Yes, teens spend a lot of time online. But for publishers trying to use that to their advantage, it takes more than just shifting promotional dollars to the Web. “Part of the trick to marketing books to teens online is that the most effective results seem to come from the coverage that appears most organic, viral and uncommercial in nature,” says Tracy van Straaten, v-p of trade publicity at Scholastic. Here's what some publishers are doing to reach YA readers on the Internet.
Meeting at MySpace
With over 70 million unique visitors each month, MySpace is the most trafficked Web site in the country in terms of page views, according to marketing research company comScore. No wonder it's become de rigueur for authors, books and even fictional characters to have their own pages on this and other social networking sites.
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers recently promoted an online chat with Clique series author Lisi Harrison via her MySpace page, collecting more than 2,000 questions from readers and attracting 200 teens for the chat session. “One of the main themes in the chat was that the teens really wanted to have an official place where they could talk to each other about the books,” says Tina McIntyre, director of marketing at LBYR.
So when it came time to revamp the Web site for Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga, LBYR included message boards to give teens a place to converse, as well as a blog for reviews, media appearances and photographs. A recent poll on the boards about the heroine's romantic dilemmas that asked, “Who should Bella choose?” racked up more than 6,000 votes.
While Putnam will be creating a MySpace page for Slam, Nick Hornby's first book for teens, the publisher isn't letting the author's MySpace presence end there. For the week beginning October 22, Hornby will be the guest blogger on MySpace's book channel, and Slam will be one of six books featured when he's blogging. “All of our online and consumer efforts have to direct back to that [MySpace] page,” says v-p of marketing Emily Romero. “We can't just put a page up there and hope people go to it.”
Scholastic is seeking pre-pub buzz by sending ARCs to devoted MySpace users. Aimee Friedman, author of The Year My Sister Got Lucky (Jan. 2008), will e-mail her MySpace friends, offering an advance copy of her novel to the first 100 who respond.
This month, Random House will partner with social networking site Gaia Online to promote Michael Scott's May novel, The Alchemyst. According to site statistics, Gaia—a virtual world with forums, games and customizable avatars—has nearly two million unique visitors a month. Along with receiving prominent mentions in the site's news and announcements sections, the title will be featured in the entertainment forum, where readers will be able to discuss the book. When teens post on the Alchemyst boards, they'll receive a downloadable image of the book for their avatars to display; author Scott can “sign” them when he visits the message boards.
Fandom and Fame
Now that everyone wants to be a star, some marketing campaigns let readers promote themselves along with the book.
For its lead spring 2008 title, debut author Robin Benway's Audrey, Wait!, Penguin's Razorbill imprint will hold a songwriting contest. In the novel, protagonist Audrey dumps her boyfriend, only to have him write a hit song about their breakup, launching his band—and her—into the spotlight. According to Romero, bands will write their own lyrics and music and upload them to a Web site where site visitors can vote on their favorite.
Several publishers are sponsoring writing contests: Simon & Schuster and Walden Media recently partnered with FanLib.com for a fan fiction contest using characters from Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising sequence to promote the October movie, and Simon Pulse is planning a contest tied to Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series. Holtzbrinck's Feiwel & Friends imprint is asking teens to submit stories about journeys they've taken, for inclusion in an online travelogue dovetailing with the release of debut author Autumn Cornwell's Carpe Diem in September, about a teen girl's trip through Southeast Asia. And Roaring Brook will partner with yabookscentral.com for a writing contest related to Holdup by Terri Fields (Roaring Brook/Brodie; Apr.). Throughout October, teens will be able to submit stories that involve fast food (the novel centers on a robbery at a fast-food restaurant), and the 20 best entries will win a signed copy of the book.
Other houses are reaching out to aspiring actors. At LBYR, Poppy is conducting a contest tied in to an upcoming made-for-DVD movie based on Lisi Harrison's Clique series. Girls can upload videos of themselves reading for the part of Claire or Massie for one of five chances to audition for the film. Later this fall, HarperTeen will offer a similar contest tied to Anna Godbersen's November novel, The Luxe, in which the chosen entrant will win a trip to New York City to film a “webisode” based on the book.
Anyone who thinks it's tough to draw adults to an author event, should try attracting teens. “It's hard to make them do anything—it's like herding cats,” says Jennifer Abbots, publicity manager at Henry Holt. “And often they're relying on their parents to get them there.” So publishers are looking into new ways to get the word out about teen author events and are rethinking events (and tours) entirely.
