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Thanks to Twitter for the endlessly engaging string of content and link sharing, I’ve come across what has quickly become my favorite column in Huffington Post.  Not only is the woman funny, humble and smart, but she’s also an author here at Penguin.

Since obviously I’m terrible at posting my own content (writing, for me, is one of those things so easily pushed around or shifted to make time for other endeavors, ugh) I’m going to re-post (call me an aggregator of content) my all time favorite Joanne Rendell column!  Additionally, after you enjoy this witty and insightful column on making reading the “healthy and attractive ” lifestyle choice (come on people, cheaper than the prescription drugs the pharma companies sell us!) and take a gander at Joanne’s latest title, CROSSING WASHINGTON SQUARE. Oh, and don’t forget to enter my first giveaway! It’s for an author and book, both of which I’m very fond…

Time to Sell Reading: What the “Good” Publishing Industry Needs to Learn from the Big “Bad” Drug Industry

Author Joanne Rendell

Author Joanne Rendell

I’m going to preface this post by saying I know absolutely nothing about marketing. I have a PhD in literature, not an MBA. I’m married to an NYU professor, but I’ve never been near the business or marketing schools. Furthermore, even though I’m a published author, I don’t know much about the machinations of the publishing industry either. Yet in spite of my lack of knowledge in these areas, I want to make the bold step of offering the publishing industry some marketing advice.

Here goes: “Publishing industry, listen up, it’s time to sell reading.”

The book industry needs to make the act of reading sexy and hip, enviable and sought-after. Instead of putting all their rapidly declining marketing dollars behind single authors and their new releases (think of those rather dull ads on the subway or in magazines which feature an author’s grinning face, a book cover, and a few generic “thumbs up” quotes), why don’t publishing companies run campaigns which would make reading itself a desirable lifestyle choice? Why not help craft a new, exciting, and sexy “reading” identity for people to aspire to? In short, why not take a leaf out of the drug industry’s marketing book?

Now, I concede, the publishing world is a very gentlemanly place. Even though sales are declining, digital media is encroaching, and bookstores are closing every day, the people in the book industry still pride themselves on being good, moral, and thoughtful people. Rejection letters are kind, verbal contracts are held firm, booksellers aren’t too pushy, and lunch at the Algonquin Hotel between editors is an amiable, bookish, and cerebral affair.

The idea that this “good” publishing world might emulate the big “bad” drug industry would probably send the Algonquin’s fine silverware trembling and independent booksellers weeping onto their carefully selected front tables. But the pharmaceutical companies know what they’re doing and they’re doing it well (along with banks, they are now the most successful businesses in the world). If the publishing industry wants to survive, it might have to suck it up and start studying all the tactics employed by the drug industry which sell us a happier, healthier, smiling, sexier life — all thanks to drugs.

“Educating consumers to the virtues of a product sometimes entails altering the cultural environment surrounding the consumption of that product,” says Kalman Applbaum in his book The Marketing Era: From Professional Practice to Global Provisioning. For a successful example of this, Applbaum shows how drug companies managed to change the “cultural environment” surrounding depression in Japan and thus open up a whole new market for their products: SSRI antidepressants.

In the past, there was “considerable stigma” attached to mental illness in Japan, according to Applbaum. But working “synergistically,” four big drug companies waged a multi-faceted campaign to “increase awareness of depression.” They used ads, newspaper articles, and glossy waiting room brochures. They sponsored the translation of best-selling books from the US which acclaimed SSRIs. Throughout the campaign, the motive was the same: to awaken “public consciousness to the symptoms and treatability” of depression.

Running ads with smiling and sexy people reading books will only be a start. As the Japanese example shows, a campaign to change a “cultural environment” must be advanced on all fronts. It will require competing publishing houses and competing book sellers to work together to shake off old stereotypes about reading and readers (“lonely women with cats,” “geeky professors,” “bespectacled librarians’). It must help forge a new and brighter image of the 21st Century reader — a reader who will not only be hip and sexy, but who will also buy books.

