The Indie Next List: What and Why

Booksellers who follow this blog will wonder why I am preaching to the choir here. But as the blog evolves, I find that a lot of people who dip in are avid readers and writers curious about what we reps and booksellers are up to all day long.

So next time you go to your local indie bookstore, keep an eye out for a display called the Indie Next List. Or if you want to cut to the chase, you can check out the list at Indie Bound, the American Booksellers Association website. To quote the ABA, the Indie Next List represents “bookseller-recommended favorite handsells [and] epitomizes the heart and soul of passionate bookselling. Independent booksellers are and have always been discoverers of the next big thing, the next great read, the next bestseller, and the next undiscovered gem.”

Participating independent bookstores put up all or a selection of these picks each month with shelf-talkers from booksellers all over the country explaining why a chosen book is worth both your time and money. I love this list for two reasons:

  • Like most of you, I live in a world where ideas and products are constantly being spun and pitched at me. (For better or worse, I spend a lot of my day as a cog in the actual spin machine.) When it comes to reading, figuring out who is telling me the truth and who has taste similar to mine isn’t all that easy. I count on a couple things to help me with that: the recommendations of friends and the recommendations of booksellers. In that way, I am like most readers in America. (For more on this, see this previous post.) The Indie Next List is made up of what the most passionate independent booksellers in the country think are the best new reads coming out in any given month. I get a lot of my reading from it. (For instance, right now I’m reading the #1 April pick, Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life and let me say… It’s kind of terrific. Just like what Kat Bailey at Bookshop Santa Cruz says in her endorsement.)
  • I also love this list because it’s both democratic and meritocratic. Publishers don’t buy their way onto it with coop or other incentives. And it’s not about sheer numbers sold. Lots and lots of people love James Patterson. I don’t dismiss that or their true enjoyment. But I don’t pick a book to read because lots and lots of people like it. I don’t always know why I pick a book to read. Sometimes I just want someone to tell me. A title earns it way onto this list because a bunch of booksellers cared enough to explain why you’d like it.

Now, it’s not that publishers don’t wheedle and push for their books to get on this list. But I’ve never asked a single bookseller to lie for me and recommend a title they didn’t truly love. And most indie sales reps are like me. We value this process. It has both integrity and idiosyncrasy. It has discovery. It’s not homogenized. I am often surprised.

Am I sometimes outraged by what gets picked while my latest darling is passed over? Of course. And that’s exactly why it’s great. Every month I am challenged to consider something I didn’t expect. It’s the next best thing to an actual friend or bookseller suggesting what I ought to know about this month. Check it out.

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