Bookview, April 2004

PEOPLE

Neil Ortenberg, EVP of the Avalon Publishing Group and Publisher of Thunders Mouth/Nation Books has resigned. He may be reached at (917) 620-4435.

Becky Saletan is joining Harcourt as Editor in Chief in June. She was Editorial Director of North Point Press. Tina Pohlmann is also joining as Senior Editor, Harvest. She was Senior Editor at Carroll & Graf and replaces Kati Hesford, who has resigned to join her husband who has been posted to the American Embassy in Rome. … Rosemary Ahern has joined Other Press as Executive Editor to spearhead their fiction program. She was most recently at Washington Square Press.

Chuck Adams is joining Algonquin Books “overseeing the editorial effort,” and based in Chapel Hill, though he will spend time each month in New York. He was at S&S. … Michael Kazan, EVP, Director of Business Development and Client Relations at Spier Inc., has left the company and may be reached at [email protected]. … Jeannie Bailey is moving to Nashville to work for Thomas Nelson as Director National Accounts. She will report to Ron Land. Most recently she was Director of Mass Market Sales for DK. … Kathleen Halligan, formerly manager, National Accounts Random House Children’s Books, has joined Ripe Ideas, a brand development company. She may be reached at (212) 905-3173 or kathleen@ ripeideasinc.com. … Ben Bruton, Assoc. Director of Publicity at Doubleday, is taking his title and going to Atria/S&S.

Sara Nelson, Glamour’s Senior Contributing Editor, Books, and columnist for The New York Observer, will do a regular Monday morning stint on Air America, the new liberal radio network.

Atlanta-based The News Group has opened new offices in New Jersey to service the book publishing community. Sharon Hails has left Harlequin after eight months, to become VP Book Sales and Marketing. Marcia Roney is Director of Book Marketing. They may be reached at [email protected] and mroneytng@ aol.com or (973) 237-9600.

PGW has hired two Marketing Managers — Eric Kettunen, former US General Manager for Lonely Planet, who replaced the departed Michele Crim, and Rick Bauer, former Senior VP of Viz, the US publisher of Japanese animation comics.

In agency news, Elizabeth Sheinkman is opening a London branch of the Elaine Markson Agency. Jennifer Repo joined the Joelle Delbourgo agency based in Los Angeles. She was at Riverhead and Perigee. Anita Diggs has joined Frank Weimann’s The Literary Group as an agent. She recently left now-defunct Savoy magazine.

Elsewhere, Gordon Macomber has been named President of the Thomson Gale Publishing Group. Macomber was most recently CEO of Merriam Webster. … Keith Titan has joined RH as VP, Director of New Media. He was Senior Director of e-publishing & e-commerce at S&S. … Michael Morrison has hired Rob McMahon as Senior Editor of Morrow/Avon. He was most recently at Putnam. … Beau Friedlander has gone to Reed Elsevier’s Reed Press as Executive Editor, working for Fred Ciporen. He had been Publisher and Editor in Chief of Context Books, and replaces Nick Weir Williams, who left recently.

Houghton Children’s Books’ Editorial Director Judy O’Malley has left the company after just over a year.

PROMOTIONS

Perseus announced that Stephen Bottum, formerly Executive Managing Editor and Publishing Manager for Basic Books, Basic Civitas, and Counterpoint, has been promoted to VP, Group Managing Editor. William Morrison Garland has been promoted from Associate Managing Editor to the position of M.E. of Basic Books, Basic Civitas, and Counterpoint. Megan Hustad has been promoted to Editor for Basic Books, Basic Civitas and Counterpoint. … James Howitt has been promoted to Director of Client and Product Development at Bookscan. He moved from the UK to the US office last April.

APRIL EVENTS

The Academy of American Poets, whose Ninth Annual National Poetry Month takes place in April, kicks off with its second annual benefit, Poetry & the Creative Mind on April 6, at Lincoln Center. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Tony Kushner, Kevin Kline, Wynton Marsalis, Louis Menand, Vanessa Redgrave, and Meryl Streep, among others, will read their favorite poems.

• The final lecture in the five-part series on the Algonquin Round Table, “Wit’s End on West 44th Street” will feature biographer Marion Meade speaking about the life of Dorothy Parker. April 13th at 6 p.m. at the Small Press Center, 20 West 44th. Call (212) 840-1840 or go to www. generalsociety.org.

Jupitermedia’s Digital Rights Management Strategies Conference will be held April 12-14 at the Crowne Plaza Times Square. The conference focuses on DRM business and technology issues and explores copyright, online piracy and other current issues. Speakers include ContentGuard CEO Michael Miron, Wiley’s Director, New Initiatives, Jonathan Stowe, and Siva Vaidhyanathan, Director, Communications Studies, NYU, and author of Copyrights and Copywrongs and the just published The Anarchist in the Library. To register email registration@ jupitermedia.com or call (203) 662-2857. Also at the Crowne Plaza this month: The April 20th PAMA luncheon features a panel discussion entitled “Break Out Books.” Denise Berthiaume is moderator and St. Martin’s John Cunningham and Lisa Gallagher and S&S/Atria’s Judith Curr will participate. Contact: [email protected].

NYU’s Center for Publishing will hold its second Management Forum for Independent Publishers on April 23-24. Speakers include Borders Phil Ollila, Harvard Business School Press’s David Goehring and keynote David Godine. Call (212) 992-3236 for details.

• The LA Times Festival of Books takes place April 24-25, and the LA Times Book Prizes will be presented at UCLA on April 24. In addition to nine category awards, the annual Robert Kirsch Award will recognize an author whose oeuvre focuses on the Western region of the US. For more information call (800) LATIMES, ext. 72366.

DULY NOTED

The Village Voice reports that Tod Sacerdoti’s How to Use Google has been at the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists for months. A 12-page PDF, it costs $1.99. Now Sacerdoti is taking the concept of short and cheap to traditional books, providing summaries of popular nonfiction books, including Jack, Straight from the Gut, and Atkins New Diet Revolution in PDF formats. He contacts publishers for rights, and claims that, “while some have said please don’t do this, some have said, please do do this.”

• The March 29th edition of the NYT contains an editorial that begins “Last September the Office of Foreign Assets Control — part of the Treasury Department — made a surprising ruling. Publishers could publish works by authors living in certain countries, including Iran, Libya, Sudan and Cuba, but they couldn’t edit them. Those countries are subject to American economic sanctions, and the office decided that to consult with an author about a manuscript was against the rules.” The editorial ends with the rousing line, “Ideas pose no risk to us until we begin to try to control them.” Separately, AAP and member publishers have met with Bush Administration officials to protest this ruling. The AAP board is meeting in April to discuss options, which are said to include the possibility of a lawsuit. Separately, PEN American Center sent a letter to the Treasury Department — and cc’d President Bush, among others — requesting “an immediate review of OFAC regulations that could be interpreted to bar or restrict in any way publication of literature.” The letter strongly suggested a First Amendment infringement. Several book and magazine publishers have already vowed to flout the ruling, and the Council on Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) stated it will support their efforts.

• Services for Spalding Gray have been planned: The first service will be April 15 at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center in New York City, at a time yet to be determined. The second service is scheduled for 5 p.m. on May 15 at the Whaling Church in Sag Harbor, N.Y.

