First-Year Reading Resources

Welcome to the Penguin Random House Common Reads Frequently Asked Questions page, where you will find information to help you start or enrich your common reading program. Should you have additional questions or suggestions to improve the information contained here, please email us at: commonreads@penguinrandomhouse.com

Best Practices and Tips

Relax, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Take advantage of the many resources available to learn about other reading programs. A good starting point is the monograph published by the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience® and Students in Transition, Common Reading Programs: Going Beyond the Book.

In addition, there are a number of campuses with well-established and successful reading programs, and the administrators and faculty who run these programs are usually very happy to share advice and tips (as well as opinions on books they have used successfully in the past).

When starting a program, it’s important to include all stakeholders on campus. When it is time to select a book, you will most likely want to form a campus selection committee. The committee should comprise members of a variety of constituencies, including faculty, student services, and academic affairs administrators, as well as students.

Think carefully about the scope, mission, learning outcomes, and assessment of your program. For example, will the program be only a first-year/new student reading program or a campus-wide reading program? What will be the purpose and goals of the program? This may influence the type of books you will be considering. How will you inform students about the program, and when will they be expected to read the book?

The following questions will assist you selecting the best books for your program:

  1. Does the book tell a good story that will attract and sustain the interest of your students? Remember the success of the program will ultimately depend on the students completing the book.  This will hold true for non-fiction as much as fiction, where a strong narrative can be as important in conveying both information and argument.
  1. Is the book accessible? Will students at different reading levels and with different interests be able to engage with the book? To this point, consider page count. A good rule of thumb is the “300 Rule”: if possible, choose a book with 300 pages or less.
  1. Does the book feature a protagonist students can relate to? They might be the same age or be dealing with similar life situations (change, challenge, adversity).
  1. Does the book present teachable themes, such as inclusiveness/diversity, global engagement, etc.?, and especially ones that will resonate with the faculties of diverse departments.
  1. Do the themes of the book correspond to your university’s strategic mission? Campus engagement and resources will be easier to secure if you make this relationship clear.
  1. Does the book embody the academic rigor that reflects the expectations you hold for your students?

Programming Ideas

Use digital and social media to your advantage. Use your university’s existing social media webpage or account (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) or create a dedicated page for your common reading program to build a community around the book selection, author visit, and other programming activities. Many authors, publishers, and lecture agencies have existing material that can be posted to your community page.

Prepare students. Consider introducing the book during the spring or summer prior to the beginning of the academic year. For example, if first-year students receive the book during Orientation, the Orientation Leaders and various speakers can advertise the program and build a feeling of community around the reading of the text.

Have students create materials in advance of the author’s visit. Essay collections are a great idea. You may also consider multimedia approaches—such as blogs, videos, or a website. Students tend to share more on a personal level when they are not in an open forum and the medium can be anonymous. Another idea is to have students autograph and annotate the author’s book. In addition to brief messages to the author, annotations can call attention to the passages of the book students find most compelling or personally resonant. Also, think about having students turn in questions for the author as part of an assignment, and have a moderator pose the questions to the author. This will incentivize students to come up with more original questions, will save on time during the Q&A, and will avoid dreaded “dead air.” Make the questions a contest, such as: “Can you stump the author?” Authors appreciate different perspectives on and reactions to their work, and they can take home the annotated book as a memento to commemorate the event!

Organize campus-wide discussion groups. Some campuses use faculty, some use upper-class students, and some use a combination of faculty, staff, and students to facilitate these discussions. Again, this is a good way for the first-year student to feel that they are a part of the university community.

Link the book to as much existing campus programming as possible. Can the Film Studies department co-sponsor a viewing of a film related to your book? Are there plays, arts exhibits, or other speakers coming to campus that you could tie into? Perhaps Student Activities can help as well? Reach out to faculty who teach courses relevant to your book selection, provide them with review copies of the book, invite them to events, and ask them to embed the book in their syllabi and courses. Your book selection committee will be a great resource in making these connections.

If having the book’s author speak is part of the plan for your reading program, it is important to consider author availability during the book selection process. Speaking fees and availability can vary considerably. You don’t want to go through all the work to select a book, only to find out that the author’s speaking fee will not work for your budget, or s/he is not available to speak on the dates you need!

