Life restarts with a bang in September. As summer comes to a close, we get back in a business frame of mind. For those of us in retail, that means thinking about the holidays. A lot of our buying has already been done. In fact, Christmas cards began arriving last week. The big question looming this year is the supply chain. Where exactly will the works get gummed up? Probably everywhere. The labor shortage, clogged ports, clogged printers, overburdened postal workers: all of this means certain books might be hard to come by come November and December. September is all about attempting to anticipate the unexpected.
“Order up!” my sales reps have been intoning for months. Are they just hoping to boost their own numbers in 2021 or is the problem real? Ordering in quantity on the biggest books has always been a guessing game. There are no guarantees in publishing. This fall some of the nearly sure-fire big books include Harlem Shuffle by two-time Pulitzer Award-winner Colson Whitehead, Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (author of mega-bestseller All the Light We Cannot See), Beautiful World, Where Are You? by Sally Rooney, The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles, Bewilderment by Richard Powers (his first book since winning the Pulitzer Prize for The Overstory), a picture book, Hope Sings, and a collection of poetry, Call Us What We Carry, by Amanda Gorman, Renegades by Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen, State of Terror from powerhouses Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny....whew!
And that’s just scratching the surface.
The biggest guessing game we play in publishing is what will be the surprise hit. As booksellers, we read advance reading copies publishers send us searching for this unknown, searching for something we’re going to fall in love with that will be a surprise to us and, later, a surprise to our customers. For me this season, this was the memoir Poet Warrior by Joy Harjo, which drew me in with its gorgeous language and held me tight with its stories of survival and courage and hope. Harjo is our nation’s Poet Laureate, so she shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise, but I had never read her before and it’s not as though I hear her name come up often enough in everyday conversation. Perhaps she’ll be a surprise to you, too.
What other surprises might bubble up over the next two to three months is anyone’s guess. Our ability to anticipate and have stock of the title is also up for debate at the moment. My best advice for the season is: shop early. If you know what books you want to give, order them now. We take preorders, which should guarantee their timely arrival. Another benefit? You’ll check off your list early and have time to enjoy the season. If you happen to miss out on the book you want because of supply chain issues, I can promise you that we’ll have plenty of back-up options to choose from in the store.
Hannah Harlow is owner of The Book Shop, an independent bookstore in Beverly Farms. Harlow writes biweekly recommendations for us. See more of what she recommends reading at thecricket.com.