Stick ‘Em Up!

The AAP’s Director of International Copyright Development, Patricia Judd stunned her audience at the group’s annual meeting in late-February with Jesse James-like tales of raiding unsuspecting copyshops around the globe to stamp out the estimated $500 million black-market book biz, in which copy-machine crimes are at an all-time high. That estimate, she pointed out, is based on publishers’ accounts in fewer than 50 countries and does not include Eastern Europe, South America or Internet sales. In the three months prior to her talk, Judd visited local and regional government officials and publishing associations in the eight countries where the AAP is currently proselytizing copyright-protection: China, where estimated losses reach $40 million, Thailand ($28 million), Philippines ($45 million), Taiwan ($20 million), South Korea ($38 million), Singapore ($2 million), Hong Kong ($9 million), and Malaysia ($9 million). In addition to many already successful anti-piracy ventures, springtime raids are planned for Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and other far reaches.

The AAP’s role in ending word piracy goes beyond catching violators with their hands in the printing presses. The committee — which includes big US houses such as Harper Collins, McGraw-Hill, and Random House and the overseas Cambridge University Press, Elsevier, and Oxford University Press, to name just a few — is actively negotiating with foreign governments on free trade agreements. It launched poster and letter-writing campaigns urging members of various Asian university communities to respect copyright laws. Committee Chair Deborah Wiley spoke at a meeting of the British Publishers’ Association in September 2003, and the groups may join forces on future projects in India, the Middle East and China. It also participates in the working group of the International Intellectual Property Alliance.

Plenty of lobbying is done on US soil, as well. The group presented a special report to the US Trade Representative in mid-February, which highlighted all the major territories that the AAP is engaged in anti-piracy enforcement initiatives (for more information on this report, see www.iipa.com). The group presses the US government to engage in bilateral or multilateral discussions regarding copyright protection whenever an Executive or Legislative Branch team travels abroad or when a foreign government sends a delegation to the US.

Book View, March 2004

PEOPLE

Changes in the far-flung HarperCollins realm: Carl Raymond has left ReganBooks to go to DK as Director of Marketing. Claudia Riemer Boutote has joined HarperSanFrancisco as Senior Director of Publicity. She was most recently at Workman as Marketing and Publicity Director. In New York, Mimi Kayden has been named Marketing Consultant at HarperCollins Children’s Books reporting to Diane Naughton and Susan Katz. Victoria Stapleton has been hired as Library Services Manager, from S&S. Meanwhile, HC announced that Josh Marwell has been appointed President of Sales. George Bick, SVP Sales Morrow/Avon, has been promoted to SVP Sales and now also oversees Field Sales. Brian Grogan, VP, Director of Distributor Sales, has been named SVP Distributor Sales, reporting to Bick. Nina Olmsted, VP of National Accounts, has been promoted to SVP. Mark Hillesheim, currently National Accounts Manager, has been named VP, Director of National Accounts and Backlist Sales for the General Books Group, reporting to both Bick and Olmsted. In a subsequent announcement, Carl Lennertz, VP Marketing, has been named to the newly created position of VP Independent Retailing, reporting to Marwell. Jeanette Zwart will become VP Sales, Eastern Region; Kristin Bowers has been promoted to VP Sales for the Western Region; both report to Bick. Charlie Trachtenbarg has been named Manager of Sales Analysis. He had previously been Regional Sales Manager.

Ex-S&S people are finding jobs around town: Bill Seibert was named Senior Director of Operations at Rodale. He was most recently VP Director of International Finance and Operations at S&S. Alan Smagler, who was most recently at S&S Children’s, has formed Smagler Associates, providing Executive Coaching and Management Consulting services. Smagler can be reached at (516) 295-5180 or [email protected]. And Karen Weitzman ([email protected]), former VP of Foreign Rights at S&S has agreed to act as the representative for Big Apple Tuttle-Mori Agency for China, which was previously handled by the Greenberger Agency. She joins longstanding U.K. reps, Anne Martyn and Nina Martyn, as well as French rep Marie-Pierre Robert.

Rich Kelley has moved from a consulting role to a permanent position as Director of Marketing and Membership for the NY Academy of Sciences. He was most recently SVP for Bookspan’s Computer and Science Clubs. In other Bookspan news, Joe Pittman has moved to the company’s Venus and Doubleday Book clubs, reporting to Sharon Fantera. Pittman was most recently at NAL, and has published two novels.

Nader Darehshori, previously CEO of Houghton Mifflin, has founded supplemental ed publisher Cambium Learning Inc. … Neal Goff has left Columbia House, where he had been consulting, to become EVP of Marketing at Weekly Reader Corp., reporting to the new President, Emily Swenson. … Natalie Kaire has gone to Clarkson Potter as Editor. She was most recently at Hyperion.

Ellen Beal has been named Editorial Director at Running Press. She was Director of Product Development at Berlitz International. Jennifer Kasius recently joined the company as a Senior Editor, from Crown. As of the end of March Running Press co-founder Buz Teacher will work part-time for the company, and CEO David Steinberger announced the new reporting structure: Executive Director of Sales John Whalen will become Group VP and Publisher for Running Press, dividing responsibilities for the division with COO Al Struzinski. Both will report to Steinberger. Matty Goldberg has been reassigned to Group VP and Director of Sales, reporting to new Perseus Group COO Joe Mangan.

Meanwhile, Associate Publisher Carlo DeVito has left Running Press for Penguin, where he will become Publisher of a new, yet-to-be-named, multi-faceted division, which will feature “book-plus” products, hardcover and paperback books, as well as other merchandise. And Counterpoint Publicist Patty Garcia has gone to Viking.

Publishers Lunch reports that Google has “bolstered their efforts to develop the beta feature Google Print into a major repository of online book text with the hiring of Tom Turvey.” He had been at ebrary, and before that, BN.com.

In retailing, Vin Altruda, who has been President of Borders international stores since 1997, has become President of Borders stores worldwide, assuming the responsibilities of Tami Heim, who had been president of Borders’ US stores for the last four years. Heim has resigned. Tanya Rojas has become B&N’s Director of Community Relations, replacing Judy Collins, who has left the company. Rojas previously worked as Senior Director of Communications at L’Oreal. Mary Carlomagno, who worked on marketing and sponsorships, has left the company.

PROMOTIONS


Geoff Shandler has been promoted to Editor-in-Chief at Little, Brown, a position previously held by Publisher Michael Pietsch. … Eileen Bishop Kreit has been promoted to VP Publisher at Puffin, succeeding Tracy Tang who has left the company. … Philip Turner has been promoted from Executive Editor to Editor-in-Chief of Carroll & Graf Publishers, as well as to Senior Director of the Avalon Group.

MARCH EVENTS


Romantic Times Booklovers Convention will be in NY March 24-28 and brings writers, publishers, agents, and fans together. Romance editors attending include Bantam’s Wendy Mcauley and Harlequin’s Isabel Swift. Agents include Anne Hawkins (Paul Reynolds), Nancy Coffey, and Meredith Bernstein. More than 100 writers will attend, with Barbara Taylor Bradford as a headliner. Registration is required for all options except the book fair. Go to www.romantictimes.com and click the NY Convention link or call (718) 237-1097 ext. 10.

