My New Book Networks
by Martin Shepard
For the first time in 13 years, I was reluctant to go on vacation this spring because the work at Permanent Press has been so exciting. I fear I am becoming a bookaholic.
This excitement is fed by many streams.
Creating a Collective
Early this year, 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 our quality fiction.
I offered them copies of any book we’re going to publish or have published in the past, at cost ($8 per 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.)
My hope was that they would talk up the books they liked, post reviews of them on blogs and/or at Amazon.com, suggest them to book clubs at a 50 percent discount, and think of other avenues for spreading the word.
The results have been heartwarming: more than three dozen authors wanted to be on an email list so they would get prepublication reviews and be able to order any titles that interest them; and 14 subscribed for the full year’s worth of reading. One of our novelists, Joan Schweighardt, even signed up two of her writer friends so that we have a small nest of these word-of-mouthers in Albuquerque.
Joan, who wrote Virtual Silence, Homebodies, and Island, which we published between 1992 and 1995, has also worked in publishing as an agent and developed her own word-of-mouth network awhile back. “I stopped relying on print reviews a long time ago,” she says. “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.”
Reaching Today’s Reviewers
Another stream feeding my excitement has do with discovering some extraordinary nonprofessional reviewers through places like Library Thing, where we’ve been offering 20 free copies of recent and future titles, which have been quickly snapped up.
Some reviewers may never post their views online; a few may write reviews that don’t thrill me or capture my imagination. But every now and then, one of these reviews is so articulate, so richly expressed and profound that I want to embrace the reviewer as a literary soulmate. 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 post, “Saving Quality Fiction,” on RebeccasReads, featuring it as an editorial. And Clark Isaacs, a fellow literary junkie and blogger.
A final network stream has to do with writing to more than 50 print reviewers to whom we’d been sending advance copies of every book we’ve published for the past 10 or 15 years, with diminishing returns. I told them that this process was like treading water in a rip tide, and I proposed the same email system we’ve started using with our supportive authors.
Twenty-four of them responded affirmatively, and after we sent them our last six Publishers Weekly reviews, several asked to see specific titles (this group included 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 we can have an exchange—a sharp contrast to people like Michiko Kakutani at The New York Times. We’ve sent books to her 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 networks, some pretty terrific things have been happening with our February, March, and April releases.
Efrem Sigel’s The Disappearance sold out an initial printing of 2,500 copies one week after publication, and a second printing of 1,000 more a week later. A third printing of 2,500 has recently been delivered.
The economic downturn has been helpful for us inasmuch as our hardcover printer—having suffered a drop-off in orders—can now deliver a second printing within two-and-a-half weeks of its being requested.
Efrem’s novel and Danny Klein’s 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 Barfighter, has been getting prepublication raves—which are posted on our Web site, of course—both here and in the U.K.
Lastly (so far), 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, we made five subrights sales for our books within three weeks.
I did go on vacation, as scheduled, and we had a wonderful time. But I couldn’t wait to get back home to catch up on work—and on networks.
Martin Shepard, along with his wife, Judith, founded The Permanent Press in 1978. Publishing primarily quality fiction, it has gained over 80 literary citations and awards and published 360 titles, most of which are still in print. Operating from an old farm property in the Hamptons (complete with warehouse), they do their own distribution. To reach Martin Shepard, write 4170 Noyac Road, Sag Harbor, NY 11963; call 631/725-1001; or email email@example.com. His blogsite is thecockeyedpessimist.com.