Shelf Awareness for Monday, April 13, 2020

William Morrow & Company: Polostan: Volume One of Bomb Light by Neal Stephenson

Shadow Mountain: The Legend of the Last Library by Frank L Cole

Atlantic Monthly Press: The Elements of Marie Curie: How the Glow of Radium Lit a Path for Women in Science by Dava Sobel

Ace Books: Dungeon Crawler Carl by Matt Dinniman

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: The Millicent Quibb School of Etiquette for Young Ladies of Mad Science by Kate McKinnon

Annick Press: Bog Myrtle by Sid Sharp

Minotaur Books: Betrayal at Blackthorn Park: A Mystery (Evelyne Redfern #2) by Julia Kelly

Editors' Note

Shelf Awareness Business Initiatives During Covid-19

Shelf Awareness's Jenn Risko and John Mutter

We're hoping this all finds you well. This simple phrase we've all used casually a million times has never had more meaning or gravity than it does now. Many of us know someone who has or had this terrible disease, and some of us have lost someone because of it. It is not only a pandemic of illness, but of loss and worry.

Recently in our bookverse, we've seen layoffs, furloughs, salary cuts involving friends and colleagues. We've seen fundraising campaigns to keep stores alive. At the Shelf, our editorial team has never been busier: inundated with hundreds of reports every day about how booksellers are innovating in their fight to survive, and the stories of customers, publishers, wholesalers and distributors rallying behind them. Bright spots in our day are the many wonderful e-mails that thank us for connecting everyone, when we've never felt more disconnected. Keep them coming, send them here.

On the business side, we've been working hard to figure out what we can do to help indies and publishers. Here's what we've come up with so far:

1. Beginning with tomorrow's issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers, our proprietary audience (those who subscribe directly with us) will notice buy buttons that lead to the Shelf's site. During this time, we will donate all proceeds from these sales to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc), first through SaveIndieBookstores, created with the help of James Patterson, and then directly to Binc to help booksellers in need. For the entire life of Shelf Awareness for Readers, we've grappled with where to send folks who have signed up to receive our newsletter directly from us, and this new initiative will make it easy for our audience to help indies--and avoid a major online competitor.

A sample of our new Pre-Order E-Blast

2. In the next few weeks, we are launching our Pre-Order E-blast, a once-a-month, consumer-facing e-blast, store-branded and including buy buttons that will drive pre-order sales to our partner bookstores. Our editors will pick the eight featured titles, but stores will be able to easily change the selection to whatever titles best suit their customers. At a time when every sale is crucial, we can't think of a better moment to launch a product that will give indies a new bucket of revenue. To see an example, click here.) Interested in joining? Contact us here.

3. One good thing has come out of all this terribleness: indies are getting better at selling books online. (And given that a certain e-tailer has deprioritized books, there's a rare opportunity to gain some market share here.) In a concerted effort to help more stores sell more books online, we're offering an incentive to all new Shelf Awareness for Readers partner bookstores. Get us your material by April 21 and let us start delivering our proven e-newsletters to your customers, and after a month of giving this program a whirl, we will buy a $50 gift card to your store. (It will make a very nice "welcome back" gift to a favorite customer!) Join the ranks of our 160 partner stores who already know that this free and zero-effort program helps them sell books. Learn more about this program here or contact us here.

4. Additionally, to help publishers market their books to indie customers, beginning today through the end of June, we are offering all ads in Shelf Awareness for Readers at 50% off our normal rates. This means you can buy an ad for $350 to reach almost half a million indie customers. Will your ROI look good? Yes, it will. But more importantly, you'll feel good about helping indies sell more books online so that they can help replace some of their lost in-store sales, and keep the future of our industry as bright as possible for us all. Here's your code: FIDDY. (We need all the levity we can get, right?) Interested? Need an expert to help you craft a campaign? Matt Baldacci and Devon Ashby are at the ready here.

If you have other ideas of how we can help, our publisher Jenn Risko is all ears here.

Every single sale by an indie has never been more important than it is now, and Shelf Awareness is here to help indies--and the rest of the book world--get through this unprecedented situation. We're all in this together. We will ALL persist--and thrive again!

