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Insights from Hawthorne Publishing

New Library: No way to know what are “good books”

During the winter, the management part of the company moves to Florida.

Here we can do editing, book planning and marketing and decision-making in the land of the sun while an assistant staffs the office and ships books.

Bonita Springs, Florida, has a beautiful new library in the center of town, three stories of yellow and white modernity. All new electronic servants monitor many of the services: drop off books in the electronic drive-through drawer on the front of the building and your transaction is instantly registered book by book and a receipt delivered right then.

Inside, gone are the friendly librarian desks with experienced people greeting you, exchanging greetings and comments on books you or they liked. A carrel stands, cold and mechanical but efficient, and can help you return and process your choice of books. True, a lady still exists over in the corner for the non-technical among us.

Upstairs are the new books on one fairly long shelf, and many avid readers are picking them up and looking at the offerings. Small rooms and tables outside allow for computer researching and daily updating for individuals and display of large-type books and DVDs. I’m only interested now in old-fashioned print books to read for edification and entertainment.

But what’s this? For three weeks the new books on that shelf I’m looking at seem to be about the same. Here are the ones I took out three weeks ago and the others, narrow-minded reader that I am, I have rejected.

The stacks of older books are ample, off-center back in the back of this second-floor span, but again, how to know what would be a “good read?” How does this quest for a really good book operate, how to find something you can’t put down? Or even go through with satisfaction? Other readers browsing the shelves and stacks seem to be having the same wonderment: among these thousands, won’t anybody recommend a book that’s a good read?

The first point to make is that a “good read” involves individual taste. You may not like the book I do. Still, consensus does seem to play a part for American readers: they can spot talented writing and a good story and they share their recommendations with friends and others.

Of course, there are ways to determine what’s going to be a good read when new books come out. “Goodreads” and other book review sites online tell you what books readers have appreciated in the past two or three years.

Book clubs research titles and reviews to pick books their members will enjoy reading and discussing.

The New York Times Bestseller List lists both non-fiction and fiction books; these titles reflect popularity by sales.

Perhaps in the stacks I’ll find something attractive. I decide to move through the thousands of those older books on the fiction shelves, alphabetically organized and look for authors whose names I know, whose books I have enjoyed in the past. Here are Elizabeth George and Ann Perry, P.D. James and John O’Hara, J.D. Salinger and John Updike. Perhaps I’ll read the first page—does it sound familiar? I can find a couple of books.

You don’t have to go only to the local library to get a good book, of course. One may visit the next-to-new shops. Goodwill will have hundreds of used books. But here’s the problem there: they are amazingly similar and loaded with “pop” authors: Danielle Steele, John Grisham, Nora Roberts, Sue Grafton, James Patterson. Everybody buys or receives these books often as hardcovers, reads them—and gets rid of them. They languish on the shelves of the pool house in this condo we rent.

So after the presentation of this problem I perceive, what suggestions do I have to give to librarians in the new place here? How about “Librarian’s choice” each week: ten books the staff votes on that they loved reading. It could focus on new but include the old too. I know that many libraries do this and it gives us a head start. Even label or break the librarians’ choice lists into categories: mysteries, romances, non-fiction. Post little mini-reviews by the staff.

Post the New York Times bestseller lists and other good lists and star which books the library has. Make reserving books easy and accessible.

In these modern digital libraries, the old close relationships between workers and patrons could be diminishing. When you are saluting and manipulating a machine, punching and clicking, you are not interacting with a person, presumably a book lover as you are, with whom to converse and share perceptions. It can make the library experience cold. Knowing what the librarians themselves read creates a little bond.

Maybe this and other new libraries could have “favorite reads” book clubs similar to the old summer reading clubs for kids. A long list of favorites of patrons and librarians, registration to join the “best books” reading club, and prizes or a tea party for people who read them all.

I expect that is happening somewhere, maybe several places. Other people are surely thinking about it.

I do know that I can’t scrabble through every single volume in that gorgeous hunk of concrete to find the gone “must reads.”

Nancy Niblack Baxter is senior editor of Hawthorne Publishing. Click back to the site to find her books.

Posted in Book Publishing |

A classic memoir in a new version: Day at a Time: An Indiana Girl’s Sentimental Journey to Doris Day’s Hollywood and Beyond Edition II.

After a book has been out ten years or more it can be time to review its selling and critical success. Day at a Time by Mary Anne Barothy was one of the early books put out by Hawthorne Publishing in 2007. Mary Anne had come to us to say she had written a book about her 1970s experience as Doris Day’s secretary, living for part of the time in Doris’s home. It would surely, we thought, find a reading audience.

