Category Archives: Bookselling

Do Celebrity Book Clubs Sell Books?

Reese Whitherspoon has taken up the challenge of recommending books to fans and followers. Vox says it is an extension of her personal image. “Witherspoon’s star image is based on the idea of Witherspoon as smart and driven and bookish — in a funny way, a likable way.”

Some of her selections have sold hundreds of thousands, which is very exciting for those select authors; but this article has a remarkable detail about the book industry as a whole. It says that with 300,000+ new titles published in the US every year and 2,200,000+ published worldwide, readers want to get recommendations from celebrities they trust.

But here’s the shocker. Though sales of selected books soared when Oprah picked them, the overall sale of books that year stayed within expectations. “Exactly as many people bought books as were already going to buy books.” More readers are reading certain books, but apparently more people are not reading. Or at least they are not buying books to read.

In 2018, Pew Research reported that three out of four Americans read one book in any format last month, and that rate has been steady since 2012.

Reviews Are not Strictly Evaluations

John Wilson of Books & Culture, the Christian review of books published bi-monthly 1995-2016, talks about book reviewing with FORMA.

Is it harder to control the “gush” for a book you really like or the harshness for a book you think has major problems?

Wilson: Ha! It’s not so much a matter of “controlling” gush (just say no); it’s rather a matter of finding a way to single out a really good book at a time when people are acclaiming “masterpieces” right and left, cheapening the conversation. I don’t often review books that I think are terrible, or that are entirely uncongenial to me, but a reviewer who’s never critical—sometimes sharply so—is letting the side down.

But having said that, I’m reminded of another widespread misconception: that reviews are all about “evaluation,” the reviewer—from his or her lofty perch—saying “5 stars” or “2 stars” or whatever. There’s so much more to it.

For your Spectation

I have a new column up at The American Spectator Online today: Slaves to Intellectual Fashion: 1619. A little more fiery and dismissive than my usual stuff, I think. This particular initiative gets my goat in a personal way. I consider it slander against a country I love and am grateful for.

The weekend was good, thanks for asking. We had a couple Viking groups at Nisswa, Minnesota for a one-day Viking event on Saturday. I took a few pictures, but they weren’t very good. Having 2 groups together made it possible to have some relatively impressive battles, with (I guess) 15 to 20 guys all together. I did not participate in those. I sat in my pavilion in Viking splendor, dispensing wisdom and information to all comers. Also selling books.

It was nice, the weather was beatiful, and I stayed with some very gracious hosts in Brainerd. All in all, pretty rewarding. The scuttlebutt is that the event will happen again next year.

Alcorn Giving Away His Royalties

Years ago, author Randy Alcorn was a pastor, participating with his church in some resistance work at the local abortion clinic. For that work the courts penalized him and other members of the team thousands of dollars to be paid to the clinics. They would not pay. More court hearings came with more penalties, eventually landing the group in a jury trial before an angry judge.

“On February 11, 1991, nine of the twelve jurors agreed to award the abortion clinic $8.2 million dollars, averaging about $250,000 per defendant. It was the largest judgment ever against a group of peaceful protestors. “

But Alcorn has not paid the clinics anything; instead, he has given away over $8.2 million in book royalties to various charities. He wrote about all of this on his blog last month.

Alexandria the Great

Photo credit: Chris Falteisek

For a few days I was a rock star. Granted, I was a rock star with “selective appeal,” but a couple hundred people in Alexandria, Minnesota treated me like a celebrity.

The event was the Tre Lag Stevne. The Bygdelags (as I explained last week) are organizations composed of descendants of immigrants from various Norwegian regions. The three “lags” who met for the stevne (gathering) were groups from Gudbrandsdal, Hedemark, and Trondelag. They invited me to lecture twice on Thursday – once on the Lindisfarne raid in 793 AD, and again on the book Viking Legacy (which I translated; might not have mentioned that to you before).

The audience was attentive, smart (they laughed at my jokes) and appreciative. They descended on my book table like a flock of seagulls and snatched up every copy of Viking Legacy I brought. On top of the sales, I got an honorarium which was generous by my standards.