March is the eighth annual Small Press Month, organized by Small Press Center and Publishers Marketing Association (PMA). The theme for 2004 is “Let Every Voice Be Heard! Support America’s Independent Small Publishers,” and events include The Small Press Book Fair at the Small Press Center, 20 W. 44, March 27-28. Over 200 independent book and magazine publishers take part. Admission is free. For info call (212) 764-7021 or visit www.smallpress.org.

(Meanwhile AAP has announced a national conference for independent publishers, “2005 and Beyond,” on September 10 in New York. Contact Anne Garringer at [email protected].)

DULY NOTED


The 100th anniversary of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s birthday is on March 2, and Random House has created the “Seussentennial” to celebrate it. A yearlong tribute to Dr. Seuss, “Seussentennial: A Century of Imagination” began with a 40 city tour and includes a year-long rotating exhibit at the Geisel Library at the University of California,  San Diego. Meanwhile, NEA’s Read Across America Day will be celebrated as usual on March 2.

While on the subject, The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) writes about changes at the National Endowment for the Arts. NEA literature specialist Amy Stolls is quoted saying the NEA “did get an increase in funds” for 2005. She says NEA guidelines are now only available online at www.nea.gov. Stolls is available at (202) 682-5771.

To celebrate its eight years of existence, comScore re-released the January 1996 Media Metrix Website rankings alongside the January 2004 ranking of the top Internet properties, together with some interesting stats: The number of Internet users has grown from about 20 million in 1996 to 152 million in 2004; while broadband was almost unknown in 1996, today 35-plus percent of home Internet users have broadband; e-commerce was almost non-existent in 1996. Spending in 2004 will easily surpass $100 billion. The top sites of 1996: Aol.com; Webcrawler.com; Netscape.com. The top sites of 2004: Yahoo! Sites; MSN-Microsoft Sites; Time Warner Network.

In January alone, 83.5 million Americans, or 55% of Internet users, visited either eBay (ranked fourth) or Amazon (sixth). On that note, Kosmo Kalliarekos of the consultancy The Parthenon Group stated at the recent AAP meeting that a used book is “ flipped” online five times — a number that “will doubtless expand.”

Small, Feisty at AAP

The AAP’s “Annual Meeting for Smaller and Independent Publishers” was devoted, as it has been for the past 6 years, to the small and feisty. Executive Director Pat Schroeder skipped her intro to go attend an “urgent” meeting by the Higher Ed Group to discuss textbook prices, but the conference proceeded with an ebullient and always impressive Dominique Raccah, who revealed the strategies that have made her 17-year-old Sourcebooks a 60-plus person operation with 387 titles—including its first bestseller Outsmarting the Competition, which is still in print. She told the audience to be realistic about the industry’s stagnation, and to focus on market share. Meanwhile, to help realize her lofty ambition of doubling revenues in two years, Sourcebooks has just signed a deal to publish the new Encyclopedia Britannica Almanac.

After a working lunch (participants joined whichever roundtable offered a topic of interest), NBN’s Jed Lyons presented the first Miriam Bass Award, which went to Alexander Skutt of McBooks. Skutt said he should have been awarded it for the “creative survival skills” he used when his distributor went bankrupt. He gave thanks to Edwards Brothers printers (as did Texere’s Lee Thompson) for being patient as well as creative.

The afternoon was spent reviewing cost-effective methods for small presses to sell, market and generally get business done on shoestring budgets. Eric Yaverbaum, President of the PR agency Jericho Communications, handed out four very different press releases for his book, Leadership Secrets of 100 of the World’s Most Successful CEOs, all aimed at different audiences and demonstrating a very cost-effective way to deliver the message. In a segment on sales, Bloomberg’s John Crutcher claimed that by focusing on special sales last year, they rose from 21% to 32% of total sales. And Sterling’s Marty Schamus said he made up some of the lost special markets sales after its sale to B&N by recruiting Sterling’s publicity people to pitch for him.

Sandra Killen, president of Tech Materials, got the most laughs when discussing export sales—she was once asked by a US publisher, “what part of Turkey is Oslo in?”—an area where the US has not made much of a name for itself, despite recent advances. After years living and working around the world (not in publishing), she returned to the US and in 1985 founded her company where she acts as an intermediary between US publishers and the international bookselling community. She is, she said, “paid by foreign retailers so they do not have to deal with US publishers.”

The session ended with discussions of how to increase staff productivity when most of them are virtual or part time. The former head of HR for Madison Square Garden terrified everyone when she talked about working for an organization that grew from 900 to 18,000 employees and 132 union contracts.

Target Marketers

It may be a surprise to dyed-in-the-wool book publicists, but increasingly in recent years, many of their free-wheeling, generalist peers have been staking out a specific patch of industry turf. Driven by big publishers’ dwindling budgets for outside PR muscle, more and more publicity shops are honing their skills in certain areas—everything from cookbooks to the arts to African American interests, interviews with about a dozen independent book publicists suggest. And such strategies are paying off twofold: publishers have more incentive to spend their limited resources on outside experts, while many authors are beating a path to PR firms that have clout in their category.

Some in the field, however, are reluctant to call themselves niche players. “Most publicists like to be generalists,” states Lynn Goldberg, founder and CEO of Goldberg McDuffie Communications. “We’re dilettantes. We like to concentrate intensely on one thing for six to eight months and then move on to something new.” Such was the sentiment echoed by many—some of whom agreed to be interviewed only if we guaranteed that they would not be pigeonholed in a way that would dissuade potential clients. Goldberg McDuffie started a business-focused imprint three years ago, after noticing “that publishers were coming to us increasingly with these things called ‘business books,’ ” she jokes, having since become viewed as one of the leading PR firms for Fortune 500 leaders-cum-authors. Now 25 to 30 percent of the company’s clients are business-related.

Lissa Warren, author of the recently published The Savvy Author’s Guide to Book Publicity and Senior Director of Publicity at Da Capo Press, said that specializing might be the only way for freelance publicists “to woo money away from the bigger publishing houses,” who have cut spending on outside PR in recent years. As for business directly from authors, Warren said the writers are more likely to find a publicist if she has established a reputation as being the go-to person in a certain category. “If you’re freelance, you might get more clients if you specialize. You really want the authors to seek you out.”

Like Goldberg McDuffie, most firms’ specialties have grown organically and are more a result of burgeoning Rolodexes than of a conscious effort to narrow their focus. Sandi Mendelson, President and COO of Hilsinger-Mendelson, sees specializing as a natural path for many PR professionals. “What happens when you’ve been in the business over the years is, if you’ve been successful in your campaigns, people whose goals are the same come to you. You’ll have more and more campaigns in that area, as you have successes in that area.” Though the firm represents the broad spectrum of fiction and nonfiction, it has gained a reputation for building celebrities and brand names. Partially responsible (talent must count for something) for the successes of British domestic goddess Nigella Lawson and photographer Anne Geddes, Mendelson views the book as a “platform to build the brand.”

Carol Fass of Carol Fass Publicity and Public Relations is still amazed that she has become viewed as the person to go to with Jewish interest books and authors. It was only last June that she launched the Fass Speakers Bureau, a new division of her company that sponsors talks and events at mainly Jewish venues. Now, despite being adamant about “maintaining a heterogeneous list” that includes everything from general fiction to history and politics to art, she is concerned about being classified. “I have a very general approach. There are basic things you do to create a PR campaign. The position and angles and timing and follow-ups—all these things are important. The way you understand the book and understand the author are very important,” she explains.

