Making the Make Book | BookExpo 2019

Making the Make Book has become a fixture of BookExpo in recent years. The (almost) annual panel, which details how publishers have led a debut or midlist book to success, often draws crowds of publishing executives, booksellers, and librarians.

Making the Make Book has become a fixture of BookExpo in recent years. The (almost) annual panel, which details how publishers have led a debut or midlist book to success, often draws crowds of publishing executives, booksellers, and librarians. Past Make Books have included midlist books H is for Hawk (2015) by Helen Macdonald and White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (2016) by Nancy Isenberg.

Among the speakers at the panel on Thursday, May 30 were Taryn Roeder, Director of Publicity for Houghton Harcourt, who talked about the success of Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History by Keith O'Brien. Joining Roeder was Amy Baker, VP/Associate Publisher of Harper Perennial and Harper Paperbacks, who shared the strategy behind The Tattooist of Auschwitz: A Novel by Heather Morris. Lastly, Sarah Barley, Editorial Director of the Young Adult Publishing Program at Flatiron Books, discussed the prominance of YA novel The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. The session was moderated by Jennifer Weltz, President of JVNLA, Inc. 

Fly Girls (LJ starred review) follows five aviators in the 1920s and 1930s: Amelia Earhart, Florence Klingensmith, Ruth Elder, Ruth Nichols, and Louise Thaden. Roeder began by listing the various hooks that Houghton Harcourt chose to pursue when marketing the book: history, women's studies, aviation history, and Americana. One of the initial concerns—that the story is too wide-ranging—turned out to be one of the book's strengths. Is it a history story? A sports story? They left it up to readers to decide. Another concern was how the public would react to a male author, and a male editor, creating a book about women's history. O'Brien and his editor worked with others at Houghton Harcourt to make sure the research was careful and correct. In terms of publicity, Roeder stated that national media is the first go-to. Her strategy included moving the publication date from November to August 2018 to coincide with summer travel, booking O'Brien on NPR outlets across the United States, and reaching out to women's aviator groups. In addition to a book tour, she arranged a Skype tour for those who were unable to attend to attend in-person events. Roeder cites the Skype sessions, along with word-of-mouth generated from women’s aviator groups, as key factors for the book's success.


The Tattooist of Auschwitz: A Novel (LJ starred review) is a paperback original from Harper Paperbacks. Keeping that in mind, Baker clarified how that might lead to fewer reviews from trade outlets, but she and her colleagues felt The Tattooist of Auschwitz was a book that people will want to read. The novel fictionalized the true story of Ludwig Sokolov, who was forced to tattoo his fellow prisoners at Auschwitz, and follows the unexpected love story between Sokolov and fellow prisoner Gita Furman. Baker touched upon the fact that books about the Holocuast, whether fiction or non, are often popular. Her marketing strategy involved placements at Target, Costco, and Sam’s Club, all of which lead to increased visibility and sales. Lastly, she outlined the strategy of choosing a publication date. Fall is a popular time for notable books, especially ones relating to history and historical fiction. The publication date was set for September 2018 to ensure that people would be picking up the book throughout the holidays. 


For Barley, the publication date was also an important factor in the success of The Hazel Wood (SLJ starred review). Flatiron chose the month of January (in 2018), which is relatively quiet, with the rationale that there would be less competition. In order to set the book apart, Barley focused extensively on the cover. There are several YA fantasy books on library shelves—how will this one stand out? The cover was designed to look like a classic fairy tale, but with a twist; a eye-catching design that would cause potential readers to stop and look. Barley credits librarians for the success of The Hazel Wood. After an author appearance followed by a librarian dinner at an American Library Association Conference, pre-orders started to increase. Flatiron released a special edition of the book for Owlcrate subscribers and ensured placement at Target; playing cards were included as pre-order incentives. Starred reviews from several outlets added to the growing interest. The print run was 100,000, noteworthy for a debut, and a sequel is planned for January 2020.

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