Monday, December 31, 2012

New Titles Coming, Well, SometimesThis Week--The World Until Yesterday, To Sell is Human, Me Before You, Off the Map.

What happens when a holiday fall on a Tuesday? It throws the laydowns in diarray, that's what. Greg's off today, so he unboxed and carted, but did not receive, all the new titles for next week. It wasn't an issue for last week, as everyone decided that just about everyone is closed on the 25th and too busy on the 24th, so the 26th seemed to trump. (Note: after this was written, Jason informed me that Simon actually did have a 12/25 laydown.)

This week we've got books to go on sale 12/31, 1/1, and 1/2. And while lots of indie stores do close on January 1st (we're open 10 am to 5 pm, by the way), most chain stores stay open, and of course the internet is always open, except when some mega-conglomerate's data warehousing has a glitch. Didn't you think that those two movie streamers were competitors? I guess that's akin to one large publisher distributing another.

One of the most high-profile books I found on the shelving cart was Jared Diamond's The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies? (Viking). Based on decades of fieldwork in the Pacific Islands, as well as evidence from other traditional societies, Diamond notes that while technology has led to vast improvements in many areas, there is much to learn from the way we did things until, well, yesterday, in the way of childrearing, how we treat our elders, resolve disputes, and keep fit. I always assumed that Diamond was a historian, but now I've learned, by studying the new book, that he's a professor of geography at UCLA. Browsing the book, I found the piece on language preservation particularly instructive; I think I could read a book just on that topic.

There was an outside chance that we might host an event for Daniel H. Pink's To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Motivating Others (Riverhead), but I'm feeling now that it's not going to happen. In the heat of things, I got Hannah, who also likes business books, to dig into it. Pink is best known for Drive and A Whole New Mind; he's a Malcolm Gladwell-esque study amalgamator and story teller, though I'd say Pink's more explicitly business focused. His new book, needless to say, looks at all sorts of aspects of sales and motivation--I enjoyed learning about the ambivert advantage, and my first takeaway is that people respond better to granular numbers than coarse ones. So I'm not saying this is a useful book, it's 260 useful pages. Doesn't it sound better already?

Pamela Dorman Books knows they have a buzzy novel in Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes (an imprint of Viking) and so they've been working hard on the social media angle. One of our more wired customers (yes, it's on sale 12/31) was already talking it up from an advance copy sent (or transmitted) to them by the publisher, and we've got our own fan in Sharon, who gave me this recommendation:

"Imagine for a moment that you are a young, handsome, privileged man with a great job, plenty of money, and women dropping at your feet. Now imagine all of that taken away in seconds, leaving you imprisoned in your own body, unable to take care of even your most basic of needs. Will Traynor is a quadriplegic, with limited use of only one arm. He requires constant care, from bathing and changing of his catheter, to merely shifting his position in bed. Louisa Clark is a girl from the village, hired to distract Will from his situation, chatter pleasantly, and make the odd cup of tea. After a rough beginning, these two opposites become everything to one another. The only thing that stands in the way of a happy ending is Will’s wish to commit assisted suicide. Me Before You is an unexpectedly touching novel that left me grateful for my own personal autonomy"

Thanks, Sharon! Our problem was that we just didn't know which of the book clubs we worked with really did this sort of networking. And while we've had some great successes getting local book clubs to choose titles that were still off a lot of folk's radar, it's still hard for stores to do that with hardcover titles. Based on the feedback I've got on the book, the word-of-mouth will certainly not be restricted to book clubs.

I thought I was done, but I looked again and spotted On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Explorartion of the Way the World Works (Gotham, which was officially a 12/28 on sale), by Simon Garfield. When we ran out of books on my rec shelf, I switched out for Garfield's last work, Just My Type, and got excited about fonts all over again. You've of course heard that the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers is getting evicted, no? Anyway, Garfield's new book is about the relationship between man and map, from treasure mapping to ordinance surveys to the mapping of Monopoly. Garfield, who I never sort of put together is also the author of Mauve, a book I always wanted to read but did not, has  gleefully brought range of interests, veering from Bengali mathematicians to Muppet movies.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Bestseller Post--Novelists and Cookbook Writers Battle for the Top Spot, Our Top-selling Christmas Themed Book for the Season, and Answers to Other Questions You Didn't Know You Asked.

Hardcover nonfiction:
1. Lessons from the Heartland, by Barbara Miner
2. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman
3. Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, by Ina Garten
4. Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo
5. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, by Jon Meacham
6. Who I Am, by Pete Townshend
7. The Signal and the Noise, by Nate Silver
8. I Could Pee on This, by Francesco Marciuliano
9. Pariarch, by David Nasaw
10. Roots, by Diane Morgan

After the sales pop of our upcoming event with Barbara Miner, a talk co-sponsored by Rethinking Schools on January 25th, the new and old guard power cooks battle it out. As you have noticed, I don't like ties, never have. I have several ways to break the ties, but in this case, it was pretty rough. I first give the edge to the more expensive book (as you've sold more of it, dollar wise), but both The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and Barefoot Contessa: Foolproof are both $35. Then I looked at sales to date, and they were both exactly the same. The next way I break ties is by momentum, how did the book do last week. For some reason, the Contessa had an off week last week so the win went to the Smitteneer. Of course our Garten sales are probably off a bit this season because Garten did a big event at the Riverside that included a book, and that probably took away from some of our in-store sales.

