"Operating within their online world" ... In an increasingly digital world, children’s and YA publishers have to market their books using social media platforms.
Across the board, the message is clear: reach out to users or risk your books sinking without trace.
Victoria Philpott, press officer at Walker Books, said publicists and marketeers are moving onto social platforms because that is where the customers are.
“With young adult readers, these co-called ‘digital natives’ are further and further removed from traditional print platforms,” she said. “They work, communicate, play and share online through apps and social messaging tools, so the only way to reach them is to operate within their online world.”
For Sam Eades, head of publicity at Pan Macmillan, social media is a way of “recreating online that offline word of mouth recommendation you get in your local bookshop, book group, library and (in my case) the family gathering."
Anna Howorth, marketing and PR manager at Usborne, also targets key adult groups – booksellers, librarians, teachers and parents. “People who are passionate about books love to share," she said, "so it makes sense to tap into that."
Which platform? "Fans talking to other fans"
Twitter is the principal social medium used by publicity and marketing departments. Campaigns are now built into marketing budgets right at the start of the process and publishers often orchestrate buzz around specific books using hashtags.
Eades praised the #WeWereLiars campaign run by Hot Key Books, which encouraged readers to share what they liked about the We Were Liars book by E. Lockhart as they were reading it, and the way Orion has brought together fans of author Leigh Bardugo using the hashtag #GrishaArmy.
Another hashtag campaign was organised by Usborne, which earlier this year asked readers to share messages of hope in relation to Lara Williamson’s A Boy Called Hope. The #ABoyCalledHope campaign was taken up by booksellers who went on to sell the book in “significant quantities”, said Howorth.
However, PR and publicity experts stress that the choice of platform must fit with the author and the book -- they may also, or instead, use platforms including Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest or Goodreads.
“With every book we publish and with every author we work with, we discuss our social media strategy. There’s no simple answer because each case is completely different,” said Jennifer Green, marketing manager of Hot Key Books.
“It certainly isn’t the case you have to be on every social media outlet just to tick a box.”
A clear of example of matching the platform to the audience is Egmont’s YouTube campaign for the Minecraft books.
The publisher encouraged fans to post book reviews to YouTube, which inspired other fans to post their own reviews, resulting in “hundreds of fans talking to other fans online about our books”, said Egmont’s PR manager Katy Cattell.
Fan fiction – the new frontier: "Massive exposure"
A relative newcomer to mainstream publishing is the field of fan fiction sites, and publicity and marketing teams are increasingly encouraging published authors to post on Wattpad.
Hot Key Books, Egmont, and Walker Books all experiment with free content on Wattpad, with Egmont, for example, posting part 1 of Andrew Smith’s YA title Grasshopper Jungle on the site earlier this year.
Sara O’Connor, digital fiction director at Hot Key, pointed out that although the initial content is free, Wattpad readers are then likely to buy subsequent books. “There the value is massive exposure… free when combined with a savvy author and an eager audience ready to be converted into fans. Makes a lot of sense to us.”
Social media – the budget option? "Always get more results with a bit of cash"
In terms of cost, signing up to any social media platform is free so social media promotion can be a budget-friendly option.
Green said: “Much as we would love to produce lavish traditional marketing campaigns for all of the books we publish the frustrating object of budget does tend to get in the way. Social media… means that in the event we don’t have a lot of money to spend on a campaign, there are still so many ways to let readers know about new books than ever before.”
Philpott at Walker Books said the key to budget-friendly social media marketing is creativity. “Interactive online resources – quizzes for example – don’t have to break the bank," she said, "but are a great way to get online users to engage with your book."
The idea that social media campaigns are free is misleading, according to Cattell and Lauren Ace, campaign director at Riot Communications.
Ace said effective campaigns rely on there being great content to share, pointing out that “the platform is free but the content often isn’t… you will always get more results with a bit of cash”.
Cattell said publishers often need to pay to advertise their content and “a lot of time and resources have to go into building communities and social followings”.
Howorth also pointed out that social media cannot be the be-all and end-all. “We certainly aren’t replacing traditional campaigns with social media, only augmenting them."
Connecting with young audiences is one of the four master areas of focus in the 25th September Bookseller Children's Conference at Southbank Centre, hastagged #kidsconf14. More information and registration is here.
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