I have no idea exactly how this will be done (I refer you back to my first paragraph). But I have some thoughts for anyone who cares to listen. New spaces need to emerge where people will meet and discuss books and, importantly, be seen and respected for discussing books. TV and movies need to show sexy readers, much like they showed sexy smokers back in the day. Celebrities need to be caught reading books — or Kindles — on the beaches of the Caribbean. Book groups should not be left to form themselves; they need to be propagated and supported by the book industry. Expert voices should be everywhere, in newspapers and on Oprah, talking about the intellectual, personal, health, and even sexual benefits of reading!

Books can offer us so much. They can offer deep insights, escapism, healing, empathy, knowledge, and revival. They can illuminate who we are, our dreams, our deepest fears and our sufferings. Books can change us in profound ways. They can make us laugh and cry, desire and yearn. Surely, there is way to market these incredible offerings and help people want to be readers.
Joanne Rendell is the author of the newly released Crossing Washington Square (Penguin), a novel about two women who are hip and smart and beautiful – and very passionate about books!

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Sometimes the life of a drug lord seems a little like the mob – dangerous and violent, but sexy in that easy-money sort of way.  I don’t have the heart for it – I can’t take the pictures of the starving children in Africa that come up on those religious commercials, much less personally contributing to addicts (is that a logical chain of thought?).  Not to mention drugs, weapons and police scare me… But they do make for a good story, as long as the violence and danger stay on the page, unlike the Mexican Cartels currently doing their best to wreak havoc in the States…

Elizabeth Lowell had no idea how current her fictional novel, The Wrong Hostage, would seem right now, with news outlets daily covering the influx of drugs and violence from Mexico and the issues going on within the drug world down there.

Published as the second book within her “St. Kilda” series (of which I’ve

How I like to picture MX

How I like to picture MX

never read the first), The Wrong Hostage takes place during a harrowing weekend in which California Judge Grace Silva is forced to go toe-to-toe with the feared Mexican drug lord, Hector Rivas Osuna, in order to rescue her 15-year-old son.  Held hostage against money Silva’s ex-husband owes, she takes action.  Instead of wasting time in tracking down her lousy ex, missing for weeks, she calls the super-secret St. Kilda firm, known only to her due to a brief, passionate love affair with an operative… If you’re a fan of the “Romantic Suspense” genre, I bet you can guess this operative is also, ta-da, the son’s real father.

Through scary roads in Mexico, being witness to cold-hearted murder within the drug community (reminiscent of the Chicago Mob: https://novelwhore.wordpress.com/2009/03/18/operation-gambat-when-corruption-was-king-of-chicago/) and all the while reigniting  long-lost passion, this is a fast-paced novel that leaves your heart in your throat as you just wish the family to be reunited, frolicking on a white-sand beach and off the drug-ridden streets of Tijuana.

Crazily enough, I read this novel last year and as quickly as I finished the last page it left my thoughts, just to spring to mind as I was reading The New York Times two days ago:  “More than 7,000 people [in Mexico], most of them connected to the drug trade or law enforcement, have died since January 2008. Many of the victims were tortured. Beheadings have become common.” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/23/us/23border.html?_r=1&pagewanted=2&em.

There are numerous additional articles covering home invasions and kidnappings in the United States, all related to the Mexican drug trade, making me wonder if a situation like Lowell portrayed in The Wrong Hostage happened to an ordinary family unconnected with underground, all-powerful rescue rings (do these even exist in real life?), what would happen?  Would the news even be publicized, or would one family be in unbearable private pain?

It’s scary when what I would consider to be outlandish fiction comes alive in the newspaper.  While I enjoyed reading this book throughout its 406 pages, I don’t like the reading of individual newspaper articles that don’t always have the same caliber of ending (trying not to give anything aware, being sly).

Give this book a try if you like action, suspense, guns and violence with an undercurrent of sexual tension, but skip it if you would rather not take a behind-the-scenes peek at what may be happening as we speak.

And I even love Mexico – Cancun vacation, anyone!?

