Between June 5 and June 18, four debut YA authors crossed the country from California to New York as part of a group tour launching Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group’s Fierce Reads national marketing campaign. The authors, Anna Banks (Of Poseidon, Feiwel and Friends), Leigh Bardugo (Shadow and Bone, Holt), Jennifer Bosworth (Struck, FSG), and Emmy Laybourne (Monument 14, Feiwel and Friends) were joined in most cities by one or two established Macmillan authors, including Marissa Meyer, Jessica Brody, Lish McBride, Ann Aguirre, and Caragh O’Brien. All but Brody will hit the road with additional authors for a second Fierce Reads tour, to be staged in two legs during September and October.

The name of the long-planned Fierce Reads branding initiative, which includes an online Facebook home, emerged shortly after Angus Killick arrived on board as MCPG’s v-p and associate publisher in November 2011. “It came out of a group brainstorming session,” he recalls. “We were wrestling with the name and we were on deadline. We had a very long list of suggestions, but none seemed quite right. As soon as Fierce Reads was out there, it stuck right away. I couldn’t be more thrilled at the response across the board – from staff in-house, booksellers, teachers, librarians, authors, and teens. It caught on much faster than we anticipated and has created great momentum for the books and authors in the program.”

Allison Verost, MCPG’s director of publicity, explains that the inaugural Fierce Reads tour was designed to spotlight first-time novelists and to bolster their appearances with guest slots by tried-and-true YA authors. “We wanted to launch these new authors with a splash,” she says. “All four had already developed a great online following through their own social media pages and the blog community, but we wanted to help them reach more readers. And having them joined by more established authors, with different presentation styles, really helped show the newbies the way of the road.”

Each of the Fierce Reads author events at bookstores and libraries opened with a viewing of Macmillan’s Fierce Reads trailer, followed by viewings of the individual book trailers, and author presentations, a question-and-answer session, and book signings. To give the authors and their novels additional exposure, Macmillan arranged for what Verost calls “a meet and greet” with a local YA blogger before the start of each event. “The bloggers were introduced to the authors, and we provided them with books to give away online,” she notes. “They then posted recaps and pictures of the event on their blogs and on Facebook.”

Enthusiastic Authors Weigh In

The members of the launch Fierce Reads tour were pleased to have had company on their road trip. “As a debut author, it was wonderful to tour with other authors because we all felt totally comfortable asking each other dumb questions!” says Laybourne. “The others were so open sharing their experiences regarding publishers, agents, the rewrite process, etc.” A highlight of the tour occurred at the start of her first-ever appearance promoting her work as a novelist, at Mrs. Nelson’s Bookshop in La Verne, Calif. “As I looked out into the crowd, I was overcome with this powerful feeling of homecoming,” she says. “It’s hard to describe, but what struck me was that all of us gathered in the room were book lovers. I felt like I’d finally found my people!”

Like Laybourne, Bardugo (who learned while touring that her Shadow and Bone would appear on the New York Times bestseller list) also welcomed the opportunity to tour with colleagues. “Even if I was tired or grumpy, Anna would make a joke or Emmy would say something surprising, and all of a sudden, I was laughing and ready for whatever came next,” she recalls. “You keep each other going.” For her, a memorable moment was meeting a girl at Village Books in Bellingham, Wash., whose father had agreed to bring her to the event for her birthday. “They’d driven hours just to see us,” says Bardugo. “At moments like that, you forget about airports and travel hassles and how much you miss sleeping in your own bed. You just feel grateful.”

The first leg of the fall reprisal of the Fierce Reads tour will take place September 18-24, when Elizabeth Fama (Monstrous Beauty, FSG) will be joined by Aguirre (Outpost, Feiwel and Friends) and McBride (Necromancing the Stone, Holt), and Marissa Meyer will make featured appearances. Headlining the second leg, spanning from October 16-22, are O’Brien (Promised, Roaring Brook), Gennifer Albin (Crewel, FSG), and Marie Rutoski (The Shadow Society, FSG); Bardugo will also appear at some venues.

The fall tour encompasses first-time as well as veteran authors. First novelist Albin is looking forward to sharing the experience with more seasoned peers. “I’m thrilled to be touring with other Fierce Reads authors because group tours always draw larger crowds, but also because these authors have tours and books under their respective belts,” she says. “Plus, I just think we’re going to have a lot of fun.” A self-described “twitteraholic,” Albin also looks forward to “meeting a lot of the bloggers and readers I tweet with daily. It’s always an amazing experience to meet your online community.”

O’Brien, who made guest appearances on the recent Fierce Reads tour, is upbeat about being a full-time participant in October. “Group tour events draw together readers with overlapping interest, and I’ll have the chance to visit with people I might not otherwise meet,” she says. “I like the sense of community that develops in such cases. I also like hearing other writers answer questions differently on a panel, and seeing how the answers relate to what I know of their books and them as new friends. I expect to learn a lot.”

Verost anticipates that the $250,000 Fierce Reads initiative, whose launch (in addition to the tours) includes movie theater, print, and Facebook advertising and an extensive social media buzz campaign, will create a lasting YA community. “We have the Facebook page as a landing site for teens, and will have additional tours down the road,” she says. “Fierce Reads will be around for years to come. Our debut authors will soon become established authors, and before long they’ll be the ones showing new authors the ropes.”