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Marketing books has always been a tough business, but these days authors are joining forces with the publicity machine and working everything from fashion layouts to product endorsements to keep their amazon.com rank at the top.
“It can definitely get creative,” said Emily Giffin, author of four novels, including the current bestseller “Love the One You’re With.” Giffin, who was in Boston last week on a book tour, missed her reading at a local Barnes & Noble because of a canceled flight. But no worries – that wasn’t her only Hub event. She had plenty of time to make it to her book party at J. Crew, where shoppers could buy “Love,” get discounts on clothes and sip cocktails.
All in the name of sales.
Giffin, 36, isn’t a stranger to this. She appeared in a Bloomingdale’s advertisement in 2004 to promote her novel. She also made a guest appearance on “As the World Turns” last year – playing herself as a guest on a fictional talk show to – you guessed it – promote her book.
“I never could have anticipated the amount of time an author can spend on the promotion of a book,” she said. “You really can find yourself spending a lot of time on the business side and not writing. The key is to find the right balance. Not that I’m complaining. It’s a problem I’m very grateful to have.”
Best-selling author Jennifer Weiner, (“Good in Bed” and this summer’s release “Certain Girls,”) admitted it is an interesting time in the book world, adding that publishers expect and sometimes require an author to be an integral part of branding.
“And that, in doing so, you’ll help them earn back the advance they gave you,” Weiner wrote in an e-mail. “They expect that you’ll sit for the video interview at Barnes & Noble’s Web site, that you’ll build a MySpace page for yourself and maybe even for your characters, that you’ll do phone-ins with book clubs and online interviews with lit blogs and write magazine pieces about your lifelong struggle with enlarged pores, provided the magazine will mention your latest book in the tagline.”
Scituate novelist Claire Cook, whose third novel, “Summer Blowout,” just hit the shelves, said she owes a lot of her promotion to fans and independent booksellers, and that teaching free writing workshops has helped, too.
“Turns out karma is a boomerang, and these aspiring-writer workshops have really taken off and have become a big part of my book promotion,” she said. “But let me say that I’m going to be all over my publicist to get me a guest spot in a soap opera now. Just kidding.”
Lauren Beckham Falcone
It is hard to imagine a genre more misunderstood than memoir. Sometimes, these personal stories of our lives can illuminate the hearts and minds of writer and reader alike. Other times, they amount to little more than narcissism.
As a memoirist, critic, and teacher, Sven Birkerts is well positioned to explore this subject, and thankfully so. His “The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again,” is instructive, observant, and astute, a meditation on craft and culture by a relentlessly thoughtful writer. It is even at times a memoir itself, as honest and artful as any he examines.
Memoir, Birkerts writes, requires the juxtaposed perspectives of past and present, of what one recalls and how one recalls it. The recollection should be intuitive rather than chronological, a “felt past” allowing the themes of one’s life to emerge. They should be as relevant to the reader as they are defining of the writer, “universalizing the specific” in ways that assume “there is a shared ground between the teller and the audience.”
Lyrical memoirists, like Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, and Annie Dillard, have pursued “restoration, searching out recurrences and patterns, but also then allowing for the idea that pattern hints at a larger order, possibly an intention to underlying experience.” Coming-of-age memoirists, like Frank Conroy, Jo Ann Beard, and Maureen Howard, have sought to extract from this “most dramatically fraught period of our lives” a sense of “how I came to be who I now am,” Birkerts writes.
Sons have sought reconciliation with their remote fathers through memoir, as in writings by Paul Auster, Geoffrey Wolff, and Blake Morrison. Daughters have sought distance from their domineering mothers, as in writings by Jamaica Kincaid and Vivian Gornick. Still others have struggled to confront and overcome trauma in their pasts, from incest to disfigurement, like Mary Karr, Richard Hoffman, Lucy Grealy, and Kathryn Harrison, Birkerts writes. Each memoirist has traversed the landscape between past and present in varying ways, using an array of literary techniques to craft their works.
Ultimately, however, memoirists share the human desire to know themselves, for their own sakes as well as their readers. They seek to recall and re-create their lives, and, in so doing, to compel readers to do the same. “Memoir is a narrative art,” Birkerts writes, “but through its careful manipulation of vantage point it simulates the subjective sense of experience apprehended through memory and the corrective actions of hindsight. In other words it gives artistic form to what is the main business of our ongoing inner life.”
Birkerts is as incisive a literary analyst as he is eloquent a literary essayist. His occasional forays into his own life further elucidate his points by way of example, while they offer glimpses into the mind of a memoirist writing about memoirists. His book, required reading for anyone interested in the genre, is an engaging study of how we come to understand ourselves through this most personal of literary expressions.
In many ways, Ms. Pearl’s [author of Book Lust] rise in the book world parallels Seattle’s rise in the publishing world. Though the big publishing houses are still ensconced in New York, the Seattle area is the home of Amazon, Starbucks and Costco, three companies that increasingly influence what America reads.
Books by relatively unknown or foreign authors become best sellers by dint of their anointment at the hands of Amazon editors. A forgotten older paperback, recommended and featured by the book buyer at Costco, can sell more copies in six weeks than it did in the last few years combined. Almost every book Starbucks stocks in its coffee shops sells more than 100,000 copies in its outlets alone. That pushes most Starbucks selections into the top 1 percent of all books sold that year, without counting sales in other types of stores.
