Letter: The Importance of the Indie Next List to Independent Publishers

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Jenn Abel Kovitz, the associate publisher and vice president of sales and marketing for Catapult, Counterpoint Press, and Soft Skull Press, recently wrote a letter to indie booksellers to highlight what she sees as the value of the American Booksellers Association’s Indie Next List and to thank booksellers for their continuous support and nominations.

Hello dear booksellers,

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the numerous conversations among booksellers that I’ve heard this year about the Indie Next List. Whether it’s via social media or at a trade show or author event, many of you have feelings about the List, about how publishers engage with each of you to ask for your nominations, about the value the List has in our industry. I share some of these feelings, to be sure.

But I wanted to reach out and share with you why the Indie Next program does matter to us as independent publishers, and share a few anecdotes about how the List has reverberations and real impacts for Catapult, Counterpoint, and Soft Skull that extend far beyond the monthly displays and newsletters.

Just last week, Gulf of Maine Books owner Gary Lawless reached out to me about Catapult’s The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri, which he had earlier nominated to the September ’19 Indie Next List (thanks again, Gary!). He shared that he hand-sold the book to a customer who loved it so much she recommended it to a friend, a college professor at Vassar, who in turn adopted it for a course she’s teaching this semester. This is just one of many examples I’ve witnessed of the contagious nature of a single bookseller’s early enthusiasm for a title.

Last year, we asked many of you to read and consider nominating Yukiko Motoya’s short story collection, The Lonesome Bodybuilder, to the November ’18 Indie Next List. Not only did the book make the list, but we also saw the same booksellers who nominated it select the collection for their Best of the Year displays and newsletters. And it was these year-end staff picks that made The Lonesome Bodybuilder Soft Skull’s #1 bestselling book of 2018. 

In August, Counterpoint made a huge push to land Margaret Wilkerson Sexton’s sophomore novel, The Revisioners, on the November ’19 Indie Next List. After we sent a copy to Jamie Rogers-Southern at Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, she loved the book so much she selected it for Bookmarks’ First Editions Club (thank you, Jamie!). One nomination transformed into an order for 75 copies. 

In other words, a single nomination can sell a lot of books, on or off the List. And even if we don’t garner enough nominations for a book to hit the list (the minimum number varies month to month), every endorsement we receive from you is both appreciated and potent. Your nominations become shelf-talkers or staff picks in your stores, helping our books find new readers. Your early enthusiasm encourages your buyers to take a greater risk on our books — they order 5s or 6s instead of 1s or 2s, trusting you to hand-sell the books you care about. And you continue to advocate for our books in other ways once you’ve read them, giving titles shout-outs in local media interviews, recommending books to the community-wide reading programs in your cities and towns, inviting authors to events in your stores.

In other words, your early reads matter to indie presses like ours, and we’re so grateful for them. Our ARC mailing budgets for Indie Next campaigns are modest; the most bookseller ARCs we can afford to send are around 100 copies, but our typical campaign is 60–80 ARCs for booksellers. We try our best to research your stores’ Staff Picks (thank you for putting them online!) to send the right book to the right bookseller for a possible nomination. And we always appreciate hearing your critiques if a book we sent didn’t resonate. 

As booksellers, you have a zillion demands on your time, countless books you could be reading. I am grateful for the energy and effort you give our lists, and thank you for the reverberating ways in which every Indie Next campaign positively impacts our independent publishing programs.

’Tis the season for fall regionals, and so I hope those of you journeying have uneventful travels! 

Sincerely yours,

Jenn Abel Kovitz
Associate Publisher and Vice President, Sales and Marketing
Catapult, Counterpoint Press, and Soft Skull Press