A Bit About Jargon: Pre-Orders

September 18, 2011 at 8:38 pm (Industry, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

You know you want it.

It’s that book you’ve been waiting a whole year for- maybe even two or three years. More if you’re a Jordan or Martin fan. It’s that book you scour the internet for, squealing over a cover reveal, searching for teasers and any words the author might release about it. You look for the contests so you can get it early. You have it marked and circled in really bright colors on your calendar. You’ve requested the release day off of work so you can run out, buy it, and just start reading it then and there.

So have you pre-ordered it yet?

You’d be stunned at how many people would answer no.

The thing is, if you really want the book, you should pre-order it, and here’s why:

You have nothing to lose by putting your name down for one. Now, if you’re looking at e-books or if you’re doing it online, that’s different. Obviously there’s money down for that one, and if you get the first few pages and it sucks, e-books aren’t returnable. But if you’re doing it in a store, there’s no money down. There is absolutely no obligation to buy, so you’re risking nothing by having one set aside for you. What that does is guarantees that there’ll be a copy for you if you want it.

For small- to mid-release titles, not all bookstores are going to receive copies in quantity, or even at all. There’s a finite amount of shelf space at a bookstore, so not every title gets to be represented. Sad, but true. If you don’t have us bring it in, we may not be getting it.

For most new releases, publishers send us between three and eight copies, depending on whether or not it’s got extra displays or promotions. Think about that, though: if there are three to eight people in your area who want that book as badly as you do but don’t have to worry about class or work and can get either get to the bookstore right away or send someone else for them, then you don’t get your copy. *sad face* Then you have to order it anyway, but you don’t get it when you were actually wanting it.

For larger releases, we generally get a certain number of books above our pre-orders. There’s a whole equation for it tucked away somewhere but the warehouse considers pre-orders to be an accurate indiation of how many people in our area want the book.

Now me? I live in an area where, for some reason or another, people refuse to pre-order. I don’t know what it is, but everyone just assumes that the book will be there if they want it, regardless of what the title is. They want the books, but they won’t pre-order it.

That results in little things like the Breaking Dawn fiasco.

We were required to have a midnight release party for it, and we were told fairly early on that the number of books we received would be strictly dependant upon the number of pre-orders we got. We busted our butts trying to get those pre-orders, but most people didn’t want to put their name down. They said they’d just come and get it that day, despite our warnings that we wouldn’t be getting that many books above our pre-orders. Despite multiple warnings, even. By the night of the release, we had 45 pre-orders. I think the buyer pitied us because he sent us 130 books.

Then we had 97 people show up for the party.

We were completely sold out of the book by four o’clock that afternoon, as was EVERY OTHER PLACE IN TOWN, because we all got quantity based off our pre-orders. We had to struggle to get more books in, but people STILL wouldn’t put their names down, so as soon as we got them in they sold to other people. This went on for WEEKS (to be fair, it was complicated by the fact that this was a buyer-managed title so we had to beg to get quantities above what their equations told us we should get).

October 4th, we’re going to have a crush of parents in to pick up Rick Riordan’s Son of Neptune, and the kids whose parents have to work during the day will come crowding in at night. We’ve got less than 20 pre-orders and one of those is mine. The buyer knows this is a huge title, they’re going to send us quite a bit, but what about two days from now, when Scott Westerfeld’s Goliath comes out?

If we’re slated to get a certain amount (like in the case of Goliath, about 8) and our pre-order numbers don’t break past a certain percentage, they don’t send us any extra, meaning the pre-orders actually come out of those numbers. If we’ve got three pre-orders, there are five left out in the wild.

Really reduces your chances of getting that copy when you want it.

Pre-ordering through a store costs nothing. You do not pay to reserve the title. We take your name and phone number, and when it comes it we set one aside with your name on it. Release day, we give you a call or email as a courtesy reminder that the book is in. Then, you can come get it or not. Found it somewhere else? That’s fine. Got it as a gift? That’s fine too. Come in and read the first chapter and realize the book is going to dash all your hopes and dreams, and you will actually shrivel and die a little inside if you read the rest of it? You don’t have to buy it.

I like to try new authors, and because I read YA, there are a TON of debut authors. It’s a gamble, trying a new author. You don’t know if you’re going to like the style or the characters, and with debuts, a bookstore may or may not be stocking them without a publisher push. It sucks, but there it is; buyers have to manage a finite amount of display space, so they do their best to tailor to what’s known to sell in each store. So I put in a pre-order. When it comes in, I flip through the first chapter or two and see if I’m caught. Do I like the writing? Do the characters interet me? Does the story intrigue me? If the answers are yes, I buy the book. If the answers are no, I simply have the hold cancelled and it goes out on the shelf.

No money changes hands unless I actually decide to buy it.