Simone Cooper started her own firm in 1990 and soon became viewed as an expert in African American interests, which now comprises about 25 percent of her business. “People knew me in the industry, and they knew I was black,” she explains. “It wasn’t that I decided to be a specialist, but I did have a good sense of the audience and the black media. I have had publishers ask me to read an African American manuscript—especially if they feel like they’re missing something about how viable a book is.” Though specializing was a “really organic” process for her, she originally immersed herself in the category by attending such events as the Harlem Book Fair and black writers conferences.

CONQUERING A CATEGORY

There are, however, publicists who left general-marketing positions at publishing houses—which seems to be the backstory of most independent book publicists—with the intention to conquer a certain segment of the market and strategically built the appropriate armamentarium to do so.

Trained in general adult book promotion at large houses, Susan Salzman Raab of Raab Associates left in 1986 to start “the only agency specializing exclusively in children’s book and parenting books.” She admits that it took a while to establish her business, because in the ’80s, publishing houses did not devote large budgets to children’s literature. “All of a sudden, there’s intrigue in the juvenile or young adult market.” She attributes much of this to Harry Potter, but not all. “People were baffled by the idea of putting a children’s book author on tour. But [that] idea is a regular part of the industry now,” she enthuses.

Raab says PR specialists must become so immersed in the given topic that they can spot trends before others. If done properly, before too long, word of mouth will trigger more word of mouth—and eventually, the media seeks out the publicist (now seen as “the expert”)—not the other way around. For example, Raab, the Marketing Adviser to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, is called upon to lecture and write on the nuances of her chosen field—whether about how a children’s book gains “classic status” and how “12-year-olds are now reading what used to be aimed at 14-year-olds.”

Lisa Ekus has a similar story. In 1983, she started Lisa Ekus Public Relations with the intent to do general book publicity. But, within two years, she realized her true calling. “I loved the cookbooks I was promoting, and at that time, nobody was paying very much attention to cookbooks. Now, publishing is struggling, but cookbooks are holding their own.” One sign of the times, she notes, is in her early years, all of her work came from publishers, but now about 40 percent of her work is for the authors directly. Having established a reputation for launching the careers of celebrity chefs, like Emeril Lagasse, as well as promoting famous restaurants and food companies, she now does more and more consulting, such as jacket-blurb suggestions for publishers and lining up keynote speakers at culinary events. How does she keep on the cutting-edge of food? Ekus notes that she gathers more useful information for her business by going to the big food and gourmet trade shows than to book expos.

THE RED ENVELOPE, PLEASE

One thing remains true across all lines of PR work: A successful publicist must be able to brand him/herself. Most of the publicists we spoke with revealed some signature that set them apart from others, either in the media’s quickly glancing eyes or those of potential clients. Shannon Wilkinson’s Cultural Communications promotes art, fashion, and photography books. She emphasizes the importance that her press releases reflect the high-end art books she’s publicizing. This means hiring designers to construct visually stunning, four-color, illustrated press kits that arrive in a red envelope. “I’ve been dealing with all these journalists for years and I really haven’t varied, so when they see the red envelope, they know it’s from me,” she says. Having an arts background also helps. “I have an understanding of the artistic process. So, I not only get it, but I understand how to translate [the artist’s] vision into words,” she says.

Nancy Berland, President of Nancy Berland Public Relations, also knows her business from the inside out. Having started as a romance novelist, she decided in 1995 to leave the solitary life of a writer and began promoting the Romance Writers of America’s annual conference, and followed with romance and mystery writers. Because of the loyal following these genres elicit, her work is more one-on-one with the reader and depends less on the media, Berland says. Websites such as Romantic Times (www.romantictimes.com) and NewandUsedBooks.com are ways to instantly reach the target audiences of most of her 20 current clients, she says. But, when she does approach the mainstream media, Berland knows “an author has to have a nonfiction hook. She has to be interesting in herself and then, it’s like, by the way, she also publishes these books.”

Heidi Krupp, founder of Krupp Kommunications, can boast partial responsibility for The South Beach Diet’s near year on The New York Time’s best-seller list. Krupp sets her company apart with the very definition of its specialty. “We don’t specialize in diet and fitness books, but we do specialize in ‘changing your life’ books.” How does maintain her status as an expert? She reads every imaginable magazine and has staff members probe the Web and chatrooms to keep their pulse on the hottest in pop culture. Ultimately, though, she knows her limitations. “You can’t be an expert in everything,” Krupp says, adding cheerfully, “But, if you’re a publicist and you have great instinct, then you can promote anything.”

International Fiction Bestsellers

Frenzy in Finland
Book Babes on the Baltic, Italy’s Newsstand Novellas,
And Germany’s Aesopian Menagerie

Having budged out of their Barcaloungers, reader-citizens are barging into bookshops all across Finland, where surveys reveal that the number of Finns who regularly read and buy books is climbing — 14% of those surveyed bought more than 10 books in 2003, up from 8% in 1995 — while the number of those couch potatoes who never bother with books has shrunk from 28% in 1995 to 22% in 2003. What’s the deal? Ilona Lindh, Foreign Fiction Editor for Finnish house Tammi, reports that “there seems to be a great interest in our own culture — history, language, customs — so Finnish fiction is more successful than translated fiction,” with crime and suspense being especially popular these days. Two of Tammi’s indigenous stars are Taavi Soininvaara, whose thrillers involving crime, terrorism, and lethal viruses have started to cause much panting among foreign publishers, and Juha Itkonen, whose first novel tells of the wrenching adjustments made by two American Mormons who wake up one fine morning in Finland. Lindh is also singing the praises of Leena Lehtolainen, who has injected a feminist angle into Finnish crime fiction since she made her precocious debut at age 12 with a novel for young readers. Her detective series started with the 1993 novel My First Murder and is up to eight titles so far, sold to as many countries.

Meanwhile, a mainstay on the Finnish list for more than 20 years, Arto Paasilinna, is also the most translated living author in Finland. He’s now sold abroad in 25 languages, and his best known work, The Year of the Hare — in which the stressed-out protagonist leaves his frenetic life behind to return to nature, in the company of, um, a young hare — was just published in the US by Dufour Editions. Paasilinna has been deemed “as much an element of Finnish autumn as falling birch leaves,” and praised for taking up “macabre themes such as suicide, Armageddon, and unemployment” and weaving them into humorous, therapeutic antidotes to despair.

The nation’s readers have also been hooked on promising “rookies,” according to Veikko Sonninen of the Finnish Book Publishers Association, foremost among them action-thriller maven Ilkka Remes, whose latest novel Endless Night sold 135,000 copies in just a couple of months. Then there’s 2002 Finlandia Prize recipient Kari Hotakainen, who explores the notion of “The Finnish Dream” in The Trench Road, which details the mediocre life of Matti Virtanen (it’s by far the most common Finnish name for men). The object of Virtanen’s desire is a “veteran house,” one of the homes built on free plots of land for men returning from battle. After his wife and daughter ditch him, snagging the house is the holy grail, and he sells off his possessions and turns to peddling erotic massages to raise cash. Hotakainen’s earlier novel, Heart Attacks, features a down-and-out factory worker/cinema buff who tries to force his way into the filming of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic, The Godfather. Hotakainen has been published in Germany (Fischer), the Slovak Republic (Slovenský Spisovatel), and elsewhere. For more on the Finn reading frenzy, contact Ilona Lindh at [email protected] and Veikko Sonninen at [email protected].