Hardcover fiction:
1. The Round House, by Louise Erdrich
2. Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver
3. Dear Life, by Alice Munro
4. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
5. The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling
6. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, by Ayana Mathis
7. Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon
8. The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers
9. The Racketeer, by John Grisham
10. Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel

Munro slipped back to #3, overcome by a late surge for Louise Erdrich and Barbara Kingolver. All three have been running a tight race all season. The person who really needs to be congratulated here is Terry Karten, who, to my knowledge (and somewhat confirmed by this Wally Lamb article from last year), edited by The Round House and Flight Behavior.

Popping onto our list this week is Ayana Mathis's The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, which has already found wide success as the 2nd pick for Oprah's Book Club 2.0 (or maybe 3.0 as there was a distinct break between the more commercial crossover choices of round one and the denser, more classics-heavy titles of the second assortment). I have no idea how the chains and internet stores are doing with the book, but it's been steady, but not the phenomenon a selection would once have been. Deirdre Donahue writes in USA Today: "The Twelve Tribes of Hattie might remind readers of an earlier novel: Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (sans the happy ending). Both share the same gritty realism of growing up poor on the mean streets of a Northern city." She sees it as a worthy selection to find a wider audience.

And Ron Charles in the Washington Post is also a fan. He notes: “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie falls into that growing tradition of books that hover somewhere between a novel and a collection of short stories — an unintended effect, perhaps, of the workshop setting that so many writers pass through nowadays. Like the chapters in Kevin Powers’s Iraq war novel The Yellow Birds, sections of Mathis’s book cry out for anthologizing, but their effect grows richer and more complex as they accrue."

Paperback nonfiction:
1. The Swerve, by Stephen Greenblatt
2. Dancers Among Us, by Jordan Matter
3. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson
4. Unlikely Friendships, by Jennifer Holland
5. The Emotional Life of your Brain, by Richard. J. Davidson
6. Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
7. A Little History of Philosophy, by Nigel Warburton
8. Schuster's and Gimbels, by Paul Geenen
9. Arguably, by Christopher Hitchens
10. Mo: a Loeys Dietz syndrome memoir, by Kate Jurgens

Enthusiasm is building for our event with Kate Jurgens, a chronicle of her life with her daughter Mo, on January 22, 7 pm, at Boswell. But mostly these are still holiday sales, both for the two days before and the gift cards and late celebrations afterwards. I was noting to John that we did well with both A Little History of Philosophy in paperback, and the new hardcover entry A Little History of Science.

Another sales pop this week is the paperback release of The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live-And How You Can Change Them , written by Richard Davidson with Sharon Begley. The book has received praise from Daniel Goleman and Daniel Gilbert, so you know I'd be predisposed to like it, as us Daniel G.'s always stick together. You can read more in this Forbes essay from Jenna Gourdreau.

 Davidson is a professor of neuroscience at UW Madison.Wouldn't it be great for Professor Davidson to talk at Boswell? If you happen to know him, tell him we're a nice place to visit, and that we've sold 38 copies of the book so far, hard and soft combined.

Paperback fiction:
1. Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
2. City of Dark Magic, by Magnus Flyte
3. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
4. The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain
5. Best American Short Stories, edited by Tom Perrotta
6. The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien
7. Sacré Bleu, by Christopher Moore
8. How it All Began, by Penelope Lively
9. The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides
10. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett

I've always been surprised by customers who come in the last week and ask us if we have a book, and when we're so suprised that we actually have it, they turn around and ask disappointedly if it comes in hardcover. With a hot title, however, that question seems to make more and more sense come Christmas, and we've been trying to adjust a bit this year. We had a very strong run with Sacré Bleu in hardcover, but having sold out of it several days before Christmas, that sale moved to paper. In addition, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk hit the lower reaches of our list this week in cloth, at the same time the paperback clocked in at #13.

But the book I most regret not restocking in hardcover is Wolf Hall. Our sales have exploded on the paperback his fall, what with its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, winning so many accolades. We've now sold more copies of Wolf Hall in paperback this year than in 2010, the year of the paperback release, and I'm pretty more that several of those customers would have been thrilled to trade up to cloth. By the time we looked, there was no room at the inn.

And look at City of Dark Magic go! We all (well Mel and Hannah and I, in particular) can't wait to meet "Magnus" (Christina and Meg) on January 15th, 7 pm.

