As recently as three years ago, online was a small piece of what children's marketers did, and it consisted primarily of creating a Web site or a Facebook page, or perhaps allowing for authors to interact with fans on MySpace. But today there is no longer a question whether "to screen or not to screen"; in fact, online efforts are now an essential—at times predominant—part of a publisher's marketing toolkit. "In general we've seen a major shift in resources and dollars to the online market," says Lucille Rettino, director of marketing for the Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Group. "We still do traditional marketing, but if we want to reach kids—even as young as three or four, who are playing with their parents' iPhone or iPad—we need to be in that space."
For teen books especially, the majority of marketing has moved online. "Over the last few years we've been forced to adapt more quickly, because teen magazines like Elle Girl and Teen People have gone away. So we need to find creative ways to reach them," says Linda Leonard, director of new media marketing for Random House Children's Group. Her mantra, like that of many of her colleagues, is to find and engage young customers where they are, which is increasingly online.
Indeed, both Random House and Simon & Schuster have built their own teen communities. Last May, Random relaunched RandomBuzzers.com, first introduced in 2007. Teens can chat with authors, see new book videos (or trailers), preview cover designs, and win Buzz Bucks that can be redeemed for ARCs or signed copies. Since the redesign, the site has seen a continuous uptick in member engagement and stickiness, or time spent on the site, according to Leonard. The site, which currently has more than 62,000 members, received a 2010 Word of Mouth Marketing Association "WOMMY" Award for Best Experiential WOM Program. A Random Buzzers app for iPhone and Android will launch shortly.
Simon & Schuster started Pulse It as a physical book program/advisory board for teens between the ages of 14 and 18 in June 2009. Then in July 2009 it moved online. Since then Pulse It (www.simon-andschuster.com/specials/pulseit) has grown from 3,000 to 26,000 members. And contrary to recent surveys, like one conducted by ABC and Bowker, which found that many teens don't want to read e-books, Pulse It members are drawn to the site's free e-books, along with contests, blogs, and videos, according to Rettino: "I've heard from so many teens, who say, ‘This is great. This is a safe place where I can express myself.' "
Even houses with smaller lists like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which is just now developing a teen page for Facebook, have upped their online communications with kids. "Our spend really depends," says Linda Magram, v-p, director of marketing for HMH children's books, "but our efforts are definitely 50/50. The department has been reorganized so we have a marketing director who's our online maven." The company held aretreat earlier this month so that children's and adult marketers could share what they've learned about reaching customers online and work in tandem.
Sometimes cooking up a successful online marketing campaign is exploratory. "We're always looking for an idea that works," says Jason Wells, executive director of publicity and marketing for Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books. So when The Strange Case of Origami Yoda author Tom Angleberger wanted to alert readers about the title of the next book in the series, Wells suggested an online poll. "We had no idea if it was going to work," he says. "But in the end, after about four months, we had 10,000 votes. Over 50% of readers hoped Darth Vader would appear in the next book." Darth Paper Strikes Back is due out this fall.
Making It Work
Publishers say they spend as much time rolling out an online marketing campaign as a traditional one. "We plan out a year in advance what we're going to be giving them. It's the same for traditional marketing," says Random's Leonard. Online marketing also requires careful vetting of bloggers just like traditional reviewers and journalists. "We look to see how active they are and how they are book-talking," says Deb Shapiro, director of publicity and online marketing at Bloomsbury USA. "They're becoming more selective, too, and not reading and writing about everything. Two or three years ago, it was: gimme, gimme, gimme," For Shapiro, timing is key. "Because it happens so quickly online," she says, "you have to be able to capture and capitalize on it. If you have something in print, it's on a newsstand for a week or a month, and then it's in the doctor's office."
One of the most extensive online campaigns for a single title this year was developed for the third book in Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls series, Forever (Scholastic, July 12 laydown). But as Rachel Coun, Scholastic executive director of trade marketing, points out, even with all the bells and whistles, it still centers around the physical book. "Always in marketing it's important to do the traditional and keep up with the times," she says. On Valentine's Day Scholastic kicked off its promotion for the book and series with a video of Stiefvater reading from Forever on her Facebook page, and it sent an e-card with a link to the trailer and a custom heart icon. Teens are encouraged to fill Stiefvater's heart with the name of a friend, who will then be sent a copy of the first book in the series..
Very few online campaigns rely on a single book trailer anymore. Throughout the summer Scholastic will release a series of webisodes, or what Coun refers to as "Maggiesodes," featuring Stiefvater. Knopf is planning a series of five trailers for John Stephens's The Emerald Atlas (April 5 laydown); the first was released last November at the same time that it aired at movie theaters showing Harry Potter 7. From December through February, Knopf released a video based on a single character on both YouTube and EmeraldAtlas.com and made excerpts of the chapter about that character available online. A fifth trailer will air next month with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie release.
