Legally bookish: Reese Witherspoon and the boom in celebrity book clubs

From The Guardian:

Every novel I’ve ever read as part of a book club has involved a sprint to the finish. My latest group is no different, except for the possibility – at least as I understand it – of being publicly shamed by Reese Witherspoon. Which is why I am speed-reading the new novel by Celeste Ng, an hour before I am due to discuss it with my fellow members of Reese’s Book Club.

Already I am mentally drafting my apology to our host. “Sorry, Reese. It’s just been a really busy month” – not least because of all the celebrity book clubs. Today, more than 25 years since Oprah Winfrey launched hers, everyone is leading their own community of readers, from the Queen Consort to rapper Noname, from former NFL quarterback Andrew Luck to singer Amerie, from ex-vampire slayer Sarah Michelle Gellar to late-night host Jimmy Fallon.

This does not mean hosting monthly sessions at their mansions, putting on a spread and leading a debate about themes. From the talkshow-discussion-and-book-jacket-sticker-endorsement format pioneered by Winfrey (and, in the UK, Richard and Judy), today’s celebrity book clubs are conducted via social media.

Each celebrity’s involvement varies massively, from merely posting a picture of the cover on their Instagram Stories, to interrogating authors about their intent, live before their millions of followers. Likewise, the expectation of “members” can be as minimal as following the discussion without having to read so much as the blurb. And yet, for all their informal organisation, these virtual reading groups led by a famous figurehead have emerged as a driving force within the publishing industry, and a factor in many of its biggest recent successes.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (Witherspoon’s inaugural pick, back in 2017), Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason (selected by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop club), Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (chosen for news anchor Jenna Bush Hager’s group) and Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (spotlit by Emma Watson) have all been helped to success by famous readers and their followers. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens has now sold nearly 1m copies in the UK, according to Nielsen BookData, the majority long before this year’s film adaptation – and many due to the Witherspoon effect.

In the social media age, Witherspoon has actually overtaken Winfrey as publishing’s starriest powerbroker, having turned good taste in books into one arm of a media empire. Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild, Ng’s earlier novel Little Fires Everywhere and Where the Crawdads Sing were all Reese picks before being subsequently adapted by the actor for the screen. Daisy Jones & the Six is in production for Amazon Prime.

For Witherspoon, the value is obvious. She was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Strayed in 2014’s Wild, providing the seed for her Hello Sunshine production company. This August, she sold it for a reported $1bn. But, says Bea Carvalho, head of fiction at Waterstones, although the benefit of any celebrity endorsement on sales is hard to measure precisely, there is a net benefit for the publishing industry, too. “Crossover with film and media always has a positive impact,” she says, “and her conversations on social media raise that profile further. Her voice is a strong and trusted one.”

For Shannon Theumer, one of the first members of Reese’s club and founder of an unofficial Facebook group numbering around 100,000 members, Witherspoon was her “way into the book world”. Theumer started reading along with the actor in 2014, when she was a teenager in rural Germany and Witherspoon was just posting recommendations on her Instagram. “I grew up reading All Quiet on the Western Front, To Kill a Mockingbird, all these things,” says Theumer, now 25 and living in London. “It got to a point where I loved reading, but I wanted to read more about me.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

The Effect of Book of the Month Club on Book Sales

From Book Riot:

I have a confession to make: until I started doing research for this article, I had no idea that Book of the Month is almost 100 years old. That tells me two things: for one, it seems that I live under a rock; for another, it speaks to the level of success of Book of the Month’s rebranding strategy. Now, does this mean that it is all-around successful for everyone, authors included? That’s an altogether different question.


The short answer: Book of the Month (BOTM) is a subscription service that lets you choose from seven (as of March 2022) books, then it sends you a hardcover copy of the one you picked. If you like more than one of the choices, you can opt to buy add-ons for an extra fee.

The long answer: throughout its history, Book of the Month has been a book club, a subscription service, and a cultural phenomenon. It launched in 1926, the brainchild of Harry Scherman, Max Sackheim, and Robert Haas. Based in Camp Hill, Cumberland County, Book of the Month Club identified a market for a mail order book distribution service. It became an incredible success in a relatively short time: its initial 4,000 subscriber list expanded to 60,058 by 1927. This was by and large due to its two main tenets:

  1. On one hand, it tapped into the middle-class American wish to, as Caitlin Gannon puts it, “stay current.” By offering them a new book vetted by a panel of editorial experts, the company managed to make them feel that subscribing was the key to accomplishing that goal. The panel in question was composed of Dorothy Canfield, Henry Canby, William Allen White, Heywood Broun, and Christopher Norley; and over the next few decades, they became synonymous with Book of the Month Club.
  2. On the other hand, buying books in 1926 was not half as simple as it is today. Bookstores were set in urban areas, making it hard for a lot of people to make the trip. The convenience of offering these books straight to their doorstep was a major factor to Book of the Month Club’s success.

. . . .


In the past, it absolutely did. Book of the Month Club’s first selection was The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway’s first novel. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger were also selections in 1936 and 1951, respectively. In 1978, Nelson DeMille’s debut novel By the Rivers of Babylon was another Book of the Month Club pick, at the beginning of what became a wildly successful career.

But what about Book of the Month’s current iteration? Does it make any difference to sales? Well, that can be a little hard to identify.

. . . .

In order to find the answer, I reached out to authors, editors, and agents. I was particularly interested to hear from bestselling author Amor Towles’s agent, Dorian Karchmar at WME, as two of his three published novels have been Book of the Month picks. As it turns out, it’s not as straightforward as it may seem. As Karchmar told me,

“Amor’s novels are so beloved, the growth of his fanbase so organic, word-of-mouth-based, and deeply supported by booksellers (independent booksellers, most especially), librarians, and other recommenders, that I wouldn’t try to make the case that Book of the Month Club played a signal role in the success of A Gentleman in Moscow or The Lincoln Highway.”

She did make a case for Book of the Month making a real difference in other cases: “I have absolutely seen the impact of a BOTM selection when it comes to authors and novels that are on the brink of breaking out to the next level, and have benefitted significantly from BOTM’s curation and skilled deployment of Instagram.”

. . . .

Even when exact sales numbers aren’t available, partly because of the reasons mentioned above and partly because others told me it was company policy not to reveal figures, there are factors to consider: social media engagement is a considerable one. Kylie Lee Baker, whose debut novel The Keeper of Night was a selection last November, told me that she doesn’t have actual book sales numbers because she hasn’t received her first royalty statement yet. But she “definitely saw a significant increase of people tagging me on Instagram with BOTM copies in November.” The site also features over 6,000 reviews of her book, indicating that, not only was her novel chosen by a great number of subscribers, but it generated enough interest for those subscribers to log back in and take the trouble to leave a review.

Link to the rest at Book Riot