"We know YA literature is hot; we know it’s good; and we know teens are reading it. But we can’t get teens in our stores when authors are in it,"said moderator Heather Hebert of Children’s Book World in Haverford, Pa., as she introduced the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association’s panel on How to Host Successful YA Events at the trade show in Atlantic City two weeks ago. Panelists Suzanna Hermans, co-owner and manager of Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, N.Y.; A.S. King, author of Everybody Sees the Ants (Little, Brown); Melissa Walker, author of Small Town Sinners (Bloomsbury); and Matthew Quick, author of Boy21 (Little, Brown, Mar. 2012), discussed some of their most successful events, and attendees jumped in.
For Hermans it was this summer’s Hudson Valley YA Society’s Survivor Edition evening with Libba Bray, Michael Northrop, and E. Archer, moderated by David Levithan. She even decorated the store with a Hawaiian theme. And she used the event, as she does at all her teen gatherings, to get e-mail addresses.
Walker, who likes to think of what groups of teens will be attracted to the themes in her books, says that, depending on the book, she has contacted reading groups from places as disparate as churches and cosmetic companies. During Fashion Week, she said, Lancôme donated lip glosses for attendees at a reading for her Violet books.
Similarly, Quick likes to take a theme in his books and triangulate it. He credits Michael Fox, owner of Joseph Fox Bookshop in Philadelphia, for explaining to him how that can boost sales. When Quick’s first novel, The Silver Lining’s Playbook (FSG), came out, Fox invited Quick to appear along with Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Hank Baskett, who is a minor character in the book, thus attracting a very different audience for the event.
Lacking ready-made themes for discussion in her earlier books, King said she offered workshops for each new book called "Do You Want to Be a YA Writer?" Her new book, however, deals with bullying, and Little, Brown is touring her with a bullying expert.
Touring and compensation can be complicated. "You want to help the indies," King said. "But I need to get paid." That includes reimbursement for mileage. On the other hand, she tries to thank Changing Hands in Tempe, Ariz., for supporting her very first book by returning there each time she has a new book, at her own expense. When it comes to school visits, free doesn’t work for Quick. "Authors get frustrated doing [school events] for free. The kids may not have read the book. It’s funny — if the schools don’t pay anything, they tend not to do anything."
To encourage kids to come to her store, Tatiana Nicoli, owner of Boulevard Books in Brooklyn, invited them to hangout there after hours, from 8 to 10 p.m. She even offered to set up pizza parties if they were willing to pay a small fee to cover the cost. It took much of the summer for the teens to trust her, but she hopes to build on that trust to increase attendance at YA events.
Todd Dickinson, co-owner of Aaron’s Books in Lititz, Pa., has had a different problem: attracting authors. "We’re six hours from everywhere," he said." Some of his tactics include seeking out YA writers on Twitter and nominating books that he likes for Indie Next. "Tell the authors that, too," he reminds booksellers. Hermans added that even if a bookseller contacts an author directly, they should be sure to get in touch with the publisher, too. "You can get blow-ups and co-op," she said, which can help make for an even more successful event.