Penguin Random House is Bringing Back the Book Fair

Remember the pure, bookish joy of a middle school book fair at PRH’s
Book Fair for Grownups

“We took a playful approach with this event format to inject a bit of that joy into all our lives and to celebrate book nerds everywhere”

On Saturday, November 23, Penguin Random House is bringing bookish nostalgia to life in a Book Fair for Grownups. Attendees will be able to relive their school book fairs in the 80s and 90s, browse books curated by the PRH team, take pictures in a school photo booth, peruse retro crafts by Glue, and see special appearances from PRH authors.

Penguin Random House warns that attendees might experience “Severe middle school flashbacks! Tables stacked with books! Pencils! Mr. Sketch Markers! Erasers! Cubbies! Pins! Patches! Spin art! Snap bracelets! Custom Interactive Mad Libs!”

We heard from members of the cross-departmental team that created this Book Fair about how this event was born, how they are working with partners and sponsors like Belletrist, Urban Outfitters, and Out of Print, and how they are using it to connect with their readers. 

Thanks to Alison Rich & Rachael Perriello, PRH Author Platforms, and Carly Gorga, RH Events & Partnerships, who gave us an inside look at the creation of this event.

What’s the origin story behind the Book Fair for Grownups? 

The idea of Book Fair for Grownups has been floating around Penguin Random House for a while because for so many of us, the book fairs of our youth are what first got us excited about reading (not to mention all of the super cool pencils, markers, Trapper Keepers, etc). By the time this summer rolled around, we believed we had enough excitement among our staff that the time was right to make it happen for the fall.    

There’s been a lot of collaboration across various PRH teams including author platforms, consumer marketing, sales, events, and our publishing divisions to bring this event to life, which has been really fun.

Who is the audience for the Book Fair?

There is no one archetypal “student” at Book Fair. Whether you are a millennial, a mom, or a millennial mom – if you grew up loving book fairs, watching Reading Rainbow, and getting lost in the stacks, this event is for you.

Why this particular era of Book Fair? What are you hoping it evokes for the attendees?

“It made sense to us to try to capture some of that passion offline with an experiential format that would bring our childhood love of books to life, embrace the bookish lifestyle, and create a sense of community around our books and authors.” 

We focused on an 80s / 90s-era book fair because that’s when a lot of us were in school, and also because there’s a lot of nostalgia for that time. That’s definitely the feeling we’re hoping to evoke for guests – the magic of being back in school, shopping for books and school supplies, trading stickers, tie-dying t-shirts, wearing scrunchies, doing Mad Libs. Life gets complicated as you get older and we want to bring people back to a lighter, less complicated time in their lives . . . if only for an afternoon.

How does this event fit into PRH’s larger strategy for reader outreach?

Penguin Random House’s mission is to foster a universal passion for reading by partnering with authors to create stories that inform, entertain, and inspire, and connect them with readers everywhere. Given that reading is such a passion point, it made sense to us to try to capture some of that passion offline with an experiential format that would bring our childhood love of books to life, embrace the bookish lifestyle, and create a sense of community around our books and authors.  

It’s unique for a publisher to have public-facing events like this. Most consumers tend to think about buying books from bookstores or online retailers. How are you hoping this event will influence consumer perception of PRH?

Our booksellers and online retailers are invaluable partners. Consumer-facing events like Book Fair (among many others hosted by various divisions of Penguin Random House) are simply one of the many ways we can connect directly with readers: To meet them. To talk to them. To hear directly from them what they’re loving, what they’re reading, and how we can better serve them. It’s important for us as a business to know our audience, and events like Comic Cons, book festivals, and now Book Fair make that possible. Books serve so many purposes – they start dialogues, bridge gaps, connect individuals and communities, transform lives – but they also bring people so much joy. We took a playful approach with this event format to inject a bit of that joy into all our lives and to celebrate book nerds everywhere.

How did you decide what kinds of activities or giveaway items the audience would be most interested in?

“It’s important for us as a business to know our audience, and events like Comic Cons, book festivals, and now Book Fair make that possible.”

This was really a collaborative effort from our team. We have a Book Fair brain trust of folks from across Penguin Random House, and we did a lot of brainstorming, reminiscing and laughing, and that’s where we came up with most of the ideas and activations you’ll find at Book Fair. We also worked with a host of amazing partners and sponsors including Office Depot, Urban Outfitters, Glue, Tiger Beat, Mrs. Grossman’s, Lip Smacker and our colleagues at Out of Print.

Tell us about the partnership with Belletrist for this event. Why did you choose to work with them and what does that partnership look like?

Belletrist has been a fantastic partner for PRH since its inception. When we realized we both had the same instinct to bring readers back to the book fairs of their youth we immediately knew we had to partner with them on it. They’ve had a hand in inspiration, in bringing in sponsors, in promotion, and sheer enthusiasm.

What kinds of books can we expect to see at the Book Fair?

Because this event is for those 21 and over, there will be a wide assortment of books for grownups for sale (including YA!). The title selection was curated by Abbe Wright from Read it Forward. Some tables of our titles you can expect to see are “Brand Spankin’ New,” “Munchies,” “Heartthrobs,” and “TBT,” to name a few.

Can you give us a hint about any of the authors who will be there?

Principal John Hodgman will be joined by Deb Perelman, Adam J. Kurtz, Mya Spalter, Summer Rayne Oakes, and others. But you’ll have to come see for yourself to find out more!


Tickets are available for the Book Fair for Grownups here.

*Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

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