Don’t miss out on your chance to get a book when you want it because of a pre-order. It costs nothing, and it takes less than a minute to give us your information to hold it for you. You can even pre-order multiple titles at a time, and we’ll let you know as each comes in (I do my orders a month at a time and just flip through them as they arrive, and I can buy or not buy as I choose).

On November 1st, when Ally Condie’s Crossed comes out, or on December 6th when Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Prince comes out, do you really want to be one of those people without a book because you didn’t put your name down?

Please, please, as a bookseller I am BEGGING you: if you want a book, take the two seconds to put in a pre-order. You literally have nothing to lose.

But you have a lot to gain- specifically, a guarantee of the book on release day or whenever you want to go pick it up.

Just to satisfy a curiosity, what books are you looking forward to in the next few months? (And are you going to pre-order them?)

Until next time~
Cheers!

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A Bit About Jargon: Signings

July 24, 2011 at 9:48 pm (General, Industry) (, )

It’s a massive book release summer, which means there are also a TON of author tours coming up. Events at Cons, workshops, regular signings…So here’s a bit about that.

1(these are in no particular order): Look before you ask.

Authors generally post tour info on their sites as soon as they have it confirmed. Publishers will also often put big events up on the author pages for their websites. Information is out there about the tours, signings, and other events, with where they’ll be held and what they’ll entail. Before you send an email or tweet or blog comment to the author asking- as eight hundred people in front of you have already asked- when they’re coming to your area, just check the website. THEN, if nothing’s listed anywhere that you can find, ask. But seriously, folks, they get eight million emails from people just like this, and so many of them ask the exact same things again and again. Just do a little research and save your chance for author contact for that burning question you’ve always wanted to ask.

2:When in doubt, check with the venue.

Every signing is going to have slightly different rules and restrictions. Some places you have to show up super early and get wristbands to show your general location in line. Some say you can bring your own books, some say you can bring your own books as long as you also purchase something at the store, some say that you have to purchase your books at the store but can bring them in with the receipt, some say you have to purchase them then and there. Venues will be apprised if the authors (or author handlers for the celebrities) have particular rules about whether or not you can take photos (and if so, whether or not you can get in there with them), whether or not they personalize, whether or not they’ll sign things other than books, as well as how many items people can bring to sign. There are a lot of things that suck more than showing up at a signing having spent money on a ton of books from somewhere else that the author won’t sign, but when it happens, you may or may not be able to think of anything. A simple call to the venue a few days in advance will tell you everything you need to know and save you a lot of hassle.

3: Be respectful.

Signings can vary from half a dozen to half a thousand, but every single other person is there for the exact same reason you are. Well, maybe not the one who was dragged along because he/she is the only one with a license or car but you get the drift. Everyone wants a chance to talk with the author, tell them how much they love the book(s) and gush about the characters and all that. Just be mindful of that. As you’re waiting, don’t begrudge the people in front of you, and when you actually get up to the table, don’t be an ass to the people behind you. It all balances out.

4: There’s a fine, fine line between fan and creeper.

You want to be very, very sure that you fall on the right side of this line. It can be hard to identify sometimes. The things that seem like they’ll be a really cool, funny schtick in theory may come off a little Fatal Attraction in person. Shrieking “OH MY GOD I LOVE YOU SO MUCH” can be a fairly normal reaction. Pulling down your pants to show them their name tattooed on your ass? Both illegal and terrifying. When in doubt as to where you fall on the line? Play it safe. It’s hard to get your book signed from the booking cell.

5: Be generous with the thank yous.

This seems like such a no-brainer but really, you’d be astonished at how much it gets overlooked. The author has written (an) amazing book(s) that you absolutely love, has now come (possibly) out the way to do this event, and he or she has just signed your book. Say thank you! And don’t forget the venue staff. Signings are incredibly, intensely stressful. Even when they’re fun, even if they’re small, there’s just SO much to putting them on. Hearing a thank you for a job well done? Definitely makes the event better for the staff.

6: Have fun, but pay extra attention to rule number 3.

You’re there to have fun, to see someone you admire, to get the books signed so you can pet the title page and grin like an idiot for years to come, and maybe some day down the line you can try to explain to your children exactly why they should care that this person scrawled their name in your book. Just remember rule number three.

For everyone who actually gets to attend the signings and Cons and workshops and all the fun shindigs- I’m jealous but happy for you. Go get ’em!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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A Bit About Jargon: Displays

April 12, 2011 at 9:00 am (Industry) (, , , )

Before we begin, I have been…oh, let’s say requested…by a new company policy at my work to post a disclaimer. I’m cheating a little as I do this, because I haven’t said what company what I work for and frankly don’t intend to, but in the spirit of one who more or less follows the rules, here goes: The views and opinions expressed in this blog, and the statements made therein, are in no way indicative of or reflect the views, opinions, and statements of the company I work for, and should not be thus construed. Consider this my past, present, and future disclaimer. That being done, let’s continue, shall we?

A question I get a lot from customers, and from a fair amount of small press local authors, is about displays. How do we decide what goes on display? Why can’t we make a display of his/her book?