Running Press Kids: Your Magical Life: A Young Witch's Guide to Becoming Happy, Confident, and Powerful by Amanda Lovelace


Crowdfunding Update: City Lights Exceeds Goal, More Indies Seek Help

With so many indie bookstores closed for browsing and forced to rely on web sales and shipping, booksellers are increasingly turning to crowdfunding for support during the Covid-19 pandemic. Shelf Awareness has previously highlighted several indies using this strategy, and Buzzfeed News posted a list Saturday of more than 30 independent bookshops seeking community support. 

Making international headlines over the weekend was City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, San Francisco, Calif., which closed March 16 as Governor Newsom issued a directive that all nonessential businesses be shuttered. The future for the legendary bookstore and press looked bleak.

Last Thursday, City Lights publisher and CEO Elaine Katzenberger launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $300,000, noting that the business "must remain closed for an indefinite period of time. Unlike some shops, we're unable even to process online orders, since we want our booksellers to remain safely at home. With no way to generate income, our cash reserves are quickly dwindling, with bills coming due and with a primary commitment to our staff, who we sent home with full pay and healthcare, and who we hope to keep as healthy and financially secure as possible."

Within a day, City Lights had exceeded its goal and has since raised a total of more than $450,000. On Friday, Katzenberger posted an update, noting that she had just returned from visiting co-founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti "to tell him what I could about the absolute torrent of love and support we've received since the launch of this campaign just yesterday morning, but to be honest, I found it impossible to describe. How can I ever articulate the impact of seeing a community of people from all around the world respond so immediately and enthusiastically to our call for help? Especially now, when so many people are thrown into their own financial and existential insecurity? Knowing that City Lights is beloved is one thing, but to have that love manifest itself with such momentum and indomitable power, well, that's something I don't quite know how to find words for."

Longtime City Lights book buyer Paul Yamazaki spoke with KRON about the bookstore's current situation and hopes for the future.

In addition to the booksellers mentioned previously by Shelf Awareness and Buzzfeed, other bookstores continue to join crowdfunding movement, including:

Anderson's Bookshops in Naperville, Downers Grove & La Grange, Ill.: "It's hit us all hard and stifled our world. We may not all be infected, but we are all affected. We cannot thank you enough for your loyalty and helping us to thrive. Our business has relied on cash flow and foot traffic over generations as your home for books here in Illinois. Without those channels, our future is uncertain."

Star Cat Books, Bradford, Vt.: "Don't let Covid-19 kill this bookstore! Most Vermonters have already decided to shelter at home, and even at mid-day roads are close to empty. Fixed costs continue. The owner of Star Cat Books has a compromised immune system, but fears she must stay open for the few people who are looking for books for their kids or themselves. 'Just closing' for two months, which is the shortest period the experts project this to last, guarantees the store will close forever. Even if two months is enough to end the risk, business will not return to normal at once."

Excelsior Bay Books, Excelsior, Minn.: "Woody and I bought the store three months ago to keep this beloved store in Excelsior. We are now faced with a perilous situation: Due to Covid-19 and the fact that we are closed to the public, we are running out of cash to pay our rent, utilities, payroll, liabilities and publishers, and make sure we have enough cash on-hand to re-open once we make it through. We'd also like to provide some support for staff through this emergency."

G.P. Putnam's Sons: William by Mason Coile

Bluebird Books in Hutchinson, Kan., Closes Permanently

Bluebird Books & Cafe, which opened in 2012 in Hutchinson, Kan., has closed permanently. In a letter to customers, owner Melanie Green wrote: "It would be easy for me to tell you this is the story of a pandemic and that Bluebird is collateral damage, felled to the economic chaos the pandemic has caused. And while that is true, it isn't the whole story. And for your relentless loyalty, but also for my commitment to truth-telling and the power of stories, I want you to know the whole story, as much as I can tell it."

Green recalled that at the end of last year, she knew that she "was ready to pursue other things. I started to strategize and brainstorm a way to transition to new ownership."

