It isn’t easy for a book to stand out these days. More books are being published each year, even as more streaming services, apps, and other distractions vie for people’s attention. But in an increasingly digital era, a handful of publishers are opting for a decidedly analog marketing tool for some of their bigger titles: the chapbook.
Three marquee titles at three different publishers received the chapbook or pamphlet treatment recently. Last October, New York Review Books published the first unabridged English-language translation of German author Uwe Johnson’s behemoth novel Anniversaries and sent out a pamphlet comprising a selection of early chapters from the book to dozens of bookstores as giveaways for customers. And this year, Farrar, Straus and Giroux and the newly launched Celadon Books imprint put out chapbooks for upcoming titles: the English-language translation of Italian author Edoardo Albinati’s mammoth semiautobiographical novel The Catholic School (on sale August 6) and R.L. Maizes’s debut short story collection, We Love Anderson Cooper (to be published July 23), respectively.
FSG and Celadon share a parent publisher in Macmillan, and the pamphlet for Anniversaries and chapbook for The Catholic School have much in common. Each includes selections from an enormous work of fiction in translation in order to pique the interest of booksellers and other literary tastemakers before the release of advance reading copies.
“We printed 1,500 copies of the pamphlet at Sterling-Pierce, the printer we use for ARCs,” said NYRB publisher Linda Hollick. “We mailed five pamphlets to each of our top 100 bookseller customers, with the idea they might give it to their own best customers.” (Many of those bookstores, NYRB publicity manager Nicholas During told PW last year, asked for more copies.) Through Penguin Random House, which distributes NYRB, the publisher sent 500 pamphlets to the fall 2017 and winter 2018 regional bookseller shows, including Winter Institute. Hollick added that NYRB also mailed pamphlets to its U.K. distributor. The $39.95 boxed set of Anniversaries has sold more than 3,000 copies since its release, at outlets that report to NPD BookScan.
At FSG, assistant director of publicity Stephen Weil said that the press printed more than 1,000 chapbooks, also through Sterling Pierce. “They went to a mix of contacts from publicity, marketing, and sales,” Weil said. “So yes, bookstores, reviewers, editors, and influencers. We also included them with our seasonal catalogue and will have some on hand in our meeting area at BookExpo.”
The chapbook for We Love Anderson Cooper included a single story from Maizes’s collection, “Tattoo,” and was printed in a smaller run of “200 custom-printed chapbooks” using linen paper, according to Celadon associate publisher Rachel Chou. Chou added, “The chapbooks were sent to a selection of booksellers as well as social media influencers, with the option to request a full ARC if they loved the story.”
The jury is still out on whether the promotional idea will boost sales for two of these books, although both Celadon and FSG said early results have been encouraging. “We’ve had plenty of requests for the ARC and social media posts about the chapbook
creating excitement for the launch in July,” Chou said.
“Anecdotally, I do think it has helped to generate early interest in the book,” Weil said, adding that FSG also published the contents of the chapbook as a feature on its Work in Progress blog in late January. “That seemed to generate excitement as well.”
NYRB certainly thinks the move paid off. “Overall, we think it was a successful promotion, with the Anniversaries buzz starting just over a year before the book’s publication date,” Hollick said.
During added, “I think, with this little sample, we got the message that we wanted out: that this is truly a great book and very relevant for Americans in our times.”