The Marketing Muscle Behind The National Book Award Finalist ‘Station Eleven’

BuzzFeed's Isaac Fitzgerald interviews Emily St. John Mandel at New York's Strand bookshop on September 11. Image provided by the author.
BuzzFeed’s Isaac Fitzgerald interviews Emily St. John Mandel at New York’s Strand bookshop on September 11. Image provided by the author.

‘Six Weeks And 21 Cities’

I was signing in at a Global Entry / Trusted Travelers kiosk on the passport control floor at JFK the other day, just in from London.

I put my passport in, let the machine check my fingerprints, looked at its camera so it could snap its shot. All routine. And then something different: new questions had been added to the usual litany of queries asked of passengers on the program.

Had I experienced chills, fever, other flu-like physical symptoms of illness? While out of the country, had I been to Liberia? Sierra Leone? Other West African destinations?

Station Eleven by Emily MandelWe all know what this is, of course. And since I wrote about Emily St. John Mandel’s novel Station Eleven here atThought Catalog in August, the ebola outbreak has moved quickly into the world’s consciousness.

In Mandel’s book, the fabulously fatal Georgia Flu moves even faster. It can kill within less than a day. And it makes its move at an airport — not at JFK in New York but at Toronto Pearson International. Indeed, another airport, Severn City, figures into Mandel’s tale, in the book’s haunting evocation of a makeshift Museum of Civilization. Twenty years after “the collapse” of modern life as we know it, some of the few survivors are still focused on such profound human concepts as travel, communication, and the voyage out.

On Wednesday, Mandel’s Station Eleven may be announced as the winner of the 2014 National Book Award in fiction.

One of five finalists, the book is tipped by many observers — including William Pearce and his BookVibe team, as covered at The FutureBook — to share the best likelihood of winning with Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.

On the eve of the awards, the author’s special reading for the event — including several radio appearances as well as live events — will bring her to a total of 35 readings from Station Eleven.

“I learned about the National Book Award nomination while I was traveling,” Mandel tells me, “so there was a sense of watching my career change during the course of the tour, which was an incredible and unexpected thing.”

At a time when it has become popular for many, especially in the self-publishing sector, to cackle derisively about a presumed lack of marketing support for books from major publishers, Station Eleven’s landing at the National Book Awards is hardly thanks only to Mandel’s eloquence and clarity of a fictional vision that so many readers have taken to their hearts.

No, this is a story of real and personal investment by people in exactly the kind of traditional publishing environment that too many today say is an uncaring, inept, lumbering “legacy” industry. It’s easy to dismiss the Big Five as dinosaurs. But when I looked at how Station Eleven’s reception could be so robust in the UK in our last round of coverage, the people at Picador, a Pan Macmillan imprint, were eagerly committed to getting the book to the readership.

And in this article, I want to bring the book back home, if you will. What I’ve found are genuinely caring, focused people working around Mandel to promote this novel.

Emily St. John Mandel
Emily St. John Mandel

A tired but appreciative, excited Mandel fills me in as she finishes her tour of bookshops and other venues in three countries:

The tour was long — six weeks and 21 cities, about 17 of which were in the US. I left the country a couple of times, for tour stops in Canada and the UK, and the Knopf US tour picked up seamlessly on either side of those forays. Touring is always exhausting, but I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to tour this book so extensively, and I thought the tour went very well. I met some wonderful people, met up with some of my favourite independent booksellers—people who I only ever see on tour—and only had about three mediocre events, which is a fantastic ratio.

Mandel is a Canadian-born author who lives in New York. Her first three novels were published with a “small press,” an independent house called Unbridled. You can see their exuberant congratulations note for Mandel on her shortlisting at their site: that’s one proud independent publisher.

For Station Eleven, Mandel wanted “to see what it would be like to have the apparatus of a large publishing house behind the work,” she has told me. And with the generous blessing of her editor at Unbridled, she ended up not only with Picador’s publication of the book and her earlier three novels in the UK, but also with a contract in the States with Penguin Random House’s Alfred A. Knopf.

When I turned to Knopf’s folks to do the Stateside edition of the story, they proved to be among the most thoroughly outspoken supporters of an author I’ve met yet in the business. While I’m sure there are cases in which a publisher and its people have done less than they could or should for a book and its author, this is not that case.

The Perceptive Publisher

Paul Bogaards, excutive vice-president at Knopf, is not only a well-seasoned veteran in publishing, but also a terrific writer in his own right. He goes to his personal blog on occasion with sardonic duologs about publishing so funny that they really need staging in a good cabaret setting. Here’s an example.

Paul Bogaards
Paul Bogaards

When it comes to Mandel and Station Eleven, he is cautiously optimistic to a professional fault; measured in his choice of words; unquestionably psyched at the powerful potential his company has to deliver this important work with a scale of attention that only a formidable house like PRH and its Knopf division can do.

“It’s hard to break a book out,” Bogaards says. “There are a lot of brand names on the bestseller lists these days.

“Take someone like Emily St. John Mandel who is a very good writer, but largely unknown, even with three books under her belt. A lot of things have to happen.

“And the most important thing is — what does it start with? — it always starts with the book.”   Read More

There’s more: Read the full story at Thought Catalog

By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson

Writing on the Ether: The Marketing Muscle Behind the National Book Award Finalist ‘Station Eleven’

Originally published by Thought Catalog at



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