That's given rise to the “blog tour,” in which bloggers interview authors, and then post the conversations on their Web sites. For Kiki Strike author Miller, Bloomsbury organized a number of blog “appearances” over the summer, which included both one-on-one and group interviews. “While it's difficult to note a direct [sales] correlation, this 'tour' took place shortly after the paperback [of Inside the Shadow City] released in May, and we've since gone back for a second printing of it, since sales out of the gate were so strong,” says Deb Shapiro, director of publicity at Bloomsbury. “They teased [The Empress's Tomb] on the tour as well, and we had quite a list of people requesting galleys, which we do know was a direct correlation to the blogging.”
The authors of HCI's Girlology books are preparing for a fall blog tour in support of the series' second book, Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups, and Holding Out: Stuff You Need to Know About Your Body, Sex, and Dating (Oct.) to supplement traditional bookstore visits. The publisher is working with the Parent Bloggers Network, and the book will be reviewed on several parent-authored blogs affiliated with the network. Paola Fernandez Rana, director of public relations at HCI, admits that it's tough to measure how much these blog tours affect sales. But, she adds, “The cost is very low, and you're getting 20 different people with their own individual sites and opinions.”
While Random House's inaugural Teen Voices Author Tours last year featured established writers on a joint tour, this October's version will consist of three debut novelists: Amber Kizer (Gert Garibaldi's Rants and Raves: One Butt Cheek at a Time), Lisa Shanahan (The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It) and Jake Wizner (Spanking Shakespeare).
Penguin will be sending authors Robin Benway (Audrey, Wait!), Jody Gehrman (Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty) and Polly Shulman (Enthusiasm) on a panel tour next spring, and is encouraging stores to incorporate the books' themes of music, coffee and romance into their events. The publisher saw the potential in going beyond a simple reading after an event with Laurie Halse Anderson at Books & Books in Coral Gables, Fla. “She gave a great talk, and at the same event they did a battle of the bands,” Romero says. “Over 400 people came. If the author has a great personality or a really commercial story, you have to think differently about how to get teens to come out.”
With heavy competition for teens' time, publishers are going to great lengths to get and keep their attention online.
For Jenna Bush's 25-city tour this fall for Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope, HarperCollins will launch a mini-site offering a glimpse at the First Daughter's travels across America while on tour with her friend Mia Baxter, Ana's Story's photographer. “It will offer up-to-the-minute information and behind-the-scenes anecdotes that should give an interesting perspective,” says Diane Naughton, v-p of marketing for HarperCollins Children's Books, “particularly because of the friend dynamic.” The tour updates will also be available on a dedicated MySpace page for the book.
This November, DK will publish John Farndon's Do Not Open (dubbed “an encyclopedia of the world's best-kept secrets”), and is filming a series of short videos that will be posted both on DK's Web page for the book and on YouTube. “It's a super cheap way of replicating the kinds of campaigns that TV and movie studies use for their 'edgier' projects,” says Rachel Kempster, publicity manager at DK. The publisher is banking on an ongoing story arc and what Kempster calls a “guerrilla” aesthetic to generate excitement—and book purchases.
Bloomsbury USA is revamping its graphic-intensive mini-site for Kirsten Miller's Kiki Strike series to incorporate content from the second title, The Empress's Tomb (Oct.), and to add more interactive elements, says Shapiro at Bloomsbury. To tie into what she refers to as the series' “disgruntled Girl Scout” theme, there will be badges for download (in such fields as counterespionage and breaking and entering) and games involving undercover missions “where you might choose your hairstyle, clothing and whether or not you're bringing your nunchucks,” Shapiro says. The site also features a blog “written” by main character Ananka.
Straight to the Source
Publishers are courting teens to serve as reviewers and informal focus groups. Earlier this year, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers launched the In Group, which sends monthly e-mails to more than 150 teen members, announcing each month's title. Abbots at Holt estimates that they realize a 75% return rate on reviews from the books they send out. “I've noticed that if we get a parental release from one area, there will be four or five more from that area within a few days,” she says, “so I'm sure they're telling their friends.” In April, Simon & Schuster began a similar program, the Pulse IT Board, which currently has over 500 members, and Random House is planning to launch Random Buzz, an ARC program that will offer teens two to three titles per season in exchange for reviews.
At HarperCollins, the First Look Teen program has evolved from just an ARC book club into a way of getting feedback not just on forthcoming novels, but on prospective book titles and even a future Web site redesign. “We're starting to use [First Look and MySpace friends] as our buzz agents, if you will,” says Naughton at HarperCollins Children's Books. “For initial designs of our HarperTeen Web sites, we actually went to a combination of our 'friends' and had them choose between three designs. They overwhelmingly chose one design over the others, which definitely affected our actions.” Earlier this summer, Harper asked its “buzz agents” to choose among prospective titles for a book by E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski and Lauren Myracle (the winner: How to Be Bad).