Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Begging for Authors from Chicago, a Continuing Saga

You may have read my post about begging Joe Meno to come up from Chicago to read from and discuss his new book, The Great Perhaps. Perhaps you don't know that the novel is somewhat inspired by Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse Five. I certainly didn't!

"It’s really a response to Slaughterhouse Five’s first line, “Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time.” It’s this flat, declarative, almost scientific statement, and he just kind of moves forward from that. "

But I certainly haven't done my best to convince publishers and authors to send Windy City authors up to Cream City. My selling points?

For authors with a budget:
--It's still cheaper transportation-wise
--Easy to fit in a schedule
--Choice of two great author escorts
--Someday we'll hotel specials at various price levels. Have I done this yet? No.

And with a smaller budget:
--Amtrak is $44 round trip. Or it's a tank of gas each way.
--We are a relatively inexpensive cab ride from downtown hotels.

Pretty much no budget:
--We host the event on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and there's no hotel stay.

The author has to be a big enough draw to make it worthwhile, or perhaps be grouped with another author that makes the event more of an event and less of just a reading.

Or maybe I or one of my booksellers just happen to really love the book and will go out of the way to do whatever we can. So I am on a quest to read Chicago authors, and be able to pitch events to their publishers when I think I could draw an audience.

My first? Gillian Flynn. I haven't been a mystery reader of late, but it's an important part of my business and I find myself being drawn to more titles (coincidentally, the same thing happened when I managed the Schwartz Mequon branch some years ago).

Flynn is more like a Kate Atkinson than a (insert name of author here who is not like Kate Atkinson). Her new novel, Dark Places, is a psychological puzzle, told mostly through the eyes of the survivor a family massacre.

Now in her early 30's, Libby Day is a broken woman, having lived off the sympathy of strangers for years, after her mother and susters were murdered by her brother. Now out of money, she decides to respond to an inquiry to speak to a group of folks who obsess over famous murders, not quite understanding at first that their challenge is to solve the cases (if unsolved) or debunk them (if solved incorrectly).

This story alternates with a multi-character perspective of the events leading up to the terrible incident in rural Kansas (echoes of In Cold Blood, anyone?) It takes place in the heyday of fear of Satanic cults and oddly enough, continues my interest in stories about the reprecussions of good and bad parenting (subject of Nancy Huston's Fault Lines and Mameve Medwed's Of Men and their Mothers, to name two wildly-divergent-in-tone novels).

I'm not good at violence but I'll take one or two incidents if they are intrinsic to the plot and not gratuitous. Flynn passes on both counts. I think this book is edited by Sally Kim (no, it's not--she left and the new editor is Sarah Knight), whom I spoke to years ago at a party in Brooklyn. If so, she also edits Lee Martin, whose novel, The Bright Forever, was shortlisted for the Pulitzer. Positioned differently, but I can still see some editorial similarities in the two stories.

We've been selling Flynn's book off our Indie Next case, with picks from bookstores all over the country. We've had the section up for a month, but since we added shelf talkers for all the titles, browsing has increased substantially. Here's the quote from Joe at Anderson's in Naperville.

"Once again, Gillian Flynn focuses on a deeply flawed protagonist. This time it's 32-year-old Libby Day, who is searching for the person who killed her family 25 years ago. Told alternatively in the present and in flashbacks to the events leading up to the horrific event, this compelling story mesmerizes even as it horrifies."
--Joe Strebel, Anderson's Bookshop, Naperville, IL

How could I have made this event work? A second author? A local tie-in? A bunch of really great reads on staff and then work, work, work to get people to come? Oddly enough, from my Schwartz experience, we can sell books that way, but event turnout can still be quite modest. For every Linda Olsson event-acular, there is a book like Aryn Kyle's The God of Animals, where we sold a ton of books, but the event itself, wonderful as it was, was modest. No bomb by any means, but well under control. Usually the event needs champions outside the bookstore to make the event a blowout.

It's not too late. It could happen. But it doesn't matter, I've now got a good summer reading book to recommend.

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