On the book festival board I serve on, our board president is fond of talking about "the circle of the book." The only other bookseller on our board, he is an antiquarian, something vastly different from a new bookseller. The rest of our board consists of a newspaper editor; a student; an art gallery owner and teacher; the former (now retired) owenr of a book bindery; a professional publicist; a business owner; a Zingerman's employee; a librarian and artist; and a woman who is so busy serving on so many boards I am delighted she is a part of ours. All of us have different ideas of the "circle" and what it might mean.
To me the circle begins with the author. Without words, there would be no book, no circle, no community of book lovers. They have to have something to love! For some on the board, however, the book is a beloved object. They are experts in binding or letterpress printing or papermaking. To them the circle starts with a piece of paper.
For others on the board, the words are important no matter when they were written. Timeliness is not of the essence. For someone who programs a book festival (me), timeliness is key. How else to obtain the creator of these words if not that they are on a book tour?
If the circle begins (as I say it does) with the author, where does it go from there? Well, the author has written a book, he or she has to sell it, so next I assume it would go to an agent, then to an editor at a publishing house, then it would be published. What happens next? A book is published, how does a reader discover that book? The sales staff at the publishing house is part of the equation. But it's not the whole equation.
Booksellers and reviewers are the next piece, and it explains publishers reaching out to booksellers with free copies and enthusiastic letters of recommendation. It also explains the need for book reviews. They want us, as booksellers on the front lines, to recommend the book. I think booksellers and reviewers are a joint piece of the circle.
But since booksellers are quirky and opinionated and sometimes, apparently, wrong (the list of fellow booksellers who picked up an advance copy of The DaVinci Code and laid it back down as unreadable and unsellable is a long one), this is where the whole process can take a turn. Say we take up the cause of a book we love. We read it, we love it, we review it. And more importanlty, we press it in someone's hand. And there's no telling what we might love. I loved John Hart's The Last Child but could get few people to buy it; another bookseller said it flew off the shelves. Go figure.
The other day a woman came into the store who said "God told me to park in front of your store." Well, thank you God, as she then proceeded to buy lots of books. But I was able to recommend a couple favorite writers to her - Deborah Crombie and Erin Hart - and send her on her way, knowing she'd have a wonderful reading experience. That's my part of the circle. And of course this woman is the last part: she's the reader, and that's what every writer, way back in the beginning of that circle, needs to have.
Once I pressed a Ngaio Marsh book into someone's hands and said "I'm improving your life." The thing is, I think that's true. After that reader read Death of a Peer, I'm sure his life was improved. I was having a disussion via e-mail recently about whether personality plays a part in bookselling - if a particular author is very likeable, does that mean they sell more books and win more awards? I think the original product - the book itself - has to be a good one. Personality helps, but it isn't everything. Ngaio Marsh, of course, is long dead (and who knows what she was like) but she's still improving people's lives. As is our bestselling author, Rex Stout.
So the circle, to me, goes like this: author; agent; editor; publisher; sales staff; reviewer; bokseller; reader. We are all a part of it but none of us would be there without the words on the page.