Books for kids:
1. Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage
2. The Fault in our Stars, by John Green
3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel, by Jeff Kinney
4. The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats
5. Hold me Closer Necromancer, by Lish McBride
6. Safari, by Dan Kainen
7. Who Could That Be at this Hour, by Lemony Snicket
8. Wildwood, by Colin Meloy
9. Snow, by Uri Shulevitz
10. Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-Up Adventure, by Matthew Reinhart

We've had a lot of in-house enthusiasm for Sheila Turnage and John Green (who hasn't for the later?) but it's nice to see the underdog come out on top for Christmas. One of the other interesting things about this season is that there haven't been a huge amount of Christmas themed bestsellers in kids (or adult for that matter) but we always have a good pop on The Snowy Day, starting in November and running through about January. This year Keats has been joined by Uri Shulevitz's Snow, new this year in board book. Interestingly enough, promoting the board book has let to a pop in sales for the paperback. Let's remember to stock up again next November (our stock up being rather modest compared to most retailers--it usually means more than one).

It still feels like a weak picture book year compared to middle grade through teen, without the huge breakouts of 2011. When you look at the bestseller lists and see last year's Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site at the top (and it's our #2 for the season after Santa is Coming to Wisconsin, which contradicts the thing I said in the last paragraph), one begins to suspect that we are not the only folks thinking that. And when I look at our numbers, it's no that dramatic, though four children's picture books sold more copies in November and December of 2011 than our #1 book of that period this year, and being that our sales are up over last year, this somehow seems significant.

Looking at the Journal Sentinel today, we can expect a further pop on Anne Lamott's Help Thanks Wow with Jim Higgins's write up. The rest of the reviews are from wire services, but there's a treat on page seven, our ad featuring three events--Chis Crowley and Jen Sacheck for Thinner This Year on January 9, Barbara Miner on January 25, and Ian Rankin on February 1.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saturday Gift Post--Restocking Plush, Puzzles, Toys.

Buying gift after Christmas is somewhat similar to restocking books. Since our sales go down quite a bit from high season, you've got to get the inventory down too. But what to keep and what to let go until next fall, that is the question. Certain categories take care of themselves--boxed Christmas cards, ornaments, calendars. And it's not like our sales go away. We still do about 40% of December's sales, on average.

One reason to delay restocking is inventory, which this year is scheduled for January 13. You don't want to have to count a whole bunch of stuff which is not likely to sell in then next two weeks. Another reason is that most gift vendors release new product in January. We've already gotten lots of new catalogs in the mail, but for folks you haven't yet seen, but for those we haven't, we want to make the best decision we can on inventory, based on fully knowing what's available.

To make the case for restocking, there's nothing worse than mostly empty racks. When I go to stores with rack issues, I wish I could go to the staff and say to some stores I've visited, take the rack down and remerchandise the inventory. So that's why we've got a fresh order of jigsaw puzzles coming. I don' have the heart to take down our designated puzzle display space, and it's my feeling that a nice jigsaw puzzle (most of which are under $20) is just the right thing for the winter blahs, particularly if you feel that you've been glued to a computer screen for two long. More details when our new shipment arrives.

We wound up getting some puzzles and plush on December 24 and while we did not sell much, at least several wound up becoming gifts for a sick child who needed an extra dose of holiday cheer. We wound up also bringing in the Olivia plush, after a long absence from Boswell (actually, we hadn't ever had her yet--she'd been stocked at the Downer Schwartz). She seems happy to be here.

And a toy ordered just after Christmas too, with a dating incentive. We were able to restock what now have turned out to be staples, magic wands and wooden snakes. I've been told that the new wands, which also have metallic beads in them, are particularly nice. And we've got a new assort of Zoomsters friction vehicles. The mini locomotives have what I call "dynamic choo choo" action.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Polar Bear Strikes Again--One Plush, Two Great Books.

As we were going through overstock, we discovered a basket of plush that we hadn't checked on often enough. It turned out that we had several very cute polar bears that were supposed to go on winter displays. If you didn't know it before season, retail has declared the penguin and polar bear the unofficial animals of Christmas. Of course you knew that the cardinal was the official bird, but I've yet to determine what is the official shellfish.

In any case, penguin and polar bear season lasts February at least, as long as they are not wearing holiday caps. In an aside, Hannah confirmed that holiday-themed plush and toys did not sell well at her previous bookstores either, and they experimented with St. Patrick's Day of all things. With us, it's got to be generic enough to last through the holidays. And though we sell an awful lot of bunnies at Easter, they never wear bonnets or hold baskets.

So it turned out we love our plush polar bears and put them out on display. And several minutes later Amie came over to tell me that Polar Bear Morning (Scholastic), by Lauren Thompson and Stephen Savage had just come out (it's pub dated January 2013). It's almost like I waited on purpose. It's about a polar bear cub who meets a snow cub and they romp through the snow together, visiting seals and seagulls, jumping into the water. Kirkus cheered "Hooray" and they are likely not alone; Polar Bear Night was a New York Times best illustrated children's book.

And then Hannah came over and reminded me that her favorite picture book of 2012, The Island (Leminscaat/Ingram Publisher Services) by Marije and Ronald Talman, is also about a polar bear and his many animal friends. It's an oversized and wordless series of paintings that verge into fantasy. What appear to be crayon hashes in the distance turn into a ferris wheel (or is it a sun?), a lighthouse, a lookout. You can imagine a kid telling stories about these illustrations for hours.

