Exactly five years after kicking off its first season with a single title, The Green Age of Asher Witherow (2004), Unbridled Books is releasing 10 titles this fall, its largest list yet. The press, well-known among independent booksellers for its literary fiction, is moving in a new direction with the September publication of Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius by Colin Dickey, the press's first narrative nonfiction title, not counting the five memoirs already on its list. Dickey explores in Cranioklepty how a cultural interest in phrenology between the 1790s and 1850s sparked an intense fascination with human skulls, especially those of geniuses and criminals. The urge to own, barter and sell such skulls was so great, some even resorted to digging up graves in search of them.
“We always planned on adding nonfiction to the mix,” declared Greg Michalson, Unbridled's copublisher, about his list, which now has a total of 52 titles. “It was just a matter of finding the right project.”
While Cranioklepty represents Unbridled's initial foray into nonfiction other than memoir, Michalson, whose professional background lies primarily in editing fiction, explained that marketing director Caitlin Hamilton Summie has extensive experience in marketing nonfiction, gained as director of marketing at MacMurray & Beck, the Denver press that was merged into MacAdam/Cage in 2000.
While Summie insisted that marketing nonfiction is similar to marketing fiction, she added that nonfiction on a “specific subject” is “easier to work with,” and that promoting Cranioklepty has afforded “new opportunities” for her and the four other marketing and publicity specialists on Unbridled's 10-person staff. Thus, Unbridled is pitching Cranioklepty to television, radio and off-the-book-page print media—“the traditional outlets that most fiction titles are hard to do that for,” explained Summie. Besides picking up positive pre-pub reviews, including PW, Cranioklepty recently was featured in the Boston Globe's Ideas section; the press expects to confirm major media author interviews and feature stories both this month and next.
But the press is also taking full advantage of the latest social trends to promote Cranioklepty in some decidedly unconventional ways. Media updates include slots on the “Mancow” Muller talk show on Fox and coverage in the online edition of the Onion.
“Books are sold through word-of-mouth, and these days, word-of-mouth seems to be the Internet,” Michalson explained, of the press's strategy in building buzz for Cranioklepty.
Unbridled is aggressively reaching out to Internet communities this fall, including sponsoring a contest asking participants to write about whose skull they'd want to steal and why; the five “most intriguing” entries on each of the half- dozen site on which it will be promoted will receive a copy of the book.
The press is using Facebook to reach out to phrenology fans as well as those of Philadelphia's Mütter Museum of medical oddities. A “What Kind of Genius Are You?” Facebook application quiz, with possibilities taken from the pages of Cranioklepty will also launch on Facebook in tandem with the book launch.
In October, Unbridled is taking a more traditional tack in its marketing campaign by sending Dickey on tour to bookstores in six cities, as well as to SCIBA. The press is also suggesting to indies that they include Cranioklepty in their bookstore Halloween displays, while also advertising it in consumer media as the quintessential holiday read.
While taking full advantage of Cranioklepty's broad appeal and an established niche audience of those already interested in the subject, Unbridled isn't neglecting its fiction frontlist in its two-pronged approach to book promotion. Fiction also is being promoted to online media outlets as well as traditional ones, while authors are sent on tour.
Unbridled is promoting Masha Hamilton's 31 Hours with a major advertising campaign and is booking the author through March 2010 on a 14-plus—city national tour. But the press is also heavily pushing the book on the Internet. Not only has Unbridled started a buzz on social media Web sites but it's also produced and posted on YouTube a video trailer for the novel, the tale of a mother desperately searching for her son, a young American who's been secretly trained in Pakistan to commit an act of terrorism on the New York City subway system.
Unbridled's multifaceted strategy in promoting 31 Hours seems to be working. While Michalson declined to disclose exact numbers, he did reveal that 31 Hours's first print run in hardcover was “larger” than the press's typical 10,000—15,000-copy initial print runs and had gone into a second print run, pre-pub.
“As review space has gotten scarcer, it's harder for small independent presses to get media attention,” Michalson pointed out. “But,” Summie added, “it's made us better marketers.”