“People think I know about the future of publishing because I’m on the Internet or wherever,” John Green says when asked what he’s going to talk about during his keynote presentation, “On We Go: Some Thoughts on the Last 10 Years and the Next 10.” Green, whose debut novel, Looking for Alaska, was published by Dutton in 2005, promises that while he “won’t talk as much about [the book] as Penguin would like,” he intends to express his gratitude to independent booksellers for their unwavering support from the beginning. “I wouldn’t have a career without indie bookstores and libraries,” Green says, crediting indie booksellers and librarians for 90% of sales of Looking for Alaska in the first two years after its publication. Green vividly recalls his first appearance to promote the new release: it was at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill. Two people attended, and one was his boss—“who kindly pretended not to be.” Green’s neighborhood bookstore during the years he lived in Chicago, the Book Cellar, which celebrated its own 10th anniversary in 2014, has also hosted him numerous times over the years. At first, he says, those events drew few, if any, people.
“The first four years I was a published author,” Green says, “I never had a signing with more than eight people at it.” When “many hundreds of people” packed the store in 2012 for a signing of The Fault in Our Stars, “it was really exciting, because Suzy [Takacs, the owner] supported my books forever.”
Green appreciates independent booksellers, not just because they lifted him from obscurity to literary stardom but also because, like so many other readers, he has benefited from their expertise in selling him on a great book he otherwise wouldn’t have picked up. In fact, Green says, one such bookseller—at yet another Chicago bookstore, Barbara’s Books—steered him toward Philip Kerr’s Berlin Noir series of detective novels, which changed the way he thought about writing fiction. After reading Kerr’s trilogy, Green decided to write a novel that was “more mystery-ish” than Looking for Alaska or his sophomore effort, An Abundance of Katherines. The result was Paper Towns. And in a quirky coincidence worthy of a Green tale, the film adaptation of Paper Towns recently wrapped in Charlotte, N.C., 120 miles east of Asheville.
See Green’s afternoon keynote on Monday, February 9, 2:15–3:15 p.m., in the Heritage Ballroom.