This week, Tor Teen, the YA division of SF/fantasy publisher Tor Books, launched its first-ever group tour with a Twitter chat. It’s also the first time the publisher has used its #TorChat hashtag to directly promote an author tour.
The Girls’ Nightmare Out authors – Lisa Desrochers (Last Rite), Kendare Blake (Girl of Nightmares), and Marta Acosta (Dark Companion) – will visit nine bookshops and libraries in California, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, Oregon, and Washington, beginning on Thursday with an appearance at Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop in La Verne, Calif. The Twitter chat – which was held Wednesday afternoon – is the latest in a collaborative effort that stretches across several in-house departments.
In January 2011, Cassandra Ammerman, now the company’s digital marketing manager, was working in the publicity department. As she recalls, “Justin Golenblock, who was a senior publicist here, and I had a general idea for this. We were on Twitter, and we saw how many of our authors were on Twitter, and we thought it might be fun to come up with something for that.”
It proved easy enough to get others in the company interested. When director of marketing Patty Garcia heard the idea, “I said yeah, that’s perfect. Love it,” Garcia recalls. “We went upstairs and talked to digital marketing – everybody thought it was a great idea. So we formed a small team, and then a couple of people in our advertising and promotion department joined.” Monthly, hour-long, themed chats began in February 2011, with a genre spotlight on science-fiction and three guest authors.
Typically, those chats have highlighted Tor’s adult books; in fact, until yesterday, the publisher’s only Twitter chat to focus on teen readers was last August’s back-to-school-themed discussion. Tor decided to return to the YA well this month, Garcia says, “because we wanted to bring more attention to our chat. Sometimes it falters, especially in summer, and we realized that last year’s back-to-school chat was by far our most popular chat to date. So that turned into, hey, maybe we could throw some advertising dollars behind it, create some ads for it.”
The publisher promoted the chat on its Twitter accounts and Facebook pages and, Ammerman says, “We reached out to YA bloggers to see how they felt about it and to see if they were interested. I got a lot of enthusiastic reactions.” But once a chat is over, judging its success is not an exact science. “There’s the number of actual participants but then there’s also the number of lurkers, which you can never really get a feel for,” she says. “There are a couple of different sites that we use to track, but the biggest thing we look at is tweets vs. retweets – how many people are originally contributing vs. how many are just retweeting what they see other people saying.”
To get the conversation going, the Tor team typically prepares some questions beforehand and enlists the help of a moderator, usually someone in-house. “We do occasionally bring in guest moderators, if they’re particularly well-known in the fan community of whatever we’re discussing.” Ammerman says. For the Girls’ Nightmare Out chat, for example, “one of our children’s/YA editors, Susan Chang, is a big fan of the Mundie Moms blog. She he had the idea to ask [the blog’s founder] Katie Bartow to join us.” Bartow introduced each author at 4 p.m. on Wednesday (Marta Acosta, who was caught in traffic, chimed in at 4:14 p.m.: “I’m here!), and asked a series of questions directed both at all three writers and at each individually. For example, she called Acosta’s poetry-reciting character, Mary Violet, “delightful,” and asked whether she was based on anyone. Acosta answered, “Mary Violet is fun, isn't she? No, she’s not based on anyone. She just showed up complete. I’m writing a series for her. In the Mary Violet Mysteries there will be lots of crime & poetry!”
Later, fans had the opportunity to ask their own questions, querying the authors on such subjects as what the term “YA” means to them (Desrochers: “Fiction that involves self exploration and other teen issues. Not all teen character based bks are YA”) and how much they write per month and whether they work on more than one project at a time (Blake: “I never have more than one WIP. Head would explode. In a good month, I can do 10–20k”).
At the end of the hour-long chat, Bartow thanked all the participants and directed fans to Tor’s Web site for tour details and for information on a sweepstakes giveaway: copies of all three authors’ newest novels plus book jacket iPhone skins (Desrocher noted: “I want to enter, but that would be totally lame”). Though Tor hasn’t yet scheduled its next teen chat, Garcia says, “We’re excited to see how it takes off, and maybe make it a regular occurrence. Or maybe an annual thing to keep it special.” Wednesday's teen chat, like its predecessor, proved to be one of the publisher's most successful, with 332 tweets generating 2,639,388 impressions, reaching an audience of 278,384 followers within 24 hours.
Regardless of the frequency of YA chats going forward, there’s plenty of in-house enthusiasm for the program, due in part to the nature of the genre’s fans. “The YA group is very, very active online,” Ammerman says. “They’re really keen to participate, they’re keen to ask questions. We really have a lot of fun with these YA chats. And the authors really enjoy getting a chance to connect directly with the people who enjoy their work.”