Monday, January 08, 2007

So Many Ideas, So Little Brain Matter

I was beginning to fear that I was burnt out—used up—and the store closing was going to somehow signal an end to my understanding of the book world. In my overactive imagination I saw this gigantic hand reaching down from the book heavens and ripping a trail of pages from my brain, leaving me a drooling, illiterate mass on the couch, capable of only watching Law & Order reruns. Not that there is anything wrong with L&O episodes or formula crime dramas in general, but that was a scary, scary future that I did not want to have to face.

So I took a break, only logged on to the computer to check my email (Okay, and start the foundations of a Manga referral business for a coworker, but that doesn’t count), and spent some time hanging out with friends. We went out for sushi, I learned to make macaroni and cheese from scratch for a girl’s night extravaganza, and we had a pizza/beer fest that somehow turned into a world wrestling match and a fight for dominance over the Wii. And when I was at the store, it was all about the books and the customers I liked. The favorites have all been informed that we’re leaving now, they’ve asked their questions (But where are you going to go?) and now they’re trying to come up with their own solutions (Il Postino really thinks I should use my biology degree despite the many times I’ve told him that that ship has sailed). Sure, the vultures are disheartening (“So…when are your prices going to get even lower?”) and it seems like the question out of everyone’s mouth is still “You’re closing?” But overall we’re doing okay, and my book senses are starting to tingle again.

And these tingling book senses, when their not signaling a sneeze, tell me that there is a lot of interesting stuff going on in the book world right now. Stuff we should really talk about. Given that it is a new year and a new start, I’m going to once again post a list of interesting stuff I’ve heard about in the book world in the fervent hope that I will pick up these topics again and run with them later on this week (or even later on today):

1. Marta alerted me to this—and posted it on her blog: 50 Cent is launching an imprint through MTV/Pocket Books under the G-Unit name. And then today in Shelf Awareness I find this article referencing a feature from the Baltimore Sun:

“In a long feature, yesterday's Baltimore Sun shed some light on street lit. Sean Bentley, buyer of black fiction at Borders, told the paper that “African-American literature has seen double-digit growth in the last few years” and that urban literature accounts for about 25% of his purchases. “It is popular,” he continued. “It is speaking to a group of people that for a long time did not have an opportunity to have their lives told.”
Likewise, Vicki Stringer, the street lit writer and publisher who wrote her first work in prison and now owns Triple Crown Publications, a major street lit house, said that the genre “is going to continue to grow. It is very similar to music and clothing. Now it is literature. Everything is urban. Generation Y has an appetite for it.””

The crossover appeal of urban lit is surprising, and an area of the market I would really like to discuss. I’ve sold Triple Crown books to middle class kids living the world of the streets vicariously through the written word, to professional women and men, and to people who experience a less glamorized version of the life-styles portrayed within the books everyday.

2. I received an email recently from Suzanne Portnoy, author of The Butcher, the Baker and the Candlestick Maker: an Erotic Memoir. While Suzanne’s memoir has been selling well in Great Britain, it has failed to make any progress stateside, something her publisher blames on the fact that sex doesn’t sell well here. Now she wants to know why, and so do I. Given our thriving romance novel industry, one would think that a frank exploration of a woman or man’s sexual discovery would do well. Or perhaps not, considering our Puritan roots and all. Then again, marketing might be to blame as well because the problem we always had with erotic novels and memoirs at the bookstore was where to shelve them? More often than not they ended up in the “Relationship” section, where no one would think to look.

3. Speaking of marketing, Karen Templeton’s Romancing the Blog column, “Marketing? Are you there?” could be applied to almost any genre (fiction or nonfiction) out there. Why does marketing go so wrong on an internal level? Are the playing to trends and not the book’s strength? Is there a disconnect between the publisher and the bookselling world or something else? I’ve heard just as many stories of big chains vetoing certain cover styles because they don’t think they’ll appeal to an audience as I have of distributing houses pulling the same deal with smaller publishers. Who’s making these decisions and how close they are to the actual bookselling level remains a mystery. You can’t change the fact that you get a bad cover or cover copy that doesn’t reflect your book, but you can use it to direct the marketing you do on your own. Obviously a topic we can discuss over and over again and it will never get old.

Now these are just three things that have been on my mind in the last couple of days. I’m sure that more topics will come up now that I’m in thought mode again, but I wanted to get these down on paper. Hopefully ruminations on one of these topics will be up later depending on how my day goes, but I want to hear what you think. What interesting book news has captured your interest lately and why? What topics do want covered here?

Bring it on, kids. It’s time to get down and dirty with the book business now that my brain is once again functioning.

1 comment:

m said...

Good Luck with your new ventures!!

BTW ....an erotic book with Butcher and Candlestick Maker in the title?

Um...that may be a sexy title in Britain, but it falls flat in the US...

I used to be a Buyer for Borders back in the late 80's/early 90's. All together I was in the book business for 11 years and oh baby I am SOOOOOO glad to be out of it. I love books and being in the *business* nearly killed that love.