Pre-Covid-19, she was hopeful of finding "just the right gutsy, crazy, laughable candidate to take over. And then a pandemic swept in and I was forced to face the reality of what it would do to our economy and the future of Bluebird. For the last three weeks, I have hustled to keep Bluebird viable because it matters to my community and because I hoped to find a way to stay open. This pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us. But these last weeks for small businesses have been brutal. Then yesterday as we were opening, the oven failed. Equipment failures in restaurant operations happen often enough that it's not usually a tipping point... unless you're operating during a pandemic."

Noting that Bluebird Books "was born of a love of stories, the power of the written word, and a burning drive to build something in my community that would make a difference," Green described her venture as a success. "In my eight years downtown, I have heard over and over the stories of what Bluebird means to our community, why it is important, what it has done for one person, one group of people, for all of us. I have been told by so many that Bluebird inspired them to pursue something they thought was impossible--a new career, a new business, an education, a relationship--whatever their dream may have been, something about Bluebird offered them just enough of a draft that their dreams were set aloft. I am honored to have been a part of those dreams.... Readers, I am humbled and honored to have put books into your hands these last eight years. There will forever be a Bluebird-shaped hole in my heart. Stay safe and keep reading."

How Booksellers Are Coping: Building Relationships, Staying Connected

Pegasus Books, with three stores in Berkeley and Oakland, Calif., closed all of its locations on March 16 and owner Amy Thomas furloughed her team of 35 employees, with pay, through March 27, Inc. magazine reported. She said she has been checking in with individual employees on a regular basis, doing "financial triage to make sure nobody goes under."

Thomas noted that she is lucky to own one of her buildings and have good relationships with the landlords of the others. "They're in it too," she said. "There's something weird about this--weird in a good way, you know? Nobody has to be explained to." Online sales, formerly a very small part of Pegasus's business, are helping, she said: "We're pivoting, but what we do as bookstores, with events and readings... [Running] another kind of bookstore to keep everybody going for a while is fine, but long term, we need to be back in the store."

She also observed: "What's really been important to me is to build good relationships with the people you might sometimes be in conflict with: your vendors and your landlords. If you just build super-honest, transparent relationships with everybody from the get-go, and say, 'This is who I am, this is what I can do,' and if there's a month that you can't pay for all of it, or [payment] has to be slow, tell them. If there's a problem, call them, reach out."


Noting the irony that "everyone finally has unlimited time to read, but bookstores and libraries are closed," Do Savannah reported that fortunately, the Georgia city's independent bookstores "are still selling books online and staying connected with their customers."

"It helps that Amazon is not shipping books right now and libraries are closed, so independents are the only game in town at the moment," said Melissa Taylor, co-owner of E. Shaver Bookseller. "I will say the one thing that is really different is, because people aren't coming into the store and browsing, the booksellers are missing talking to people about books, so Jessica and I recorded the first episode of our podcast so that we can talk about books, and hopefully people will listen to that. It gives us something to do with our time and keeps us off the streets."

Co-owner Jessica Osbourne agreed: "We have a website,, which is an IndieCommerce site, so it's through the American Booksellers Association and it has been a life saver. People can order online and then designate whether they want to pick it up curbside or whether they want it shipped to them for free, and we'll actually deliver anywhere in town, as well, for free."

At the Book Lady Bookstore, owner Joni Saxon-Giusti said, "We are utilizing more than ever all our social media platforms and e-mailing lists to virtually-connect with customers to let them know we are still open for business and can help them find books for themselves plus their students, teachers and families, wherever they are. Lots of browsing videos and pictures of our most recommended titles allow them to see what we have on the shelves and allow us to continue to be advocates for some wonderful authors."


Posted on Facebook by Liberty Bay Books, Poulsbo, Wash.: "While mom filled online orders at the store Fiona watched forlornly out the door, anxious for the day when we can all meet again!"

International Update: Free TLS Ads for Booksellers, Live-Streaming in China

The Times Literary Supplement is offering free advertising to independent bookshops in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Bookseller reported. The TLS will dedicate a full page to indies wishing to advertise in its print edition "for the foreseeable future."

"The whole aim of the TLS is to provide distraction, solace and the broadening of horizons, especially at the moment," editor Stig Abell said. "The same is true, of course, of books generally. We want to help bookstores, in some small way, whose main business has been limited by the crisis. Our audience's appetite for reading isn't going to go away, and I know our readers will be more than happy to help their local booksellers through this." Advertising is available for both overseas and U.K. indies, on a first-come-first-served basis.

