Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode · 1 year ago

S1E11: Patti Callahan Henry and Mary Kay Andrews, with Jenn Hart

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

BOOK CLUB BUZZ! Patti Callahan Henry and Mary Kay Andrews interview Jenn Hart of Jennifer Hart of Bookclubgirl.com 

Welcome to Friends and Fiction. Five best selling authors and the stories novelist mary Kay andrews. Kristen Harmel, Christie Woodson, harvey patty Callahan, Henry and mary, Alice Munro are five longtime friends With more than 80 published books to their credit In 2020 they created friends and fiction to provide author interviews and fascinating insider talk about publishing and writing and to highlight independent bookstores. These friends discuss the books, they have written the books they're reading now and the art of storytelling. If you love books and you're curious about the writing world, you're in the right place. Mhm France and fiction is sponsored by Mama Geraldine's bodacious Foods, the company that makes Mama Geraldine's cheese straws which come in six varieties and are the best selling cheese straws in the United States. Founded by former radio executive Cathy Cunningham and named for her mother. They have melt in your mouth cookies to delicious treats and a woman owned empire. Now that is something that Friends and fiction can really get behind try them, you'll be so glad you did get 20% off on your online order at mama Geraldine's dot com with the Code. Fab five snack on y'all. This is the Friends and fiction podcast and we are talking to jennifer Hart, the creator and founder of Book Club Girl, a robust platform that reaches a community of 400,000 readers and it includes a bi monthly podcast as well as a fast growing facebook group that I'm on and I know it's super fun and instagram, jennifer Hart is the senior vice president, associate publisher of fiction at William morrow harpercollins in her career. She has worked on numerous bestsellers including Orphan Train, the Alice Network, The Woman in the Window, the Guest list and most recently the huge blockbuster, The Rose Code and the Bridge of 10 series gen overseas a diverse list of genres including thrillers, historical fiction, romance, commercial and literary fiction and fantasy Under the morrow customhouse, Avon and Voyager imprints. She lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and three Children, a cat and as of a week ago, what I like to call a pandemic puppy, I am paddy Callaghan and I am mary Kay andrews, jen, welcome. Thank you so much for having me. This is so great. I've been listening from afar and I just love what all of you are doing together. It's so, it's so smart and I just, I love how you're bringing all of your audiences together to promote reading and helping people find new book. So thank you so much for having me. We have been so excited about having you. First off, we want to know the origin story for your fantastic community for Book Club Girl. What made you say? I mean here you are, you're a publisher, you're you're working full time, you're around books all the time anyway. What made you say, I'm going to start a book club? Yeah, so it was, I think it was back in 2000 and seven and it was really at the beginning of the birth of the book blog. So book blogs were really starting to come into our awareness as publishers and marketers as you know, someplace we need to be paying attention, you know, big mouth readers who were out there, who we needed to be talking to. And we thought one of the best ways that we could reach out to that community as marketers would be to join that community, ourselves and the Book Club audience is obviously highly coveted audience for all fiction that we...

