Everybody knows YA is where it’s at [with] Hunger Games and Divergent,” says Marisela Santiago, who handles school and community outreach at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, N.J. Over the past year, stores such as R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Ct., and Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., have expanded their teen sections to take advantage of the surge in interest. R.J. Julia added a separate room dedicated to YA, while Porter Square removed some children’s sidelines to make way for more books. Other stores, such as University Book Store in Seattle, have tried to keep pace by upping the number of teen events they hold. “Our YA events program has blossomed,” says Eileen Harte, events and programs producer at UBS, which schedules two or three YA events a month. “We are ever increasing the frequency as more and more YA authors are touring and going out on the road together.” And some stores are doing both, upping inventory and events.
At 10-year-old Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Ga., inventory manager Justin Colussy-Estes says the store has been “incredibly lucky” to grow up in a reading-rich community with a large number of YA authors and kids who are used to coming to author events. Even so, he adds, “come October or May [at the height of the fall and spring tour seasons], you cross your fingers and hope there’s not event fatigue or tour fatigue.” Judging by the fact that earlier this month, roughly 300 people attended the store’s costume ball with Ransom Riggs, author of Library of Souls (Quirk), third in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series, the Atlanta area isn’t saturated yet. Colussy-Estes says that the event worked on three levels: it had a well-known author; a trio of local video book bloggers, or booktubers, hosted it; and it had costumes. Plus there was swag, an essential element of all fun teen events. Well over half of the attendees were primary ticket holders, who prepaid for the book and got a #staypeculiar tote bag with exclusive goodies.
While swag and snacks matter, getting the word out is key to success. “If the author doesn’t get behind the event, it will affect attendance,” advises Brandi Stewart, children’s book buyer at Changing Hands in Tempe and Phoenix, Ariz. “The teens follow authors [on social media], not us.” That said, Changing Hands is proactive about promoting events, and recently created a Twitter account directed at teen readers (@changinghandsjr). “We’re slowly building our audience,” Stewart says.
The store connects with teens in other ways to build a following for the 30 YA events it holds each year. Members of its Turning Pages book club choose the YA book they would like to read each month from among a selection of three titles that will be released soon. Stewart arranges for the author to attend the club meeting either in person or via Skype, if possible. The bookstore also works with teens through workshops such as this fall’s Fems with Pens five-session writing series for girls in grades 7–12.
Creating an Experience
At Malaprop’s Bookstore and Café in Asheville, N.C., group events with two or more authors work best. “It gets such a good synergy going,” says children’s book buyer Laura Donohoe, who takes advantage of the area’s growing YA author community to book events for the store. “These authors have such big personalities and are really entertaining. It becomes a big conversation.” Some even bring snacks—as local author Alan Gratz (Code of Honor, Scholastic) and his wife, who bake cupcakes, regularly do.
Through trial and error, Malaprop’s has found that an event’s success depends more on its start time than on the day of the week that it’s held (7 p.m. is ideal). Like many stores, Malaprop’s is willing to hold events to mark paperback releases, as well as hardcover publication. That’s because price is an issue in Asheville. “The thing we want,” says Donohoe, “is for people to come and have the experience.”
When it’s not possible to book an author, Malaprop’s often does the next best thing: it promotes the book through a preorder campaign in-store and on its website (malaprops.com), like the one that’s up now for Richelle Mead’s Soundless (Razorbill). For Invisible (Harlequin Teen), author Dawn Metcalf supplied the store with goodies connected with the book, and Donohoe placed them next to an empty chair so that teens could order the new book from “the invisible author.”
Obviously the nature of the experience varies based on the store’s location. In New York City, McNally Jackson Books attracts more adults than teens to its roughly 40 YA events a year. “We do wine or themed drinks and a lot of food,” says Cristin Stickles, who handles children’s and YA buying and events. “My worry is how we’re going to expand into the intended audience—teens,” she adds. For those 21 and up, the store’s approach is to use games rather than readings or Q&As. When Natalie Standaford came to the store to promote The Boy on the Bridge (Scholastic), which is set in Russia, attendees played Bingo in Russian.
The booksellers at Hicklebee’s in San Jose, Calif., regard a teen advisory board as another essential ingredient for successful events. Three years ago when Jane Bramley and Mary Ann Hill approached store owner Valerie Lewis about holding teen events, she agreed—on the condition that they organize a teen board to help with publicity and getting an audience. Since then, the board has gone from 12 to more than 20 middle schoolers and high schoolers. The teens host the store’s 15 YA events a year, which typically include group events with more than one author, like one last month with Cassandra Clare and Holly Black for The Copper Gauntlet (Scholastic Press), book two in their Magisterium trilogy. Teen board members are required to attend events and can win prizes for bringing in the most guests. “The teens’ involvement has benefited our presence in the social media world,” says Bramley, who describes a good event as one that “involves food and unbridled energy.”
At Watchung, just outside New York City, Santiago works with the store’s teen advisory board and reaches out to teen boards at public libraries in the area. Still, she hasn’t found getting a teen audience easy for the store’s fall or spring YA events. “I call YA my tough nut to crack,” Santiago says. “While I love to have YA events, they’re really, really difficult. But I’m willing to keep working on it,” she says, adding, “It’s really important for me to get those teens.”
