All About Amy Poehler at HarperCollins

NYU M.S. in Publishing Students with HarperCollins' Dey Street XXXX Carrie Thornton (front, center) and XXXX Michael Barrs (front, second from left).
NYU M.S. in Publishing Digital and Print Media students with HarperCollins’ Dey Street Executive Editor Carrie Thornton (front, center) and Director of Marketing Michael Barrs (front, second from left)

“Saying ‘yes’ doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying ‘please’ doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission,” Amy Poehler wrote in Yes Please, the celebrity’s bestselling memoir that spent 23 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list.

Last week, students in the NYU M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media program visited HarperCollins Publishers to hear the inside story on Poehler’s Yes Please, released last October by HarperCollins’ Dey Street imprint. According to Michael Barrs, Director of Marketing at Dey Street, the imprint currently considers Yes Please its flagship title.

Carrie Thornton, Executive Editor of Dey Street, and Barrs led the presentation, which followed the book’s journey from acquisition to publicity, marketing, and publication.

Thornton said that Poehler had been “on our list of ‘gets’ for a long time” when she signed with Dey Street. The actress and comedian, best known for Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation, last year co-founded (with producer Meredith Walker) Smart Girls, an online organization focused on empowering young women. Poehler also signed a three-year contract in 2014 to host the Golden Globes with Tina Fey.

“Amy had been thinking she wanted to do a book,” Thornton said. “It was a major acquisition, a great story, and she had a platform that worked.”

Poehler wrote every word of Yes Please, an unusual practice for celebrities, according to Thornton. The actress also entered the creative process with numerous ideas regarding the visual components of Yes Please, ranging from excerpts in her own handwriting to photographs borrowed from her mother. Thornton said that she and Poehler spent a lot of time together “storyboarding” the memoir to create a series of pieces that all worked together.

“We had ideas, but she had better ones,” Thornton said. “The idea was to give fans a piece of her – make it feel like she really touched the book.”

There were many rejected titles of Yes Please, such as Must Be Nice and The Girlie Show. Thornton said that they chose Yes Please because it was outwardly positive and central to the memoir’s theme of honesty.

Another unique Yes Please feature is its jacket design: unlike most celebrity autobiographies, the cover is black instead of white. More importantly, Poehler’s pose with her arm raised and finger pointing upwards to a neon pink “Yes Please” sign has become part of a major marketing strategy for the book. As part of the promotional campaign, Dey Street organized an Instagram contest where fans could recreate Poehler’s pose using the hashtag #AmySaysYesPlease.

Students looking at some Harper history, in traditional and modern formats
Students looking at some Harper history in the company’s sleek new offices

Barrs said that the marketing strategy was a two-step plan to “announce the book and then create envy.” In addition to a full-page New York Times advertisement, Dey Street gave signed copies to booksellers, including a special edition for Target, and released to the media behind-the-scenes footage of Poehler being photographed for the jacket image. Dey Street advertised for the book at Book Expo America, distributing promotional materials such as pink fortune cookies with quotes from Yes Please inside. A variety of partnerships (Birchbox, WattPad, Uber, Warby Parker, and Ashley Brooks) were also formed to increase brand awareness.

Perhaps one of the most distinct facets of Yes Please is its audio book; narrated by Poehler herself, and also featuring Carol Burnett, Seth Myers, and others; the final chapter was recorded live in front of a 120-seat audience.

“The idea is to always be amplifying the message, and the engagement of the audience has been incredible,” Barrs said. “Yes Please is still ongoing and still selling.”

After the presentation, students toured HarperCollins’ new offices on lower Broadway, in the neighborhood in which the Harper brothers founded J. & J. Harper in 1817. The entrance area features murals with famous literary quotes and a welcoming, library-like atmosphere.

So, yes please, students loved getting a first-hand and personalized look at publishing old and new.

by Mary Moates

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