For “Mommy Book” Authors, Buzz Doesn’t Equal Sales

By Carmen Comment


The New York Times’ Motoko Rich reports on how people feel about Leslie Bennetts‘ THE FEMININE MISTAKE and other hot-button books that address the core question of whether women should stay at home with their children or work. And the surprising – or perhaps not so surprising – conclusion is that there’s a lot of chatter that doesn’t translate into sales. “There is a lot of discussion out there about this issue and that’s why we’re having these books,” said Nancy Sheppard, vice president of marketing at Viking, which last year published GET TO WORK: A MANIFESTO FOR WOMEN OF THE WORLD by Linda R. Hirshman. “But it’s mostly just a discussion.”

Rich points to low Bookscan numbers for Hirshman, Sylvia Hewlett and Caitlin Flanagan as particularly striking because these books cover a topic that raises fierce passions, as anyone who has spent time on a playground or near an office water cooler knows. But that may get at the heart of why women are not buying books about these subjects. “I always felt it was something that women didn’t want to look at too closely,” said Jonathan Burnham, publisher of HarperCollins, who was editor in chief at Talk Miramax Books when Hewlett’s book was published five years ago. “It was a problem that touched very complicated feelings, so while they read a magazine article or watched a segment on ‘Oprah,’ they didn’t want to read a whole book about it because it was such a difficult subject.”

And then there’s the question of time. “I’m home-schooling, I have three children, and my reading time is limited,” said Heather Cushman-Dowdee of Los Angeles. With many of the mommy books, she said, “I think I get their points through the articles that they’re writing without needing to delve in.” Declining to buy the books, she said, is a way to “protect your sanity a little bit.”