Nine middle-grade authors will vie to win "Best in Class" this fall, when HarperCollins sends them out on its Class Acts tour to schools and bookstores across the country. The authors will be paired (or in one case, tripled) up, and each team will visit three cities, where they are expected to make one school and one bookstore appearance. At the emceed school events, students will be divided into two groups in advance of the authors’ visits, with each group backing one author. Armed with information and materials provided by the publisher before the event, the kids will compete to send their designated author to the top of the class. Though program details are still being finalized, the winning author will be determined based on points awarded by the emcee for a variety of feats, which may include providing the best answers to kids’ questions, receiving the loudest welcoming applause from the students, and performing funny stunts.
Participating authors and the new books they’ll be promoting are Christopher Krovatin (Gravediggers), Jon Scieszka (Guys Read), Dan Gutman (The Genius Files), Jeramey Kraatz (The Cloak Society), Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson (The Familiars), Nils Johnson-Shelton (Otherworld Chronicles), Tim Green (Unstoppable), and Adam Rex (Cold Cereal).
The marketing and publicity team at HarperCollins has masterminded several earlier group tours for YA authors, including 2008’s Pitch Black tour, Supernatural Summer tours in 2009 and 2010, and three seasonal Dark Days tours in 2011. Two additional Dark Days tours are planned for 2012, and that campaign has an ongoing online component.
"We have had great continued success with group tours for our teen authors," says Diane Naughton, v-p of integrated marketing for HarperCollins Children’s Books. "So we decided to take a blueprint of that, since it works so well, and put together a middle-grade campaign with a different spin and strategy. We wanted to organize fun, interactive events that will showcase the authors’ new books, and decided to add a friendly competition aspect to the Class Acts events."
The fact that the touring authors are all male is coincidental, Naughton says. "That wasn’t by design, but we think it will add a fun, different component. It’s ironic, since so far the authors on our teen tours have all been women. This is definitely not a male-oriented promotion, and women authors will be included in subsequent Class Acts campaigns. We selected these authors so there would be a mix of established authors and relative newcomers, and that’s how we paired the authors up. It’s kind of like the upperclassmen getting together with the freshmen."
The promotion also has an online component at www.classactsbooks.com, which will live on beyond the duration of the physical tour. Featured online and in print materials are four additional authors who are not touring but who will participate in one Skype Class Acts event each. These are: Bryan Chick (The Secret Zoo), Gordon Korman (Ungifted), Christopher Healy (The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom), and Maryrose Wood (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place).
HarperCollins plans online trade advertising for Class Acts, as well as online and print advertising to the school and library markets. The publisher will promote the campaign through social media outreach and via tween online community partners. A Class Acts "Yearbook" packet will be created for each author, featuring an author bio, a book or series overview, a chapter excerpt, and suggested discussion questions. Promotional bookmarks touting all the authors’ books will also be available.
"This is unlike anything we’ve done before," Naughton says. "We’ve never sent more than one author at a time into schools. For the events, the authors will have some guidelines, but they’ll of course tailor their presentations individually. This is an off-the-cuff, high-spirited group, and we envision the school events creating a pep-rally atmosphere that will be fun for kids, teachers—and certainly the authors themselves."