A Bit About Jargon: Strict-On-Sale

April 4, 2011 at 12:11 am (Industry) (, , , , , )

It occurred to me a little while ago at work that booksellers and publishers tend to use a lot of jargon, even when we’re talking directly to the customers, and that we don’t always explain what we mean. It can get very confusing and, more importantly, VERY frustrating to hear someone throw around terms when you just want to know why the frack you can’t get your book?!?!?! or…you know…something along those lines.

So, to start us off, let’s look at a monumentally frustrating but important piece of bookseller jargon called the Strict-on-Sale, or SOS.

This has to do with a book’s release date. In the computer, on websites, etc there’ll be a date of release. Just for the sake of an example, let’s say April 5th. As odd as this might seem, that date doesn’t necessarily mean much. Sometimes that means the date that it’s expected to hit stores. Sometimes it’s the date it’s expected to hit warehouses. Sometimes it comes early, sometimes it comes late.

Normally, as soon as book comes in through the back door of the book store, we can put it out on the floor. This could mean it’s on the floor on April 1st or April 8th, whenever it comes in. The exception to this in a Strict-On-Sale title.

What that means is that the publisher’s release date is a binding, legal contract between bookstores and publishers that they will not sell any copies of this title before that date. It doesn’t matter when it comes in, if it’s a day before, a week before, or a month before, it cannot be sold until that date. We’re not even allowed to take them out of the boxes- not even allowed to open the boxes unless the titles are mixed across weeks, and then we have to reseal them once the earlier titles are removed.

In cases like this, before the store opens on April 5th, we’ll unseal the boxes, get them sorted into their displays, sticker them with discounts if applicable, and get them set up before we open the doors. The copies that are customer-specific orders go up to the front for the cashiers to call through the morning, and anyone else who wanders in can pick up a copy from the shelf or display. On April 5th.

If we accidentally mix up a box and put it out on, say, April 4th, and we sell a copy, there will be consequences.

Sometimes the consequences can be mild. If it’s a smaller publisher, or if the title is important enough for an SOS but not such a huge push that people are terrified of spoilers, it’s usually just a polite email from the publisher with the reminder that titles are SOS for a reason and can we please take extra care in the future. It’s embarrasing, but it’s not the end of the world.

Sometimes the consequences are a little more severe. If it happens on a more important title, or if it happens in a store with a record of it, the store can be penalized. Future titles may not show up at all, or they may show up late, so that store doesn’t have the advantage of getting the books in customers’ hands right off the bat. It can cause a store to lose business, especially if it keeps happening.

Then there are the REALLY big titles. Your Harry Potters, your Breaking Dawns, your Brisingrs, your titles that are on such strict embargo you literally have to wrap the stack of boxes in plastic until the release. You’re not even allowed to take a picture of the stack of boxes. If one of these titles gets leaked or sold, heads will roll.

Or at the very least someone is getting fired.

This goes back to the binding legal contract. As the retailer, we make a promise to the publisher that no one will have this book in their hands until the specified date. You break a promise to anyone, there are consequences, even if it was purely by accident. The SOS titles are separated out from the rest of the incoming books, they’re marked out, kept in a different area, and only very specific people are allowed to prep them for sale, to minimize the risk of a mistake being made. Mistakes can still happen- mistakes, unfortunately, can always happen- but we do our absolute best to keep them from happening.

So why a Strict-On-Sale date in the first place?

A couple of reasons, really. The normal reason, or at least the more common one, is that there’s high demand for a title and the publishers want to maximize that demand. Part of that is done by making sure everyone knows that they cannot get this book before that date. Most humans are like cats and small children: you tell them they can’t have something yet, they want it now. It actually adds to their impatience- and thus makes them more likely to rush out that first day and get the book. The other piece is that it prevents spoilers. If, in the normal course of things, no one has a book until that same day, you don’t get the unavoidable spoilers, the people who spill the twists or the end and ruin it for anyone else. People who are the unfortunate victims of spoilers have a way of not getting the book because they feel like there’s no point, or they at least wait until they can’t remember the spoiler as much. On a big enough title (like Cassandra Clare’s City of Fallen Angels) there aren’t even any ARCs sent out. (Advance Reading Copies- bound copies, as yet uncorrected, sent out to some reviewers, authors, and booksellers to help create a knowledgable audience to help push the book’s release, because nothing handsells so well as someone’s passion for it) Authors and publishers will both take the responsibility to peruse the internet to see if any spoilers are posted, and if they see them, they’ll usually send a polite request to remove the spoilers until sufficient time has passed for others to have a chance.