Indie bookshops can e-mail, "including a 40-word description of your shop, a contact number or e-mail address for customers, along with your logo or company name. Stay safe; support bookshops."


Can live streaming help China's bookstores survive the pandemic? That was the question posed to independent booksellers who are live streaming on platforms like Taobao, "the giant shopping site where rural farmers and urban influencers alike hawk anything from fresh fruits to Dior handbags," to reach out to readers, but many hope this will be temporary, Abacus News reported.

Qian Xiaohua recently joined four other indie bookstore owners "in a bid to rescue their struggling businesses for a live-streamed bargain sale on Taobao," Abacus News wrote, adding that the move was an uncharacteristic attempt at mass appeal by the owner of Librairie Avant-Garde in Nanjing.

"This current epidemic has dealt an unprecedented blow to bookstores," said Qian. "I think it's the worst test since SARS.... I feel that a bookstore is actually a cultural embassy of a city, a part of the lives of the common people. I don't think this epidemic is going to be short-term for bookstores.... What's most crucial here is that people have started to like shopping online."

Xiaofeng Bookstore in Hangzhou "led viewers on a tour along its well-worn wooden floors and showed them snippets of the shop's history, like the traditional calligraphy scrolls gifted by a scholar that flanked its entrance," Abacus News noted.

"A good bookstore isn't a place where anyone can come to buy whichever books they want," said Xiaofeng's Zhu Yufang. "We hope that our book corner can recommend good books that can help you grow as a person."


Michelle MacAleese

Michelle MacAleese, editor at Canadian publisher House of Anansi Press, spoke with Quill & Quire about how physical distancing and the Covid-19 pandemic has affected her approach to work. A few highlights from the q&a:

How have you adapted to working solo?
It was relatively easy for me to adapt to working remotely, because I spent a good portion of my career as a freelance editor.... Our team has shifted to digital-first processes with surprisingly little friction. We use Zoom for group meetings, as well as for staff trivia, an Anansi-Groundwood Friday afternoon tradition that's going strong despite the distance. Last week we even dressed up for trivia. It was 'Not-So-Casual Friday!'

Are there resources you don't have access to?
Bookstores! That's one way to answer, but another answer, more focused on just my responsibilities, is that there are hardly any resources I don't have access to.... One thing I don't have is access to is what no one has access to: a crystal ball. (And this is my biggest challenge.) No one knows when bookstores may reopen, how the market will change, and is changing already, and what books we will want to read in the coming years to make sense of our new reality.

Have there been any upsides?
Book publishing was always a rather collaborative industry, and that seems to be even more true now, which I think is pretty cool. Writers, booksellers, book marketers, publicists, festivals, and various arts organizations are working together and talking about new ways to make space for books. Everyone is doing their part to create and deliver new books to readers at a time when many need them the most.... It seems to me like everyone is doing their jobs with gusto; the lack of in-person contact has necessitated even more collaboration and creative solutions.


Posted on Facebook by Woods in the Books, Singapore: "Make your own rainbow. There's a rainbow in our window, a small promise of love and hope because bright days can shine after the dark. Let's stay strong and weather this Circuit Breaker together.

"Believed to have started in Italy during the Covid-19 outbreak, children have been making rainbows to display on windows in Spain, Canada, the UK, and the USA as a way to encourage people in essential services on their way to work, or out doing their daily exercise, or even neighbors just across the road. Families at home, why not make your own rainbows and tag us?"


Video: Isolation Weeks at Scuppernong Books

Brian Lampkin and Steve Mitchell, co-owners of Scuppernong Books, Greensboro, N.C., shared The Isolation Weeks, a video showing how they "cope with having no one in the store. They're still available, however, for telephone and online orders, and even a friendly chat."

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Nelson Schwartz on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Nelson Schwartz, author of The Velvet Rope Economy: How Inequality Became Big Business (Doubleday, $28.95, 9780385543088).


CBS This Morning: Madeleine Albright, author of Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st-Century Memoir (Harper, $29.99, 9780062802255).

