Increased foot traffic in retail shops, new accounts, and reliable backlist sales translated into a good year for San Francisco–based Chronicle Books in 2021. “The story of last year was bricks-and-mortar, both in the trade-channel bookstores as well as specialty stores,” said Chronicle Books president Tyrrell Mahoney. “Specialty stores—Uncommon Goods, CostPlus, Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Old Navy—showed a real interest in books and had customers.”
Chronicle’s publications are designed to have shelf appeal and are “meant to be discovered,” Mahoney said, noting that browsers in stores did in fact notice the company’s cookbooks, picture books, journals, and puzzles. “I would highlight that [the good news] wasn’t just Chronicle Books—it was all our distribution clients.” For instance, Levine Querido, in its second year as a Chronicle client, had a good sales year and celebrated Donna Barba Higuera’s Newbery Medal win in January 2022 for The Last Cuentista and Darcie Little Badger’s Newbery Honor for A Snake Falls to Earth.
Chronicle’s 2020 acquisition of Ridley’s Games, Games Room, and Petit Collage eco-friendly toys from U.K.-based Wild + Wolf also added to total sales, which were up by double-digits over 2020. “We had a really incredible year,” Mahoney said.
She gives much of the credit to backlist staples, which became “anchor titles” for Chronicle. For instance, Sherry Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld’s Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site “got a real lift” from new titles added to the popular series, she said.
Mahoney also pointed to two frontlist standouts in the year: Michigan chef Abra Berens’s cookbook Grist and Minnesota blogger Sarah Kieffer’s Baking for the Holidays. “We also did well with A Confederacy of Dumptys, our third title from John Lithgow,” Mahoney added. “Such a great person! We’ve been really lucky to work with him.”
Other top performers were Spike, filmmaker Spike Lee’s strikingly packaged and photo-filled career retrospective from Chronicle Chroma; St. Clair Detrick-Jules’s My Beautiful Black Hair, with 101 personal narratives and photographic portraits; and Shawn Harris’s picture book Have You Ever Seen a Flower?, a recipient of a 2022 Caldecott Honor.
The good year came despite some difficulties getting work printed and shipped on time, and some fall 2021 books becoming spring 2022 books. “We’re 90% importing from overseas, and we have incredible partners in China we’ve worked with for many years,” Mahoney said. “We did a lot of work last year to prepare, re-engineering schedules.” She also found that “trying to source domestic solutions has become more challenging for reprints and first printings”—a situation that has yet to be resolved.
A few months into 2022, Mahoney said she is feeling much more comfortable about supply chain challenges and that she has seen some decline in those problems. She expects on-time launches for titles including illustrator Sophie Blackall’s Things to Look Forward To (Apr.), “about her time during Covid, the small joys in life—a lovely gift book”; Zach Manbeck’s picture book debut, You Are Here (May); Kim Krans’s The Wild Unknown Alchemy Deck and Guidebook (Chronicle Prism, May); and a new title through Chronicle’s nonexclusive partnership with Lego, Brian Barrett’s The Art of the Minifigure (June).
Mahoney detects enthusiasm for face-to-face networking at conferences, too. “We exhibited at NY Now, the big gift show at the start of February,” she said. “There were a lot of retailers coming to the fair to place orders and learn about anything they missed out on. It was gratifying to see how many retailers would come, especially because we had been on the fence. It’s a great sign of the future. As trade shows go, we will continue to lean in as long as it’s safe.”
As to how authors will promote their titles, much depends on individuals’ platforms and communities. Mahoney expects that ClassPass founder Payal Kadakia—the Los Angeles author of the newly published business title LifePass: Drop Your Limits, Rise to Your Potential—“will get out locally,” she said. “We see her working with bigger corporations and female founders of color.”
Easing back into festivals and book-signing tables could take a while, though. “On the author side, it’s going to be pretty localized for now,” Mahoney said. “We look at it like, Are people going to show up? Are authors going to feel safe? Consumer-level decisions are still TBD.”