Wild! Finding your book in a bookstore

“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?”

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Bookstore Research

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.” 

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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.

Market Comparisons

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).

Buying Wild

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?

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10 thoughts on “Wild! Finding your book in a bookstore

    • Me too!!!! Yup- have you done a read through yet of my story? I finished a draft of last chapter on Saturday. Feels… well, Wild!!! I’d love your input, but know you’re busy. Also, planning a German ladies tea soon… will send you a scheduling email soon!

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  1. Great post. It really hit home.
    I was at my writer’s group back in March and told them about a book I was working on about a middle-aged woman who thinks she’s invisible and decides to test that. Another writer pulled out a review of Jeanne Ray’s ‘Calling Invisible Women’ and said – you should read this! I refused, not wanting to be influenced by Ray’s book.

    But months passed and I finally picked up a copy. She wrote the same book I’ve been writing– but better!! And hers is published. I couldn’t put it down.

    Now, the big question is — will I ever finish mine? I’ve lost momentum now and figure, ‘Why bother?’ Jeanne Ray’s already written it.

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    • Keep the faith. I’ve had that happen with other books too. But tuck that book behind you. Let some time pass and try not to think about it. As time passes you will realize how your book is different and equally worthy of being written. Time will add other insights and nuances — or another book — that only you are equipped to write.
      Yes, you’ll finish yours. In time.

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