Random House Fall Preview: Toronto

Ah, the perks of working at Chapters.  During the summer, our store manager told us that all Chapters employees were invited to the Random House Fall Preview at the Hyatt Regency.  Now, I don’t know about you, but this sounded pretty sweet.  And they’d send us free books!  Can’t say no to that.  So last Sunday, I headed down to King Street West.  If I had been doing a live feed, here’s what it might have looked like:

Several days prior – Receive an email confirming registration and asking us to bring a pen, since they won’t be distributing them.  Okay.­­­­

11:00 – Trying to decide what to wear.  Event is at posh hotel, with publishing head honchos, and Michael Ondaatje – the Michael Ondaatje.  And it’s raining.  Boots or heels, boots or heels?  Settle on black pencil skirt and Franco Sarto maroon heels, which are comfy but don’t see much sunlight because they’re heels.

12:15 – Walk past the super discreet Hyatt entrance three times before I realize that it’s the hotel, and I only really see it because I go through Starbucks.  Vaguely intimidated by heaps of shiny marble, leather cushions, running water, and really nice bathrooms.

12:20 – Head to second-floor ballroom and register, which entails getting a brochure and putting down my name, email, and Chapters store number.  First inkling that it’s not quiiiiiite what I’d imagined.

12:25 – Enter ballroom and absolutely clear I am massively overdressed.  Everyone there has “I work at Chapters!” tattooed on their forehead – boots, ripped jeans, sweatshirts, the whole casual gamut, excluding the proliferation of Coach and Longchamp.  I grab a fifth-row aisle seat, plop my coat down, and escape to get caffeine and fluffy croissant from a loaded table.   This must be where the pen money went.

12:32 – Sit back down and pull out review book, but quickly put it away because a) it’s published by Penguin (gasp!) and b) took a look at the handouts, which includes a 28-page PowerPoint handout.  Not a single romance novel, of course.

1:02 – Publisher reps Mike and Jen start the show, and tell us they’re going to spend the next two and a half hours telling us what books to expect through December.  Fun times.

1:10 – Michael Ondaatje introduces his new book The Cat’s Table and does a reading.  Had no idea this Canadian icon and author of The English Patient had a voice so hypnotizing – soft, gentle, firm, with a hint of not-quite-British accent (he’s from Sri Lanka, and his own experience on the ship to Canada informed the foundation of the new book).  His reading makes me think about other author readings, perhaps during signings – what if they’re actually terrible readers?  Would it put people off?  And there’s something terribly engaging about hearing a book read in person that brings me back to grade school; we should do it more often as adults.

1:17 – Beginning of the “Cirque du Livre”, many of the books Canadian authored.  Mike and Jen trade off describing books.  They’re engaging, I’ll grant them that – Mike is more easygoing, folksy and off-the-cuff; Jen is more scripted.  But then, this is the last stop on a 15-city tour, so they have their schtick down pat.

1:25 – Mike introduces Kelley Armstrong’s Spellbound, and says he gave away a major spoiler in Ottawa.  So now his synopsis sounds like “The heroine is recovering from something/someone in the previous book, and now is being chased across the country by something/someone(s) and aided by other possible agents.”  Better, mate, better.

Sometime during the next while – Synopses remind me remarkably of reviewing for AAR, and we have all the space in the world to do it (theoretically).  But how on earth do you summarize a book and interest a 100-plus crowd in less than a minute?  Very difficult.

1:45 – Jen introduces debut The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and says she hasn’t been this excited since Shadow of the Wind and Harry Potter.  Reeeeally.

2:00 – The star of the show, Dr. Samantha Nutt.  Approximately five feet tall with a high scratchy voice, in jeans and a leather jacket; looks 25 and is 42.  Damned Nations is based on her own humanitarian experiences in war-torn countries and takes a look at causes of war; in person she’s moving, charming, inspiring, and has a heap of common sense.  Standing ovation.

2:37 – Break for yummy brownies, lemon slices, and fruit.  Yup, this is definitely where the pen money went.

2:45 – To the people who can answer two questions about Hamlet: A plastic skull with flashing multi-colored eyeballs.  This is about where things start to go downhill.

2:55 – While talking about Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, Mike does a magic trick.  They must be getting bored.

3:07 – Jen tells the ladies in the audience (i.e. 80%) that the sex scene in the new Lee Child (The Affair) is on page 260.  Like we need a sex scene to get us interested in Jack Reacher?  Patronizing and annoying.

3:15I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, new Flavia de Luce out November 1.  Much inner rejoicing.

3:21 – Janet Evanovich’s Explosive Eighteen, and Jen does a magic trick.  They must be really bored.

