Rabid fans of the Hunger Games series would say that Mockingjay, the final book in Suzanne Collins’s trilogy, needs no marketing. But Scholastic is not taking chances. With the highly anticipated dystopian novel set to hit bookstore shelves on August 24, in a strict embargo, the publisher is making sure Katniss Everdeen is a household name. (For the uninitiated, the teen heroine angered government officials with the clever ways she survived fight-to-the-death games on national TV—in both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.)
As with the last four Harry Potter titles, Scholastic skipped the process of printing advance reader copies for Mockingjay. “I’ve never worked on a project that was so top secret,” said David Levithan, v-p and editorial director at Scholastic. “I actually had to wipe the file from my laptop when I was done with it, for fear that I’d be the guy who leaves his laptop in a taxi and ends up ruining it for everyone.”
Scholastic’s marketing team has been busy. Its recent moves: the release of a Mockingjay trailer, the launch of a Facebook fan page (with virtual gift giving, videos, polls and giveaways—and 22,000 fans in just 10 days), an audio clip of Collins reading from Mockingjay, a "best Mockingjay display" contest for booksellers to win a visit from Collins, a 13-District Blog Tour, an online countdown clock to the on-sale date, a shelftalker for bookstores with a tear-off Mockingjay reservation pad, national ads on the Web sites for Entertainment Weekly and Romantic Times (for adult readers), a variety of consumer contests, an activity kit for booksellers (including bookmarks, temporary tattoos, window clings and a bookplate signed by Collins), and the announcement of Collins’s 12-market schedule (August 23-November 6). “I’m very excited to have the opportunity to talk to more of my readers and to get their response to the trilogy as a whole,” said Collins.
Movie details are few and far between. Officials at Lionsgate—which optioned the film rights—will only say that they plan to be in production on the movie, based only on book one, in 2011. Lionsgate is producing the film, along with Nina Jacobson (Diary of a Wimpy Kid). Collins penned the first draft of the screenplay. (Pre-Hunger Games, Collins wrote for TV shows, including The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo and Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!) Screenwriter Billy Ray reportedly is revising her script.
Meanwhile, Scholastic and Lionsgate are not the only companies on Team Collins. This month licensee National Entertainment Collectibles Association, which also produced paraphernalia for Twilight, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings and Coraline, is rolling out Hunger Games goodies. Some items: t-shirts, a “training days” strategy game, a “Down with the Capitol” poster, a “parachute” charm bracelet, and a Mockingjay slap bracelet. “We see the same kind of potential with The Hunger Games as we saw with Twilight when we first started working on it—which was about 40 million books ago,” said NECA president Joel Weinshanker. “Suzanne has done an amazing job developing characters the reader deeply cares about, which is so important to what we do.” NECA created original art, with Collins’s participation, he said. (Neither NECA nor Collins wanted a “kids-killing-kids” game.) Before August 24, NECA also plans to launch a Facebook “training day” game. And within a month or two, it expects to introduce an iPad and iPhone app.
Of course, readers will be able to find plenty of old-fashioned print books, too. Scholastic recently announced a 1.2 million copy first printing—up from 750,000. It will also sell Mockingjay as part of a boxed set with The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. And on August 24, it will simultaneously release Mockingjay in audio book and ebook formats. At midnight, when the books go on sale, stores will be able to air a video clip of Collins reading a portion of chapter one. “As we know, everyone wants to celebrate with Suzanne,” said Rachel Coun, executive director of hardcover marketing at Scholastic. “She’s one person. She can’t be in every store.” (Sales reps will send the clip directly to stores. It will also be posted on Scholastic’s Web site and on its Facebook page.)
Collins, who has a hand injury, pre-signed one bookplate per activity kit (a good grand prize for contests) but she will need to use a signature stamp created exclusively for this tour at her store visits.
On the evening of the midnight release), Collins begins her tour at Books of Wonder in New York City. “She is a die-hard author and loves her fans,” said store manager Allan Bennington. To help work Cinna-like magic on fans, face painters, trained in the theater, will be on hand. Bennington expects many guests will arrive in Hunger Games garb. “We don’t even need to encourage them,” he said. “Die-hards come that way regardless.” Even though book one is now out in paperback, Bennington notes that many customers want hardbacks of all three titles. “They want to be able to love it and keep loving it,” he said.
The next morning, Collins will hit Borders in Manhattan and Barnes & Noble in Huntington, N.Y., followed by a slew of independent bookstores—including Bank Street Books in New York City, The Children’s Book Shop in Brookline, Mass., Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., and Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Wash. (the final stop, on November 6). See the full tour schedule here.
