Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Network is Growing

It's ironic in that tomorrow, the 16th, Judy and I leave for our annual warmth, water, and sunshine vacation in Virgin Gorda--one of the most beautiful places left in the Caribbean (we return on March 1). And yet, for the first time in 13 years, I have a reluctance to go, because the work here has been so exciting over the past month and a half that a good part of me doesn't want to leave. I fear I am becoming a bookaholic.

This excitement is fed by many streams. In early January I emailed 109 writers we've published asking if they would be interested in helping form a "collective" of sorts by joining together to spread the word about the quality fiction we publish. I offered them advance copies of any book we're going to publish or have published in the past, at cost ($8/copy, including mailing)--or $88 for all 13 novels coming out this year, with some bonus books thrown in. (This same offer, incidentally, is open to any of you reading this blog). My hope was that they would talk up the books they liked, post reviews on blogs or, suggest them to book clubs at a 50% discount, and think of other avenues for spreading-the-word. The results have been heart-warming: 34 of them wanted to be on an email list where we would send them pre-publication reviews so that they could order any titles of interest. 24 chose to be on this "pick what you want" list; 8 subscribed for everything, and one--Joan Schweighardt--signed up two of her writer friends so that we have a small nest of these "word-of-mouthers in Albuquerque, and 10 full year subscriptions. Joan, who wrote Virtual Silence, Homebodies, and Island, which we published between 1992 and 1995 (and who has also worked in publishing as an agent) developed her own word-of-mouth network several years ago. "I stopped relying on print reviews a long time ago," she said. "The best book recommendations always came from friends who know me. One of the things we do over Christmas is give one another three of the books we read in the past year that we were most excited about." Great appreciation as well to Charles Davis, a Brit who lives in France, who downloaded Daniel Klein's The History of Now and whose masterpiece, Walk On, Bright Boy, we published last year. The review he wrote--a brilliant analysis of Klein's novel, would make him a finalist for a reviewer's "Oscar" if they ever had such awards.

Another stream has had to do with discovering some extraordinary non-professional reviewers through places like Library Thing, where we've offered 20 free copies of recent and future titles which are quickly snapped up. 15 may never see the light of day online, a few others may write reviews that are positive or negative, but the writing isn't something that thrills or captures my imagination. But every now and then, I read a review that is so articulate, so richly expressed and profound that one wants to embrace the reviewer as a literary soul-mate. Bloggers like Wisteria Leigh, Allison Campbell and Heather Tieg come immediately to mind, and I welcome being able to share good books with them. Then there are people like Rebecca Durfor who published a modified version of my third blog, "Saving Quality Fiction" on RebeccasReads, featuring it as an editorial. Or Clark Isaacs, who is a fellow literary junkie and blogger.

A final network stream had to do with writing to over 50 print reviewers who we'd been sending advance copies of every book we've published for the past 10 or 15 years, with diminishing returns, telling them that this process was like treading water in a rip tide, and proposing the same email system as we started using with our supportive authors. 24 of them responded affirmatively, and after sending them our last 6 reviews in Publishers Weekly, several asked to see specific titles (including a reviewer who hadn't covered us for a half-dozen years who now guaranteed coverage for two titles). So all this adds to my excitement. It's a privilege to be in touch with print reviewers with whom you can have an exchange; a sharp contrast to people like Michiko Kakutani at The New York Times, who we've sent books to for 15 years without ever getting a response to a letter, an email, or a telephone call. It's liberating to send selectively to two dozen reviewers and stop knocking on the doors of people who will neither review your books nor talk to you.

Given all these changes, some pretty terrific things have been happening with or February, March and April releases. Efrem Sigel's The Disappearance sold out one week after publication and another printing will be delivered by February 25. Efrem's novel and Danny Klein's The History of Now have both made upcoming Indie Next Notable Lists from the American Booksellers Association (which picks the top 40 titles published every month by virtue of booksellers' nominations). Both were also purchased by Blackstone Audiobooks, for those who like to "read" while driving. And our April novel, Ivan Goldman's The Barfighter, has been getting pre-publication raves both here and in the U.K. Reviews for all these books can be seen on our website: .

Lastly, some years ago a visitor at the Frankfurt Book Fair mentioned that China would be increasingly open to Western literature. Now, with excellent representation in China by Jackie Huang and Daisy Wang at the Nurnberg Agency, these women have, over the past three weeks, made 5 subrights sales for our books, consisting of The History of Now and all 4 of Chris Knopf's Sam Acquillo mystery series (The Last Refuge, Two Time, Head Wounds, and the forthcoming Hard Stop due in May).

So it's off on vacation later today. But I can't wait to get back home at the end of February, hear from you, catch up on work, and post another blog during the first week in March. I would hope, if you find these blogs worthwhile, that you will subscribe to them if you haven't already done so, and pass them on to others who might have some interest. It all helps us expand the network.