At a mere 20 years old, Tim O'Brien's blistering short story collection about an army unit in Vietnam, The Things They Carried, is one of those books often referred to as a modern classic. With this in mind Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is launching a unique promotion, one it believes is a first for a backlist book, that marries print and digital.
HMH licensed the paperback rights to Things to Random House in 1999 and brought them back in-house recently. Now Houghton controls the book's digital, paperback, and hardcover rights, and is looking to exploit that fact in its push celebrating the title's 20th year in print. The house has created a new jacket for the book, with a 20th anniversary burst on the hardcover edition. The program launches on March 22, and Houghton is combining a traditional book tour with webcasts and school/community outreach, as well as initiatives that entail everything from pre-loading copies of the book onto e-readers to print advertising. In short, Houghton is looking to get people talking, again, about Things, and offering the book to readers in whichever format they would like.
Bridget Marmion, senior v-p and director of marketing at HMH, said the house always intended to launch an involved campaign to promote the book on its 20th birthday, but when HMH found itself having all the rights back under its roof, the decision was made to do something more elaborate. Now, with an eye toward promoting the book in multiple formats simultaneously, Marmion said she thinks Houghton is creating a new approach to backlist publishing. “We realized [having all the rights] gave us this terrific publicity opportunity,” she explained. “We also realized it gave us a terrific opportunity to lift sales of this book in every format”—and, Marmion added, push sales of other backlist O'Brien on their list, like In the Lake of the Woods and July, July.
The centerpiece of the campaign is a Web site that Marmion described as a “mega-O'Brien” page that will aggregate press and other information about the book from all over the world over the past 20 years. That, Marmion said, is no small feat; when you gather it all together, she explained, it “creates a pretty significant impact not just on literature but also pop culture.” There are also contests for students (one calls for a video inspired by the book), an e-reader giveaway (which will be focused on military veterans), a multimedia guide that will be sent to teachers, in-store retail displays, and a live webcast featuring O'Brien, being held on March 24, to which over 150,000 high school teachers have been invited.
Part of the outreach is also, Marmion noted, an experiment to test how consumers, students, and teachers want this information. HMH is hoping that in addition to selling books, it will learn what works and does not for future backlist promotions. “We're building a new template here for a variety of books we expect to represent in all formats,” Marmion said. “It's a world without pub dates, so we're looking for the way to make it relevant.”