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The Simon Teen Tastemakers Event at ALA: What the teens said and how you can use this idea as a program

At ALA 2013 this year, Heather and I took a group of teens to a Simon Teen event that was really quite genius.  In fact, it would make a fun programming idea.

TLT coblogger Heather Booth lives in the Chicago area, so she was on the local events committee.  One of the things that she was responsible for was finding groups of teens to attend a special Tastemakers event hosted by Simon and Schuster and when Heather asked if I wanted to go, I of course said yes.  It was a nobrainer.  That evening Heather hopped on a train with 3 local teens and we met up with a few other groups of teens.  Each group had one or two adult chaperones, but this event was FOR teens.

Find out more at www.pulseit.com

When we arrived each teen got a passport and there were several stations inside which they were to visit and get a stamp.  The stations were set up as follows:

Get a bag and stuff if full of ARCs
Vote on the September book for the Pulse It online book club
Get The Mortal Instruments movie swag
Vote between two book covers
Look, more free books!
A booktrailer station

And then they had an opportunity to talk with author Ellen Hopkins.  One of our teens provided the highlight of the night when she realized what Ellen Hopkins was talking about when she answered that Necrophilia is the one taboo thing she wouldn’t right about.  You can read Heather’s post about it here.

But what I want to talk to you about is the book covers.  First, this was an awesome idea and I think every single publishing house should do it – but they should do it correctly.  You see, Simon & Schuster simply had the teens vote on their favorite covers by putting marbles in a jar, which provided them with absolutely no actual feedback that they could use for future cover design.  But I am a curious one, so I stood there and asked the various teens that voted if they would mind telling me why they were voting the way they were voting.  And to be honest, some of their choices were surprising to me.

For example, for the book Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano.  One cover had the girl on it and the other one was the same but had the girl removed.  I liked the cover with the girl because I felt your eye was drawn to the negative, empty space without her.  But the teens preferred the cover without the girl because they said it gave you too many preconceived ideas about who she was, what she looked like, etc.

There were also two covers presented for The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler.  The cover you see above is the cover that won, much to my surprise.  It seemed very adult to me.  The cover that did not win had an open road and two teens kissing in a motorcycle rearview mirror.  I thought it had more movement and that the teens would be drawn to it because it looked both contemporary and featured others teens on the cover.  The teens I spoke to said they liked the deep, rich purple and that they liked that it had a book and the heart on the cover.

In the event one thing was obvious: Covers Matter.  This is not, of course, surprising to us, but when the teens had tables full of books to browse it was the cover that determined whether or not they would pick it up and read the back cover.

Like I said, this was a fun, fascinating event.  Genius really.  And we can do the same type of event at our libraries.  Take your ARCs and lay them out on a table and ask teens to give you feedback, vote on your next book club book, or just tell you whether you should buy it for your collection or not.

Have books with two different covers, like Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley, and ask teens which cover they prefer and why.  Or just put out two books and ask teens which one they are more interested in exploring based on the cover. I am a firm believer in asking the why, that is where you get the real insight.

You could set up a book speed dating event here as well, that would be fun.

Then, of course, you could also have a computer set up showing booktrailers.  Give out freebies.  And yes, there was awesome food.  They served deep fried Macaroni and Cheese and it was the best thing ever.