At nearly every press, there is a room that is stacked high with cardboard boxes.
For people in publishing, a certain feeling may be invoked by this image. I feel it myself. A book unread is a sadder sight than one unloved.
As a publishing student rounding out my final year in grad school, I have found that bookstores have become bittersweet places for me, especially now that I am aware of a book’s progress among the shelves. I now track them, from their start as new releases to their final days on the discount shelf. When a book disappears after that final stage, I know not to assume that it was sold.
For those unfamiliar with these things, that room in every press is meant to hold books that are to be sent out. How long a book is sitting in this space can determine its future at our press and in our backlist.
As passionate as we are about the industry we love, we are still operating as a business. Book sales sustain it.
And in this industry, some books sell well while others don’t. New titles in particular have only one or two boxes in that back room. Other books have more. Some boxes have even begun to collect dust. Some boxes have been sent out and returned with corners folded in and packing labels torn off.
Sometimes the books we love as publishers don’t end up selling as well as we would have liked. I find it important to note here that a book’s not selling well is rarely a sign of its quality. Some factors (like marketing budgets) can be determined, while others remain pure happenstance. Either way, most unread books exist because somewhere along that lifeline between a press and its readers, a connection was cut and a book didn’t make it to readers in time.
Markets move quickly; sales determine our place in them and whether we can remain there for longer than the “new release” phase. In book publishing, we have a very finite period of time to make a first impression on readers: it is about three months pre-launch and five to seven weeks post-launch. Additionally, over three-quarters of these outreach efforts are directed not at readers but at intermediaries like book reviewers, media outlets, and booksellers.
Currently at Ooligan, we are trying to extend this period of time. My position as a manager is transitioning to take on this project.
How do we do this impossible task? By engaging directly with our readers. Media has an expiration date on timely content, but readers experience time differently (more on this soon). We are currently working on planning several strategies to engage readers. This project is somewhere between mass communication and community building, and it involves creating a brand-new publicity department at Ooligan. As for the day-to-day, I have been working on creating various newsletters that include curated content made especially for Ooligan readers. With this work, we hope to build a more direct relationship with the reading communities that we provide books for. In doing this, we hope to extend the shelf life of our books for a longer time than what the present market and media space can offer.
These newsletters allow for us as publishers to speak about our books and how they came to exist. If you would like to receive newsletters from Ooligan, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Our newsletters go out biannually and are tailored to our readers’ diverse reading interests.
One final thought:
A book is a time object that captures its author’s consciousness in the moment in which it is created. A bookstore is therefore a space filled to the brim with people displaced by time. And an author can capture the imagination of readers two decades or two centuries after their book has been released. So, if an author can speak through time and a reader can listen, then why can’t a publisher pull a book back from the past and speak a little about it?