World Book Night, a British experiment in giving away royalty-free new books to strangers, is coming to the US, and we’re on board. Here’s the background.
On every first Thursday in March since 1998, the UK has celebrated World Book Day by giving several million British schoolchildren £1 tokens they can use to purchase any book at a bookseller. UK publishers produce special £1 World Book Day editions of select books, and booksellers, schools, and libraries host hundreds of author visits, story times, and dress parties to celebrate the day. By all accounts, World Book Day has become quite successful in bringing books to children and families to bookstores.
A couple years ago, Jamie Byng, managing director of British publisher Canongate, had the thought that the festivities shouldn’t be limited to schoolchildren, that adults who rarely read books could also use some encouragement. He founded World Book Night, an event in which volunteers, including book authors, would give away one million special-edition paperbacks to strangers at train stations, hospitals, prisons and other sites. Margaret Atwood, Alan Bennett, John Le Carré, and Philip Pullman, and other authors kicked off the first World Book Night last year by reading from their favorite books to thousands of people gathered in Trafalgar Square on a chilly March evening.
British media covered World Book Night extensively, and, defying the expectations of some, the publishers and authors of the books given away fared well: book sales rose substantially for nearly all the 25 titles that were handed out.
On April 23rd, World Book Night comes to the US, with much of the publishing industry behind the effort, including major publishers, Ingram, the American Booksellers Association, Barnes & Noble, and the American Library Association. A committee of booksellers and librarians selected the 30 books that are being printed in special World Book Night editions. (Please note, the Authors Guild took no role in selecting the titles.)
Want to volunteer to be a book giver? Choose one of the 30 books (list here) that you particularly enjoyed, choose a place to give away the book, and apply at the World Book Night website. There’s nothing in it for you, except for the satisfaction of introducing others to a favorite book, and perhaps the glory of a local newspaper or radio story. You’ll likely increase your odds for being chosen if you mention that you’re an author and you choose a distribution site calculated to reach those who rarely read books.
Carl Lennertz, formerly of Random, Harper, Little Brown, and Book Sense, is the executive director of World Book Night US. He’ll be reviewing all applications and pledges to be on the lookout for authors.
The application deadline is February 1st.