It’s publication week for Sarah J. Maas’s first novel, Throne of Glass, but Bloomsbury has been publishing the author’s work all year, thanks to an innovative marketing scheme: beginning in January, four e-novella prequels were released every other month in the lead-up to the novel’s August 7 publication date.
The strategy was a happy marriage between authorial interest and marketing savvy. Maas began writing her novel when she was in high school, and workshopped it via the online writing community FictionPress. “It was this huge, rich, epic, mammoth story,” says her editor, Bloomsbury editorial director Michelle Nagler. “She eventually took it off FictionPress and started to edit it down to make one single novel.” Maas found an agent, Tamar Rydzinski of Laura Dail Literary Agency, who sold the novel – then called Queen of Glass – to Bloomsbury in March 2010.
The high fantasy novel begins as the heroine, a notorious assassin named Calaena, is released from a year’s imprisonment in the Salt Mines of Endovier. But, Nagler says, “because it had been it had been this bigger, richer world, [Maas] had all of these stories and she really wanted those stories to be told. We knew through conversations with her that they were ancillary to the main novel, to what we had bought and were going to publish. But all of this rich character backstory was so worthwhile. She asked us how we thought it might be best to get it out there.”
Maas and the editorial team worked together to determine what format would work best. “We knew we wanted to release them e-only,” Nagler says. “We decided that there were four main Calaena stories that were important to tell. And at that point, we brought in marketing: ‘we’ve got this great content; let’s make it part of the book’s marketing campaign so that we can really make it worthwhile.’ ”
This was last summer, when the publication date of Throne of Glass was still a long way off. “We hadn’t done anything like that before at Bloomsbury,” says Cristina Gilbert, executive director of marketing and publicity. “We knew Sara already had a fan base from FictionPress, but it had been a while since that book was workshopped, and it was going to be another year before Throne of Glass was out to the market. We wanted to make sure we kept the already existing fans engaged and involved and excited. But we also wanted to use these e-novellas to build that fan base, and to make sure that the day the book went on sale, there was built-up anticipation, and that people were talking about it.”
The publisher created a Facebook page for Maas that, soon after its December 2011 launch, had about 1,000 fans. The first e-novella was released January 13, for Kindle, Nook, on the Kobo platform, and through the iBookstore, at a price point of 99 cents. By the time the fourth novella was released on July 20, the membership had grown to 6,000 people, who Gilbert says are “very engaged and really supportive. Initially we thought a lot of people reading that first novella were FictionPress fans, or people who already knew Sarah. But we’re getting a lot of comments on Facebook and a variety of other social networking sites that people have come to these who didn’t know Sarah, who just heard the buzz in the blogosphere, have seen some great reviews online. And the goal is that those people will buy the book.” Each novella, Gilbert adds, contains a teaser for the full-length novel, and at BEA “a lot of people came up to us and said that they’d read the novellas, and had came to the booth looking for the ARC.”
Down the line, the novellas may be released in a single edition, either as an e-book or possibly in print. “The e-market is evolving so quickly,” says Nagler, “and as a smaller company, this is the kind of campaign that Bloomsbury is strongly positioned to take advantage of. We can stay flexible and we can make these decisions and execute them very quickly.”
Regardless of what happens with the existing novellas, the publisher plans to bring out additional content to bridge the gap between the publications of Throne of Glass and of its sequel, due out in fall 2013. “We want to make sure that fans stay engaged during that time,” Gilbert says. “So we absolutely are going to do extra content throughout that break between the two full-length novels.”
Maas and her editor are already discussing what may come next from the Throne of Glass universe. In the meantime, Nagler says, “I think this campaign is working because it was built from the author; they were stories she wanted to tell. People are talking about them and recommending them. Editorial started this and marketing has blown it out of the water, but it works because it started with the author.”