It has been three years since the release of Lola and the Boy Next Door, the follow-up to 2010’s Anna and the French Kiss by Asheville, N.C., author Stephanie Perkins. But despite the long wait, a third book in the loose trilogy about a group of friends who court adventure and romance in faraway places is on the horizon. Based once again at the School of America in Paris, Isla and the Happily Ever After, Perkins’ much-anticipated concluding standalone novel, is slated to be published on August 14.
But to keep fans occupied until Isla arrives, Dutton, Perkins’s publisher, has come up with a multi-pronged marketing blitz to get readers more actively involved. “One of the techniques we’re using,” said Lisa Kelly, Penguin Young Readers Group director of marketing, young adult and middle grade, “is a pre-order campaign as a way to reward existing fans whom we know will come to the book, but also to do something that helps create word of mouth to attract new fans.” In partnership with 53 independent bookstores around the country and two in Canada, Dutton is giving away a collection of buttons with phrases like “Étienne, Je t’aime” (from Anna and the French Kiss) and a sheet of decals related to the series to anyone who pre-orders the book, which will be signed. Twenty-five winners from each store will also receive a tote bag designed by the author.
In support of the pre-order campaign, Penguin posted a sampler of the first five chapters online on June 2 to whet readers’ appetites (hint: Vicodin, a slice of cheesecake, and Isla’s long-time crush, Josh Wasserstein, may or may not be present). Starting June 16, Goodreads hosted a series of five one-copy galley giveaway contests, each garnering more than 1200 entries. And Penguin provided in-print and digital signage to participating bookstores to augment its publicity efforts.
Many of the stores have already put the materials to good use. “We have a large YA community in Doylestown, so we have promoted [the pre-pub campaign] on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and have had an incredible response,” said Krisy Paredes, marketing and events director at the Doylestown Bookshop in Doylestown, Pa. Laura Donohoe, children’s book buyer at Malaprop’s Bookstore and Café, Perkins’s local bookstore, has also seen a major uptick in interest in the trilogy since the campaign began. “Seeing the enthusiasm of Stephanie’s fans is simply amazing,” she said. “We are getting pre-orders from as far away as Australia, Italy, and Indonesia, and are really looking forward to getting the books and extra goodies out to everyone!”
But that’s not all. To reach Perkins’s online followers, a team of 30 carefully selected superfan bloggers has been enlisted to help spread the word. Grouped under the hashtag #ReadISLA, a series of interactive activities – including a read-along and discussion of the first two books, and contest giveaways – will roll out on their sites week-by-week until Isla is released. Since the bloggers began in earnest two weeks ago, on July 7, the hashtag has generated more than two million impressions across all social media channels.
Perkins has joined in the fun too. Though she’s a proclaimed introvert who refers to herself as “the worst self-promoter,” she has been active on Tumblr, Twitter, and her blog, posting as many updates as she can muster. “Because this is happening during the summer and so many of my readers are on vacation right now and stepping away from social media, it’s more about keeping those channels open and making sure that when someone does pop on, that it’s there and they find out about it while not driving my twitter feed insane,” she said.
According to Dutton, the pre-pub campaign for Isla has been a major success thus far – thanks, in part, to the enthusiasm and far-reaching appeal of the author. “With Stephanie,” Kelly said, “we felt like we had the three main ingredients that are needed to make one of these campaigns go off well – the passionate audience needs to be there, the bookseller support, and an author who is really active and has a strong connection to her fans, who can say ‘please do this,’ and her fans will go do it. We knew we had that with Isla.”
Efforts are clearly ramping up to boost sales of Isla and the Happily Ever After once it is published, but Perkins is already doing her part to reinvigorate interest in the trilogy on the ground beforehand. She’ll be appearing on a number of YA panels during LeakyCon on August 1 and 2. And in early July she signed copies of Anna and Lola for an audience that numbered in the hundreds at two locations of National Bookstore, a chain in the Philippines. “It was really strange. People [arrived] with massive drawings of me, [wearing] my face on t-shirts. It was really, really cool, but very hard to wrap my mind around. I felt like a rock star,” Perkins said.
Once Isla hits shelves August 14, the excitement surrounding the books shows no sign of waning. For starters, Perkins is already scheduled to visit a number of bookstores this fall. Malaprop’s is hosting the Isla launch party on August 14 (with an ample supply of cake and Isla swag to go around). And Doylestown Bookshop is hosting a reading and signing on September 11.
Perkins will also be participating in a flurry of book festivals, including the Decatur Book Festival and Dragon Con in Atlanta (August 29-31), the Twin Cities Book Festival in St. Paul, Minn. (October 11), the Texas Book Festival in Austin, Tex. (October 25-26), and YALLFest in Charleston, S.C. (November 7-8).
But first things first. In the three years since Lola’s release, Perkins said she obsessed over the Isla manuscript, editing and revising until it lived up to her standards. Now that the wait for publication is nearly over, does she think she’ll feel differently once the book is actually in the hands of readers? “I think it makes a lot of authors uncomfortable to see [their book] once it’s in print and it can’t be [changed], but for me, there’s a sense of release,” Perkins said. “When I was done with the first two [books in the trilogy], I was just really tired and weary, but when I finished Isla, I still loved it and was proud of it and I hope that translates. I think my readers will like it.”