Santiago has found that group events with more than one author work best, as long as the pairing has an angle. Earlier this month, she scheduled three debut authors—Alexandra Sirowy (The Creeping, S&S), Sona Charaipotra (Tiny Pretty Things, HarperTeen), and Kim Liggett (Blood and Salt, Putnam)—and asked them to chat about where they get their ideas. Other times publishers will put a group of authors on tour or authors will contact her requesting to appear at the store together. Last spring the store held a writing workshop with three debut authors who are part of the Freshmen Fifteens—15 YA authors published by various houses who banded together to promote their books. Even with group events, Santiago finds that some publicists have unrealistic expectations about the store’s ability to generate teen turnout in the suburbs. “What’s important to me as a bookseller is that expectations are managed,” she says.
Other stores are also seeing mixed results. “It’s been very checkered, very hit or miss,” says Sharon Hearne, owner of Children’s Book World in Los Angeles, who feels pressure from publishers to sell a certain number of books at each event. But she says that she competes for sales with Amazon, particularly for YA titles. “If I don’t think we will sell enough books,” Hearne says, “I’ll pass.”
What works best for Hearne and a number of other booksellers are standalone book launches for local authors. At Porter Square, children’s buyer Carol Stoltz says that the store has had some of its most successful YA events for “very local” authors, such as staffers Marika McCoola (Baba Yaga’s Assistant, Candlewick) and Mackenzi Lee (This Monstrous Thing, HarperCollins/Tegen), as well as M.T. Anderson (Symphony for the City of the Dead, Candlewick).
Publishers Get Creative
But it’s not just booksellers who work really hard to find the right author or grouping of authors to draw out YA readers for fun events. For Margaret Stohl’s Black Widow: Forever Red, Marvel is testing a six-city Women of Marvel tour, which includes comic book writers Lorraine Cink and Marguerite Bennett, Adri Cown in the social media division, and Judith Stephens, an expert in augmented reality production/cosplay. At Harlequin Teen, which organizes a few tours each season, publicity manager Siena Koncsol is excited about the press’s first “big group tour.” Gena Showalter, author of the Alice in Zombieland series; Amy Lukavics, the debut author of Daughters unto Devils; and Kady Cross, author of Sister of Blood and Spirit will visit six cities for a Halloween-themed book tour/costume party. Each store will hold a costume contest with Harlequin Teen providing prizes. The authors/judges will also be in costume.
Macmillan is seeking to raise the profile of Leigh Bardugo, author of Six of Crows (Holt), to what senior publicist Mary Van Akin calls “rock-star level” by naming the international tour supporting her book Magic and Mayhem. Part of Bardugo’s U.S. tour will be solo, but she will also join Leila Sales (Tonight the Streets Are Ours, FSG), Josephine Angelini (Firewalker, Feiwel and Friends), and Emma Mills (First and Then, Holt) for Macmillan’s 13th Fierce Reads tour. More activities are planned than in years past, including a photo booth with props. At Books & Books in Coral Gables, Fla., Fierce Reads will be livestreamed.
While some bookstores prefer to focus their energy on big hardcover releases, publishers often mount promotions for both hardcover and paperback releases. “For Sourcebooks Fire, it does not matter whether a book is hardcover or paperback—we look at each individual author and determine what will work best,” says senior publicity manager Heather Moore. Macmillan is banking on a strong second life for Ava Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead (Square Fish) in paperback. The author just completed a tour, which included a panel with Stephen Chbosky and Liz Maccie at Pages, a bookstore in Manhattan Beach, Calif. Dellaira also toured for the hardcover.
At Penguin, this fall’s six-city Penguin Teen Tour will bring together Meg Wolitzer, Jandy Nelson, and Ally Condie for the paperback release of their most recent books. Next spring, Penguin Teen Tour will include a mix of hardcovers and paperbacks: Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands (Viking), Allison Goodman’s The Dark Days Club (Viking), Rachel Hawkins’s Rebel Belle series (Putnam), Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes (Razorbill), and April Tuchoklke’s Wink Poppy Midnight (Dial). Karen Bao (Dove Arising, Speak) will join the tour for select events.
Sometimes authors tour with friends across houses. That’s the case with Alex Bracken and Susan Dennard, who each have books coming out in January: Passenger (Disney-Hyperion) and Truthwitch (Tor), respectively. Nor are there hard-and-fast rules about the cities that authors visit. Ellen Hopkins set up her own visits to schools that agreed to purchase books in lieu of an honorarium during her November tour for Traffick (S&S/McElderry) and will stop in Montana, which isn’t often on tour routes. It’s a tour model that fellow S&S author Neal Shusterman has used for a long time.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt likes to reward loyal fans by touring authors to their area whenever possible. It picked the cities for Joelle Charbonneau’s thriller Need (Nov.) by choosing parts of the country that embraced her Testing trilogy the most, including targeting stores that used The Testing for a teen book group. The tour kicks off with a launch party at Charbonneau’s local bookseller, Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., and includes stops in Boston and 10 other cities.
For Ally Carter’s Embassy Row series, Scholastic has been encouraging fans to sign up to be “ambassadors” to support her tour and promote the book. Last January, nearly 2,000 ambassadors helped with the tour for the first book, All Fall Down. Scholastic hopes to get even more when it tours her next year for book two, See How They Run (Dec.). Ambassadors get special perks, like a sneak peek at the new book and get a chance to win prizes from Carter herself.
Even with all the planning, as Porter Square’s Stoltz points out: “You never really know what’s going to happen. A couple of years ago, I was very excited about Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Septetys [Philomel], the story of Lithuanians sent to Siberia by Stalin. Narrow subject matter, not a local author. But every Lithuanian in the vicinity came to the event. What fun!”