July 29, 2010

Aftermath of a marketing campaign: Champions of the Midwest


Perhaps the key component of our word of mouth marketing strategy for Every Man Dies Alone has been outreach to indie booksellers. It has always been our belief that it would take a network of smaller champions across the nation for this book to really sink in – to penetrate the literary marketplace as fully as possible and ultimately enter the canon. Thus, from the outset, publishers Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians conducted a non-stop outreach to the people who’d always supported our not-so-obviously-commercial titles – the indies.

To charts the results of that effort, Melville House’s David Kinzer has been interviewing indie booksellers from across the country discussing what selling Every Man Dies Alone has been like for them, and what it represents about the brick and mortar bookselling scene today. (You can read the entire series here.) …

Jeff Waxman in Chicago's 57th Street Books

Jeff Waxman in Chicago's 57th Street Books

After speaking with Nancy Olson at the Quail Ridge Bookstore for yesterday’s episode, the question arises: Should indie booksellers make it their duty to emphasize books from independent publishers?

It’s a good question to put to Jeff Waxman, a bookseller at Chicago’s 57th Street Books, as well as “updater” of the store blog The Front Table, because his bookstore is a truly unique indie. It’s one of three shops (a college-campus store, a small shop at the Newberry Library, and 57th Street) all owned by a cooperative that operates under the rubric of the Seminary Co-op Bookstores. As such, they don’t even have an owner, let alone the stockholders of a chain — they have a huge co-op membership (“54,000 owners,” jokes Waxman) and a legendary general manager appointed by the co-op, Jack Cella.

And Waxman finds common ground with Olson in advancing the importance of a distinctive selection. “What makes any independent bookstore unique is the combination of the booksellers and their customers,” he says. “Bookstores are the products of their communities.”

He didn’t think Every Man Dies Alone, however, was the kind of book that necessarily needed extra-special emphasis to stand out from the crowd — he handsells it, apparently, out of sheer affection for the title, and goes out of his way to discuss the book’s universal appeal, rather than its offbeat elements. “It appeals to readers of German literature, people traveling to Berlin, readers of espionage novels, war novels,” he explains. “I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying this book.”

That universalism, he says, is the key to the book’s popularity at 57th Street, among both the staff and the customers: “Responses have been uniformly positive. With all of our sales [ed’s note: in the huge Chicago market, 57th Street is outselling all other accounts on this title] no one’s ever returned it.”

For Waxman, that mass appeal renders moot the question of whether Every Man is more of an indie or a chain book. I can’t see any bookseller not having success with this book,” he says. “But then again, I’ve never had anyone sell me a book at a chain store.”