The S&S Selects Prepub Tour has just completed its third campaign, in which Simon & Schuster’s adult imprints introduce authors of books due out next season to literary tastemakers around the country. The marketing program launched last fall with five authors from around the country who were sent to Boston to schmooze in a casual cocktail party setting with local indie booksellers, bloggers, Instagrammers, and other literary influencers. It has since expanded to five or six authors traveling together to four major cities.
The third version of S&S Selects was completed at the end of September and featured five authors whose books are spring 2020 releases: Craig Fehrman (Author in Chief, Avid Reader, Feb. 2020); Mary Pauline Lowry (The Roxy Letters, S&S, Apr. 2020); Andrew David McDonald (When We Were Vikings, Gallery, Jan. 2020); Ariana Neumann (When Time Stopped, Scribner, Feb. 2020); Rebecca Serle (In Five Years, Atria, Mar. 2020). The group was escorted by Wendy Sheanin, S&S v-p for indie retail sales, and traveled to Boston, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Seattle. Scribner publisher Nan Graham also accompanied the authors on part of the tour.
“These are all great bookstore cities,” Sheanin said the morning after a cocktail party at Café Lurcat in Minneapolis. “We choose cities on the basis of whether we can get a large number of booksellers and other guests to an evening thing. We want the greatest impact.”
The event drew about 30 guests, who spent two hours in a private room talking with the authors before the presentation portion of the evening, when the authors gave brief introductions to their books. Each tour aims to have a book for every type of reader, Sheanin said. “They’re not all debuts, they’re not all commercial fiction,” she added.
At the Minneapolis stop, most of the attendees were from the Twin Cities area, but at least one bookseller, Jen Wills Geraedts, manager of Beagle & Wolf Books in Park Rapids, Minn., traveled 200 miles each way to the event. “It’s always fun to meet authors and mingle with fellow booksellers,” Geraedts explained when asked why she had traveled such a great distance. “But to be really honest, Sheanin is important, and I want to be on her radar.”
The full fall tour drew a total of about 90 influencers, and Sheanin believes the program already is paying off. “This is part of a larger piece of our strategy for breaking authors into the indie marketplace,” she said. “Last season, three authors we sent to Winter Institute 14 also went on this tour. We know what it takes to break out a book with the indies. Once a book tastemaker hears an author talk about their book, they look at it in a different way.”
The follow-up helps, too. A few weeks after this season’s tour wound up, Sheanin sent an email to all event attendees, asking booksellers specifically for blurbs about any of the five Selects titles and offering to forward them to ABA’s IndieBound program.
Sheanin might be onto something with this strategy. Three of the five authors on S&S Selects’ debut tour were chosen as Indie Next authors, as were five of the six authors who went out on the tour this past spring.
Lowry, who lives in Austin, Tex., and once worked at Bookpeople as a bookseller, said she fully realized even before the tour kicked off how important handselling is to a book’s success—especially if the author is not a household name. “Indie booksellers are the literary tastemakers,” she said. “They create strong literary communities.”
Though she enjoyed meeting indie booksellers and S&S executives who joined the tour, the highlight of this experience for Lowry was the opportunity to “really bond with the other S&S authors,” she said. “I now feel like I’m not going through this alone: I have a cohort of new author friends. And I feel sure we will support each other through publication and beyond.”