Sunday, June 29, 2008

SIBA Aims to Sell 100,001 Books

by Edward Nawotka -- Publishers Weekly, 6/27/2008 10:46:00 AM

Wanda Jewell wants to sell 100,001 copies of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance’s annual book prize winners between the time the prizes are announced at the Decatur Book Festival over Labor Day weekend and the end of the year. “We’re going to have a publicity blitz for the nominees and winners prior to the awards, advertise afterwards, and put them in a center spread in the holiday catalog,” said Jewell.

The prize plan is the latest of SIBA’s efforts to reach out directly to consumers. The first of these was the launch last year of “Lady Bank’s Commonplace Book.” Edited by Nicki Leone, former manager of the now defunct Bristol Books in Wilmington, N.C., “Lady Banks” is a monthly e-mail newsletter that highlights new books through interviews and reviews, most of them derived from material that has already appeared on SIBA member Web sites and blogs.

It is sent to 3,000 consumers whose replied to a survey bound into the back of last SIBA holiday catalogs. In addition, 1,300 stores receive the newsletter, as do a further 2,000 people in the industry.

Now a year old, Jewell is looking to generate revenue from the newsletter through “Lady Banks’ Bookshelf” – a marketing program that advertises five individual books each month. For $300, authors and publishers can have a cover image of their book appear across all of SIBA’s marketing vehicles and link to a permanent page about the book on the site.

Jewell has also launched a separate advertising push under the rubric “Put Your Money Where Your South.” Starting in April, Jewell has been offering $1,000 package of banner advertising across SIBA’s various Web sites, e-mail blasts and newsletters for half price. “So far,” SIBA executive director Wanda Jewell reports, “we’ve had a dozen authors and a handful of small presses with one or two books take advantage.”

Lastly SIBA is expanding its “Authors Round the South” Web site, which lists author appearances at SIBA stores, to include listings of author availability and terms. Dubbed “STARS” – as in the Southern Touring Author Registry Service – the program will “be like a mini speaker’s bureau,” said Jewell. The plan is that anyone interested in booking an author for an event, such as a civic or school group, will need to arrange it through a SIBA member store. Initially, STARS will be free to authors, but “after a year should they wish to continue participating, they will be asked to become SIBA members,” said Jewell.

Monday, June 16, 2008

TV Documentary Chronicles Indies' Challenges

by Edward Nawotka -- Publishers Weekly, 6/16/2008

Paperback Dreams, a new documentary by San Francisco filmmaker Alex Beckstead, chronicles the history of Bay Area bookstores Cody's Books and Kepler's Books and Magazines, and in doing so, it offers a microcosm of the struggles faced by many independent booksellers over the past 50 years.

The film, which will run on PBS stations starting in November, begins with the opening of Kepler's near Stanford University in 1955, documents Andy Ross's purchase of Cody's in 1977 and follows the impact of the Internet age of the late 1990s. It ends with the closing of Cody's San Francisco location and a depiction of Kepler's ongoing struggles to remain open.

Ross, who now works as a literary agent, and Kepler's president Clark Kepler are featured in the film, along with Powell's bookstore owner Michael Powell, Grove Atlantic publisher Morgan Entrekin and others.

A native of Salt Lake City, Beckstead grew up shopping at the King's English Bookshop, Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore and the now-defunct Waking Owl. After he moved to San Francisco, Beckstead became a fan of Kepler's and Cody's. “I worked in Menlo Park on documentaries and bought a lot of my books for research at Kepler's,” Beckstead said. “When I heard Kepler's was closing [briefly in 2005], I was shocked: it's in one of the most affluent, educated cities in America—just 15 minutes from Stanford University—and it made me realize that if an independent bookstore couldn't survive there, there must be a larger story.”

To research the film, Beckstead followed developments at the stores over the past years and interviewed dozens of insiders. Production wrapped last September. Funding came from the Independent Television Service, KQED Public Television and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, along with numerous donors. The total cost was approximately $300,000—half the typical budget for an hour-long PBS documentary.

Beckstead said his research revealed four elements essential to the survival of an independent bookstore:

  1. Own your own building. “It's why Cody's moved off of Fourth Street; it's why Kepler's closed in 2005—a big hike in your lease can put you out of business.”
  2. Hire experienced staff. “Bookstores that work have people that have been in the business for six, eight, 10, 20 years. That's a big part of why Green Apple Books and Moe's Books have survived in San Francisco.”
  3. Sell used books. “There's an art to knowing how to buy and sell used books. The margins are good, but it is a deep pond to jump into.”
  4. Figure out some way to sell books online. “Stores need to find a way to break their geographical boundaries. A corollary to that is to sell books outside your store—at school events, local film festivals. Kepler's has been really successful in that regard.”

“The bad news,” added Beckstead, “is if you haven't been doing these things for 10 to 15 years, it's not likely you'll catch up.”

Beckstead held a preview screening of Paperback Dreams for booksellers during BEA, and said he plans to work with bookstores to set up screenings of the documentary in their hometowns. “I want stores to use this film as a conversation starter and an opportunity to tell their community their own story.”

Beckstead also plans to launch a wiki on that will offer tips on how stores can shoot their own videos. “The thing is, there are very few, if any, people who dislike an independent bookstore,” Beckstead said. “But they don't do a good job of getting their own story out. If anything, I hope this film makes people take a little more interest in the stores in their communities.”

