Return of the Gay Book Club

 
 

Rumors of the demise of InsightOut, the gay and lesbian “book of the month”
club, were apparently greatly exaggerated.
According to those operating the club, reports from last year that it
had closed were wrong.

“Why do people think we closed?” said Michael Connor, editor
of InsightOut Books. “We’re not closed. But clearly we have a P.R. problem.”

Earlier this year, Time Warner sold Bookspan, which owned
InsightOut, to a subsidiary of the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, which
already had part ownership. Shortly thereafter, Bertelsmann embarked on a major
overhaul, significantly reducing its overall workforce. In May, Publishers
Weekly
reported, and AfterElton.com and many other media outlets repeated, that
a spokesman for Bertelsmann had confirmed that InsightOut Book Club was being
shuttered.

Not so, said Melinda Meals, Senior Director of
Communications for Bertelsmann Direct North America. “We did consider closing
InsightOut Books,” Meals said. “But upon further analysis the decision was made
to keep the Club operating. It was never closed.”

Along with InsightOut, Bertelsmann currently runs 19 other book clubs, including the original Book of the Month Club, the Mystery Guild and the Science Fiction Book Club, one of its largest special interest book clubs, with 185,000 members.

InsightOut is among the smallest of the clubs, with 60,000 members, though that
figure is an all-time high, similar to Rhapsody, Bertelsmann’s romance book club.

The club currently offers members an initial four books for
one dollar, in exchange for an agreement to buy three more books at regular
prices over the next two years. Prices are typically about 40 percent off publishers’
cover prices, Meals said.

The club sends out 18 regular catalogs a year and one
holiday edition, Connor said. A selection is automatically shipped and charged
to the member’s account unless he or she responds via mail within a certain
time period.

According to Connor, he and an advisory board of six to
eight writers and other publishing professionals pick books for the club by
reading advance copies, then select 10 to 14 new titles, both fiction and
nonfiction, for each new catalog.

”We try to have the best of what’s out there,” Connor said.
“We try to keep current.”

The club, which negotiates directly with publishers and pays
royalties to authors, typically prints its own hardcover editions of the books
it carries. A bestseller will move 3,000 to 5,000 copies — “More than
what a lot of publishers sell,” Connor said.

InsightOut editor Michael Connor (left)
and author Lawrence Schimel

Indeed, many authors believe the existence of the club is a
great thing for gay books, providing marketing and extra sales that can make a
big difference in the success of individual books.

“In terms of my own books, InsightOut has been wonderful in
getting the books out there, especially now that the network of nearly 200 gay
and lesbian bookstores that existed when I began publishing in the early ’90s no
longer exists,” said Lawrence Schimel, author of His Tongue, Vacation in Ibiza and Best Date Ever. “For many people, the club has become a sort
of virtual or mail order gay and lesbian bookstore, helping them to find titles
not otherwise available in their area or local stores."

Schimel noted that InsightOut has also sponsored
gay literary events and institutions, including the Lambda Literary Foundation
and Award, the Publishing Triangle, the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival
and the Fire & Ink queer writers festival for LGBT writers of color.

“The club has always supported new writers,” Schimel said.
“Not only did the club bring newer writers to the attention of an interested
book-buying queer public, but they also had an annual award for writers whose
first book is carried by the club. “

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