Meet: Elaine Petrocelli of Book Passage: Part 1

All of the following have something in common: two past presidents of the United States, two former first ladies, the Queen of Jordan,  two Nobel Laureates, a few Pulitzer Prize winners, best selling mystery writers,  popular humorists, plus one past and one future U.S. Secretary of State. Can you guess what that common trait might be?

Besides writing books, they all turned to Elaine Petrocelli, the Founder and President of Book Passage stores in San Francisco and Corte Madera, CA to help sell their publications. Elaine will be the subject of this week’s and the Prime Women interview on May 21st. You will enjoy getting to know her as much as I have.



Prime Women: Thank you so much, Elaine, for agreeing to this interview. I have been looking forward to speaking with you after our extensive e-mail correspondence. Let me also say, how grateful I am to our mutual friend, Rachel Mueller, of Big Sur, for introducing us.

PW: Since I learned who you are and how influential you are to the success of authors, I have been amazed at the broad spectrum of writers that you have hosted. I am also fascinated by the many ways in which you  impact sales for both new and established wordsmiths. Probably foremost among your methods is the author event.

I have read that in the two Book Passage stores, you host in excess of 700 such occasions a year, with as many as 4 in a single day. How is that possible? Can you describe the logistics?

Elaine Petrocelli: Our staff is amazing. We plan very well, and we know who is going to do what and where with each author. We have a team of hosts, who have prepared not only the event’s logistics, but they are also very well versed in the author’s book that is to be presented.

This team promotes the book with all the advertising on-line, in newspapers, sells the tickets if tickets are even necessary. They also decide the format of the event. For example, whether it will be a luncheon or a regular reading by the author with refreshments followed by the signing of the book. Whatever is indicated, they coordinate with the author to determine the best date and time of day. There are a lot of details to be worked out.

PW: What is it like to host a U.S. President, first lady, presidential candidate, or visiting royalty? I read that Queen Noor of Jordan came to your stores to sell her book. Do these people provide their own security, or do you have to undertake extensive accommodations for them? Isn’t it time consuming and expensive?


EP: We have never hosted a sitting U.S. President. When President Clinton and President Carter traveled to Book Passage, they were already out of office. However, Secret Service was involved with both of those events. Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Carter met with us as former first ladies.

Our dealings with the Secret Service have always been very pleasant and productive, and they have been quite reasonable. They provided the staff to protect both past presidents, and the accommodations that we had to make were always doable.

[President] Mr. Obama was still a senator and had not declared his presidential candidacy. So he was not accompanied by protection, but he spoke as a part of Book Passage’s partnership with Dominican University and did not come to the store.

PW: Speaking of your partnership with Dominican University, I love how you have turned many of your author events into fund raising occasions for local non-profits. Can you tell us about one of those?


EP: Well, a big one that we do every year is with the National Kidney Foundation Luncheon in San Francisco. This function features 6 or 7 great authors, and it is held at a large hotel. We sell 1500 seats to that event. It is very, very popular and raises a lot of money for a wonderful cause.

PW: Could you tell us who some of the past speakers have been?

EP: Okay, we have had people like Tom Brokaw, Amy Tan, Daniel Boulud, and Annie LaMott. We usually have a famous chef like Daniel in the mix.  The chefs are very popular.

Join us next Month for part II of our interview with Elaine Petrocelli as she shares more insight on her life and Book Passage.