And then everyone got into the act, and it seemed as if there were more polar bear books than books about dogs. Could that be possible?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Year-End Visit to an Electronics Recycling Center. Isn't This on Your to-do List?

Just about since we've opened, we've been storing away all kinds of electronic and computer equipment in our receiving room, in our office, and in our storage area. It's hard to believe that this isn't everything--about two years ago, Jocelyn and I bought a carload of stuff to a recycling place in Wauwatosa. But apparently we either didn't take everything or amassed way more. Lots of old terminals. Receipt printers that no longer connect to our new system. Phone modems that were replaced when we converted to internet. A copier/printer that died. All kinds of monitors and about a dozen keyboards.

And wire, so much wire!

I woke up this morning to watch a piece on Fox 6 News about e-cycling, and after some time browsing the web, I found a place in Oak Creek that would take everything. Miller Electonics Recycling is located just off I94, east of Blain's Farm and Fleet and northwest of Woodman's. It turned out to be a much easier process than last time, when we had to park pretty far away and load it up on carts. This time I pulled right in and the fellow working the desk even helped me unload.

While I understand why we wound up with so much electronics and computer equipment after our inventory system migrated, I'm confused as to how exactly we wound up with so many cash drawers. We wound up keeping four and getting rid of three others, including this particularly rusty model. We still have two huge drawer devices that wouldn't fit in the car.
There were some fees for some items, but I feel great having avoid at least some landfill with all this stuff, and with the rest, at least I know the risk of contamination is lessened. Between this and our project with Handy Jeff to repurpose our old fixtures into new ones, I'm feeling positively green.

As for those two huge cash drawer things, I'm thinking 2015.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Time to Move Beyond Christmas--Setting Up the Markdown Tables.

Today we reset the store for post-Christmas sales. We have two tables of marked down cards, ornaments, and holiday-themed gift items, plus a stray assortment of leftover gift items--a bird house, a gymnastic monkey, some Peruvian bird whistles. If I was planning to reorder, I'd keep the items for the new shipment, but in most of these cases, it is not to be.

We had several enthusiastic customers who bought up a decent amount of what we had left over, such that we needed to do further consolidation by the end of the day. Shown is what seems to be our least popular holiday card, as even with markdown, we've only been able to sell one. It seemed cute to me at the time, but apparently I was so dizzied by its presence that I couldn't hold my phone still enough to make a clear picture.

The table shifting meant that we needed to build new displays. A self-improvement table went up, as did a Valentine's table. The general football table became more Packer-specific, and we kept one table each for adult and kids' Christmas titles, which we'll keep for a couple more weeks.

As we consolidate the calendars, the height rises from displays. And there was some cleaning up too--we stopped buying a card line that needed a special display, and after making sure that the vendor couldn't use it for another store, we had to toss it, as we couldn't figure out how it could be repurposed.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Hooray for UPS and FedEx Deliveries on December 24!

I'm not used to deliveries on December 24th, but it turns out that this year because it's on a Monday, we had them. I guess it's not unheard of, last year it was on a weekend so it was a no can do situation. I was really counting on getting out more Folkmanis puppets and Merry Markers plush, both of which sent me emails promising an early Christmas present.

So today, after a few hours at the register, I went back to receive said puppets. I think they were on the display for all of a half hour before somebody bought four of them, including the coyote above. I also got a plush order. Let's see if I can make a few more folks happy before we close at 5 pm.

We got some more book orders in too, so folks looking for In the Garden of Beasts and other books we were in stock of were in luck. I'm not saying we got in every book we sold out of, but even getting some of them was pretty great.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunday Bestseller Post--This is the Big One! Not Only are the Sales Big, but I Couldn't Stop Analyzing.

Hardcover fiction:
1. Dear Life, by Alice Munro (#21 NYT)
2. The Round House, by Louise Erdrich (#15 NYT)
3. Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver (#13 NYT)
4. Building Stories, by Chris Ware
5. A Thousand Mornings, by Mary Oliver
6. Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon (#35 NYT)
7. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (#2 NYT)
8. The News from Spain, by Joan Wickersham
9. Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel (#18 NYT)
10. NW, by Zadie Smith (#31 NYT)
11. The Art Forger, by B.A. Shapiro
12. Darth Vader and Son, by Jeffrey Brown (miscellaneous #7)
13. This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz (#32 NYT)
14. The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker
15. Black Box, by Michael Connelly (#9 NYT)

The takeover of the top 10 by women writers is almost complete, with Ware and and Chabon the only holdouts. If I was lazy and kept the graphic novels with nonfiction (I have to manually move them over when I make up the list), that would have knocked B.A. (Barbara) Shapiro into the top ten. The Art Forger's been selling off the Indie Next case, and I suspect this is when the Indie Next fliers really generate sales, as the book has been consistently on the top 10 Indie Next bestseller list, but it's not in the top 35 for the NYT for 12/30. We do have a couple of reads on the book, but I don't think it's on the staff rec shelf, but I'm not sure.

Of course lots of our fiction bestsellers are not in the top 15. Replacing your literary fiction (which admittedly does get a sales pop on first launch) are lots of branded mystery/thrillers, including Clancy, Baldacci, Grisham, Evanovich, and Patterson. Our sales pattern is the exact reverse of the literary and literary crossover books on the national list--a sales pop might get the book on the list for several weeks, but won't likely stay through the holiday season. Breakout authors, less established in the mass merchants, tend to hang on longer, and it doesn't hurt that Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl is hitting her share of best of lists, most recently the Entertainment Weekly top 10 and Janet Maslin's ten favorites in Friday's New York Times. And while I'm at it, the EW site linked me to Vogue's top 10 of 2012 too. Megan O'Grady is particularly hot on sleeper Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend.

Two literary books in the top 35 that are not in our top 15 are The Yellow Birds (#18) and Sweet Tooth (the mixed reviews are hurting sales with us).

The announcement that Karen Thompson Walker is coming to Boswell for the paperback on February 12 popped some hardcover sales of The Age of Miracles. And I should note that while we're only trending up about 10% on Alice Munro sales from her last collection, Too Much Happiness, with certainly more sales to go, we've sold about quintuple what the Downer Schwartz sold of The View from Castle Rock in 2006. That's definitely due to the consolidation of indie bookstores in the market.

Hardcover nonfiction:
1. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, by Jon Meacham (#2 NYT)
2. America Again, by Stephen Colbert (#4 NYT)
3. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman (#5 NYT miscellaneous)
4. Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo (#14 NYT)
5. I Could Pee on This, by Francesco Marciuliano (#13 miscellaneous)
6. The Onion Book of Known Knowledge, edited by The Onion (#17 NYT)
7. How Music Works, by David Byrne (#26 NYT)
8. The Signal and the Noise, by Nate Silver (#6 NYT)
9. My Heart is an Idiot, by Davy Rothbart
10. Help Thanks Wow, by Anne Lamott (#3 NYT miscellaneous)
11. How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough (#35 NYT)
12. Closing the Gap, by Willie Davis
13. The Patriarch, by David Nasaw (#13 NYT)
14. Far from the Tree, by Andrew Solomon (#24 NYT)
15. Waging Heavy Peace, by Neil Young (#11 NYT)

What's missing on our list that is selling nationally? Two Bill O'Reilly titles, more music (the Bruce Springsteen bio at the lead), and Unbroken, now working its third Christmas. Most of our top titles are selling well nationally somewhere. Willie Davis clearly has regional pull while Davy Rothbart's My Heart is an Idiot is sheer force of our will, and maybe the NPR shout out helped too. You're probably wondering why some humor books are nonfiction and others are advice/miscellaneous on the NYT. I haven't understood the fine details of the distinction in the however many years it has been in place. So let's not get into why some folks who go to heaven and back are nonfiction and others are advice.

Paperback fiction:
1. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
2. Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel (#13 NYT)
3. Best American Short Stories 2012, edited by Tom Perotta (#23 NYT)
4. How it All Began, by Penelope Lively
5. City of Dark Magic, by Magnus Flyte
6. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel (#2 NYT)
7. Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles
8.The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes (#28 NYT)
9. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett (#30 NYT)
10. Fifty Shades of Gray, by E.L. James (#1 NYT)
11. The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain (#5 NYT)
12. 11-22-63, by Stephen King (#16 NYT)
13. The House at Tyneford, by Natasha Solomons
14. The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides
15. Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn (oddly enough Dark Places is on the NYT, not this)

I should note that several books in the paperback fiction NYT list, like The Language of Flowers, The Snow Child, and Carry the One, are regularly popping up in our top ten, but not this week. The Night Circus and The Tiger's Wife, however, have seemed to taper off at Boswell. 

Penelope Lively is one of those authors that every so often has popped for us big in paperback at Schwartz. It happened with both The Photograph and Consequences. I remember my Penguin rep and I were so shocked by the former (I think our sale ran to several hundred copies) that Penguin sent out a national memo. Well, this phenomenon was apparently not limited to Schwartz. After only selling 7 copies of Family Album in papeback, we've more than tripled that with How it All Began in just a few weeks, though I'll admit that our hardcover sales of the new book were also much stronger. It's just that in these times, literary books in paperback don't sell multiples of the hardcover, unless it becomes a phenomenon of some sort, like winning a big prize, or begin cut off from its natural year-end sales with a quickie paperback release (not that I'm bitter).

As Downton Abbey approaches, I should note the sales pop for The House at Tyneford. Jane has the novel on her rec shelf, and we've got our small Downton Abbey table up in the middle of the store with it featured there as well. Jane's pretty insistent that if you can't get enough of the show, reading Natasha Solomons is a good temporary fix until January 6. Oh, and it also works for folks who like Kate Morton. Jane's getting Jason and me a complete list of what else everyone should read, but for now, I've found some official tie ins that are already selling. Our copy of Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey was sold off the table in about two days.

Paperback nonfiction:
1. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson (#4 NYT)
2. Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin (#2 NYT)
3. Unlikely Friendships, by Jennifer Holland (#6 NYT)
4. Memoir of the Sunday Brunch, by Julia Pandl
5. How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You, by The Oatmeal (#1 miscellaneous)
6. F for Effort, by Richard Benson (#9 NYT)
7. The Swerve, by Stephen Greenblatt (#21 NYT)
8. Schuster's and Gimbels, by Paul Geenen
9. Turing's Cathedral, by George Dyson
10. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot (#9 NYT)
11. How to be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran (#31 NYT)
12. Milwaukee Mafia, by Gavin Schmitt
13. Catherine the Great, by Robert K. Massie (#25 NYT)
14. Dancers Among Us, by Jordan Matter (#13 NYT)
15. Citizens of London, by Lynne Olson

The Olson book has been popping from a lecture recommendation while I am suspecting that Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe is popping because there's something fresh on the front table. We were noting that this time of year, the books tend to be static for about a month. Booklist noted: "Many sweeping histories of the computer revolution have already been written, tracing the origins of today's digital landscape back to the ancient Sumerian abacus, yet few are as thorough as this fascinating account from science-historian Dyson"And here's William Poundstone's enthusiastic review in The New York Times Book Review.

Books for children:
1. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green (#2 NYT young adult)
2. Who Could That be at This Hour?, by Lemony Snicket (#4 NYT middle grade)
3. Santa Claus is Coming to Wisconsin, by Robert Dunn, Steve Smallwood, Kathine Kirkland
4. Wildwood, by Colin Meloy
5. Good Night Wisconsin, by Adam Gamble and Mark Jasper
6. I am a Bunny, by Ole Risom
7. A Wrinkle in Time Graphic Novel, by Madeline L'Engle and Hope Larson
8. Snow, by Uri Shelvitz
9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel, by Jeff Kinney (#1 NYT series)
10. Safari, by Dan Kainen
11. This is not my Hat, by Jon Klassen (#10 NYT picture)
12. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, by William Joyce
13. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, by Sherry Duskey Rinker (#1 NYT picture)
14. The Composer is Dead, by Lemony Snicket
15. Under Wildwood, by Colin Meloy

On the children's NYT bestseller lists, hardcover competes with paperback and middle grade fiction competes with Lego and Justin Bieber, making the judgment that age range is more important. I have found that the hard-soft divide matters little among kids' books as kids move from hardcover picture books to paperback chapter books to a mix of middle and young adult, and what book type are board books anyway? 

In the Journal Sentinel book page are three reviews. Seth Lerer of the San Francisco Chronicle contemplates Philip Pullman's Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, Gregory Leon Miller (also from the Chronicle) ponders Philip Hensher's The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting, and Tish Wells is absorbed by (that's quite a word picture) Ross King's Leonardo and the Last Supper. I wanted to say what paper she was at, but she actually works for the Washington Bureau of McClachy Newspapers.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Receiving Orders on a Saturday, Working on the Floor, NYT Favorites.

In a smart move, Jason moved our Partners account from UPS to FedEx for a few days, so that we could get delivery on a Saturday. We got not one but two orders from our Michigan-based wholesaler in today, and I got to go back to my roots and receive. Included were such crowd pleasers such as Behind the Beautiful Forevers, The Round House, and The Onion Book of Known Knowledge. I haven't really been paying much attention to this latest Onion entry, but we've at least been selling it well enough to reorder.

After our orders got out, it was pretty much working on the floor for the rest of the day. One finds oneself gravitating to certain books and it seemed today that every other gift recipient seemed perfect for My Heart is an Idiot. We're down to our last three copies It seems that just yesterday that Jason and I found an extra box of books after our event and we decided not to return them. Alas, the post-event return can be problematic on two fronts. Return too little and you're sitting on way too much inventory, which crowds out the rest of your books, especially when you do it a lot. But return to much and you might be surprised by echo sales later. Even though we didn't sell too many copies of Samir El-Yousselff's The Illusion of Return at his event, it turned out that when we wanted more, the book went out of stock.

I've been rushing around so much that I forgot to sit down and read The New York Times daily book critics' favorite books of the year. I guess this had to be differentiated from the best books. I'm not sure I understand the difference. The biggest news is that Michiko Kakutani included a self-published book in her top ten, one that, at least for now, is not available to bookstores.  It will be interesting to see how much this list pops sales. It's so close to Christmas that nobody had time to react. It was nice to see Where'd You Go, Bernadette? hit Janet Maslin's list. Two of our former Schwartz coworkers, Nancy and Dave, both put the book on their best-of for the year. Though Boswell had a perfectly respectable sell through, I can only imagine how we would have done with reads like that.

Friday, December 21, 2012

John Green's New York Times Ad, Les Miserables Tee Shirts, New Penguin Classics Series.

Today I opened my copy of The New York Times and saw the full-page ad for John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. The novel is making best-of lists left and right (including ours, as noted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). One imagines the book will have a long shelf life, but will it migrate towards a teen staple of schools like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, or more like The Book Thief, which though published as a young adult novel, seemed to find its niche as a staple of adult book clubs? Or both?

Aside #1: Why does it sometimes take ten seconds to get a picture emailed to me from my phone, and sometimes it takes an hour? I will load the photos when they someday arrive in my in box.

Yes, an advertisement is getting second life on a blog. But we are not averse to that sort of thing. The movie studio sent us Les Miserables tee shirts and we're all aflutter. "So soft!" "I might go see the movie tonight!" "If I were in the Academy, I'd be talking about Ann Hathaway at my Oscar Discussion Group." "Did you know that Victor Hugo wrote over fifty novels? I wonder what his third most popular book is*?" See how these tee shirts generate discussion?

Aside #2: Jason confirmed that we are getting deliveries on Monday. And he thinks we might get a FedEx order tomorrow. There's nothing like getting stuff we need before Christmas.

Speaking of classics and being all aflutter, Jason showed us the new series of Penguin Classics. There's an alphabet theme going on, and they also have a rainbow of colors. I asked what K, Q, and X were going to be (assuming Z was for Zola), and he didn't know. The first set has a lot of yellow and orange.

*According to Ingram demand, the next most popular Hugo novel appears to be The Last Day of a Condemned Man, which is said to be a precursor in spirit to Les Miserables. The edition I found, however, is POD, short discount, and nonreturnable, meaning you won't likely see it on the shelves at Boswell. So the next most popular we'd carry would be the Modern Library edition of Toilers of the Sea, a well-regarded-at-the-time, change-of-pace follow up to Les Miserables. Gauging from demand, it's not particularly popular in the United States.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Slushy Rain Does Not Make a Boring Day When It's Five Days Before Christmas.

Because of the storm, which turned out to be rain for most of the day in Milwaukee, I decided to take the bus to work. I was surprised to find that my bus was driven by Santa Claus. I guess the Green Line has turned into the green-and-red line.

At 10 am, I had an appointment with Mary for her annual Christmas shopping. I inherited this from a former co-worker, another Dan, who inherited the honor from David himself. As the kids have gotten older, the list has gotten shorted, but it's still a fun challenge. We were looking for something for a reader who likes opera and classical music, but something a little more fast-paced than the very worthy tome, The History of Opera. We decided to go with Magnus Flyte's City of Dark Magic, which has turned out to be an easier hand-sell than I expected. I'm not breaking any records, but we've sold a respectable 17 copies. Our event is on January 15th with Magnus (otherwise known as Meg and Christina).

The rain continued as I did some event booking in the office, as we had enough booksellers to handle the floor. Today I confirmed Kevin Henkes, who'll be appearing for Penny and Her Marble on March 2, 2 pm. You may not think this is a big deal, but we've not hosting this Madison favorite since opening, and it had been years since he'd even appeared at Schwartz. He's super nice and seems to have a lot of Milwaukee connections. When I mentioned this to Doug Bradley, who with Erin Celello is appearing for a Veterans-themed evening of fiction on February 18 (7 pm), he mentioned that he knew both Henkes and his brother. With this win under my belt, I made an over-the-top proposal for Neil Gaiman, who is doing his very last author tour this summer. Mr. Gaiman has been a long-time Wisconsin resident, but has not appeared in Wisconsin's largest city in many years. A whole bunch of folks in metro Milwaukee are counting on us to make a good case.

Today I also booked local writer John Bolger for his novel The Hunters. It's published by a small press, but he's gotten quotes from Pam Houston and Ron Carlson. Did I mention that Doug Bradley had a quote from Karl Marlantes? Time Magazine had an article on blurbing, calling Gary Shteyngart king of the blurbers. They wondered why folks blurb so much. I also enjoyed A.J. Jacobs's essay on his blurb addiction. Dwight Gardner of The New York Times called for an intervention. But honestly, I bet it's tough to say no. A friend of mine once said no to a now famous audience and she got her bleep handed to her on a silver platter, and that was in the days before social media. I once read an essay by a famous writer in a galley about folks who wouldn't blurb his first book; it didn't make the finished book.

Why this aside? Oh, I was just impressed by the blurbs from these two authors we booked.

Our UPS and FedEx shipments arrived. Lots and lots and lots of books, plus one card shipment from Saturn (not really needed as we're stocked up in cards) and some banks and felt purses. Those were needed, but alas, they were out of almost everything. Hey, kitten, fish, lion, and toucan are better than nothing, and Anne was thrilled to get another shipment of felted leaf clutches, which are selling out as quickly as we can get them in.

Our afternoon rush was it's usual mix of calm, almost scientific browsing mixed with almost frenzied purchasing. And of course there were our usual share of disappointments. One customer was upset that we were out of Edward Gorey boxed holiday cards. Honestly, we're almost out of all boxed cards. She wasn't happy.

But interestingly enough, sometimes getting unexpected stock in makes folks equally angry. We had told everyone that The Composer is Dead wouldn't be available again until February, per the publisher. Well, it showed up this week, but folks who didn't choose to order it from us had little chance to grab a free copy. This happened with another title too, per one of my booksellers, which led to an unfortunate interaction that was difficult for us to resolve. The customer had decided no to put a copy on special order, and at this point, we could no longer get one for him. I was reminded of something my rep Tony used to say to us booksellers: "The lie to me, I lie to you."

