An abundance of fans (among them, some Katherines) will see Printz Award-winning author John Green on his 17-city tour for The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton, on sale Jan. 10).
That day the Looking for Alaska writer and his younger musician brother, Hank, will launch their three-week road trip in a Sprinter van, decorated with the cover of the new novel (about two teens with cancer who fall in love) and quotes from Markus Zusak ("you laugh, you cry, and then you come back for more") and Jodi Picoult ("an electric portrait of young people who learn to live life with one foot in the grave"). As the 34- and 31-year-old siblings travel, they will broadcast shows through their VlogBrothers YouTube channel.
"I’m a pretty introverted person, but I decided to go on tour because I knew it would be good for the book," says Green, who will leave his wife (a contemporary art dealer) and two-year-old son at home in Indianapolis. "It’s really important to launch the book as aggressively as possible. I also feel really strongly about trying to make the case for brick-and-mortar bookstores…. I think it’s crazy, crazy that book tours lose so much money. They shouldn’t. Book tours should be part of what keeps independent bookstores vibrant and profitable."
To see Green in most markets, fans simply buy the novel from the bookstore hosting him. "Your book is your ticket," says Wendy Manning, events and marketing manager at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Wash., the tour stop on January 30. She expects to sell out all 800 seats, which happened for Paul McCartney, Jane Fonda, Hillary Clinton, and Alan Alda. "He is in good company!" she says.
Though all 17 venues boast at least 500 seats, Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C., Raleigh, N.C., Atlanta, Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., and Vancouver are already sold out. Because of demand from Green’s fans (including his 1.1 million @realjohngreen Twitter followers and 614,000 VlogBrothers subscribers), Penguin moved up the on-sale date by five months.
Green started writing the new book in 2000, after he spent five months as a student chaplain at a children’s hospital, but couldn’t figure out a way to write it that wasn’t too sentimental. Then one of his Nerdfighters (a community of self-described nerds who follow his vlog and work to improve the world) re-inspired him. Esther Earl was a Nerdfighter he got to know before she died of thyroid cancer at 16. Green, who dedicated his new novel to Esther, is raising money for This Star Won’t Go Out, the charity her parents started to financially help parents of kids living with cancer. He is also starting his tour in Boston, her hometown.
Fans don’t seem to mind forking over the full retail price of a book – or even a little more – to see Green. To ensure she would get into the event held by Kepler’s Books at the 1,300-seat Fox Theatre in Redwood City, Calif., on January 27, 17-year-old Avery Conant of Gilroy, Calif., prepaid the store $20 for her copy of The Fault in Our Stars (list price: $17.99) at the beginning of December. She expects the show to be "like a very long vlog" – a compliment, she says. Mostly, she just enjoys his stories. "I love how he can capture an entire generation," she says.
Luckily for Conant’s mother and sister, who are tagging along, Kepler’s is also selling $12 tickets to people who don’t buy the book. “We’re just making this so families don’t have to buy four books,” explains Angela Mann, Kepler’s youth events coordinator, who is “thrilled” that her store landed Green. "He’s an exceptionally thoughtful writer," she says. "He’s also a really nice guy."
Green plans to start the 60- to 90-minute show by reading a bit from his novel and "talking about different ideas of heroism" in classical and contemporary literature and even in videogames, he says. "Videogame players essentially choose whether to win the game or to die heroically. There’s a certain glory in both." Appropriately, his brother will then sing his original song, "How to Die in a Videogame."
"We’re trying to put together an experience," says Green. "When you go to a great concert, you feel this arc, almost like the music of a well-chosen set takes you on this trip through emotions and through various forms of intellectual engagement." Though he says he doesn’t want to "spoil the surprises," he mentions "confetti cannons." And during two Q&A sessions, he and his brother – whoever is talking when the timer on stage hits 10 minutes – will get electrocuted with a shock pen. It should prevent it all from "going on too long," he says.
Green, who only two months ago finished signing 150,000 tip-ins for every first edition of the new novel, plans to put his John Hancock on thousands of books during the tour. But he isn’t whining or looking for an autopen (even though wielding a Sharpie for eight hours a day for two and a half months left him with temporary nerve inflammation in his elbow and shoulder). "Pretty much anyone who complains about signing autographs is a jerk!" he says cheerfully.
In fact, he embraced the process, enlisting fans to vote on ink color and using those percentages as he switched pens. While putting pen to paper, he also listened to audio books (including George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss) and watched "a lot of bad TV," including all 88 episodes of Pawn Stars, he says. "I don’t make a high-low culture differentiation."
The publisher is creating a printed event program with a letter from Green, a general biography, signing guidelines – "and a lexicon of the lingo that Nerdfighters use to communicate with one another," says Elyse Marshall, the Penguin publicist who set up the tour. An example of that jargon: DFTBA, which stands for "don’t forget to be awesome." (The This Star Won’t Go Out foundation finishes its "Esther’s story" online writeup with the line, "Rest in Awesome, Esther!")
To keep people waiting in the signing line from getting bored, Green and a friend created a crossword puzzle with questions related to his books and to VlogBrothers videos. They’ll also keep the livestream running so people can say hello to their friends. "We’ve worked hard to find ways to make the signing line suck less then signing lines usually do," he says.
Fans who are unable to wait until the on-sale date can read the first two chapters online. At yourpants.org, Green plans to run two forums—one for people who haven’t read the book yet and one for people who have finished it. (It’s his anti-spoiler innovation.) After readers answer online questions to prove they belong in the completed-it forum, they can “talk openly without harming other people’s reading experiences,” says Green, who came up with the idea and hopes to launch it January 10. "I like to build places online where readers can have productive conversations about books."
Green says he’s very much looking forward to the tour. "It is an opportunity to be reminded of how intelligent and engaged my readers are," he says. "I will never be as good at writing as they are at reading. I always come home from tour feeling that I need to work harder. It’s obviously a great privilege to meet people who like books."
What’s next for him and his longtime editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel? "I have a bunch of ideas, but I don’t know which idea will win," he says.