For several years Penguin Random House has been hosting ticketed “fan retreats” and “open houses” for readers. Going well beyond the traditional author signing, these events offer readers photo ops with authors and time around a like-minded group of super fans. The latest of these include an upcoming fan retreat with Lee Child on November 11 in Durham, N.C. and PRH's December 15 Open House in New York City. The latter proved so popular that, when the 625 tickets were put on sale, at $85 each, they sold out in five minutes.
What's the appeal? Something distinct from a typical book signing. "As we become a more author-centric company, this is a great way for us to interact with our fans and give them something unique," said Theresa Zoro, senior v-p and director of publicity and communications, who spearheaded the program six years ago.
For example, for the Lee Child event, which is being held in partnership with North Carolina Comicon, a $30 ticket gets you a copy of Child's latest, Night School, and a seat at his reading. For $60, fans also get to attend a private Jack Reacher-themed after party. There's also a bit of good will thrown in: since the event takes place on Veteran's Day, for every ticket sold, the USO of North Carolina will also donate a Lee Child book to a service member overseas.
Zoro said PRH chose North Carolina, in part, since it's the home of Fort Bragg and Child is an author who's "very supportive of the military." She also feels that this event, unlike previous ones, has the chance to draw a mix of male and female attendees. Previous fan retreats — for writers such as Diana Gabaldon (In Seattle), Emily Giffin (in Charleston), Jodi Picoult (in Boston) and Janet Evanovich (in Kissimmee, Florida) — have skewed heavily female.
Meanwhile, PRH's December open house is going to be the company's biggest yet. In addition to the giveaways, there will be an onsite bookstore and a full day of programming with numerous bestselling authors, including Trevor Noah, George Saunders, Alice Hoffman, John Meecham, Fannie Flagg, Allison Pataki, Laura McHugh, Sana Krasikov, Lindsey Lee Johnson, as well as Picoult and Gabaldon.
Since PRH started the open houses, the publisher has increased the number from one a year, to three, and moved them from the company's headquarters to Hunter College.
One distinct feature of the open house is the creation of a “book club” around a forthcoming title. For December, 100 people signed up to read Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, which publishes in March. The early readers gives PRH an opportunity to hear what resonates and, if appropriate, to tweak their marketing and outreach.
As a veteran publisher, Zoro said that running the special events for Random House has been some of the most impactful and rewarding work of her career, not the least of which because it gives her an opportunity to get closer to her own staff. “I have a team here of 35 people and I don’t get to see all of them on a day-to-day basis in New York,” she said. Zoro. “To get to know my colleagues, as well as readers, outside of the office and the New York bubble is really important. There are passionate readers all over the country, and outside of the obvious places like New York, Chicago and San Francisco. It’s important to see, and be reminded, of that.”