For booksellers, the holidays really are “the most wonderful time of the year,” and those surveyed by PW are sanguine about the start of the official holiday shopping season. Several pointed out that customers have been attracted to the stores by a handful of high-profile titles, including John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down (Dutton) and The Getaway (Amulet), 12th in Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Among backlist titles, R.J. Palacio’s Wonder (Knopf) continues to sell, especially with the November release of the Wonder film. “I’ve been struggling to keep it on the shelf and I’m reordering it frequently,” said Leslie Hawkins, owner of Spellbound Children’s Books in Asheville, N.C. Another title that has been difficult for some booksellers to keep in stock is Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2 by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo (Timbuktu Labs). The forthcoming 2018 movie version of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle has also spurred sales of the book.
Black Friday was followed by Small Business Saturday, a promotion by American Express that encourages shopping in small, local stores instead of at big-box retailers and chain stores. Independent booksellers have been calling the day Indies First since 2013, when author Sherman Alexie enlisted more than 1,000 writers to handsell books at their local independent bookstores that day. Many indies also use the day to host authors for special readings, promote their lists of best books of the year, and offer special discounts. An estimated 108 million consumers shopped or dined at local independently owned businesses on November 25, according to data from the 2017 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey.
This year the ABA recruited author Jason Reynolds as its official Indies First spokesman. He spent most of Small Business Saturday visiting indie bookstores in the Washington, D.C., metro area, beginning with his neighborhood bookstore, East City Bookshop near Capitol Hill, followed by the new Politics and Prose location in the Union Market area, and One More Page Books in Arlington, Va.
At East City Bookshop, Reynolds regaled a crowd of fans of all ages with stories of the writing life and talked up his novels, as well as his favorite reads for both children and adults. The crowd included book lovers from as far away as Chicago, Minnesota, and New York. The day was a huge success, said East City Bookshop owner Laurie Gillman, with sales triple those of a typical Saturday.
Magic Tree Books in Oak Park, Ill. saw sales jump 60% this year over last year’s Black Friday weekend in-store. “I attribute it to word spreading that we are evolving,” said owner Beth Albrecht, who took over ownership in 2015 and has since been adding more and more adult titles to what was once just a children’s bookstore. Still, the emphasis is on children’s books, with a ratio of 75% children’s titles to 25% books for adults. For the season, Albrecht identifies Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic by Armand Baltazar (HarperCollins) as one the store is recommending to customers. “We’re all in love with it — it’s a cross between a novel and a graphic novel. We’re handselling it because people must have it.”
But, she notes, her bestsellers are “by far” all picture books, which this year include: Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri (Dial), Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!: It’s Shoe Time by Mo Willems and Bryan Collier (Hyperion), Uni the Unicorn and the Dream Come True by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Brigette Barrager (Random House), I Am Not a Chair! by Ross Burach (HarperCollins), Bruce's Big Move by Ryan T. Higgins (Disney), and The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, illustrated by the Fan Brothers (S&S/Beach Lane). The illustrated middle-grade book The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead (Doubleday) has also done well.
Let’s Play Books in Emmaus, Pa., is another store that has shifted beyond children’s books and now has a ratio of 80% to 20%. The change, along with a move last year to a new location, prompted a 40% increase in book sales on Small Business Saturday/Indies First. “It was the best day we’ve ever had since opening, by $1,000 [in sales], said owner Kirsten Hess. She was especially pleased at having sold 15 copies of Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome (Holiday House) over the holiday shopping weekend. “We just need to put this book in people’s hands,” said Hess. Others the store is handselling include the YA book Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman (Holt) and the wordless picture book Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli, illustrated by Mariachiara Di Giorgio (Chronicle). “Kids absolutely love it. We force them to slow down to look at this book,” Hess said.
Maureen Palacios, owner of Once Upon a Time Books in Montrose, Calif., also points to Timeless by Armand Baltazar (HarperCollins), as a “must have” book, alongside Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin (Random House). How Many Guinea Pigs Can Fit on a Plane? Answers to Your Most Clever Math Questions Book by Laura Overdeck (Feiwel and Friends) has become a favorite stocking stuffer. As far as sales are concerned, Palacios notes that her sales have jumped from the spring and are likely to be consistent with last year. “The first half of the year was well below the year previous, maybe due to malaise over the Trump election. Over the holiday shopping weekend that started with Black Friday and included Small Business Saturday/Indies First, sales were up 32% and receipts grew 53% compared with the previous year. “Before the store opened on Saturday, we were featured on local morning TV news,” Palacios said. “That was the best three minutes of free advertising we could ever have imagined.” Middle grade books are outselling all the other areas of the store.
Laura Taylor of Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Fla., pointed to a pair of titles that were working especially well at her store this year: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo (Macmillan/Imprint) and Sarabella’s Thinking Cap by Judy Schachner (Dial).
At Books on Broadway in Williston, S.D., owner Chuck Wilder noted that the new illustrated editions of the Harry Potter titles are bringing in customers, who are in turn buying copies of the Eragon series by Christopher Paolini. “They always do well when there’s a surge in sales in Harry Potter books,” he said.
Blue Manatee Books in Cincinnati moved to a brand-new building this year and curiosity about the new space has led shoppers into the store, said assistant manager Sarah Jones. “With our new location, I’m a little cautious about this year’s Christmas season, but we’ve had great sales so far,” she added. The bookstore’s publishing arm, Blue Manatee Books, published Fiona’s Feelings by Dr. John Hutton, about a hippo born at the Cincinnati Zoo earlier this year who has become an internet sensation.
Mary Cotton, owner of Newtonville Books, in Newtonville, Mass., noted that middle grade books were also the fastest moving kids’ category at her store. “Kids in that age group are so excited about books, it’s fun to watch,” she said, adding, “And we’ll go through picture books like crazy when it gets closer to the holidays, as they make such beautiful gifts.” This year Windows by Julia Denos, illustrated by E.B. Goodale (Candlewick) has been a favorite in the store.
Finally, at Avid Bookshop’s two stores in Athens, Ga., inventory manager Will Walton noted that some book buyers in the college town may be feeling a bit nostalgic for the previous president, with Dream Big Dreams: Photographs from Barack Obama’s Inspiring and Historic Presidency by Pete Souza (Little, Brown) among the bestselling titles at the store through the season so far. And Avid has its own in-house author to promote for the season, in the form of Caleb Zane Huett, whose middle grade debut Top Elf (Scholastic Press) has been a natural bestseller at the store.