Good Morning America: Peggy Rowe and Mike Rowe, authors of About Your Father and Other Celebrities I Have Known: Ruminations and Revelations from a Desperate Mother to Her Dirty Son (Forefront Books, $26, 9781948677448).

Movies: The Selection

Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour (Wadjda, Mary Shelley) will direct Netflix's upcoming film The Selection, based on the first book in the Selection series by Kiera Cass, Variety reported. The five-book series has sold more than 11 million copies around the world.

"We are thrilled to be working with Netflix and bringing these beloved books to life for the extraordinarily loyal and passionate fan base," said producer Denise Di Novi. "The author Kiera Cass has created a spellbinding fantasy whose message of empowerment and authenticity is more relevant today than ever."

Di Novi and Divergent franchise's Pouya Shahbazian will produce, with Margaret French Isaac serving as executive producer.

"I'm thrilled to be working with the brilliant Haifaa Al-Mansour and our friends at Netflix on this special film," Shahbazian said. "Having worked on some very high profile book adaptations, I've never before seen the fervor and passion that The Selection fans have for the adaptation of Kiera Cass's book series to film."

Books & Authors

Awards: Doug Wright Finalists

Finalists in four categories have been named for the 2020 Doug Wright Awards, which are "awarded annually to the author of the best Canadian work and the most promising talent published in English in the cartooning medium." The awards ceremony will be broadcast online May 9.

Last year, prize organizers began inducting one living and one deceased member of the Canadian comics community annually to the Giants of the North hall of fame. The induction of this year's winners will be held next year, when the awards return to a live public ceremony.

This year's Giants of the North nominee is Walter Ball (1911-1995), the longtime Toronto Star cartoonist and art department supervisor, best known for the strip Rural Route.

Book Review

Review: The OK End of Funny Town

The OK End of Funny Town by Mark Polanzak (BOA Editions, $17 paperback, 200p., 9781950774050, May 5, 2020)

Vintage travel brochure headlines separate the tales in Mark Polanzak's wildly imaginative story collection, The OK End of Funny Town. Sections like "Travel to Fantastic Places!" and "Witness Magical Things!" deliver, as promised, 19 weird and wonderful stories that are as captivating as they are discomfiting. Readers "Meet Fabulous Strangers!" in the opening story, "Giant." Townspeople are delighted when a giant moves into their village. "It wasn't an emergency to anyone. It was awe-striking," the narrator says. Their bonhomie turns to exasperation, however, when, after weeks of attempted communication and friendly gestures, the giant shows no inclination to return their overtures and, indeed, seems pretty ungrateful. "He has not thanked us for the food. He has not apologized for trampling our parks and gardens and recreation areas.... He has not offered any help of any kind." The village soon realizes that the giant is as unremarkable as they are. "If he were of normal size, he would be completely uninteresting."

The title story, "The OK End of Funny Town," is one of the "Fantastic Places." The hapless narrator unsuccessfully tries to fix his "arrow-thru-the-head-gag." Determined to find another gag, he tries riding his unicycle on an oil slick and a bed of thumbtacks, and finally waves down a cab filled with clowns. How or why Funny Town became so is never explained, but the author hints at how the narrator arrived there. He tries to tell the cabdriver a joke starting, "There's this guy who moved to Funny Town after his fiancée left him at the altar... he wishes he could cry again, but he can't because it's impossible in Funny Town." The driver, unsympathetic, says, "We're all crying on the inside, man." More evidence of desperation, including a suicide note that says, "He's going to kill himself because he's no good for this place. He's only a minor joke, not anything that the town would miss," creeps into this bizarre, circus-like world. But this is Funny Town, so, as the narrator raises a gun to his head, "A flag bursts out from the nozzle. It reads: BANG."

The remarkable revealed as unremarkable, the ridiculous covering up despair--these themes permeate Polanzak's tales of needy robots, menacing mimes and people on the perimeter. The stories range from the frankly surreal ("A Proper Hunger") to the heartbreakingly real ("How You Wish"). Visiting this tragicomic world, which won the 2020 BOA Short Fiction Prize, will reward those looking for an exciting and original new voice in fiction. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Shelf Talker: These 19 stories introduce themes of commonplace people in remarkable situations, with touches of the surreal and the sublime.

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