The three companies settled in Seattle for different reasons, and each had its own motivation for choosing to sell books. Together, though, their combined power in the book industry has put the city in the position of tastemaker.
Each company, in its own way, “guides their customers, by selecting the books they will see,” Ms. Pearl said. “New York may publish the books, but Seattle significantly defines America’s reading list.”
Industry trends suggest Seattle’s influence will keep growing. More people are bypassing bookstores and buying at mass-market merchants, online retailers and specialty stores, says Albert N. Greco, a marketing professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business Administration.
In the last two years alone, sales of consumer books sold through such nontraditional outlets grew by more than $260 million, Professor Greco said. The presence of Costco, Amazon and Starbucks ensures that “Seattle will keep making an impact on what we read,” he said.
When Kim Ricketts, founder of a book promotion company in Seattle, visited the big publishing houses in New York last month, she said she was repeatedly asked for advice on how to do business with the three Seattle heavyweights: “Publishers want to find the golden ticket — how to get their title beloved by one of these companies.”
Seattle’s literary seeds have been here for decades, with local authors, abundant writing courses and robust independent bookstores, according to J. A. Jance, the Seattle mystery author whose books have sold 15 million copies over the last 20 years. “Maybe it’s the rain, but Seattle has always been a reading town,” she said.
Over the last 10 years, the city has spent nearly $200 million to improve its libraries, including the new downtown showpiece designed by Rem Koolhaas and completed in 2004.
This love of books even seeps into the town’s corporate cultures, says Ms. Ricketts, who 10 years ago started organizing author visits for employees at Microsoft, Starbucks and other companies in the area. “The authors were always shocked at how big the crowds were and how many books they sold,“ Ms. Ricketts remembers.
The town’s enthusiasm for books may have made it easy to find well-qualified employees, but Amazon, Starbucks and Costco each occupy a different niche in the book world.
Starbucks started offering books to enhance the coffee-house experience, thinking that customers would enjoy spending more time in the shop if they had a provocative read and conversation starter to go along with their coffees and scones. They also hoped it would increase spending by each customer.
Starbucks sells just one title at a time, usually for a period of two to three months. The selections bear little resemblance to one another. Some have been almost unknown; others were already best sellers. The latest title, “Beautiful Boy,” focuses on a father trying to help his drug-addicted son.
“We wanted to find extraordinary books that would encourage people to discuss compelling issues” like war, hope, faith and family, said Ken Lombard, president of Starbucks Entertainment…
Costco has become so successful at selling books that it has become a hot spot on the author book promotion circuit. Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, and Bill Clinton have signed books in Costco warehouses.
The flip side of the success of the big Seattle booksellers is the gradual decrease in the number of small independent stores, which have struggled as a result of a variety of factors…
Book lovers as well as writers miss the corner bookstore. But Americans are busy, and if they can pick up the latest book while they’re stocking their pantry, sitting at their computer or going out for coffee, it saves them valuable time, said Brian Jud, author of “Beyond the Bookstore: How to Sell More Books Profitably to Non-Bookstore Markets.”
They just may not realize that someone in Seattle helped them choose it.
New York Times
Every now and then, someone who is brilliant says something stupid — often the result of spending too much time riding a jet stream of high praise. Steve Jobs, the co-founder and chief executive of Apple Inc., did such a thing last month when he all but declared the death of reading.
Asked about Kindle, the electronic book reader from Amazon.com, Jobs was dismissive. “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is,” he told John Markoff of The Times, “the fact is that people don’t read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year.”
This is nonsense on several levels…
Reading is something else, an engagement of the imagination with life experience. It’s fad-resistant, precisely because human beings are hard-wired for story, and intrinsically curious. Reading is not about product.
For most of my lifetime, I’ve heard that reading is dead. In that time, disco has died, drive-in movies have nearly died, and something called The Clapper has come and gone through bedrooms across the nation.
But reading? This year, about 400 million books will be sold in the United States. Overall, business is up 1 percent — not bad, in a rough economy, for a $15 billion industry still populated by people whose idea of how to sell books dates to Bartleby the Scrivener…
Last year, a survey for the Associated Press found that a much smaller number — 27 percent — had not read a book lately, which means nearly three-in-four have read a book. Steve Jobs may be many things – maestro, visionary, demi-god – but he apparently isn’t a careful reader of certain market reports.
The more compelling statistic was rarely mentioned in news accounts of the A.P. story: the survey found that another 27 percent of Americans had read 15 or more books a year. That report documents a national celebration.
Most companies would kill for a market like that – more than one-fourth of the world’s biggest consumer market buying 15 or more of its items a year. And half the population bought nearly 6 books a year. If only Apple were so lucky. The latest Harry Potter book sold 9 million copies in its first 24 hours – in English. “The DaVinci Code,” a story of ideas even with its wooden characters and absurd plotting, has sold more than 60 million copies.
By contrast, Apple reported selling a piddling 3.7 million of the much-hyped iPhones through 2007. Is the iPhone dead? Of course not. But what should be dead are foolish statements about how human nature itself has changed because of some new diversion for our thumbs.
New York Times