By Anna Sekula Posted November 22, 2010, 2:30 PM EST
The National Book Awards, a 60-year-old ceremony that recognizes some of the country's best authors, is an important event for the literary crowd—but an exclusive, invitation-only one with a guest list that typically skews to an older crowd. So in an effort to expand the audience and accessibility of the National Book Foundation's annual gathering, the Association of American Publishers' Young to Publishing Group hosted the first House Party on Wednesday. Held concurrently with the awards, the event took place in the offices of Random House and saw more than 450 twenty- and thirtysomethings in the publishing, media, and arts industries mingle, bid on auction items, and nosh on a casual menu of burgers, fries, dumplings, beer, and jungle juice cocktails.
The idea was conceived by Kate Childs, chair of the Young to Publishing Group and executive assistant to the president and publisher of the Random House Publishing Group, after she spent last year in a bar with only a Twitter feed to follow. Childs approached the foundation with the suggestion to create an event specifically for junior employees of publishing and literary agencies (a group that might, in the future, attend the formal award ceremony) and formed an ad hoc committee to plan the affair at the Random House headquarters. The team then sought sponsors to help underwrite the evening and tapped Jes Gordon and her crew at ProperFun to build an environment suitable for guests.
What developed was a casual office-party-like fete that showed a live feed of the awards and integrated sponsors like Web-based photo printing and sharing service Pixable, preppy clothing company Robert Redd, and the Huffington Post. Encouraging the sponsors to supply more than just product displays was important to the committee, which didn't want to the participation of additional companies to feel forced and who also wanted to provide more incentive for attendees to purchase the $30 to $45 tickets. “When you have to be budget-friendly, you have to be careful about which sponsors you approach,” said Childs. The planning team selected more independent, start-up businesses.
To build up excitement for the night, the Young to Publishing Group also solicited online nominations and votes for its own awards, in categories not covered by the National Book Foundation's prize. This included Best Blog to Book, Favorite Hero(ine) Under 35, and Most Innovative All-Around Campaign. Planners also coordinated with the foundation to line up a Twitter feed and added a charitable component in the form of a silent auction, which raised $2,000 for Literacy Partners.
Not only were Childs and the committee pleased with the turnout for the inaugural event, the National Book Foundation was happy with the results. “We at the National Book Foundation were thrilled to be part of the N.B.A. House Party, and we applaud the organizers’ initiative,” said Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation. “Bringing a live feed to hundreds of people creates a wonderful excitement, which we hope to not only duplicate but expand next year, using this year’s streaming as an example.”