Saturday, September 11, 2010

When Oprah Calls

Next Friday Oprah Winfrey will announce her latest on-air book club selection. Over the past fourteen years these announcements have created something of a conundrum for the book trade. On the one hand, Oprah very reasonably wants to be able to announce the title on her show without word of what it is getting out beforehand. On the other hand, publishers and booksellers -- as well as the Oprah folks -- want to have plenty of copies available for the inevitable spike in sales.

And thus was born one of the odder rituals in bookselling. Several weeks ahead of time, Oprah's people inform the publisher of the selected title that it is the chosen one, but the publishers are sworn to secrecy. The sales reps for that publisher then contact their accounts -- Accent on Books, for example -- with basically this message: "We have the next Oprah selection. I don't know anything about it except that it's a [hardcover/paperback] and the retail price is [whatever]." The bookseller -- yours truly, for example -- then has to take a stab in the dark as far as placing an order.

This has led to inevitable guessing games among book people as to what the chosen title is. My own record in this regard is not exactly stellar: of the 63 previous Oprah choices I've guessed one correctly. What we know about her forthcoming choice is that it is a $28.00 hardcover either published or distributed by Macmillan. One book that fits the description is Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom, which I -- half-jokingly -- suggested on Twitter, even though Oprah's previous choice of a Franzen novel led to a public spat between the two of them.

However, Thom Geier, at the "Shelf Life" blog, has a more convincing guess: Nelson Mandela's new book, Conversations With Myself, a title which wasn't on my radar because it hasn't actually been published yet. Geier gives his reasons here.

All will be revealed on September 17. Stay tuned.

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