When The New York Times and The Washington Post slammed Canadian author Yann Martel’s new novel, Beatrice and Virgil, publisher Spiegel & Grau called on independents for help. Not that the book has been doing bad, USA Today called it “a masterpiece,” and it was #2 in fiction on The Boston Globe fiction list last week, after Martel did a Boston area tour that included a stock signing at the New England Independent Bookseller Association offices.

Wednesday publisher Cindy Spiegel sent an e-mail blast to the NEIBA listserv, headlined “a call for discussion.” Citing Beatrice and Virgil’s mixed reviews, raves and pans, she asked independent booksellers to host discussions about it in their stores. “In the spirit of the community-building that independent booksellers do so well, I’m enlisting your support—let’s encourage readers to come to their own conclusions about this novel. I very much hope you will urge your customers to read the book and join the conversation. Perhaps you could even host a discussion group in your store. It’s exciting to see a book generating such lively debate, and a bookstore like yours seems the perfect place to host this type of dialogue,” wrote Spiegel.

The blast, the first under a new NEIBA program that lets publishers reach members for a $100 fee, seems to be working. “I really liked it,” said NEIBA executive director Steve Fischer. “I think it’s great that they want to find out from the indie market what’s going on.”

As for PW, its reviewer was not impressed: “The prose is amateur and the characters thin, the coy self-referentiality grates, and the fable at the center of the novel is unbearably self-conscious.”