The Finns aren’t the only ones beefing up their personal libraries, as readers in Italy need travel no further than their local newsstand, with several daily and weekly newspapers continuing to develop new series in assorted areas of interest, ranging from art, music, and sports, to tourism, literature, and history. La Repubblica was the first daily out of the gates in 2002 (it has packaged 50 novels from the likes of Isabel Allende, Heinrich Böll, and James Joyce, each of which sold a whopping 500,000 copies) and others quickly followed suit. Armed with publicity channels to die for, newspapers are banking on their subscribers’ keenness for collectibles by running full-page color ads featuring photos of their latest series in its entirety. Newsstands, it should be noted, are a more familiar part of daily life than bookstores in Italy, and the stacks of new volumes that appear there on a weekly basis (favorably priced at just about 5 euros) have proven irresistible. The first titles (print runs have run as high as 1 million copies) are generally offered for free with the purchase of a newspaper. Italy’s most widely read daily, Il Corriere della Sera, just launched 30 books of poetry, setting its spotlight on Eugenio Montale in the first volume. A public reading of his poetry last week drew a crowd that filled the 600-seat Grassi theater in Milan. Look for this phenomenon to grow as weeklies like Panorama and Famiglia Cristiana get in on the action.

It wasn’t a newsstand but a bench at the train station in Bielefeld where German author, literary critic, and former TV personality Roger Willemsen was approached by the artistic director of an orchestra who hoped to recruit him to pen a story based on the classic Camille Saint-Saëns piece, Carnival of the Animals. Willemsen agreed and asked his friend Volker Kriegel, a multi-talented jazz guitarist and author, to illustrate the book. (Sadly, this was Kriegel’s last work before he died in June 2003.) This Aesopian menagerie, including snails who wear lipgloss and rats who jump out of cakes, provides a witty picture of animals as they reflect the oddities of human beings. The book received an added boost when Elke Heidenreich featured it on her hit series Lesen! (see PT, 8/03). Rights have been sold to Korea (Haeto). US and UK rights for this book and his previous book Travel Through Germany are still open. Contact Isabell Ludewig at Eichborn in Germany.

Finally, stay tuned for our Japanese list next month, but in the meantime, check out A Real Novel by Minae Mizumura. Hailed as the contemporary Japanese version of Wuthering Heights, the two-volume epic has been called a “decisive moment in the history of Japanese literature” which describes Japan from its prewar social structure, to a “middle-class vapidness” in the 50 years following World War II. With a complex narrative structure (in which Mizumura takes part in the plot), the book presents the author’s life in the US and her numerous encounters with Taro Azuma, the central character in the novel itself. Years later, when the author, now a middle-aged novelist teaching at Stanford University, has lost touch with Taro, she is visited by a young editor wanting to hear the story of Taro’s life in Japan. Thus begins the story of how the young editor came to hear Taro’s story from a woman he once met. Got it? The book has been sold to Seuil (France), but US rights are still available. Contact Writers House.

My Own Private China

It was a sign of the times last month when, at a three-day meeting in Beijing that brought 170 Chinese publishers together with a group of US industry veterans, the Communist Party commissar dropped in on the event — and participants barely raised an eyebrow at the apparatchik’s visit. Yes, a “private book industry” is fast developing in this nation, despite the occasional political intrigue, and a front-row seat was offered to the American contingent led by Robert Baensch, Director of the Center for Publishing at NYU, and author of The Publishing Industry in China, along with Nielsen BookScan’s Jim King, Texere’s Myles and Lee Thompson, and Ingram’s Peter Clifton. Sponsored by GAPP, the General Administration of Press & Publication, which officially oversees publishing in China, the trip took visitors to Beijing and Hong Kong to scout local retailing conditions and brief China’s book trade on the best practices of the global publishing scene.

On that score, publishers from every sector of the industry attended the American group’s “pretty basic” presentations, according to the visitors. Jim King’s talk, for instance, outlined the difference between commission and house reps, and how they’re compensated. Publishers were fascinated by the potential that an Ingram might offer to China, and partnering was a topic of intense discussion. Lee Thompson couldn’t get over “how open, how smart, how aggressive” her Chinese counterparts were, particularly in the practical aspects of publishing and distribution. Their enterprise and entrepreneurism “were extraordinary,” despite government controls, she said.

And speaking of the extraordinary, you can’t dismiss the vigor of the government-run mega-bookshops known as Book Center or Book City (see PT, 2/03). Though there are four times as many privately owned shops — 57,000 at last count — Book Centers appear more jam-packed than Christmas in a New York bookstore, says King. About 30,000 people blaze through the Beijing Book Center every day, while Shanghai’s Book City boasts seven floors of books, most of which are in Chinese, plus a number of imported English-language titles leaning toward science, engineering, computing, and language (Who Moved My Cheese? has sold 1.2 million copies). Popular translations are on tap, too, with Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose racking up 400,000 copies in a year and piles of Da Vinci Code all around. Chinese books are published in paperback with a government-subsidized cost of $3 to $4, while imports run about $10. The low prices have proven a challenge to Bertelsmann, which snapped up 40% of the 21st Century Book Chain Co. in December, becoming the first nationwide joint-venture book retailer in China.

Better industry intelligence may improve the book trade, now that a company similar to Nielsen BookScan has begun to operate in China. Called Open Book, it collects data from 160 government-run retailers and sells the reports to publishers. Data collection is complicated by the government issuance of all ISBNs, however. As numbers are not handed out freely, publishers sometimes reuse the same ISBN for several titles. And there are other quirks of the system. As part of a national effort to bolster education among the rural population of 900 million, for instance, the Party “is working on a long-term publishing plan for rural markets and a plan to grant more book numbers for books targeting rural areas,” according to Business Daily Update, which notes that the distribution network in cities has grown threefold in the past decade, but shrank by 40 percent in the countryside.

But there’s hope, at least for the unpublished. Last month the new “China On-line Manuscripts Trading Centre” reported it had signed up more than 100,000 writers and editors who swap rights to their unpublished novels and other works over the Internet. As one investor put it, the millions of Chinese pining for their big literary break are simply “a huge business opportunity to tap.”

What’s in a (Publisher’s) Name?

Industry pundits and publicists have noted and mourned the declining space given to book reviews in newspapers and magazines over the last decade. But now that declining space has wiped out what was once an inevitable accoutrement to the book’s author and title — the publisher’s name. While the NYTBR, Time, and The New Yorker may still list publishers and pub price in their reviews (though not necessarily elsewhere), plenty of other media have dispensed with both. People no longer mentions publishers (or studios or labels, for that matter) in its Picks & Pans section. New York Magazine abandoned publishers and prices in its reviews mid-2003. Entertainment Weekly — a magazine that is, after all, devoted to reviewing — still lists publisher and price, while the website (www.ew.com) includes the pub date and allows the user to check on all previous books by that publisher that have been reviewed.

