Dreaming BIG with Random House

randomhouselobbyDecember 14, 2012 at Random House Open House. I am pumped up with a capital P.

There is nothing more welcoming than a genuine smile… or some free swag.

The Random House team brought both to the table. Your choice of 2 hardcover books? Check. Amazing authors on hand to sign them later ? Check.  A cute canvas tote to carry your goodies? Done.

10:00 A.M. – 10:15 A.M. | WELCOME TO RANDOM HOUSE

Theresa Zoro, director of publicity, promised an exciting day and took time to  praise her assistant for working tirelessly to make this day happen. Cue loud cheering from the audience.

10:15 A.M. – 11:00 A.M. | THE MAKING OF A BESTSELLER

“Read this book and the ordinary world disappears,” said Stephen King after reading Justin Cronin’s bestselling novel, THE PASSAGE. With the second book in Cronin’s trilogy—THE TWELVE—hitting bookstores in October, the Ballantine publishing team behind these bestsellers provides an insider’s perspective on acquiring, editing, and publicizing blockbuster books.

Executive Editor Mark Tavani on bidding wars and pleasant surprises:

Not surprisingly, there was a bidding war for The Passage. However, when RH won, a rare thing happened: editors from the losing houses sent Mark congratulatory notes. I’m assuming this is preferred over stink bombs and paper airplanes littered with profane gestures.

Associate Director of Publicity David Moench on succeeding in PR:
To be a publicist, you have to be a dreamer. Dreaming big and convincing others is crucial.

On being Ashton Kutcher:

David also prefers working with an author who is active on twitter, or someone who is active in the blogging community. Basically, it’s good to think like Ashton Kutcher, who coincidentally will be playing Steve Jobs, the dreamer who is sorely missed.

Marketing Manager Quinne Rogers on difficulties with identifying the reader:

For any marketing campaign, Quinne always wants to identify the reader first. This task wasn’t easy when working with a hybrid concept novel like The Passage or a relatively unknown author. Her team used a strategic, diversified marketing campaign that included traditional media in addition to a strong digital targeted towards a niche audience (see more on digital from Matt below).

On getting maximum exposure:

Random House printed about 10,000 copies of the book which is, quite simply, a lot. Hence, it was crucial to generate buzz in-house first.  To add to the momentum, RH sponsored Book Expo America, the largest U.S. book industry event, where all the name badges were decorated with “The Passage”. They also created billboards in LA with the tagline “Where will you be when the lights go out 6.8.12?”. DUN DUN DUN DUUUN.

On believing like bieber:

The Passage was a trilogy; the first book had to go big. Tying back to David’s note, this is more likely if a writer already has a following.  Quinne’s word to the wise: you can garner attention and build a fan base for FREE through media nowadays. I agree that we should all be taking advantage. Don’t be afraid of starting a blog, it’s 10 times easier than you think. Believe like the Biebs. If he can youtube his way to fame, so can you.

Vice President of Digital Strategy Matt Schwartz on creating buzz by omission:

Mark decided to create a teaser digital campaign since they were dealing with an unknown author and needed major hype. He took a cue from the District 9 movie, which was produced by a relatively unknown group. They targeted conventions like Comic-Con, and set up a web site for The Passage where all content came from a blogger LIVING the apocalyptic events of the book in real time. For ex:

Day 1: I’ve arrived at the top secret site.
Day 2: People are getting sick and we don’t know why.
Day 3: We…are…so…screwed.

The book title and author’s name were never mentioned.

On twitter:
RH also created a custom tool on twitter that would comb your last 100 tweets for key words like “hungry” or “sick”  to identify if you or your friends were infected, and hence, destined for apocalyptic doom. Now that’s going viral.

On using video:

Mark’s team asked well known horror genre director and writer J.T. Petty to create 3 short clips of viral attacks.  As always, the author and the title of the book were intentionally left out. What a tease.


How do you feel about book blogs?
Random House loves bloggers who make their jobs easier by promoting great books, but are very picky on who they use.

It’s so hard to get an agent, any tips?
It is very hard but you need an agent especially when you start out. Try submitting your manuscript to agents who work on similar books. Always be upfront if you are shopping for multiple agents.

When should authors go on book tours?
First time authors usually don’t go on book stores, anytime after that is possible.

What is the fate of an independent bookseller?

It’s a tough business, but RH knows independent booksellers are crucial to the industry since they actually read and hand sell the books. Independents are experts in the material and are great at generating buzz.

11:15 A.M. – 12:00 P.M. | PANEL: CHEF’S SPECIAL

Red Rooster chef Marcus Samuelsson talks with his editor Andy Ward about the process of translating his incredible life – and his love of food – to the page in his New York Times bestselling memoir, YES, CHEF. Huffington Post Food Editor Carey Polis will moderate.

Marcus on lessons learned:

To be a good chef, you must know yourself. To do so, he recommends that you write a memoir, it doesn’t matter if it gets published. Through writing, he was able to discover the patterns in his life, and see the decisions he should or shouldn’t repeat more clearly.

On culture and eating:

Eating is driven by a different state of mind in every country. Eating is driven by spirituality in Ethiopia; seasonality in Sweden;  thanksgiving and the super bowl in the U.S.

On challenging others to think outside the box:

Marcus is not afraid to challenge how people think about food. When an audiecne member asks how he would categorize his cooking, he seems a bit trifled and asks “Do you have to define it in one way? Does that make it easier for you?” Point taken.