If you haven’t finished out the Harry Potter series, you might want to skip this paragraph, but for the rest of us: when I was walking out at one o’clock in the morning with the sixth book freshly unpacked from the box, purchased, and actually in my hands, we had some @$*#! driving around the parking lot bellowing out that Dumbledore dies on page 394. I resisted the urge to look- barely. It helped somewhat that there was another bookstore less than half a block away and we could hear some of their moronic friends in the other parking lot yelling out a different character’s name and page number. I resisted, and I stayed up and read that book as soon as I got home, and when I got to page 394, lo and behold, there was Dumbledore. I was PISSED that someone had actually tried to ruin it for me, and had marginally succeeded. What about all those other people who actually did look?

Spoilers suck, and not just on a personal level; they’re also bad for business. People who have an ending spoiled for them do not suddenly rush out to buy the book they’ve been looking forward to so much.

There are, however, other occasions that might merit an SOS. When Oprah announces her new book club title, you can bet whatever book it is has a Strict-On-Sale. Even if the book has already been released, the editions that have that pretty little sticker on the cover are sitting in boxes in the back room, taped shut, until the show is on and the title announced. Sometimes a title is politically sensitive, or tied to an announcement, or is significant to a particular date. These can all have an impact on whether or not a title has a Strict-On-Sale date.

Usually, SOS dates are on Tuesdays. Tuesdays are big release days for a lot of reasons, only some of which I know (honestly, I don’t know all the reasons, I’m not just being coy). It allows for shipments to arrive that don’t move over the weekends, it boosts mid-week sales, and…okay, those are the only two reasons I know, but those two I am absolutely sure of. * Every now and then, you’ll find a different day. If the publishers expect that booksellers will want to have a midnight release party (again, Harry Potter, Breaking Dawn, etc), they may give it a Saturday release date to let booksellers have a Friday night release party and start selling books at 12:01 Saturday morning. This also lets people who can’t get in during the week, people who work, people who are stuck in school, whatever, get the book that first day as well.

Then there’s James Patterson. He has a Monday SOS for every single title. When you have twelve hardcovers a year, all of them debuting on a bestseller list, you get to have your own SOS day too. That’s…really all there is to say about that.

So here’s where we get to the frustrating part. You’re in a bookstore, asking after a title you have been DYING for, the bookseller looks it up and tells you that the title will be available on Tuesday April 5th. You ask if there’s any chance of it coming in early and-…they hesitate.

We lie in retail. We lie ALL THE TIME. We lie when we tell that pain-in-the-ass customer to have a nice day, we lie when we break our backs trying to find a book and say it’s no trouble, and we REALLY lie when someones asks a STUPID question and all we do is smile politely. And yes, there is such a thing as a stupid question. When I have a landline phone to my ear, a scanner in one hand, a stack of books in the other, a name badge, and a full cart of books, signs, and display stands balanced against my hip, asking me if I work there is a STUPID question. Try “Can you help me?”, it’s a much better way to start the conversation.

But those are tiny lies, retail lies, the kinds of lies that help us keep our jobs and not ruffle feathers. It’s called being polite, or at least being tactful. It’s not the same as looking someone in the face and outright lying. Then we feel like schmucks.

So back to you, who has just asked me if there’s any chance of the book coming in early. I hesitate, because I know very well that the books are sitting in boxes in the back. I also know that if I lie and tell you no, your next question will be a worry that it won’t even come in on time, and I don’t want to lose your business to someone who’s willing to tell you that it could come in early. So I recover and answer “It’ll be available on Tuesday the fifth”. Which, as we both know, isn’t really an answer. You realize that the book is here, I still can’t sell it to you no matter how you might beg, and in the end, the conversation has to finish the same way it began: the book will be available on Tuesday, April 5th.


But keep in mind: if it’s a soft release date, we’ll flat tell you that it could come in earlier. If we tell you that the book will be available on a very specific date, it’s because there is a Strict-On-Sale mandate by the publisher that says we CANNOT give that book to you yet. Trust me, we’re not withholding it out of some twisted, spiteful sense of glee. We really can’t.

