Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Major Pettigrew!

It was a lovely evening here in NYC so a merry band of FPLM agents trekked down to the office on 18th Street to hear "The Making of a Bestseller" sponsored by the good folks of the Women's National Book Association-NYC chapter.

We were glad we got there early; the place filled up fast!

The author Helen Simonson, her delightful agent Julie Barer; and amazing editor Susan Kamil were the first speakers.

These are just a few of the notes I made:

Q to Helen: How did come to write Major Pettigrew's Last Stand?

HS: I finally wrote something just for me. I had no idea if it was any good. I took it to my critique group and when they read it, they just started talking about the Major. That had never happened before--they didn't critique it, they just talked about it.

Q to Julie: How did you connect with Helen?

I agreed to judge the first chapters submitted in a contest run by a Bronx writing group. How much reading could it be, just first chapters? (howls of laughter from all the agents in the audience--and most of the editors too!)

As soon as I read Helen's chapter, I got in touch with her. "I'd love to read the rest," I said, only to learn the first chapter was all there was.

So I stayed in touch and finally it was done, and Helen emailed "you may not remember me" (here Julie gives the universal sign for 'she's GOT to be kidding, of course I remember her!') and I read it right away. And I loved it. I just loved it. I felt so happy at the end of the book. I couldn't wait to tell everyone about it.

Q to Susan Kamil: And what caught your eye?

SK: When Julie called and said she had something she knew I would like, I paid attention. (Then Susan reads the first paragraph from the book) And once I read that paragraph, I closed my door and read for the next four hours. And I loved it.

And my job is to bring the very best books to Random House, and I knew if I loved this, other people would too.

I put together my offer, and because I knew I needed to move fast, I put on my coat, walked across the street to where Gina Centrello was having lunch (thank goodness she wasn't in Istanbul like she is today!) and said "we have to buy this book right now" and Gina said yes, and we did.

Once the book was acquired, marketing, publicity and the paperback team get involved. For this book it was  Avideh Bashirrad,VP, Director of Marketing; Karen Fink Associate Director of Publicity; and Jane von Mehren, Senior VP, Publisher, Director of trade paperbacks.

Question to Avideh Bashirrad: How did you market this?

AB: We ran a traditional grass roots campaign. We got out a lot (2000!) Advanced Reader Editions. Sent to both the trade accounts (stores) and consumers (bookclubs) And they LOVED it. They loved the Major. We even ended up sending "I love the Major" stickers in kits to bookstores and bookclubs. People wrote to us telling us how much they loved the book.

Question to Karen Fink: What was the goal for publicity for the book?

We wanted an interview on NPR. We thought the book was a good fit for the NPR audience so I was hounding the producer of the Diane Rhem show (general laughter here from everyone in the audience who was a publicist or had been a publicist!)

We found out the New York Times was going to run a review in the daily paper. That of course induced major panic: what would it say? Well, it turned out Janet Maslin LOVED the book. She wrote a major love letter to Major Pettigrew. We were thrilled. And my phone rang, and it was producer of the Diane Rhem show who said "I know you've been after me to read this book, and Diane read Janet's review and we want to do it."

And all of this happened right around the publication of the book, so we decided to send Helen out on an 8 city tour. In two weeks! (The aforementioned publicity contingent in the audience all faint dead away.)

And everyone who had Helen at the store wrote to us and wanted her back again. She was enormously popular.

Q to Jane von Mehren: The paperback came out relatively quickly (not the usual year) after the hardcover. What motivated that?

JvM: We wanted to capitalize on the success of the hardcover and get the paperback in the stores for Christmas. And it worked. As of today there are 382,000 copies of Major Pettigrew out there.

This was an amazing event with people who are passionate about books, and clearly love their jobs. Let no one tell you publishing is dead. It's alive and well here tonight!


Alli Sinclair said...

The enthusiasm from all involved is understandable. It really is an amazing book. Thanks for sharing this with us!

Girlfriends Book Club said...

I would have loved to have attended that panel. I loved the book but it's also such a quiet love story that I was curious how they marketed it.

Danielle said...

Great insight! I love posts like this!

Now I want to read the book :) I'll have to buy it after my next pay check

Anita said...

I'm a huge fan of this book and have recommended it in my newspaper column and to everyone who asks me for a good book. Thanks for the inside look into how it was made!

Kim Kasch said...

How cool. It's great to see that publishing is alive in this zombie like economy :)

Melodie Wright said...

I LOVED this book!! One of the best adult fiction titles of my year. Thanks for sharing this behind-the-scenes look.

Laraine Eddington said...

It is gratifying to see how a really enjoyable book like this found it's way. It gives me courage to keep trying.

Laura Maylene said...

I enjoyed this book (like everyone else, it seems!) and loved reading a bit about its behind-the-scenes publishing story. Thanks.

My friend actually lent me the book after she bought it at Costco, where it was a "Penny's Pick." I'm not a Costco shopper so I didn't even know what that means, but apparently being a Penny's Pick at Costco is a pretty sweet deal. I wonder how much that in particular impacted the book's success?