First-Year Experience (FYE) is a program run by colleges and universities to help students transition from high school to college. To foster student participation in co-curricular events, hundreds of schools across the country include a Common (or Campus) Read as part of their FYE program for incoming freshmen.
How FYE gets books into the hands of college readers
These reads come in all shapes and sizes: Larger programs typically ask students to read the book over the summer before they come to campus. Other programs encourage faculty to integrate the title into their courses or to use it in a required freshman seminar. Additional programming is often developed around the book; schools may use interactive websites or schedule off-campus activities or travel pertinent to the selected titles. Having the author speak on campus to the assembled freshman class is often a key element of these adoptions, especially for larger programs.
The size of the Campus Reads also varies; smaller programs involve a few hundred students, and larger ones, like Penn State, UCLA, and University of Wisconsin-Madison, top out at more than 10,000. The student copies are either purchased in bulk and distributed by the school—usually facilitated by Penguin Random House’s Special Sales department—or bought individually by students, online or at their campus bookstore.
How Penguin Random House gets involved
Penguin Random House’s three academic marketing teams evaluate their divisions’ titles and promote appropriate books into this channel through direct mail catalogs, email blasts, a monthly newsletter, and the new PRH Common Reads website (http://commonreads.com/). They also attend and sponsor author events at the annual FYE and NODA (National Orientation Directors Association) conferences. The marketing teams and PRH’s Educational Sales team work closely with committee chairs to provide review copies and to connect schools to our Special Sales department and Speakers Bureau, who can provide book-purchase and author-fee quotes.
PRH also has the unique advantage of a Common Reading Advisory Board composed of program directors from a variety of institutions, including large public universities, small liberal arts colleges, and community colleges. This seven-member board’s chief role is to advise Penguin Random House and its authors about trends and opportunities in the marketplace.
Many of our FYE-appropriate authors work with our in-house speaking agency, the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau. The PRHSB has a dedicated full-time team of seventeen seasoned professionals who are passionate about connecting clients with the perfect speakers for their events. The team has a wealth of expertise working with colleges and universities and is involved at every stage of the process, from helping to match schools with a speaker to arranging door-to-door travel to making sure that books are available at each event.
How Campus Reads titles are selected
Campus Reads are selected by a committee of faculty and administrators and, in some cases, student leaders. This can be a long process—it takes up to a year and a half for some schools to narrow their options down to the final selection—as committees consider a wide array of titles from across all trade publishers. Much like the programs themselves, the kinds of books selected for FYE programs can vary, but the titles that do best are paperbacks of a shorter length (320 pages or fewer) and usually fall into the narrative nonfiction, memoir, or fiction genre. Many schools will seek out books with a specific theme, such as social justice, race, immigration, inequality, coming of age, sustainability, or science and technology. Titles with regional themes also work well for certain schools.
PRH titles selected frequently by FYE programs in the past include: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates; The Postmortal by Drew Magary; Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi; Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson; Garbology by Edward Humes; The Circle by Dave Eggers; The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore; So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson; The Good Food Revolution by Will Allen; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot; and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Ultimately, titles that do well tell a compelling story, are accessible and engaging, feature protagonists that students find relatable, and present teachable themes.
Having a title selected for an FYE program is an excellent way to get a book into the hands of many, and being a part of students’ literary and intellectual development can be immensely rewarding. FYE authors who participate in a school’s programming often remark that they end up just as engaged as the students!
Alan Walker is Vice President, Director of Penguin Academic Marketing
Sara Clemens is Penguin Academic Marketing Manager