It's a typical weekday after school. Do you know where more than 21 million teenagers are? Online, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. If you want to reach those teens, that's the place to go. It's "wkewl" in text-message argot, and publishers know it.

Whether it's re-energizing a Web site (or developing a new one) or ramping up tech knowledge to create campaigns utilizing blogs, podcasts, instant messaging, viral marketing campaigns, video sharing, ads on third-party URLs, video book trailers and social networking sites like MySpace (a regular destination for 55% of teens, according to a recent Pew survey), publishers are stepping up to the plate—er, the monitor—making themselves part of young people's increasingly digital lifestyle. (See our sidebar for some successful and forthcoming campaigns.)

Though it's difficult to nail down when online efforts first became a legitimate line item in book marketing budgets, the majority of publishers can point to a noticeable increase over the past year. "I can tell it has substantially grown over the past 12—18 months," said Diane Naughton, v-p of marketing for HarperCollins Children's Books. "We've made a significant shift to online marketing, because we know that the online world is where kids are and we know that kids are comfortable with online platforms."

The amount of money spent on online marketing is equally difficult to quantify. "These days we can't really think of online marketing as separate from marketing in general," said Linda Magram, v-p and marketing director of Houghton Mifflin Children's Book Group. "Ideally, almost every title should have an online marketing/publicity component." But at some houses, a scenario might go something like this. "A lead title with a $75,000—$100,000 ad budget could have $15,000—$20,000 allotted to online marketing," said Emily Romero, v-p of marketing for Penguin Young Readers. Jason Wells, publicity and marketing director at Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books, has seen growth book-over-book for one particular author, Lauren Myracle, whose novels are, fittingly, set in an IM culture. "The percentage was small for the first book in 2004 [ttyl] but has risen to 20% of the campaign for the third one [l8r g8r] this spring," he explained.

It helps to have the suits on one's side on this score. "We have strong corporate support," said Naughton. "Part of the mission of the company moving forward is to fully embrace the digital landscape. It's helpful to have that, and when the direction is clear, you can make more informed decisions." Other publishers are reaching deep into corporate pockets for online strategies as well. "DK has made a significant investment in time and resources to develop our digital marketing efforts," according to Rachel Kempster, publicity manager at DK Publishing. "We have an online marketing component for all of our titles with marketing plans. It can be up to 70% of the title budget."

Regardless of the dollar figure shelled out for online efforts, publishers believe, for a variety of reasons, that it is money well spent. "For the same money we'd pay for a print ad, we can reach millions of eyeballs—and super-targeted eyeballs," Kempster noted. For Romero at Penguin, running a sweepstakes or a galley giveaway on the home page of a teen site "can cost a fraction of what a print ad would cost." And she also considers Google search button ads and targeted blog ads real bargains as alternatives to print at the moment.

The bull's-eye effect—or hitting a target market—is paramount in publishers' justification of online marketing spending. This approach can be "extremely cost-effective when trying to position a niche book to the right audience," said Tina McIntyre, director of marketing at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Publishers may design a minisite or a newsletter to appeal to a certain group, create a MySpace page, send a book to a blogger with a specific interest and audience (in hopes they'll recommend the book to thousands of like-minded "friends") or produce a podcast that appeals to a particular market segment. These are among the many ways that publishers are more sharply focusing their online reach.

One of the most ballyhooed advantages of online marketing is flexibility. "We can update our Web site in real time as necessary," Kempster said. "If we get a major media hit, we can splash it on the home page. If a book wins an award, we can send an e-mail blast out in under an hour. That was absolutely not possible in a paper-based marketing world."

Building Buzz

The online world has become theplace to build book buzz and have it reach fever pitch more quickly than ever. "Direct communication with our consumers is more immediate," said Romero. "We've built a substantial database of teen readers whom we can reach cheaply and frequently." For the novel The Looking Glass Warsby Frank Beddor, Romero noted, "we started seeding the market six months before publication with a series of trailers, sweepstakes and sneak previews to build the fan base right out of the gate." And once initial interest was piqued, the goal was to feed "intriguing content on a monthly, sometimes weekly, basis," she added. "Online marketing can definitely help build anticipation and sustain momentum after the book goes on sale."

This kind of buzz is the essential fuel behind viral marketing, which has largely become an online phenomenon—it's word-of-mouth in the digital age. As more young people choose the online world as their realm for communication and, to an extent, socialization, they want to share—via e-mail and instant message, MySpace, text messaging, etc.—with their friends the things they find interesting. Publishers want their books and authors to be among those online interests. "Our marketing efforts need to be as compelling and fun as any video game they're playing or any TV show they're watching," Kempster said.

In what can only be considered a win-win-win situation, publishers can often count on pro-active authors to help build a better online presence for themselves and their books, an undertaking that usually delights fans. Stephenie Meyer felt compelled to jump into the online fray shortly after the publication of her first YA book, Twilight, in 2005. "I got started in all this when Little, Brown put together a Web site for Twilight," she recalled. "It was beautiful—very dark, romantic, gothic—but not me at all. I worried that readers would think I dressed all in black and wore blood-red lipstick. But I'm this big geeky person. My brother put together a rather meandering Web site that was a better representation."

