Monday, September 19, 2005

Beyond the Bestseller: Finding Literary Gems

"We all know that variety is the spice of life," says Don Linn, whose eclectic, fast-growing Consortium Book Distribution company distributes books for almost 100 independent publishers, many of them award-winning. "It's also the spice of reading. And if you never look further than the stack of new releases on the strategically placed table near the entrance to the megabookstore--well, you're missing out on some great, thought-provoking literature."

It's ironic that this problem--call it literary complacency--even exists. After all, people who love to read are, by nature, dissatisfied with being force-fed the fruit of popular culture in any of its forms. But Linn says it's perfectly understandable. When you live in a world characterized by too much information and too little time, it's just easier to reach for what's helpfully placed in front of you by big publishers and the media.

Linn wants to jolt us out of our mindless acceptance of the blandly familiar. He hopes to spark a grassroots revival aimed at getting book lovers to look beyond the mainstream titles and seek out the rich bounty of brilliant non-traditional offerings that flow from the presses of independent publishers.

To that end, he offers the following tips for bibliophiles who want to break out of their reading rut.

· Visit an indie bookstore. Admittedly, this may be easier said than done, what with so many independents closing down. But they do still exist, and even if you have to drive an hour or so, they are worth the journey. "Devote an afternoon to it," urges Linn. "Make it a fun road trip. Spend a couple of hours browsing. There's something you get from independent bookstores--the slightly dusty fragrance, the glorious clutter, the thrill of finding something completely unexpected--that simply can't be replicated by a national chain. Plus, the mom & pops need your business, so do your duty as a conscientious reader."

· Conduct a treasure hunt in Barnes & Noble or Borders. Sometimes you just crave wide aisles, stacks of bestsellers, and the hint of cappuccino wafting through the air. No need to feel guilty, says Linn. The big national chains do carry independent titles. It's just a matter of seeking them out. "Don't get stuck at the end-of-aisle displays. Get inside and comb the darkest reaches of the shelves," he advises. "Look for titles you've never seen reviewed and unfamiliar publisher names. Most clerks in these stores are voracious readers, so ask one to recommend a book he or she loves that no one ever buys."

· Meander through the wilds of the Internet. The virtual world is dazzlingly unlimited by physical constraints like shelf space and square footage. That means that if a book exists at all, someone in cyberspace is selling it, discussing it on message boards, or writing about it on blogs. That means access to a trove of non-traditional titles is merely a mouseclick away. "Consortium's website,, is a great place to go exploring," says Linn. "Besides making it easy to search--by title, category, or publisher--we feature a different book on our home page every week. But I recommend free-association surfing, just stopping in at book blogs, poetry sites, literary e-zines, and online booksellers. Go where the spirit moves you and have fun."

· Start an indie book discussion group. This is a great way to socialize with other book lovers, and, simultaneously, to spread the word about worthy non-bestsellers. The concept is simple: the group meets once or twice a month to discuss a book that's been recommended by a member. (These meetings can be face-to-face gatherings or virtual chats. No matter.) The only rule? The assigned books must be non-mainstream works written by less well-known authors and published by independent presses. "These meetings provide an impetus to explore regularly the vast world of underexposed books," says Linn. "And it's a great way to share your discoveries with others. If you've never been part of a reading group, you'll find it's a refreshing and mentally stimulating experience."

· Test the waters with the every-other-book rule. Don't worry. There is no need to go cold-turkey on your bestseller habit. Simply alternate your reading list: for every mainstream book you read, commit to reading one non-mainstream book. This is a good way to enjoy the best of both worlds. "Some people are a little bit scared to venture outside the familiar, mass-media-approved reading world," says Linn. "They figure bestsellers are bestsellers for a reason. And you know, there's nothing wrong with mashed potatoes, but you don't want them for every meal. Sometimes you need some spicy Thai noodles, too. Once you see the richness of what's out there just under the radar, you might find that the bestseller table no longer holds as much appeal for you."

"There is such a deep well of raw, undiscovered literary talent out there that even if you read non-stop, 24/7, for the rest of your life, you'd barely scratch the surface," says Linn. "It's mind-boggling, truly. When you make it a priority to seek out independent books, you're certain to be amazed at the compelling, exciting, brilliant material you'll find. All it takes is a little effort and a little open-mindedness to see that there are a lot of writers out there with a lot to say. They just need someone who's willing to listen."

Consortium Book Sales & Distribution is the exclusive distributor for nearly 100 independent publishers from the United States, Canada, Europe, India, and Australia. Books are currently distributed in the United States and Canada. In addition to sales and distribution services, Consortium provides marketing, promotional, and product development support.
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