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Discoverability. It’s a word people who market and sell books use to talk about one of their biggest challenges: with hundreds of thousands of titles published each year, how do readers find the books publishers want? what are they buying?
Word of mouth is the old standby. Media interviews are a big help. Book clubs can go a long way in boosting sales. Put it all together and you have celebrity book clubs, which are increasingly seen as a ticket to success.
It all started with Oprah, who said she wanted to ‘revive reading nationwide’ when she introduced her on-air book club in 1996 – and launched previously unknown authors onto the lists of bestsellers. A new version of the club started in 2012, using social media as its main platform, and there is now a range of celebrity-run book clubs: actress Emma Watson has a feminist book club. Recently retired NFL quarterback Andrew Luck’s club aims to inspire young people to read. Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon has also jumped on the bandwagon, with his Summer Reads book club.
“In today’s media market, there are many options,” says Kristen McLean, book industry analyst at NPD BookScan, which tracks print book sales at major US retailers. “There are many types of media and entertainment that compete for people’s attention,” she says, “and so having high-profile influencers recommending books is very helpful for those books to reach their audience. “
She cites one of the latest entries as an example: Jenna Bush Hager’s book club on Today’s show. She recently announced her August pick, Nicole Dennis-Benn’s novel Pigeon, to the enthusiastic cheers of his audience. McLean says the top five books chosen by the “Read With Jenna” book club saw their sales increase dramatically. “We’ve seen these books outperform the rest of the fiction market by around 500% over this period. So that’s a very healthy performance.”
It’s too early to get the numbers Pigeon, but Dennis-Benn is excited about the prospects of her book, “It’s every writer’s dream, I won’t lie about it,” she says. “It really is a dream come true, for this to happen, to expose more individuals to Patsies in our society.” She adds that many who now read the book may never have been exposed to a character like Patsy, an undocumented immigrant to America who leaves her child in Jamaica to pursue her dream of fortune and romance with another. wife. “You know, when you’re writing, you don’t know who you’re going to connect with,” Dennis-Benn says. “You just know you’re writing for yourself. And you’re hoping someone gets the message. And so when those people who have a platform choose our books, that means they’ll be read widely.”
“One of the things we’re really happy about is when we find a book where the feeling from the community is, ‘I never would have found this on my own,'” says Sarah Harden. She’s the CEO of Reese Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine, and she says Witherspoon’s hugely influential book club grew out of the actress’ sincere love of books. “She’s an avid reader, and she started posting pictures of books she was reading on her Instagram. Sometimes she posts a few books a month, and then a few months go by. But that’s how it is. happened, very organically.”
The book club was officially launched in June 2017 and now has 1.1 million followers on Instagram. Witherspoon selected 26 books, and according to BookScan, these titles sold nearly 700% better than average. 21 of his picks were fiction and they accounted for 2% of all fiction sales during this period. Witherspoon’s recommendation helped turn an early novelist’s book into a bona fide phenomenon: Delia Owens Where the Crawdads sing has sold over 1.3 million copies and has been at the top of every bestseller list for nearly two years. Like many of the chosen books, this is a debut novel by a woman – which Sarah Harden says reflects the club’s wider mission. “Our decision and our goal with Reese’s book club is to find and champion narratives where women aren’t the secondary characters. They lead the action, they have agency, they’re complex, they’re imperfect. And that’s just the focus of our business.”
That would be Witherspoon’s company Hello Sunshine – even before the club started, it was turning to books for properties to produce, including HBO. big little lies. Several of his book club picks have already been cast in film or TV, including Celeste Ng’s Small fires everywhere, in which Witherspoon will star with Kerry Washington. Harden says the series has a built-in audience, “because we have a following of dedicated fans. They love Celeste Ng and they love this book.”
And if the book brings fans to the show, it’s very likely that the show will bring more readers to the book, says BookScan’s Kristen McLean. “Once this film project hits the market, there’s a whole other wave of awareness, promotion and marketing again, and the book, once again, will be right back on the bestseller list. .
McLean calls it a 360 degree deal where everyone wins – celebrity, author and fans.
Tom Cole produced this story for radio and Petra Mayer adapted it for the web.