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Sourcebooks NEXT.

Sourcebooks Next Blog

We’re at a historic point in the transformation the book.

Ebooks, reading devices, retailers and e-tailers, software and apps, and all the cool things we haven’t even imagined yet are changing the face of reading, entertainment and learning. Sourcebooks Next is our blog looking not from the perspective of pundit or prognosticator, but from the perspective of a publisher deeply engaged in the workings of the transformation. Please feel free to join us.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Innovation, Reader Analytics, Data and the Publisher's Dilemma

Yesterday, All Things Considered ran a brief piece about reader analytics. That’s a new field being developed by a lot of people, including the very smart folks at Kobo (Michael Tamblyn) and Jellybooks (Andrew Rhomberg).

What’s interesting in this conversation is the “or” nature of it. Data or editorial gut? But I think what we’re seeing evolve is when we use data as a part of our information stream…or maybe even a number of different data points to support our decision-making. Not “or” but “and.” 

As book publishers, we make thousands of decisions, and it’s always striking how relatively small decisions can have big impact. It’s hard to get a book 100% right. And that’s probably why it’s also so rare. 

For me, innovation and data are really all about connecting authors to readers; helping to expand readership and also connecting in new ways.

I tried explaining that recently in an interview.

I think we’re at the beginning of reader analytics. And it’s going to take us to some new places that will undoubtedly lead to other new conversations. What do you think?


P.S. If you want to learn a bit more about reader analytics, here’s a quick reading list:

1) Andrew in Digital Book World: Who’s Afraid of Reader Analytics

2) Alexandra Alter in the New York Times: Moneyball for Book Publishers: A Detailed Look At How We Read

 3) Some background from Publishing Perspectives: Ebook Platforms Know What, When, and How You Read


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Icon landmark“I think the mystery category could be an interesting space for us. Could you look into that?”

At Sourcebooks, big projects often grow out of small questions. And in this case, the small, seemingly innocuous question—“Could you look into that?”—was directed at me, a fledgling editor with the time and interest to do a deep dive into the well-established, sprawling mystery category to determine whether Sourcebooks might be able to find a foothold in the marketplace.

At other publishing houses, the thought of taking on such a large task might be intimidating. But at Sourcebooks, innovation has always been a prominent theme, especially in the fiction program. From building a new imprint from the ground up under publishing legend Hillel Black’s guidance, to the Jane Austen spinoff craze that rocked the early 2000s, to the establishment of a thriving romance program, Sourcebooks editors have been seeking out new opportunities in adult fiction for nearly two decades, and I was thrilled to have the chance to take on a similar challenge.

I started my investigation with data, analyzing the top twenty mystery imprints in the Big Five, as well as looking at the most successful independent publishers in the space. I broke the entire mystery/suspense/thriller market down into categories, and from there into subcategories. Everything from James Patterson’s gritty thrillers to Joanne Fluke’s delicious cozy mysteries went under the microscope as I worked to identify which types of books were selling well, paying special attention to where debut authors were finding success.

70% of mystery readers are women

I also wanted to understand the typical mystery reader. Who is she (yes, 70% of mystery readers are women)? Where does she buy her books? How does she feel about ebooks and libraries?  What is important to her when purchasing new books? And what does she like about reading mysteries? Data helped me understand this mostly female audience, which happily crosses over nicely with the romance and women’s fiction readers Sourcebooks is already adept at reaching.

Finally, I had to put together a plan for Sourcebooks’s entry into the mystery category. I compared the data I had to Sourcebooks’s strengths, looking for places where we could capitalize on our existing knowledge and skills to reach readers in new ways. Women-oriented mysteries were a clear opportunity for us—as a well-known romance and women’s fiction publisher, I suspected we might also find success with books featuring female sleuths that tackle issues of importance to women readers. Since we also have a strong historical fiction program, historical mysteries in the tradition of Jacqueline Winspear and Susan Elia MacNeal were an area I was eager to explore. Our well-established mass market romance program and strong presence in the library market could lend itself to development in the mass market cozy mystery space, and our passion for book club fiction and fantastic storytelling led me to wonder if we might not want to publish books in the vein of Tana French, Lori Roy, and Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger.

All of this research and planning went into a 108-slide PowerPoint presentation, which I shared with our publisher and senior staff to propose the development of a mystery program at Sourcebooks. A year and a half later, we are releasing debut author Radha Vatsal’s A Front Page Affair, the first book in an exciting historical mystery series set in World War I New York City that has received outstanding trade reviews, is a Library Journal debut of the month, and represents the beginning of what I hope will be an important evolution in the Sourcebooks fiction program.

Mystery Books      

One of the very best things about being an editor at Sourcebooks is the huge number of opportunities we get to take advantage of in terms of flexibility and our publisher’s enthusiasm for innovation and willingness to let us experiment. Editors armed with nothing more than passion, a keen editorial eye, and a small question (“Could you look into that?”) have established imprints that now house some of the most beloved and respected authors in their categories. And, of course, in the end, everything we’re able to do as editors comes from the wonderful authors we work with. A frequent refrain at Sourcebooks is “We publish authors, not books,” which points to our belief that one of our jobs as a publisher is to support our authors in editorial work, marketing, publicity, and sales, in hopes that we’ll still be working together five, ten, fifteen years down the road. As we embark on this new adventure, I’m so thrilled to be welcoming our new mystery authors to the Sourcebooks family and can’t wait to see the success we’ll create together.

