Sunday, June 22, 2014

Stealing a school election, revolutionizing the publishing industry, potato, potahto

I'll admit I liked the galley's cover better.
He's lean, he's keen, he's of color and not just 'cause he's Greene, and he's getting seen.

But the finished book's cover ain't bad!
We're most of the way through the Great Greene Challenge, a friendly battle among indie bookstores to sell as many copies as possible of a funny, well-written-and-characterized middle school caper to prove that such a book with a diverse cast depicted on its cover can be a viable publishing venture. I'm not expecting us to end up in first place (what's this I hear about some stores' campaigns involving costumes?), but I don't much care. We've sold plenty more copies than we ever would have if the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement hadn't brought it to our attention, and if that's true in other stores, that's enough to say to the publishing industry that books like this are worthy of editorial energy and of marketing dollars. Yes, we're pushing this one extra hard, but the fact is, customers are buying it.

In some ways, "challenge" is an appropriate word. This is a hardcover by a debut author, and one that, regardless of its characters' ethnicities, doesn't have a wildly successful readalike right now. This is not an "if you liked Wonder" book, or an "if you liked Wimpy Kid" book, or an "if you liked Percy Jackson" book. The Ocean's Eleven comparison is apt, but it does more to encapsulate it for parents than to align it with kids' other favorites. It's just a book with great characters and a complex plot involving sticking it to the principal. (Don't worry, the principal deserves it.)

People like context with their books. When they already know the author, or there's a movie coming out, or they can make an easy comparison with another favorite, they feel like they know what they're buying. I've found that when I just describe the plot of this one without attaching it to anything, it's been hard to handsell. But when I say, "we're competing with other indie bookstores to sell this and prove to the publishing industry that a great book with a diverse cast can do well," they take an interest. Some of them may know about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement; others don't but still know that we need diverse books. Some care deeply about indies, especially these days. Many, I suspect, like the feeling that they're participating in something current and important.

And they are. They're helping ensure that in a year or two, booksellers will be holding up other inclusive books and saying, "If you liked The Great Greene Heist..."

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