fielding before Christmas, as the next reprint is just hitting the warehouse. I wish I wasn't needed on the floor so I could drive to Indiana and pick them up. There's still a chance we'll get some more Gimbels Has It!

Jason told me today is the day when we're likely to get some cranky customers, as it's the first day when we can't order things. Good luck to booksellers everywhere!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Children's Picture Book Bestsellers, Including Credits for the Illustrators, Which I am Sometimes Too Lazy to Research.

Perhaps my sadness about the lack of hardcover picture books was premature. I think the real story is that we don't have Barack Obama's picture book, which was selling as something well beyond a hardcover picture book. . Now we're chasing stock on Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site and seeing some nice pop on books from current and former Milwaukeeans.

Once you decide to include illustrators with the authors, there are complications. What about when a middle grade book has illustrations? That doesn't seem quite as much of a collaboration as a children's picture book. Fortunately most of the entries on the list were writer/illustrators, but The Flint Heart was complicated to sort out.

Hardcover Books for Kids

1. Astrojammies, by Stacey Williams-Ng
2. Wildwood, by Colin Meloy/Carson Ellis
3. Cabin Fever, by Jeff Kinney
4. I am a Bunny, by Ole Rissom/Richard Scarry
5. Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick
6. Every Thing on It, by Shel Silverstein
7. Mouse and Lion, by Rand Burkert/Nancy Burkert
8. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick
9. Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site, by Sherri Duskey Rinker/Tom Lichtenheld
10. You Will be my Friend, by Peter Brown
11. I Want my Hat Back, by Jon Klassen
12. Bear Stays Up for Christmas board book, by Karma Wilson/Jane Chapman
13. The Lego Ideas Book, by Daniel Litkowitz
14. The Flint Heart, by Katherine Patterson/John Rocco, abridged from Edith Philpott
15. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

It's nice to see Peter Brown's newest book has some staying power, but I think Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back is this year's Children Make Terrible Pets. Like Brown, Klassen writes a funny book that uses old-fashioned art techniques, but manipulates them in high-tech ways to make, to quote Shelf Awareness, "a droll statement about morality." Come to think of it, that's what Stacey Williams-Ng is doing in Astrojammies. Despite the book being inspired by a book app, all her spreads are old-fashioned paintings.

Paperback Books for Kids:
1. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory pop up, by Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake
3. War Hourse, by Michael Marpurgo
4. Ivy and Bean, by Annie Barrows
5. Nerds V01, by Michael Buckley

I consolidate the juvenile bestseller lists a lot because unlike the adult lists, the binding code differentiation is meaningless and the true differentiation, for age range, would be too complicated for me to put together on a weekly basis. We'd wind up with six lists, each with just a few on each, except at Christmas. 

And there's a lot more arguing about book type. For some reason, the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory pop up was coded as paperback, because to publishers, that's what paper over board is. But to us, it's a hardcover. So now I've moved the book to hardcover, but I'm leaving it on this list for now. But can I mention that I hand-sold Nerds onto the list? I think that's a first for me.

Does anyone's book inventory system have a second author field? I've always wondered about that. It would useful for both collaborators and illustrators.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Paperback Bestsellers include Media Mentions, Author Recs, Regional Titles, and an Impending Movie Opening.

The New York Times Book Review top 10 of 2011 helped The Tiger's Wife and Swamplandia with a sales pop. I'm hoping that my mention of The White Woman on the Green Bicycle on the NPR blog might get a little more traction for that book. Apprarently we also had at least one person come into the store after I talked about the book at the Shorewood Public Library. Whatever it takes, right?

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Tiger's Wife, by Téa Obreht
2. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
3. Swamplandia, by Karen Russell
4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
5. The All of It, by Jeannette Haien
6. Room, by Emma Donoghue
7. Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray
8. The Girl who Played with Fire, by Stieg Larsson
9. The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, by Monique Roffey
10. The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, by Walter Mosley

I could have mentioned that events have lasting sales by noting that three of our top 6 hardcover fiction titles are from recent Boswell guests. But I think that the paperback list is a better indicator. We're closing in on 100 copies of The All of It, jump-started by Ann Patchett's recommendation. We're #3 in the country on this book, and it's my suspicion that the other two stores above us ran with Patchett's rec, and the ones below us ignored it.

