World Book Night was last week, and I had twenty copies of Code Name Verity to give away. It was April 23, a perfect spring evening…no, scratch that, it was cold and windy, because it is Massachusetts and Spring is being especially coy this year. But I went ahead with my original plan to hand out the books near a subway stop and shopping center. I was a little nervous, because although I have spent my life talking to people about books, and do so daily at my job, I do not habitually approach strangers on the street and try to foist books upon them, even really excellent, free books.
It turns out, as I suspected, that it’s pretty tricky to convince people that you want to give them a good book for free. Even though I wasn’t sporting any of the red flags that pedestrians typically try to avoid (a clipboard, a windbreaker with a logo on it, a handful of pamphlets about Our Lord and Savior), people were hesitant to slow down or make eye contact. Everyone expects to be asked for things; no one expects to be given something (something they might want) for free.
Also, about half the people walking by were wearing headphones or had their eyes glued to a mobile device (or both); I let these people pass by. My most successful pitch to draw people in was “Would you like a free book for World Book Night?”
Once they’d stopped, I still felt rushed; I had more short transactions than long conversations. No one had heard of World Book Night, except for one woman who had encountered another WBN giver earlier in the day. I explained to those who stopped that it was a night where volunteers gave out free copies of books that authors and publishers had donated to spread the love of reading, and then I told them a little about the book I was giving out. Of the people who stopped, most were happy to take a copy of the book. One woman considered it for her daughter, but thought it might scare her (fair enough), so she didn’t take it. More men than women stopped, and they seemed really pleased to get a book – they’re not exactly the target demographic, and I wonder what they’ll make of Code Name Verity, but I do think anyone can enjoy it.
Although I picked up my box of books the week before World Book Night, I didn’t open the box till that day, and was a little dismayed to see that the special WBN cover had a white border that made the book look self-published; more than one person asked if I was the author. As much as I would love to have written Code Name Verity, I tried to clear up the misconception; it helped that it said “New York Times Bestseller” on the front, but the initial impression wasn’t that of a traditionally published book.
So, what would I do differently next time? I’d follow my librarian blogger friend Anna’s lead: she joined up with two other givers on World Book Night. This has a couple advantages: (1) it gives potential recipients a choice of books, and (2) it allows the givers to lend each other moral support. Anna and her team also set up in a local Starbucks (with the management’s permission, of course), so they could set up signs and people could choose to approach them and engage in conversation or not – much more comfortable for everyone than the hawking-on-the-sidewalk method.
I still think WBN is a fantastic initiative, and I want to thank the authors and publishers that donated their books, and the WBN organization itself for making this happen year after year. Here are all the WBN 2014 titles: