On the next-to-last stop of a countrywide tour to promote his new imprint, Twelve, editor-in-chief Jonathan Karp did some quick arithmetic for 19 Washington, D.C., booksellers. Two-thirds of the books put out by publishers, Karp said, never get the full support of the company. They're either "passion projects" adored only by a single editor or "repeat" books that are acquired to keep an author or an agent happy.

Twelve, Karp promised, will be different. It will publish no more than one title a month. It will give each book a serious, region-specific publicity campaign, and it will expect each to sell at least 50,000 copies. That was the reason he invited everyone to dinner, Karp said: "It was important that you could look me in the eye and see that I really mean it."

Karp and Cary Goldstein, Twelve's director of publicity and acquiring editor, have been spreading this message in preparation for Twelve's April 2007 launch. Since September, the two have hosted dinners for independent booksellers in 12 cities, including San Francisco, Portland, Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Nashville. They've held a lunch for Barnes & Noble in New York; a breakfast for Amazon.com in Seattle; and—the last event—will hold a dinner for Borders in Ann Arbor, Mich., on November 29. They've also met with journalists and producers at each of their stops.

The road show cost roughly the same amount as two 12-city author tours. But though Karp and Goldstein pitch Twelve's upcoming books at every dinner and give special-edition galleys of three titles to booksellers, the focus of the tour is on the imprint, not the writers. And the early reaction is that the tour has been successful in creating brand awareness and buzz among a select and influential group.

"For consumers, I think there's almost zilch name recognition'' about imprints, said Karl Pohrt of Shaman Drum in Michigan. "But it's extremely helpful for buyers and staff to know the central organizing theme for an imprint. It means a lot to me."

Jen Reynolds, who books all the author events for Joseph-Beth and Davis-Kidd bookstores, agreed. "You develop your favorites," she said, and the dinner in Cincinnati clearly turned Twelve into one of hers. Going into it, she didn't know much about Twelve's agenda. But hearing how Karp selected the imprint's titles and how Goldstein planned to promote them with region-specific campaigns won her over. "I think we will be looking at making a special display" of Twelve books, Reynolds said.

Other booksellers said the tour made them more likely to read Twelve's titles. "Because they've included us in this group, we will make a commitment to read every one of their books for a year," said Pat Daly of Books & Crannies in Middleburg, Va., who was at the D.C. dinner.

Reading won't necessarily translate into orders, though. Paul Yamazaki of City Lights in San Francisco pointed out that "each book has to stand on its own," but added that he wishes more editors would make time for a trip out West. "It's rare now for booksellers to sit down with editors to talk about book issues," he said. But in terms of loyalty and enthusiasm, the payoff for taking the time may be big. Learning that Karp and Goldstein share his concerns about the glut of mediocre books, and having the opportunity to question them about Twelve's plans for content and print runs, Yamazaki said he will be as supportive of the imprint as possible. "It helps to know the philosophy of the house."

For Karp, the tour proved to be "tremendously illuminating." He'd heard about some of the stores included in the campaign, like Powell's, his whole career, but this was the first time he met the people running them. "It reinforced a very strong idea that I had already that people are overwhelmed by choices," he said. "They can only absorb so much, and most of them feel besieged by what publishers are throwing at them."