Recent news in Austin's literary scene
BookPeople and Writers' League Make Changes
BookPeople laid off two of its book buyers on Friday, November 8, citing a decline in sales. Rick Whitten-Klaw had been working at the store since April of 1998 and his wife Brandy Whitten-Klaw since April of 1995. In an independent bookstore, book buyers meet with publishers' sales reps and pore through publishers' catalogs to decide which titles should be filling store shelves; BookPeople had seven people performing this kind of work either full time or part time. "No other bookstore has that many buyers buying for a store this size," says marketing director Jeremy Ellis. "They usually have one or two that do everything and then inventory managers handle the rest." Now three people will be buying books full time and two others part time. In a move Ellis stresses is unrelated to the recent layoffs, BookPeople is now fundamentally restructuring the way its buyers relate to customers. BookPeople administration -- the book buyers, marketing department, accounting staff, Web site managers, and CEO Steve Bercu -- all work on the store's fourth floor, which is separated from the store's customers. "The problem is that there's been such a separation," Ellis acknowledges. Now there's apparently a greater chance that customers might actually connect with the people selecting the books that end up on BookPeople shelves. This spring at Book Expo America, the book industry's major annual conference, BookPeople honchos began to realize that the store stood out -- for the wrong reason. "We're going back to the way most everybody else in the country does it," says Ellis, "where the buyers are a part of the store, are available to the floor staff, are available to our customer base. After going to B.E.A. and talking to every other bookstore in the country that could be comparable to BookPeople, it became clear that everybody does it this way. And it seems incredibly strange that we were the only ones in the United States who were not."... Turning to the west from BookPeople, down Fifth Street, you can almost hear the briefcases snapping open at the Writers' League of Texas. The Writers' League board used to be composed of writers; now it's also filled with people intimate with finance, publishing, and management issues, and, just as crucially, says League President Laurie Lynn Drummond, people who identify themselves as voracious readers. While former League Executive Director Jim Bob McMillan was at the helm, the League looked at other arts organizations and saw that a ballet company, for example, had members of its board who are balletomanes. "They are people who are well, connected in the community who love that particular art, who have talents that an organization needs in order to thrive financially, management-wise, vision-wise," Drummond says. "We needed to stop thinking of ourselves as this small group of writers in Austin. It has to do with the fact mainly that you have a bunch of writers who are used to living paycheck to paycheck. That was the real impetus, that we needed a much more professional board in terms of these skills." The new, expanded board now includes Barbara Minton, longtime community volunteer and the wife of Austin attorney Roy Minton; Kay Wilkinson, president of Shelter Mortgage Corporation in Dallas, and Austin writer David Marion Wilkinson's sister; Linda Germain, an Austinite who is head of nationwide programming at Barnes & Noble; Gabrielle Faust, a graphic designer; Bonnie Orr, screenwriter and staff writer for Screen Talk; K. Celeste Seay, gardening section editor of the Statesman; author Billie L. Stephens of Lampasas; and Houston's Evelyn Hubbard, a district sales manager for Bantam Doubleday Dell, a division of Random House... SWT creative writing grad and Chronicle contributor Scott Blackwood's collection of stories In the Shadow of Our House will be reviewed in The New York Times Book Review on Sunday, November 18. Harcourt just bought the paperback rights; SMU Press published the book in August.