Here’s a conundrum for a publicist: How do you create buzz for a forthcoming novel that everyone in-house loves, but everyone agrees is best approached knowing as little about the plot as possible?
That’s the challenge Random House faces as it prepares for the May 13 launch of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Delacorte).
“This is a novel that is resonating with everybody: adults, kids, the whole staff,” said Kim Lauber, director of trade marketing. “Those are the people you’d expect to get a groundswell of support from, but when you also have the sales reps from the adult side starting to weigh in, then you know you’ve got something special.”
Another tricky common denominator among advance readers, Lauber said, is that because Lockhart’s novel has a twist many readers won’t see coming, everybody wants to talk about the story the moment they finish it.
Random House thinks it’s found a solution that will satisfy both the need to prevent spoilers for those who haven’t read the book yet and offer a forum for those who have: a dedicated Tumblr site that focuses on everything but the plot.
By design, the home page sets aside the facts of the story in favor of its exclusive setting: a (fictional) private island off Cape Cod where the main characters – the teenaged grandchildren of Harris Sinclair, the island’s owner – spend their summers playing tennis, picking berries, and swimming in the surf.
“The home page has a clean aesthetic more reminiscent of a lifestyle site than a book Web site, more like Ralph Lauren or Kate Spade’s sites,” Lauber said. “The island becomes a character in and of itself, and there’s an invitation for people to immerse themselves in this world via these beautiful images and quotes about life and love and empowerment that we took from Emily’s [Lockhart’s] book. You don’t have to know anything about the book. We wanted the content on the site to stand on its own legs.”
Tumblr already has both a large audience of teens and a vibrant book community, said Rachel Fershleiser, head of publishing outreach for the microblogging platform. “Facebook may be where you connect with your family or your friends from high school, but it’s not the place you go to find people who have the same intellectual interests as you. On Tumblr, you can find a community of people who have the same passions you do.”
Lauber said Fershleiser advised Random House that they’d have less success with a site that looked like “a big sales-y book pitch,” than one designed to capture the interest of the people who already turn to Tumblr for information about fashion, decorating, and, yes, what to read next. “One of the things Rachel told us that helped tremendously is that if we set it up to naturally interact with the users who are already on Tumblr, we’d have a much better shot at success,” she explained.
The site includes (under the Submissions tab) an invitation for those who have read the book to join the Liars Society. “A read and don’t tell club,” Lauber called it, which will provide an outlet for reader expression. (It also encourages those who are asked about the ending to “just lie.”)
Closer to the book’s release, members of the Liars Society will receive a password that will take them to a page where they can discuss the book with others who have read it and an invitation to participate in a live chat with Lockhart. “The idea is to make keeping the secret part of the fun,” Lauber said.
Random House chose Tumblr for its campaign because the platform allowed them to combine the usual book Web site information with a flexible format. “Until recently you couldn’t put video on Facebook – even our header is animated,” Lauber said. (The header is written in a watery script that shimmers.) “With Tumblr, the social sharing is more natural because of the way the interface works, and we can pull in music through Spotify. It’s a hybrid of everything that’s good about all the other sites.”
Closer to the book’s on-sale date, Random House also hopes to add a tool that will allow readers to submit their own photos with text. The key to engaging with teen readers, Fershleiser said, is giving them a way to share their feelings and ideas about the story. “You don’t just read something. You make something yourself in response to it, whether it’s fan fiction or a playlist you created to go with the book,” she said. “That’s a really big part of online book culture.”
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Delacorte, $17.99 May ISBN 978-0-385-74126-2