Monday, September 24, 2007

Booksellers Look To Syndicate Radio Show

Publishers Weekly, 9/24/2007

Since May 2006, booksellers Pat Grant and Elisabeth Grant-Gibson, owners of Windows A Bookshop in Monroe, La., have sunk more than $60,000 into The Book Report, a weekly radio book show that has been broadcast on their local AM station, KMLB 1440. Guests have included numerous notables, such as T.C. Boyle, James Lee Burke and Nancy Pearl. But despite attracting an unquantifiable number of live listeners plus 2,000 people who download archived podcasts from the site each month, finding deep-pocketed national sponsors has proved more of a challenge.

The booksellers pay just $150 per week to produce and broadcast the hour-long show, but three major Web site upgrades, as well as marketing materials that include sample CDs and glossy brochures, have put the booksellers tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket. The pair continues to hope to earn back their investment by selling half of the 12 minutes of available advertising time to national publishers.

To make the show more attractive to publishers, Grant and Grant-Gibson are trying to syndicate the show and are offering it free to any bookseller willing to pay a local radio station to broadcast it. “There is a second six-minute slot in each hour of radio that is typically dedicated to local advertisers,” said Grant-Gibson, “and by using that slot for advertising events for their store, they are able to localize content. It is, essentially, a marketing expense.”

So far, only Mary Gay Shipley, owner of That Bookstore in Blytheville in Blytheville, Ark., has brought the show to her market. For the past year, Shipley has paid $150 a week to KLCN 910 AM in Blytheville to run The Book Report. “I like that there's a Southern flavor to it and that it's affordable,” said Shipley, who goes to KLCN's studio each week to record six minutes promoting the bookstore and local author events. Shipley also said she's often been able to sell advertising space on the show to other Blytheville retailers—such as a local hairdresser—thus often covering the costs of the broadcast. “I don't understand why [booksellers] haven't signed on,” said Shipley. “If you can resell those six minutes you can really make some money.”

Grant-Gibson is in discussions with three additional bookstores—CoffeeTree Books in Morehead, Ky.; Lorelei Books in Vicksburg, Miss.; and Page and Palette in Fairhope, Ala.—to sponsor a broadcast of the show. While none has committed, Grant-Gibson remains hopeful.

The Southern Independent Bookstore Alliance is also giving the show a push at the forthcoming SIBA trade show, where Grant and Grant-Gibson will be staffing a booth, and where previous guests of the show, including novelists Will Clarke and Deborah Wiles, will sign CDs of their interviews. SIBA is also listing the show in the more than one million holiday catalogues that will be distributed to member stores.

“Every week we take off the headphones, look at each other and say, 'That was a great show,' ” said Grant-Gibson. “The authors are always telling us it's one of the best interviews they've had and we ask questions no one else asks. Now we need their publishers to get on board as advertisers.”

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Oklahoma Bookstores


by Edward Nawotka -- Publishers Weekly, 9/10/2007

Oklahoma, formed as a state from Indian Territory on November 16, 1907, celebrates its centennial anniversary this year. The intervening 10 decades have taken the state from the dust bowl privation depicted in John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath to a present-day state of prosperity.

In 2007, the 3.5 million Oklahomans enjoy a booming economy, largely funded by oil and gas, which has given them the third fastest-growing per capita income anywhere in the U.S. The annual per capita income of $32,210 per person may be well below the American average (Oklahoma ranks just 37th among the states), but the cost of living is also proportionally low. This means that while the state ranked 47th among states in per-student expenditures in 2006, it still took first place for early childhood and pre-kindergarten education. Oklahoma also had the highest percentage of high school graduates among the Southern states—suggesting the state should be rife with readers.

That said, Oklahoma is hardly saturated with bookstores. Among the national chain booksellers, Borders is most pervasive, with eight Waldenbooks locations and two superstores in the state. Barnes & Noble has five stores, while Books-a-Million has just one.