The first one is the easiest to answer: how do we decide what goes on display?

We don’t.

Okay, we mostly don’t. IF there’s space left over after everything we’re required to have, we can sometimes create a Staff Recommends or Local Interest display. That’s a big IF, though, because the way displays normally work is this: publishers buy them. It’s true, it all comes down to money. Publishers pay the big book retailers to display the titles they want to push. I have no idea how much display a given amount of money buys, and don’t need to know. At least not yet, anyway- someday it might have more immediate meaning. There are different types of displays, and different amounts of visibility.

Corrugates: Also called dumps, as in book dump. They come in different sizes and shapes, holding anywhere from three to sixteen (or who knows, maybe more) spaces for books. Sometimes it’s just a vertical shaft for the books on top of a support to keep it standing, no frills, no extras, relying purely on the book itself to capture your attention. Corrugates can also be very elaborate, with full size figures or designs that tie in the cover or theme of the book. A recent example of this can be seen with Lauren DeStefano’s Wither; the shaft holds a column of three hardcover books (perhaps four or five books deep in each pocket), with an elaborate, withered tree around the construction and the design theme of the book chasing across the branches with the phrase “No girl has escaped”. It’s eye-catching, draws the attention of browsers as well as makes it easy to distinguish it from the other books.

Endcaps: Aisles finish off in what are called endcaps, and should always have a unifying theme. Sometimes these are single-publisher displays; more often, these cross different publishers to group around whatever that theme is. A good example of the first one was the To Kill a Mockingbird anniversary not too long ago- it had several different editions of the book as well as essay collections and commentaries. For the second, you know that new show, The Borgias? There are a fair number of novels out there that deal with the Borgias as either main or incidental characters, or are set within the same time period and locations, so these all tie together nicely into a display to not only advertise the series but attract people who are already fans of the series and want to learn more. These also serve to group together similar titles so that someone who has read and loved one can find others that might appeal to them.

Stepladders: These are usually prominent in the front of the store and change every week for the brand spanking new releases. These books are the BIG PUSH by the publishers, because they’re pretty much the first thing the customers see when they enter the store. These fixtures occasionally share titles, but it’s rare- it’s almost always significant quantity of a single title.

Tables: There are a lot of different kinds of tables. Smaller ones usually group around a specific author or series, usually in preparation for or celebration of a new release/movie/reissue. Larger tables, because of their size, have to be a lot more general. New In Hardcover Fiction, for example, or Back to School. These are themes with very large windows that allow a lot of books to be on display at once, anywhere from twenty to a hundred titles depending on the size of the table.

There are a couple of other types of displays as well- waterfalls, in section features, etc- but they follow the same basic principles as the others.

There are two kinds of exceptions.

Bestseller bays: This is a purely by-the-numbers display, one that has nothing to do with the publisher and everything to do with the simple fact of whether or not people are buying the books. Like the others, we have zero control over this on a store level.

New Release bays: These are a little trickier, because they’re a weird blend of by-the-numbers and common sense. When a book releases in quantity, if it isn’t on a display, we put it into a new release section at the head of its genre to draw extra attention. Yes, this can create confusion, but it’s actually meant to be easier: when a new book comes in, you check with the new books. These rotate through on a couple of factors: sales, how long we’ve had it, whether or not the vendor wants it back, and whether or not we’re modeled for it. (When we’re modeled, it means it’s something the company expects us to have on hand all the time- as soon as we sell a title below the modeled number, it’s on automatic reorder. Modeled titles are the ones everyone expects to see, the ones that have continued sales). As we figure through these different factors, we either leave a title in the new release bay, move it in lesser numbers to the section, or return it to the vendor.

The New Release bays are the only ones that are store specific. Everything else is mandated by agreements between the home office and publishers.

We have to do those displays, but every now and then, there’s a little bit of space left over, an empty endcap, a spare small table, maybe even a display behind the registers or in the window, that we can play with. WITHIN LIMITS. If you’re a local author wanting to get your book into stores, and it’s actually possible for the store to do so (thaaaaaat’s probably best to save for another post), this is sometimes the best way to get that extra visibility, IF the store has the extra space to do a Staff Recs or Local Interest. Be warned, though, this is very rare. It’s far more common that we have to struggle to get up all of the required displays, much less the optional but strongly suggested ones that have to come before anything we might want to add on a store level. Larger stores will have a better chance of this; smaller stores pretty much never manage it. If they have the space, if they can get your book, and if you speak very politely with the community relations managers, this could be your way onto a display, but all other displays are mandated by publishers and home office.

Of course, the important thing to keep in mind is that this is all in reference to the larger chains. Independant bookstores are going to have a lot more leeway in this, and within reason are a lot more able to work with local authors. Something to remember.

Any questions about displays? Or anything else? Let me know, and I’ll do my best.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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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.

Frustrating.

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~
Cheers!

* 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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