On the other hand, though it still covers music and movies, Newsweek doesn’t even bother to review books. It usually mentions a topical one somewhere in its pages, sometimes referring to the publisher. Reader’s Digest has an “Editors’ Choice” page, with author, title, mini-review, even pictures of the favored books — but no publisher nor price (nor any explanation of what an Editors’ Choice is).

What’s behind the demise of publishers’ imprimaturs? One reviewer at a prominent magazine for young women told PT that the section editor “made a command decision about a year ago not to ‘waste space’ in the reviews by mentioning the publisher. ‘The reader doesn’t know or care about the publisher,’ she told me.” But, adds the reviewer, she still makes review decisions based on who the publisher is.

Carol Fitzgerald, whose bookreporter.com site contains reviews (with publisher) and author interviews (without publisher), agrees that consumers aren’t won over by the colophon. “We have never heard a reader say, ‘I would love to read another Doubleday book,’ or ‘I love Time Warner titles.’ We joke that if I stood on the corner telling people they would get $1,000 if they could tell me who published Dan Brown, no one would win. Unless I was on the corner of 56th/Broadway.”

So what effect, if any, is this having on publishers? Martha Levin, Publisher of Free Press, says that “it’s a terrible blow to the publisher’s ego, but we all know the consumer doesn’t care.” And, she adds, for those who do care — like other publishers — it’s more cumbersome when there’s just a title or author, requiring visits to Amazon.com or bn.com to track down the missing data. Steve Fischer, US Director of Sales and Marketing for Thorsons, said that, ironically, it was sometimes a benefit. The company is part of HarperCollins UK, which means, if the books are not listed by imprint (Thorsons or Element) but under HarperCollins, readers are sometimes confused when they ask for the book in a store or go to HC’s US website and don’t find it there. Ultimately, says Fischer, “I’m happy to get a mention anywhere, especially when they mention the author.”

International Fiction Bestsellers

Of Love and War
Formerly Exiled Korean Writer Revisits Vietnam, While France’s Frèches Hits The Silk Road

One of South Korea’s best-known writers, Hwang Sok-Yong, has found a fervent audience in France for his monumental and controversial literary portraits denouncing “both corruption and American imperialism” in the Vietnam and Korean wars. In The Shadow of Arms — “a requiem worthy of Faulkner” — Anh Yeong-Kyu is a young Korean corporal drafted into the Allied Forces’ investigation unit in Southern Vietnam, just after the Tet Offensive. A witness to black market dealings, the sordid commercial opportunism that accompanied the war, and the humiliation and death of a Vietnamese colleague, Yeong-Kyu grows bitter and detached at the thought of participating in someone else’s war. The author himself reluctantly fought for the American cause as part of Korea’s military corps in Vietnam, and was responsible for erasing the proof of civilian massacres. Inspired by Che Guevara and Franz Fanon, Sok-Yong asserts that his writings are different from American books and films he has read or seen on the subject in that he asks global questions about war, its origins, and its place in history, while others exclude the Vietnamese from their representations, resulting in abstractions and “mere ambiguous humanism from the point of view of a white man.” His first novel, Dr. Han, is the story of a family separated in the Korean war. The Guest —slated for publication by Zulma (France) this year — is a novel about an actual massacre in North Korea wrongly attributed to American forces. Exiled Sok-Yong came to New York and was subsequently imprisoned upon his return to Seoul. Several members of a company were killed while performing one of his plays during the 1980 Kwangju uprising. With his recent launch of a satellite television station, CTV, which broadcasts to the whole of Korea, Japan, and half of China, Sok-Yong continues to speak out against the rise of the “American hegemony” (suggesting an Asian-European alliance in the interests of a new world order). Rights for The Guest and Dr. Han have been translated into several Asian languages and have been sold to DTV (Germany). Contact Fabienne Trunyo at Zulma (France) for Western translation rights.

Love blossoms at the jungle gym in Katarina Mazetti’s latest, Tarzan’s Tears, which hits the list in Sweden. A poor mother of two meets a wealthy technology consultant on the swings, knocking him off his feet — quite literally. Mariana is already married, but her husband’s battle with schizophrenia is taking a toll on the family, while the debonaire Janne offers her a constancy she couldn’t even imagine. Mariana returns to a little cottage that she is sharing with her friend Jenny and their four children for the weekend, assuming she will never see the eligible bachelor again. When Jenny offers to babysit one night, Mariana heads to a local restaurant, but is stopped in her tracks by another fortuitous encounter with Janne (who dubs her “Tarzan” after her swing stunt). Drawn to each other despite their very different lifestyles (he’s a bit too sophisticated for her kids’ birthday parties at Burger King, and she finds him devoid of passion), they eventually make some sense of their rather quirky love affair. Rights have been sold to Piper (Germany) and Pax (Norway), while rights to her earlier book, The Boy Next Grave (about a love affair that starts in a cemetery), have been sold to Svea (Bulgaria), Lindhardt & Ringhof (Denmark), Adriano Salani (Italy), Arena (Netherlands), Text (Russia), and more. Contact AnnaKaisa Danielsson at Alfabeta (Sweden).

Tána Keleová-Vasilková has become a mainstay on the Slovak bestseller list with her own version of “chick lit” that highlights the extraordinary qualities of seemingly ordinary women. The Wives records a year in the lives of four high school friends — their daily struggles, desires, and disappointments, as well as changes in their relationships with husbands and partners. Also making the grade is The Spider’s Web, in which Blanka, a young and successful actress, protects her personal life so fastidiously that even her closest friends and colleagues do not know what secrets she hides. While trying to protect herself and her young daughter, Blanka entangles herself in a web of lies from which she cannot escape. Rights to all nine of Keleová-Vasilková’s novels are available from Zuzana Sersenova at Ikar (Slovak Republic).

Basque author, playwright, and screenwriter Toti Martínez de Lezea reconstructs famous tales of the misfortunes of medieval Spain in The Commoner. In 1511, María de Pacheco is forced by her father to marry Juan de Padilla, whose social position is inferior to hers. Nevertheless, the two fall in love as they lead the insurrection of Castille. For defending the rights of their people against the troops of Carlos I, María, a rebellious and powerful woman, is sent into exile in Portugal. Rights to the author’s earlier novels, The Abbess (the tale of an illegitimate daughter who is abducted and taken to a convent where she becomes Abbess of las Huelgas de Burgos) and The Herbalist (which recreates the persecution of the Inquisition), have been sold to Krüger (Germany), while The Sons of Ogaiz (the story of two brothers’ struggle to survive in Basque Country during the Black Plague) has been sold to Elkar (France). Contact Sophie Legrand at ACER (Spain).

The year is 655, and the court of the emperor of China is in turmoil in French author José Frèches’ new three-volume saga The Silk Empress. A beautiful courtesan of humble origins, Wuzhao, is set to marry the young emperor Gaozong, of the Tang Dynasty. Wuzhao aspires to wield power like an emperor and uses Buddhism to gain allies. What ensues is a study of the role of religion and cultural exchange along the Silk Road — the sole, fragile link between East and West, where the struggle for religious dominance is waged over the souls of the faithful. Frèches combines fictitious characters with historical figures (as in his first trilogy about ancient China, The Legend of the Jade — “prodigious historical adventure novels of this caliber are rare” — which has sold more than 310,000 copies in France). He has been published in Poland (Albatros), the Czech Republic (Alpress S.R.O.), Greece (Chadjinikoli), Germany (Verlagsgruppe Random), and Brasil (Objetiva). Contact Axelle Hardy at XO (France).