3:25 – Mike introduces The Scottish Prisoner by promising debut author Diana Gabaldon (ha ha), and lets out a reeking, stinking, nuclear-level spoiler from the previous book that turned me off of reading the entire series until I’m 92.   Now, I think he was just following the publisher’s blurb.  But unless I’m completely misinterpreting it, I’m not going there.

To summarize: This event was not what I had expected.  For one thing, it was exclusive to Chapters employees; it’s nice to know that they respect Canada’s largest bookseller this way, and it was informative to me – heck, I don’t have time to read all these books, and it’s nice to know what’s coming up.  But some of the books have already been released, or were just being reissued as trade paperbacks, so I felt some of it was redundant.  Then, I liked the overall casual feel, but at times it got too farcical, probably because the presenters were just really tired.  And really, some of the underhanded digs at romance (slight, but there) were not cool.

But in a few weeks, they’re going to send me free books to my store.  And if I email them back with thoughtful feedback, they’ll send me more books.  I honestly can’t see a bad side to that, can you?

Have you been to any kind of publishing event?  Thoughts?

- Jean AAR

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13 Responses to “Random House Fall Preview: Toronto”

  1. Maria D. says:

    No, I haven’t been to any kind of event like this….but where were the romance books? Did they ever really bring them up? Gah…we readers of romance get no respect!

  2. LeeB. says:

    I haven’t been to an event like that but funny recap! Thanks for sharing.

  3. PatH says:

    It’s nice to see the event from the other side of the table. I was a publicist for a small division of Random House for a few years and was on the other side of the planning. You’d never believe the amount of time spent deciding which books to plug (RH is huge so there are always more books than time to talk about them) and what will pique your interest in stocking them.

    The humor (magic tricks, etc.) are always NYC humor which seemed odd to me since unless BEA (Book Expo) is in NYC, the humor should be tuned to the group receiving it. But that never seemed to occur to anyone at RH.

    However, I do think the pen thing is funny. You wouldn’t believe the number of pens a supplier goes through for events! I’ve even seen someone at a book signing take a pen out of the hand of an author because the person wanted to jot down the title of a book. Then the person walked away with the author’s pen! Like I said, pens! Bane of a publicist’s existence.

    Maria D: Why no romance books? RH publishes so many types of books that it doesn’t think of itself as a romance publisher. If this had been a Harlequin event or other primarily romance publishing event, then they would have been everywhere. The list of books that were promoted was a very in-house, politically-motivated group of titles.

    Jean: You should have kept your Penguin book in view at all times! Especially if it was a romance. It would have been a great signal to all the watchers (and there were probably almost as many of them as there were Chapters’ employees) that romances are what people are reading and if RH won’t provide them, someone else will.

  4. Jean Wan says:

    Maria D – what I found interesting, or telling, actually, was that there were books from all genres – all the adult non-fiction and fiction genres, plus kids, YA, Graphic novels, teen, manga. EVERYTHING…except romance. I didn’t really expect it, but it was disappointing nonetheless. As Pat said, it’s extremely politically motivated.

    PatH – Do you mean Random House always does magic tricks at their previews? Too funny. The audience was pretty receptive, but I just think it was loooong. As for Random House and romance, I just had a gander at their imprints, and they’re not exactly small potatoes: Bantam, Delacorte, Dell and Ballantine are all imprints of RH, which means they publish, among many others, Danielle Steele and Mary Balogh.

  5. Diane says:

    I would really hope they came up with some romance books, that’s my favorite reading material.

  6. Tee says:

    Very humorous synopsis, Jean.

  7. JEAN! I had no idea you were in Toronto! Me too and I feel like never has a city loved romance novels LESS than Toronto. But I would have loved to have seen the magic tricks…and the flashing skull. Thanks for the overview!

  8. Jean Wan says:

    Tee – Thanks!

    Molly O’Keefe – I am in indeed in Toronto, and will be for the foreseeable future. As for T.O. and romance, I was so disappointed when I walked into WBB (the biggest bookstore in Toronto) and saw that their “catchy” romance sign was “Bodice Rippers for You”. I never got around to writing them because it’s been a while since I’ve been there, and I keep hoping they’ve put something else up.

  9. Jean – they haven’t…despite my many comments.

  10. Theresa says:

    Another Torontonian here. My spouse is in the book biz in Toronto but I am pretty much a closet romance reader and get my books on a Kindle now. It’s just too much to go in to a store and brazen through checkouts with staff looking at you like you have 2 heads and no brains. However a one-in-a-million meeting with a young cashier at Indigo at the Toronto Eaton Centre involved a very quick exchange of favourite romance authors and new books coming out. A breath of fresh air.

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