To be successful, most book writers now have to peddle their books door-to-door at book clubs:
“The focus on book clubs has spurred the evolution of a new breed: the author-hustler, the writer who succeeds in large part because of door-to-door salesmanship. After the writing comes a new challenge, one of industriousness, perseverance, and charm. Since 2000, Adriana Trigiani has averaged two to three book clubs a week by phone, and this past April, she led “The World’s Biggest Book Club,” a 300-person event run out of New York’s Convent of the Sacred Heart High School (the very set of Paris Hilton and Lady Gaga’s [mis]education). Chris Bohjalian, whose book Midwives was an Oprah selection in October 1998, began phoning into groups after he was forced to cancel his book tour in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Requests keep increasing, and this year he anticipates talking to 120 groups. As soon as The Divorce Party came out, Laura Dave was reaching out to book clubs at the suggestion of her editor and publicist, both of whom recognized her book’s potential appeal to the middle-aged woman. “Every time I speak to a book group,” Dave says, “almost without exception that book club refers me to another book club that emails.” Dave has done over 100 discussions in person, by phone, and on Skype. She says that Gwyn, the middle-aged narrator of her second novel, is a composite of some of the women she’s met in groups.
The average book club tends to want neither an airplane novel, nor Proust, but something in between: a novel relevant to the members’ lives but also with enough texture for a good discussion. And so reaching out to book clubs is becoming a marketing strategy for more literary works. “I think it’s a rare writer I know who hasn’t done any,” says Henkin. “A lot of people like me, literary writers, whose reputation was to sit back and be snobby, well, it’s really changing.” Khaled Hosseini, author of the The Kite Runner, allegedly took a year off and went to every book group he could. Despite being a bestselling author, Robert Alexander, whose historical fiction trilogy is based on the Russian Romanov family, continues to schedule chats. As does Dara Horn, who has a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Harvard and has taught courses in Jewish literature and Israeli history at Harvard and at Sarah Lawrence College. Even the notoriously shy Jhumpa Lahiri will awkwardly sit through a discussion of her own book—at least when that discussion is attended by Ellen Silva, one of NPR’s senior editors. (In that case, Lahiri’s publisher paid for her to get there.)”