Gianna LaMorte, sales rep for Random House, said that among the chains in Oklahoma, Hastings has the most potential to grow. With 12 locations, many of them in out-of-the-way locales, “they have become destination stores for many shoppers,” said LaMorte. She added, “The long driving distances in Oklahoma mean that audio books are especially popular, both at Hastings and independent stores, like Full Circle in Oklahoma City.”

Full Circle Bookstore became familiar to many in the publishing community in the weeks immediately following September 11, 2001, when booksellers there found themselves recommending books to cope with the trauma of a terrorist attack, knowledge they acquired helping locals deal with the aftermath of Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995.

At 7,500 square feet, it is the largest independent store in the state and the best known. Owner Jim Talbert says that the last five years of economic boom in Oklahoma City have helped stabilize bookselling in the area, with few stores opening or closing. “The biggest impact on our business in recent years,” said Talbert, “was when Barnes & Noble and Borders opened up in nearby Norman,” the state's third-largest city and home to the University of Oklahoma. “That drained away business that would drive in to buy books from us.”

To help differentiate his product mix, Talbert started publishing local-interest titles under the Full Circle Books imprint. One title, OKC: The Second Time Around by Steve Lackmeyer and Jack Money, a narrative and photographic history of Oklahoma City, has sold more than 2,000 copies.

In the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond, Julie Hovis, owner of Best of Books Inc., said the real competition is online. “People who don't have a bookstore near them don't want to have to get into a car to get what they want,” said Hovis.

Elsewhere in Oklahoma, independent bookstores are spread thinly—from the Bookseller in Ardmore, down near the Texas border, to Brace Books & More in Ponca City up next to Kansas. In Tulsa, Oklahoma's second-largest city, Steve's Sundry Books & Magazines is the lone independent booksellers alongside two Barnes & Noble stores, two Borders outlets and a Waldenbooks.

Penguin children's book sales rep Jill Bailey makes just three stops in the state on her sales rounds. “There are so many smart book people in the state,” she said. “In some towns you get the sense that they're just not brave enough to try. They should: the book buyers are out there.”

Overall, the American Booksellers Association counts just eight member stores, while the Christian Booksellers Association has some two dozen members—no surprise in a state where nearly a third of the population identify themselves as members of the Southern Baptist Alliance.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Last Action Hero

Lone Survivor reviewed in the New Statesman
Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson Little, Brown, 400pp, £17.99

Texan men take great pride in their bravery. The doomed defenders of the Alamo are immortalised as the first heroes of the Lone Star State. Audie Murphy, another Texan, came to symbolise heroism to the nation during the Second World War. After winning more than 30 medals, including the US's highest military Medal of Honor, Murphy went on, unsurprisingly, to have a Hollywood career. George H W Bush is another Texas war hero - having been shot down in the Pacific during the war, he went on to become president.

In the country's latest wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the most recent "hero" to emerge is also Texan. His name is Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell and he has more modest ambitions: trained as a medic by the US navy, he merely wants to study med icine at Yale.

Luttrell has been propelled into the public gaze by his lengthily titled memoir Lone Survivor: the Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10. It recounts how, on 28 June 2005, he and three other Navy Seals were dropped on a mountainside in the rural Hindu Kush in eastern Afghanistan to carry out a reconnaissance mission and, if possible, assassinate the Tali ban warlord Ben Sharmak.

Shortly after landing, the men were surprised by a trio of unarmed Afghan goatherders. The team had to choose: kill them and face possible war crimes charges or free them and risk their telling the Taliban about the soldiers' position. The Seals took a vote and Luttrell, a native of Huntsville, Texas - home to the state's infamous Death Row - voted to offer the Afghans a stay of execution.

He now calls that "the stupidest, most southern-fried, lamebrained decision I ever made in my life". Perhaps, in a way, it was: before he was rescued nearly a week later, two of Luttrell's team members died in his arms, his best friend died as he called his name for help, and a further 16 Special Forces soldiers perished when their helicopter was shot down by an RPG while attempting a rescue. It became known as the most tragic day in the history of the US Special Forces.

