What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
As a bookseller, I get to talk to readers all day, and the trend that’s standing out to me right now is a desperate need for escapism from our oppressive political situation. Political books are not selling well, and people are fatigued—they want to read sci-fi/fantasy, romance, or great narrative nonfiction. I think, as the 2020 election season comes into full swing, we will see even more of a sales bump in genre fiction. N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season and Frank Herbert’s Dune are selling especially well. Casey Cep’s Furious Hours is flying off the shelf.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I’m excited to see the diversity discussion opening up even further to include body diversity. I cannot wait to read The (Other) F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce, edited by Angie Manfredi. If I had had this book as a kid, I think my self-image would have really been improved. I’d love to see more books celebrating people of all sizes.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
I hate to be negative! So I won’t share what I don’t want to ever see, but I will share some categories where we’re seeing oversaturation: board books about babies and science (OK, enough) and kids’ history books that profile a bunch of people (probably women). I cannot believe I’m saying there are too many women’s history books—who thought that would ever happen? Maybe what we need is more variety of formats in women’s history.
How do you work with self-published authors?
We get so many requests to stock self-published books that we have to limit what we carry to authors from our immediate region. Most of our bestselling self-pub books are local history books, like Capt. Stanley Wilcox and H.W. Van Loan’s Hudson River Book, which takes you on a voyage down the Hudson River as you learn about the history of our area. Books outside the local interest category are a harder sell, but they can do well if the author sends their friends in to buy the book and promotes our store as the place to find it.
What do you want to change about publishing?
The American Booksellers Association recently sent out a survey on environmental sustainability that really got me thinking about how wasteful our industry can be. Printed books aside, the waste created by excessive packaging, unwanted galleys and marketing materials, and paper catalogs (these still exist) is depressing. About half of the marketing materials we receive from publishers goes directly into the trash (or recycling!) because we can’t use them. The cost of creating these items and shipping them must be high. I like that some publishers are now letting us opt into marketing materials by listing them on Edelweiss so we can choose what we want. More of this, please!
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
As a bookstore, we’re the last stop on the journey from author to reader. We put books directly into people’s hands and get real-time feedback about what they’re loving or not that into. It’s a great privilege to have that connection with our customers. While publishing looks ahead months and years, much of what we do is immediate—what do we have to sellright now?
Suzanna Hermans is a second-generation bookseller and co-owner of Oblong Books and Music in Millerton and Rhinebeck, New York. She is a past president of the New England Independent Booksellers Association and recently served on the Advisory Council of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. She has also served on the American Booksellers Association’s Advisory Council as well as its Children’s Advisory Council and New Voices Committee. In 2017, she was a judge for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.