Monday, February 27, 2023

What's with the pre-publication events? Katherine May and Matthew Desmond

One change that a lot of our customers may have noticed over the last few months is that we have several pre-publication, open-to-the-public events. This is not to say that this didn't happen in the past, but for the most part, these kinds of programs would be by accident. In one case, a book's publication was delayed several times, and we finally came to the conclusion that we should just hold the program and take pre-orders. It worked, but we try not to make it a habit.

With the rise of virtual programs, pre-publication events have become more common. I think there are several reasons for this:

1) Publishers are already doing pre-publication virtual events for bookstores and media. They are already in the groove.

2) Website pre-orders are much more common than they used to be. Independent bookstores realized that our online competitors did a great job of soliciting these orders, and many bookstores have active pre-order campaigns. But it was COVID that really exploded the practice. And that means publishers aren't as worried about losing sales.

3) The virtual event itself is only the first part of the marketing plan. Especially if the event is a unique conversation, we're generally about to record the program and use the recording to solicit book sales. When the book comes out, we'll do another round of marketing for the book.

That's the case for our joint Porchlight Book Company program for Katherine May's Enchantment. Our conversation with Katherine May and Sally Haldorson was last Monday, but the book comes out on February 27 (or tomorrow, for those reading this blog in a timely fashion). Wintering was a phenomenon when it was released, and it's likely that Enchantment will follow suit. Booklist called May's latest, "Beautifully written and profoundly reasoned, this introspective search for meaning will appeal to readers seeking wholeness and community." Here's the link to watch the enchanting Enchantment conversation.

If you'll remember, our first virtual event (also with Porchlight) was for The Electricity of Every Living Thing, which was actually the paperback edition of May's first book, which was published by Melville House. The paperback came out after Wintering, which is still in hardcover, and is published by Riverhead.

This brings us to this week's virtual event with Matthew Desmond. The author of Evicted returns with Poverty, by America. Evicted was and is a phenomenon, having been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the subject of many community reads programs, and the bestselling book for Boswell the year it came out. We were lucky enough to host Desmond, who then returned to town several times speaking to nonprofit groups.

Matthew Desmond's new book enlarges the scope of Evicted to look at not just the unhoused, but the unfed, the unjobbed, and the unsupported. It's a little different in terms of structure, as it is not based on fieldwork - more thesis, less stories. And unlike Evicted, it has a detailed prescription for improvement. I mentioned the difference to one Evicted fan, and she said, "Doesn't matter. I'm reading it anyway."

Matthew Desmond is not coming to Milwaukee this time, at least that we know of. I won't be surprised if he's in town eventually. There are certainly a lot of people who'd love to see him. But for now, we're lucky to have this prepublication event as part of the Random House Spiritual Thought series, that looks at what faith groups can do to combat poverty. For this event, Demond is in conversation with Esau McCaulley, whose own book, How Far to the Promised Land: One Black Family's Story of Hope and Survival in the American South, will be published by Convergent (like Crown, Desmond's publisher, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group of Penguin Random House) next September. We're not running the program, the way we do for so many virtual events, but we are the designated bookseller.

And when Poverty, by America comes out, we'll make sure you get a copy. As a bonus, we're getting 80 signed bookplates for the first folks who preorder either through us or from the Eventbrite ticketing site.

Here's a nice quote from the Time Magazine website: "[Poverty, by America] shows how wealthy and middle class Americans knowingly and unknowingly perpetuate a broken system that keeps poor people poor. It's not an easy problem to fix, but through in-depth research and original reporting, the acclaimed sociologist offers solutions that would help spread America's wealth and make everyone more prosperous."  

Register for the March 2 event here.

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