Fill ‘Er Up?



The literary world is fast evolving, and the changes appear to be so unalterable that the very business of publishing is being reconfigured beyond recognition on a daily basis. It's not just that magazines and newspapers are disappearing, and that the Internet is coming out the victor; it's the fact that there are now things like "espresso" machines, specifically tailored for use in bookstores that can "cook up" a finished book within minutes.

In true, "new media" fashion, another of the stalwarts of the literary landscape would appear to be swiftly succumbing to market forces, if you can go by an article in The New York Times business section of June 11.

It's been a given of the bookseller's trade that one of the best ways to "advertise" a title is to have a tantalizing excerpt from the work appear in a classy publication just about the time the volume hits store shelves. But the industry may have to rethink this methodology, noted Joanne Kaufman in her article "A Publishing Quandary: Do Excerpts Help Sales?"

The example she pointed to at the start of her piece was an excerpt in the July issue of Vanity Fair that was clearly meant to appeal to those who can't get enough gossip about the royal family: a sneak peek at The Diana Chronicles, Tina Brown's highly anticipated look at the greatest thorn in the House of Windsor's side — the Princess of Wales.

"But," asked Kaufman, "will the 8,200-word excerpt prove the literary equivalent of an amuse-bouche, something to tide eager readers over until they can get their hands on the book, [which came out the same day as the magazine was set to appear]. Or will those who plow through the article feel as if they have had their fill?

" 'The goal of any excerpt is to engage readers, to suggest that here is a book that will interest them,' said Paul Bogaards, executive director of publicity for the Knopf Publishing Group. 'But the key is not to sate them with the material. You want the hunger and thirst to still be there.' "

Kaufman noted that while excerpts from high-profile books continue to appear in national magazines, a number of publishers have begun to rethink this once tried-and-true strategy. Sometimes, a preview can give a lift to a book's sales, but there has always been the risk that it might provide too much, "thus stealing thunder (and revenue) from the book."

"Even so, among publishers, 'I see more and more of them interested in the TV interview for their author rather than the book excerpt because TV has a greater reach than magazines,' said Sara Nelson, the editor in chief of Publishers Weekly."

According to Kaufman, magazine editors who used to run to bid for first serial rights "are now exploring their options, choosing instead to run a feature about the book or an interview with the author. Some magazines — Time and Harper's — have turned to asking authors to write an article or essay that touches on issues raised in their book." 



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