A Talk with Random House’s Marcia Purcell, VP, Director of Library Marketing

When Marcia Purcell, VP, director of library and academic marketing at Random House, announced at the Random House/Library Journal breakfast at BookExpo America last May that she would retire at the end of this year, there was a collective groan from librarians. She’d been a fixture of library marketing for 20 years, building her department from two to nine people, and helped make the adult library market visible to publishers, not just at Random House but at other major trade houses.

She sent out advance review copies of forthcoming titles to collection development librarians across the country, brought adult authors to American Library Association, Public Library Association, and other library conferences, encouraged authors to include libraries on their tours, and taught librarians the ins and outs of requesting, and hosting, authors events at their own institutions, without paying author fees. She spoke the language of librarians because she was one, having worked at New York Public Library for nearly 24 years as coordinator of adult services for branch libraries, where she was responsible for the collection development budget, staff training, and recruitment.

At Random House, she and her then boss, Bruce Harris, who hired her, shared a vision of the importance of libraries. There are always some people who feel libraries are not so important, but we know otherwise, because in good times or bad libraries always have money, and people who use libraries are strong supporters of bookstores and book clubs, she told LJ in a recent interview. (The book-buying/library user connection has been confirmed recently in LJ‘s own Patron Profiles research.) She and Harris appeared together on the cover of the February 15, 1992 issue of LJ. That issue made other houses aware of the importance of marketing to libraries and that they should be doing something similar‚ taking marketing for bookstores and adapting it to libraries.

Prior to her retirement, LJ asked her about some of her favorite authors and craziest moments:

LJ: What’s your craziest author story?
MP: Surviving Barack Obama’s ALA appearance in Chicago. It was about two years before he ran for president and 9000 people attended his talk. The line for signing was two hours long. His aides kept saying he had to go, but he stayed and signed for everyone. He had to cancel dinner with his wife. We should have had buttons saying, “I Survived the Barack Obama Signing in Chicago.”

Or the time I was shopping for groceries at Dean and DeLuca in SoHo [in New York City] and ran over Toni Morrison’s foot [[with my shopping cart.] It was the low point of my career. It was the year before she won the Nobel prize. I told her she was at top of the list of people librarians requested to come to their library.

And just one more: David Sibley, noted illustrator of bird books came to sign at an ALA conference in L.A.‚ not just sign, we were giving away T-shirts. Bird lovers came out of the woodwork. The line was barely under control. People tried to cut in, afraid he would leave. A 6’5 colleague called out, “Marcia help me, help me, the crowd is out of control.” I could see the headlines: “First time an author is crushed to death in a booth.”

Favorite party?
The party we gave in New Orleans at Anne Rice’s doll museum. It was in one of several houses she owned there. It was one of the hottest tickets we ever had. She came, she was gracious, we even had a receiving line.

What’s the craziest request you’ve ever had from a librarian for an author appearance?
Even after all these years, and just as though it were the most simple thing in the world, librarians still ask to have Toni Morrison, P.D. James, Maya Angelou, John Grisham, Alexander McCall Smith, Lisa Gardner (and on and on) come in a month.

If you don’t ask you don’t get, but realistically take a number of things into consideration when you request an author. As new people come into the library, we have a new cycle of training them on how to get a good author. It’s a never-ending question.

Finally, what books/authors have you been proudest of promoting?
Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, which talks to the point of being different. The characters can resonate with anyone, and it does have YA crossover appeal. The book went on to win an ALEX [a YALSA award for adult books for YAs]. It has found a home in book discussion groups, too. I met Aimee. She emailed me out of the blue. She did a reading uptown (in NYC), and I was delighted to find she was just as nice in person. It was my staff pick in Random Revelations [Random House’s marketing newsletter for librarians]. I featured it at the PLA book buzz and gave out hundreds of ARCs at PLA. We mailed it to the top 50 [collection management librarians] in the largest libraries in the country. We submitted it to ALA awards committees. It was all over our web site. We did a readers’ guide, a book discussion guide, and featured it at every single show. We still love this book.

Libraries have been the making of Sandra Cisneros. She was the first author to come to an RH/LJ author breakfast at ABA (now BookExpo America). For 20 years she has been at PLA; she speaks everywhere at libraries, and her books are staples at libraries throughout the country.

The great love of my author life is Alexander McCall Smith. He has done any number of library programs for his books and audios. He invited my husband and me to come to tea when we were in Edinburgh. His house was being worked on, it was a mess, he had a concert date…but he insisted.


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