And Walter Mosley's The Last Day so Ptolemy Grey (we're also #3 on Treeline with this book) is partly a function of an appearance for another bookstore, which, we helped promote, and also admittedly, the paperback wasn't quite out yet. But the talk was great, and the word of mouth has turned out to be his best that I've seen in a number of years. Let's see if we can keep it going.

Sales pop return for Stieg Larsson's books with the impending opening of the English language version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo on December 21. We're still trying to figure out how to position our metal sign!

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Gimbels Has It!, by Michael J. Lisicky
2. Andy Warhol's New York, by Thomas Kiedrowski
3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
4. The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal
5. Your True Home, by Thich Nhat Hanh
6. Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff
7. At Home, by Bill Bryson
8. Unlikely Friendships, by Jennifer Holland
9. The Death and Life of the Great American School System, by Diane Ravitch
10. Bay View, by Ron Winkler

One trend you would never imagined is that we are often not contacted by publishers about books of local interest. I think I've already mentioned that we had to find out about and chase copies of We Are Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Uprising in the Words of the Activists, Writers, and Everyday Wisconsinites Who Made It Happen (#17 on our nonfiction paperback list this week) from a customer. And we also inadvertently discovered that we didn't find out in advance about Arcadia's Bay View book. Maybe the publisher and rep didn't realize that Bay View is a neighborhood in Milwaukee, that a lot of Bay Viewers shop on the East Side where my store is located, being less than ten minutes by car door to door when you take the Hoan Bridge. Or that I live there. Very strange.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What's Selling this Week? Well, First of All, There's So Much That I'm Dividing it Into Three Days of Posts. First the Adult Hardcovers...

Continuing the trend from last week, The Art of Fielding is our #1 hardcover book. Jason just informed me that the next reprint is not going to make it until after Christmas. We have 36 left, but I suspect that at the rate we're selling it, we'll likely run out before Christmas.

In other news, I guess the Knopfs have it. This imprint has 6 out of our top 15 fiction books this week, and a full half of our top 10. And I'm not even counting Doubleday and Pantheon.

Hardcover Fiction
1. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
2. Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James
3. 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami
4. The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides
5. The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes
6. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
7. 11-22-63, by Stephen King
8. The Leopard, by Jo Nesbo
9. American Boy, by Larry Watson
10. The Cat's Table, by Michael Ondaatje
11. The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka
12. The Prague Cemetery, by Umberto Eco
13. On Canaan's Side, by Sebastian Barry
14. V is for Vengeance, by Sue Grafton
15. A Dance with Dragons, by George R.R. Martin

I'm glad to say that perhaps the best residue of my hour on At Issue with Ben Merens from earlier this week was a continuing interest in discovering Sebastian Barry. We had folks coming in, not just for On Canaan's Side, but for his earlier titles. FYI, I tend to send folks to The Secret Scripture first.

I'm also curious to know how our more mainstream books are tracking, as this might be an indication of how we are growing our business. I haven't had too many customers asking why we weren't discounting more commercial titles, but in fact, we do put a decent number of them on Boswell's Best on arrival, such as Michael Connelly and Janet Evanovich. The short answer is that sales are neither dropping nor growing. All sales are fairly comparable with prior books, though. We're slightly lagging on sales of The Drop and Explosive Eighteen over comparable titles from 2010, but we're up a few copies for V is for Vengeance from U is for Undertow, with a more copies sold likely to come.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson
2. Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
3. A History of the World in 100 Objects, by Neil MacGregor
4. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson
5. The Swerve, by Stephen Greenblatt
6. George F. Kennan, by John Lewis Gaddis
7. Catherine the Great, by Robert K. Massie
8. The New New Rules, by Bill Maher
9. All in One Basket, by Deborah Mitford
10. The Complete Record Collection, by R. Crumb

Did I say that history and historical biography are driving our bestsellers this holiday season? It's tricky when two of the most high profile cookbooks celebrate Moroccan cuisine (The Foods of Morocco and Mouad). Both are great, but a bit intimidating. Come in and ask Conrad how easy cooking from Wolfert can be. Further down is the new Cook's Illustrated Cookbook, which I am convinced that we would have done better with if the publisher courted us a bit more, either with commission rep, phone contact, or even an email to Jason. Hint! Hint!

We're also getting some momentum on Momofuku Milk Bar. I just like to say Momofuku Milk Bar on occasion.