In 2007 Doris Day movies were still being shown as favorites on “Turner Classic Movies” and some of the fledgling cable channels. Doris herself was no longer acting in movies or TV but was an active leader in animal rights and adoption issues. The appetite for movie star personal histories was strong: Doris’s fans were all over the nation, enjoying re-runs of Doris’s well known and loved favorites like “Calamity Jane,” “Pillow Talk,” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” but also the less well known films like “Send Me No Flowers” and “Romance on the High Seas.”

Fan clubs played a large part in the dissemination of enthusiasm for the star, and Doris herself was gracious and encouraging to those fans who wrote to her, sent her gifts at Christmas, and even came to see her. Mary Anne Barothy had begun her relationship with Doris by going to Hollywood to try to meet her idol and through a set of circumstances, came to gain Doris’s friendship. Eventually she moved in to help the star at home on Crescent Drive.

Mary Anne worked with us at Hawthorne to tell her stories of Doris and her fan and home life, including stories of her love for her son Terry, who was seriously injured and in the hospital at one point, her interactions with fellow stars like Billy De Wolfe and famous Hollywood personalities like her good friend Jacqueline Susann and her interest in spiritual subjects and good causes. The story was one of an amazingly varied and good person, lively, fun, giving and caring to those who came within her sphere, even a stray dog which was running in the streets near her home and had to be tracked down and loved.

The book’s release was immediately successful; fans caught on to the book and a general audience embraced its honest storytelling and perspective on the life of a famous star in the movie industry. Mary Anne the author began visiting bookstores, organization meetings and living facilities. The first edition sold out and 2,000 more copies were ordered. Reviews in Indianapolis Monthly and other publications got news of this good book around.

Mary Anne’s approach was admittedly adoring. What she found behind the veneer of a star’s public persona was a woman, positive and sincere. Criticism could have been made (but wasn’t) that the picture in the book never covered any weaknesses or faults Mary Anne observed, except perhaps that Doris was too gullible and trusting. Mary Anne would have countered that she didn’t really find any serious flaws in the star’s persona as she lived with her. That was the truth.

Some few disgruntled fans asserted that she had “told too much.” That as secretary and confidant Mary Anne should not have revealed that at the time Mary Anne was with her, Doris had a face lift, that she had a rare weekend fling with an unnamed fellow actor, that as she cared for and honored and loved her mother, Doris went through the eternal self-questioning about how one lives with and cares for an older parent.

These bits of discord did not stop the praise for, and enjoyment of, thousands of people who read the book and came to Mary Anne’s audio-visual presentations. Edition One was a big success for Hawthorne Publishing, reprinted in 2009, and now a new edition would add more material to Mary Anne’s little bit of life of the movie star Doris Day.

Click back to the website to order Day at a Time: An Indiana Girl’s Sentimental Journey to Doris Day’s Hollywood and Beyond, Edition Two.

Posted in Cultural History, Doris Day |

What is the lifetime of a modern book? The lives of our Hawthorne books, like those of a cat, can have a couple of incarnations.

Maybe not nine lives, but perennial best-sellers can be reissued in several ways. They can be reprinted, as is, which has happened to many of our books which have historical interest and stand good as is through the years.

Or entirely new editions can come out if the subject was topical and changed in substantial ways. This was the case with Emerson Houck’s book Hoosiers All: Indiana High School Basketball Teams. For the first edition of his book, Emerson Houck had scoured Indiana’s small towns, personally driving with his wife on off-roads to places like Hannah, or Selma, Indiana to see what their libraries had preserved in the way of records of the local basketball teams’ performances. Often he would visit the old gym and go to a coffee shop to talk to a star of the past, now nursing a cheese sandwich at a counter and about thirty pounds heavier than he had been when his team had starred on the court in the county and beyond.

The records were extensive from hundreds of towns. Then there were the official records at the Indiana High School Athletic Association. Emerson whittled all the data down to basic records and outstanding moments, describing high times with a couple of players and coaches for each team, and put them into his book, along with rare photos the home-town heroes were willing to part with.

The result was a book that was a perennial feature at the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, endorsed by their well-known former director and officials around the state. Barnes and Noble reordered this book many times.

But it was the fans of Hoosierdom who made this five-hundred-page book such a success. Looking into its pages, finding the teams by mascot groupings, the local stars and cheerleaders and also ground-breakers from the new girls’ teams could experience the olden, golden days. And those in their area who loved the venerated, one-class system of high school basketball, could remind themselves of why they had loved it.