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: B
  • Title: The Wrong Hostage
  • Author: Elizabeth Lowell
  • Publisher: Avon

The other night a group of 11 of us girls got together for a 25th birthday dinner for a friend.  Quartino’s, the fun Gold Coast spot we chose for shared small-plates and affordable wine was smart enough to seat our loud-chattering and wine-induced crowd into our own private, window enclosed room.  In which we could look through the glass at the other diners if we so chose, or had the option of pulling the shades, making out own secret room.  Romantic? Maybe with a different crowd.  Prestigious? Potentially, if we weren’t buying the cheapest liters of house wine from the menu.  Secretive?  Definitely.  My mind immediately went to the “Mob-like” activities that could have, and most likely did, occur in similar rooms throughout Chicago in the 1990s.

“Most cities have one overriding claim to fame.  Say Los Angeles and you think about the movies; say Paris, you think art; Detroit, cars.  But when people the world over, say Chicago, they think of something less marketable:  Organized Crime.” -Robert Cooley

Since I’ve been unemployed, I’ve had time to wander the city (please note my updated To Do: Chicago list) and really have begun to appreciate the history that’s apparent on every street.  To delve into the past, I’ve decided to embark on a trip down the darker side of Chicago, that of the Mob, and Robert Cooley, cited above, is the rabble-rousing teenager -> policeman -> lawyer -> crooked lawyer -> government informant who is the source to take us behind the scenes of the once all-powerful Chicago Outfit.

Certain aspects of mob life are rather appealing… The glitz and glamour, bottles of champagne (as opposed to the house wine!) at all the hottest bars and clubs, the notoriety and special attention, almost like a modern day celebrity with an underlying aspect of danger (Chris Brown, anyone?!)… But of course, that’s ignoring the drugs, violence, total un-loyalty and the all too common occurrence of being unaware you’re being treated to your last supper before being violently disposed of in a very inhumane way, most likely by a trusted confidant.

This is a memoir/autobiography told from one immersed in the mob, and character_cooleynot always on the right side of the law – When Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down.

Robert Cooley was the “Mechanic” for the Chicago Mafia – nothing to do with cars, he was the lawyer responsible for buying judges and guaranteeing a “Not Guilty” verdict for hitmen and gamblers alike.  In return for his services, Cooley enjoyed protected as well as a steady influx of cash to feed any vice in which he chose to indulge, and there were many.

I tend to be naive, but I believe that even for those jaded, cynical people, the depth of corruption was shocking – from the police force to government officials, the Mob had ties, and typically high-ranking officials, in every office.

Harry Aleman in 1977. He was the Outfit’s top Hit Man, "the killing machine."

The Outfit’s top Hit Man, "the killing machine."

In an inexplicable attack of conscience, Cooley strolled into the office of the FBI’s Organized Crime Strike Force and turned the tables on the mob, wearing a wire from 1986-1989, eventually becoming responsible for more than 30 convictions.

An intense book about a piece of Chicago’s history many would rather was forgotten, this is a nail-biting tale that manages to drag the reader in even though Cooley isn’t always likable.  I guess to put your life in danger with a notoriously violence group who will put a $1MM reward on your head takes a cocky man, and Cooley definitely fits the bill.

Read this if: You’re into gangster lore, crime stories, Chicago’s history, or are still upset The Sopranos went off-air.

Avoid this if: You believe justice is always served fair and equal, and want to remain believe so.

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: B+
  • Title: When Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down
  • Author: Robert Cooley with Hillel Levin
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers, an imprint of Avalon

NovelWhore rambling: Much of this book takes place in my Gold Coast neighborhood, and I have to admit my over-active imagination has been taking me places with every well-dressed man I see walking down the street, especially those with an entourage and a bulge (imagined? possibly…) beneath a suit jacket that could very likely be a gun… Could a group so in-charge and infamous as recent as the 1990s be really be made obsolete?  I can’t help wondering what lucrative business deals the mob has a hold on now, though I like to believe they have refocused their sites on the less-popular prostitution and gambling rings and the courts are now clean… Thoughts?!

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