  • Contact the author through his/her lecture agent or speaker’s bureau. Most authors will have an agent, and who will be able to provide information speaking fees and availability. Penguin Random House has in-house speakers bureau that can assist you with all of your speaker contacts and help you locate and coordinate with the appropriate agent. They can be reached at speakers@penguinrandomhouse.com. For more information please refer to the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau section below.
  • Encourage as many faculty and students as possible to read the book in advance of the author’s visit. In addition to having more enthusiastic readers on campus to help you spread the good word about the book and your program, the author will likely have more interesting questions to make for a more intelligent and productive discussion.
  • Assign a faculty member or administrator to host the author. While one of the benefits of an author visit is for students to engage with the author, it is important to have a faculty member or administrator act as the dedicated host, someone who has the authority to assertively manage appearances—to turn down requests or move an author to the next location, for example.
  • Communicate and co-operate. Encourage university departments and divisions to coordinate in advance. Perhaps events may be co-sponsored so the author isn’t pulled in too many directions, and departments can share space, time, money, and other resources.
  • Consider having one large campus talk that is required of all students. This makes the best use of both your programming time and the author’s time on campus. Many authors say that different departments and disciplines actually tend to have questions that are more similar in nature than they are different. Even if that is not the case, a diversity of questions is a good thing; it offers a richer conversation when different interests come together, and students learn more.
  • Mix up the formats of events. The most successful visits offer the author and participants a variety of events to keep things fresh and engaging. Have the author speak at a podium for one event, do an on-stage sit-down Q&A at another, and participate in a group interview with faculty at a third.
  • When hosting an author Q&A, it’s important to appoint a moderator to move the discussion along. The moderator can address basic factual questions upfront, to allow for a more in-depth exchange during the Q&A. The moderator can also be the person who introduces the author.
  • Following a large campus-wide talk, arrange for smaller, more intimate discussions with faculty and students, in which the author and participants can delve more deeply into topics mentioned in the campus-wide talk. All participants should have attended the larger campus talk so that they come to the breakout sessions with at least a basic knowledge of the book.
  • Give authors “a break” (or two)! In order to provide your participants with the best experience possible, foster an environment that makes the author comfortable, and one that allows them to put their best foot forward. Schedule breaks in between sessions and offer some meals “off.” Arrange to have snacks, water, coffee, and meals available as appropriate. If the author is the key attraction at a meal, make sure he or she has ample time to eat.
  • Don’t take it personally. When negotiating your author’s visit to campus, there may be many requirements on the part of the agency for travel, lodging, and “down time.” These are based on the agency’s standard contractual obligations designed to cover a wide variety of celebrities, athletes, and other speakers. However, most agencies and authors understand that you have state and university policies that may constrain what you can offer, and will work with you to meet your needs. Schedule ample time for planning and negotiation. You should also verify with the author’s agent whether events or speaking engagements may be videotaped or recorded. They often have provisions for what is allowable.

We recognize the time, effort, and challenges that go into producing a successful common reading program, and we’ll make the process as easy as possible for you. We can help you develop a list of potential speakers; determine which authors are available; check fees to ensure the visit meets your budget; and advise whether an author’s availability suits your schedule. We believe an author visit is an integral part of the adoption process, and so there is no cost or commitment involved in this “discovery phase.”

If you already have an author in mind, we will help you quickly find out if the speaker is within your budget and available for the date of your event. If for some reason they are not, we can help you find alternatives suitable for your program.

Logistics: We can book travel, create an itinerary for the campus visit, and work with the author to tailor the content of the lecture for your campus. One of our full-time lecture agents will be personally assigned to your event, serving as a dedicated liaison between you and the author during the entire planning process, guaranteeing a successful, worry-free event.

If you are already in contact with Penguin Random House’s Academic Marketing department about your title selection, you do not need to start from scratch when booking the author. We work in tandem with our colleagues in

Academic Marketing and will ensure the process is easy for you.

  • Most standard author visits include a keynote speech, Q&A session, and book signing. It is very important that any activities beyond this be discussed from the beginning of the planning process to ensure a memorable event for your students while also respecting the author’s professional and personal schedules.
  • Even if the author is not available for a multiple-day visit on campus, your programming can still be extended beyond the keynote speech. We are happy to help you find innovative and creative ways to further highlight the book’s themes and messages on your campus.
  • Just call us! Even if you’re not sure where to start with your inquiry, we will help you or quickly find someone who can.

