“What section of the bookstore do you want to find your book in?” At a recent book conference, this question was raised by book publishing specialists Arielle Eckstut and David Sterry (authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published):
“When you find that section, go there. Research what books are there. Look at authors, authors’ platforms, editors, agents—and above all jacket copy. How does a book boil down into a paragraph or two?”
So, dutiful researcher and writer that I am, I trotted down to my locally owned bookstore, because I love the supporting the hard-working hippies-turned business-women from the Chicago-7 era. (Reminds me of that new Robert Redford movie: The Company You Keep, but I diverge.)
So I thought about where my book would be shelved. It’s a woman’s coming-of-age memoir set in Alaska. So my shelf categories would include: Adventure, Memoir, Wilderness, Coming-of-Age, and Women.
Pam Houston Over My Shoulder
It so happened that I was also looking to buy Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. My readers, who’ve faithfully read every draft, chapter, paragraph, and listened to every whine and peep about this book, kept saying I needed to read it. That my Wild reminded them of my Alaska memoir. Pam Houston, of Cowboy’s Are My Weakness renown, said the same thing when I workshopped with her: “There’s an author about to be published, whose work should interest you. Your stories are similar. Check out Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.”
Lost and Not Found
So at the bookstore, I looked and looked. I asked a woman shelving books to help. She looked the part: yoga pants, lovely blond braid down her back, no make-up. She’d know. So we looked and looked again. Under all the categories where Cheryl’s and my book would be: No Cheryl and certainly still, of course, no me! My yogi-friend and I laughed at the irony of Wild’s subtle: “Lost and Found on the Pacific Coast Trail,” as we’d hunted down all the places the book might hide.
So we parted ways, and I perused other books. And resolved like the patient person my writing practice has trained me to be, to wait and try again.
Yesterday, I began putting together my wish list of books to which my work should aspire to be compared. This is not my idea. It’s part of book marketing 101. It kind of makes my stomach curl. The pretentiousness of it. How can I compare my work to that of Pam Houston, Cheryl Strayed and Elizabeth Gilbert? Who did they – book publishers–think I am? Who did I think I am? But, it’s what marketing asks of writers. So, I considered books where women set out to essentially find themselves, resolve something of their past or who there are, and where women find themselves vulnerable or in the wilderness. Or both.
Eat, Pray, Research
Here are a few lines that struck me from yesterday’s research. From a review of Pam Houston’s A Little More About Me: “Her willingness to put herself at risk is her way of coping with these insecurities—each victory on skis or in hiking boots a triumph over those nasty demons” (amazon.com).
Likewise Frank Bures, contributing editor at Poets and Writers Magazine writes of Gilbert’s collective work up to and including Eat, Pray, Love, as about the “…yin and yang of toughness and tenderness” (Poets and Writers, Nov/Dec, 2013).
At my beloved, locally owned bookstore, I did eventually trip over Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. IN THE BEST SELLER SECTION. That trumps wilderness, adventure, memoir and women’s categories. Of course! I could live with finding my book in that section. Couldn’t you?
Keep posted for more on jacket copy research coming soon!
What unexpected twists and turns has looking for a book taken you on? What do you like about your locally owned bookstore, if one still exists in your area? With what authors do you most identify, and why?