Earlier this week Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, N.C., pulled off its most ambitious middle-grade preorder promotion yet, and gave a free chapbook (which it helped design) of Alan Gratz’s Join, or Die to each customer who placed an advance order for the first book in his new trilogy about seven superpowered kids, The League of Seven (Tor, Aug.).

This month Malaprop’s also participated in Dutton’s promotion for local author Stephanie Perkins. Readers who preordered a signed copy of Isla and the Happily Ever After (Aug.) received free decals and buttons with their book, and were entered into a drawing for a free totebag.

And in the fall, area writer Beth Revis is creating a 350-copy signed and numbered limited edition paperback of her self-published The Body Electric (Scripturient Books, Oct.) exclusively for Malaprop’s. The book, which is bundled with a downloadable version of the novel via Kobo and Smashwords, includes a set of art cards by several artists and 30 pages of additional content.

Buttons and Things

Last year when Gratz was trying to figure out a way to bring attention to his new series, he remembered reading about writers who compose related content that can be downloaded with the e-book. He told PW he wanted to do something similar to promote his book, while attracting customers to his local independent, Malaprop’s. “Why don’t I write a short story and offer it as a [physical] pre-order?,” he recalled thinking. Together he and Malaprop’s general manager Linda Marie Barrett worked on the concept and decided to turn a prequel short story – in which Benjamin Franklin battles sea serpents during the Boston Tea Party – into a collectible book, only available with preorders.

To create a chapbook that looks like a book printed by Benjamin Franklin in the 1800s, the store used half of its Tor co-op budget for the year. “Join, or Die is an expense,” Barrett said. “But what better way to do it – I have a lot of faith in this.” She sees the chapbook, which was hand-stitched by Gratz and his wife, as a way to get The League of Seven off to a strong start – and for the store to test creating special books for events like Independent Bookstore Day. The initial print run for Join, or Die was 100 copies.

By contrast, the Perkins promotion involved comparatively little advance planning on Malaprop’s part. Although the publisher listed 55 independent bookstores participating in its Tumblr post about the pre-sales giveaway, and Perkins, who lives in Asheville, encouraged readers without a local independent to order from Malaprop’s. “We had so many preorders, especially from abroad,” says Barrett. “Authors are realizing [that giveaways] are a way to create excitement.” The store also added to that excitement in a more traditional way, by hosting the launch party for Isla and the Happily Ever After on pub date and making the book a Staff Pick.

Special Editions

YA science fiction author Beth Revis is also working with Malaprop’s to promote the fall release, The Body Electric, a follow-up to her Across the Universe series from Razorbill. In it, Revis writes about what happened on Earth while Amy and Elder were in space. “[It] didn’t fit in with Penguin’s catalog, and I noticed that publishers are doing special editions with Barnes & Noble. I wanted to bring that idea home to my local indie bookstore,” says Revis, explaining why she chose to create a “truly special edition” with Malaprop’s.

In order to keep the price under $15, but make the book stand out, Revis chose a 6 x 9 paperback format and loaded the package with extras, including colorful art cards, featuring eight different illustrations by three artists and additional content – a short story, author interview, and background about the book. It’s been a learning experience for Revis, who said that she doesn’t anticipate making money on the Malaprop’s edition.

Other brick-and-mortar bookstores can order a $12.99 paperback edition of The Body Electric through Lightning Source, without the art cards, bundled e-book, or signed and numbered pages offered exclusively to Malaprop’s. Revis is also creating $4.99 e-book editions for Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and iBook, which include the 30 pages of additional content and the map of the book’s setting, which is in the printed novel.

For Amazon, Revis chose a pared-down $9.99 paperback that she made on CreateSpace, which will be slightly smaller and just contain the novel and the map. The Amazon e-book will also be a comparatively no-frills production.

To promote the book, Revis will participate in the Compelling Reads Tour of 11 events with a rotating group of 18 authors led by Martina Boone, who is touring for Compulsion (Simon Pulse, Oct.). Revis is under contract with Penguin for two more books, the first of which will likely come out in 2016.

Other Partnerships

Although several author partnerships are coming to fruition now, Barrett dates the store’s closer connection with area authors back to March 2012, when Malaprop’s celebrated its 30th anniversary with the publication of an original work of adult fiction under its own Burning Press Imprint. Twelve writers from Western North Carolina, including Gratz, composed a chapter of the serial novel Naked Came the Leaf Peeper, edited by Barrett and Brian Lee Knopp. To date it has sold over 1,500 copies.

Gratz’s partnership with Malaprop’s will continue through the fall and well into 2015. At the end of September he will do an event at the store and partner with Malaprop’s on school appearances. Then when his promotion for The League of Seven dies down, he and Barrett are planning another serial novel, a children’s one this time, which he jokingly refers to as Naked Came the Young Adult.

Among the concepts Gratz is playing with is a contemporary YA romance set in Asheville, the night after the prom. “If it comes out anything like Naked,” says Barrett, “it will be a really fun project that our authors and customers will love.”