(WOMENSENEWS)--Last month, over 600 women received a free copy of "The Feminine Mistake," the controversial new book by Leslie Bennetts that argues women should not quit work to raise kids.
"This is the equivalent of an old-boys network," Ellen Archer, publisher of Bennetts' book, told Women's eNews.
The book, published by Voice, a new imprint--or brand name--at Hyperion, the New York City-based commercial publisher, is in its third printing, with 42,000 copies in bookstores around the country. It has lit up the review circuit, is continuing to spur talk on the blogs and currently sits on the New York Times extended bestseller list. In its first two weeks in bookstores, it sold approximately 3,000 copies.
Last month, Archer and editor Pamela Dorman used the book's release to also launch Voice and serve, in Bennetts' own words, as the "blueprint for the imprint."
The publisher's use of a personal marketing list is one of several strategies to nestle Voice inside a hand-picked women's community, including an outreach to a network of book clubs and a Web site that reinforces readers' connection to one another. An estimated 95 percent of most book club membership is female, says Carol Fitzgerald, president of the New York-based Book Report Network.
Archer and Dorman plan to develop EveryWomansVoice.com, the imprint's homepage, into a magazine-style Web site to present their books amid a variety of topics of interest to middle-aged women, from current events to navigating the mid-life dating scene to motherhood.
In June, for instance, when Voice releases Claire Cook's "Life's a Beach," a novel about a 41-year-old woman's friendships and romances, the Web site will provide a forum to discuss personal relationships.
Advisory Marketing Council
Archer, senior vice president and publisher of Voice, and Dorman, its vice president and editorial director, assembled the list of 600 women through their advisory council of 10 professional women from the media, academic and business worlds.
Advisors include Candace Bushnell, author of the 1996 book "Sex and the City" on which the TV series was based, and Heather Boushey, a senior economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a think tank in Washington, D.C.
"We wanted women in their 60s, married, divorced, mothers, not mothers," Dorman said, referring to the group that she and Archer are relying on for trend analysis.
The women handed over their Rolodexes, Archer said. Most publishers send freebies to members of the media list--Archer calls it the "big-mouth list"--but Voice's list is different because it goes directly to consumers.
In line with "The Feminine Mistake's" exhortation to concentrate more on work than dependency on men, the imprint will take the financially risky step of ignoring the powerful category of romance books, which make up 26 percent of consumer book market revenue, the biggest money maker out of all genres, including self-help, classic literary fiction and mystery, according to a 2005 Market Research Study by Corona Research, a market research firm in Denver.
Archer and Dorman plan to publish a dozen hardcover titles a year; fiction but not chick-lit, nonfiction but not diet books.
Archer, 45, with two teenaged sons, says she wanted to start the venture because she did not see her own experience charted in the increasingly prevalent media portrayals of stay-at-home mothers.
Geared toward educated and busy women over 35, Voice is the first imprint by a large commercial publisher to focus exclusively on this demographic.
Seal Press, a feminist-inspired imprint founded in 1976 by Avalon Publishing Group of Emeryville, Calif., comes close but is not quite so narrowly targeted. Seal, which published Miriam Peskowitz's 2005 "The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes a Good Mother?" also markets to teens and women in their 20s.
Springboard Press, an imprint of Warner Books, a commercial house in New York, targets the same age group as Voice, but produces practical nonfiction, like diet books, and books for men.
Though Bennetts' book has created great buzz, books about the "mommy wars" face competition and questions of selling power.
Caitlin Flanagan's 2006 "To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife," has sold 9,000 copies in the past year, according to Neilsen BookScan in White Plains, N.Y., which calculates weekly sales data for the book industry. Leslie Morgan Steiner's "Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families," has sold 2,000 copies since February 2006.
Book Club Outreach
Dorman and Archer may be able to boost Bennett's sales by promoting it to book clubs.
Donna Orender, president of the New York City-based Women's National Basketball Association, the league governing professional women's basketball, has chosen Bennetts' book for its "Read to Achieve" book club, a year-round initiative to promote reading. A networking group for female employees of the New York investment bank Goldman Sachs called 85 Broads has also selected it for its book club.
Maureen Langan and Cory Kahaney, hosts of "The Radio Ritas," a radio show sponsored by Greenstone Media--the New York City-based all-women radio network launched in September 2006 by Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem--also chose it as their 2007 book picks, a recommended reading list. ExecutiveMoms.com, an online community of approximately 4,000 mothers in high-profile occupations, also put it on their "bookshelf," a recommended reading list for members.
Book clubs are a key way to reach female consumers, says Lisa Witter, chief operating officer of Fenton Communications, a New York City-based public relations firm.
Witter, who is at work on a book about lessons the social justice movement can learn from private-sector marketing, says women--who she says make 83 percent of all consumer decisions--want to buy books that are empowering and empathetic or full of personal storytelling.
Bennetts' book meets those criteria because it is loaded with personal anecdotes and urges women with children to safeguard themselves against the financial perils of divorce or the unanticipated death of a husband.
Women tend to buy most books, said Tina Jordan, vice president of the Association of American Publishers, a Washington-based nonprofit.
Michael Coffey, executive managing editor of Publishers Weekly, wonders if Voice can succeed with such a tightly focused target audience. "Everyone is interested in that demographic," he said. "I will be interested to see if their focus will sell more books and build up brand loyalty, which only seems to happen with travel guides. You don't buy a Knopf book for fiction. So the focus seems to me to be a bit of a gamble."
Karen Murgolo has similar questions. "I don't know if bookstores are separating out this market," said Murgolo, vice president and editorial director of the similarly tailored Springboard Press.
"We are in our infancy," Archer told Women's eNews, "and it's too early on to tell if Voice will change bookstore shelves."
Jeanine Plant is a Brooklyn-based writer.
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