The other day, my friend gave me a magazine article titled Good Books That Almost Nobody Has Read. As booksellers, you know more than most just how many books are published each year. Because of the onslaught, there are many great books that go largely unnoticed.
For the article I was reading, the magazine editors sent similar letters to novelists and critics which read something like this:
“Each year a few good books get lost in the shuffle. It may not be the fault of the publisher, the critic, the bookseller–it may not be anybody’s fault except that of the general system by which too many books are distributed with an enormous lot of ballyhoo to not enough readers. Most of the good books are favorably reviewed, yet the fact remains that many of them never reach the people who would like and profit by them, the people for whom they are written. Then, after a while, the publisher remainders them and they are forgotten. Some week we should like to run a list of books like this, as a means of making amends to their authors–and perhaps also to the public that has so far missed the chance of reading them. Couldn’t you think of two or three or four and jot down their names, preferably with a few sentences identifying them?”
The magazine was The New Republic. The piece handed to me was printed from microfiche, because it was dated April 18, 1934. Eighty years had passed, yet sentiment (and lament) remain the same.
The only indication that the piece was compiled in a different era was a formality of language. That and the fact that those asked to submit titles were Sinclair Lewis, John Dos Passos, Edmund Wilson and others.
While Thornton Wilder thought it was “a fine idea” to compile a list of neglected books, he could only come up with one title. He wrote, “I’m a little surprised at myself for not discovering any more disinterested enthusiasms in this realm, but I guess my successive jobs have undermined my literary and scouting evangelisms.”
See what I mean about the language?
Horace Gregory had no problem coming up with a list. He offered novels, short stories (“which, good or bad, are almost always neglected”), biographies and poetry. “Allen Tate’s Poems: 1928-1931 never made its way,” he wrote. “You know that I violently disagree with most of Tate’s opinions, but I hate to see good poetry neglected.”
At this point, you’re probably either a) fascinated, or b) thinking “what does this have to do with marketing?”
As booksellers, publishers, or marketers in general, we all struggle to come up with new content for newsletters, blogs, social media and the like.
For this content, I took an article that fascinated me, and I made it personal. How? Just by sharing my fascination.
At this point, I could wrap up this “content” by asking you, as booksellers, to submit your favorite books that remain unnoticed. Or I could ask author friends to do the same. Wouldn’t it be interesting to ask publishers for similar lists, but stipulate that the titles can not be from their own houses? Or this could be a quick & easy social media post: “I just read an article from 1934 titled ‘Good Books That Almost Nobody Has Read.’ The more things change, the more they stay the same. What good books have gone unnoticed in this century?”
Whether it’s neglected books, the language of formal letters, or art of writing criticisms in a world without social media, take what fascinates you and write about it. Don’t be afraid to get personal with your content. That’s one of the best perks about being independent.