Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New York for Booksellers

I spent last week in Manhattan making the rounds of major publishers’ offices with LBB’s events coordinator extraordinaire, Danielle Borsch. It’s a good idea to check in face-to-face every so often to renew working relationships and introduce ourselves to the bevy of publicists who are new to their companies since the last time we visited. Since author appearances can account for up to a quarter of our monthly sales on good months, we are especially concerned that St. Louis is on the list when author tours are being booked. We came loaded down with copies of the presentation Danielle compiled, detailing our many and varied author event successes, the great St. Louis media coverage of those events, and all the wonderful organizations we partner with to make the events memorable.

The visits went well. We met with folks from Harper, Random House, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, Houghton Mifflin, MPS (St. Martin’s, Picador, Holt) and Grove. I almost had coffee with Rachel from Feminist Press at the last minute to discuss their new, 40th anniversary “trade-friendly” list, but I couldn’t organize myself to add another task on the morning of our return to St. Louis. Everyone we did meet with was great: no one fell asleep during our 1-hour presentation, and some even feigned believable enthusiasm as we detailed KMOX’s demographics and described the menu at our Friend’s reception with Alton Brown. And no one seemed to miss the chocolate business cards from Bissinger’s that we gave out a couple of years ago when we last visited. In these leaner, greener times, it seemed universally acceptable to trim down the swag.

What was immediately obvious as we were led down long hallways of vacant cubicles to small conference rooms where our meetings took place, is that the economy is the driving force behind everything these days. Everyone is looking for ways to cut costs. Last I heard, an author tour can cost a publisher about $1500 per city visited, so publicists were looking for reasons to send authors to St. Louis.

We gave them plenty of reasons, but it was actually one of them that gave us the most impressive reason to send authors to St. Louis. Carl Lennertz, Vice President for Independent Retailing at Harper, a man who has a genius for grassroots marketing, a gigantic, career’s worth of love for independent bookstores, someone whom I’m proud to call a friend, introduced us to a roomful of publicists as a great bookstore in a city that ranks 15th nationwide in book sales. I always count on Carl to know these sorts of things. I’m never sure how he knows them, but I trust him implicitly. It’s his job, after all. I also learned at this visit that coffee, like wine, can come in a cardboard box. It was so cool! The ultimate in super-sized beverages. I definitely prefer boxed coffee to boxed wine. At any rate, reason # 1 to keep St. Louis on the author tour lists: we’re in the top 15 book markets. Give yourselves a pat on the back, reading St. Louis!

Throughout the week, I made note of an assortment of vastly unimportant publishing industry detritus:
All book people have piles and piles of books and book materials everywhere. Even the fanciest of offices in the tallest of buildings lack an organized means for absorbing their embarrassment of riches.
No one thinks this is even remotely a problem. Rather, it is comforting to know that should you suddenly collapse in the line of duty, anywhere you fall, books will catch you.
The Barnes and Noble bookstore at the Lincoln Center subway stop is not the only place on that corner that you can buy coffee. There is perfectly excellent café in Lincoln Center that opens early enough in the morning for any respectable coffee drinker.
Authors love that bookstores want them to come to their stores.
Not all of these authors have books that are still in print. Case in point: my friend, novelist Jenifer Levin, whose books need to be reprinted, was delighted by the idea that we had come to New York in search of authors. (Jenifer also knows where a quietly fabulous sushi restaurant is just off Columbus Circle.) Case in point #2, Chris Bohjalian, whose books are very much in print, has let me know via Facebook, that he very much intends to visit Left Bank Books with his next book. (Someone tell his publicist!)
By and large, publicists are not necessarily baseball fans even though they’ve handled any number of baseball greats’ memoirs. Therefore, they do not really know that they should, as de facto Mets fans, be put out by a visit from Cardinals country.
There is a great Italian restaurant (Clean your plate! Nana will be offended if you don’t) on the south side of the building that is home to Random House. No idea what it’s called, but I intend to visit again.
There is an amazing restaurant downstairs from Houghton Mifflin, too: Todd English’s Olives. I’m probably the only person who thinks it’s ironic that this genius celebrity chef and restaurateur’s cookbooks are published by Simon & Schuster, not Houghton Mifflin.
There is a tiny Russian bookstore across the street from the historic Flatiron Building, home of St. Martin’s press. The Russian bookstore is on the second floor and, aside from Tales of Beedle the Bard in Russian, it looks like they last received new inventory in about 1965.
Has anyone noticed my publishing notes revolve more around food than books?
I missed a reading at an NYC independent bookstore with one of my current favorites, Jim Lynch, author of the incredible novel, Border Songs, my hands-down summer fiction pick. I was too busy eating sushi with Jenifer Levin.

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