Not long after that, friends started asking if Meyer was behind all the Bella and Edward pages (homages to the book's main characters) that had cropped up on MySpace. She wasn't, but was so intrigued by the site that she created her own page. "It's an informal and relaxed way to get out information, which I like." As a result, Meyer has devoted fans who regularly communicate with her and have traveled hundreds of miles to her events. She believes that her online exposure lets fans "feel connected and involved" something that helps them "become readers for life."

Author Barry Lyga (The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl) has a similar philosophy. "The Web site helps to cement the relationship you have with the reader," he said. In his case, features a series of blogs written from the point of view of his book's characters. Contests, giveaways and an e-mail contact help him be very "open and available to fans." More than marketing that seeks new audiences, Lyga sees the site more as brand-building. "No one's going to stumble onto my Web site. Ninety percent are readers who are interested in learning more about me or the book." And he has experienced a boost from the viral effect first hand. "Based on the number of unique visitors to the site each day, I can gauge what people respond to. When Neil Gaiman blogged about my book in November, my traffic went up by 3000% in a day and an inflation has remained—it never went back to what it was pre-Gaiman."

The fact that most publishers are now in the online marketing groove indicates this strategy has reached something akin to a tipping point. But does online marketing pay off in the form of book sales? The answer is a resounding—but, again, hard to quantify—yes. Naughton believes, based largely on her company's successful campaigns, that online marketing is definitely the way to go, as it is "targeted and measurable. We can measure effectiveness based on response," she said. "From that, we can see exactly where to focus our time, attention and money."

Publishers can measure how many people visit their sites and what they look at, how many people sign up for newsletters, contests or other targeted features and even how many people click on any third-party links, like those to online booksellers. But, after that, it's a guessing game. "The financial payoff is not direct," said Naughton. "We have partnerships with online retailers, but we don't know if a person actually purchases a book when they click on those links on our site. They may go back to the site another time, or purchase the book at a bricks-and-mortar store, remembering the information they saw online."

Kempster believes the waters are muddied further by the blending of various promotional elements. "It's hard to determine how much of a book's success can be chalked up to an online effort when there are so many other marketing and publicity components in the mix," she said. Indeed, all houses can agree that traditional marketing is far from dead, and is still predominant in many campaigns. In fact, the new wave frequently benefits from the old guard. "Digital marketing works best when it's executed hand in hand with offline efforts and traditional marketing," said Linda Leonard, director of New Media Marketing at Random House Children's Books. But at the end of the day, most publishers concur that the broad exposure online marketing is bringing to books and authors is invaluable, and that more often than not, there is a strong correlation between the sales of books and the online exposure those titles receive.

Such blips in sales are what keep publishers motivated to stay on top of the latest online marketing trends and technologies. Even those companies who don't yet have a significant online presence are not standing idle. They are at least investigating ways to get involved, or, like S&S, are readying their first ventures. "We actually have a task force made up of all different departments and staff levels," said McIntyre at Little, Brown. "They meet regularly to discuss what's going on in the digital world and keep us in the loop." Naughton added, "We keep an eye on what teen and kids' consumer products are doing and take a page from that. We read trades and attend conferences and watch what's happening in film, music, community spaces where users share content. No one is not focusing on the digital world; it's trickling down to every media constituency."

The Next Big Thing?
Publishers offer insights on what may be on the horizon for online marketing.

Creating a virtual world that lives online. The next online community space will be a place that teens can customize among themselves for creating and sharing content. —Diane Naughton, HarperCollins

Music companies and publishers will find ways to work more closely together. What if Amulet offered a free chapter reading by Lauren Myracle of l8r g8rwhen someone downloads the new Ashlee Simpson song on iTunes? It's ideas like that that will bring teens—and their electronic devices—back to books. —Jason Wells, Abrams/Amulet

Good design. It sounds simple and not terribly technological, but it really is the key thing. Consumers are suspect if a Web site looks cobbled together from a template, and are quickly repelled by a bland site. Kids, especially, are too savvy to be served anything less than a smart, thoughtful and fun design. —Rachel Kempster, DK

Our goal is to continue to improve the use of digital marketing tools such as e-mails, videos, podcasts, audio, Web sites, blogs, etc. But the key to success lies in integrating online marketing into the overall marketing effort. —Linda Magram, Houghton Mifflin

One of the next big things will be user-generated content. Also, Second Life and other virtual communities—we're formulating our strategy and plans now for promoting books and doing author events in virtual worlds. This arena is very much like a science fiction novel. Lastly, social communities that can be accessed from any device including a cell phone. As consumers buy more higher-end phones and online access grows on cell phones, there will be more avenues for creative book promotions that can reach consumers anywhere they are.—Linda Leonard, Random House
Some Nifty Initiatives
Our list is not comprehensive; this is a sampling of marketing efforts publishers are trying.

