Friday, February 25, 2011

Bookselling Crusade for St. George's Day

My entire professional life I've been involved with some form of bookselling.  I've lived and breathed books, even opting for that new paperback rather than buying groceries back when I was barely making ends meet.  Yet until two years ago I'd never heard of St. George's Day.  My guess is that most people in the United States haven't.  That needs to change.

BookPeople's 2009 display
 Two years ago a savvy marketing person working on the upcoming release of a The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (author of the wildly successful The Shadow of the Wind, too) sent out advance reading copies to booksellers that included a small card describing St. George's Day.  A holiday in Spain that involves giving a loved book to a loved one--a cause I could support.  The Angel's Game featured a place called The Cemetery of Lost Books, and the story goes that a reader wanders the labyrinth of books and finds the forgotten story that calls out to him/her.  Book lovers everywhere are captivated by the sense of mystery and discovery, the possibility that the books in their hands are future loved objects, stories that could change their lives.

Gianna and I started to play with the idea of St. George's Day.  There is an International Day of the Book, but no one in the US seemed to know about it.  Why isn't St. George's Day celebrated here?  We happened to be compiling material for a business review at BookPeople in Austin, Texas, at the same time, and on a lark threw together a handselling contest for the BookPeople booksellers playing with the St. George's Day idea.  We challenged booksellers to pick a favorite "forgotten" book--one that had stopped selling at the store (or had never sold)--and then see who could sell the most copies of these books over the course of April.  In 2009, fourteen booksellers participated, fourteen books were selected.  None of these books had sold more than five copies in the previous year.

BookPeople hadn't carried this book
 before 2009; and now they've sold
 111 copies (and counting).

At the end of April, 2009, all fourteen books had sold copies. We awarded a prize to the winner.  The store was pleased and so were we. 

I'm a numbers nerd, though, and I continued to track the booksellers' picks, even after the St. George's Day contest had long passed.  The books just kept selling.  And selling.  We ran the St. George's Day promotion again in 2010, and this time 21 booksellers signed up, and again the books sold--hundreds of them.  And again I tracked the numbers.  In the last two years, the 35 books featured for St. George's Day at BookPeople have sold over 1,000 units.  This is huge, particularly when one considers that these books were basically dead on the shelves.  This is an age when an article comes out every month declaring print books dead.  These are books that have found new readers, new lives. 

In 2010, we expanded our St. George's Day promotion beyond just BookPeople, and this year we are working with our Random House colleagues to (hopefully) begin a national groundswell of support.  The US needs a St. George's Day to remind people of the joy of discovering a great book.  Reading makes people smarter, reading expands our internal boundaries and challenges our preconceptions, reading entertains us.  Help us spread our love of great books, even the forgotten ones.  Celebrate St. George's Day on April 23rd by giving a book to a loved one.
The 2010 St. George's Day display at BookPeople.


  1. Happy to blog about St. George's Day. I just got back from Barcelona and saw advertising about it. My thought was "That's my holiday." Glad to join the cause. Really enjoy your blog and looking forward to reading some of your recommendations. Once in another universe I worked in the Cokesbury store in Nashville and then I worked for Harper and Row, when there was a Harper and Row.

  2. Thanks Buttercup! Several of our bookstores--and a few others around the country--are adopting this holiday as their own, too.