Booksellers and publishers may be in the same business, but they don't always understand life on the other side of the fence. Here publishers address frequent bookseller queries about everything from book club paperbacks to a perceived dearth of middle-grade fare and age-appropriateness.
Why can't more books be published in paperback original or go into paper sooner?
"At Penguin we publish a healthy mix of hardcover and paperback original novels, both in the early chapter book and young adult categories," says Felicia Frazier, senior v-p, sales, Penguin Young Readers Group. "We analyze the numbers and identify the proper marketplace for a book before deciding on the format. Often the numbers require that a book first publish in hardcover to be profitable. The school and library market, which almost exclusively purchases hardcover editions, also influences our format choices.
"The decision when to publish in paperback is specific to each book. Typically we will publish and sell a book in hardcover for approximately 12 to 18 months before publishing a trade paperback edition. If sales remain strong for the hardcover, we will delay the paperback edition. For example, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher had its strongest sales ever a year after publication, and the hardcover sales are just as robust today, after almost three years on sale. As long as the market for the hardcover is healthy, we will continue to publish it in hardcover."
Why do book clubs get paperbacks that I can't get? And why can't I sell those editions to schools and libraries through my business-to-business program?
"A key part of the mission of the book clubs is to get more books into the hands of kids, so value is part of the way they do that—with less expensive, often paperback, books," says Ellie Berger, president, Scholastic Trade. "It is also important to keep in mind that many of the kids across the country who order from book clubs do not have ready access to bookstores. We have observed that providing affordable, easily accessed copies of new titles actually helps seed the retail market—augmenting and not replacing retail sales—by building awareness of the books. And also, these books are only available in the school channels for a limited window of time. Scholastic Book Fairs generally sells at closer to retail prices, and since the kids are able to pick up and hold the product, the experience is more similar to that at retail.
"Many of the products Scholastic offers through its clubs and fairs are licensed from other publishers, so those rights are exclusive to the school marke,t and Scholastic's Trade division does not control any retail rights for those editions. Further, the editions created for clubs or fairs are not created in such a way that they can be processed or billed through retail sales channels. We do understand and appreciate that this is a source of frustration for some bookstore accounts that also sell directly to the school market. We continue to monitor and evaluate this issue."
Where have all the middle-reader books gone? Why are so many new releases so heavily weighted toward YA? If we want kids to read, we have to start before they're 15.
"The YA market has been booming for the last many years, so as publishers, we've enjoyed the luxury of publishing quite a broad and healthy YA list," says Michelle Nagler, editorial director, Bloomsbury Children's Books USA. "It's been a wonderful opportunity, because we've been able to bring to market a variety of books that, even as recently as 10 years ago, would never have seen the inside of a bookstore.
"No one has stopped publishing books for younger readers, but these books haven't been getting quite the media spotlight that teen has enjoyed in recent years. I think part of the reason is because the teen world is more established online, while much of our marketing effort has shifted to the digital realm. A wealth of extraordinary YA-focused librarians and reviewers are also to be commended.
"But trends are always changing, and I think you're going to see a lot more middle-grade stealing the spotlight in upcoming seasons. We are well aware that to make lifelong readers, we have to hook them on reading when they're young. The middle-grade market, if you get it right, can be exceedingly rewarding and gratifying. We also covet strong middle-grade offerings because they tend to have a longer tail in various markets. A great book for young readers that is championed by librarians, educators, and booksellers (who in turn recommend them to parents and kids) can make state awards lists, get integrated into classrooms, and generate sales for years to come. The teen market, by and large, tends to be a bit more fleeting. For example, five years after publication Shannon Hale's Newbery Honor title, Princess Academy, remains one of Bloomsbury's top bestselling titles."
Everyone's sending me their big YA lead novels. Why don't I get more ARCs for quality middle-grade and midlist books that would really help me hand-sell them?
"We and most publishers by and large create ARCs for the majority of our frontlist titles regardless of category," says Andrew Smith, v-p and deputy publisher, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, "with the exception of books in established series or books that may be embargoed for marketing purposes. On occasion, we and other publishers send out ARCs in special mailings to call attention to a new voice or title that we're particularly excited about. We know that early buzz among booksellers is invaluable and critical to generating the kind of hand-selling and momentum that gets a great book into as many hands as possible.
"The seeming abundance of ARC mailings for YA novels is likely a reflection of the overall growth of the YA category in recent years. But the current popularity of the YA category has not in any way diminished publishers' efforts in acquiring and publishing high-quality, compelling middle-grade fiction. Here at Little, Brown, we have had great success with such middle-grade titles as The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Name of This Book Is Secret, and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, all of which benefited greatly from the buzz generated by early ARC mailings and bookseller passion.
Why can't publishers pay for more—send more children's authors on tour, supply more marketing materials, pay for more co-op?
"With author and illustrator tours, we have to look at what makes the most sense and where there are opportunities to bring authors to areas where we can arrange library, bookstore, and school visits," says Linda Magram, v-p and director of children's marketing, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Books. "We have not cut back on touring, but are now also able to arrange national Web casts with prominent authors like Chris Van Allsburg, David Macaulay, and Karen Cushman, which have proven to be an effective way of reaching a critical mass of kids.
"At HMH we have not cut back on the many promo items we produce each season—posters, postcards, bookmarks, and event kits. We also create material that can be downloaded and used at in-store events."
Age appropriateness is always an issue for bookstores and our customers. Eight-year-olds don't read the same book as a 12-year-old. Who in-house decides how to set suggested levels and what goes into that discussion?
"The intended age range for a book can be decided by an author and presented by an agent at the time of submission," says Stephanie Owens Lurie, editorial director of Disney-Hyperion. "Often it is determined by the acquiring editor. Sometimes it is modified by sales and marketing when the editor first presents the book in-house. Several factors go into the determination of age range: the protagonist's age and concerns, the sophistication of the writing, the length of the book, and how the book compares to others on the market. Since every reader is unique, the age range is meant to be a guideline only."
As independents, we really go deep with our inventory and keep things around for a while. It breaks our hearts to see books go out of print, and often very quickly. What can an independent bookseller do to bring attention to a book we loved?
"As book lovers ourselves, we know how hard it is to see a beloved title go out of print, and we try everything we can to keep those old favorites available," says Kate Jackson, senior v-p, associate publisher, editor-in-chief, HarperCollins Children's Books. "At the end of the day, it comes down to whether or not we can sell enough copies to print it and not lose money in the process. There is a minimum we have to produce with each reprint, usually in the low thousands. So when a book is only selling a few hundred a year, that's when we face hard decisions. Independent booksellers are wonderful about spreading the word on both new and classic books, and that is the best way to ensure that a book stays in print as long as possible. Booksellers can always be in touch with us about books that they would like to see back in print. It's often hard to pull this off, but you never know, and we are always happy to take a look."
Some YA cover designs seem provocative. How do you come up with a cover that sells books and yet is respectful of teen—and parental—sensibilities?
"Each book cover concept has its own individual process, in that they come out of a collaboration between the book's cover designer and the book's editor," says Jon Anderson, executive v-p and publisher of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing. "The designer usually starts with a fragment of the book, or in some instances a summary of the book, and then works with the book's editor as well as the author to come up with an enticing jacket that will both resonate with a book's potential readership—based on our knowledge of the marketplace and what is popular with that audience—and also to be true to the story between the covers."
How can we work together to minimize packaging waste and to make publishing and bookselling greener?
"Among a host of green initiatives," says John Mendelson, senior v-p of sales, Candlewick Press, "including printing books on Forest Stewardship Council certified paper; printing letterhead, stationery envelopes, and business cards on recycled paper stocks; and doing our best to ensure that environmentally friendly choices are made in our office space from our light fixture bulbs to flooring materials—Candlewick Press recently moved to using e-readers to distribute manuscripts in-house electronically, which has resulted in significant savings both in cost and paper usage in the first year."
How do publishers decide if a book should be turned into a series and how long the series should be?
"Often a stand-alone novel can be totally satisfying, but the leading character is so beloved or quirky or appealing that readers want more," says Beverly Horowitz, v-p and publisher, Bantam Delacorte Dell Books for Young Readers. "Character-driven mysteries are the best example of this—okay, you solved one mystery, now come back and do it again. This allows an author to write any number of books, and demand is often what makes the books keep coming, unless the author says, I've had it!
"Novels that are created in ‘another world' are often conceived by the author with a specific number of books in mind so that the plot and action grow over time, as do the characters. Lately we're seeing many submissions that indicate the author's vision over three or four or even six titles.
"Whether it's the author's vision or the audience demand, there is no real science to multibook publishing. Are there specific entry points to a series? Must the first book in a series be read first? The initial book in a series usually stays in print the longest. It is always a richer reading experience if book one is read first, but often each book can stand alone. Indeed, many years ago Caroline B. Cooney wrote The Face on the Milk Carton, a novel that concluded in a satisfying but open-ended manner. Yet every reader asked, "Whatever happened to Janie?" Initially, the author said she wanted readers to fill that in themselves. But years later, after so much fan mail demanding to know, the author wrote that very book (Whatever Happened to Janie?), which led to more companion novels, eventually resulting in the Janie Quartet.
"The changes we see now are not at all different from what used to happen when people tuned in to their favorite weekly television show to see the next episode. Ever since people stood on the New York City docks waiting for the next installment of a Charles Dickens novel, readers have wanted to know what happened next. So multivolume projects are here to stay."
Thanks to the following booksellers for contributing questions: Kenny Brechner, owner of Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine; Ellen Davis, owner of Dragonwings Bookstore, Waupaca, Wis.; Ann Diener, co-owner of the Yellow Book Road in La Mesa, Calif.; Praveen Maden, co-owner of the Booksmith in San Francisco; Meghan Dietsche Goel, children's book buyer, BookPeople, Austin, Tex.; Margaret Neville, children's room manager/buyer at King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City; Ellen Scott, children's department manager at the Bookworm, Omaha, Neb.; Angela K. Sherrill, children's buyer at 57th Street Books in Chicago; Sarah Todd, bookseller, Children's Book World, Haverford, Pa.; and Alex Uhle, owner of A Whale of a Tale Children's Bookshoppe, Irvine, Calif.