My store has City of Fallen Angels in boxes in back. I can see the numbers on my computer. I can go in back and pet the outside of the boxes (but I don’t, because really, that’s kind of creepy). I am waiting SO IMPATIENTLY for this book. But I can’t open the box, I can’t ogle the cover except on the posters, and I can’t sit down off the clock and start reading. I can’t buy it yet. And I can’t sell it to you yet. It’s not my rule, it is a contract with the publisher. So when I tell you that it has a strict release date, let me reserve a copy for you, we’ll both rush out first thing Tuesday morning, and everyone wins.

Is there any jargon you hear that confuses you? Anything bookstoreish that you want explained? Drop me a question in the comments and I’ll do my best- simple answers will get a comment back, but if it’s more complicated, or if it repeats, we’ll get another jargon post.

Until next time~

* And with new information: Bestseller lists are created on Wednesdays, so it’s the Tuesday to Tuesday sales that are tracked for purposes of making these lists. Thank you, Cassandra Clare!

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Book Review: Divergent, by Veronica Roth

March 13, 2011 at 12:35 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Five factions form the basis of society: Abnegation, dedicated to selflessness; Amity, dedicated to kindness; Candor, dedicated to honesty; Dauntless, dedicated to courage; and Erudite, dedicated to knowledge. Five factions, five ways of life, for outside the faction, there is nothing. Your faction determines everything, the jobs you do, the way you eat, even how you dress and how you think.
Beatrice knows she doesn’t belong in Abnegation, the faction in which she was rasied, but she isn’t really sure where she does belong. She astonishes herself as much as anyone when she chooses to enter the brutal, even lethal initiation into Dauntless, but Abnegation is more a part of her than she thinks, and selflessness can be its own kind of bravery. She’ll need all the courage she can find; there is trouble brewing within the factions, and courage alone won’t be enough to stop what’s coming.

I maybe kind of squealed when I saw this ARC come into the store. I was already crazy looking forward to it just from the description in our computer system, and then to actually get my hands on it two months early? *swoon* And I knew- KNEW- it was a mistake to start reading it right before work. Every time I had to put it away in the locker was infuriating- if I was ever going to call out because I was too caught up in a book to move ┬áthink ┬ábe civil , this would have been it. I wanted to lose myself within the (absolutely gorgeous) cover and devour it in one sitting; that I couldn’t was almost physically painful.

I’m in love with the entire concept. The way people divide themselves, and are divided by others, fascinates me, and is also significant throughout all of history. The idea of a society spitting itself into factions by virtue just raises so many questions and possibilities and- in my mind one of the best things an author can provoke in a reader- what if’s. If the individual factions aren’t all drawn with the same exquisite sense of clarity, with all the fascinating shades of grey between the fault and the virtue, perhaps that’s to be expected given the limited contact Beatrice as the narrator has with them. It would have been nice to see more of a range within the other factions, but I think (hope?) that’s something we’ll get to see in the future.

Beatrice- or Tris, as she renames herself within Dauntless- is truly an exceptional narrator. Once I read her description of Abnegation life- a good life, with good people, a life she can genuinely admire but to which she can never really belong- I was hooked. Tris is very aware of her shortcomings, not in a morbid or self-pitying way, but in a candid appraisal of who and what she is. She learns and grows and develops, but even with the new realizations, there’s a sense of rightness as the pieces fit in place with the parts of her already present. She sees people very clearly, which can be as painful as it is helpful. This clarity, this precision, allows for some stunning, gorgeous moments when people manage to surprise her, whatever the result. It’s a relief to learn with her that who we were doesn’t have to be completely excised from who we want to be.

Every virtue is its own vice, an idea played out beautifully through this book. I love how clearly we get to see this. The darker aspects of each faction are easy to fall into, less easy to notice until the patterns have already been set. It’s plain to see that things began with the best of motives, but over time the latent poisons of humanity have seeped in to repeat the habits of millenia. Dauntless was meant to be bravery, the courage to defend, but has become instead a reckless, cruel abuse that systematically batters out the qualities that could redeem the faction into the true strength it used to have. I look forward to seeing how these realizations play out against the rest of what has to happen.

