Fans of Brandon Sanderson who touch down at major city airports in the coming weeks could be in for a treat. Delacorte released his YA fantasy, Steelheart, book one of the Reckoners trilogy, on September 24, and the author has teamed up with the publisher to orchestrate the “Steelhunt” promotion. At every stop on his current 15-city, 26-day author tour, Sanderson is visiting an airport bookstore to sign books and slip into some copies a lenticular promotional postcard. The author then tweets his followers clues to where the cards can be found. The lenticulars include a URL and a code that unlocks a special area of Sanderson’s Web site, where fans will find a chapter of Words of Radiance, book two of the Stormlight Archive, which pubs next March.

Sanderson, whose books have sold more than five million copies worldwide, has a long history of popping into bookstores on his travels. “Starting early in my career, whenever I’d tour and land at airports, I’d peek into stores and see if my books were on the shelves,” he said. “And I figured that as long as I was there, I might as well sign the books. If employees were busy, I wouldn’t even tell them – I’d just sign. And then at one point I decided to tweet that I’d just signed books at a certain airport – in case fans or their friends happened to be passing through there.”

Then “about two books ago,” the author took his spontaneous autographings a step further, and decided to “hide some fun stuff” in the books he signed – a gimmick one fan coined “Brandalizing” the books. For the Steelhunt, Sanderson’s assistant, Isaac Stewart, designed the lenticular postcard, taking a stock image of the Chicago skyline and turning it into “Newcago,” the city of steel (the work of the novel’s eponymous villain) that serves as the book’s setting.

The Random House Children’s Books marketing department partnered with Sanderson’s team to produce 1,000 cards and sticker them with the codes. Instructions on the card tell fans to share the code with friends and family, but ask them not to post the code publicly online. “We want to make sure there’s some mystery left to the hunt,” said Sanderson. “As more codes are entered on the Web site, other ‘goodies’ will be revealed, including pieces of art and portions of other upcoming novels.”

One bookseller who is pleased to be taking part in the Steelhunt promotion is Christine Thompson, book manager for all five Barbara’s Books outlets in Chicago O’Hare International Airport. She’s a big fan of Sanderson, who visited the stores to sign books and insert cards twice this week – after landing Tuesday and before taking off Wednesday. “His books are wonderful and he is such a great person – and such a fan of bookstores,” she said. “His readers go crazy when he tweets that he’s visited a store. Last night a guy ran 15 minutes from another terminal to buy Steelheart and almost missed his flight. People are really clamoring for the book, and definitely want the lenticular postcard too. We’ve already sold out of all the copies he signed this week.”

The Novel’s Beginnings

The premise for Steelheart, in which a teen vows to avenge his father’s death at the hands of a villain with superpowers, actually came to Sanderson while he was on a book tour about five years ago. “I was driving to a book signing in Pittsburgh, and someone cut me off in traffic,” he recalled. “Normally I’m an even-keel guy, but maybe I was a bit anxious about the signing, and at that moment, I thought to myself, ‘That driver is lucky I don’t have super powers, because I’d blow his car up!’ I’m a science fiction writer, after all – but after that popped into my head I was horrified. And I began thinking what would happen if people started using superpowers destructively and no one could stop them – and that spun me into the book.”

Though he penned the prologue for Steelheart shortly thereafter, Sanderson didn’t return to the novel until he wrapped up his work completing the late Robert Jordan’s fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. After finishing the final book, A Memory of Light, said Sanderson, “I finally turned my attention back to Steelheart. That was my reward to myself. Though the book took several years to come together, once I began writing it flowed very naturally – all the pieces clicked together almost immediately.”

And apparently quite successfully. Delacorte v-p and publisher Beverly Horowitz, who acquired Steelheart with executive editor Krista Marino in a three-book deal brokered by Eddie Schneider of JABberwocky Literary Agency, said she was immediately swept into the novel.

“From the moment you begin reading, you feel the energy of his characters, and understand what they want to do and why,” said Horowitz. “The passion of the protagonist who is determined to seek revenge is so strong – he refuses to be a powerless victim. Brandon definitely used his road rage in a positive way to create this novel, and the integrity of his writing brings Steelheart to such a high level that we knew immediately this was a book we would be proud to publish.”

Horowitz noted that Sanderson’s Steelhunt promotion is indicative of his commitment to reaching out to fans – both online and in person – and shared an anecdote that underscores both. While attending the Random House sales conference in Sanibel, Fla. last February, the author asked Horowitz if he could invite some people to hang out with him in the hotel lobby. Permission granted, the author tweeted followers where he was, and asked whoever lived nearby to join him. “He gave them several hours’ notice, and about a dozen fans showed up, carrying his books, some having driven three or four hours to meet him,” said Horowitz.

Steelheart, which had a 350,000-copy first printing, is galloping out of the gate: the book will debut in the number one spot on the October 13 New York Times bestseller list. Prior to this month’s tour, Sanderson talked up the novel at numerous conventions and conferences, including BEA, ALA, and Comic-Con International in San Diego, where he signed posters featuring art by John Van Fleet.

A jiggle of the Steelheart lenticular postcard turns an image of Chicago into Newcago, the city turned to steel.

Speaking from the car en route to his Chicago hotel earlier this week, Sanderson noted that, in addition to the lenticular postcards he’s inserting into copies of Steelheart he signs while on the road – both at airport bookstores and other stops on his tour – a number of them were distributed to Random House sales reps, along with signed book plates, so they can hide them inside books in stores the author isn’t visiting on this tour.

“I hope this will draw some attention to some of the great bookstores I love but can’t get to this time,” he explained. “Booksellers who put the cards in copies of Steelheart can e-mail me and I can tweet to readers to go and check it out. On the postcard, we encourage people to buy the book, but at the end of the day, if they grab the card and don’t buy the book, at least they’ve gone into a bookstore, which is a victory for all of us authors.”

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. Delacorte, $18.99 Sept. ISBN 978-0-385-74356-3