But the local folks also spotted tiny flaws in the records. “That was not Coach Severin who won the Sectionals for the Cardinals in ’52, it was Coach Smith, who had just come on.” Or—“My record of field goals was 36 in 1942, not what you said.”

Apologies followed. It was really impressive that so much was right, almost everything, having relied on facts from the local sources and the IHSAA records. Emerson was a whiz, very orderly and systematic and a small-town basketball nut. But sometimes new sources also called, adding interesting new team activities; and stories surfaced that ought to be reported in this somewhat complete history of Indiana high school basketball.

So a new edition was called for. Besides, the original print run had been exhausted for this popular book. Thus Emerson began the painstaking job of correcting five hundred pages and the designer at Hawthorne, Art Baxter, made space, re-paged, and added an appendix at the back.

Changes, updating, then, is one major reason a topical book can be printed in subsequent editions.

Click back to the website to get Hoosiers All, Second Edition.

Nancy Niblack Baxter, Senior Editor Hawthorne Publishing

Posted in Book Publishing, Books on Indiana, Indiana High School Basketball, Indiana History |

New Year’s Day: Recollections of a publishing past

Hawthorne Publishing was founded in 2004, but the history of this publishing enterprise goes back to 1987, with its predecessor Guild Press of Indiana.

Guild Press was founded through the publication of one book: The Movers: A Saga of the Scotch Irish. Founder Nancy Baxter researched and wrote a novel based as strictly as possible on historic events: the story of one of the earliest pioneer families into southern Indiana, the McClures. It was the beginning of a five-book series on this family, but that first book had no publisher and Waldenbooks wished to purchase it for Indiana stores even before it was printed: thus Guild Press was born.

But the manager of Indiana Waldenbooks had more to say about Indiana books. “There is no regional publisher of popular history books in Indiana. We need one.” Guild Press became one of three traditional publishers in the state. It put out over three hundred titles during the fifteen years it was in existence, concentrating on Civil War and frontier history which had not before been documented in book form, but also releasing memoirs of leading Hoosiers like Ralph Teetor of Hagerstown, who invented cruise control.

Emmis Communications, specifically Emmis Publishing, which puts out city magazines like Indianapolis Magazine and Texas Monthly, bought Guild Press of Indiana in 2004. Although it had intended to broaden the mission of regional publishing for Indiana, the management that was hired took the company to Ohio and, experimenting with national publishing, closed it down in three years.

That sale of Guild left Nancy and Arthur Baxter with a very small publishing arm which they called Hawthorne Publishing. Why that name? “Out the window of our farm home in Marshall County was a Hawthorne tree,” says Nancy Baxter. “It struck me that it was like regional publishing, beautiful blooms in the spring and thorns accompanying the blossoms.” Regional publishing in most states and especially Indiana, could not exist to make large sums of money but really to fulfill the needs of history documentation.

The first book at Hawthorne was the biography of a local woman in the grips of fan mania: Beverly Fauvre chronicled her passage in and out of obsession with Lisa Minelli. It was the beginning of the publication of over 150 titles to date.



During the thirty years of publishing by Guild and Hawthorne, what are the best-selling books?

Clearly the winner is one first published in the late nineties and selling strongly to this day: Indiana Legends: Famous Hoosier from Johnny Appleseed to David Letterman, by Nelson Price, some four reprintings to this date. The book had come about with a phone call from Nelson to Nancy in the 1990s when he was a reporter for The Indianapolis News. He had done a series of interviews with famous contemporary Hoosiers and wondered if they could turn into a book. “No, Nancy said, “but we do need a book about the lives of famous Hoosiers from earliest history to now.” And so Indiana Legends was born. It has sold probably 3,000 copies in its publishing history both at Guild and at Hawthorne, and its author travels the state speaking about famous Indiana people and leading tours of landmark places where they lived and worked.

Other titles that have endured and sold many books, more recently, are Gallant Fourteenth: The Story of an Indiana Civil War Regiment by Nancy herself, with five editions both hardcover and paperback; Hoosiers All: Indiana High School Basketball Teams by Emerson Houck in two editions,  and 500 Strong: Wabash College Students in the Civil War by James and Patience Barnes. And the very strong perennial seller Day at a Time: An Indiana Girl’s Sentimental Journey to Doris Day’s Hollywood and Beyond. More about that in blogs to come.

And so a regional need for our Hoosier state has been met. And there is no sign that that effort to document Indiana history for small and large towns and history aficionados in the Hoosier State will stop doing what it does successfully.


These books are available on the Hawthorne website, click back, or from Amazon used.

Posted in Book Publishing |