While I'm not surprised that we're a little soft in celeb-driven titles, I'm a little more fascinated by the softness in the thesis type book of the Thinking Fast and Slow type. Then I went back and looked at our bestsellers for last year, and guess what? Not much there either. And we had three strong non-event cookbooks, from Ina Garten, Gourmet, and The New York Times. Needless to say, these brands that resonate with our customers weren't there this fall.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Skipped a Day, but That's Not Necessarily a Bad Thing, Here's a Little Catching Up.

I was on my way to work this morning on snow-covered roads when I thought, "It's a good thing that our first slippery streets of the season are on a Saturday morning." That's just one bit of luck that retail has had this fall, at least in Milwaukee.

Our friend Dennis, who is in twice a week to browse/shop, take my emotional pulse, and give me the weather forecast, has predicted decent weather through Christmas, making it just about as good a holiday it can be from the standpoint of Mother Nature. For needless to say, every snowstorm sends sales to websites and away from the bookstore.

I wound up not posting yesterday, due to, well, being busier than we were last year and down a bookseller. I'm training three new folks this Sunday--my timing is a bit off, but we'll still need staff.  It also turns out that a bookseller or two will be out of the store for various things during the next two months--Winter Institute, a gift show, and so forth.

And yes, like many indie bookstores, we've built up some sales from Borders closing and that some ebook migration sales loss. And the best part for me? Every time something goes well, I worry about duplicating its success next year. And though my booksellers talk about the great job we're doing, publicity, compliments, and the like, I am more jaded about the whole thing--we have one less bookselling venue in the area and we were lucky enough to get a piece of the business. I don't think it hurts that B&N has been cutting book inventory as well.

And I noticed that the Target on Chase squeezed books a bit (among many other categories) to make room for their expanded grocery selections. They've also gone to taller, Walgreens-like shelving. But I still can't figure out what they are going to do with 75 copies of Operation, and that doesn't include the Star Wars and Spongebob versions. If I consider that the store in my neighborhood is at most a B- performer, that means that there are probably 100,000 copies of this game, waiting for a price promotion.

And to think that I am still reeling from a childhood birthday when I had a fight with my friend Alan, and he wound up not coming to my party and keeping Operation for himself. When we made up, he gave me a copy of Easy Money (Milton Bradley's Monopoly knockoff), which I already had and wound up regifting. So that copy of Operation had way more emotional heft for me (oh, to remove a wrenched ankle!), but I still didn't buy it.

I used some valuable time on Friday morning (I worked the closing shift) to book some 2012 events, and we're really excited about the schedule we are putting together. In addition to some big names coming to Boswell, I'm continuing to sprinkle events in alternative venues, from Sugar Maple to County Clare to Discovery World and of course area libraries. Our only problem? The bustle of the season has prevented us from getting all our January marketing plans in place.

On the gift front, I'm putting a few items on sale. We've been doing pretty well with a lot of items, and several of our spinners are looking a bit bare already. But there are a few seasonal items that could use a little incentive. I'm hoping to get an email out. Hoping.

And now it's time to do the books and restock. Enjoy your weekend and I'll be back with bestsellers tomorrow.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On Running into Touring Authors Who Make Artisan Pizza, While Having Coffee

Yesterday I mentioned how much I enjoy both running into folks I've not seen for a long time and being witness to two other folks running into each other in a similar manner. I particularly enjoy introducing two unrelated customers who sometimes turn out to have connections of some sort.

But it's not only the bookstore where this happens. Fortunately it's not at the stage where I have to wear dark glasses and a wig, but I do run into Boswell fans outside the store quite a bit. Sometimes I wish I remembered his or her name and context a bit better, but I think it's important to focus on the upside, like when I do have the recollection.

Recently I was at an Alterra preparing for a book club discussion. I had already greeted a Boswell regular and we had a nice chat. Then in walked Mary who does a lot of the author escorting in town. Luminaries also does PR, and she had brought in two of her author clients, who were doing press for Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day.

Mary introduced me to the authors and we chatted for a bit, and I'm going to admit up front that while I remembered the book and concept, I didn't quite hear the authors' names on introduction. We discussed the coffee, brew process, other local roasters. I asked them if they were at Bayshore to do a cooking class at the kitchen store. I suggested, since they don't live that far away, various event opportunities for their next book.  They left and I went back to The Tiger's Wife.

And then one of the authors came back.

"We went to high school together!"

