Happy News–and the Shrinking of Newspapers’ Book Coverage

portland book reviewWe have a lot of new author interviews coming up in 2013, including Anthony Lee Collins of U-town scheduled for New Year’s Eve.

Kristen ForbesMy writer-friend Kristen Forbes had her essay “Dream Girl” published in The Rumpus last week. It’s a candid look at the self and how we project idealized versions of ourselves especially in the world of online dating. Kristen’s essay lent its title to Brave on the Page, and this is an incredibly courageous essay. She warns on her blog that her parents and ex-boyfriends shouldn’t read it… which is all the more reason you should. This piece has inspired me to work on an essay of my own.

I’ve had some very exciting Forest Avenue Press news too.

Our Powell’s City of Books reading, 1005 W. Burnside, Portland, Oregon, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 7. I’m busy working out the logistics. We’ll have five authors reading their flash essays from Brave on the Page, followed by a panel discussion on the creative process. For more information, check out the event details on the Powell’s website. Or RSVP to the Powell’s Facebook event page.

The Portland Book Review just gave Brave on the Page a four-star review. “For any aspiring writer who feels lonely at the keyboard, Brave on the Page is a treasure trove of inspiration and advice on the writing life that will without a doubt encourage,” writes reviewer Kristin Leigh. “In an artfully curated collection of interviews and flash essays written by Oregon writers and edited by Laura Stanfill, authors speak candidly with equal parts depth and grace about their craft.”

I’m especially grateful for the Portland Book Review’s existence because the Oregonian’s book pages have been shrinking; the section two Sundays ago featured one page of reviews, with the facing page featuring a movie review and some literary calendar tidbits. The bottom of that page was anchored by movie listings. As a former newspaper reporter, I imagine the movie folks would not have appreciated anchoring a page featuring book content exclusively, hence the review. Still.

This past Sunday was the first time (at least that I noticed) that the Books section didn’t include any full-length reviews. The lead package featured four university press books, each earning one or two paragraphs. Beneath that article, the Bookmarks column listed four bits of local book news, including the fact that legendary Portland author Tom Spanbauer has signed with Hawthorne Books for a new novel. The remaining space featured a poem by Kim Stafford. So there were eight books total featured, which is great, but I did miss being able to read some actual reviews.

And the second page of books coverage? Anchored by a ton of movie ads again. (That may have started a while ago, but I only noticed recently in conjunction with the shrinking news hole.) The small amount of editorial space left on the page was filled neatly by David Biespiel’s regular poetry column.

Have I mentioned that Brave on the Page made it into the Books pages as part of the Oregonian‘s New in the Northwest column a few weeks ago? I’m so grateful for the mention, especially with space being at a premium.

The shrinking books coverage is no surprise; we have heard lots of rumblings and commentary about that. As a regular newspaper reader, I’ve been alarmed to watch the Sunday books section turn into the books pages over the years, and now a page and a half (or page and a fourth in the case of this past week’s paper). I don’t know what the answer is; editorial space is governed in large part by advertising, and if people don’t want to advertise in the books section then there will be fewer books pages. And of course people can read all the reviews they want online, or even on Amazon–which is a whole other topic about friend-given reviews or even purchased reviews and whether five stars really means five stars. Reading reviews online mean it’s really easy to click a button and purchase a book–something the newspaper can’t compete with.

All this to say, as I get Forest Avenue Press growing, someday I’d love to be able to advertise in the books section of the Oregonian. Even if it’s a tiny little ad. I’d love to support their efforts. I think the world of Jeff Baker, who runs the section and writes a beautiful series on where authors work. And I still believe it’s an incredibly effective way to get the word out about books. Especially when the book is locally generated.

Speaking of which, since those mentions in the Oregonian and the Portland Book Review, we’ve been selling quite a number of books, especially through Powell’s, which has been incredibly supportive of our fledgling small press. I’ve always believed in buying local, and supporting independent stores, and the care and attention the staff has taken with Brave on the Page makes me even more excited to support them as a consumer.

Next year, I’d like to run some blog posts on the art of book promotion. I approach marketing from an old-fashioned, community based perspective, so if you have any questions or topic suggestions leave them in the comments and I’ll get to work.

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
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14 Responses to Happy News–and the Shrinking of Newspapers’ Book Coverage

  1. Emma says:

    Shrinking book pages in newspapers makes me sad. Sounds like you are one busy lady. Wishing you lots more success in 2013, Laura.

