A new force in book marketing: The Okra Picks

It's takes a lot of gumbo to have fun with the biggest name in the book world, but that's exactly what a group of booksellers are doing. In a cute play off You Know Who, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance announced plans for a new marketing plan this fall: The Okra Picks.

Every quarter the Okra Picks will promote a list of 12 new books nominated by the organization's 250 member stores. Quick_Frozen_Young_Okra.jpg The titles can be fiction or nonfiction -- any genre -- but they've got to be finger-lickin' Southern.

I spoke with Wanda Jewell, executive director of SIBA, and asked her how she'd cooked up this plan.

"I've had the title in mind for a long time," she said, "trying to figure out how I could use it." In fact, she's been cultivating Okra Picks since she first heard of Oprah's Book Club. "With a good name and good tag line, you can go far."

How does a book get on this new list?

"My member bookstores need to be excited about it and feel like it's a book they can get behind and hand-sell. And it's got to be set in the South or written by a Southerner. And it's got to be brand new -- just hitting bookshelves. We also want to spread the list out around different publishers -- to include our regional publishers that maybe don't get quite so much attention."

And what exactly makes a book Southern?

"I would say 'quirky' if I had to put it in one word. We embrace our reputation in a way that no one else does. We love that whole 'We're different from other people.' That's something the best Southern literature does."

Your Web site says these are "great Southern books fresh off the vine." But how does okra grow?

"That could be a problem. I think okra grows on a bush, doesn't it? I'm calling it a bush anyhow. I'll have to learn more about okra."

-- Ron Charles

Twitter: roncharles

By Ron Charles |  June 3, 2009; 5:09 AM ET Ron Charles
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