COUNTDOWN TO PUBLICATION: 21 Days
Contributor
Written by
Hope Edelman
August 2009
Contributor
Written by
Hope Edelman
August 2009

The Pre-Pub Event The first time I saw the phrase “pre-publication tour” was in a New York Times article I came across this past spring. It told about how some publishers are deciding to tour authors ahead of publication instead of afterward, sending them around to meet local bookstore buyers in advance of the pub date in hopes of building that all-elusive “buzz.” So when the Random House publicity department first mentioned a bookseller’s dinner to me, I had some small idea of what it entailed and why it was important. “Unlike the postpublication book tour, which focuses on publicity and public appearances,” the article had explained, “the pre-publication tour is meant to win the hearts of the front-line soldiers in the bookselling trenches, and more and more publishers are finding it an indispensable part of their marketing plan. “While major decisions are left to the bookstore chains’ influential buyers, the people out in the field — the store managers and the clerks — can wield considerable power over how long books continue to be displayed on prime tables at the front of the store, and therefore over the what their customers choose to buy and read.” The biggest bummer of the year was that the pre-pub dinner I was invited to share with novelist Dan Chaon in Chicago happened to fall the exact week I was teaching in Iowa, so I couldn’t go. And I got the sense that being invited to a pre-pub dinner is akin to being told what to do by a psychic. You really need to do it, because someone who knows more than you about these things is suggesting it. Fortunately, two more chances arose. The first was San Francisco last Tuesday night. The pre-publication dinner I attended there was a gathering of buyers and managers of seven independent Bay Area bookstores. It was put together by two of the Random House local sales reps, and the guest list looked like the Bay Area bookseller’s mafia: Book Passage, Books Inc., Kepler’s, Mrs. Dalloways, A Great Good Place for Books, West Portal, and Orinda. All seven of the seven RSVPs showed up, which struck me as something of a miracle these days. We met at an Italian restaurant called Frascati on Russian Hill, in a back dining room (just like the real mafia) for an evening of conversation and stories, as well as questions about my book. How does my daughter feel about me writing about her? the booksellers wanted to know. How much of our trip to Belize does she remember? We talked about parenting, and about the state of independent bookstores, and about the book tour I’m putting together for October. They’d all read my advance reader’s copies and had thoughtful and engaging questions, as well as suggestions for other books I might want to read. I passed around photos from our family trip in 2000, and we shared some pretty amazing desserts. Go there and order the chocolate cake. Seriously You will not be disappointed. By the end of the evening, I had seven business cards, an invitation for coffee, many invitations to come in and sign books, and the email address of an author I’d been hoping to get in touch with for several months. Plus, I got to fly up to San Francisco for a night, and even though I only spent a total of about four daylight hours there, it’s San Francisco. On a walk for coffee the next morning, I discovered the Hotel Rex just off Union Square, a boutique hotel with a literary theme. Pictures of authors on the walls, books in every room, a lobby that looks like a library. This was all so incredibly wonderful, I considered moving in. Then tonight was round two: the L.A. pre-pub event. This one was organized by Random House's Southern California sales rep, and was held at the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association (SCIBA) headquarters in Pasadena. We did a wine and cheese at 6 p.m., and in typical L.A. fashion, it was a more laid-back and informal gathering than the San Francisco dinner. Also in typical L.A. fashion, one-third of the guest list cancelled at the last minute, making it a small and intimate event in a courtyard, with buyers and managers from Vroman’s in Pasadena, Book Soup in West Hollywood, Warwick’s Books in La Jolla, and the SCIBA director. We talked about how high job satisfaction is among writers and booksellers, and how that’s a good thing, given how low the pay scale is. The questions about my book were nearly identical to the ones in San Francisco, which either gives me an idea of what readers are likely to ask after the release, or good insight into the minds of West Coast booksellers. We sat around an outdoor table together and I did a short reading from the book—I’d forgotten I’d promised to do this, so it was good practice in winging it—and I left with one invitation for a reading, two invitations to come sign copies this fall, and five business cards. Best of all, because the drive between Topanga and Pasadena is only 45 minutes without traffic, I was home in time to put my kids to bed. I’ve been told this kind of personal contact with independent booksellers matters, and although I won’t know for sure for at least another 21 days, I’m inclined to think it’s true. These are the people who recommend books to book clubs, determine a book’s placement in the store, and hand sell to customers. Thank god for all us writers and readers that such buyers and sellers still exist. Ditto for a publisher’s local sales reps, who work quietly behind the scenes to make sure our books get into the stores to begin with. I recommend trying to meet them even if you don’t do a formal pre-publication event. Call them up. Stop in their stores. Email them a hello. Thank the reps. It can’t hurt. Possibly it can even help. Before the LA event tonight, I spent some time at Vroman’s bookstore a few blocks away. I bought some bookplates to sign and send to the SF booksellers as a thank you (per the suggestion of one of the Random House reps), and I also picked up a T-shirt that made me laugh out loud. White letters on a brown background: “Who Says No One in L.A. Reads?” I told the booksellers tonight that I’d bought it, and that I was hoping to wear it on some stops on my tour. They laughed. “Just don’t wear it in San Francisco,” they said.

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