In an era that has seen many publishers pull back significantly on large-scale book tours, Zibby Owens, founder of Zibby Media, is doubling down. Later this month, Owens will start a 24-state book tour to support the publication of Blank, her debut novel, coming from Amazon's imprint Little A. The events, which will collectively feature more than 40 other authors, span a wide variety of experiences, from a reading for librarians at a Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams location in Columbus, Ohio, to an interview with Arianna Huffington in New York City.
“I'm embarking on the tour to open up the Zibby-verse community to readers all over the country,” Owens said. “Being face-to-face: there’s nothing like it. I’m really just trying to get back to the way publishing used to be—personal—minus the three-martini lunches.”
The tour is only one piece of the live event programming aspects of the “Zibby-verse,” a name bestowed upon the wide range of activities tied to Owens by the Los Angeles Times. It began with a podcast, Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books, launched in March of 2018, which has since broadcast more than 1,600 interviews. Owens's influence has grown rapidly since, as has her business, including the launches of her eponymous publishing house, a series of classes on a variety of subjects—including books—and a bookstore, Zibby's Bookshop, in Santa Monica, Calif., last year.
The full range of Owens's projects fall under the umbrella of Zibby Media, which is run out of an office on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The company’s stated mission is to “create a community of readers, authors, and book lovers who share their stories and support each other.” This often means meeting in person, with Owens at the center of the experience—taking interviews, socializing, and talking books.
In addition to her forthcoming tour, Owens has also begun holding its own mini book fairs. On January 20 in New York City, Zibby Media hosted a “New Year, New Chapter” event for more than 170 people at the Whitby Hotel in Manhattan to promote 23 Zibby Books authors and showcase a further 19 featured as Zibby Book Club Picks. The day offered panels, breakout sessions, and drinks, and author Anna Quindlen gave a keynote speech. The cost was $175 a ticket, and included swag from a dozen name-brand sponsors including Book of the Month Club, Ingram's Two Rivers Distribution, the fashion companies Citizens of Humanity and Faherty, drinks purveyors Une Femme Champagne and Stråla Vineyards, cosmetics company Meaningful Beauty by Cindy Crawford, and stationary shop Felix Doolittle, among others.
While the glam nature of the event may surprise some book industry veterans, who have seen publishing parties devolve over the years into infrequent and often sad affairs with box wine, Owens came to books well connected—and, one can only assume, with an ability to marshal resources when necessary. Her father, Stephen A. Schwarzman, the book-loving Wall Street financier, is the namesake of the main branch of the New York Public Library, to which he donated $100 million in 2008.
At a time in which publishers are constantly seeking outside-the-box marketing strategies and new ways to reach readers, Owens has leaned heavily on a proven template, one that worked for Oprah, Gwyneth, and Reese: relying on personal brand and personality. Despite an august pedigree, Owens comes across as relatable to many of her fans and readers—her first book, the memoir Bookends, recounts how she, as a mother of four children, used reading and writing to help her recover from several painful losses. And while Owens has had a rapid rise in the industry, it has not come without criticism, including over her sudden withdrawal of sponsorship for the 2023 National Book Awards after learning that some authors were planning to use the event to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Still, the gatherings have proven popular, and Zibby Media continues to expand its events business into differing formats. In addition to daylong events and readings in New York and L.A., the company also hosts weekend retreats around the country. So far, these have taken place in Charleston, S.C., Solvang, Calif., Miami, and in Austin this past weekend.
The Miami event in November coincided with the Miami Book Fair, where Zibby Media was a main sponsor, and drew some 47 people to the Betsy Hotel in South Beach. There, they mingled with Zibby Media authors including Alisha Fernandez Miranda, author of My What If Year; Brittany Means, author of Hell If We Don't Change Our Ways; and Meghan Riordan Jarvis, author of End of the Hour, among others. Attendees also joined the exclusive authors party at the fair, with several hundred A-list names and book celebs—including Justin Torres, winner of the 2023 National Book Award for Fiction; Clay Smith, director of the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.; and Mitch Kaplan, owner of Miami’s Books & Books—at the Standard Hotel.
All participants in the retreat in Miami were women, ranging widely in age, from the late 20s to the early 70s. Some came with family, others with friends; several were self-published writers looking for insight, and others were still aspiring to become writers. All were book lovers who had been drawn into the Zibby-verse, often through the podcast.
The retreat in Austin, Tex., featured visits to First Light Books, an independent bookstore that opened last year, and BookPeople bookstore, along with writing workshops with Wendi Aarons, author of I’m Wearing Tunics Now, and meetups, meals, and experiences with another eight authors, including Chandler Baker, Elizabeth Crook, and Amanda Eyre Ward. Whereas the Miami event primarily focused on Zibby’s own authors, the Austin event showcased authors published by a wide array of houses, including Andrews McMeel, Flatiron, and HarperCollins. The cost for the Austin retreat was $750, plus housing at the boutique Ella Hotel, with roughly 60 people in attendance. The next retreat is planned for Asheville, N.C., in April.
"The whole mission of our company is bringing book people together,” Owens said. “The retreats demonstrate the hunger we all feel for deep, real connection to other people who we share interests with. They’re a time out of the craziness of life and an opportunity to think, feel, meet new people, and get inspired. Even our ‘New Year, New Chapter’ event, which was ‘only’ eight hours, allowed people to be and feel seen, to make lasting relationships, and to dive deep into the fun of writing and reading. It’s like the difference between a day spa and going away for a spa weekend. They both do the job, but you know you’ll leave the weekend feeling totally rejuvenated.”