Friday, July 6, 2012

Book Publishing Needs A Hot-Dog Eating Contest

Every Fourth of July since 1916, save two years, Nathan’s has crowned a hot-dog eating champion. Reigning champ Joey Chestnut won for the sixth year in arrow, downing 68 franks in just 10 minutes – or one every 9.5 seconds. The world record holder for hot dog consummation won $10,000 for his feat, besting his nearest competitor by 16 hot dogs. It is all very amusing and entertaining. So, my question is this: What can book publishing do to create something as interesting and attention-gathering as this?

The appealing attributes of the hot dog contest are:

·        It is visual – you see them eating more than one normally eats of hot dogs in a year in just a few minutes
·        It is relatable – many of us eat hot dogs and see it as something that we are capable of doing
·        It is an annual ritual with a trusted source – Nathan’s on July 4th.
·        It is measurable – we like statistical competitions and setting records
·        It seems like an ordinary person can participate without restrictions

What can authors or publishers do to create and promote an exciting contest, event or world record that would unite the industry and get consumers excited about books? There are awards, Book Expo America, and major book launch dates – but can we create something that involves mass participation and the consumer?

Here is some of the criteria to consider:
·        Which organization or companies can sponsor the event and award a prize?
·        What will make it media worthy?
·        What will make it easy for people to participate (low cost, little time, something fun)?
·        How can it become an annual ritual?

Some things that come to mind, include the following:

·        A day of literacy – run a telethon-like event where people pledge to donate time, books, money, or resources to help battle literacy
·        A day of launches – authors and publishers team up to make a single day or week a major book launch for as many titles as possible
·        Consumer Day – a day or week where consumers are urged to buy a book and give it as a gift to as many people as possible
·        A readerthon – like a Congressional filibuster, you could have as many authors as possible continuously read a portion of their books – it can be done from multiple locations across the country, simultaneously
·        Have people contribute to one central site or blog, where everyone comments on a specific topic or book

I don’t know, maybe all of these ideas suck. They lack the spectacle that the hot-dog contest features. There needs to be a physical element to the event, something of size. But what? Are we going to build a house out of books or something? That would be cool – to build a bookstore out of books, including tables, benches, etc.

Whatever someone comes up with, it needs to happen sooner rather than later. The space is wide open. Any company or individual can take ownership of the publishing equivalent of the hot-dog swallowfest. All that is needed is a vision – and some money – to launch it. For an industry filled with ideas and dreamers it should not take long to find the catchy event that gets attention for the book industry.

Atlantic City has its beauty contest. Sports have all-star and championship games. Movies, music, and TV have big awards shows. What can publishing do to top Nathan’s?

Think about it and let me know. Or just take the idea and initiate it. Launch a spectacular spectacle of an event that combines competition and cooperation and gives the book world its due.

I guess if books were edible we could have a book-eating contest.

Interview With Author BV Lawson
BV Lawson’s stories, poems and articles have appeared in over 40 print and online magazines, newspapers and anthologies. Her story "Touch of Death" won a 2012 Derringer Award.

1.      What is Your New Book About? My newest collection of eight short stories, False Shadows, features Scott Drayco, a man who had everything going for him: handsome, brilliant, a talented classical pianist in the prime of his youth. After violence scarred him physically and emotionally, he turned to an FBI career and now freelances as a crime consultant, taking on cases other people often don't want to touch. The stories run the gamut from "The Devil to Play," (first published in Static Movement) in which Drayco tries to prevent the theft of a rare violin that appears to be cursed, to "Valley of the Shadow of Death" (originally published in Midnight Screaming), where betrayal leads to attempted murder-by-flash-flood in America's desert southwest.

2.      What Inspired You to Write It? Drayco is a character I've been working on for some time, not only in stories, but also in a series of novel manuscripts I'm currently shopping around. I come from a music background--i.e. violin at age 3, piano at age 6, voice study and two music degrees--and I wanted a protagonist who was also musical. As to why I plopped him down in the crime fiction genre, you can thank my mother for that. She's a retired librarian and lifelong fan of mysteries who got me hooked early on. Drayco is a wounded musician, literally and figuratively. His piano career was abruptly and brutally cut short, making him turn to law enforcement instead. However, music has a lot in common with sleuthing, or as Drayco says, "Musicians try to get into the mind of a composer, revealing what he was trying to say through the music. Investigators try to find clues into the mind of a criminal."

3.      What are the Rewards/Challenges to the Writing Process? The greatest challenge to me is trying to balance all the "platform building" required of today's writers with time for the actual writing. I have two blogs, two websites, belong to several online newsgroups, a few writing organizations, and also have some degree of a presence on the various social networking sites (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, GooglePlus, Goodreads, Pinterest, YouTube). Plus, there's the marketing involved with magazines, anthologies and eBooks in which my stories are included. Fortunately, the greatest reward remains constant: writing makes me happier and more fulfilled than almost any other activity, save being with family.

4.      Any Advice for a Struggling Writer? I think by definition all writers are struggling. Ernest Hemingway famously said, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." The varied, extensive, and often conflicting advice bombarding new writers about every aspect of the process can be overwhelming. What it all boils down to are the three Ps: Practice, Patience, Persistence. And whatever you do, read everything you can get your hands on, preferably the best books in your genre and other genres, as well. Joining a critique group may also be beneficial.

5.      Where Do You See Book Publishing Heading? I wish I had a crystal ball right now! So do other authors and publishers, no doubt. I believe that print book and digital books will coexist for quite some time, but publishers need to make drastic changes to stay alive. Many are beginning to take baby steps in this direction, such as Tor/Forge, which is launching a DRM-free digital bookstore this summer. Enhanced eBooks are still trying to find their footing, but I think you'll see more of this in the future. But in challenge there is opportunity--writers have more choices than ever before and readers may soon find that there is no such thing as an "out of print" book, thanks to digitization and POD, print on demand.

For more information, consult or, where there is crime fiction news, features, and over 3,500 links to resources for both writers and readers.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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