July 30, 2010

Aftermath or a marketing campaign: Indie champions of the Northwest


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.) …

Every Man Dies Alone on display in the Elliott Bay Book Co., with Peter Aaron's handwritten shelf-talker

Every Man Dies Alone on display in the Elliott Bay Book Co., with Peter Aaron's handwritten shelf-talker

For a self-proclaimed proponent of Every Man Dies Alone, Peter Aaron, the owner of Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, is surprisingly sure about the negative selling points of the novel. “This is not easy reading,” says Allen. “The times, the plot, the characters, on the surface they are not very uplifting. If a customer is looking for a light romp, it’s not what I’ll recommend.”

And yet the book has been experiencing “amazing sales” at the store since its release, he says.

Aaron credits Fallada’s “great writing” for making it a hit, but like a lot of great books, it needs a champion to bring that to people’s attention. Thus, much of the book’s success story at Elliott Bay lies with the store itself and its close relationship with its customers, which saved the book from initial disinterest. “It just sat on the shelf,” recalls Aaron. “Then it was read by someone on the staff — incidentally, me — and put on the recommendation shelf. “That’s where a lot of our customers find our books.”

Aaron himself wrote the shelf-talker:

I bow to Primo Levi: “The greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis.” Based on a true story (with fascinating facsimiles of the Gestapo files in the afterword)– this is the saga of an unremarkable couple whose innate decency compels them to protest– hopelessly and courageously– against the insane brutality of the Reich. Triumphant, tragic, gripping– simply and beautifully narrated. The only book I’ve read that dares to take on the big question: not what created the monsters or the monstrosities– that one is simple and gratuitous– but why the mass complicity? Dares– and succeeds.

Of course, enthusiastic handselling by the entire staff has also helped, but Aaron believes that some of the credit simply belongs to Elliot Bay’s status as an indie bookstore.

“It means being curious and wanting to see what’s out their on our own,” he explains. “And our customers are like that.” Aaron believes that indie booksellers are in a unique position of trust with consumers. “What is endorsed is there because there’s an individual in the store who has experienced it and loved it and wanted to bring it to the attentions of the customers, and the customers know that for no other reason is that there.”

So far, it seems that Elliot Bay’s customers have been rewarded for their trust. “Everybody’s loved it,” says Aaron. “I’ve heard nothing except inarticulate awe at having been moved by it.”