Welcome to the Bookshelf Detective, a site for readers and writers of children's literature. Thank you for visiting, and please let me know how this blog served you.
Kim Tomsic

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Demystifying How Librarians and Book Stores Select Books

Demystifying the Book Selection Process: Featuring Tattered Cover buyer Stephanie Coleman, and children’s books librarians McCourt Thomas and Ida Olson

Have you ever wondered how books get chosen for bookstores or libraries? In a recent Boulder Connect, SCBWI members enjoyed the rare opportunity to get the inside scoop. Our panel of experts included Stephanie Coleman, McCourt Thomas, and Ida Olson. Stephanie is Director of Buying at Tattered Cover Bookstores which has four brick and mortar Denver locations plus airport stores. McCourt Thomas is a librarian whose title is Head of Youth Services Lyons Regional Library District. Ida Olson is a writer, freelance editor, and middle school librarian in Cheyenne Wyoming. Each panelist talked about the book buying process, what factors influence their decisions, and what authors can do to help their books have the best chance at getting noticed.

McCourt Thomas Head of Youth Services Lyons Regional Library District McCourt was introduced first and explained that libraries often have book selection committees, however she is the decision maker at her location in Lyons. She has a policy she must follow when making a purchase: to identify two justifications for every book she requests. Justifications can include things like popular appeal, starred reviews, good reviews in respected sources, and/or that she read it herself and strongly recommends the book.
⭐Kirkus Starred review THREE PENNIES by Melanie Crowder
McCourt finds books by reading sources like Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Review, ALA Booklist, School Library Journal, and others respected publications. She also reads AudioFile Magazine and often checks the Earphone Award. She likes referencing magazines that provided themed lists (a themed list might be books about construction trucks, books about inventors, or even books about underpants). McCourt says another way she discovers books is through publishers’ webinars featuring upcoming releases. She watches those to see what grabs her attention. Furthermore, she attends conferences like ALA, PLA (Public Library Association), SCBWI, and she receives galleys from publishers or she requests early reads on Netgalley (Netgalley provides e-galleys of books to vetted readers).  McCourt’s buying decisions are also influenced by user requests, popular relevant subject matter, and what moves off the shelf (i.e. action books move more than “issue” books).  Lastly, publishers constantly send out blurbs about their frontlist (“frontlist” books are newly released books, or re-released older books but with new covers); McCourt reads through to see what fits the bill. Space at her location is constrained, so she has to make informed decisions and she typically stocks only one copy of a title.
"Can the text and art of my
picture book cut through the noise and caputre
kid's attention when the primary audience includes
doezens of two, three, and four-year-olds?" BITTY BOT by
Tim McCanna and I HAVE A BALLOON by Ariel Bernstein
do just that!
McCourt’s big advice for picture book writers is to think of story time in a library, school, or bookstore, and then ask yourself, “Can the text and art of my picture book cut through the noise and capture kid’s attention when the primary audience includes dozens of two, three, and four-year-olds?” McCourt says writers should cut out the wordiness and think about strong word choices, sounds, and page-turns—they matter!
McCourt explained that librarians often buy their books through large distributors like Ingram or Baker & Taylor.

Stephanie Coleman-Director of Buying, Tattered Cover Books

Stephanie agrees with McCourt’s sources for discovering books and adds that sales representatives from the publishing houses also influence her buying decisions. When a sales rep is excited about a book, the bookstore gets excited about a book. Sales representatives are often the publishing houses’ gatekeeps. They talk up their favorites, send specific links from Edelweiss (Edelweiss is an online source that carries all publishing house catalogs), share the book specs, plus they share their markup notes(i.e. if there is a movie coming out, if there are a lot of marketing dollars behind the book, if the author is going on tour, if the author has any high profile interviews in the works, like being featured on NPR or a talk show).  When making a buying decision, Stephanie also considers how an author did in their stores in the past and/or how comparable titles performed in sales. If the bookstore doesn’t have a track record on a particular author or illustrator, they plug a comp title into their computer and tally up results to see if they believe a similar title will generate interest. Sometimes the buyer loves a book and is willing to put in time to make sure it gets noticed through good in-store handsellers.
When Tattered Cover is enthusiastic about stocking a title, they purchase three to five copies of the title (as a general rule). Stephanie noted that she finds it interesting that sometimes a book in one region is a smashing success while in another region it isn’t a hit, but there’s no standard answer on why this occurs (other than the obvious being if a book is released in the author’s hometown or if marketing specifically targets a region). 
Whereas librarians make their purchases through Ingram or Baker & Taylor, bookstores buy directly through the publishers (the receive better pricing, plus they can return with publishers).