One of South Korea’s best-known writers, Hwang Sok-Yong, has found a fervent audience in France for his monumental and controversial literary portraits denouncing “both corruption and American imperialism” in the Vietnam and Korean wars. In The Shadow of Arms — “a requiem worthy of Faulkner” — Anh Yeong-Kyu is a young Korean corporal drafted into the Allied Forces’ investigation unit in Southern Vietnam, just after the Tet Offensive. A witness to black market dealings, the sordid commercial opportunism that accompanied the war, and the humiliation and death of a Vietnamese colleague, Yeong-Kyu grows bitter and detached at the thought of participating in someone else’s war. The author himself reluctantly fought for the American cause as part of Korea’s military corps in Vietnam, and was responsible for erasing the proof of civilian massacres. Inspired by Che Guevara and Franz Fanon, Sok-Yong asserts that his writings are different from American books and films he has read or seen on the subject in that he asks global questions about war, its origins, and its place in history, while others exclude the Vietnamese from their representations, resulting in abstractions and “mere ambiguous humanism from the point of view of a white man.” His first novel, Dr. Han, is the story of a family separated in the Korean war. The Guest —slated for publication by Zulma (France) this year — is a novel about an actual massacre in North Korea wrongly attributed to American forces. Exiled Sok-Yong came to New York and was subsequently imprisoned upon his return to Seoul. Several members of a company were killed while performing one of his plays during the 1980 Kwangju uprising. With his recent launch of a satellite television station, CTV, which broadcasts to the whole of Korea, Japan, and half of China, Sok-Yong continues to speak out against the rise of the “American hegemony” (suggesting an Asian-European alliance in the interests of a new world order). Rights for The Guest and Dr. Han have been translated into several Asian languages and have been sold to DTV (Germany). Contact Fabienne Trunyo at Zulma (France) for Western translation rights.

Love blossoms at the jungle gym in Katarina Mazetti’s latest, Tarzan’s Tears, which hits the list in Sweden. A poor mother of two meets a wealthy technology consultant on the swings, knocking him off his feet — quite literally. Mariana is already married, but her husband’s battle with schizophrenia is taking a toll on the family, while the debonaire Janne offers her a constancy she couldn’t even imagine. Mariana returns to a little cottage that she is sharing with her friend Jenny and their four children for the weekend, assuming she will never see the eligible bachelor again. When Jenny offers to babysit one night, Mariana heads to a local restaurant, but is stopped in her tracks by another fortuitous encounter with Janne (who dubs her “Tarzan” after her swing stunt). Drawn to each other despite their very different lifestyles (he’s a bit too sophisticated for her kids’ birthday parties at Burger King, and she finds him devoid of passion), they eventually make some sense of their rather quirky love affair. Rights have been sold to Piper (Germany) and Pax (Norway), while rights to her earlier book, The Boy Next Grave (about a love affair that starts in a cemetery), have been sold to Svea (Bulgaria), Lindhardt & Ringhof (Denmark), Adriano Salani (Italy), Arena (Netherlands), Text (Russia), and more. Contact AnnaKaisa Danielsson at Alfabeta (Sweden).

Tána Keleová-Vasilková has become a mainstay on the Slovak bestseller list with her own version of “chick lit” that highlights the extraordinary qualities of seemingly ordinary women. The Wives records a year in the lives of four high school friends — their daily struggles, desires, and disappointments, as well as changes in their relationships with husbands and partners. Also making the grade is The Spider’s Web, in which Blanka, a young and successful actress, protects her personal life so fastidiously that even her closest friends and colleagues do not know what secrets she hides. While trying to protect herself and her young daughter, Blanka entangles herself in a web of lies from which she cannot escape. Rights to all nine of Keleová-Vasilková’s novels are available from Zuzana Sersenova at Ikar (Slovak Republic).

Basque author, playwright, and screenwriter Toti Martínez de Lezea reconstructs famous tales of the misfortunes of medieval Spain in The Commoner. In 1511, María de Pacheco is forced by her father to marry Juan de Padilla, whose social position is inferior to hers. Nevertheless, the two fall in love as they lead the insurrection of Castille. For defending the rights of their people against the troops of Carlos I, María, a rebellious and powerful woman, is sent into exile in Portugal. Rights to the author’s earlier novels, The Abbess (the tale of an illegitimate daughter who is abducted and taken to a convent where she becomes Abbess of las Huelgas de Burgos) and The Herbalist (which recreates the persecution of the Inquisition), have been sold to Krüger (Germany), while The Sons of Ogaiz (the story of two brothers’ struggle to survive in Basque Country during the Black Plague) has been sold to Elkar (France). Contact Sophie Legrand at ACER (Spain).

The year is 655, and the court of the emperor of China is in turmoil in French author José Frèches’ new three-volume saga The Silk Empress. A beautiful courtesan of humble origins, Wuzhao, is set to marry the young emperor Gaozong, of the Tang Dynasty. Wuzhao aspires to wield power like an emperor and uses Buddhism to gain allies. What ensues is a study of the role of religion and cultural exchange along the Silk Road — the sole, fragile link between East and West, where the struggle for religious dominance is waged over the souls of the faithful. Frèches combines fictitious characters with historical figures (as in his first trilogy about ancient China, The Legend of the Jade — “prodigious historical adventure novels of this caliber are rare” — which has sold more than 310,000 copies in France). He has been published in Poland (Albatros), the Czech Republic (Alpress S.R.O.), Greece (Chadjinikoli), Germany (Verlagsgruppe Random), and Brasil (Objetiva). Contact Axelle Hardy at XO (France).

O’er the Hudson

Far-Flung Regional Houses Hit the Heartland Bull’s-Eye

Just one word: scrapbooking. Yes, scrapbooking is the fastest-growing hobby sector in the United States, with sales of related supplies — presumably including books — quadrupling in the past five years to an estimated $2 billion, as the New York Times recently noted, and projected to grow as much as 80% annually over the next five years. Perhaps that’s why an entire continent of hell-bent hobbyists is converging upon Dallas next week for the Hobby Industry Association Convention and Trade Show — you know something’s up, anyway, when Microsoft is an exhibitor — where a phalanx of publishers will be roving the aisles with eyes peeled for the next big thing. Among them you’ll find folks from F+W Publications (see article), the how-to house which acquired Denver-based scrapbooking publisher Memory Makers in 2001. Their flagship magazine has 206,000 paid subscribers, and the company has been revving up its book program — 15 titles are expected this year — while membership of 41,000 in the unit’s year-old ScrapBook Club has “exceeded goals dramatically,” says Publisher Bob Kaslik. Total revenues? Up 60% last year.

