Indie spotlight! ABC Books in Amsterdam, the Netherlands!

Today we say Hallo to ABC bookstore and Tiemen, the children’s buyer for the BIGGEST and BEST store in Amsterdam! Now, you all know I love me some Netherlands (everyone thinks I’m from there, even if I speak English *cries*) and Tiemen is absolutely grand. I knew ABC would be an awesome bookstore for us to interview and hey, I was right!!

Help me welcome Tiemen and ABC!!

(For those that would like a link: The Mixed up Files ABC Bookstore Netherlands!)

JKB: Welcome, Tiemen! So how long has the ABC been around?

TZ: The American Book Center has been around for a quite a while. It was started by a couple of hippies in the seventies in Amsterdam. Originally it didn’t even had a children’s section, but only pulp books and trashy magazines from the states. The current owner, Lynn Kaplanian, was an American student that was travelling abroad through Europe. She was in need of money so when she was in Amsterdam she applied for a temporary job at the ABC. Soon she discovered she had a real talent for selling books and weeks became months, months became years and eventually she became the owner of the store.

Thirty years later the ABC has moved several times and grown to become one of the biggest independent English bookstores in Europe. With a very nice Children’s and Young Adult section if I may say so.

JKB: Oh, I think you can DEFINITELY say so. *points at lovely book picture*


That bookshelf would be something to be proud of, even in the US! What English Young Adult books are you finding that you simply cannot keep on the shelves?

TZ: ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy by Suzanne Collins is very popular at the moment. It’s a real page-turner so it it’s not only kids who read it. Also the books by Rick Riordan are very popular at the moment. His books are like the American version of Harry Potter with their mix of mythology.

The books by John Green – Looking for Alaska, Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns – are bestsellers. They are hilarious and at the same time deeply emotional books about teens growing up.

Finally the ‘Fallen’ books by Kate Lauren has ushered in the fallen angel hype that is now slowly replacing the vampire romance hype.

JKB: Do you do events for the kids? What kinds?

TZ: The American Book Center has a large Children’s and Young Adult section, but it is still a small section of the store overall. We do have events, but these events tend to focus on art and design books (Amsterdam has a large community of young artists or otherwise creative people and the ABC has a very large art and design section).

**drools again**

We do sometimes have book-signings by authors but the problem is often that it is very hard to have them come from abroad.

We do give schoolchildren and teachers a discount on all the books they buy. Still I would love to have more events specifically for kids and a book reading event for children is high on my wish-list.

JKB:  This sounds awesome! I know we’ve got some serious authors that would be happy to stop by! *g* How difficult is it to promote English children’s books and English books in a foreign speaking market?

TZ: Promoting English books in general is actually very easy in the Netherlands. This has to do with the fact that a majority of Dutch people are fluent in English and are used to read, write and speak English on a regular basis. Even the majority of shows on TV are in English.

Also a lot people either prefer to read authors in their original language (which is English in most cases) or just can’t wait until the translation in Dutch is released.

The same applies to children’s books. Of course for the very young children, five years or younger, their parents prefer to buy Dutch books, but I do see a lot of young children reading English books. Usually they have to read a book for school or they (or their parents)  want to improve their English. A lot of teenagers are voracious readers and they can really devour the Young Adult section. Especially during school-vacations it often happens we will have kids with their parents in the store bargaining about the amount of children’s books they will buy; the kids of course want to read as many books as possible, the parents just don’t want the top of the pile of books to reach the ceiling.

JKB: What genres fly off the shelves?

TZ: Even though they have been around for years now, books about paranormal romances ( i.e. girls who fall in love with pale boys with a mysterious and sad aura who happen to be vampires/werewolves/fallen angels) are still the best selling books in the Young Adult section. The Twilight serie by Stephanie Meyer is still the  undisputed ruler, but there are a lot of other series that also have a large following. The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith, House of Night by P.C. and Kirsten Cast, Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare are a few examples of such series that fly of the shelves.

Recently also the dystopian novels have made a big impact. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins is very popular. What is interesting is that a lot of these dystopian novels are not only about a future society that is controlled by a Big Brother like government, but  in which the environment has completely collapsed and people have to survive on a planet that is not as hospitable as it was once before.

Also the last few years there has been a rise of books in the Young Adult section that deals with the issue of death. Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, a story about the suicide of a teenage girl and the impact it has on a boy in her school, is an example of these kind of books. I believe this is a good development because these books can make a tough subject (and what teenager has not been depressed or thought about death?) easier to talk about and help teenagers with their own development. Plus they are really good books to read.

JKB: Do you hand sell? What makes a book hand-sellable for you?

TZ: Yes, I often like to give suggestions or recommendations to kids and their parents. A lot of young adult books are really great but are often overlooked. So when a kid or parents are looking for something new I like to give them a little nudge towards the books I think they will love to read. It is always a great kick when they come back after a few weeks and ask if I have any more suggestions.

Two things makes a book hand-sellable: a great cover and a good hook. Especially with young-adult books these days you have great covers. Beautiful stylized, sometimes it’s almost as if you are looking at a movie-poster or a work of art. Of course you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it doesn’t hurt if said cover manages to capture the eye. The second thing you need is a good hook. A book is very hand-sellable if you can say in one or two sentences what the story is about in such a way that it makes people go ‘hey I want to read that!’

JKB:  How do you find new books? (The avenues – publishers? requests?)

TZ: I use  the traditional sources – publishers and reviews in magazines – and I also listen to customer requests.

However, the last few years social media have become a really great tool to find new books. There are a lot of website that allow people to categorize and list the books they have read. So often I like to browse Goodreads, one of these websites, and just have a quick look what people are reading. If I notice a book is read by a lot of people and it gets a lot of positive feedback I know that we might have a potential winner. Basically it’s like a hundred people telling you about a book in less than five minutes.

JKB: I use Goodreads for that, too! What is the BEST part about working in a bookstore? Besides for the book discount? *g*

TZ: Bringing people into contact with new books. It literally brighten up my day if a customer walks towards me and ask if I can give a few recommendations. Often the recommendations turn into a little tour of the Young Adult section, or Sci-Fi section because I am also a big Sci-Fi fan. It is really nice when you spend some time with a customer just talking about books and you see their eyes glow with anticipation to read the books you showed.

Reading books is great, but sharing the books you love with other people is even better.

JKB: I think we can all agree that the ABC bookstore, and Tiemen, are so full of fabulosity that they will become a direct stop if you’re ever in Amsterdam (or plan to make a book-trek *raises hand*).

Thank you SO much, Tiemen, for being so great and allowing us to feature ABC on the blog!

Mixed Up Files member
  1. YAY, thanks guys! I really appreciate your kind words! ABC is a tremendous store, and if Tiemen as a representative is anything to go by, imminently classy and super cool to boot!!!

  2. Yay Tiemen, lovely interview! 🙂 As a bookseller at ABC The Hague I *have* to mention that there is going to be a Children’s Book Fair there Nov. 26th – 28th. It’s geared more towards the younger-than-middle-school crowd, but if you’re in the neighborhood, please drop by!

  3. Go Tiemen go!!!! Thanx for taking this one on. It’s a great interview and I love the little clip and pictures. What a wonderful store we have (and another one in The Hague) and what a terrific bunch of people we have working here!

  4. That’s so interesting. I was surprised to learn there was such a large American bookstore in Amsterdam. and I didn’t realize so many spoke English over there.

  5. I love hearing about an American bookstore in the heart of Amsterdam! It’s interesting that the same kinds of book that are hot here, are hot there, too. Hmm…are our seemingly global tastes converging, I wonder?

    Thank you for bringing this bookstore to our blog!