Goodreads is in, video responses are out--these were some of the points made at the latest in the American Book Producers Association's monthly panel series. The topic on March 5 was how to create a successful media campaign for your books and your company, and the panelists were Susannah Greenberg, president of Susannah Greenberg Public Relations, Sarah Christensen Fu, founder of Hey, Sarah!, and Matt Pantoliano, senior digital marketing manager of Simon & Schuster's children's division.
Much of the talk was about what worked and what didn't work online. Pantoliano, discussing the work he did on Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series, said that revealing things gradually works extremely well. For Clare's books, S&S has done both a gradual cover reveal and a gradual first chapter reveal, both through Twitter; for the former, one pixel was revealed for every 100 or so tweets using a specified hashtag, and for the latter, one word was revealed for every 100 tweets. Fu, who has worked with authors like Mary Higgins Clark, sang the praises of Goodreads as a growing influence source for social readers. And while she did say that fiction had "an edge" over nonfiction because of Goodreads's book club-like feel, nonfiction also holds its own, and that for both, readers pay careful attention to a title's star rating and its user reviews. Greenberg talked about an online campaign for a title that was saved after an initial setback because the key word her company was trying to market (the word was "Lincoln" and Greenberg tried to tie the book in with all things Abraham Lincoln) was the last word in the book's title and, consequently, all their efforts were buried under more SEO-friendly content. Greenberg shifted the campaign's focus and saw better results, but the lesson was clear: SEO has changed everything from titles of books to how headlines are written to how we tweet.
Other tactics the panelists agreed were important for a successful online campaign included the value of free. At S&S, Pantoliano said they routinely put up 100 pages of a book for free as an extended sample and that this drives, rather than cannibalizes, sales. Greenberg stated one of her authors sees her sales go up every time her book gets pirated. And Fu mentioned the importance of physical books in giveaways, and that people still like to feel like they're "getting" something.
But what doesn't work? The panelists pointed out that every campaign is different, but Fu talked about the lukewarm response her company received when it asked for fans to send in a video response. The tactic was used for a book by a major TV personality with a fanbase in the millions, yet only a few hundred responses were submitted. Pantoliano wasn't sold on promoted tweets, not because he was unsure of their value, but because he's unsure they're worth the money, especially because many of the titles S&S puts heavy Twitter campaings behind don't have the budget to warrant the cost of a promoted tweet.