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Posts Tagged ‘Amanda Ross’

Are Book Clubs Ruining the Reading Experience?

It’s a controversial (albeit familiar) stance that any type of book club from Oprah to Richard & Judy encourages homogeneity, which is why the Sunday Herald’s doom and gloom article about whether book clubs are, in fact, “ruining” reading and publishing leaves me feeling more than a little skeptical, even if there are many good points made. “People were initially very sniffy when Richard and Judy announced plans for the book club. They thought it would be about promoting trash fiction,” said publishing commentator Danuta Kean. “But Amanda Ross recognised that people were interested in literary books as well as more commercial ones and the list is a great mix. That can only be a good thing.”

The problem is, Kean explains, “as soon as they saw its effect, publishers started looking for books that would be selected for the Richard and Judy list. They are also looking for a recommendation from Waterstone’s and to be the hot pick on Amazon.” And now that Tesco is teaming up with Random House for its own book club, the cries of commercialization are growing louder.

Even R&J-picked author James Robertson, author of THE TESTAMENT OF GIDEON MACK, has doubts. “The downside is that if someone goes into a book shop and buys the books that Richard and Judy have recommended, perhaps they won’t buy other titles,” he says. “There is no doubt that there are winners and losers in this. That’s something I feel slightly disturbed by. There is a sense that it is very much about corporate dealing.” Cathy Kinnear, manager of an independent bookshop in Glasgow’s west end, concurs. “The book clubs are not about giving people choice,” she says. “They are actually narrowing it. We can offer recommendations that are targeted at our customers, bearing in mind local preferences rather than picking out a few books for the whole nation.”

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Design for Publishing

The Bookseller’s Joel Rickett offers the scoop on what it’s like to sit in on a jacket cover meeting at a publishing house. In these notoriously fraught affairs, Rickett writes, editors, marketeers, publicists and sales staff plough through piles of cover mock-ups fresh from the art department. Dozens of jackets may be quickly approved, but sooner or later there’s a stumbling block: the editorial director loves a cover, but the sales director hates it. The designer is sent back to their Mac with a brief to incorporate 17 new elements from previous bestsellers, while simultaneously trying to make it look “more original”. Most of the decision-making is internal unless someone like Amanda Ross, producer of the Richard & Judy book club show or B&N’s Sessalee Hensley objects, and then they go back to the drawing board.

But now there are more options, especially with regards to backlist titles. “Research can be useful to take an author up a level,” says Ed Christie, sales and marketing director of Transworld and RH Children’s Books. “Sometimes publishers can get stuck in a loop, and research breaks the cycle. You’ve still got to be bold, not slavish, but you can learn from a particular market.” The new-look Vintage Classics, launching in the UK this August, also benefited from outside market research. Vintage publishing director Rachel Cugnoni said the groups “wanted something they could trust, that wasn’t too overstated, with a sense of aesthetic style. Books that would feel as happy in Heal’s as in bookshops.”

But as Egmont publisher Helen Stables pointed out, no matter how solid the research is, it cannot supplant good design skills. “Any data you get needs to be translated by an excellent art director into a bestselling cover. It is a guide to target audience preference, not a substitute for creative excellence.”