It wouldn’t be summer without a big vacation read. This year, two came to the fore in PW’s seasonal survey of indie booksellers: E.L. James’s Grey, published last week, which retells Fifty Shades of Grey from Christian Grey’s point of view, and Pulitzer Prize–winning author Harper Lee’s long-lost novel, Go Set a Watchman, due out July 14. Joanna Parzakonis, co-owner of Bookbug in Kalamazoo, Mich., spoke for many indies when she said that she didn’t have much personal enthusiasm for Grey. Still, a few booksellers eagerly laid in copies, including one bookseller who asked to remain anonymous, whose store sold close to 5,000 copies of James’s earlier books.
Most indies contacted by PW have no special display plans for Grey, and one, five-year-old Apostle Islands Booksellers in Bayfield, Wis., chose not to stock it. Jamie Kornegay, owner of TurnRow Book Company in Greenwood, Miss., said that he gained new customers when the first 50 Shades of Grey came out because a nearby Walmart refused to carry it. But even he questions whether the moment for Grey has come and gone. “[Go Set a Watchman] is the book that everyone’s excited about,” Kornegay said. “I think how good it is won’t make a difference at first.” If it is good, he expects sales to carry through the year. Sherri Gallentine, head book buyer for Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, said, “I think [Watchman] could definitely be the book of the summer. I know I’m excited to read it.”
Many stores are planning Lee and Southern-fiction displays and are already reporting a bump in sales for her To Kill a Mockingbird. Bookbug will incorporate Mockingbird T-shirts and pencils with quotations from the novel, as well as blank books in their display. Parzakonis also plans to give out promotional buttons and bookmarks produced by Lee’s publisher, HarperCollins. Despite the midweek pub date, some stores are planning release parties. The Bookstore Plus will hold theirs the morning after publication, at 9 a.m. Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Minneapolis will make its big push the weekend before the book comes out. On July 11, it will hold a marathon reading of Mockingbird when the store opens at 10 a.m. Customers who preorder Lee’s new book that day will receive a coupon for $10 off any $30 purchase made between July 12 and August 31.
But booksellers aren’t counting on Grey or Go Set a Watchman to make their year. Many were already off to a good start heading into summer. Letters Bookshop in Durham, N.C., which opened in December 2013, has seen sales in the first five months of 2015 rise 40% to 50% over the same period last year. Older stores have been doing well, too, such as the 39-year-old Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid, N.Y., which had its best year ever in 2014, and is ahead of those numbers as it readies for its two strongest months.
At Books Inc.’s Laurel Village store in San Francisco, the first Fifty Shades title sold about 800 copies, but that figure was topped by Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. In addition to Doerr, manager Ingrid Nystrom said that The Goldfinch and The Boys in the Boat are both moving at “a phenomenal clip.” Maple Street’s Scott said that she expects The Girl on the Train to continue to sell well this summer. The store is also doing well with Sonic Youth founding member Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts.
Many booksellers anticipate that Judy Blume’s first adult book in years, In the Unlikely Event, will do well. It’s already selling so much that Susan McAnelly, manager of Browseabout Books in Rehobeth Beach, Del., bumped up orders for Blume’s earlier Summer Sisters. The store usually sells 500–600 copies of Elin Hilderbrand’s annual beach read; this summer it’s The Rumor. McAnelly predicted that the store will also do well with Dorothea Benton Frank’s All the Single Ladies and Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat? (July), the latest combined effort from Lisa Scottoline and her daughter. McAnelly has been handselling a personal favorite, Eliza Kennedy’s I Take You, as “a great, saucy, sassy beach read.”
Local books are the ticket in a number of communities. For Apostle Islands that has meant strong sales for Nickolas Butler’s story collection Beneath the Bonfire and Benjamin Percy’s novel The Dead Lands. Manager Kristen Sandstrom is also excited about Kerstin March’s Family Trees, which takes place in Bayfield, on the shores of Lake Superior, where the store is. Emily Hall, co-owner of Main Street Books in St. Charles, Mo., added another Midwest title to that list, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pioneer Girl, which is back in stock. That’s also a strong seller for Katie Rattenborg, owner of four-year-old Dragonfly Books in Decorah, Iowa, and whose store is only eight miles from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park & Museum.
In Chicago, Unabridged Books has been doing really well with local author Aleksander Hemon’s The Making of Zombie Wars and Catie Disabato’s Ghost Network. Owner Ed Devereaux’s favorite book of the year, Lily King’s Euphoria, is also selling briskly in paperback. Maine Coast Book Shop and Café in Damariscotta has seen sales rise since summer visitors started arriving in April. Owner Susan Porter’s anticipated hits all have a Maine connection, such as local author Rinker Buck’s The Oregon Trail. She also expects to sell lots of former publishing executive Brenda Bowen’s Enchanted August, set on a Maine island, and The Precipice, the latest in the Mike Bowditch, Maine Game Warden series by Paul Doiron.
Vroman’s Gallentine is looking forward to Stephanie Clifford’s debut novel, Everybody Rise (Aug.), which Gallentine calls “a very entertaining read and perfect for summer.” Bookseller Scott Graves, at the Booksellers at Laurelwood in Memphis, is excited about Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive, which some are touting as the next Gone Girl. “We’d probably sell a lot of it, if we could get more in,” he said.
One sideline that many booksellers have cited as a top seller this summer is adult coloring books, especially Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden. Crayons and markers displayed with them are also selling well.
This is the first season in a long time that John Green hasn’t been number one on every bookseller’s list. But he remains up there for stores such as Main Street in St. Charles. According to Hall, Green’s Paper Towns and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (the latter written with David Levithan) are still going strong because of the upcoming movie of Paper Towns. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews, is also getting a movie sales bump.
Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything has been particularly popular to date among customers and booksellers. Madison Butler, children’s buyer and manager at Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo, Wash., was one of several buyers to say she loved it and to single it out as one of Dessen’s best.
For Ketsia Julmeus, children’s book buyer for Books & Books’s South Florida locations, Dork Diaries is a perennial favorite. She is also doing well with Cassie Beasley’s middle-grade Circus Mirandus and bestselling adult author Sophie Kinsella’s first YA novel, Finding Aubrey.
On the picture book front, The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, has never stopped selling at a number of stores since its publication in summer 2013. That’s why Hannah Smith, children’s book buyer at the Doylestown Bookshop in Doylestown, Pa., is looking forward to the sequel, The Day the Crayons Came Home (Aug.). She’s also excited about the rediscovered What Pet Should I Get?, by Dr. Seuss (July).
“And, of course, anything Frozen,” added Billie Bloebaum, marketing and events coordinator at A Children’s Place Bookstore in Portland, Ore. “That’s the franchise that just keeps going and going.”