Wordplay: Roxanne Coady on ‘Just the Right Book Podcast!’ (Q&A)

Today, I’m joined by a true legend within the literary community: Roxanne Coady.

Roxanne is the owner of R.J. Julia (Madison)—one of the nation’s preeminent indie booksellers and past recipient of Publishers Weekly’s prestigious best independent bookstore recognition. She recently launched a podcast—“Just the Right Book Podcast”—that allows her to share her passion for books with an expanded audience, and in the company of authors and other industry insiders. Early guests of the program have included Amy Bloom, James Patterson, and Jacques Pepin. Roxanne’s other accomplishments include having founded Just the Right Book—the largest online personalized book-of-the-month subscription service—and Read to Grow, Inc. (RTG), which promotes development of early literacy and language skills. RTG has distributed in excess of 1.5 million books to newborns and children throughout Connecticut. A true pioneer, Roxanne appears periodically on the Today Show and Good Morning America and was a frequent contributor to The Faith Middleton Show.

Roxanne Coady.jpg
Roxanne Coady.

CRN International is the leading radio marketing company, pioneering strategies and producing creative programming that gives major advertisers competitive advantages through radio and emerging audio media. In 2015, the company launched Collisions, which produces “podcasts for curious people”—including Just the Right Book. CRN is headquartered in Hamden, CT, with offices in New York, Minneapolis and Detroit.

R.J. Julia opened in 1990; the store’s mission is: “to be a place where words matter, where writer meets reader, where the ambiance and selection and merchandising of books creates an atmosphere that is welcoming and presents the opportunity for discovery.” In addition to having been named a Publisher’s Weekly Bookseller of the Year, R.J. Julia’s honors have included the Lucile Pannell award for bookselling excellence, Connecticut Magazine Best Bookstore, Connecticut Retailers Award for Community Commitment, the Advocate’s Best Bookstore and the New Haven Business Small Business Award.

From The Just the Right Book Podcast web site:

Just the Right Book … Is a podcast hosted by Roxanne Coady, owner of famous independent bookstore R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, CT, … That will help you discover new and next-to-read books in all genres, give you unique insights into your favorite authors, and bring you up to date with what’s happening in the literary world … So that, by entertaining and enlightening, you can have an enhanced experience in your reading and literary life … Because Roxanne is one of the leading booksellers, whose opinions are known, respected and sought by top authors, publishers, reviewers, readers and high-profile media outlets.

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Now, Roxanne Coady shares her vision with us …

John Valeri: What inspired you to embrace the idea of hosting a podcast when approached with the opportunity to do so?

Roxanne Coady: I did Faith [The Faith Middleton Show] all those years … and then Faith’s show switched to doing the Food Schmooze. At the same time, Barry Berman from CRN was moving into this area of podcasts, and so there was a part of me that thought—this was when my head was still thinking that maybe I was going to sell the bookstore—that this would be a fun way to stay in the business. I like interviewing authors. I like talking about books, and talking to other people about books. Everything got in motion at once, and I was thinking of it as keeping my options open …You know, it’s a little bit like when I opened the bookstore. I did it with the expectation that we wouldn’t have kids and then I was pregnant and so they were both in motion. It sort of feels like that. It’s like it’s all in motion and it all seems fun. There isn’t anything that I’m doing that I don’t feel excited about.

JV: How do you see this as being an extension of the Just the Right Book program as it exists now?

RC: I haven’t quite figured that out (laughs). Just the Right Book is all about personalizing book selection using what independents do well, which is curation and making it happen seamlessly for a reader. And Just the Right Book [podcast] is about independent thinking about books. What I hope we do is have some of the big name authors but I’m also excited about having on authors where I think the book is really interesting. There’s a book that came out that I just read a review of in the New York Times about propaganda [Jason Stanley’s How Propaganda Works]. Given all the stuff about fake news and real news and populous emotions, I think a current book view of propaganda would be interesting, so I see the show doing both. I see it both having the opportunity for me to interview people like George Saunders of Michael Lewis that are everywhere … but I also like finding under- the-radar books, which is Just the Right Book’s [web site] job as well.

JV: How has technology influenced the industry – and in what ways do you see this podcast as being a representation of the traditional and innovative?

RC: I’m fascinated by the intersection of technology in our industry. For instance, if you think about all the data that we have collected, we don’t really use it. One of the jokes I make about independent booksellers is that we call data analysis creating an Excel sheet. So one of the things that I hope to make happen is learning how we can use data that we have on readers to send them information that’s very suited to them … and with the podcast what I see is the opportunity to reach a wider audience. The podcast world? You know, I think it’s going to be interesting to see what that is because, in some ways, podcasting is radio on demand. You listen to what you want to listen to when you want to listen to it … What will be very cool is that we can be focused on information in the book world that people aren’t otherwise accessing. I intend to interview executives from publishing companies about what they’re thinking, or talking to literary agents about what makes them pick up a client, or an editor about their role in the publishing company. Or one of the regular components of the podcast will be “What’s On Your Front Table?” When you think about Barnes & Noble or Amazon, they’re promoting books that publishers have paid them to promote, where independents put books on the front table that they’re excited about and that they think their customers will want to know about. I’ve listened to all the book podcasts out there, and what I’ve tried to do is see what I think is not happening. I’m excited about possibly threading that needle.

JV: What are you particularly excited about in the book world for 2017?

RC: I’m very interested that George Saunders’s new book [Lincoln in the Bardo] is coming out. I’m almost done with it, and I adore him. There are lots of big books coming out from folks this year, but what I’m really interested in is history. I’m actually going to re-read Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent series, which is very much about the Cold War. I want to read Sinclair Lewis’s book, It Can’t Happen Here. I want to read that propaganda book [Note: Refer to Question Two]. I’m going back and reading presidential biographies. So I’m very interested in trying to put our times in context coupled with figuring out my responsibility as a citizen in terms of paying attention. Also, I just finished Michael Connelly’s new book, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, and I love him. So there’s that, too—there’s all that fun. There’s a great new book [This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression] coming out from Daphne Merkin that I just finished about depression—which we’re still not talking enough about—and she, to me, is one of the glorious writers out there. There’s always too much to read and not enough time.

***

With thanks to Roxanne Coady for her generosity of time and thought and to Laura Rossi, President of Laura Rossi Public Relations, for facilitating this interview.

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