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Three Ways of Looking at Hemingway: A.E. Hotchner, Nathaniel Rich and Joyce Carol Oates

By EDWARD NAWOTKA / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

Ernest Hemingway's reputation as hunting- and fishing-obsessed outdoorsman, fond of both drink and women, makes it sound as if he would have been as at home in Texas as he was in Cuba or Key West.

The only problem would have been his inability to play football. As quoted by A.E. Hotchner in his new book The Good Life According to Hemingway, he admits "I was not good at football ... I couldn't figure out the plays. I used to look at my teammates' faces and guess who looked like they expected the ball." The Good Life, a compendium of stories and aphorisms, is one of a trio of new books offering a perspective on the writer's legacy.

Mr. Hotchner, 87, calls himself "The Last Man Standing" among Hemingway's old friends. He met Hemingway in 1948 and traveled extensively with the writer, adapting For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Nick Adams Stories for television. After Hemingway's death in 1961, he wrote three other books about the man nicknamed "Papa."

The words he collected here, Mr. Hotchner claims, don't appear in Hemingway's work, but are nevertheless familiar ("Courage is grace under pressure" is credited to him, for example, as is "Never mistake motion for action"). It's vintage stuff, with Hemingway talking about his writing, famous friends, explorations. Of course, vintage isn't always desirable. Take, for example, Hemingway's opinions of women. (You can look up the quotes on your own.)

Mr. Hotchner – "Call me Hotch," he says when I reach him by phone at home – says he compiled this book as one last attempt to "show off Hemingway's use of language and imagery" to a new generation of readers. "Hemingway kind of invented his own language and left out adjectives," Hotch explains.

Indeed, it is Hemingway's terse, unembellished writing rather than his mythic lifestyle that has had the strongest influence on American letters.

"I see more fiction submissions employing that type of plain style than any other," says Nathaniel Rich, senior editor at The Paris Review.

Mr. Rich used Hemingway's larger-than-life persona as a model for Constance Eakins, a fictional writer at the center of his new novel The Mayor's Tongue. A highly entertaining, erudite book, The Mayor's Tongue tells parallel stories that eventually dovetail. The first is about an old man lamenting the disappearance of his best friend. The second concerns a recent college grad who befriends Eakins' biographer (a figure who, coincidentally, sounds a bit like Mr. Hotchner) and finds himself compelled to search for the long lost Eakins in Italy.

Eakins is depicted as part monster, part man and all myth, the type of adventurer scribe largely absent from today's literary scene.

"The he-man writer no longer really exists today," Mr. Rich says by phone from his office in New York, "It's anachronistic and grotesque, though deeply appealing."

In Wild Nights, Joyce Carol Oates offers her own portrait of Hemingway, albeit one taken from the very end of his life as he contemplates suicide. The story, titled "Papa at Ketchum, 1961" is one of five fictional accounts of the deaths of other writers, which include Poe, Twain, Dickinson and Henry James.

Here, Ms. Oates takes the opposite tack of Mr. Hotchner and Mr. Rich, depicting the writer, Papa in this case, as entirely diminished, "a sick broken-down old drunk with quivering eyelids, palsied hands, swollen ankles and feet" and no sexual capacity.

She imagines Hemingway as a bitter misogynist who, she asserts, would have murdered his fourth wife, Mary (here called "the woman"), along with killing himself. It's a powerful, if merciless, and original portrait. It also stands in almost direct contrast to Mr. Hotchner's treatment.

Which you prefer ultimately depends on how you choose to remember Hemingway. He was, it seems, many things to many people. Of all these, perhaps Mr. Rich's doppelgänger, one hewn entirely from imagination, is the closest we might ever get to the truth.

Edward Nawotka is a freelance writer in Houston.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Three questions with Emily Giffin

Emily Giffin, whose Love the One You're With sits at No 3. on the New York Times Bestseller list, was in Texas this past week. Here's some of what she had to say about her new book and life as a bestselling author (including a great anecdote with a surprise ending about dining with an Texas NBA legend):

What is the new novel about?

The one that got away. It's about the conflict between following your bliss and being loyal to those you already have in your life. In the book, Ellen, 33, a photographer in New York City, has been married only three months when she runs into an old flame who makes her question her decision. She has an emotional journey. I had this happen so early in her marriage because I didn't children to complicate things -- they change the whole emotional landscape. I actually think the first year of marriage is the hardest and is filled with analysis.

In the novel the protagonist moves from New York to Atlanta, where you live. Do you require the story to have autobiographical element as a catalyst that gets you to start writing?

A few years ago, I moved from London to Atlanta, so that is similar. And while my books are not autobiographical, I do like to have something to help me identify with the characters in the books. In Something Borrowed, my first novel, the main character is turning 30 and I was turning 30 as I wrote it. In the second book, Something Blue, we have little in common other than the fact we both lived in London. In Baby Proof - well, I had twin boys the time... But with this book, no I've never had second thoughts.

What is the most surprising thing to happen to you since you've become a bestselling author?

My third grade teacher, Mrs. Dando, came to a reading I gave in Philadelphia. She still had a class photo of ours which I'd sent to her to say "you're my favorite teacher." Another time, I was having lunch with former Houston Rockets basketball player Ralph Sampson, who is a family friend. All through lunch there were these two attractive women who kept looking over at our table. Ralph is 7'4" and is used to a lot of attention. The women started walking over and I said to him, "You must get this all the time." Then they stopped at our table, leaned over and said, "Are you Emily Giffin?" Now that surprised both of us.