Lessons from Book Club Gatekeepers

In February, the Publishers Advertising and Marketing Association (PAMA) held an event entitled “Lunch with the BookClub Gatekeepers.” We were excited to attend and hear about how some of the most influential decision-makers in the world of book clubs make their selections and keep their communities thriving.

Maddie Caldwell, founder and host of WORD Bookstore’s Romance Book Group, Leigh Newman, books editor at O: The Oprah Magazine, Glory Edim, founder of Well Read Black Girl, and Karah Preiss, co-founder of Belletrist gave us an inside look at the resources they use to find new titles, and how they connect with their communities of engaged readers. Here is some of what we learned!

Word of mouth recommendations are still key

The panelists all agreed that personal recommendations were one of the core ways that they determined which new titles would be most appropriate for their book clubs. Ms. Newman mentioned how much she appreciates publicists who recommend books that aren’t necessarily among their own authors,  but which they think would be good candidates for the Oprah Book Club (OBC). Even though these publicists aren’t pushing their own titles, they are demonstrating that they care about the overall success of the OBC and know what kinds of books Ms. Newman is looking for. Ms. Caldwell finds a lot of recommendations from romance authors and readers on Twitter, where fans of the genre are active and recommend generously. These gatekeepers are still fundamentally looking for the kinds of books with grassroots buzz; the books that people can’t stop talking about.

Instagram is the platform of choice for book-loving millennial influencers

As founders of digitally-based book clubs with predominantly millennial audiences, both Ms. Edim and Ms. Preiss highlighted Instagram as a crucial resource for helping them keep abreast of new titles and new trends. It is one of the principle places that they find book recommendations. They follow bookstores, authors, and trendsetters both inside and outside of the book industry. In addition to using Instagram to discover new titles or authors to feature in their book clubs, they use Instagram as a community hub for their own book clubs. Well Read Black Girl and Belletrist, with 78K and 174K followers respectively, are very active on Instagram. Belletrist uses Instagram to keep its members engaged with the club and with each other, often by posting questions that followers will answer in the comments. A recent post asking  “What are you reading?” received 350 comments and over 6.5K likes. You can check out some of our favorite book industry Instagram accounts to follow here!

Enthusiastic authors make for successful book club picks

One of the most important factors for a successful partnership between a book club and a book is the willingness of an author to participate. Authors who provide interviews, or write content that is directly or indirectly related to their book are creating supplementary content that helps keep book club members engaged with their community as they read. For example, when Wild was an OBC pick, Ms. Newman interviewed Cheryl Strayed about the “7 Things That Didn’t Make It Into Wild and the “6 Reasons Wild Almost Didn’t Get Written.” Lesley Nneka Arimah, author of What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky, a book club pick for Well Read Black Girl, was interviewed by Ms. Edim at a WRBG live event in Brooklyn, and an excerpt was put up on the WRBG YouTube channel. The panelists wanted authors for their book clubs who were active partners; who would work with the clubs to help promote their title and give readers a meaningful and enjoyable experience.

Book clubs want more substantial reading guides and supplementary material

Panelists generally liked the idea of reading guides and supplemental material to enrich the reading experience for their audiences. But, they noted that sometimes this supplementary material can feel condescending. They, and their book club members, want substantive questions for book club guides. Ms. Caldwell hoped to see romance novels with additional material about consent, feminism, and body image in the reading guides. The members of her book club want to tackle complicated and nuanced questions and would be happy to have more intellectually engaged reading guides. The panelists were also interested in other types of material, like photos from an author’s research, as a digital resource rather than as a print addendum. They are looking for additional content in a variety of formats that truly enriches the reading experience.

Package galleys with the recipient in mind

All panelists expressed a desire to have the relevant information they need about a title in one clear place on a galley. These gatekeepers need to quickly see the pub date, the publisher, and the contact information for the publicist. Printed inserts in galleys tend to get lost, so panelists requested that the publishers in the audience consider putting that crucial information in the frontmatter of their galleys or on the front cover. Including the pub date on the spine is extremely important, too! Ms. Newman receives so many galleys for consideration for the Oprah Book Club that she sorts them into piles by pub date and emphatically requested that all publishers place that date on the spine for easy visibility.

If you’re sending digital galleys to media and book club gatekeepers, be sure to include this important information in your subject line and/or at the beginning of your email!

 

If you are interested in attending future PAMA events, you can take a look at their upcoming events or sign up for their newsletter. We hope to see you there, or at other events around the publishing industry!

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