Booksellers’ Debut Novels Featured on March Indie Next List

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As booksellers, Josh Cook of Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Jamie Kornegay, the owner of Turnrow Book Co. in Greenwood, Mississippi, know just how important the Indie Next List is when it comes to putting a book front and center in the market. As debut novelists, both were recently thrilled to learn their peers had given them the ultimate vote of confidence: Cook’s An Exaggerated Murder (Melville House, March 3) and Kornegay’s Soil (Simon & Schuster, March 10) have both been nominated by hundreds of other booksellers across the U.S. for the March 2015 Indie Next List.

Josh Cook

“I know how important it is to a book that there is someone behind the counter rooting for it and supporting it and being an ally for it,” Cook said. “What the Indie Next List will do is put my book in front of so many more booksellers’ eyes than even my [industry] connections could do. Just being able to close my eyes and know that there are going to be displays at bookstores around the country with my book on it because of this is really exciting.”

Kornegay was also grateful to his fellow booksellers and said he was very aware of the value of the list, which helped propel the #1 May 2014 Indie Next List pick, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, to the top of numerous fiction bestseller lists.

“You can’t just waltz onto [the Indie Next List], so I feel ecstatic about that. That’s the one I sort of had my fingers crossed for all along,” Kornegay said. “And when I heard about it I was just so relieved. I’ve turned in my share of recommendations, so it’s really great to feel that from the other side.”

Jamie Kornegay

Cook, who has worked at Porter Square Books for the last 10 years and always dreamed of being a writer, said he wrote his book in fits and starts early in the morning before work and after hours at the store. “I actually started An Exaggerated Murder in about 2002 or 2004,” he said. “I put it on the shelf and then returned to it again a few years ago.”  

Cook, who names James Joyce, Emily Dickinson, Mark Z. Danielewski, and Lydia Davis among his major literary influences, said his postmodern detective novel was inspired by what he considers the two best detective novels of all time: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett and The Daughter of Time by Josephine Day. He also took inspiration from Poe’s short story The Purloined Letter.

An Exaggerated Murder, which takes its epigraph and title from lines in Joyce’s Ulysses (Cook’s favorite book and the subject of his college thesis), was described by Liberty Hardy of RiverRun Books in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, as a “fantastic, funny, smart debut,” whose main character, Trike Augustine, could be the child of Sherlock Holmes and Ignatius J. Reilly.

In addition to authoring An Exaggerated Murder, Cook has written poetry, literary criticism, book reviews, and essays for literary websites Bookslut, The Millions, and The Rumpus. He also blogs for Porter Square Books and for his personal blog, In Order of Importance.  

Kornegay is a Mississippi native who moved to the Mississippi Delta to establish his own store in 2006 after working for seven years at Square Books in Oxford, a town rife with literature, history, and writers.

Adding to his literary pedigree, Kornegay studied under famed Mississippi-grown writer Barry Hannah at the University of Mississippi. The famous author of wildly innovative short stories became a regular customer of Kornegay’s, and the two would talk books whenever Hannah visited his store.

Kornegay said Hannah’s work sets the standard for Southern writers, but there are many other Mississippi literary lights who also bear mentioning.

“Everybody initially falls under the sway of Faulkner because his presence, at least among booklovers, is so huge here,” Kornegay said. “But when I was in high school, Donna Tartt had just come out with The Secret History and John Grisham’s The Firm was getting big and these books were very preeminent. They were very good; they were very influential books for me. These were people who were from here, and to see books from Mississippians like me making it big in the world of literature was very powerful and inspiring.” 

In his laudatory Indie Next nomination for Soil, Josh Christie of Sherman’s Books and Stationery in Bar Harbor, Maine, identifies Kornegay as a new Southern writer to watch. “With Soil, Kornegay joins Wiley Cash and Tom Franklin as a strong voice in the world of Southern gothic fiction,” Christie said.

Soil has also been nominated by booksellers for ABA’s Indies Introduce Debut Authors program this spring, and Kornegay will be one of two Simon & Schuster authors featured at the American Booksellers Association’s upcoming Winter Institute  in Asheville, North Carolina.

Both Cook and Kornegay said their experiences as booksellers informed their approach to getting their books published.

Cook credited some of his success to industry connections he made as a bookseller, including Dennis Johnson, co-founder and publisher of Melville House in Brooklyn, New York, who was willing to give the novel a first read.

“In terms of the logistics of publishing and publicity, the help [from my experience as a bookseller] has been immeasurable,” Cook said, adding, “It certainly helps me manage expectations. It lets me know what I can expect from this: what a reasonable expectation is and what’s an unreasonable expectation, what I can be pleasantly surprised by and what I shouldn’t be disappointed by.”

To promote An Exaggerated Murder, which readers can pre-order on Porter Square’s website, Cook will tour New England, beginning at Porter Square and then stopping in Brooklyn and Portland, Maine.

Kornegay said that being a bookseller has influenced his writing and provided him with invaluable knowledge of the book business.

“As far as the writing goes, working around people all day you meet some pretty interesting, different types,” he said. “I’ve stolen a few lines from some of my customers. Every day a new cast of characters walks through the door, and then over the years you get to know some better than others. Certainly it’s given me material. And it’s made me be a little more serious about my writing time.”

On the business side of things, Kornegay said that bookselling has given him a leg up when it comes to knowing what readers like, as well as insights into marketing and book touring.

This spring, Simon & Schuster will have Kornegay touring the Southeast.

“I always find that writers who take the time to come in and meet me to talk about their book — not necessarily to do the hard sell, but just to come visit and say, ‘Hey, I know you’re here and I care about what you’re doing. I’d love to be in your store’ — that carries a lot of weight,” he said. “I hope to be doing a lot of that — just getting out, meeting booksellers.”