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

reported, and and many other media outlets repeated, that

a spokesman for Bertelsmann had confirmed that InsightOut Book Club was being


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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