Algonquin Books held the first in its new Algonquin Book Club Author Interviews March 21 at Miami's independent bookseller Books & Books, where local author Edwidge Danticat and local favorite Julia Alvarez sat down to talk about Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies. The sold-out event brought 250 fans in person and 500 more watching via Web cast, streaming live on Algonquin's Web site (www.algonquinbooks.com).
The independent Florida regional bookseller and the Chapel Hill, N.C., publisher have worked together before. For the past two Augusts, Books & Books has hosted an Algonquin night featuring Craig Popelars, director of marketing, who brings along an Algonquin author to present the press's new and upcoming titles. "Algonquin is one of our favorite publishers," said Books & Books event coordinator Brenda Linn. "We have a really great working relationship with them."
The quarterly author interview series is a new part of the publisher's successful seven-year-old Algonquin Book Club program, which promotes and highlights Algonquin's paperback line. Each interview pairs an Algonquin paperback author with an author from another house. Though it's a group effort brought together by many Algonquin staffers, it's Michael Taeckens, Algonquin's online and paperback marketing director, who's responsible for getting those out-of-house authors on board. Algonquin has lined up author teams through next March, with Algonquin author Sara Gruen interviewed by Kathryn Stockett of The Help (Penguin) scheduled for April.
"It's really just me going blindly to these authors and asking," Taeckens explained about how he arranges the pairs. He noted that their friendship made Danticat the obvious choice to interview Alvarez, but other authors presented more of a challenge. Sara Gruen and Kathryn Stockett didn't know each other, but seemed a natural fit: both had breakout hits largely sustained by reader word-of-mouth. Stockett was just finishing up a gigantic tour when Taeckens contacted her about participating. "To my great surprise and pleasure, she said, ‘Absolutely.' The whole series speaks well of a lot of authors," Taeckens said.
Taeckens said the Algonquin team conceived the author interview series as a way to "bridge the gap between the stores and the online presence." Indeed, Linn at Books & Books sounded almost as impressed with the webcast, handled by Vivo Live, as she was with the authors' conversation—not only was the event simulcast on the Internet, it was projected on big screens at two branches of the Miami-Dade Library. In addition, fans tuning in on the Web site were given a link to order a signed book, straight from the Books & Books Web site. (Algonquin also plans a technological step back: the interview next March in Portsmouth, N.H., featuring Stephen King interviewing Lauren Grodstein, will be broadcast on the local NPR affiliate.)
Of course, it's the authors who draw the viewers, and Linn said Danticat and Alvarez couldn't have been better: "I knew that these two authors were friends and big fans of one another. I thought it would be a good conversation, but it was even better than I could have imagined. People were just rapt, the entire time." Books & Books sold tickets, largely to limit attendance to give the webcast crew room to shoot. The $10 ticket could be used for $10 off a book purchase only at the event, and the store sold more books than expected: "You have to assume that the people coming have already read the book, but still we had really robust sales," Linn said.
Taeckens is confident that the author interview series will continue to attract larger audiences as awareness builds and Algonquin finds ways to further brand the series. The Gruen-Stockett interview will take place April 26 in Atlanta, hosted by Barnes & Noble of Buckhead, at a 1,000-seat auditorium. Taeckens and Barnes & Noble expect they'll have no trouble selling all 1,000 tickets. In August, Terry McMillan will interview Heidi Durrow (The Girl Who Fell from the Sky), and in October Patricia Cornwell will interview Robert Goolrick (A Reliable Wife).