The term “branding” in publishing, as in so many industries, is overused. Nonetheless, it’s hard to come up with a more appropriate phrase for what Little, Brown has done for Elin Hilderbrand. In the span of six books, the Hachette imprint has grown the author into a major bestseller. Arriving at Hachette in 2007 as a solid midlist author with five St. Martin’s titles behind her, Hilderbrand now has over four million books in print, according to Hachette’s figures. As Little, Brown prepares to publish its seventh Hilderbrand novel, Beautiful Day, it is returning to the message it’s been driving home since the beginning: a new book is dropping from the summer novelist.
Summer is a notoriously crowded season for the kinds of books Hilderbrand writes—i.e., beach reads. Nonetheless, when Regan Arthur, now publisher of Little, Brown, acquired the house’s first Hilderbrand novel, Barefoot in 2006, she felt there was an opportunity to do more with the author than St. Martin’s had managed. The idea was to work with the hallmarks of Hilderbrand’s fiction—her books are always set at the beach and have, Arthur said, a “great aspirational quality” paired with a “really smart” sense of story—and come up with a way to present her to readers so they would begin to know what she wrote, and when to look for it. One thing LB did immediately was put her on a summer-only publishing schedule. Then, it worked on a new look for her covers.
“Any discussion of the marketing hinges on her covers,” explained Little, Brown marketing director Heather Fain, and the new cover approach, arguably offering a more modern take than those SMP did, “hit the sweet spot,” in Fain’s view. She called them “digitally appealing,” giving the reader “a sense of the story by looking beautiful but also being smart.” (SMP continues to reissue all of Hilderbrand’s backlist in both mass market and trade paper, creating, SMP publisher Matthew Shear said, “new packages each time.” Shear added that, in total, SMP has close to 1.5 million copies of her books available in print and digital.)
Confident that Hilderbrand could stick to a more grueling schedule of delivering a thick novel—most of her books are well over 300 pages—every year, the team at Hachette set out to imprint readers (and booksellers) with the idea that they should look for an escapist, but not necessarily frothy, novel of hers every summer. At the same time, Little, Brown took care to move Hilderbrand away from being classified as a romance novelist.
Terry Adams, paperback publisher at Little, Brown, said that Barefoot was “the right book at the right time,” featuring the correct blend of “romance, drama and summertime.” With the hardcover, Adams said, Little, Brown managed to triple the sales of her books in that format at SMP. Then, with the paperback, “we just sent it into orbit.” He said the paperback edition of the novel has, to date, sold over 500,000 copies, and benefitted, in part, from “wonderful word of mouth.”
Fain noted that the success of Barefoot was driven “more by the chains,” and that the novel was “hugely supported” by Barnes & Noble, in particular. Since then, in an attempt to get Hilderbrand more pick-up among the indie booksellers, Little, Brown has made sure she is a consistent presence at BEA; to that end, it has brought her to the last three shows to promote her newest book. The signings and branded tote bags at the show, Fain said, help to focus booksellers on “the idea of Elin Hilderbrand as the beach read.” Has it worked? Fain believes Hilderbrand’s BEA appearances have done a lot to convince independent booksellers that she is “a bestselling author you can rely on.”
The goal now with Hilderbrand is to grow her audience nationally. Given her East Coast roots and her Nantucket settings—2012’s Summerland is the only one of her novels set partially in a different locale (Australia)—Hilderbrand, unsurprisingly, has a bigger following east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon Line. For Beautiful Day, Fain said, Little, Brown has focused on setting up events for Hilderbrand around the country. To that end, Hilderbrand is currently scheduled to appear in Atlanta, Napa Valley, Calif., and Phoenix, Ariz. And, after running a few New England–focused TV ad campaigns, the publisher will be rolling out national TV ads this summer, with Hilderbrand and Beautiful Day featured in commercials on Bravo.
First Year Sales Growth for Elin Hilderbrand's Novels
|A Summer Affair||2008||8.0%|
*Increase over first year’s sales of BAREFOOT, which sold 50,000 copies, in 2007.