Ever wonder about who chooses the new books lining the shelves of your local bookstore?
Recently I asked Ty Wilson, adult frontlist buyer for Copperfield’s Books, about the books he purchases for the local chain and why. Wilson started out in the book biz as a clerk with Tower Books in 1984. He moved on to book buyer and purchased books for stores for nine years. He’s been with Copperfield’s since 2003.
SP: About how many titles do you carry at Copperfield’s?
TW: Right now, the Montgomery Village store alone has 30,000 titles on hand. And we have quick and easy access to another quarter million titles, just in case we missed something.
SP: Do different stores carry different titles?
TW: Yes. No two Copperfield’s are the same size, but we wedge in as much as possible.
SP: How do you choose your titles?
TW: Reading ’em helps, but it’s hard to keep up with half a million new titles every year. It can be any one (or an alchemy) of a host of factors like sales history, advance reviews, projected publisher support, the author’s C.V. or simply a really good idea. Or, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a title and cover image you can’t pass up.
SP: When do you do your buying?
TW: Forthcoming titles are purchased anywhere from a month to eight months in advance. We’re working on the fall season now, which is shaping up to be the best in years. Kingsolver, Dan Brown, John Irving, Pat Conroy, Pamuk, Doctorow, Byatt, Alice Munro, Niffenegger. I could go on. It’s like the ’27 Yankees. And that’s just the fiction. The follow-up to Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson, called Stones into Schools, arrives December 1.
SP: Do you have a book in the store now that is doing much better than expected?
TW: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery came from a small publisher who packages translated European fiction. Word-of-mouth has created a new book club staple. And, on the nonfiction side, Liberty and Tyranny by political commentator Mark Levin has been booming.
SP: Are you carrying a title that you love, but no one else is buying?
TW: There are still a few people finding In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje a gem from 1987. It was my first book by the author, and his prose stunned me. I’ve yet to recover.
SP: What’s the best way for your patrons to influence your buying?
TW: Any purchase is a vote for the author’s next effort. We watch what sells, whether it’s off a stack or from a special order. Conversely, we get the message when a book just won’t budge.