How We Sell Backlist: Parnassus Books

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Parnassus Books is the subject of Bookselling This Week’s second “How We Sell Backlist” column, a new occasional series highlighting ABA’s campaign to promote more backlist titles.

Parnassus Books favorites room
Parnassus Books' new favorites room displays children's backlist titles with corresponding merchandise.

In this series, BTW explores how ABA member booksellers are successfully selling, promoting, and displaying backlist books at stores around the country. The first installment featured Seattle’s Third Place Books.

Karen Hayes, co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, with author Ann Patchett, spoke to BTW about the unique new way the store has begun displaying children’s backlist titles.

“When we expanded the store last year, we devoted almost an entire wall of shelving sections in a new ‘favorites’ room to bestselling picture books with their sidelines — tiny boutique shelves for Curious George, Olivia, and Maurice Sendak,” said Hayes. “We have not tracked our sales specifically for this room, but in the past year or so, our percent of sales for kids’ books went from 20 percent of overall sales to 25 percent.”

That increase, Hayes notes, was not entirely due to the favorites room, since the store also moved young adult books out of the kids’ section, making more room for nonfiction kids’ titles.

Some of the backlist displayed in the new children’s favorites room at Parnassus also includes:

  • Dragons Love Tacos, Dragons Love Tacos II: The Sequel, and the Dragons Love Tacos Book and Toy Set, written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri (Dial Books)
  • Ada Twist, Scientist; Rosie Revere, Engineer; and Iggy Peck, Architect, written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts (Harry N. Abrams)
  • The Day the Crayons Quit and The Day the Crayons Came Home, written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel Books)
  • Madeline series books, written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans (Viking Books for Young Readers), with plush Madeline toys
  • Pete the Cat series books, written by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean (HarperCollins), with plush Pete the Cat toys
  • Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, written by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Chronicle Books), with plush steam shovel toys

Staff recommendations at Parnassus Books
Parnassus Books' staff picks section includes a special shelf with books by and recommendations from co-owner Ann Patchett.

On the adult side, Hayes said Parnassus will sometimes promote selected backlist books via the store’s online literary magazine, Musing, through monthly staff recommendations. Patchett has also mentioned backlist titles in several pieces she wrote for Musing.

“Those books [mentioned in Musing] are always displayed right up front with our staff recommendations with shelf-talkers; when the new monthly batch of recommendations comes in, the old shelf-talkers and books move to their sections,” said Hayes.

This fall, ABA will also highlight backlist titles via the new “Maximizing Backlist” education session, which will be presented at all eight regional fall trade shows. The session, to be co-led by ABA senior staff and board members, will explore ways to market, promote, and sell backlist titles and include a discussion on how taking advantage of backlist offers from publishers can be beneficial to a store’s bottom line.