Scrapbooking, in fact, is just the tip of the iceberg of a whole other publishing world out there on the nether side of Hoboken. Whether it’s big-time crafts titles from Meredith Books, or off-the-beaten-path picks from Woodinville, WA (quilting titles from Martingale) and Layton, UT (Gibbs Smith’s bestselling 101 Things to Do With a Cake Mix), savvy houses outside the orbit of the New York publishing biz are finding a bonanza in books that mainstream houses might never have the foggiest idea of publishing. Latching onto rip-roaring lifestyle trends and holding on tight, these publishers are scoring via markets such as Jo-Ann, Wal-Mart, and craft retailing giant Michaels Stores. The latter reported that December sales jumped 10%, and credited among the “strongest contributors” to growth the scrapbooking, books, needlework and yarn, and kids’ crafts categories.

CAN YOU SAY, ‘STITCH ‘N BITCH’?

“Most Americans don’t live east of the Hudson,” says Linda Cunningham, Editor-in-Chief of Des Moines–based Meredith Books. “I think we really have our finger on where middle America is and where most Americans are.” The company just signed former Entertainment Tonight anchor Leeza Gibbons for a scrapbook line, but there are other categories of moment. Take slow cookers. “Most New York publishers would say, ‘It’s been done. There’s nothing more to say,’” Cunningham says. “Well, there’s a lot to say. There was a lot of money on the table in slow cooking books. Our titles have all done very well.” And don’t even get Cunningham started on the latest craft renaissance: knitting. Prescient New York house Workman published Stitch ’n Bitch last fall and is now up to 117,000 copies in print, inspiring knitting clubs that are taking the nation by storm (dozens are listed at www.stitchnbitch.org). Indeed, the percentage of women under 45 who knit or crochet has doubled since 1996, with 38 million knitters nationwide (Newsweek’s take: “They May Have Blue Hair, But They’re No Grannies”).

Scrapbooking and such is well known turf to Birmingham-based Oxmoor House, which publishes a niche-focused program going from branded books for Pottery Barn all the way to Flea Market Finds and the long-running Leisure Arts series Trash to Treasure (17 volumes strong). “Those books just fly off the shelves in their market,” says Gary Wright, Director of Business Development for Oxmoor House. Executives “fan out like missionaries” to every trade show imaginable; once they lock on to something like scrapbooking, the next step may be to find a “spokesbrand” as a partner. Thus they stumbled upon scrapbook ’zine Creating Keepsakes in a tiny trade show booth and embarked on a book program that helped propel the magazine to a subscriber base of 750,000 (it’s now owned by Primedia). The big breakthrough for crocheting, meanwhile, came when they discovered that celebrity Vanna White was a crocheting addict. “We contacted Vanna and we have about four books that were enormously successful at retail,” Wright explains. Leisure Arts (which, with Oxmoor and parent Southern Progress Corp., are owned by Time Warner) has even been profiting from the “plastic canvas” rage (it’s a variant on needlecrafting), which has now given way to the scrapbooking bug. “It’s rather infectious when you publish for what the market requires,” Wright says. “But it’s also smart publishing. Our returns are extremely low.”

And if you’re talking quilting, it certainly doesn’t hurt Martingale to be smack in the unofficial quilting capital of the world, which is how Publisher Jane Hamada describes the Pacific Northwest. The company boots out three new quilting titles per month, and although Hamada says she’s always looking for new topics, “the more general crafts are a little more difficult” due to stiffer competition. Shoppers in the paper and floral crafts are not as “faithful,” and tend to pick up titles on a whim. The upshot? “It’s harder to hit the right title at the right time.” So the company concentrates on winners such as The Simple Joys of Quilting, which has sold at least 50,000 copies and helped Martingale lift overall sales last year, Hamada adds. While the Northwest locale does have drawbacks — “Hiring is a stumbling block,” as it can be tough drawing publishing types outside New York — in the end the company could be located anywhere. “We’re a niche publisher,” Hamada says. “Authors come to us.”

NOTE TO WRITERS: GOT FLEECE?

Being o’er the Hudson River has its down side for other publishers as well. Susan Reich, President and COO of the Avalon Group (with offices in Emeryville, CA, Seattle, and New York, and distributed by PGW), says getting the same attention from agents that the big New York publishers do is hard. “We have to find books other ways because agents often ignore us,” she says. One solution for Avalon Travel Publishing (which includes Foghorn, Moon, etc.) is advertising on its website, www.travelmatters.com. The pitch reads: “Do you wear a lot of fleece? Can you identify poison oak? Do you hear the call of the wild? Most importantly, can you write? If you answered yes to the above questions, you could be the writer we need.” According to Reich, there is a good network of writers who respond. Though many Avalon imprints are located in New York, some, like Seattle-based Seal Press, depend on a local community of writers and readers. That’s one reason Avalon is about to host the first in a series of dinners for booksellers in Seattle and San Francisco.

Like Seal, other houses turn adversity into cash by mining local authors that large houses may overlook. Brandon, MS–based Quail Ridge Press, for instance, focuses on the Gulf Coast states, but founder and owner Gwen McKee says once an author or series grabs readers’ attention, she sticks with it. The house’s popular Best of the Best state cookbook series began locally, but now includes all but three states in the union (the others are on the way). In order to reach the right audience, Quail Ridge plies nontraditional sales channels such as home parties, restaurants, and QVC to promote its books. The publisher also lets authors sell their books on personal websites. “Our authors work very closely with us,” McKee says. “I’m sure they do that in New York initially, but we work closely with our authors throughout the process and on future books.”

At Storey Publishing in North Adams, MA, the non-Manhattan scenery is all part of the job. “Country life is our corporate culture,” says Publisher Janet Harris. “Most people on staff garden. Nearly everybody hikes and cooks. Our knitting editor keeps Romney sheep. Storey’s horse editor rides horses.” Storey, which is distributed by majority-owner Workman, “also has a very strong sense of our constituency,” Harris says. “To chart our reader’s responses, we enclose a ‘We’d love your thoughts’ card in each book. And it is astonishing how many readers jot down their comments and mail them back.” Such reader loyalty helped make 2003 the best year in the publisher’s 20-year history, with sales up significantly over 2002.

They take a different approach to regionality over at Gibbs Smith. “We try pretty much at all times to forget that we’re in Utah,” jokes Director of Marketing and PR Alison Einerson. To succeed, she says, it’s not where you are, but what you do, and Gibbs Smith is doing well with the NYT-bestselling 101 Things To Do With a Cake Mix. Although such titles seem targeted to heartland buyers, Einerson says: “We have not seen lower numbers in major cities for those titles. Really what it’s about is time-saving and ease, and that appeals to everybody.”

Back on the left coast, Seattle-based Sasquatch Books has also learned to relish its own quirky discoveries, sans agents or agencies. One recent hit is librarian and local NPR personality Nancy Pearl, whose Book Lust now has 60,000 copies in print. Sasquatch joined PGW in 2002, and since then its degree of “regionality” has changed a bit, says Susan Quinn, VP and Associate Publisher, Sales and Marketing. “We were only regional, but now, when we’re acquiring, we think of books that are rooted in the West” but have broader appeal. The distance from New York allows Sasquatch staffers the freedom to indulge their wild hunches. “We have the opportunity to think up who’s cool in the Northwest and then nurture it,” Quinn says. “As a result, we act as a launching pad. We’re really good at PR. Once New York publishers catch a whiff, they come calling.”