    • Me too, Emma. I just opened the Sunday paper and there’s one full page of books coverage–two nonfiction reviews plus the bestseller list. No literary calendar. No fiction. No poetry. What might have been the second page of books coverage is filled with a best-of movies list, so here’s hoping this is a New Year thing and we’ll get another half page next Sunday.

  2. emmaburcart says:

    Yes, it is sad that the book pages are shrinking. Sometimes I feel like there is less and less that I actually want to read in the paper. It seems all the areas cut are the ones I am interested in. And I don’t read movie reviews. Those I judge from the previews. 🙂 I am excited to see Forest Avenue Press grow. You are onto something really great!

    • It is so sad, Emma. I always adore the books coverage–my favorite part of the paper every week. I don’t read movie reviews either.

      Thanks for your excitement about Forest Avenue Press! It has been amazing so far and I can’t wait to see what queries show up in January and February. I’m excited to get reading, and get inspired, by the talented authors who decide to submit to us.

  3. susielindau says:

    I will look forward to you posts about book promotion! There seems to be a wide range of ways to do it and I would love to find the one that works.

    • Thanks, Susie! I’m woefully ignorant on certain types of social media (not on Twitter and FB), but I’m excited to share my knowledge about other kinds of promotion. Now I need a catchy name for this series…

  4. I think that’s a great idaa, Laura. Knowing how to write, having a a book to promote is SUCH a different skill set different from promoting it.

    • That’s so true, Naomi! I hope you’ll jump in and share some of your observations as the series gets going. I have focused on local promotion this time around and will be expanding to look for national recognition for my novels in 2013.

  5. That would be alarming and depressing — to be left with just Amazon reviews. I’ve reviewed a couple of things there, but mostly I don’t bother anymore. Too much effort for something that more and more people are probably ignoring, and that may get removed with no notice at any moment anyway.

    This whole subject, how you’re promoting Brave on the Page, reminds me of the discussion last week about how different writers have to approach writing differently, doing what’s right for them even if everybody else thinks tthey’re doing it wrong. Well, that applies to promotion, too, as you’re illustrating. This is not the accepted method of promoting a new book in 2012 (live promotion events, PoD, no e-book, no Amazon), but it’s working. It’s the right approach for you and for this book, but it’s certainly not how everybody else is doing it (which may be part of the appeal).

    • I like that you brought in the latest Amazon news here, Anthony. I have never reviewed on Amazon but can see, now, as a publisher, that reviews are important. Certainly moreso for certain types of books, and possibly not as important as they were a year or two ago, though.

      Yes, I am terribly old-fashioned in my model so far, but hey, Brave on the Page made the Powell’s small press bestseller list last week, so it’s working! I think there’s a lot to be said for picking your target market with geography in mind. The big houses had national exposure all to themselves for years, because they had the funds, contacts, newspaper reviews and overall reach. The Internet has leveled that playing field, certainly, allowing access to anyone anywhere, but does that mean we all are supposed to go after the world? I’m sure that works for a lot of people, but on the other hand, it seems like finding people who will care about your book is an important first step. For me, for Brave on the Page, that meant focusing locally. I’m excited to do some new, bigger scope things in 2013 to promote novels.

  6. 4amWriter says:

    Yes, I look forward to your posts on book promotions. I bet you can generate some great discussion!

    • I hope so, Kate! It’ll be fun to sit down and think about topics. Right now I’m doing the promotion stuff automatically–another event equals four more press releases to the newspapers, for instance, send out two more review copies, etc.

  7. jmmcdowell says:

    It is sad that the book sections are shrinking, even as the number of books published is growing at such an astounding rate. Add me to the group looking forward to those book promotion posts. I am learning so much from your experiences!

    • I always feel so sad about the state of newspapers, jm. My local monthly came in yesterday and it had two pages of news. TWO! For the whole month. Plus the front page, a lengthy police log (since when do we have that much crime in our sleepy little neighborhood?), a few pages of calendar and a few pages of school news. The biggest thing in the paper was a high school student’s column, which certainly could have been trimmed by half or more to get some more actual news in. I feel bad for the journalists trying to squeeze content into such a small news hole; the problem isn’t lack of content, it’s fewer ads. Sob.

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