Authors have been known to embark on pre-pubtours to spark interest in forthcoming books. But first novelist Lauren Oliver,whose Before I Fall will be releasedby HarperTeen next week, devised a more, well, novel plan to give potential fans a heads-up about her book: shesent two ARCs on the road. And she's also done her part to spread word of thenovel online and in person.
First a little back story. Before I Fall centers on Samantha, a high-school queen bee whoattempts to redeem herself, as she relives the day of her death seven timesafter she's killed in a car crash. The inspiration for the story had severalsources. "When I was younger, I'd often try to imagine a perfect day indetail," Oliver says. "I'm also interested in the mean-girl phenomenon and whatunderlies high school kids' cruelty toward one another. And I'm drawn tostories of redemption. I wanted to unify all these elements that were bouncingaround my head, so I came up with the idea of this novel."
Working at the time at Penguin Books for YoungReaders ("I was the world's worst editorial assistant, so I did what I call a 'failing-up' and was promoted to assistant editor," she quips), Lauren placedthe book with Brenda Bowen, who then had her own imprint at HarperCollinsChildren's Books. After Bowen left the company, executive editor RosemaryBrosnan became Oliver's editor.
Brosnan recalls being so enthralled with Before I Fall that she stayed up until3:00 in the morning to finish the manuscript. "You know from the beginning thatSamantha is going to die, but I was so drawn into her story that I couldn'tstop reading," she says. "The structure-how Lauren wove so many threadstogether-is masterful. This is gorgeous storytelling and writing, and anincredible new voice."
As excitement about Before I Fall grew in-house-Oliver's initial two-book contract wasextended to four books and the novel's announced first printing was set at100,000 copies-the author pitched in to build the buzz in the outside world.She discussed Before I Fall on herblog, on Twitter, and on her Facebook and MySpace pages, receiving muchpositive feedback and many requests to read the novel.
This groundswell of interest inspired the galleytour. "There were so many people who wanted to read the book, I felt terriblethat I couldn't send galleys to them all," Oliver recalls. "I'm just beginningto take baby steps in the world of blogging, but I've come to realize there isa tremendous community of book bloggers, many separated by continents, whosupport each other and have developed friendships, sometimes even in â€˜reallife.' Of course I didn't have an infinite quantity of ARCs, but I did have twoto share, and I liked the thought that my novel would be launched on somewhatof an odyssey."
After compiling a list of interested readers,Oliver mailed off two galleys last fall-one made its way across the U.S. andthe other traversed England and Spain-which recipients read and sent on to thenext name on the list. "I wrote a note in the ARCs saying that I hoped my bookwill be a good houseguest while it stayed with them, and encouraged readers towrite me notes if they were so moved," she says.
Many were. The European-touring ARC recentlymade its way back to the author, filled with comments. "What I received backwas stunning," Oliver remarks. "Some of the notes were incredibly moving andone girl in Spainhad gone through and illustrated scenes in the novel."
Though Oliver is now awaiting the return of the secondgalley, those who read it have been in touch with her and have said they'vealso penned notes in the ARC. Some have sent her photos of the galley in nativeposes: "One reader in Wisconsinsent me a picture of the book next to a local t-shirt and a piece of cheese,"she says. "It's been awesome. The theme of my novel is how interconnected everyoneis, and this experience reaffirms that. I can't say enough about how gratifyingit's been."
Oliver has also found her face-to-face pre-pubencounters with Before I Fall readersuplifting. She met bookseller fans at the Winter Institute in San Jose earlierthis month, and was guest of honor at a gathering of more than 50 teens,educators, and booksellers in Anderson Bookshops' book fair warehouse inAurora, Ill. Owner Becky Anderson, who hosted the dinner event, reports thatthe author easily charmed her audience. "Lauren blew everyone away with herthoughtful insights into her writing process and her own experiences in highschool," she says. "She was so down-to-earth and so genuine-we all were struckby that."
"This was the first time I'd ever interactedwith a group of readers," Oliver says, "and it was very exciting to find thatthey were very engaged with the issues in my book and that they asked such fascinating,smart questions-some about things I hadn't thought about before. It was a hugeaffirmation."
Oliver's schedule won't ease up any time soon.Next week she embarks on a five-city tour to promote Before I Fall, which was selected as a Barnes & Noble FirstLook pick for February, a Borders Original Voices pick for March, and the #1Indie Next Spring 2010 Children's Pick. And her fan base is bound to expand:foreign rights for the novel have sold in 14 territories to date.
Oliver will throw another ball into the air thisspring, when she launches Paper Lantern Lit, a book development company, withLexa Hillyer, a former colleague at Penguin. "What we are interested in arestories with spark: building great books from the ground up and supporting newauthors," she explains.
But fans of BeforeI Feel need not worry. Her second novel, Delirium, will be published by HarperTeen in winter 2011. AndOliver hints at more books to come, noting, "I know for certain that writingwill remain a focus for me."
Before I Fall by LaurenOliver. HarperTeen, $17.99 Mar. (480p) ISBN 978-0-06-172680-4