Some things that I so dearly enjoyed are almost impossible to talk about without giving things away…Let’s see, what’s a safe way to approach these… I love Four; I want one of my very own, endearing vulnerabilities, moody issues, and all. Just…*wants*. I love the tattoos, not just the fact and impulse of them, but all the different meanings they can (and do) have. And I love the pain. That sounds like such an odd thing to say, and I only partially mean it in a physical sense (I wasn’t kidding when I said the training was brutal), but some of the things Tris has to do and survive are shattering. Absolutely heart-breaking. If I’d reached some of these parts while I was still on break at work, there would have been much swearing involved, and quite possibly an extra hour and a half or so tacked onto my break (accidentally, I swear!).

The one thing that nagged at me through the entire book- other than the wish to see more range in the other factions- was a sense of time. I had none. I have absolutely no idea how much time passes in the course of the story. I’m assuming several weeks or months, and at one point it actually sounds like a full year has gone by which in no way feels right. The nebulous sense of time genuinely bothers me, perhaps because some things will have more of an impact if we know the time involved. Some things fester, some things burst unexpectedly, and not being able to place those within the context of growth kept throwing me off.

I know my dreams tonight are going to be full of factions and terrifying tasks and a world on the verge of shattering, because that’s what amazing books do to me. They grab hold of me, don’t let go for anything, and I am a willing captive.

Divergent, by Veronica Roth, available 3 May 2011- put it on your list NOW. You may hate me when you get to the end because now we have to wait forever at least a year for the next one, but this book is too good to put off.

Until next time~

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World Disaster: Here’s How to Help

March 11, 2011 at 6:10 pm (General, Uncategorized) (, , , , )

By now, most everyone has heard of the massive 8.9 quake in Japan and the devestation following in its wake. Hundreds of people are dead, scores of thousands more are missing, and even more are injured. Countless homes have been destroyed. Nuclear power plants are offline but still hot- a rather terrifying prospect- factory fires are burning out of control, and tsunamis are rippling out across the entire Pacific Ocean. With such a breathtaking array of destruction, it seems astonishing to think that anything can be done to alleviate the disaster.


There are a lot of ways to help, and I encourage you to explore those options, but here I want to tell you about an amazing organization called Shelterbox. As the name suggests, they give out literal shelters in a box: tents, food, water, clothing, medical supplies, the basic necessities to tide people over until the heavier relief efforts can kick in to rebuild. What they do is amazing, but it costs money- each Shelterbox costs about $1000.

About a fortnight ago, the fabulous Maureen Johnson woke up one morning and decided to make a difference, so she put it out on twitter and her blog that she would award on ARC of her forthcoming The Last Little Blue Envelope to one random donor and make up the difference to equal one Shelterbox. The response from readers, authors, agenrs, and editors was HUGE. The endeavor stretched across two days with a multitude of prizes and successfully raised SIX Shelterboxes.

In the wake of this tragedy, she’s at it again. You can check out the details on her blog. To donate, go here. You can choose any amount you can afford to give, because every little bit helps. Five bucks, ten bucks, it doesn’t matter if the donation is small if that’s all you can spare; that’s five or ten bucks closer to putting a family in a shelterwith food, water, clothing, and first aid. After you donate, post it up on twitter with #thelastlittleshelterbox or #nameoftheshelterbox . Winners will be drawn at random after 5am EST on Sunday March 13th. I know it’s short notice but it takes less than a minute to make a secure donation that can do so much good.

What are the prizes, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

First up is Maureen Johnson’s ONLY ARC of The Name of the Star, forthcoming this fall.

Kierstin White kicked in a signed ARC of Supernaturally as well as a signed hardcover of Paranormalcy.

Then Ellen Hopkins offered up a signed copy of Fallout and a signed cover of this fall’s Perfect.

Like Holly Black? She’s pitched in a signed copy of Tithe and a set of White Cat/Red Glove.

Or, if you’re a zombie-lover, there’s Carrie Ryan’s signed hardcover of the nearly-released The Dark and Hollow Places.

There’s also a copy of Small Town Sinners being offered by Melissa Walker.

Jessica Day George added to the frenzy with a signed ARC of her next release, Tuesdays at the Castle, and there are more being added through the day as more and more people come out to join this amazing cause. When I checked in earlier this afternoon, enough money had already been raised to purchase one Shelterbox, so keep it going!

So make a donation, make a difference, and get a chance to win a free book. Proof that books really can change the world.

Until next time~

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