I’m not sure I’ve seen any new trends as of yet (I’m just starting my spring buying). It could be because I’m now buying for our newly opened second location, and my buying habits are adjusting to this new location, with new customers and a much broader spectrum of categories I can consider. It seems that there’s a continuing trend from recent seasons in which the paperback edition of a novel is sold before the hardcover has even been released, which is frustrating for buyers since we’re guessing at paperback performance before we have any sales numbers on the hardcovers. Also, the trend of blog-to-book seems to just keep on coming.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I asked a few senior employees what they would like to see: more fiction that is serious and literary but not depressing—escapist yet smart—and more narrative nonfiction that tells a good story in an innovative way. I do agree that while heart-wrenching fiction is always a popular genre, I find myself often saying, “These are all so depressing!” when going through a new season’s fiction list.
Another employee celebrated the resurgence of the short story collection in hardcover, attributing much of that to the success of George Saunders’ Tenth of December (2013). We’ve had tremendous success with accessible literary fiction such as Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings (2013), a book our entire staff can get behind, as well as crossover YA titles such as All Our Pretty Songs (2013) by Sarah McCarry. But, luckily, we can also sell a large amount of quirkier titles, such as Hyperbole and a Half (2013) by Allie Brosh, or small-press favorites such as Melville House’s edition of The Haunted Bookshop (2013) by Christopher Morley or Siglio Press’ The Address Book (2012) by Sophie Calle.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
To quote one of my managers: “If anything, I’d say that I don’t want more biographical books about aging white guys, either in music, film or literary. All of these guys are turning 65 and writing their books or having books written about them.” I thought that was a really interesting observation and probably true. I could do without all the frivolous celebrity animal or animals looking cute/weird/funny books. One can only carry so many of those.
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
Again, I think our urban locations allow us some freedom to sell quirkier or less commercial titles than most indies. But in general, a brick-and-mortar bookshop allows customers to come in and touch the books, which means that beautiful and unique books-as-objects are becoming more and more successful. We’ve sold S. (2013) by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst and created discussion groups around it because everyone wants to buy it and explore it together. We also sell a ton of Battle Bunny (2013) by Jon Scieszka, which is one of those children’s books you need to touch and flip through.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I think it’s a great time to be an indie bookstore. I think we have to work harder each year to make customers happy and stay relevant, but most of us are up for the challenge. People want a place they can walk into and feel at home, surrounded by books and the people who love them. It takes a bit of hustle to think of new, innovative ways to keep revenue coming in, but as long as the publishers keep publishing high-quality books, we’ll keep selling them.
Christine Onorati is the owner of WORD bookstores, with locations in Brooklyn and Jersey City, N.J. Before opening WORD in Brooklyn in 2007, Christine ran a small new and used bookshop on Long Island after working several years behind the scenes in book publishing. She lives in Montclair, N.J., with her husband and son.