Friday, February 24, 2012

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Book Buying But Were Afraid to Ask

These last few weeks we’ve had representatives from nearly every publishing house up here in the mezzanine letting our head buyer, Arsen, know about their latest and greatest for the upcoming summer season. This made me realize that those of you not immersed in the business end of the book industry may not know how the book buying process works. I certainly never actively thought about it before I started working here – subconsciously deciding, I suppose, that every book ever published just sort of magically shows up on the shelves from efforts put forth by the book fairy. This is definitely (obviously) not the case.

Here’s a rough outline of how a book gets from a publisher’s catalogue to the shelves of your local independent bookstore:

1) The bookstore is inundated with Advanced Readers Copies (ARCs). Publishers send these to us, hoping one or both (especially both) of two things will happen:
a. The head buyer will read the book, love it, and buy 10+ copies of it for the store
b. Booksellers will read it, get excited about the book, and be able to talk about it with customers as soon as it comes out.
2) Publishing companies send the bookstores their catalogues. Recently, this has been done largely online to save paper and lower the costs of printing and shipping the physical catalogues to every bookstore.
3) Representatives from the publishing companies talk to the head buyer about what books they are excited about. Sometimes the Rep comes to the store, sometimes they simply call.
4) The buyer pairs down the catalogue using some combination of Rep picks and the store’s previous sales into the order they would like to place for that season. This process can be likened to “filling out your NCAA March Madness bracket,” says Arsen, “…you kind of know who the favorite teams are but not necessarily which ones are going to win.”
5) From there, the rep places the order with their publishing house and the books show up at our door on their publication date (hopefully).

I sat down with Arsen – which wasn’t too out of the ordinary considering his desk is across from mine – and asked him about some books to watch out for from this round of orders. He has a closet piled high with ARCs (pictured above, burying him alive) which he dug into and handed me a stack of books that grabbed his attention as he rifled through the piles. Here’s what he found:

Beautiful Ruins: A Novel by Jess Walter
This is “a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel” about an Italian man who goes searching for his long-lost love, an American starlet he saw fifty years prior.

Arsen: “This is his latest breakout novel. The last few were ‘breakout novels’, too, so we’ll see.”

A Natural Woman by Carole King
Carole King, famed songwriter of half of every song written in the 1970s, has a memoir coming out! She interviewed friends and family and with this memoir, she reflects on her life to the best of her recollection.

When I asked for a blurb about this one, he just started singing “You make me feel…” as uninhibited and out of tune as I’ve ever heard.

The Social Conquest of Earth by Edward O. Wilson
The back of the book says “From the most celebrated heir to Darwin comes a groundbreaking book on evolution, the summa work of Edward O. Wilson’s legendary career.” Pretty big words to live up to, if you ask me. Wilson combines religion, philosophy, and science to create his own revolutionary theory on evolution.

Arsen: “Apparently there is going to be a lot of controversy when this comes out. He’s going to be challenging some of the basic tenants of evolutionary theory. ‘He believes group selection, not kin selection, is the primary driving force of human evolution.’ [reading from the back of the book] ‘Demonstrating that the sources of morality, religion, and the creative arts are fundamentally biological in nature…’ The publisher is gleefully anticipating a big controversy.”

The Spinoza Problem by Irvin D. Yalom
The Spinoza Problem juxtaposes the lives of two historical figures – Baruch Spinoza and Alfred Rosenberg –in an exploration of philosophy and intellectualism.

Arsen: “This is something to do with Nazis and Spinoza. Other than that, I’m not really sure what this book is about. It’s supposed to be huge though.”

Making Babies by Ann Enright
Novelist Ann Enright writes about her experiences as a working, first-time mother. The expression on the kid’s face on the cover of this book is amazing.

Arsen: “Ann Enright won the Booker prize for The Gathering. Her latest novel, The Forgotten Waltz, I read and it was about breaking up a marriage with a kid so the topic of her new nonfiction book is interesting. I also think this could be the best parenting book since Operating Instructions.”

Arcadia by Lauren Groff
The front and back covers of this ARC appear, to me, to be reversed – I’m pretty sure it’s on purpose. This is about a man growing up in a commune in New York in the 1960s. Laina, a native New Yorker, loved this one. Ask her about it next time you're here.

Arsen: “I haven’t read this yet but what I like is that they didn’t design the cover to reflect The Monsters of Templeton – which is something they often do with authors; they have one hit book and design the next to remind you of that first book’s cover.” [Chris Cleave’s books come to mind] “I just think the theme will really appeal to Boulderites.”

He also handed me Mind-Blowing Sex: A Woman’s Guide by Diana Cage.
I think what this book is about is apparent in the title. This is the wild card in the stack, for sure. It’s by Seal Press though, the same company who published local Oysters and Chocolate bloggers Samantha Sade and Jordan LaRousse’s Nice Girls Naughty Sex.

Arsen: “I just think it’s a good idea.”

The two books Arsen is most excited about are Canada by Richard Ford and Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson.

Of Canada, Arsen says: “This is a fantastic book about a boy whose ‘normal’ parents turn out to be bank robbers and he has to flee to Saskatchewan. I really loved this book. Ford's descriptions were great and it was just an amazing book. It’s not for people looking for a fast-paced thriller though. I saw him and said hello at Winter Institute this year and he just had this beatific aura about him. My friend suggested it may have been radiation poisoning, but whatever it was, he was glowing.”

And for Why Be Happy…? : “I had the pleasure of having dinner with her and she recited the first three pages of this book and it took a bit of time before we realized she was reciting rather than just carrying on the dinner discussion. It’s just written so conversationally.”

So. That’s what’s going on up here in the mezzanine for those of you who have accidentally stumbled up the stairs looking for the Buddhism or Nutrition sections. And those are the books to look out for this summer! We welcome questions and comments. What are you looking forward to? (whether it's on this list or not)