Sometimes it's better to take all information with a grain of salt. Much like I don't really say anything is out of print anymore, we probably should have said, according to our sources, the book won't be available before Christmas, but honestly, we don't know.

It's just one of many things I don't know.

Just before I left, Lil Rev came in to drop off his new CD, Fountain of Uke. I'd show an image but when my laptop crashed, I never reloaded Adobe Acrobat and thus now have only the Reader, which means I can't export it to a jpg file. So instead, here's the jacket for City of Dark Magic, from earlier in the post.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Snow, More Best of the Year, Selling Coffee Table Books, Where is Our First-Timer Breakout?.

Today my panic set in regarding tomorrow's snowstorm. It looks like Southeast Wisconsin will be too warm for the brunt of the storm, with the precipitation only turning to snow at the tail end. However, other parts of the state will be hit by blizzard conditions.

Every Saturday our friend Dennis asks us about the state of the store, and by November, he's trying to pull strings for us to get good weather through Christmas. I told him we could handle one bad storm this year, and it looks like we've got it. Jason was thinking that maybe this isn't as bad as a storm earlier in the season, when that business would just move on line. At this point, can you count on your packages being delivered in time? But on the other hand, if our business is wiped out tomorrow, and largely reduced on Friday, it's a lot to lose. Can we possibly make it up on Saturday through Monday? Seems doubtful to me.

Did you catch the best fiction of the year from The Wall Street Journal? Aside from NW, I'm not seeing too much overlap with other lists, though it is great to finally see The Orphan Master's Son show up. On the nonfiction side, Anne Applebaum's Iron Curtain has been showing up with regularity, but the other titles not so much, even Nate Silver's popular The Signal and the Noise. And don't you think it's fun that the WSJ of all papers gave the shout out to Silver?

This broad range of picks is reflected on the commercial side as well, where The New York Times has noted that there is not the big hit that was Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs last holiday. There are a number of historical biographies splitting the sales and nobody with such prominence of Jobs, which was released just after his death.

One thing we also noticed is that while several first novels were dominating our bestseller lists last holiday, with The Art of Fielding in hardcover combined with The Tiger's Wife and Swamplandia in paperback, the breakouts this year are from seasoned authors such as Gillian Flynn (for everyone) and Jess Walter (for many indies), who hit it big after several well-received but smaller books. I was chatting with our pal Wendy that we are probably the only indie in America who isn't blowing out The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman, but as soon as Jason brought more in, we had a bit of a sales pop. Go figure. You can read more in the Christian Science Monitor. I would say our first-timer breakout is The Yellow Birds.

I wonder if this is the case for the coffee table books that we are shunning. Our friend Sue at Lake Forest tells me that she is blowing out Carolyn Roehm's Flowers, but we wouldn't even know how to present the book. I'm convinced that our seating areas are yet another factor that hurts the sales of our coffee table books. It's counter-intuitive that keeping expensive books wrapped helps their sales, but John tells me that's just what one well-regarded Canadian store does when confronted with the fact that they do have a lot of chairs. If the book is expensive, a bookseller unwraps it for you and you look at it at the counter.

I'm opening tomorrow, and hoping for the best.  I'm concerned that with the storm, even books ordered before tomorrow's deadline might not make it before Christmas. I think Jason noted that one of our wholesalers has been taking an extra day to arrive. But John (yes, he of the Canadian coffee table gossip) has always said a bookseller shows his or her true mettle when we can't use ordering as a crutch. This is the bookstore you've got for the next few days; make the most of it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Boxed Card Frenzy, Gift Wrappers from East Side Senior Services, The Mysterious Maxed Out Max Book.

Where did all our boxed holiday cards go? Last year we had enough to have an okay selection all the way through the holiday. This year the pickings are slim. On the other hand, last year we pretty much ran out of loose cards and I started breaking down boxes to offer an assortment. This year our loose (which I admittedly increased more than the boxed) cards look pretty full a week before Christmas. Sometimes you just can't predict!

We've had several different nonprofits come in to gift wrap, but the East Side Senior Services team asked to take most of the shifts leading up to Christmas. Last year they were a little short of ribbon, so I made sure we were in better shape with an extra role each of red and green. And the Hanukkah paper finally was retired for our last roll of Christmas wrap, a kraft paper with assorted birds, some wearing stocking caps. I had actually brought in some birds wearing stocking caps, but we've been out of them for several days.

The strangest thing that happened today is that one of our booksellers found a copy of Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, by D. T. Max. I know there are David Foster Wallace obsessives out there but this is awfully strange. The entire book is marked up in pencil. It still has our price label on it. Was this a copy that a customer bought, marked up, brought back to the store, and left behind, or was somebody actually marking up an unsold book. We just can't tell. Certainly if I saw somebody writing in a book that looked unsold I would have said something, but I hadn't seen anything. So strange! It seems appropriate that someone would like a copy of this book with a lot of underlining, plus signs, and stars. If so, please order it and you can buy it from us.