Books on the Underground to hand out self-published titles

Books on the Underground to hand out self-published titles

Books on the Underground, an organisation working to promote reading on public transport, is hosting its first Independent Authors Day tomorrow (14th December).

The not-for-profit organisation has been working with large and small publishers, as well as film promoters and authors since 2012 when it was founded by Hollie Fraser, a London commuter and reader who wanted to be able to pass on books to fellow passengers when she had finished reading them. The project is run with the help of dedicated “book fairies” who take to the underground daily in different parts of the city to distribute approved books for commuters to pick up and read. 

It started out with the distribution of second-hand books from charity shops, marked with specially-printed Books on the Underground stickers, on seats and benches. Today the organisation distributes 400 titles a week. The project took off in 2013 after Mills & Boon partnered on a tongue-in-cheek "Love on the Underground" campaign, and it has since been used in other major campaigns including, most appropriately, for Girl on the Train (Transworld). The project was further thrust into the spotlight this autumn after United Nations Goodwill ambassador and feminist book clubber Emma Watson offered to become a “book fairy” herself for the day, personally handing out 100 copies of her latest recommendation, Maya Angelou’s Mom & Me & Mom, in both London and New York.

The idea to distribute titles by self-published authors and hold an Independent Authors Day came about as a show of support for writers in need of a helping hand to publicise and market their books. Where publishers are asked to help cover costs for their campaigns, self-published authors selected to have their books distributed for the day will be exempt. 

Cordelia Oxley, director of Books on the Underground since Fraser’s departure for New York City last summer, said: "I am often approached by independent authors who are excited to get involved. I got the idea quite recently to give them a day, maybe every one or two months, dedicated just to independent authors. I'm excited about the books we will be sharing - there's quite a mix.

“I recognise that self-published authors do not necessarily have access to the same channels of promotion as publishers do, and therefore to involve them in a campaign as unusual and fun as Books on the Underground is a great way to showcase their work," added Oxley.

Tomorrow’s Independent Authors Day will see the distribution of 60 books across London Underground, including paperbacks There is Always More to Say by Lynda Young Spiro, Two of a Kind by SM Stuart, The Bomb Makers by Marcus Case and Zak and Jen's Astronomical Adventures: Tinsel Town by Natalie Page. 

Books on the Underground also operates in New York and in Washington in the US, as well as in Sydney, Australia, where it is named Books on the Subway, Books on the Metro and Books on the Rail, respectively.

Most recently, the project has picked up steam all the way to China. Partnering with The Fair, an online media company and publisher, 10,000 books were dropped in the underground networks of Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai as part of its “Mobook” book-sharing movement. It allows readers to donate books and to track who reads them through QR code stickers linking through to an online system. 

Books on the Underground intends to expand further into other countries, Oxley said, although remained tight-lipped about which would be next.

The group also runs The Underground Book Club for group discussion and has plans to become even more active in the community. "I am passionate about getting more people into real bookshops, and also to encourage young people to read," said Oxley, for whom bookselling is in the family. "I'm visiting a school in January to talk to them about reading, and also go out to the tube to show the children how to be Book Fairies. We're in touch with people around the world who want to set up their own version of the project, and that's very exciting - watch this space."

Authors seeking to be involved in future Independent Author Day campaigns should get in touch through the website.