A Facebook game and three tie-in original e-book short stories are among the features of the extensive marketing campaign Random House Children’s Books has in place for Starters, a futuristic thriller by debut novelist Lissa Price, due from Delacorte on March 13 with a 100,000-copy first printing. First in a two-book series, the novel introduces 16-year-old Callie, who lives in a world in which the “genocide spore” has wiped out everyone except the very young and the very old, and teens rent out their bodies to seniors so that they can become young again. Foreign rights for the novel have been sold into 18 territories.
Starters was acquired by Wendy Loggia, executive editor at Delacorte, in a pre-empt brokered by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Agency. The manuscript arrived during what Loggia calls “a perfect storm of a week,” when Easter was approaching and office hours were interrupted due to her division’s move to another floor. “Barbara sent me the manuscript, which I hadn’t planned on reading right away with the office closing for a bit,” says Loggia. “But the next day I got a call from her saying that the book was getting a lot of interest from other publishers. Since Barbara has such great taste and I almost always like what she sends me, I read it immediately and sent it out internally, saying that this novel is going to be a very big deal. Everyone agreed and we moved quickly to buy it.”
Calling Price’s manuscript “flawless and ready to go right out of the gate,” Loggia says, “I loved the fact that it was set in a future world, yet so much of the story is grounded in our world today that there is a lot that will resonate with kids. I could see the story unfolding in my mind as I read – almost as though it were a movie. I usually don’t read anything about a new author before I read a manuscript, but I was not surprised to learn after the fact that Lissa is a screenwriter.”
Linda Leonard, RHCB’s director of digital marketing, was among the staffers who, in her words, “devoured Starters in a single day. We were all thrilled when we acquired it, and knew it was a book we wanted to get behind and make a huge hit.” An innovative aspect of the marketing campaign she helped spearhead is the creation of a game on the series’ Facebook page, slated to go live this week. Players fill out an application to the company that arranges for teens to rent out their bodies in Starters – listing their likes, dislikes, and interests – and are then matched up with a fictitious senior. “We thought this was a great way to pull readers into that hook of the story,” says Leonard, who adds that RHCB has created Facebook games selectively in the past “for big properties and series. It is definitely an investment, but we felt it would be a great tool to introduce fans to this futuristic world.”
Also created to hook readers early on is the first of three original e-book short stories that spin off Starters. Portrait of a Starter, which went on sale February 14, offers insight into Callie and her world, yet is a stand-alone tale. The second e-book is due in July, to coincide with ComicCon, where Random House will feature Starters; the third will be released in the fall. “We’ve only done original e-book tie-ins with a handful of novels, says Loggia, “and I believe this is the first time we’ve launched one before the book itself came out.”
RHCB’s pre-pub marketing campaign for Starters also includes the creation of a Web site, which features a book trailer, distribution of chapter samplers to teen-frequented locations in 10 cities and to four universities, outreach on Facebook and Twitter, mobile and online advertising, and ads in trade and educator e-newsletters.
Price will launch a six-city tour when the book is released on March 13, after which the social media promotions will continue, as will online and mobile advertising. A highlight of the post-pub campaign is the airing of the Starters book trailer in 80 movie theaters showing The Hunger Games during the film’s opening weekend, beginning March 23. Prior to that, an ad for the book appears in Entertainment Weekly’s March 9 issue, which features the release of The Hunger Games.
The publisher’s post-pub online outreach to teachers and librarians includes a downloadable discussion guide and print advertising in library-targeted publications. And a nine-copy Starters floor display is available to retailers.
Fittingly titled Enders, Price’s follow-up to Starters will be published in December. Though that will wrap up the series, Loggia hopes to see more from the author. “While 2012 might be both the start and end of Callie’s story, it’s only the beginning for Lissa,” she says. “She’s a remarkable talent and we can’t wait to see what she writes next.”
Starters by Lissa Price. Delacorte, $17.99 Mar. ISBN 978-0-385-74237-5