Fierce Reads, the brand umbrella launched in 2012 under which Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group hosts its YA online community and twice-yearly group author tours, has kicked off its latest season with a new twist befitting these pandemic times: an all-virtual lineup.

The Fierce Reads slate of digital fall programming consists of four events—Fierce Reads Game Night (which took place on September 25); Fierce Reads Teen Tastemaker Event (held on October 14); Fierce History (October 26–29), and Fierce Reads X NaNoWriMo Craft Panel (October 30)—that feature a total of 16 authors across a variety of genres. Writers taking part include Zoraida Córdova, Mike Curato, Sara Faring, Cindy Otis, and Aminah Mae Safi.

Morgan Rath, publicist at MCPG, and her colleagues were looking to develop something fresh when they realized that fall events would have to take place in the virtual space. “We began brainstorming alternatives to our in-person Fall Fierce Reads Tour, specifically thinking about how to reach teens and new readers, as well as engage with our pre-existing fanbase in a way that stands out in an over-inundated virtual events world,” she said. “We pulled tactics—such as interactive fan games and the use of Zoom breakout rooms for more intimate conversations—that we saw work well at some of our initial spring virtual events.”

The first event, Fierce Reads Game Night, featured authors Tanaz Bhathena (Hunted by the Sky), Faring (White Fox), and Natalie C. Parker and Córdova (Vampires Never Die) on tap for an interactive bookish scavenger hunt and trivia game that took place via Zoom Webinar. Main Street Books and the St. Charles City-County Library in St. Charles, Mo., partnered with Fierce Reads for this event. Each book purchase through Main Street came with a panelist link that enabled the customer to participate in the fun and games. Faring compared her experience as part of this event to previous iterations. “One of my favorite aspects of last year’s [in-person] tour was connecting with readers beyond social media—putting faces to the names—so I was thrilled to participate because of the relaxed, interactive nature of the game night,” she said. “It felt like a live all-ages happy hour.”

The Fierce Reads Teen Tastemaker Event was hosted in conjunction with MCPG’s school and library department with YALSA Galley Groups and Teen Advisory Boards aboard as partners. Teen influencers from around the country were able to converse with authors Curato (Flamer), Adalyn Grace (All the Stars and Teeth), and Safi (This Is All Your Fault) about books, writing, and publishing via Zoom breakout rooms. Safi spoke about why she was enthusiastic about the opportunity. “Honestly, I love school visits and I haven’t done one since November of 2019, which is wild to think about,” she said. “I love to teach, and I was so excited to work with a group of engaged young writers and answer their questions! The fact that the event used smaller breakout rooms was also fantastic,” she added. “I think there’s something to be said for those smaller classroom sizes that allow you to familiarize yourself with the students and the kinds of inquiries they have in their approaches to reading and writing.”

Next up is Fierce History, a multiple-evening program in which former CIA analyst and author Cindy Otis (True or False) will chat—via Fierce Reads Instagram Live—with fellow authors Kiku Hughes (Displacement), Amanda McCrina (Traitor), Randi Pink (Angel of Greenwood), and Ilyasah Shabazz (The Awakening of Malcolm X) about moments in history that readers may not be familiar with. In the planned order of appearance, Shabazz spoke (on October 26) about Malcolm X, McCrina will address Polish-Ukrainian conflicts during WWII tonight at 8 p.m., Hughes will discuss Japanese incarceration camps during WWII on October 28, and Pink will spotlight the Tulsa Race Massacre on October 29.

“Both the authors and the theme made me excited to participate as moderator,” Otis said. “As I did in my own book, True or False, each of the authors who will be part of this event used their words to pull out lessons from history that we can and should apply to our modern-day challenges. Although each book is different, they all have characters who must in one way or another grapple with activism and how they can meaningfully resist injustices they see around them, which is something young readers are dealing with themselves. I can’t wait for viewers to hear from each of them.” Otis says she plans to make each of the chats “very informal and relaxed. I think we all have a bit of ‘formal presentation over Zoom’ fatigue at the moment, so these discussions with the authors will hopefully be a break from that.”

And, finally, a Fierce Reads X NaNoWriMo panel is slated for October 30 at 5 p.m. ET. Authors Echo Brown (Black Girl Unlimited), Kristina Forest (Now That I’ve Found You), Margaret Owen (The Faithless Hawk), and Katy Rose Pool (As the Shadow Rises) will talk about writing craft with Grant Faulkner, executive director of National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo and Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Mass., are partners for this event. Attendees—many of whom will presumably be aspiring writers—will be able to enter a raffle to win a first-chapter critique from Jessica Anderson, an associate editor at Christy Ottaviano Books, once they complete their novel in November.

Midway through Fierce Reads fall, Rath said, “We have heard really positive feedback from our booksellers, author, and school partners. The authors loved getting a chance to interact directly and have facetime with teens across the country at our tastemaker event, and the audience interactivity was a huge hit during game night.” Based on this early success, Rath says that her team will look to repeat these events in the future. “While challenging in the beginning, this series has shown us how far we’ve come in the virtual events space, as well as how they can open doors for new, creative events, ones that allow us to engage with new readers in ways we never thought possible,” she added. “And, as a bonus, some of the tactics we’re learning and employing in the virtual world are ones we’re planning to use once in-person is possible again!”

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