Monday, August 16, 2010

Bookseller Terminology

I was never quite sure whether or not people knew some of the terminology used in bookselling. I've seen writers throw out "backlist" and "frontlist" whereas I never had any idea of what they were until working for Barnes & Noble. I'd like to add that working for a bookstore has infinitely improved my knowledge of the selling aspect of the book. The far end, if you will, of the writing business. So if you ever get the chance to work at a bookstore for a while, do it. If anything, the clientele is much better than at that clothing store you've been stuck in (I would know).

So I've thrown out terms here and there sort of half-assuming that people would know what I was talking about, occasionally clarifying, yadda yadda yadda, until recently an author asked what one of them meant. I decided it's time you get a little extra knowledge in your brains, even if Borders or your local mom & pop bookstore down the street don't use the same terms. But B&N is a big freakin' bookseller, so hey, it doesn't hurt to know some of these, right? And if anything, you'll know what some of your fellow authors (or just me) are talking about from time to time.

Promo: Not a real big deal to know, but in case you hear one of us muttering about promos while looking for your book, it means it's in some sort of promotion area. A table. An endcap (see all those books sitting on little clear shelves at the end of a row of shelves? That's an endcap). Faced out somewhere. Promos do not necessarily the book is on sale. It's simply being promoted in some way. Think of it as a form of marketing. If your book is on promo, then it gets more notice, more publicity, and can mean more sales.

Face Out: A faced out book is pretty self explanatory. It's faced out. You can see the front of the cover instead of the spine. Whether you want to believe it or not, people do tend to judge books on their covers, so pray you have a good one if your book is faced out. Typically faced out books include: new titles, promo titles, titles that we have 3 or more of, we're using it as a bookend, we're trying to fill gaps on the shelf, we know you, or we like your work. No, those last four aren't actually regulation, but we all do it.

Backlist: These are books that we pretty much have in the store all the time. They're not new, they've been around for a while, and they're not necessarily a major priority unless they're on a promo. If we have oodles of backlist, then the extras are put in the backstock area until we have room. These are modeled titles.

Frontlist: These books are put out as soon as possible because they're fresh off the press and not modeled. We usually get in 3 or more of these types of titles. Usually they go out right away either in section or on promo. If you see us at the Info desk putting away a cart full of books, there's a good chance they're frontlist. Frontlist are typically faced out.

Modeled: This is what you want to be if you're an author. Selling a ton of books is fantastic, yes, but it really helps in the long run to be modeled. I know authors with good books under their belts and still aren't modeled for any. Modeled books are books that we are required to have in the store. A title can be modeled for anywhere from 1 to more books (large numbers do not happen often, but I've seen it. Tucker Max is a good example with his staggering 10). Once we sell a book, the system automatically orders another to replace it. Being modeled ensures you have a place in the store at almost all times. You are now backlist. If you're a new author, I consider you damn lucky to get your book modeled.

Non-modeled: Obviously the opposite of modeled. If you have 3 books sent to the store and they all eventually sell, the system does not automatically order more. If it's in our warehouse, we can order it for people, but customers browsing are not going to see your book. It sucks to be non-modeled. It can also mean that even if we got your book in hardcover, we may not get it when it comes out in paperback or mass market. I don't know who the man behind the curtain is when it comes to getting books modeled, but my advice? Make sure your book f$#!%ing sells.

Mass Market: I decided to throw this in here at the last moment, although if you're a writer and you don't know what a mass market is, you need to do your damn homework. Hardcover and paperback are pretty self-explanatory. Mass market books are paperback, true, but they're the smallest version. That $5.99-$9.99 book you bought because it was the cheapest. Hardcover sales are nice, but most of your sales are going to be made in mass market. Important to note is that if a MM doesn't sell and ends up on the returns list, 99.99% of the time it will be stripped (the cover ripped off) and recycled. Covers are sent to publishers for credit. Yeah. We just threw your book away so it can be made into someone else's book.

**Note: Stripping books is traumatizing the first time you do it. It feels sacrilegious, and I actually winced the first time. Eventually there are so many you get desensitized. I can now strip books like a machine and only give the occasional, "Aw, bummer" thought to a few books before doing them in.

So there you have it. A quick compendium of bookselling terms. Enjoy the knowledge because it's time for me to go to bed.

And high-five for Banjo-Kazooie music on YouTube.

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