It was a mixed bag for indie booksellers in general during the weekend following Thanksgiving, which traditionally kicks off the holiday season. While storms blasted across the country on Small Business Saturday and the next day, driving sales down at some stores, and even closing down a few in the Upper Midwest on what should have been one of the busiest weekends of the year, customers flocked to most of the bookstores PW talked to, despite the weather.
“People seem to be a little more harried because the holiday shopping season is shorter this year,” noted Mary O’Malley of Anderson’s Bookshops in the Chicago suburbs. She added, “[They] are again realizing the importance of local businesses and returning to a Shop Local/Shop Small mindset, because an algorithm can’t replace human interaction when it comes to finding the perfect book.”
Robert Sindelar, managing partner of Third Place Books in the Seattle area, confirmed that his customers are also feeling anxious due to the short holiday season, which is four weeks rather than the usual five. He reported that many people showed up early on Black Friday with their shopping lists in hand.
Brein Lopez, manager of Children’s Book World in Los Angeles, said that customers are buying books “in quantities for friends as well as for family, and we’re not even into Christmas or Hanukkah. That’s a good sign.” While store sales were down “a little bit” during the holiday weekend, Lopez ascribes it to Hanukkah falling so late this year, and expressed optimism for the season, partially because the 33-year-old store added adult books to the inventory in the past year, and launched an e-commerce option on Wednesday.
Holiday Weekend Bestsellers
Unsurprisingly, it was the classics, as well as the latest releases in beloved series, that drove sales for children’s books during the holiday weekend. While Appletree Bookstore in Cleveland did well with such items as boxed sets of Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, most of the other stores reported strong sales of books including The Crayons’ Christmas by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers; Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls by Dav Pilkey; and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Wrecking Ball by Jeff Kinney.
It’s no surprise that Kinney’s latest would top the bestseller list at An Unlikely Story in Plainville, Mass.; Kinney owns the store. “If people are coming to the area and they have kids who have read the Wimpy Kid books, the kids know where we are located,” said general manager Deb Sundin, who disclosed that weekend sales were up 20% over last year, some of that due to Kinney’s popularity, but also due to 14 local authors participating in an in-store “bazaar” co-sponsored by the Writer’s Loft. “Our customers have now become used to having us do something special for Small Business Saturday,” Sundin said.
Besides Wimpy Kid 14 and The Crayons’ Christmas, which were both runaway bestsellers at An Unlikely Story during the holiday weekend, children’s buyer Leo Landry noted a broad range in sales of children’s books, including Three Cheers for Kid McGear! by Sherri Duskey Rinker and AG Ford, and Oscar the Octopus by Matthew Van Fleet in picture books, and Dead Voices by Katherine Arden and A Tale of Magic by Chris Colfer in middle grade books. The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs by America’s Test Kitchen also proved to be a hit at An Unlikely Story, as well as at other indies in our survey.
MahoganyBooks in Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood reported weekend sales 15% above last year, and like An Unlikely Story, it organized a special SBS event featuring authors—in this case, a book signing by four local teens, who each autographed copies of their picture books, published by Shout Mouse Press, a nonprofit organization that specializes in coaching writers from marginalized backgrounds who want to professionally publish their books. The organization works with a number of D.C.-area schools.
“A big crowd of friends, family, and community members came to support the debut authors,” said owner Ramunda Lark Young, adding that on Black Friday the store also offered 20% off all autographed books, and five different bundles of two paired books for $20, plus 40–60% off remaindered new books.
While Cover to Cover in Columbus, Ohio held a “philanthropic story time” on SBS benefiting Canine Companions for Independence featuring seven service dogs, rather than a standard two-legged author event, it reported that weekend sales spiked almost 64% above last year’s sales. Bestsellers at Cover to Cover, which carries only children’s books, and does not sell books online, included Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o and Vashti Harrison, The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad and Hatem Aly, Guts by Raina Telgemeier, A Boy Like You by Frank Murphy and Kayla Harren, and New Kid by Jerry Craft, with Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly, The Year We Fell from Space by Amy Sarig King, and the Greenglass House books by Kate Milford starting to break out.
While children’s books for all age ranges sell well at Cover to Cover, it’s the books for the youngest readers that most appealed to customers during the holiday weekend. “Picture books [was] our bestselling category—as always,” reported Melia Wolfe, who bought the store two years ago and moved it at the time to another location.
According to Vivien Jennings, the owner of Rainy Day Books in the Kansas City suburb of Fairway, Kans., picture books and board books are the store’s strongest children’s category. “We always have strong interest in the Indestructibles series by Amy Pixton, who is local,” Jennings said. “If any store is not carrying them, they are missing out on easy holiday sales”—an assertion confirmed by Carrie Koepke, manager of Skylark Bookshop in Columbia, Mo., who reported that Workman’s tear-proof and chew-proof series for the very youngest readers is “flying” off bookstore shelves.
Jennings also praised the new Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire illustrated edition, calling it “an amazing gift” for young readers. And Casey Protti of Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, Calif., reports that middle grade is the top children’s category at her store; she recommends novels published by the Rick Riordan Presents imprint to her customers.
Sarah Hollenbeck, co-owner of Women & Children First in Chicago, reports that sales of Andrea Beaty’s Questioners series are going strong—“not just Sofia Valdez, Future Prez,” but also Rosie Revere and Ada Twist”—and she expects Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Vengeance and Virtue to resonate with her customers. But it’s graphic novels that hit the sweet spot for young readers at her store, from Dog Man and Guts, to more young adult titles like Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, and Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks.
Several booksellers mentioned Allies by Alan Gratz as a surprise bestseller, with Lopez at Children’s Book World noting that “it’s not even in paperback and it still sells so well.”
But it’s gift books that are appropriate for both children and adult readers that are jumpstarting this year’s holiday season. Zenith Books in Duluth, Minn., is already having problems re-stocking The Little Winter Book of Gnomes by Kirsten Sevig, while another Minnesota indie, Content Bookstore in Northfield, is “chasing stock” on This Book Is Literally Just Pictures of Cute Animals That Will Make You Feel Better, from Smith Street Books.
“The only thing I really, really wish I had a big stack of right now is This Book. I would feel so much better,” owner Jessica Peterson White said, noting that Random House sales rep and Northfield resident Jason Gobble talked up the book during a Black Friday presentation he makes at the store every year, resulting in all 20 copies being sold by 10 a.m.
Further south, in Houston, Jeanne Jard, co-owner of River Oaks Bookstore, reported that the top seller for the store so far this season is The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy, saying, “It’s a parable, so it’s not just for kids and not entirely for adults. You can give it to almost anyone. We have sold more than 20 copies of it and have just as many piled up.”
It was perhaps Jennings who best summed up the post-Thanksgiving bump for indies this year, telling PW that Rainy Day Books “had a huge weekend but I don’t know that it was driven by the [SBS] promotion. We’re just doing what works for us, keeping it consistent and authentic. People brought friends and family, some from out-of-town, to see what we were all about, and that raised the numbers way up. My staff and I always love to see kids getting books, and some from years ago were back with their own kids—and grandkids!”