The dozens of publishers who gathered in October for the 30th annual Northern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show in South San Francisco had several things in common. One was to persuade independently run bookstores to buy their stock, naturally. Another was to promote their upcoming “Discovery” titles – books they like so much they singled them out on special display tables. Some of those titles are destined to become best-sellers.
In the competitive $27 billion books industry, publishers continuously hope an emerging author and his/her new book will be discovered by enough readers to become a phenomenon amid all the anticipated titles from the more established competition. J.K. “Harry Potter” Rowling is a classic case in point, as is Laura “Seabiscuit” Hillenbrand.
To that end, publishing-industry blogs, seminars, workshops and articles share marketing strategies about how to maximize book discovery, a burning issue in the industry. Millions of dollars are spent on promoting certain upcoming authors and their potentially best-selling new titles, but insiders will tell you such strategies are risky in the best of times. As Penguin-Random House spokesman Stuart Applebaum once noted, “Even in this digital age, the best sales tool remains word of mouth. Nothing trumps that.”
The goal of all this, of course, is to grow readership.
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During four hours of hunting and gathering at the trade show, I filled a book bag with many of the titles being promoted as “Discovery” titles. This sampling is representative; all their advance buzz has been stellar.
“Dodgers” by Bill Beverly (Crown, $26, 304 pages; on sale April 5): The debut follows teenager East and his “associates,” who take their orders from an L.A. drug gang of older thugs. When they’re sent on a cross-country journey to murder a witness in Wisconsin – which might as well be Mars to them – the story becomes a coming-of-age crime novel-road trip that never loses its edge.
In “Jane Steele,” Edgar Award nominee Lyndsay Faye takes readers on a grimly seductive odyssey in the shadows of Charles Dickens and Charlotte Brontë (Putnam, $27, 432 pages; March 22). Jane conceals her murderous past and true identity to move into Highgate House, which she stands to inherit. There, she survives the intrigue to find the love she’s been seeking – but it comes at a dear price.
“The Widow” by Fiona Barton (NAL, $26, 336 pages; March 1): Jean Taylor’s husband committed an unspeakable crime, one that’s she’s spent years helping him cover up. Now that he’s dead, she can address the suspicions that have always surrounded them and talk to the police and the media about what really happened. Or maybe she should keep the darkest secrets to herself. Shades of “Gone Girl” and “The Girl on the Train.”
For the 21 “dark and goofy” essays-with-twists in “Shame and Wonder,” Paris Review contributor David Searcy traveled around the United States to turn curious scenarios into extraordinary tales (Random House, $26, 240 pages; Jan. 5). For instance, take the story of “the unknown tightrope walker who fell to his death in Texas in the 1880s, and was buried as a local legend but without a given name.”
Robert Grieve is a small-town American teacher who decides to escape mediocrity by dropping off the grid in Thailand and dealing with come-what-may. His adventures begin with an an unexpected fortune in heroin and a beautiful woman, and continue in “Hunters in the Dark” by Lawrence Osborne (Hogarth, $25, 320 pages; Jan. 12).
“The Darkest Corners” by Kara Thomas (Delacorte, $25, 336 pages; April 19): As children, Tessa and Callie witnessed a traumatizing crime that led to the conviction of a serial killer. After the friends drift apart and 10 years go by, another murder in the same style takes place. Is the real murderer still loose? Now Tessa returns home with questions that need to be answered, but someone is watching very closely.