I have no complaints.

The next day I had to be in a meeting in Fergus Falls, just a little up the road, so I stayed a second night. I had some free time – and when Walker has free time in Alexandria, he can’t resist visiting the Kensington Rune Stone Museum. I’ve been there before, but I heard they’d made some changes.

Photo credit: Lars Walker

This is the stone itself. I have grave reservations about its authenticity, but you can’t deny it’s become a part of history in its own right.

Photo credit: Lars Walker

This display is the main thing I came to see. They did an upgrade to the museum a few years back, and decided to include a tableau about the real Vikings (even if the stone is genuine, it’s not a Viking artifact. Its date is 14th Century, long after the Viking Age ended). The person the museum hired to make costumes for the Viking family was my friend Kelsey Patton – who also made the Viking trousers and summer tunic I’m wearing in the top picture.

Photo credit: Lars Walker

Here’s a surprise – the museum has a Viking ship, in a barn outside. It’s a ¾ scale replica of a Viking knarr (a cargo ship), which was built as a project some years ago by the American Museum of Natural History. Somehow it ended up here.

An interesting and profitable few days. Thanks to everyone who made it possible.

One of the better days

Today I was a rock star. A rock star for a very small public, I’ll grant you, but I’ve rarely faced such an appreciative crowd as the people at the Lag Stevne at the Holiday Inn in Alexandria, Minnesota today.

The Bygdelags, as I explained yesterday, are groups of people whose ancestors came from various regions of Norway. Genealogy is one of their primary interests. So they like history, and they were primed and ready for a morning lecture on the 793 AD Lindisfarne raid, and an afternoon lecture on the book Viking Legacy and its themes.

They ate it up. They listened with rapt attention, laughed at my jokes, and asked good questions afterwards.

And then they bought up my entire stock of Viking Legacy, plus a good number of West Oversea.

I am a happier, and more prosperous, man today.

Thanks to all the Lag folks.

Reporting from the field

I write this from a motel in Glenwood, Minnesota. I’m speaking at a bygdelag meeting in Alexandria tomorrow, and I figured I’d take a room up here so I wouldn’t have to get up tomorrow before it was tomorrow. Glenwood is sufficiently close to Alex, and the rooms are a little cheaper here.

Bygdelags are an old institution among Norwegian-Americans. They started as social organizations for people who came from particular regions or neighborhoods in the old country. Nowadays (much consolidated due to falling membership) they’re largely about mutual support in genealogy. (Or so I believe; I may learn other things tomorrow.)

They asked me to do two lectures — morning and afternoon. They specified that they wanted to hear about the great 793 AD Lindisfarne raid (considered the start of the Viking Age) at 9:30 a.m. So I did some research and was happy to add to my store of knowledge. In the afternoon I’ll do my extended infomercial on Viking Legacy. My hope is to sell a lot of books.

Sorry, the lectures aren’t open to the public, as far as I know.

The Traveling Bookstore of France

Jean-Jacques Megel-Nuber’s first drawing of his imagined bookstore on wheels had little in common with its final design. “It looked like the cabins in a Christmas market,” says Megel-Nuber, who is from the Alsace region of eastern France, known for its festive seasonal markets. He had originally thought about opening a brick-and-mortar bookshop but decided he wanted one that could travel to French country towns whose bookstores have often closed. He also wanted a space where he could live during his travels.

So he commissioned a young design firm to construct a cute, little store on a trailer that travels through rural France with 3,000 books, typically stopping at festivals. He’s dubbed his shop Au Vrai Chic Littérère (The Truly Elegant Literary).

Viking alert

My renowned Viking tent (seen here a year ago) will be on display once again (God willing) at Danish Day at the Danish-American Center, 3030 W. River Parkway S., Minneapolis, this Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 or so. I’ll be there with the Viking Age Club & Society, selling books and pretending to be a bigshot. The weather looks to be OK.

You have been warned.

