by Francesca Mari writing n The Daily Beast
There is a thing authors do, nervously, when they think no one is looking. They check out their numbers—online sales figures, ratings, rankings, reader reviews.
Joshua Henkin has topped 175 visits to book groups. “With 10 people in each group,” he said, “that’s 1,750 books sold right there.”
Henkin had already participated in over 80 groups, most of them personal visits to between 10 and 12 middle-aged women. By now, he's topped 175. “With 10 people in each group, that’s 1,750 books sold right there.” When his first novel came out in 1997, Henkin said the book got good reviews but fell by the wayside in sales, in part because his editor was dying. “I’d heard enough horror stories in publishing that even if a book got great reviews it wasn’t going to sell well, and I got the sense that so many people were in book groups,” he says. So when Matrimony first came out, he emailed friends to put him in touch. Now groups find him. And he's willing to drive up to two hours, one way, to any group that asks. “Most sales are going to come shortly after publication. When you see sales stay steady,” Henkin says, “something is going on in terms of word of mouth. And that tends to be book clubs.”
Henkin’s efforts are an enterprising response to the publishing industry’s chronic woes. Money is scarce for publicity, and the way it’s often hoarded to buy full-page ads for the books that make bank (think: James Patterson, Stephen King) means that authors must be on-call at all times. To make a living off of fiction, most writers must be as attuned to marketing as they are to writing. Mickey Pearlman, an author, editor, and professional book-club facilitator, says, “The only thing that’s going to save publishing is book clubs.” Pearlman offers four-hour book-marketing seminars (for $500), focusing on “how to creatively market your book on the Web and in other outlets”—one of those outlets being, of course, book groups. “You’re building an interest in you,” Pearlman says, “so they’ll be very likely to buy your next book.”
The focus on book clubs has spurred the evolution of a new breed: the author-hustler, the writer who succeeds in large part because of door-to-door salesmanship. After the writing comes a new challenge, one of industriousness, perseverance, and charm.