CANDLEWICK:First Drafts. A program aimed at teachers and librarians; serves as a guide to top middle-grade fiction authors. In a Candlewick-produced DVD, five authors read excerpts of their fiction, then participated in an interview.

BLOOMSBURY:MySpace. Simmone Howell (Notes from the Teenage Underground, Apr.) is creating a page that will include a videobio, filmmaking information, film favorites and a blog, as well as info on a Bloomsbury contest.

SCHOLASTIC:Value-added advertising: A YA sampler ad campaign on included a link to audio clips of the authors reading from their books.

PUSH: David Levithan, editorial director for Scholastic's PUSH imprint, and several PUSH authors have MySpace pages of their own—plus PUSH's own page on MySpace (and a Web site). According to Levithan, "PUSH plans to have a much greater MySpace presence with the fifth-anniversary launch in February. There are thousands of members who've listed PUSH books as their favorites, and we'll be contacting all of them."

HARPERCOLLINS:Fan Lit: HarperTeen FanLit ( launched last October. Working online with a panel of bestselling authors (including Meg Cabot) and HarperTeen editors, teens collaborated on an original HarperTeen short story. The chapters that received the most online votes will be assembled and turned into a HarperTeen eBook Short Story. Since the contest launched, nearly 30,000 teens have joined the community, submitting 4,500 chapters during the first five rounds of the contest, with more than 135,000 votes collected, and more than six million page views. MySpace: A HarperTeen profile page helped drive registration for the FanLit promotion and MySpace has been an active promoter of the event with placements on its home page, in featured profile spots and other editorial and advertising areas. As a result, more than half a million MySpace users have visited the profile page and HarperTeen now has more than 10,000 friends on MySpace.

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN:Podcasts: Starting this year, the children's imprints will have a regular series of podcasts from authors and illustrators, with new content each month. They will be available from iTunes, Yahoo and on the Houghton site. Video: The Children's Group is creating two videos for Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want to KnowAbout Fast Food by Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson—one (four- to five minutes long) will be geared for classroom use, and a shorter, more commercial clip will be posted on YouTube, Google, etc., and sent to various e-mail lists. Video 2:: Working with the VNU Media Group, Houghton held a contest for aspiring filmmakers to create a short video "preview" based on David Wiesner's Flotsam, published by Clarion. The winning clip premiered at ALA Midwinter, was posted on the Houghton site, streamed over Sprint cell phones and promoted on various Web sites. "The Fish Know the Secret" campaign for the book was a big hit with indie booksellers; Clarion used a series of MP3 audio files of Wiesner talking about the book during the contest (thefishknowthesecret. com/logs). Cell phones: Kingfisher will tie a cell-phone promotion (done with Alloy) to the launch of the Zodiac Girls series by Cathy Hopkins. Cell phones and text messaging play a major role in the books about teen girls getting some help from their "lucky stars."

LITTLE, BROWN:Web sites: Via an immersive site for Atherton by Patrick Carman (April), users can log onto to find interactive content including video files, audio files and backstory elements not available anywhere else. In addition, the first printing of the book will include a CD-ROM (with exclusive content) and a special "viewer" allowing readers to utilize Red Reveal technology and discover hidden codes. Additionally, Carman has created a video series about his creative process called Writing Atherton, which will appear on the Web site.

PENGUIN: "Plug into Penguin:"Campaign kicks off in March showcasing teen titles. The promotion will include: podcasts, author interviews, author iPod playlists, galley giveaways, reading group guides, a dedicated My Space page. DK: An animated viral video will launch the History Dudes series by Rich Cando, who made a name for himself on the Internet for his short animated film, Star Dudes. Web site effort: For A School LikeMine, the company's new kids' site,, will help match different classrooms together across the U.S and U.K. for pen pal interaction. DK did something similar a decade ago with postcards and a fulfillment house; the process has been significantly facilitated by the Internet.

SQUARE FISH:Video: For the relaunch of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time as well as the complete Time Quintet this spring, Square Fish is creating a movie-like trailer to post to popular online kids' sites and drive them to the Web site for fun facts and contests.

RANDOM HOUSE:MySpace: RH writes and creates profiles in the voice of a book character who can become friends with other characters, post to the message boards and write about how much they like a book. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants girls have more than 800 friends; Eragon has more than 7,000 friends. Viral Marketing:A refer-a-friend program called "Fricaya" (meaning "friends" in the ancient language) tied to trade paperback release of Eragon.Die-hard Eragon fans can refer their friends to sign up for the Alagaesia e-mail newsletter. Each member who is invited into this program will receive an exclusive audio greeting from the author via an audio e-card from the author and be entered to win prizes. Mobile: Live text chat between Traveling Pantsauthor Ann Brashares and fans; Sisterhood polls and trivia. Community Campaigns: Launch of a community site for Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Natureby Robin Brande prior to its publication this August and timed with the author's pre-pub Buzz Tour, where teens can talk about the evolution debate and chat with the author. RH will ask fans to take digital goodies such as backgrounds, blog graphics, etc. to post on their social networking profiles and help build buzz. The community is located at