When Abigail Hing Wen’s debut novel Loveboat, Taipei (HarperTeen) officially set sail to retailers on January 7, it quickly gathered a full head of steam thanks to a swell of positive reviews and strong publicity that began late last year. To date, the book has shipped more than 40,000 copies and debuted on the New York Times bestseller list in the #9 slot.
Wen’s tale introduces 18-year-old Everett “Ever” Wong, a medical student with dreams of being a dancer, who thinks she’ll be spending the summer at a strict Mandarin language and Chinese culture program in Taiwan chosen by her conservative immigrant parents. But Ever quickly discovers that the program is really a free-for-all, where students engage in hookups and indulge in nightlife with no real supervision. She finds friendship, freedom, and romance as she explores her identity.
“I attended the actual Loveboat program [the nickname for a real cultural and language immersion program in Taiwan for Asian Americans and other expats to learn about their heritage and perhaps find a spouse] in Taiwan as a teenager,” Wen said when asked what sparked her story. “It is such a unique and formative experience in the Asian-American community, and I wanted to capture it in this novel. Loveboat, Taipei is a romantic comedy, but also an opportunity to explore themes of what it means to live between cultures and to pursue one’s dreams while honoring your family,” she added.
HarperCollins executive editor Kristen Pettit, who edited Loveboat, Taipei, and Wen agree that these bigger themes in the book are striking a chord with readers. “It appeals both to YA readers yearning for representation in contemporary realistic stories and, simultaneously, to every teen who is struggling to reconcile the dreams they have for themselves against the expectations of their parents and family,” Pettit said. “Ever’s story is specific to her, certainly, but it also is a reflection of everyone’s coming of age. Her wild and rebellious Loveboat experience reminds us that we are all, each of us, yearning to express the deepest desires of our hearts in the most authentic ways possible.”
The marketing and publicity teams have been generating attention for the title for months, according to associate director of publicity Jacqueline Burke, attempting to “make our marketing true and authentic to the book.” Epic Reads, Harper’s online community connecting readers with HarperTeen authors and books, supported Loveboat, Taipei from its early stages. Jane Lee, community manager at Epic Reads, who read the book at the acquisition phase and loved it, highlighted the book’s diverse Asian-American representation during her social media efforts.
Marketing kicked off in earnest at YALLFest in Charleston last November, where Epic Reads teamed up with local Taiwanese boba tea business Ice Bling, and offered conference attendees a boba/bubble tea at the Harper/Epic Reads booth in tandem with their giveaway of Loveboat, Taipei ARCs and a sheet of luggage stickers created by cover artist Janice Sung. The sticker sheet was additionally used in Barnes & Noble stores throughout the country and in ARC mailings. In early December, a Q&A conversation between Wen and fellow HarperTeen author Sarah Dessen were featured on Entertainment Weekly’s site, and an influencer mailing to booktubers and bookstagrammers went out, specifically targeting influencers in the Asian-American community.
The first week of January, leading up to on-sale date, saw the release of a Loveboat, Taipei trailer and the airing of Wen’s Bloomberg TV interview with anchor Scarlet Fu. That same week, Wen hit the road, beginning close to her home with a launch event at Kepler’s in Menlo Park, Calif.—Wen lives in the Bay Area—in conversation with YA author Sabaa Tahir (An Ember in the Ashes), which drew a crowd of nearly 200. After individual tour stops in San Jose and L.A., Wen joined the Epic Reads’ Winter Meetup tour with authors Adam Silvera and Farah Naz Rishi, visiting Dallas, Denver, Portland, and Seattle. Wen has additional appearances scheduled in New York next week, including Books of Wonder in Manhattan, and the Great Neck Public Library on Long Island, before she heads home to California.
To Wen, meeting her growing legion of fans face-to-face has provided her with valuable insights. “What I’m hearing from readers is that they relate to Ever’s struggle to pursue her desire to dance in the face of her parents’ hopes for her medical career,” she noted. “Also, people are enjoying the large cast of diverse Asian-American characters—over 30 of them! Many say they see themselves in these characters. I’m also hearing feedback from people of all ages, from a sophomore in high school to someone’s 90-year-old grandmother. Parents are discussing the book with their kids, and I absolutely love how this novel is bridging generations. Not something I anticipated at all!” And fans across the board will be pleased to know she’s working on a sequel.