Monday, January 2, 2017

What I've learned from ordering: Fiction

I should maybe title this post "What I haven't learned from ordering" because after nine months, fiction remains (ahem) a closed book to me.

I select non-mystery fiction by authors whose last names begin with the letters M through Z. Here are the first 24 titles I ordered for my library:

The first thing to note is that James Patterson, Debbie Macomber, Danielle Steel, etc. are all absent from this list. We have a standing order arrangement with our book vendor where we provide them a list of authors to auto-order: For example, if Danielle Steel publishes anything, send us two copies and bill us for them.

I am so, so grateful for that arrangement. As a result, I'm allowed to devote all my fiction ordering time to identifying debut novels or ones by lesser-known authors that might do well at my library, rather than manually checking for all the big names to make sure that if they have anything new I haven't overlooked it. Having that extra time has been really valuable. The only downside, I think, is that it encourages me to over-order the more obscure stuff, because I get a falsely low sense of how much new fiction we are getting. On the flip side, it might encourage someone who didn't enjoy ordering as much as I do to under-order, since things continue to come in even if you neglect the hands-on portion.

Overall, I'm happy with how I did considering I'm a beginner. I only had a handful of things I consider flops:
Father's Day
Tuesday Nights in 1980
Sport of Kings

I also had a few things that kind of took off, at least by the standards of non auto-order titles:
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
The Assistants
I Let You Go

Barkskins isn't a huge surprise, since it's by Annie Prolux (when I did my annual review of the auto-order list, I added her to it). Similarly, Curious Charms, although it's a debut novel, got a ton of buzz in popular review sources and was so clearly designed to be the next Mr. Pettigrew's Last Stand that I knew it would be a hit.

Interestingly, The Assistants by Camille Perri and I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh are the only two titles out of everything I ordered that I actually read. In both cases I was on the fence about whether or not to order them so I got a hold of advance reader's copies to evaluate them myself. I enjoyed The Assistants a lot, and suspect that two of its checkouts are a direct result of me 'hand-selling' it to a patron who asked for book recommendations--she checked it out and then, I think, suggested a friend borrow it when she returned it. I wouldn't have thought of it as I suggestion if I hadn't read it myself. On the other hand, I thought that I Let You Go was awful, but when reading it I noticed how much it resembled what people said they liked about The Girl on the Train so I decided to buy it thinking it would be marketed as a read-alike, or that I could suggest it as one.

So, actually reading the things I ordered did pay off. However, I did that on my own time, not at work, and I have mixed feelings about that from an ethical perspective. I see why my employer wouldn't want to pay for me to just sit at my desk and read, but at the same time, I didn't even enjoy I Let You Go, and I wouldn't have picked it up if I weren't considering it for a work purpose. Maybe the solution is to try to get my hands on more digital-format advanced reader's copies and read during lulls on the desk--that way I'm using work time, but only time that would otherwise be unproductive.

There's definitely still a lot that I don't get about fiction. Why did my flops flop? I see that my patron base prefers realistic fiction so I now understand why some of the sci-fi/fantasy selections didn't go over as well, but two out of my three lowest-circulating choices were realistic fiction. Also, how good does something have to do to be considered a success? Should it have to circulate as much as a Patterson? Could I hand-sell anything I had read to make it as popular as The Assistants turned out to be?

Many questions remain.

If you want to read about arts and recreation or about philosophy and psychology, check out my posts on the 700s and the 100s respectively.


  1. I think fiction would be really hard. Probably even people who've been selecting for years don't have it figured out.

    1. That is encouraging to me for my personal situation, but discouraging in the grand scheme of things.

  2. I suppose you could calculate the ROI for a book ... but that's a pretty cold and cut n' dried way to look at libraries.

    1. I've thought about this and calculated cost per checkout for titles before. Unfortunately, I have no frame of reference for what a 'good' or 'bad' cost/circ actually is, so I didn't do anything with the information once I had it.

      I also wonder about cases where something like this happens: the very first person to check out the book spills coffee all over it and we have to withdraw the item. That would obviously skew the numbers upward.