Despite a spate of much-anticipated big books released this summer, two hardcover fiction titles with staying power have been the season’s top sellers at the two dozen independent booksellers contacted by PW: Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. And then there’s adult coloring. “We’re doing land-office business with all the coloring books,” said Dana Brigham, general manager and co-owner of Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass., who is not alone in seeing sales of coloring books continue to explode. Brookline is selling scads of pencils, markers, and sharpeners, along with the books on its art-supply table. All in all, the store has had great sales this summer, with sales picking up in the spring.
Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, Mont., reported a sales increase of 24% this summer over summer 2014, following the store’s “best spring ever,” according to owner Ariana Paliobagis. She anticipates ending the year up 15% over last year. “[Harper Lee’s] Go Set a Watchman was definitely a sales driver for us, and we took lots of preorders. It sold really heavily the first few weeks. Sales have dropped dramatically. But it is still selling at a slow steady pace,” Paliobagis said.
For the first time in a number of seasons, there was no standout YA author or series. “Kids' sales are excellent,” Paliobagis said, echoing others, “but we really haven’t had a big book this year that everyone is reading. Our kids’ book sales are much more widely distributed among titles. And we are selling more and more kids' nonfiction.”
“Sales were up about 10% this summer,” said Tom Campbell, co-owner of the Regulator Bookshop in Durham, N.C. “We have more foot traffic. That’s translating into more sales.” The Regulator was one of a number of stores that reported selling “amazing” quantities of a book that was published the same day as Watchman (July 14), Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me.
Suzy Takacs, owner of the Book Cellar in Chicago, also benefited from increased foot traffic. “Both Watchman and What Pet Should I Get by Dr. Seuss sold faster than I anticipated,” Takacs said. “But Grey [by E.L. James] was a bust.”
General manager Jennifer Massotti described this as a great summer at Barrington Books in Barrington, R.I. Although she didn’t have final figures yet, she said, “We definitely feel that we’re up in all categories.” The store, which prides itself on making small changes to the business constantly so that it undergoes a constant “eclectic evolution,” redid its cash wrap.
Only a few stores reported flat or down sales. Renovations, which began in January and are expected to continue into October, took a toll on sales at Page & Palette in Fairhope, Ala. But owner Karin Wilson was happy that the business didn’t dip into negative numbers. “I’m surprised and pleased that [sales] are the same,” she said. When the construction is complete, the bookstore, which already has a coffee shop, will have a bar and a larger events space that seats 150.
Sales were down 7% at Wind City Books in the Oil City, aka Casper, Wyo. “Our economy is responding to the downturn in the oil industry,” said bookstore owner Vicki Burger. “Sales were a little weak leading into the summer. But I believe we will not experience any greater decline.”
Posman Books in New York City described a terrific summer at both its Chelsea and Rockefeller Center stores, where sales were up by double digits, according to general manager Robert Fader. That wasn’t the case at its newly opened Brookfield Place location (also in N.Y.C.), which has been off to a slow start. “We had hoped that they would have opened more stores in our area by now, and it hasn’t helped that the store next to us seems to be having some difficulty opening,” Fader added.
At Wind City, like many bookstores, regional books are strong year round. Two of the store’s biggest adult books this summer were novels by Wyoming authors: C.J. Box’s Badlands and the latest installment in Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series, Dry Bones. Across the country in Rhode Island, Barrington did well with Derek Miller’s Norwegian by Night, a Reading Across Rhode Island pick, along with New England author Alice Hoffman’s The Marriage of Opposites.
Robin Allen, owner of 16-year-old Forever Books in St. Joseph, Mich., described the store’s top sellers, which include Andy Weir’s The Martian, Rinker Buck’s The Oregon Trail, and Diane Muldrow’s Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Disney Little Golden Book, as predictable hits. For her, “it was local and general interest books that provided the icing on the cake,” such as Mardi Jo Link’s The Drummond Girls and summer visitor Peter Ferry’s Old Heart.
Chimamande Ngozi Adichie’s essay We Should All Be Feminists sold steadily this summer at San Francisco’s Booksmith. Co-owner Christin Evans anticipates that it will sell right through the holidays, along with David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers and The Girl on the Train. She also projects continued strong sales for local titles such as Adam Johnson’s Fortune Smiles, Steve Silberman’s NeuroTribes, and Jim Marshall’s photography book The Haight.
Sandi Torkildson, owner of A Room of One’s Own in Madison, Wis., is one of a number of Midwest booksellers to predict strong sales for the latest in Jane Smiley’s Last Hundred Years trilogy, Golden Age, and that J. Ryan Stradal’s novel Kitchens of the Great Midwest, which came out earlier this summer, will keep on going through the holidays. “I think Paula McClain’s Circling the Sun will take off along with Purity by Jonathan Franzen, and Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette in the Somewhat United States,” she said.
The Regulator’s Campbell is not so certain about Franzen’s latest. “I don’t know yet if that’s going to do as well as people think,” he said. Another much-hyped book, Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire, is also a question mark for him. “I’m really curious to see what happens. It’s so long. For our brief attention span, it might not fit. But for the holiday down time, it might be perfect,” Campbell said. One book that he is a lot more certain will sell well is bestselling nonfiction author Amy Stewart’s debut novel Girl Waits with Gun. “It’s the kind of book where as people get to know it, they’ll be giving it to friends,” he said.
An unexpected hit at three-year-old Subtext, which moved into downtown St. Paul, Minn., at the beginning of the summer, was Hana Yanagihara’s A Little Life. “We did really well with that,” said owner Sue Zumberge. “It’s really dark. But we have some dark readers in St. Paul. People love her writing.” Two fall favorites of Lexi Beach, owner of Astoria Bookshop in New York City, are: Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, which she describes as a “gorgeous beast of a novel,” and Randall Munroe’s Thing Explainer. “[His] new book promises to be as much hilarious fun as What If?”
On the children’s side, JoAnn Fruchtman, owner of Children’s Bookshop in Baltimore, whose store had a good summer, is expecting strong sales for several favorites, including Kevin Henkes’s Waiting, Brian Selznick’s The Marvels, and Laura Amy Schlitz’s The Hired Girl, which is set in Baltimore.