...publish. So it just seemed a natural to have it be a book blog that was centered around book clubs. So, so initially it started as a blog and the goal was to be a resource for book clubs and to try to bring together for books everything you would need if you were having a book club conversation. So a synopsis of the book reading group guide questions, an interview with the author, supplemental extra materials if they existed, you know, if it was historical fiction research and pictures from the that the author had used. So that was really the beginning and then from there, I don't think we quite envisioned the community that we were going to create and how that grew and changed as social media grew and changed. Right? So it was initially a blog, then it started to become a, the presence on facebook and on twitter and then that grew and then of course as facebook has grown and instagram has grown, it has just really morphed beyond that into just a really vibrant community. Yeah. You know what I'm interested in is even back in 2006, how did you, did you have to convince the higher ups at Harper Morrow that this is a thing and to to get their support, because you have to have, I don't think people understand how much support you need to keep oxygen pumping into obese this big, so how how did that happen? And how did, was the expansion just sort of organic, uh and then now the podcast too. Right, right, so there wasn't really a lot of convincing, and possibly because I'm pretty type a person, and so I did a lot of it myself, so there was a lot of there was a lot of writing blog posts, you know, while holding my infant son in the evening. Um, that, that was a big part of it and it's more a time commitment than it is a financial commitment in terms of growing it. So in that respect there wasn't, you know, there wasn't that hurdle, it was really, how do we, how do we kind of feed the beast once you create it and keep it going and that's an ongoing challenge. It's definitely, you know, now there are other people, you know, on my team who helped me pull it all together and make it happen on a daily basis and it's a lot of work to make it to make it happen in that way. Um, and like the podcast for example, um, there are two to vehicle check and Eliza Rosen very run that, you know, very independently and you know, it takes it takes a team to make it happen. Yeah, it totally does. You know what I what I love about Book Club Girl is that obviously you're the man who writes the check is people who write the checks or harper and morrow, but you don't just feature in house books in Book Club Girl and I love that. How did that happen? So from the beginning that was a big part of the mission because and and to be honest, I think it was probably more part of the mission at the beginning than it is now. So from the beginning we wanted to be as agnostic as possible to draw in as many people as possible. But I think we almost over overdid it in that way because I think there was this concern that well, a reader just automatically dismiss us if we just look like a promotional engine for our books. But what I found was that people didn't really come with that impression, what they really loved was all the backstory, all the additional information and the access that we were giving them to authors and they didn't mind that, oh, they all happened to be harbor or more or you know, different imprints within Harbor, We were more concerned about that than our readers were. So and as it's gone on and we published more and more books, you know, it really does end up being a lot of harper and moral books because we just have such a great catalogs to draw upon. But people seem to know that and it doesn't seem to be an issue because they appreciate what...

...we're offering. It's just amazing because Kathy and I have watched it happen, you know, with friends and fiction, when a community is waiting for something like what you have jen you know that it almost seems like when you start it like Field of dreams build it and they will come because once you find your community right, you know that whole thing about howling and you'll find your pack. So I think it's amazing that once you started it it just blossomed and I mean it does take a lot of hard work behind the scenes, nobody really understands that, but at the same time it's been astounding to watch Book Club Girl grow into what it is. one of my favorite things about book club, aside from the life conversations that bloom out of a book are reading things that are normally out of my genre or normal reading because the Book Club picked something I wouldn't have picked. And I know, I think it's amazing how much you love Maud Hart, Lovelace is Betsy Tacy books, I love that you're kind of obsessed with them and I am definitely following me. I am sure you have chosen books outside of that genre and out of your favorite genres. So now that you've made the club and it started to grow, how do you decide because it's you how do you decide what is a really good selection? What is a good Book Club Girl selection? I do think a lot of our audience gravitates towards historical fiction and you know, I I do think that most historical fiction that we talk about within the group, people are there right there for it. Um but what's been really interesting to see over the past year or so, because now within the group, which as you're in it, you know this it's very much user generated content, right? Like they are in their recommending books to each other, talking about books and we have to have what I call a very light marketing touch in there because they want to they want to get recommendations from each other and that's that's how it should be. But we found, you know, we have a monthly poll to vote on a book to um to discuss that month as a group. And it's been interesting to put different books into the mix for the for the vote and see that they're interested in reading room calms and they're interested in thrillers and so while we know kind of our tried and True's, they want to read beyond those as well. So that's been really nice to see. And it's been really nice to also within the group almost use it as a test marketplace as we're working on authors to see are they having residents? Do people know about them? Are they finding out about them for the first time? Susan Wiggs is a great example of that. Who has written, you know, 50 plus books in her career, but has really shifted more to women's fiction. And in the group there are people who just came to her from oyster bill sewing circle and they're like, oh my God, I love Susan Wiggs. She's written other books. And so we're like, oh we're reaching a whole new market and we know that because they're literally right in front of us telling us that they've never heard of her before, and we're like, this is fantastic, this is exactly what we wanted to do. Perfect. Yeah. Do you are you seeing any any trends for book clubs, overall during the pandemic? I'm thinking about my book club, We've been together for over 20 years and during pandemic we went to a semi regular zoom meetings. But you know, I think now we're kind of all suffering from zoom fatigue. Are you seeing any of that with book clubs and one of the creative ways? Book clubs, you see book clubs are using to to get over that or get past it right. I mean, I've been impressed with the resilience of the book clubs that I've been following. And watching. We have 12 book clubs that we pick every year to be book club grow official book clubs. And so we had a slate through 2020 and then we have a new slate this year and they are sticking to it and they are, you know, they're holding on with resumes. I agree. I've got major video fatigue. I looked at my face all day long. I've never been so intimately and acquainted with my face, but they're really doing it and they're doing a lot of creative. Um, I see lots of picnics, lots of outdoor gatherings and, and ways to connect that. You know, I've just been...

