Saturday, July 30, 2005

interesting post from Sarah Weinman's blog:

There is no better tonic than hard numbers.
And because writers are an obsessive lot -- phoning Ingram, checking Amazon, comparing their recent advances to others, wondering what the hell royalty statements really mean -- I thought that publicizing some actual figures might do the trick. Or at least stir up discussion.

Over a three week period this summer, the following sales numbers were recorded for a NYT bestselling thriller writer's most recent book:

B&N: 4,140
Waldenbooks: 4,888
Borders: 3,993
Anderson Merchandisers/Walmart: 47,671
Target: 16,341
Price/Costco: 17,291
Sam's: 14,108
Amazon: 320

I'm not sure what shocked me more: the unbelievably low number for Amazon, or just how powerful Walmart and Costco really are in the publishing business.

The author further adds:

For all their hype, the truth (and I've seen this with actual sales figures going back to 2000) is that Amazon numbers are tiny compared to virtually every other retail outlet.

Amazon makes their profit selling used books, not new ones. Maybe their low sales numbers was one of the determining factors to shift their focus toward used sales -- I don't know. But I do know that their numbers are insignificant to the pub in determining the success/failure of a book.

Surprised that some of the figures are so "low?" Bear in mind that a huge percentage of actual retail sales are from independents, grocery stores, pharmacies, outlets like that -- which don't report weekly numbers.

But the Walmart number is rather staggering, isn't it? It's one reason I put what little local/regional promotional efforts I do into cultivating Anderson reps and going on day-long road trips to sign and sticker stock for Walmarts. They get a hell of a lot of foot traffic, and sell a hell of a lot of books.

If there's a moral to the story (so to speak) it's that to get on the bestseller lists, it probably behooves the writer to get very friendly with the folks at Walmart." 7/26/2005

Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind

Friday, July 29, 2005

Poll names 'top book group novel'

British book groups have voted Barbara Kingsolver's 1998 novel The Poisonwood Bible, about a US missionary in 1950s Africa, their favourite read. Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time came second in the survey of groups entering the Penguin/Orange Reading Group Prize. Works by Khaled Hosseini, Andrea Levy and Tracy Chevalier were also in the top five books for reading groups.

The Poisonwood Bible was nominated for the Pulitzer and PEN/Faulkner awards.

More than 160 reading groups, with about 2,500 members, offered their all-time favourite books for the poll.

Modern classics

The top of the list is dominated by books published in the last decade.

Mark Haddon's work and The Kite Runner by Afghan-born author Khaled Hosseini, at number three, were both published in 2003.

Andrea Levy's Small Island, in fourth place, won the Orange and Whitbread prizes after being released last year while Tracy Chevalier's Girl With a Pearl Earring came out in 2000. Classics on the list include To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee at six, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath at 12 and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre at 16.

Guy Pringle, one of the Reading Group Prize judges, said all the novels "struck a lasting chord with passionate readers".

"Reading groups have once again made up their own minds about what they want to read - in spite of publishers' marketing campaigns," he said.

"Word-of-mouth recommendation is clearly crucial, pushing new titles like The Kite Runner instantly on to the Reading Group bestseller list alongside old favourites."

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Arts | Poll names 'top book group novel'

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Invisible Library

Want to read Jo March's "The Curse of the Coventrys" or Eccentrica Gallumbits' "The Big Bang Theory, A Personal View"? Sorry, you can't. They're fictional. Not books of fiction, but fictional books. These and all the other books listed in The Invisible Library are imaginary titles dreamed up by authors and referenced in actual works of fiction. Librarian Brian Quinette, with help from friends also obsessed with fictional fiction, has carefully cataloged hundreds of non-existent titles. Browse the names of real authors and titles to find the pseudo versions. From the "books" written by Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's novels, to the "Misery" series created by the fictional hero of Stephen King's "Misery," to the mysterious "Necronomicon" by H.P. Lovecraft's Abdul Alhazred, this library boasts lists of potentially rich reading material -- if only they existed.

Invisible Library

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Literary bonbons


June 26, 2005

Do you read chick lit? It's become such a bookstore staple that it's hard to believe it didn't even exist a decade ago. British journalist Helen Fielding is widely credited with having invented the genre with "Bridget Jones' Diary," which was published in 1996. That book was such a sensation that women writers stopped trying to emulate Jackie Collins' and Judith Krantz's over-the-top romantic confections and started writing stories about neurotic single women trying to have a cool career, lose a few pounds and find a man.