Almost 50% of the collegiate day is spent listening in some form. Students are expected to listening during lectures, listen during discussion activities as well as to podcasts, films, documentaries and YouTube clips.

Adding audiobooks to your programming is the perfect way to help students improve those listening skills and connect with a book in a new way, whether you share audio clips in the classroom to spark a group discussion, add audio clips to your social media, newsletters, website, and other online outreach, or invite an audiobook narrator to visit campus.

Audiobook narrators can be a wonderful addition to your programming. They are true storytellers and well-trained actors who have spent a lot of time both with the book and in front of an audience, and they make for engaging speakers. Contact cherman@penguinrandomhouse.com for special clip requests or questions about bringing a narrator to your school. Visit penguinrandomhouseaudio.com to see our full selection of available audiobooks.


Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau

The Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau is a part of Penguin Random House, the world’s most global trade book publisher. The Speakers Bureau represents an unrivaled roster of speakers whose work is shaping national conversations—on and off the page. We work with venues both across the U.S. and throughout the world to create hugely successful events. Be it a community reads program or convocation, a medical conference or CEO roundtable, our speakers take audiences beyond their everyday horizon.

Represented by the Speakers Bureau are Pulitzer Prize winners such as Junot Diaz, Jennifer Egan, and Isabel Wilkerson as well as bestsellers including Gillian Flynn, John Green, Charlaine Harris, Kathryn Stockett, Cheryl Strayed, and Markus Zusak. Our relationship with these speakers begins with the manuscript and continues well after publication of the book. Through the longevity of this relationship we know our speakers and the breadth of their work intimately. It is this knowledge that allows us to customize events for our clients and move beyond standard scripts.

The Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau has a dedicated full-time team of 17 seasoned lecture professionals who are passionate about connecting clients with the perfect speaker for their event. Our team has a wealth of expertise working with corporations, colleges and universities, libraries, and conferences. We are involved at every stage of the process, from finding the perfect speaker, to arranging door-to-door travel, to making sure that books are available at every event.

No matter where you are in the planning process, the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau is here to help make your author visit as smooth as possible from start to finish. We want to be your starting point in helping to create an extraordinary program for your students.

You can visit their website by clicking here.

Celeste Ng

“Everything was perfect! Celeste is a delightful woman and I am so honored to have had the opportunity to meet her. Her talk was excellent and we are very honored to have had her come speak at our college.” –COLLEGE OF THE CANYONS

 

Travis Mills

“I’ve seen dozens of speakers over the years but can only recall a couple. Travis Mills, is and will always be, at the top of that list.” –VETERANS’ RESOURCE CENTER AT CENTRAL MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY

 

Gary Shteyngart

“From his own formative experiences, to globalization, to Stalinism, and much more, Gary Shteyngart tackles serious issues in a movingly vulnerable voice that had us cracking up at every turn.” –COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON

 

Bryan Stevenson

“I am still basking in the glory of Bryan’s visit. It was truly a wonderful event. Bryan is a gracious and eloquent man in every sense. I will be reflecting on his words and his philosophies for a long while.” –EAST LANSING PUBLIC LIBRARY

 

Dan-el Padilla Peralta

“Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s story is as compulsively readable as a novel—an all-American tall tale that just happens to be true. From homeless shelter to Princeton, Oxford, and Stanford, through the grace not only of his own hard work but his mother’s discipline and care, he documents the America we should still aspire to be.” –DR. ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, PRESIDENT OF THE NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION

 

Cristina Henríquez

“Not only is Cristina Henríquez an eminently talented writer who imbues her prose with grace and soul, she is a charming, warm, and engaging reader. She was able to talk about craft and content with intelligence and humor and we can’t wait to bring her back to campus.” –PURDUE UNIVERSITY


Ordering Books

You may order your student copies through any channel of your choosing such as your school or local bookstore, online retailer, educational wholesaler or directly from Penguin Random House. Some schools gift books to students, others require students to purchase the book on their own, this is up to you and your program.

Please email us to explore your ordering options at: commonreads@penguinrandomhouse.com

 

Review copies for committee consideration may be obtained by emailing us at: commonreads@penguinrandomhouse.com

Please be sure to include all relevant details such as:

  • Book Title(s)
  • Program Enrollment
  • Program Timeline
  • And any other information relevant to your program