Luttrell's story shot to the top of US bestseller lists. It's easy to see why - at a time when confidence in the "war on terror" is at an all-time low, Luttrell offers a feel-good, swashbuckling testament to the bravery of the men on the frontlines. He describes in detail how he, along with his teammates Matthew Axelson, Danny Dietz and Michael Murphy, killed perhaps half of the 100 to 150 Taliban who attacked the team before they themselves were shot apart piece by piece. Luttrell, his leg shredded by an RPG, with three cracked vertebrae in his back and a broken nose, is only saved by chance when he's found by an Afghan doctor who takes him in and, along with his fellow villagers, vows under the 2,000-year-old Pashtun tradition of tribal hospitality to protect him with their lives.

Lone Survivor is every bit as thrilling as Mark Bowden's 1999 bestseller Black Hawk Down - but it is also provides a disturbing insight into the physiology, psychology and politics of elite soldiers. Luttrell's world-view has been formed by peering through a sniper scope: he sees only friends and enemies. Texans - especially President George Bush - Christianity, bravery, loyalty and self-sacrifice are good; the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Geneva Convention are bad.

His political views are equally polarised. At the same time as Luttrell extols the virtues of his fellow Seals, he derogates those on the left, especially lawyers and the media, whom he blames for the death of his fellow soldiers. Describing his decision not to execute the Afghans, he writes: "I'd turned into a fucking liberal, a half-assed, no-logic nitwit, all heart, no brain, and the judgement of a jackrabbit." Luttrell's convictions may have endeared him to US conservatives, but they have made him few friends in the liberal media.

Edward Nawotka is a reporter for Bloomberg News

'The War I Always Wanted': A vet writes about Afghanistan and Iraq

Reality replaces myth for a gung-ho soldier in this battle-worn memoir
12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, September 9, 2007
By EDWARD NAWOTKA / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

When the moment came for 24-year-old Brandon Friedman to lead his unit of the "Screaming Eagles" of the 101st Airborne Division into combat in Afghanistan in 2002, he was hungry for the experience.

"Massive bombing. Snipers. Mortars. And most of all, payback for September 11. It sounded great. It was everything I ever wanted as a kid," the Dallas resident writes in his new memoir, The War I Always Wanted.

Over the next two years in Iraq and Afghanistan, reality replaced myth for Mr. Friedman. War, it turned out, was a lot more like making movies than watching them, with long stretches of mind-numbing boredom punctuated by a few moments of action.

Then there were the two freak instances that should have killed him. First, a U.S. F-16 mistakenly dropped a 2,000-pound bomb on his platoon in Afghanistan; it didn't explode, a 1-in-50 occurrence. Later, out on patrol weeks before he was due to leave Iraq, an insurgent aimed a rocket-propelled grenade at Mr. Friedman's Humvee. It would have killed everyone inside had it launched, but, as his team discovered after gunning down the attacker, the rocket failed to ignite.

Later, while backpacking through Europe, he muses on how deeply the war affected him: "I always thought it would have been easier. The soul-crushing phenomenon of fear before combat had been unexpected. It had left me more afraid of dying than ever." It also left him with a seething, post-traumatic anger that prompts him to contemplate killing a Greek barmaid who tries to overcharge him for drinks.

Throughout this terse and emotionally honest memoir, Mr. Friedman, who now works as an editor-blogger for, is equally introspective as he is descriptive. This allows readers to experience things alongside him, rather than merely gasp in awe at his heroics or sit clucking in judgment.

This intimacy differentiates his book from other fine, if partisan, war memoirs that have come before it this summer: the wry and cynical Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green by the pseudonymous Jonny Rico, and Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell's flag-waving Lone Survivor.

No, Mr. Friedman's wartime experience wasn't worthy of winning him a Medal of Honor (he did earn two Bronze Stars) or even an option for a Hollywood screenplay, but it did endow him with a wisdom beyond his years. Surviving a war, it seems, takes a bit of luck; coping with the memory and aftermath of one takes maturity.

Edward Nawotka is a Houston freelance writer.