The chosen stores tend to be wildly enthusiastic about their visits. Wild Rumpus Books in Minneapolis, which gets a visit from Collins in the afternoon of October 1, created a page on its Web site filled with exclamation point-filled text: “Who’s the most sought-after author in teen literature today? One guess. That’s right: Suzanne Collins! And she’s coming to Wild Rumpus!” (Like other booksellers, Wild Rumpus is careful to note to its customers that “because of an injury to her wrist, Ms. Collins will stamp books with a Mockingjay stamp specially designed for this 2010 tour rather than signing. In the interest of time, Ms. Collins will only be able to stamp one book per person, and will be unable to personalize books.”)
Wild Rumpus co-founder Collette Morgan—who has already pre-sold about 150 books—expects about 300 fans to attend Collins’s visit. “We’ll be moving a lot of shelves out of the way and doing crowd control,” she said. “We’ll have food and entertainment—but hopefully not kids killing kids!” She learned of her good fortune about a month ago but had to keep it secret until Scholastic confirmed the details.
Many booksellers are taking matters into their own hands and planning parties. Books of Wonder, Bunch of Grapes on Martha’s Vineyard, and WORD bookstore in Brooklyn are holding midnight bashes. Bunch of Grapes is planning camouflage face painting and a visit from an edible-plant expert. A Nerf gun is also on order to help “re-enact the training process,” said bookseller Lindsay Webster, who guesstimates that 300 fans will attend. At WORD, the party is only for adults since owner Christine Onorati plans to “serve booze” —perhaps a Haymitch cocktail, she said. (She held a similar adults-only bash for the seventh Harry Potter and made her alcoholic punch look like a brew in a cauldron.) To enter, guests must buy a book—and show I.D. Then they can drink their cocktails, eat bread, and play a trivia game and Nerf archery. Onorati is also holding a Katniss look-alike contest. (So-called cos-play, or costume play, is popular now, she said.)
Just a few hours after the midnight parties wind down, Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston will be winding up. The store will open at 6:45 A.M. for a “Mockingjay and Chik Fil A” book-and-sandwich event. Readers can swing by before work or school and pick up the novel and the free food. Store employees remain hard-core fans of the books, despite the lack of ARCs or a Collins visit. Cathy Berner, a YA bookseller at Blue Willow, was simply thrilled to hear Collins read an excerpt from Mockingjay at BEA in May. “It just sucks you right back,” she said. (She especially likes the way Collins makes Katniss sound “almost Appalachian.”)
Scholastic is also using home-grown YA bloggers on a 13-district “blog tour” throughout August, and is calling each stop an “official district of Panem.” (The publisher picked writers who are big Hunger Games fans and who get significant traffic.) Each stop will be promoted on the Hunger Games Facebook page and on Scholastic’s On Our Minds blog. Scholastic is giving participating blogs Hunger Games loot to give away (read the full list of honorees and giveaways here).
The District 2 blogger, SciFiGuy, explained his giveaway: an explain-your-favorite-character contest, with the winner getting a fleece throw blanket embroidered with the Mockingjay emblem. The District 3 blogger, Nicole Brinkley, 17, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has posted a mock trailer for the upcoming movie. Sadly, she said, she leaves for college on August 19, which she worries might interfere with her being able to buy the book at midnight. “This has been highly inconvenient,” she said. For her contest, which will involve the character Rue, she is giving away glow-in-the-dark Mockingjay stickers.
The big bookstore chains plan to feature Mockingjay prominently. “We anticipate that it will be one of our top selling titles this year,” said Barnes & Noble spokesperson Carolyn Brown. B&N plans to place the novel in several spots throughout its stores, including key storefront displays, and to feature it in emails to its customers. For its part, Borders is “keeping things under wraps” for now, said spokesperson Mary Davis. But she confirms that Collins will visit Borders locations at Columbus Circle in New York City on August 24, in Braintree, Mass., on August 30, and in Schaumburg, Ill., on October 4.
Collins is giving a select number of interviews surrounding the publication of Mockingjay—including this Q&A in School Library Journal. Bookmarks in the kits Scholastic sent stores and libraries carry a quote from Mockingjay: “My name is Katniss Everdeen. Why am I not dead? I should be dead.” (The kits arrived the last week of June, before the first book came out in paperback.)
Meanwhile, this fall Kansas State University is introducing a new one-school-one-book reading program that will begin with…The Hunger Games. Some instructors are incorporating the book into their curriculum. At their campus orientation visit in June, all freshmen received a copy of the book.
Teens remain the “core” fans, said Tracy van Straaten, v-p of publicity and educational/library marketing, but Scholastic is marketing the book to all ages. “It appeals to such a wide demographic,” she said. “It’s girls, it’s boys, it’s sci fi, it’s adventure.... But we’ve found the audience for this book is 13 to 80.” Mother-daughter book clubs and families tell Scholastic they are reading the books together.
As for what comes next, other than the movie, neither Collins nor Scholastic has announced her plans for after the trilogy ends. For now, all fans can do is re-read The Hunger Games—and count the days until August 24.