The RUSA President's Program What You'll Read Next: the Buzz of Books brought together three speakers with diverse views on how authors, publishers, journalists, and librarians promote books to book buyers and readers.
The first speaker was best selling author Gail Godwin, who published her first book in 1970, a time when few authors got their photos on book jackets and took book tours. Publishers then relied on reviews and catalogs to promote most of their books to bookstores and libraries. They did not cooperate with the bookstores on publicity campaigns to the extent they do today. There was just the trust that books would find a market and readers.
Now Godwin spends about six months promoting each of her new books. Recently she took her younger brother, a business consultant, on a book promotion tour. After a few days he told her that he found the tour an ineffective marketing tool. Publicity was low-key and the numbers of people at book signings relatively small considering the cost of the tour. He thought sending authors to speak at libraries would get much more attention than in store book signings, especially if the events could tie in to library fundraisers. He also noted that in many cases publishers spend much time and money on books before they are published and then drop them to concentrate on other books. No other manufacturer would essentially abandon a product once it is released.
Goodwin had some other complaints about publishers. She said they give fewer advances to first authors now. The corporations that own them have been merging them and firing their editors. She never knows how long she'll get to work with anyone.
The author is taking some of the promotion of her books into her own hands. She did not like the study guide that was produced for one of her books, so she wrote her own for Evenings at Five and put it on her own website.
Godwin said that writers and readers depend on librarians to step in after the "six week shelflife of publishers." She said that books are important to readers. They help readers learn to be alone and find their essential selves. Librarians are the guardians of the selves. Most importantly, libraries are there after the buzz is over.
The second speaker was Sara Nelson, editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly and author of So Many Books, So Little Time. Nelson said that she has not always been crazy for books, but she became very hooked on reading for pleasure when she became a journalist. She started writing reviews for any publication that would take them, eventually passing through Glamour and Inside.com. She took the PW job in January 2005 with the intention of modernizing the publication. She said that PW needed more passion, which she thinks recent articles and her opinionated reviews add. She also wanted PW to review more books.
Nelson talked about "embargo books." Some publishers are trying to keep high profile books under wraps until publishing dates and then want PW and other publications to run prominent reviews at the time of publishing. She said PW will not play the game because bookstores and libraries need reviews three months before publication. She seemed almost happy that some of the "embargo books" from high public officials have turned out to be real bombs.
Nelson said one of the biggest debates at PW is which reviews get stars. Reviewers recommend them but the editors have to grant them.
She also described how PW and other publications draw up their best sellers lists. A company called Book Scan tracks sales nationally, but the information is far too expensive for the review journals (even the New York Times) to buy. To create its lists, PW polls a number of prominent book sellers and extrapolates from their figures. When someone asked whether she was saying that best seller lists were "just made up," she replied "I did not say that!" She indicated that the lists are really good guesses as to what books are selling best nationally.
The final speaker was the energetic Neal Wyatt of the Chesterfield County Public Library in Virginia. She said that libraries were both consumers of publishing industry buzz and creators of their own book buzz. She said that publishers and distributors would like to help libraries, referring to a program handout that listened book publishing groups that offered newsletters and other services, such a review galleys, to libraries. The distributors included the following.
The Hachette Book Group USA has a web page linking to library opportunities. To sign up to receive prepublication galleys, contact Nora Rawlinson at email@example.com.
Harper Collins has a web page for librarians. To get advanced copies of books, go to the First Look web page.
Holtzbrinck Publishers has a web site for librarians. The group has weekly podcasts about featured books.
Random House also has a library web page. To get advance copies of books suggested for book discussions fill out a survey.
Wyatt said that the most essential task for librarians is to talk about books. Talk is much more effective than book displays and signs in influencing the reading of library clients. She also urged librarians to listen to readers seriously and buy what they want to read.
In keeping with the title What You'll Read Next, Wyatt predicted which books soon to be released will be great library books. We should all be ordering the following:
One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson, October 2006, ISBN 0316154849
Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist, August 2006, ISBN 0385340354
Thunderstruck by Erik Larson, October 2006, ISBN 1400080665
Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke, October 2006, ISBN 1596912510
Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, August 2006, ISBN 067003777x
Other upcoming books were listed on the handout.