Friday, April 29, 2005

Word of Mouth begs Oprah

Word of Mouth Writers, an association of prominent women writers, wrote Oprah a letter, pleading with her to bring back her book club. Whenever Oprah mentions a book it usually hits the New York Times best seller list. The book club boosted sales even more.

I love Oprah but I think it's a pretty sad statement that the writing community is so unimaginative that they have to rely on Oprah to promote books. Sounds like some big-time writers are missing those big royalty checks. Some of the writers: Louise Erdich, Jane Smiley, Amy Tan. As of April 30, Oprah hasn't replied. I hope she doesn't.

Here's an excerpt of the letter: " However, the writer M. J. Rose, a novelist and long-time reporter on publishing news, has noticed something different. Her research suggests that the drastic downward shift actually happened six months after the attacks: fiction sales really began to plummet when the The Oprah Winfrey Book Club went off the air. When you stopped featuring contemporary authors on your program, Book Club members stopped buying new fiction, and this changed the face of American publishing. This phenomenon was a testament to the quality of your programs, the scope of your influence, and the amazing credibility you possess among loyal Book Club readers."

Perhaps the way books are retailed could be improved. Maybe the authors could put more of themselves into promoting their books. Maybe the industry could dig up another worthy promoter-of-books, or maybe a few, so they don't have to depend on one. Perhaps the writers should be pushing their publishers to contribute more to the marketing effort. Perhaps the name writers could start a reading program at their local schools to nurture the future book readers. Maybe they should start blogging. Surely, the future of books can't fall on the shoulders of Oprah.

Here's the pathetic ending: "The American literary landscape is in distress. Sales of contemporary fiction are still falling, and so are the numbers of people who are reading. Readers complain that, although daunting numbers of new books are published, too few of them are brought to the public's attention in a meaningful way. Readers have trouble finding contemporary books they'll like. They, the readers, need you. And we, the writers, need you. America needs a strong voice that addresses everyone who can read, a voice that will say, "Let's explore the books that are coming out today. Let's see what moves us, what delights us, what speaks to us in a way that only fiction does."

Oprah Winfrey, we wish you'd come back.