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World Book Night Wrap Up: How to Give Away Free Books

World Book Night 2012 logoIt was lunch time, and several members of the Beacon Press staff headed out in a chilly April drizzle to Boston's Downtown Crossing--not for a tasty sandwich from Falafel King, but to take part in World Book Night. Each staffer had signed up to hand out twenty free books to perfect strangers walking by on a busy street corner. Director Helene Atwan summed it up by saying, "Lots of different people going in and out of the subway were puzzled, skeptical, and finally, curious and grateful. A wonderful way to spend the lunch hour. We're all already looking forward to World Book Night 2013."

We've loved hearing stories from other givers, and must admit that it gives us a particular thrill to hear about people giving away Kindred by Octavia Butler--Beacon's literary contribution to the project. 

At the Silver Spring Metro station, Politics and Prose floor manager Susan Skirboll had a pretty straightforward strategy for her giveaway approach: “I’ll try to look respectable and not like a total freak.”

Skirboll calls the story she selected — “Kindred,” by the late science-fiction writer Octavia Butler — a book “everyone should read.” Though it contains a little bit of science fiction and fantasy, “it’s done in a way that’s kind of believable,” Skirboll said. “It talks about the slavery experience in a way I had never read before.” --Washington Post

And on Twitter...

Have given out my 4th copy of Kindred by Octavia Butler for #wbnamerica & am excited that #4 is drinking her coffee and reading the book!!!! -- @misscecil

Learned during #wbnamerica: let them see what you're offering. know your book. saying "it's one of the best books i've ever read" helps. -- @corpuslibris

My best line for #wbnamerica? Here's a book to go with that pizza! Man carrying pie took! @wbnamerica @NYCHA @beaconpressbks -- @arleneschulman

Our favorite story, hands down, involves a very unconventional delivery vehicle. (Photos by Shmuel Thaler of the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Used by permission.)

Handing out free books to surfers while paddling out in waters off Cowell Beach doesn't seem logical.

But Hilary Bryant made it look easy, if not natural, Monday when the wet-suit clad vice mayor took several copies of the novel "Kindred" into the surf wrapped in Ziploc bags. Not green - she knows - but how else could she keep the books dry?

"They were very appreciative," Bryant said of the effort, which was part of the World Book Night celebration in the U.S. and Europe. "It was easier to start the conversation on the water than on the cliff. You have a captive audience." -- Santa Cruz Sentinel

Photo by Shmuel Thaler of the Santa Cruz Sentinel of Vice Mayor Hilary Bryant delivering books to surfers

Photo by Shmuel Thaler of the Santa Cruz Sentinel of Vice Mayor Hilary Bryant delivering books to surfers

And now onto our staff and their experiences at Downtown Crossing in Boston.

Tom_helenTom Hallock: Associate Publisher and Director of Sales and Marketing

Pictured right: Helene Atwan, Director of Beacon Press, with Tom Hallock.

So how did World Book Night, or World Book Lunchtime, go for you?

It was great, just great. We went to Downtown Crossing, the historic heart of the Boston retail district. There were a lot of people there at lunch time. There used to be a lot of retail bookstores there: a Globe Corner Bookstore, a Lauriat’s, a Barnes and Noble and a Borders—none of them are there now. And we just thought it would be a place where we would find some people who are not exposed to books regularly, and we were right. 

We had support from the Boston Downtown Business Improvement District. We were also assisted by a fruit vendor who is quite an enthusiastic reader and supporter of World Book Night, and who sent a number of people our way. We gave away copies of Dave Eggers' Zeitoun, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.  

People would come up with wary looks on their faces. I think maybe they thought we were handing out religious tracts or political propaganda or something, and we would assure them that they were really good books, and people got really excited about it.

In a sense, you were espousing the religion of reading. 

Exactly, and I think we got a lot of converts.The best thing was seeing the expression on people's faces change as you got into the conversation, and you could see them open up  to the idea that a stranger was about to hand them a book that they would really enjoy reading.

How do you feel about Kindred by Octavia Butler being included in the giveaway? 

We were really proud of that and so glad that Carl Lennertz and the people at World Book Night made it possible for Kindred to be part of the program. It's a great book that can be read by all ages, and it‘s been wonderful to hear stories from around the country about people introducing it to new readers.

Kate_will_marcyMarcy Barnes, Production Manager

Pictured right: Kate Noe, Will Myers, and Marcy Barnes.

There were a couple of really enthusiastic people who came up to us, and a lot of people were really grateful. To choose people to give books to, I basically just chose anyone who wasn't wearing headphones. I wasn't thinking, "Is that a reader or not a reader?" I felt that it was more a celebration of reading and saving books, and a lot of people were really appreciative of the concept.

Ryan Mita, Digital Marketing Assistant

Here’s what went through my mind, and what happened while I was giving away World Book Night Books: 

  • I thought giving away books on a wet, windy day would be a difficult, but it wasn’t!
  • I gave a jeweler something to occupy his interest on his lunch break. 
  • I interested a groups of teenagers in picking up a book.
  • I felt really good sharing a great book with strangers and supporting an activity I love to do.

Will Myers, Editorial Assistant

It was nice to see people light up when they were given a free book. We had the World Book Night lanyard, so I think people thought we were from Oxfam or something along those lines. But once they knew we weren't asking for an email address, they were less suspicious.

At the Lambert's outdoor fruit stand--they were big boosters of World Book Night, and they were cheering us on. They kept asking, "Do you have this book? Do you have this book?" That was cool. It was a great experience, and I would absolutely do it again. 

Kate Noe, Production Assistant

I got involved because my friend works for a counseling center for young mothers, and she was really excited for World Book Night because she was able to get free books for these young women who don't ever read. So she inspired me to reach out, too. 

I would definitely do it again, but it was frustrating being rejected. Going up to strangers and having them ignore you... But those moments when people were curious and wanted to learn more, that was cool. 

WbnaCrystal Paul, Assistant to the Director

Pictured right: Helene Atwan, Ryan Mita, and Crystal Paul.

I'm glad that we were handing out Junot Diaz and Zeitoun—multicultural literature that is applicable to everyone. I think it's great that there were such a wide variety of authors and types of books, because it encourages you to reach out to all kinds of people. And I was excited that Kindred was part of World Book Night. I love Octavia Butler. 

I've always said that books sort of raised me. I grew up in a house where there wasn't a strong parental figure, so I turned to books not because I just wanted stories or escapism. But, literally, because I was looking for how I'm supposed to live life, the things I'm supposed to do. A lot of young adult literature in particular is about these orphan children, and then I started reading Sci-Fi. Octavia Butler was one of the first authors I read-- Xenogenesis which is now called Lilith's Brood And it was about a black woman going out into the world and being abducted by aliens. Basically, just completely abandoned and on her own, and how she navigated this totally new world.