Debbie Macomber may be a BEA veteran, but this will be a year of firsts for the perennially bestselling author. Her new publisher, Ballantine, will be launching her Rose Harbor series, and Macomber will be making her debut as a BEA speaker at Wednesday’s Audio Tea. Macomber’s new series, which begins with The Inn at Rose Harbor (Aug.), is set in a town beloved by her fans—Cedar Cove, Wash. Macomber had planned to end her wildly successful Cedar Cove series of books, but the outcry from her readers was so great when she announced its demise that the town—albeit with a new set of characters and a new setting—will be making a much-anticipated return. The series centers around Jo Marie Rose, a young war widow who buys a B and B—the Rose Harbor Inn—to begin her life anew. The inn,” promises Macomber, “will be a place of healing, where people with all sorts of hurt come and find peace.”

For Ballantine, The Inn at Rose Harbor “offers us a terrific launch for our new publishing partnership with Debbie,” says executive v-p and publisher Libby McGuire. As part of that launch, Ballantine created a Fan Ambassador program in which they asked Debbie’s fans to help spread the word about the new series. “Within 24 hours,” reports McGuire, “we had nearly 15,000 fans sign up to be ambassadors!”

Being invited to speak at the Audio Book Tea is particularly exciting for Macomber, as she’s an enthusiastic supporter of spoken books. “One of the problems with reading as an author is that we know too much and can become supercritical about things like plotting and character development. But when I listen to an audio book, it’s a performance, so I’m never as critical.” Audio books are always at the ready in the Macomber household with CD players in the kitchen and near the bathtub and an iPod ready to move from room to room. And Macomber rarely drives anywhere without an audio book playing in her car. “Last year I probably went through entire tanks of gas listening to The Help—I’d keep driving around the block and around the block because I didn’t want to stop listening.”

Macomber will be signing ARCs of The Inn at Rose Harbor today at 2:30 p.m. at the Random House booth (3940). Wednesday’s Audio Tea is at 4 p.m. in Room 1E14/1E15.