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!