Survivor’s report

Photo credit: Erik Patton

Above you see me this last week, at the Festival of Nations in St. Paul. The Festival of Nations is a celebration held annually to rejoice in the rich diversity of our community.

Can you speak the words “rich diversity” without that intonation that implies quotation marks? I know I can’t. I’ve tried.

It’s not a bad event, and my sales (more on those below) were pretty good. But it’s grueling. It just involves sitting around, but you sit around in a windowless, echoing concrete cavern, and Friday and Saturday are twelve-hour days – ten to ten. It wears on an old man.

We had an example of rich diversity at a nearby vendor’s stall, where a gentleman was selling “Ojibway Beadwork.” Another Native American came over and insisted he had no right to make or sell what he was making and selling. Wrong tribe or wrong designs or something. The offender packed up and left, saying he felt unsafe.

You may extract what moral you will from this story.

But I did pretty good business. Saturday in particular was excellent – at one point I had a line of three people waiting to buy Viking Legacy (the book I translated, if you’re new around here). This occurred – of course – just as I was sitting down to eat the Chinese meal I’d brought from the food section.

It’s not true that I’d rather eat than make money. I produce this anecdote as proof. My sesame chicken was cool by the time I got to it, but I made sales.

I really think we’ve got great possibilities in Viking Legacy. Again and again I had the experience of explaining the book’s theme (the influence of Viking democracy on our own democracy today) and a kind of light would go on in people’s eyes and they’d reach for their wallets.

My investment in stock was expensive, but I made it all back and took in a fair profit.

Capitalism is good, as every Viking will tell you.

A day in the bunker

Day One of the Festival of Nations is done. This was the easy day – 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Tomorrow and Saturday will be roughly 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday wraps it up for good at 6:00 p.m.

Today and tomorrow morning were/are student days. The place rings with the laughter of children, and the ennui of teens.

When I say “rings,” I mean it. The River Centre is part of a complex (adjective) complex (noun) comprising the Excel Energy Center, the Roy Wilkins Auditorium, and probably a couple other institutions I never noticed. What the River Centre appears to be – mostly – is the basement of the whole thing.

I am not a sun worshiper. I wear a hat for shade when I go outside, and never wear shorts. In general, I prefer to spend my time indoors, away from the sunburn and insect bites.

But a day in the River Centre drives me to consider nudism.

(Not really.)

It’s not only the artificial light – I expect they replaced all the fluorescents with LEDs long ago – but the sound of the place. The reverberations of noise off the bunker walls. I’m too old for this.

However, I recently invested in a stock of Viking Legacy (the paper version is available from Saga Publishing, even though Amazon only carries the Kindle version. For some reason). I’m eager to recoup my expenses. Even at the expense of voluntary incarceration.

Sold 3 copies today, plus one of West Oversea. I consider that OK for student days at the Festival. I don’t expect to sell a lot of copies to kids.

Tomorrow should, I hope, bring serious sales. I seem to recall I’ve had good sales in the past (it’s been a few years).

One high school guy came by and told me he already owned the book. And he hadn’t bought it from me.

I didn’t ask him what he thought of it.

Raising my profile

I clicked over to the Amazon listing for The Elder King today, and was delighted to see that I already have 6 reader reviews, all glowing.

Thanks to everyone who took the trouble write a review. It does matter, and it is appreciated.

It occurs to me that I could appeal to madness of crowds, and ask for promotional tips.

What methods would you suggest for a writer with not too much money to draw attention to his work?

We all know, of course, that the better the advice, the less likely I am to take it. Because really useful promotional techniques generally involve a degree of chest-puffing, arm-waving, and horn-tooting that’s simply beyond my capacity.

But at least you can say you tried.

Beautiful Bookstores in London

Here’s a bit of Monday tourism via desk for you: London’s prettiest, most picturesque bookstores. The image below was taken in Liberia, which prohibits using your phone like this, so images like this are subversive acts of rebellion. Notice the reflective ceiling multiplies the store’s bookish enchantment. You can see more of this wonderful little place in the 360 degree image on their website.