You can’t buy Half of a Yellow Sun, a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that has won the Orange Broadband Prize, was a finalist in the 2007 Morning News Tournament of Books and has been praised in Vanity Fair and the New York Times Book Review, in any bookstore in midtown Manhattan. Or, apparently in the greater New York City area.
I’ve been trying to buy it for the last four weeks, going from store to store — not as a Michael Moore-style publicity stunt, but simply because I want to read the damn book — and I’m now realizing just how little our prestige publishing companies care about pushing their international authors.
The publisher of Adichie’s novel is Alfred A. Knopf, which, ironically, has a stellar literary reputation to uphold. I’m sure they’re boasting of their association with this award-winning book, but they don’t seem to care that readers can’t find a copy. Apparently last year’s hardcover run sold out after the book won the Orange Broadband prize, and Alfred A. Knopf doesn’t consider it a priority to print any new ones. The paperback version is coming in September, and employees of two of the bookstores I’ve been to gave me pathetic smiles and told me to come back then. Thanks a lot.
To their credit, the employees at the Borders in Westbury, Long Island, the Barnes and Noble in Forest Hills, Queens, the Borders on Park Avenue and 57th in Manhattan and the Barnes and Noble on 53rd and Lex in Manhattan all tried their hardest to find the book for me, and I’m happy to report that three of the four of them had heard of it. One of them even recommended several other recent African titles as a replacement, which I suppose was the best she could do.
So, big shot publishing executives, let’s hear why Alfred A. Knopf/Random House is unable to get ten copies of one of the summer’s hottest international titles to the biggest bookstores in Manhattan during the months of June or July, when there’s a Kinko’s right down the corner that could turn out 100 copies by midnight? Please, explain. Are you done yet? Okay. You suck. It’s really as simple as that.
I always hear about how one or another book publishing executive is “brilliant” or “a genius”. But it’s really hard to swallow that our book industry is run by the best and the brightest when they can’t find a book printing and distribution model that doesn’t constantly kill their buzz (the little they get).
(UPDATE: based on some informative comments which you can read below, it seems the direct fault here is with the retailers, not the publishers. Apparently the book is available in warehouses, but stores won’t order the hardcover with the paperback edition pending. I still don’t feel inclined to blame the store chains as much as Knopf here, though, because it is the publisher’s responsibility to promote its award-winning authors and make sure their books can be bought. If the hardcover format is known to kill distribution, why not rush out a paperback edition when a book wins a prestigious prize? They did it for Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” when it became Oprah’s pick … our modern printing technology should theoretically make this entirely possible. Better yet, why not skip the bloated overpriced hardcover altogether, and just publish the book in an affordable paperback edition in the first place?)