(By the way, what's Judith Krantz up to? She hasn't made an appearance on bookstore shelves since her memoir, "Sex and Shopping: The Confessions of a Nice Jewish Girl," came out in 2000, and her most recent novel, "The Jewels of Tessa Kent," was published in 1998. I think it's time for a comeback - especially since she's being used as a role model again. One of the most hotly anticipated books of this summer is an ultra-glamorous Hollywood novel called "Adored," by Tilly Bagshawe, who says she was trying to recapture the dishy, escapist fun of a Krantz novel. When "Adored" is published in July, we'll see if that's what people want to read these days; if it sells, I sure hope Judith Krantz has her computer warmed up.)

Getting back to the history of chick lit: After "Bridget Jones" hit it big, American publishers began looking for their own version of the "neurotic single woman looking for love" novel. Candace Bushnell's "Sex and the City" came out in 1996, about the same time as "Bridget Jones," but it didn't become a cultural phenomenon until the TV series started two years later. Since it takes a long time to write and publish a book, trends can take a while to blossom, and it wasn't until 1998 that American chick-lit novels began to appear. There was "Animal Husbandry" by Laura Zigman, and then, in 1999, there was "The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing," by Melissa Bank. I can't remember if the term "chick lit" was in use by then, but I do remember Bank being promoted as the more literary version of Helen Fielding.

Why worry about all this now? Because Melissa Bank has just published her second book, "The Wonder Spot," and it's kicking up a storm of name-calling among women writers who do and do not embrace the chick-lit label. Curtis Sittenfeld, author of "Prep," wrote a scathing review in The New York Times Book Review which started off: "To suggest that another woman's ostensibly literary novel is chick lit feels catty, not unlike calling another woman a slut - doesn't the term basically bring down all of us?" But she doesn't let that stop her, going on to say that "The Wonder Spot" is, indeed, chick lit, because "its appeal relies so much on how closely readers relate to its protagonist," Sophie Applebaum, an upper-middle-class Everywoman who spends her time looking for love or even a job that she likes (and is good at).

I didn't disagree with Sittenfeld's negative assessment of "The Wonder Spot" - I didn't like it either, and even though I could certainly identify with Sophie I found the book incredibly boring - but I was troubled by her harping on the chick-lit theme. Novelist Jennifer Weiner, author of fun, unabashedly commercial novels including "Good in Bed" and "In Her Shoes" (soon to be a movie starring Cameron Diaz), brilliantly analyzed Sittenfeld's entire review on her blog, Snarkspot (jenniferweiner Weiner thinks (and I agree) that book reviews are at least as much about the reviewer as about the book being reviewed, and in this case, she thinks Sittenfeld is worried about her own place in the literary pantheon. Her book bears blurbs from Dave Eggers, Thisbe Nissen, Matthew Klam and other well-respected young writers, but as Weiner points out, if you look at her entry on, you'll see that one of the other books bought by the same people who bought "Prep" was "Bergdorf Blondes" - not exactly high culture.

So what's the moral of the story? There's good chick lit and bad chick lit, just as there's good literary fiction and bad literary fiction - and maybe these labels are useless, anyway. I can hardly count the number of times I've read reviews that say, basically, "This book is chick lit, but never mind, read it anyway, it's great!" I wrote something like that myself, last summer, when I raved about Sarah Dunn's first novel, "The Big Love," which has just come out in paperback and which I would recommend in a heartbeat. The plot is nothing unusual - girl loses boy, girl has fling with cute boss, girl gets boy back and has to decide what to do with him - but the narrator's voice is so engaging that it lifts the book right out of the run-of-the-mill and into the perfect-reads category.

I think there's been a brilliant by-product of the chick-lit tidal wave, and it's that smart, well-educated young writers who probably read Jonathan Franzen and Alice Munro in their spare time have embraced the idea that books can be enjoyable and intelligent at the same time. (Not that Franzen and Munro aren't enjoyable, but you know what I mean. They're not exactly light reading.) And this realization hasn't been limited to women writers, either. Think of Nick Hornby or Tom Perrotta, who write books that might have been called "lad lit" if that spinoff label hadn't been such a dud with the reading public. Other chick-lit spin-offs now include "mommy lit," including "I Don't Know How She Does It" by Allison Pearson and "Little Earthquakes" by Jennifer Weiner; and "worker lit," which began with "The Nanny Diaries" and continues with this summer's sharp "Twins of Tribeca," by former Miramax publicist Rachel Pine. There are even chick-lit mysteries; I've devoured the Bailey Weggins books by Cosmopolitan editor in chief Kate White, and am currently enjoying "Fashion Victim," by Sam Baker, the editor of Cosmo's U.K. edition. (Though it seems kind of weird to have the top editors of sister magazines writing such similar books, I say the more the merrier.)

Of course there are bad chick-lit novels, just as there are bad literary novels - I won't mention names. But as far as I'm concerned, every balanced reading diet requires a few bonbons, and I'm glad there are plenty of literary chocolates on the shelves to choose from.

Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc. Literary bonbons

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