July 28, 2010

Aftermath of a marketing campaign: Indie champions in the South


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.) …

Nancy Olson

Nancy Olson

Quail Ridge Books & Music, in Raleigh, North Carolina, is a venerable institution in its hometown — in no small part because of its venerable owner, Nancy Olson. In fact, just last week the town named her the winner of the “Medal of Arts” — Raleigh’s highest cultural honor — in a press release that called her “a champion for many local causes, including hunger relief, AIDS and literacy, which include her ‘Books for Kids’ program.”

It’s easy to see why the citation called her a “champion” — she seems to relish being a champion of indie publishers, too. For example, she got one of the first ARCs of Every Man Dies Alone, and quickly surmised the difficult scenario it faced: dead author, translated text, small publisher, and a subject matter that some might see as dark. Her conclusion: “This is a book that requires handselling.” In other words, the book need a champion.

It’s the kind of challenge Olson seems to thrive on, since Quail Ridge explicitly sets out to publicize and make available indie and hard-to-find books. “We strive to offer a different selection, less commercial,” she says. “It should be noted that Olson is a smart businesswoman (Publishers Weekly named her “Bookseller of the Year” in 2001) and this isn’t just idealism — it’s a way for Quail Ridge to differentiate itself from the 14 chain bookstores near-by. (And they say bookselling’s in trouble.)

And when she believes in something, she really believes in it. Like Bob Sommer of Changing Hands (see yesterday’s profile), she took her advocacy of Every Man beyond the boundaries of her store to nominate it for an Indie Next Pick, a suggested reading list put out monthly by the Association of American Publishers. “By turns horrifying and inspiring, Hans Fallada’s story of an ordinary German couple defying the Nazi’s inhumane brutality is authentic and informative — an admirable addition to German literature,” she wrote in her recommendation.

Now, she says, indie-consciousness has been part of what’s made Every Man Dies Alone a success at Quail Ridge. “I feel strongly that it is books like this that define the strengths of independent booksellers”- finding the quality, overlooked books and getting them into appreciative customers hands. It sets us apart from stores that feature more commercial books.