Today we are so excited to bring you all an interview with bookseller and extraordinary human, Nicole Brinkley.
Nicole Brinkley has short hair and loves dragons. The rest changes without notice. She is an independent bookseller and the founder of YA Interrobang. Follow her on Twitter: @nebrinkley. Learn from her on Patreon.
1. What trends/tropes/genres are you and your colleagues most excited to see right now?
These questions are coming at me straight off of my visit to Children’s Institute in New Orelans, so right now, I’m really hyped about graphic novels. They’ve been selling really well in our store, and based on Allison Risbridger’s yearly presentation on trends in children’s books
, they’ve been selling well across the country, rising statistically over the past few years with no time to slow down. So many of the middle grade readers and the younger teens in my bookstore devour graphic novels, and I have a hard time keeping up with them!
I, personally, continue to be excited about fantasy stories—my obsession right now is quieter character-driven stories, both because of my own interests and because of one of my regular teen readers. I cannot keep up with her, and she comes in every few weeks ready to buy a new stack of YA books, and she hates books about war or royalty. She’s devoured An Enchantment of Ravens and The Wicked Deep—both quiet, character-driven fantasies—and I want to find her more titles to add to her list!
2. How much time do Big 5 publishers spend on pitching their lead titles to booksellers vs. the other titles on their list?
It depends on the sales rep! Sales representatives are people employed by publishers to drive around the country and pitch their books to booksellers. They’re divided by region—a great example is Nikki Mutch, who is the Scholastic rep for the New England area where my bookstore is. Once every publishing season, she packs her car full of books and drives to Oblong—and other bookstores in the New England region, like White Birch Books—to talk to our book buyer about what she thinks we should order.
When sales reps sit down with buyers, they do two things: they explain the big titles the publisher (and, importantly, the sales rep!) is excited about this year and they try to match the interests of the booksellers in the store to the new titles that they’re pitching. How much time is spent on the big titles really depends on the rep and how well they know the list… and how well they know the store! Nikki is a great example because we trust her and her taste, so my boss is likely to take her suggestions on what big books to order and make sure to take her notes on what quieter titles she’s adoring—and what she thinks I would like.
3. We’ve heard that booksellers start shopping for the holiday season in June?!? What’s that process like?
It means my boss, who does all our book buying, is in a lot of meetings with sales reps. Sales reps sell one season ahead—if ARCs are available, they’re likely already selling or sold them to a book buyer—so they’re making sure that people have the big titles stocked and that all the holiday books they have coming out will be in the stores.
At our store, we tend to stock up on sideline items (things like toys, socks, and trinkets) along with the big titles of the year and all of our favorite staff picks. We have a robust collection of paperback staff picks that do exceptionally well in the store, in part because of how aggressively we handsell them, which means that they shine when the holiday season comes around. Orders go in now so that stacks of books will show up around October with nowhere to put them… and then all the books will mysteriously disappear by the end of December!
Fun fact: shopping for the holidays means ordering calendars when the reps come to visit, which means I already have a huge stack of 2019 calendars sitting behind the desk in our overstock area. I can barely comprehend that it’s July; I don’t want to think about 2019 yet!
4. What genres/age groups feel flooded right now? Which do you want to see more of?
I really, really hate to say this… but YA, as a whole, is fading fast in the market. I know, I know! If you take a peek at Allison’s trends above, it barely makes up any of the kidlit market, and I can say from experience that the sensationalism around it—as a whole!—is slowing down the sales. That doesn’t mean it’s not still finding a home. I have so many regular teenage customers that come in and are craving a good YA book! But it does mean that a lot of mediocre things have been put into the market that likely shouldn’t have been published, and that a lot of adult authors are trying to elbow their way into what they see as an “easy” market and taking up space for the new and innovative stuff.
I want to see more character-driven stories. I want to see more stories that wholeheartedly embrace their tropes. I want to see more fantasy stories that don’t focus on royalty or wars. I want to see more middle grade fantasy that takes place in another world—it’s one of the favorite things in my store and so much is set in our world! I want to see see more novels-in-verse. I want to see whatever people are excited to write about because they think it’s too nichey or strange, because it’s exactly the kind of thing I can handsell to the moon.
5. What are some 2018 releases that actual kids and teens in your store are loving?
We already mentioned The Wicked Deep, which left that particular reader begging me to let her know when Shea Ernshaw would publish her next book. There’s a lot of hype around Lily Anderson’s Undead Girl Gang—I have my one-sentence pitch down to an art for that book and my readers almost always take it home with them. To Kill A Kingdom is getting a lot of attention because it keeps showing up mysteriously in places it shouldn’t be—kids keep picking it up and wandering around the store with it. Children of Blood and Bone is obviously selling well. My middle grade readers are devouring Aru Shah and the End of Time and The Serpent’s Secret.
I know that’s a fantasy-centric list, but I’m a fantasy-centric girl, and these are the things I remember.
6. What 2018 not-yet-to-be-released book should we pick up?
You must read Claire LeGrand’s Sawkill Girls—a Stranger Things-esque story about three queer girls who must take down the monster in their small island town—or I will lose my mind. I love that book so much, and I know so many other people who will, too.
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Kaitlyn Sage Patterson grew up with her nose in a book outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After completing her M.F.A., she moved to South Korea, where she taught English and started writing her debut novel. THE DIMINISHED will be published by HarlequinTEEN in April 2018, followed by its sequel in 2019.
When she's not staring off into space and trying to untangle some particularly troublesome plot point, she can be found in her kitchen, perfecting the most difficult recipe she can find; or at the barn, where she rides and trains dressage horses; or with her husband, spoiling their sweet rescue dogs.
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