Jeff Martin, founder of Book Smart Tulsa, has made Tulsa a literary destination for writers. Since 2009, Book Smart Tulsa has hosted more than 100 acclaimed authors. Born and raised in Tulsa, Martin began interacting with authors by arranging book signings when he worked for Barnes and Noble. He has confessed to feeling neglected when there aren’t any Advanced Reader Editions of books waiting at his front door when he gets home.
Book Smart Tulsa has partnered with the Tulsa City-County Library on numerous occasions. Gary Shaffer, Tulsa City-County Library CEO states, “Jeff has brought together enthusiasm for the literary arts, passion for the power of social networking and a vision for community involvement in Tulsa to create a grassroots literary movement that has helped put Tulsa on the national literary map.” The library inducted Martin into the Library Hall of Fame in December 2012.
Martin works at Philbrook Museum of Art, serves as fiction editor for This Land magazine and is on the advisory board for Nimrod and the board of directors for the Oklahoma Center for the Book.
Martin is also an author. He is a longtime columnist for TulsaPeople magazine. His collection “The Customer Is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles” was a National Book Critics Circle Award nominee. In 2009, Martin lampooned current publishing world scandals with his book “My Dog Ate My Nobel Prize: The Fabricated Memoir of Jeff Martin.” His latest book, “The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books,” was hailed by The Atlantic as “funny, poignant and relentlessly thought-provoking.” He also is a contributor to Publishers Weekly, Poets & Writers, Salon and National Public Radio.
Martin recently agreed to answer some questions about Book Smart Tulsa.
LI: How do you entice writers to Tulsa?
JM: I used to beg, then I asked, now many want to come before we even ask.
LI: Do you pay for their travel costs and then pay them a speaking fee?
JM: No, we never pay a fee. We do provide lodging, meals, drivers, and sometimes flights.
LI: Do you promise to sell a certain number of books during their visit?
JM: No. We just promise a great event. The book sales usually take care of themselves.
LI: Does your strategy vary depending on how famous they are?
JM: The bigger the name, the more logistics.
LI: Do you always lodge authors at The Ambassador and if so, does the hotel do it for free or do you have to pay for the room?
JM: We've used many hotels, but our current lodging sponsor is The Campbell Hotel on 11th Street.
LI: Did you start with a certain amount of capital and then make back profit from book sales?
JM: We started with nothing and have maintained that. We take in no money. Luckily, I have a day job!
LI: I've noticed that you often donate a portion of proceeds from book sales.
JM: True, whenever we can. As our vendor options are limited now that Borders and Steve's are gone, we use Barnes and Noble. We work with them to give a percentage to local nonprofits.
LI: How do you make enough money to keep bringing authors in when you don't usually sell tickets and it isn't an obligation to buy books?
JM: Simple answer, we don't. But it's not really about a number of books sold. It's about an experience, a moment. The publishers want to use these for publicity as well and we provide that in a variety of ways.
LI: Have you had a lot of writers decline an invitation to come because Tulsa is a small market?
JM: Very few. And less as time goes by.
LI: Do you have to sign a contract with each author and if so, has anyone ever asked for something really weird in their contract?
JM: No riders and/or contracts except for Crispin Glover. His rider was over a dozen pages long. Too many odd requests to list.
LI: Is bringing a lot of good authors to town the deal you made with yourself for settling back in Tulsa when you enjoy New York?
JM: I love New York, but Tulsa is my home. I know Tulsa will never be New York and I don't want it to be. My goal is to squeeze every bit of potential out of this city, because the cultural life here can compete with the likes of Kansas City, Portland, and other medium-sized metro areas.
LI: Do you hope to write more books yourself?
JM: The short answer is yes. I have a million ideas. I had a run of almost a book a year for 3 or 4 years. It was tough. But yes, it will happen.
In March alone, Book Smart Tulsa is hosting six different literary events, which is almost like a literary festival. Mystery writer Joanne Fluke, author of Blackberry Pie Murder will appear at noon on March 10 at Antoinette Baking Company (owned by Martin’s wife, Mary Beth Babcock) and at 7pm on March 11 at Harwelden Mansion.
B.J. Novak of The Office t.v. show will appear at Congregation B’Nai Emunah on March 13 at 7pm to promote his book of short fiction, One More Thing. National Book Critics Circle Award Winner Blake Bailey will appear to speak about his book, The Splendid Things We Planned, on March 14 at 7 pm at Circle Cinema.
March 17 at 7pm author Bill Cotter will discuss his book, The Parallel Apartments. Pulitzer Prize Finalist Ben Montgomery is scheduled to speak about his book, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk on March 28. Rounding out the March lineup, Author Lee Sandlin will promote his book Storm Kings: America’s First Tornado Chasers on March 31 at the University of Tulsa Allen Chapman Activity Center at 7pm.
For more information on additional literary events, go to www.booksmarttulsa.com