Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why More Authors Should Be Like Hitler

Photo by Jessica Schley (cc)
Thought I'd go for a deliberately provocative title today.

Here's the thing about Hitler. He wrote this book, MEIN KAMPF. And many, many years later (in 1998, to be exact), Houghton Mifflin published it in this very compact, chunky volume.

This wasn't Hitler's doing. But it's given him a crazy, crazy sales advantage over every other book in the German history section.

MEIN KAMPF, as it turns out, is a really great bookend.

Every night, when we straighten the store (aka do "recovery"), we try to get every book so that it is standing upright, spine out, so that the shelves look beautiful. We do this by facing out titles that will hold up other titles.

Yes, we try to face out new releases, and hardcovers, and books that are selling well--this often happens by default, because when you have seven copies of a hardcover, it takes up less space to face it out rather than to let all seven stretch across the shelf. But sometimes there's no new release, or no book with a bunch of copes—and then, with the eye of a practiced recovery artist, we look for a book that is solid enough, not too wide, not too short, not too flimsy.

MEIN KAMPF keeps fitting that bill.

Why does this matter? Because faced out books sell more.

Go into a bookstore and look around a fully shelved section (i.e., not the front with all the tables and bestseller shelves). Which books catch your eye first? The ones with their whole covers facing you. When I put away a stack of books that customers have pulled off the shelves, usually 30-60% of them are books that are faced out. The customer saw the whole cover, and nabbed the thing. A book that has been nabbed is much more likely to be bought.

Authors often despair over bookstore presence. If they aren't a bestseller, or their publisher isn't paying co-op (which means they go on one of those promo tables you see—yes that's all paid placement), their book gets lost in spine-out land. This causes some authors to come into a store and try to move their book around, which is unhelpful for a whole lot of reasons, both to the booksellers and to the author.

But face outs? Those are totally fair game. Go to the shelf, find your book where it is, and, if there's room on the shelf, you can wiggle the book into a faced-out position. Face out your friends' books while you're at it. As long as you don't disrupt the order of the other books on the shelf, and face your book out right where it sits, we really don't mind. Even if it doesn't sell more, I can guarantee more people will take a look.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Strict Pick: ODDLY NORMAL by John Schwartz

My full up-front disclaimer: one of the primary reasons I'm so excited for this book is that John Schwartz's daughter, Elizabeth, was one of my student employees when I was working as a student services assistant at my alma mater. I met John and Joe many times over the intervening years, and I'm so excited for their important story to hit bookshelves today.

The LGBT memoir is almost a genre unto itself. Each person's experience is different, but there are almost always some unifying themes: difficulty connecting with family, the "coming out" narrative.

This memoir isn't like that.

For starters, it's written by John Schwartz, a father of a gay teen, rather than by the teen himself.

See, John and his wife never were confused. They knew Joe was gay before Joe knew. On the interview John did yesterday with Terry Gross, he describes how Joe, who was a precocious reader, found the word, "Homosexuality" at about age 5 or 6, and then looked it up—only to find, to his dismay, that apparently boys were supposed to like girls.

John spent all of Joe's childhood trying to figure out how not to jump the gun: how do you let your child come out to you naturally and at his own pace, without making it seem to him that you are invalidating his experience by saying, "Oh, you were the last one to know." How do you balance your child's natural flamboyant energy with your desire to keep him from doing things that will cause him to be ostracized? (There's a heartbreaking story about the conflict behind their choice to hide Joe's Barbies in the attic to keep him from taking them to kindergarten—is it the right thing to do? Will it hurt him? Are they being terrible parents, or making way for him not to be bullied?)

And most importantly, how do you face the moment when, despite your unwavering, constant acceptance of your child and his sexuality, he decides that death is preferable to the ongoing harassment he experiences at school?

ODDLY NORMAL is a memoir that doesn't follow the traditional "overcoming your family's hatred" narrative, for as the U.S. becomes a nation that increasingly accepts marriage equality, that repeals DADT, features same-sex romances on popular teen shows like GLEE, that narrative starts to change. ODDLY NORMAL is an LGBT story for the 21st century—about how one lives in a family where you are accepted and loved, but still have to go through the process of learning to accept and love yourself.

You can listen to Terry Gross interview John and his wife about this book at the NPR website.
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