So my panel at the Writers League of Texas conference in Austin last weekend went really well—one of the most fun moments came early on, when Dallas Morning News book review editor Michael Merschel plopped that plastic USPS bin on the table and explained to the authors in the audience that he gets enough books every day to fill at least one of them. Sara Nelson, sitting next to him, said they have it even worse in the Publishers Weekly offices; they get about 200 books a day, and only review 100 a week. (I’m not buried under quite so voluminous a load, but it’s a rare weekday I don’t get at least half a dozen books at my maildrop.) Given those odds, it’s easy to see how your book can get lost in the shuffle, so everybody was hoping we’d have some advice on how to stand out from the pack. (Even if you do get notices, however, it’s best to have realistic expectations; in her keynote address earlier that day, Nelson spoke about how her insider status assured plenty of media attention for her 2003 memoir, So Many Books, So Little Time, but the hoopla didn’t move her sales past “respectable” into runaway success.)
I’m sitting between Eileen Flynn, the religion correspondent for the Austin American-Statesman, and local NPR producer Ian Crawford, and the fact that they’re both journalists on a beat other than books was of no small import; one of the recurring themes during our hour-long conversation was the importance of having something to say beyond “I have a new book out.” (“So do 500 other people this week,” I commented. “What makes you so special?” It sounds mean, but it’s the question you really do have to figure out.) Both Flynn and Crawford discussed how they call upon authors who can speak eloquently about their chosen subjects in relation to current events; I reiterated my argument about why storytelling is such a crucial element of successful book trailers. We all agreed that blogs have changed the playing field, though we have probably different takes on the long-term prospects for the book review as we know it. Then again, as I told the audience, it’s not as if people want their book to be reviewed so they can finally find out if it’s any good or not; they just want to get their name in the paper.