...really impressed that they, I mean, I've in other parts of my life, there's, I'm having more connection with people who I'm not, you know, in the same town with, or the people who are not the people who I work with. I think that's been good for book clubs and I think book clubs have probably sprung up that are further flung, right, that, you know, you don't all have to be in the same town. You could have a book club now. Yeah, that is. And then, you know, that is one of the advantages of being able to video conference zoom or whatever that we can get together. That like half my book club moved down to ST Simon's island from Atlanta. So when we do have our meetings, it's great. We're like, oh my God, I haven't seen them in a year now. Here they are. Right, right. So we all see the trends, but sometimes we don't see it till they're barreling towards us, right? Until until even when they are on the wane, for instance, the woman in the window and then the girl on the train, like that whole girl watching murders thing. Then we saw a huge surge in the unreliable narrator, domestic thrillers. So is that all still hot? Are we seeing more of them? What do you see right now? And I know historical fiction for sure. But what do you see rising falling? Do you watch the trends or did they kind of come you notice them after? Or do you make the trends gem? I'd like to think we make the trends uh a good point. I think it's a combination of all those things. Right. I think we have, you know, we've got amazing editors who are seeing what's coming in and and how it's changing. And one of the big changes with with historical fiction is that we're publishing a lot more diverse historical fiction in the coming months, which is long overdue. And I think that that's you know, great to see you were saying really strong reactions to those books that are coming. Um And I mean the thriller evolves, right? I think from the unreliable narrator then we're almost back to agatha Christie style locked room mysteries with like the guest list by lucy foley things like that. That are just people tried and true, right. People love them. Um what's been so great over this past year and I'm sure you guys have experienced this as well, is just to see how much people have returned to reading full stop. Like anything, there's just so much reading happening, that I mean, so heartening and we have to figure out how to keep it going when we're out of this situation. Um and we get into the roaring twenties, but I think that's been what's been so rewarding and you know, with, with something like Britain people discovering romance who never read romance before. Um so I think that's a huge opportunity to, I think that people who picked back up reading during the pandemic, found things like Book Club Girl found things like Friends and fiction. I do think they'll keep going. I think it was almost a forgotten and it's not a leisure activity. I mean, it is, it is important and so I think a lot of people picked it back up and we'll, I hope jen hold onto it. Yeah. Were there any sleeper hit novels that took you by surprise in 2020 and 21 gen? Anything that you went, Oh yeah, that's a really good book, but I don't know if it's, if it's gonna be a blockbuster. I mean, I'm sure of course everybody at avon knew that Julia Quinn was a rock star, but the rest of the world that wasn't into regency romance, maybe you didn't even know what it was. Were there any other shapers like that? Well, I think, you know, just speaking to Britain specifically while we, you know, we expected and hoped obviously that people were going to come to the first book, maybe the second book in the series, we could not have anticipated how deeply people started reading into that series. Within two weeks of christmas, we were chasing, chasing, chasing all of those books. And that was really exciting to see people just find a series and then just, you know, they had to blow right through it. That was really cool. And I also work on agatha Christie. So I can say that...