And you know there are some folks who get filed in the wrong drawer (one day I'll tell you my sad story about the high school reunion where I couldn't place this very nice guy with whom I was said to know pretty well) and then there are some folks where you are just not paying attention.

Jeff Hertzberg! Married to my old friend Laura. We took a shop class together in intermediate school. Shop class! Or maybe not: memory is a tricky road.

And yet, I didn't connect that he had written these books. How many Jeff Hertzbergs can there be? Well, since there are quite a number of Daniel Goldins, I choose not to speculate.

So needless to say, I went back to the store and took a closer look at Artisan Pizzas and Flatbreads in Five Minutes a Day. There was a great Publishers Weekly review for it, and yesterday, Hertzberg was featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Chef Chat series.  Just a short excerpt, where tossing the dough is explained: "You've got to put the pizza dough partially flattened, . . . draped over the backs of your knuckles. You've got to rotate your hands, while moving both hands up sharply. You gotta aim right overhead. At the last second, you take your dominant hand and turn it so that the tips of your fingers will control the dough at the last second."

You know, it would not be a bad thing for me to spend a few minutes making flatbreads and pizza doughs.


I had a great time on At Issue with Ben Merens show yesterday. We had so many calls that I hardly got through my list of Boswell's favorite books of 2011. You can find most of them in our holiday newsletter.  If one wasn't delivered to you, you can stop by and pick one up or read the pdf here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Two Nice Stories About Running Into People at Boswell

One of the things I like about Boswell is that people no where to find me. In the old days, if a friend came to town, they had to feel close enough to me to call my home, or brave enough to stop by my office. With a bookstore, there's far less of a commitment; you're coming in to shop and the guy you worked with 15 years ago happens to be there, so much the better.

Here are a couple of stories about bookstore-driven meetings that made me smile. I use only first names because they don't have a book I can plug.

1. A lot of out of towners make their way to the store in conjunction with visiting the Milwaukee Art Museum, being that we're only five minutes up the lake.  The new exhibit, Impressionism: Masterworks on Paper, is likely to lure more of my old friends. Organized by the Albertina in Vienna, it's a collection of more than 100 drawings, watercolors, and pastels by Manet, Degas, Renoir and others. The show runs through January 8.

So last Saturday, I was running around Boswell, negotiating our holiday market and I see this vaguely-familiar-looking guy, smile knowingly. Uh oh, I have to figure out who this is. My memory file cabinets are a mess, as I have acknolwedged previously. But somehow I pull out that it's Chris, my former Chicago bookseller friend turned teacher.

It was great to catch up. Chris (or it might be Christopher--he is now given permission to call me "Dan" in his blog) graciously complimented the store and asked, by chance, if we might have some New York Review of Books Classics. In fact, we keep them up at the front of the store, which for some reason, delights many customers. Because I don't remember which one he chose, I'll just show a copy of Charles Simic's Dime Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell, because I for some reason, keep referring to his art boxes in conversation. And before you chide me for the book's location in the store, note that we 1) carry it and 2) shelving is an art.

2. Dan (and he is officially a Dan, not a Daniel), the lawyer who helped us create the llc for Boswell, has moved closer to the store, and it's been a great pleasure to see him and his wife Karen more frequently. Dan had been recommended to me by Anne, one of our startup angels, who as I've said before, gave me invaluable advice in creating a business plan. So I'm chatting with Dan and he tells me that he's brainstorming writing a blog on legal matters (I'll link to it when it's up and running) and I mention that I used to read and enjoy Anne's jury blog before she left law to become something else equally great, or perhaps even greater, since we now get to do events with the Wisconsin Humane Society.

And then I sort of realize that Anne's wife Tom is browsing social criticism right next to us. So I note each other's presence, assuming they have met each other, but even though they know each other by name, they actually haven't met. Just to get you in the mood, I think Tom, who loves his Yale books, would be pleased for me to mention Steven Ozment's The Serpent and the Lamb: Luther, Cranach, and the Making of the Reformation, a revision of modern thought on the German renaissance and reformation through the eyes of two key players.

And now I paraphrase:

Daniel: "These unexpected meetings are the best part of shopping in a bookstore."

Tom: "No, books are the best part of a bookstore."

I was thinking of meeting in a broader sense, in the way you spot a book that might capture your attention online, as well as the serendipitous collision of personalities. Of course Tom is correct, but can the community aspect be a close second?