How do you select a new book?
I'm not talking about an author you know. I'm talking about walking into a bookstore and surveying the choices among available novels. How do you choose?
Are you drawn to a title? To a book cover? To a publisher?
I've asked this question of readers several times recently. Only once has a reader answered, "I choose a book because of the publisher." In that case, the reader went straight to where the Harlequin category romances were shelved.
Other readers usually described heading toward a specific genre: mystery, romance, or sci-fi. From that point, their answers varied. Most noticed a cover first and then either the title or the author. If the title was intriguing, or if they remembered hearing something good about the author, they'd pick the book up to look at it.
I became interested in this subject after reading an article in the New York Times on August 29th. The story explored the possibility of publishers developing specific imprints intended to help readers find a novel they will enjoy.
"Hyperion is planning to start an imprint aimed at women. Called Voice, the imprint, which will publish its first title in April . . . will be just one of a number of new imprints aimed at female readers: Warner Books already has a women's imprint called 5 Spot and in the fall is starting the Springboard Press, for baby boomers, with a large portion of its titles catering to female readers."
My first reaction was "ho-hum." The romance industry has been doing this for years, with imprints designed to appeal to specific markets like chick lit, fantasy and romantic suspense. I continued to read the article with a high degree of skepticism.
Booksellers sounded skeptical about the idea, too. The president of one independent bookseller expressed her doubts that readers will notice a particular imprint over another. She believes, for readers, "it's much more author-driven."
Pamela G. Dorman, one of the innovators behind Voice, Hyperion's new imprint, said she considered the imprint "as being 'kind of like a book group giving an imprimatur' to new titles."
"'People are overwhelmed by choice, and what they want is someone who is self-selecting for them,' she said."
An interesting concept. Of course, for it to work, the reader will have to have tried one or two titles under the imprint and found that she liked them. Then, she probably will be more inclined to look for another title.
It might help if Voice designed their advertising to appeal to actual book clubs. I have multiple friends who belong to book clubs or discussion groups. They're always on the lookout for new books to read and dissect.
As I think more about this, Voice could prepare handouts (or online) study questions for real book clubs to use in discussing their books. They could also arrange for their authors to do chats with book clubs, either in person or online.
"Authors said that the new imprint, with its smaller list, would give them more distinctive marketing than they might get at a general-interest publisher . . . 'The great appeal of going with Voice was that it was a highly targeted list with a very specific audience,'" according to one writer.
Voice has established a panel of ten professional women to help them stay in touch with their projected audience. The panel is scheduled to meet twice a year.
It will be interesting to see where this initiative goes. And whether it's expanded to other demographic groups: African Americans, men under the age of forty, single mothers . . . the list is endless.