...people, people went back to the classics, people definitely returned to what they kind of knew what was comfortable. And we saw a lot of um, you know, increased sales for for her entire catalog, which was great. And I'm trying to think if there was anything else that was like a specific sleeper. Um but I think, you know, just in general, it was just seeing so many books do so well and just seeing people come to fiction specifically and seeing that increase was really nice as people, you know, wanted to find an escape and you can't travel anywhere, but you can travel somewhere inside a book. Yeah, I think I think another one I'm thinking about is the rom coms and now rom coms with, you know, with a diverse cast like Jasmine Guillory who we had on Friends and fiction all of a sudden people are going, wait a minute, wait a minute. All all kinds of people can do rom coms, How cool is that? Right? Exactly, yeah, that's been so great. And those are wonderful escapes. But and then telling everybody's story is not just the ones that have been told, right? So we talked a lot on the show about second careers branching off from original careers. All of us did something else before we were writers and I know this career branch did not take you away from your main career, but I'm curious about how it's enriched your main career, how it has fed that career, and because it looks like two separate jobs, but there are many ways it's like two separate, it's not just look like it. Yeah, well I think, you know, it's it's really it's really fed my publishing career, they fed each other um and it's been very symbiotic I guess, is the best way to explain it. It's good to be out there immersing yourself amongst a bunch of readers. It's very easy to become, I don't like the word bubble, but it is very easy to become, you know, sort of stuck in a new york publishing bubble and not really know what's going on with people who are actually out there buying your books and reading books and you know, we have this idea that people are hopefully buying a book every week and we know that's not necessarily the case and maybe they're going to buy four books a year, How are you going to get them to buy the four books that that you know, that you want them to? So in that way it's been very interesting, even when I was like, in an in person Book club, I always found it so fascinating to see how people interacted, you know, we spent so much time on that cover and on the back cover and other quotes in the copy. And and I would go to Book Club and somebody would pick up the book, we'll be deciding what to read. They're like, well there's only quotes on the back, what's it actually about? And they would like fling it aside, and I was like, no, somebody really thought about those quotes so carefully and thought that that was going to be the thing that was going to push you over the top of buying that book. And they're like, I don't even know what that's about. Yeah, just give me the green book. I want that green book. Yeah. And you're like, oh, okay, you need to tell them what the plot is. And that's the thing I talked about with my team a lot. They'll send me something and it's all quotes. I'm like, just a bunch of praise doesn't help a consumer decide if they're interested in this book. Like, you've got to tell them what it's about. So that's a good thing to remember. Yeah. So I think in that way it's been really and it's it's you know, it's good to be in the group and hear how people discover books, right? We we think it's because of all the advertising we do and all the marketing we do, and the publicity. and often it's, you know, their friend told them they saw it in a little free library. They they took it out of the like, we know that, right? This discovery is so intangible. Like how can we make the discovery happen? So it's good to be beyond the pulse of seeing people discover books. Well, let's talk about a book that you've chosen, that you thought changed you, That really shifted the way you see the world. Can you, can you think of a book that had that kind of a profound effect on you, john um probably the things we carried by tim o'brien uh that's a book I just...

