A couple of interesting articles this week share a common theme. At the Huffington Post, Jason Pinter argues that publishers shouldn’t create a self-fulfilling prophecy by refusing to publish and market books for men because the common wisdom is that “men don’t read.”
Meanwhile, at the online magazine Guernica, Jay Baron Nicorvo argues that publishers are damaging the future of literary fiction by chasing big blockbusters instead of trusting their judgment and publishing the best books they can find.
The book industry and the world of libraries where I work are full of dire predictions these days. It makes for quotable copy here in the blogosphere and in the ten-second-blurb-obsessed media. But there’s often not much data to back these forecasts of doom. If writers like Pinter and Nicorvo are right, and I think they make good points, publishers and the people who purchase books can damage the industry and the quality of books by chasing imaginary trends.
Why does this matter to book groups? Book groups exert a great deal of influence when they select books, when they decide the way they will conduct their meetings and which readers they will try to attract. Not only do our decisions result in big sales figures, but they also create buzz, often deciding which books will break out.
I would encourage book groups to stay independent. Forget the supposed trends. Read books that interest your members, not necessarily the same book that every other book group is reading. Spread the word about what you find. Start your own trends. You’ll leave the book world and the publishing industry more healthy in the process.
Publishers have learned to market certain books to book groups, and to some degree that’s good. It gives the thousands of book groups around the world more of the influence they deserve and creates a strong market for a certain kind of writer.
But if the “book group book” becomes limited to a stereotyped niche–say literary fiction and memoirs that aren’t too difficult but have some troubled relationships, a touch of romance, a dollop of historical content–then book groups are throwing away their power. They’ll lose power as their memberships becomes conscribed to the portion of the population that likes the “book group book” and the books marketed to them become, in essence, another genre.
Encourage diverse membership in your groups. Sample from the many kinds of books that interest those diverse readers. Don’t let your group become a stereotype. That’s the best way to defy the doomsayers, keep the book world healthy, and make your book group experience fresh and healthy every time you meet.