      Mystery books, awesome ones

Anna Michels

Editor, Sourcebooks and Sourcebooks Landmark


Thursday, May 26, 2016

At BEA 2016 a group of children’s publishing industry experts gathered to talk about current and upcoming trends in picture books and middle grade. Editorial Director Steve Geck of Sourcebooks moderated the panel and David Kleeman (Dubit), Andrew Medlar (Chicago Public Library), Betsy Bird (Evanston Public Library), with surprise guest Jamie Thomas (Women & Children First) provided the expert knowledge.

Trends in Picture Books and Middle Grade Panel

From left to right, Steve Geck, David Kleeman, Betsy Bird, Jamie Thomas, and Andrew Medlar.

Technology: How Kids Are Reading

Kleeman kicked off the panel with trend information from quarterly research among 1000 families in the UK and the US on the reading habits and preferences of children. His results show that 70% of children prefer to read printed books over digital, and that when children are sharing their favorite books with friends the easiest way to do that is with a printed book.

Kleeman identified five major trends they are seeing:

  1.      Smartphone + tablet + TV = foundation of kid’s technology
  2.      YouTube is a kid’s Google
  3.      Connected worlds – examples include Google Cardboard, Magic Leap and virtual reality
  4.      Personalization
  5.      Gen Z communicates in emojis

Bird shared that they have seen a big increase in people obtaining library cards and many of those people are joining the library in order to have access to ebooks, but ebook sales on picture books are flat to down. Medlar pointed out that children’s behavior patterns are often picked up from their parents, so when they see a parent constantly on their phone texting or playing games, they want to do the same. There is a book out there for every person, but the reader has to find it, which is what librarians help facilitate.

Picture Books

For decades picture books have been a very backlist-driven business. Yearly sales have historically been roughly 75 – 80% backlist and 20 – 25% frontlist, but in recent years there has been a big shift in people purchasing new, frontlist titles. Bird felt that new printing technology has allowed for brighter, more colorful books. Geck pointed out that there has also been a tremendous shift in the way the art for picture books is put together. Most artists now work with some sort of digital art, as opposed to sticking solely with more traditional techniques like watercolor and gouache, which also allows for brighter colors and a wider variety of styles.

Middle Grade

Medlar pointed out three trends that he sees represented by the 2016 Newbery Medalists. First, Last Stop on Market Street was an example of a picture book tackling a deeper and more complex issue. This is something that more picture books are taking on. Second, Roller Girl is a graphic novel, an area where demand continues to increase. And third, The War That Saved My Life is very much in the category of classic literature that has always had strong readership.

Trends In Picture Books and Middle Grade Book Examples

Thomas is also seeing a lot of stand-alone mystery titles that are expanded into series when the initial book is successful in stores.


Diversity of reading materials and characters continues to be a trend. Thomas said there has been a significant increase in the number of teachers and librarians shopping in the store looking for books that feature diversity. Bird also noted that there has been growth in nonfiction featuring obscure and unknown stories, far more than what has traditionally been published in the past.

Thomas would love to see more authors who are Muslim or biracial writing about biracial children and Muslim children, and Bird would like to see more international books translated to English.

Social Media

When it comes to social media, Medlar noted that the influence really depends on “the height of the patron.” YouTube is most effective for the youngest readers, Snapchat is where many school-aged children are, and Pinterest is a great platform for reaching adults. Geck told how he saw this play out for the picture book The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes. [cover image to be included] Published in the fall of 2011, sales increased dramatically over the summer of 2012 when parents and educators began recommending it on Pinterest for children feeling pressured to succeed in school. The book has enjoyed a similar sales bump every summer. Thomas said that many authors have great success with engagement when posting on Instagram.

These five major trends give both booksellers and publishers some insight not only into what kind of books young readers will be looking for, but also the ways that those readers are discovering, sharing and learning.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

At BEA, a group of ABA booksellers got together with National Sales Manager Heidi Weiland of Sourcebooks to talk about creating amazing store events. These expert booksellers provided insight into creating great events around authors, themes, holidays, or other special occasions targeting young readers.

Best Bets for Childrens Events Panelists

Panelists Becky Anderson (Anderson’s Bookshop), Cynthia Compton (4 Kids Books and Toys), Meghan Dietsche Goel (BookPeople), and Valerie Koehler (Blue Willow Bookshop) have been running children’s events for years and shared the benefit of their knowledge with the bookseller audience:

  • The stores that have many successful events today started out with no success stories and had to build up their event program. It can take years, but you have to keep doing the work.
  • Local connections are key with PTA and PTO organizations, service groups, mom’s groups, or whatever is in your community. The key is to connect with these organizations and partner with them to create all types of successful events.
  • Working with local authors is crucial. This can be done through launch parties, school events, and community outreach and can grow to a national presence for the author. The local indie bookseller can then provide books for those events.
  • All bookstores start from a place of fear that they will do everything right for an event but no one will show up. Everyone has had this experience—you just have to keep moving forward.

Ultimately, there are no silver bullets to creating a great event, but lots of local connections really help. Events are a lot of work, but as you continue to create amazing experiences for your customers, you will see your reputation, your knowledge, and the success of your events continue to grow.

 Publishers Weekly also did a great writeup of the panel, which you can check out here.

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