On humanity:
He ends the panel with an honest and endearing reflection about family by referring to his loving but drunk uncle, and appreciates how his family didn’t hide him from imperfect people, since “we are all flawed people.”

Ain’t that the truth.

12:00 P.M. – 1.00 P.M. | LUNCH

RandomhouselunchOnly Random House could make adult lunch boxes cool. Yes, they packed us delicious sandwiches in an adorable, recyclable box. Nostalgia + Nom nom nom.


Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author Anna Quindlen sits down with her longtime editor Kate Medina, Random House’s Associate Publisher and Executive Editorial Director, to discuss their unique publishing relationship that has spanned more than a dozen books, and to answer your questions.

On the power of ONE:

Anna has had 1 husband, 1 publishing house  and 1 editor her entire life.
Her 25th anniversary with her editor is coming up in 2014. Loyalty and a bit of luck.

On her voice:
Anna trusted her voice from an early age; it’s interesting for her to see similar syntax, meter, and alliteration throughout her writing years.

On banishing negativity:
She doesn’t write book reviews anymore simply because a bad one can destroy a person’s life work in 3 hours or less.

On expanding your horizons:
When she read “The diary of Anne Frank”, it expanded her world and took her beyond her isolated and sheltered neighborhood.  In fact, Anne Frank was her first exposure to the Jewish culture.

On being a pulitzer prize winning reporter:
Fact check obsessively. Work with the gold standard of your industry. No matter how mad she was with her editors, she woke up proud of her work everyday because the nytimes was the best of the best.

On how times have changed:
Kate, Anna’s editor, encourages women to value the great opportunities available today. This wasn’t always the case, as Meryl Streep once said, “Women used to disappear publicly, now they only disappear right after their honeymoon”.

On coming up with great ideas:
Anna power walks for an hour every morning, this is her thinking time. It takes her about 9-10 months of intense brainstorming first before she even puts a pen to paper. By the time she writes, it’s mostly stenography.

On giving credit where its due:
Smart writers acknowledge their agent and their editor. If you pick your favorite 10 books, you should find that at least 2-3 of them have the same editors and agents. This is a good way to determine where you want to reach out.  An editor is like a language translator who speaks french, dutch due to how well they know an author’s language. Anna hates the editing process, but knows it makes a huge difference; it takes your work from a B+ to an A.

2:00 P.M. – 2:45 P.M. | THE SOCIAL DIET
SELF magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Lucy Danziger (a marathon runner and Ironman triathlete in her own right!) will give a special presentation on how to diet and exercise without sacrificing any of the fun stuff—happy hours, brunch dates, birthday dinners—and reveal the 30 amazing and tasty superfoods with naturally fat-resistant powers that SELF’s editors and experts identified in their bestselling book, THE DROP 10 DIET.

Photo1On digital:

In her raspy, cut-to-the-chase voice, Lucy tells us to relax about digital. Digital eclipsed print for Self magazine…3 years ago. What she’s saying in a nutshell: no need to bust out the china, as long as the food is good. No need to go crazy with digital, as long as the content is egg-cellent!

On eating healthy, not dieting:

If you don’t change anything other than adding 1200 mg of calcium to your diet, Lucy believes this will help you lose weight. So NEVER go light on the parmesan, just eat blocks of it. I’m OK with that.

On dollars and sense:

Every dollar you put into your body leads to 12 dollars later. Dealing with disease is costly.

On why brown is good:
Dark chocolate and plain coffee = happiness and a rich source of antioxidants. Both are good foods unless you add sugar, caramel, and whipped cream.

On laying off the meds when possible:
Everyone in Lucy’s family has a history of heart disease. After a doctor pushed her to go on Lipitor, she decided to change her lifestyle and diet to avoid disrupting “the delicate chemistry of her body” with medication.  Nowadays, she goes to the doctor of the Knicks, who diagnosed her current state as “unlikely to die from heart disease.”

I told you she cut to the chase.

3:00 P.M. – 3:45 P.M. | CURRENT AFFAIRS
Kurt Andersen, Charles Duhigg, and Emily Bazelon discuss current affairs and answer your questions during this lively conversation.

Kurt Andersen on precision and campaign strategy:

The difference in accessibility was obvious between Mitt and Obama’s campaigns. Romney’s party was inaccessible after midnight even in terms of email, whereas Obama was focused and precise with reaching out to individuals in all states, around the clock.  This 24/7 dedication paid off. Obama’s camp predicted  margins less than a point off when compared to final voting results.

Charlie Duhigg on courage:

We have arrived at our current deadlock because of the courage of our convictions. No one wants to compromise, no one is willing to budget. As great as this can be, it troubles him as well. Charlie hopes we can reach an agreement as a country or things won’t get done….aka fiscal fail.

On the big question:

Is Obama going to shoot the moon ? Is he going cut ties with a large group of supporters and lobbyists to do the right thing? Is he going to have his Abraham Lincoln moment?

What an epic way to end the conference. 

The Random House event provided an assortment of dreamers, teachers, and philosophers.  It also drew in quite the crowd; among them was a gaggle of  girlfriends from Washington DC;  a bostonian  obsessed with fiction; and last but not least, an excited, wide-eyed girl who just needed some encouragement.

I have a feeling she found it.

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