DISPLAY:  Which books get faced out?
There’s not a clear formula for this answer, however local authors often receive a front faced
display as do authors who are offering a signing and authors with “important” books or popular appeal books. Tattered Cover also has staff who make “Staff Picks”. Under special circumstances, publishers will send a “dump” which is a display case designed specifically for a particular book because the bookstore plans to buy quite a few.
Ida Olson: writer, freelance editor, and middle school librarian in Cheyenne Wyoming.  Email: idaedits at gmail dot com
When Ida Olson isn’t winning the Sue Alexander award or writing hysterical tweets @IdaOlson, she’s a busy junior high librarian for seventh and eighth grade students. Ida acquires 300-500 titles per year. She noted that signed books are a big deal to students. When making buying decisions, she agrees with McCourt and says she is obligated to find justifications such as reading the book herself or finding review sources through School Library Journal, Booklist, etc.
Like McCourt, she too purchases through Ingram, Baker and Taylor, and also Follett (they provide books plus library management software). These websites provide useful vetting tools, for example, when considering a particular book these websites list all of the reviews in one spots: reviews from School Library Journal, The Horn Book Review, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, etc.  can all be seen on a single page so the research is easy to compare and consider. Ida admits she tends to buy books that have stars, but she also wants to know “what the people really think” and she visits Amazon reviews, too.
One thing Ida says that bothers her is when reviewers say a story is cliché, because really, “How many things are cliché to a twelve-year-old?”
Though it is hard for self-published authors to land in libraries, self-published authors now have a better chance to capture librarian’s attention by meeting the required justifications of positive reviews, since Kirkus now offers unbiased paid-for reviews. If a self-published book gets a star or a positive review, librarians are able to use that as a justification.
Ida is passionate about advising librarians to “select broadly”—books need to represent everyone and help showcase various viewpoints.  Ida’s library choices represent a broad range of colors and experiences. As far as displays go at her library, she rotates to make sure everything gets displayed as eye candy for kids. She also creates seasonal displays, back to school displays, sports displays, Halloween and holiday displays, and displays to promote what the reading teacher is working on in their classrooms.

1.      How IMPORTANT is a book cover in the buying selection process?
The answer was unanimous: it’s HUGE!
“Cover is key,” Stephanie says.
Titles: It seems like there are 50 generic one-word title, but that’s okay. Titles don’t influence as much as covers do.
Staff recommendations also influences buying decisions.
McCourt advises to avoid the curse of the brown cover and says you should check out some of School Library Journal blogger, Betsy Bird (Fuse 8) to see what she says about sepia or brown covers.
2.      What about ARCS (Advance Reader Copies)? How often do you receive/read them; how do you feel about authors reaching out to you with an arc; do you have more than you have time to read?
Stephanie from Tattered Cover says they receive ARCs all the time. She considers then extremely helpful. Though she doesn’t have time to read every single ARC, she does pass many to the Teen Advisory Board or she puts them in the staff break rooms and also gives to bookstore volunteers.
McCourt says she can request ARCs through Netgalley in order to receive online copies. She often reads picture books through this source and makes fast buying decisions. Book bloggers can sign up to read ARCs through Netgalley and if approved, they too can receive preview copies to read on phone, tablet, or e reader.

3.      Are there any factors that influence your book buying habits that might surprise  authors?
Author’s should know what the summer reading program is going to be and see if their book is a fit. Also, check out “Friends of the Library” to find out the yearly, nationwide collaborative theme. Collaborative themes for 2017,2018, and 2019:  construction (2017); music(2018); space(2019).
Authors who are willing to come do story time, author event, or teen event influence a buyer’s decision.

4.      At what point do you choose to take a book off your shelf/remaindered books
IDA: 10 years old; looks at how many times book has been checked out. Considers if a book has a niche value. Even if it is not checked out often, she considers if the book represents an unrepresented group and has an important reason to stay.
STEPHANIE:  twice a year the bookstore does returns. It’s important for a bookstore to stay fresh. Diverse books they keep in stock for a long time. They keep a core backlist.
Has to do an inventory count once a year.  Stephanie says they wait six to nine months and if the book has absolutely no activity they stop ordering completely (they do cycle counting). If books are part of a series, they keep the first book of series and the most recent release at minimum.
MCCOURT – deselection is based on if a book is damaged, has no checkout activity, or gut decision.

5.      What else should we know?

Parting fast tips: Common core is moving out and narrative nonfiction as well as STEM are the new hot thing.
Parents come in and ask for themes (bulldozers, underwear, unicorns)
Story time attracts the four and under crowd. Use catchy phrases and alliteration to keep their attention. Read your manuscript out loud and see how it sounds, then ask someone else to read it to you.  

Write a funny and a scary book!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Publishing 101

Hello, Authors!

If you are visiting this page, you may have attended my Publishing 101 session at the Rocky Mountain SCBWI regional conference. Thank you for stopping by to pick up additional resources. It shows you're serious about your publishing career!  If you landed on this page by accident and you're interested in writing children's books, stop what you're doing and join SCBWI www.scbwi.org!

Before reading further, here's the most important thing you need to know: to be a good children's book writer, you need to be a avid kid lit reader first. What's on your bookshelf?

FORMATTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT: A properly formatted manuscript is an important step in the submissions process. From Keyboard to Printed Page on the SCBWI website https://www.scbwi.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/From-Keyboard_2014.pdf

Craft Tips:  

Interview with Richard Peck:  Here he talks about his writing process.

Dream Team: Nick Healy, Caryn Wiseman, Andrea Brown, Jennifer Mattson, Melissa Manlove
Craft tips from agents and editors:  Great advice from a writing workshop weekend offered by a panel of Agents and Editors who served on faculty at Big Sur in the Rockies. Article title: "What Agents and Editors Think When Reading Your First Page". The highlights from this article include (1)Don’t rob readers of experiencing the emotional state of a character.
SHOW don’t TELL: Don’t write, “George was upset about his report card.” Write, “George wadded up his report card and shoved it to the bottom of his backpack.”
(2)PB writers: Watch out for clause-filled sentence structure
(3)Avoid over choreography, didactic intentions, and characters with stuff happening to them rather than the protagonist making stuff happen. For the full article, click Craft tips from agents and editors

You can find more craft tips in my 2011 Interview with Matt de la Pena:  The interview begins with me gushing over one of his novels. Dig in further, because within the interview, you will find some gems and inspirational writing and working tips. My favorite piece of advice, "I think voice is WAY easier if you’re 100% honest."  And "Don’t fake it. Don’t chase trends. Be real. If it hurts, it’s gold. If it embarrasses you, it has to go in. If it shames you, it’s the most important ingredient."

Querying Tips beyond my regular tip of sticking with three paragraphs (the hook, the book, and the cook), I advise you visit ASK DAPHNE at KT Literary: KT Literary allows authors to submit to "Ask Daphne" for query feedback. Learn from one another's mistakes!

Agent Interviews:  Reading interviews with agents is one key step to discovering if he/she is the right agent for you. When querying agents, open with why you chose to query them. here are a handful of interviews for your review (you'll find more at Writer's Digest, Absolute Write, and other blogs):

An upcoming webinar Query Workshop:
Professionally Personal: How to Compel Agents in One Page or Less. (Webinar) October 10, 2017 7:30-9:00 PM Eastern time, Hosted by MD/DE/WV SCBWI. ADDITIONAL QUERY CRITIQUE SLOTS NOW AVAILABLE. Agent Hannah Mann of Writers House discusses what to stress for success when it comes to querying agents, including how to stay brief and be heard without coming off as generic, how to strike a balance between broad appeal and agent-specific, and choosing the perfect comp titles. A recording of the webinar will be available for one month after the live event. The recording will be for registered attendees only, so if you can't make the live event, you can register to view the recording. Cost: SCBWI Members: $15 for webinar only; $30 for webinar + query letter critique with Hannah Mann of Writers House or Carrie Howland of Empire Literary; Non-members: $25 for webinar. https://mddewv.scbwi.org/events/webinar-with-agent-hannah-mann-professionally-personal-how-to-compel-agents-in-one-page-or-less/

Important places to turn for information:

KiteTales:  this is the quarterly publication put out by editor Shelly Steig with the RMC SCBWI. To access KiteTales, you must be logged in to your SCBWI account. Here you will find agent interviews and writing and/or illustrating tips.  To enjoy current and past issues of Kite Tales, visit RMC.SCBWI.ORG ( https://rmc.scbwi.org/ ) Log in to your account first (access denied until you log in) and click on the side bar items called "FOR OUR MEMBERS" and then select KiteTales.

EVENTS:  Also under FOR OUR MEMBERS (log into your SCBWI account first) you can follow the Good News, Contests, and Upcoming events link to find out about free events as well as fee-based workshops. 

Insights:  This is an online publication put out by SCBWI headquarters. Every issue of Insights features an agent or editor interview.

The Bulletin:  This is a quartly publication put out by the SCBWI, you can choose to receive it via email or snail mail.

Writer’s Digest:  sign up for their free email newsletter. They regularly feature new agents who are hungry for submissions.

Publisher’s Weekly: stay informed with this publication and agent deals.

Publisher’s Lunch: Free newsletter and a great place to read about new deals. Here you will see one-liners (log lines) about recently aquired books. When reading the one-line logged lines, you might find inspiration for how to word your "hook".

Agent Query:  good place read about agents and possibly vet them. Keep in mind, this is not a fool-proof vetting source, but it's a great place to get started. Here's how they describe themself: "AgentQuery.com offers one of the largest searchable database of literary agents on the web—a treasure trove of reputable, established literary agents seeking writers just like you. And it's free (not because there's a catch, but simply because not enough things in this world are free)."

Preditors and Editors: Another online forum to vet which agents are following best practices.

Follow RMC SCBWI on our closed Facebook page (members only page, so you'll request to join when you first arrive. Here, we post regularly about industry news and upcoming webinars and events.

Follow RMC or me on Twitter:

@SCBWIRockyMtn  this is the RMC SCBWI account

@Bkshelfdetectiv (this is me, Kim Tomsic)

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