...remember reading for the first time so vividly and I just really change my perspective on the world, but also just on writing and how writing can really transform you and bring you to a place that you would not otherwise be and what you when someone else's shoes. That that's a book that I just, when people ask me that question, that's the one I immediately comes to mind. Was that a book club selection or did you find that on your own? No, and now I'm trying to remember, I think I read it after college, um so I didn't read it in a class or anything, but I just read it on my own. And in terms of a Book Club book, another book I always talk about that, I thought had such a great, one of the best Book Club discussions I ever had was the red tent. I was just gonna say that my book club picked it and I'm like, a bible story and I'm sorry, I was getting ready to go, I was getting so weird, jen, I was getting ready to, to interrupt you and say like, I don't know, the red tent that my book club read. And I went, my head spun all the way around. It was that it had that profound an effect on me. And I, when I remember I read it and I liked it fine, I didn't love it, but the discussion we had was that was phenomenal and it was before I had kids or anything and I think it would be an even completely different discussion now having raised daughters and, but like it, I just, I, I often think about that book when, when people say like, oh, I didn't really like it, I don't want to talk about it. A book club, like we'll talk about it with somebody, you never know where the discussion might go. You know, another one? I wonder if there is, I wonder somewhere there is a list of Book Club Book Club all stars, because I think also the book that falls into that category for me was the poisonwood bible. And I had, I had never read Barbara Kingsolver, but I got assigned to host and present the book that that month and wow, that I'll never forget that. Yeah, that's why I say that one of my favorite things to ever come out a book club is that you then get to talk about what's personal to you. I mean, that's what, that's what it's okay. This is the perfect way to end an amazing conversation. What are the upcoming titles that you are personally excited about in your Book Club? Okay, so just out last week is Jocelyn Jackson's new book Mother May I and I, This to me is is an example of a book that it's like perfect Book Club fodder because, well, first it's a page turning thriller that, you know, I think I read it in two days and you're like, oh my God, how is this person going to get out of this situation? But there's so much, there's so many layers in it. The second you finish it, you're like, I have to talk to somebody, and I email the editor right away and I was like, I need to talk about this book with you. Like, there's so she touches on so many issues of privilege and complicity and guilt and innocence and your you just have to discuss it. So that one I think is going to be great for Book clubs. It's her second book since she never have I, ever before this, and she's sort of shifted into this domestic thriller genre um and she's just doing such a great job at it. So I'm really excited for people to discover that. And I think book clubs are gonna really, really love it. We had her on the show. She was wrong with us last week. Oh, that's right, that's right. She's a friend of both of ours. Yeah, she's a dear friend. We're so excited about that book. All right, jen, thank you. Do you have anything else Cathy before with mary? I just want to ask her about historic fiction. I mean, wow. Um one thing I'm curious about, like I have been ripping through the rows code, the amazing phenomenal kate Quinn. And of course, you know, one of our members in...

Friends and Fiction, Christine Harmel rights, historic fiction and she's got a great one coming out this summer, The Forest of Vanishing Stars. You know, we saw a lot of historic fiction set in France and England. Um then there are two this year, pam Jenoff is the Woman in the Blue Star and then our own christians um Forest Vanishing Stars set in Poland. Do you think you're going to see more of these books that kind of bucked the trend of books set in wartime England and France. Yes, I think so. In fact on our list this summer, we have two that do that. So one is called Island Queen and it's a historical novel based on the true story of Dorothy kerwin thomas who was a free woman of color who rose from slavery to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful landowners in the colonial west Indies. So, um that one we're really excited about. Um and another is a book called Sisters in Arms, which tells the story of the women of the six triple eight, which was the only all black battalion of the Women's Army Corps. And so I do think that, you know, there's that World War Two fatigue and although people still want to read about it, but I think we're starting to see like okay, what are the other stories that need to be told and that people want to read about? So I do think there's there's more beyond um europe and and World War Two. Those are two titles I could definitely get behind. I was gonna say, yeah, I wish I had this right now. So what can send you guys some galleys? That would be amazing. Oh maybe there'll be a cake in your future. Alright, I like this exchange. Okay, dan, thank you so much for talking to us. This was yeah, it's fun. Thank you for having me. And and like I said, I just I love what you guys are doing collectively is just so, so smart and, and I just, and thank you so much for interviewing so many great authors and I really appreciate it lots more to come. We hope. Okay, good. Thanks. Jim. Okay, thank you. Thank you for tuning in, join us every week on facebook or Youtube, where our live show airs every Wednesday night at seven p.m. Eastern time and please subscribe to our podcast and follow us on instagram. We're so glad you're here.

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