For Cassandra Clare's City of Fallen Angels (Simon & Schuster; April 5 laydown), book four in the Mortal Instruments series, one of the trailers will include a "previously on" video, the kind seen at the opening of TV shows, so that teens who haven't read the earlier books can catch up.
Book and author Web sites, where many of the trailers air, continue to play an important role in marketing. "We still find the Web site effective," says Wells at Abrams, although most of the press's sites are connected to series: sistersgrimm.com, teamnerds.com, and flowerpowerbooks.com. However, Abrams will support a stand-alone site for a big-name author who can draw enough eyes, like Lauren Myracle, whose teen novel Shine comes out this spring (see our interview with Myracle). In addition, publishers use Web sites or Facebook pages to keep a big-name author's momentum going—even when they don't have a new book. That's part of Bloomsbury's strategy for Shannon Hale, whose new twins have kept her from readying a novel for publication in 2011. This is the first time she's skipped a year in the past six years.
While the majority of online campaigns are geared to older children, marketers have begun looking for ways to reach younger kids without overstepping the boundaries set by the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act. COPPA, which went into effect a decade ago, prevents Web marketers from collecting personal data about children under age 13, including their e-mail addresses. Game sites like Poptropica and Fun Brain, published by Family Education Network, which is part of Pearson and successfully gathers age and gender only, have benefited from publishers' interest in engaging kids between the ages of six and 12. "2010 was really the year when publishers recognized what we could do and moved more of their budget online," says Jess Brallier, senior v-p and publisher of FEN. "It's probably tripled what we did in 2009 and quadrupled 2008."
But when it comes to books for the very young, it can be just as important to reach their parents. For Hervé Tullet's Press Here (Mar.), Chronicle Books has been using interstitials, or Web advertisements displayed before or after a content page, on its chroniclebooks.com Web site, as well as a Scribd excerpt embedded on the Press Here landing page on the site. Although teen marketers began using Scribd a few years ago, Chronicle children's marketing manager Kim Lauber says, "Lately I'm even more impressed with its value for promoting picture books and [children's] novels that have dynamic visual components. Being able to provide our audience with an opportunity to flip through a book's pages and experience a story in almost the same way they would in a real, live bookstore, that's priceless."
When HMH was preparing for the release of The Loud Book (Apr.), the companion title to Deborah Underwood's The Quiet Book, both illustrated by Renata Liwska, it decided to repeat a successful giveaway for art from the book for the earlier volume. Once again the press will reach out to parents on mommy and parenting blogs to give away art to consumers.
Candlewick is also reaching out to customers online. "In the less than two years I've been here," says John Mendelson, senior v-p of sales and digital initiatives, "our focus on online marketing has grown. Even over the past year, we do more direct-to-consumer marketing, not with an emphasis of pushing e-book sales, although that's a part of it." Candlewick publishes all its fiction in dual print and e-book editions. The press is also one of several children's book publishers to sign up with Netgalley to deliver e-galleys to booksellers and bloggers. Those, too, come in dual editions. For example, L.A. Weatherly's Angel Burn (May 24 laydown) is available in an e-galley and in a print galley with French flaps.
"Our goals haven't changed that much with an online campaign," Mendelson notes. "It's about building buzz, whether it happens on Facebook and Twitter or on a school bus." Finding kids and getting them excited about books has always been what children's publishing is all about. There are just new ways to do it now, onscreen and off.
Spring and Summer Online Marketing Campaigns
Angel Burn by L.A. Weatherly (Candlewick, May 24 laydown)
The book: Willow knows she's different from other girls—she can see the future and read people's dreams just by touching them. She has no idea where this power comes from, but Alex, the assassin, does. First in a trilogy.
The campaign: Excerpt in Justine Magazine's e-Buzz newsletter to 1.2 million Girl Scouts; online consumer advertising campaign with 750,000 impressions and online marketing through the Underground Book Club; and a pre-pub online teaser campaign in conjunction with international publishing partners. Also, a multicity outdoor advertising campaign, a three-part book trailer, a Twitter campaign, Google advertising, Facebook ads, a book trailer tease and galley giveaways on Facebook.
Bad Kitty Meets the Baby by Nick Bruel (Roaring Brook/Porter, June)
The book: Kitty's owners have a big surprise. And it's not a dog or a cat.
The campaign: Over the holidays, the launch of badkittybooks.com (where kids can "scratch the walls and "ruin" the furniture) and an ad campaign on Poptropica got more than a million clicks. More online ads will run this spring, and the Web site will add two new games.
City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare (Simon & Schuster, Apr. 5 laydown)
The book: Someone's killing the Shadowhunters and displaying their bodies around New York City.
The campaign: An embargo; an online chapter hunt; numerous video trailers (the shoot for the book trailer became a trending topic on Twitter that weekend).
The Dark Days of Supernatural
The books: HarperCollins developed a six-month, six-figure traditional and online campaign to promote 11 paranormal teen fiction titles: Afterlife by Claudia Gray, Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton, Desires of the Dead by Kimberly Derting, Die for Me by Amy Plum, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Hereafter by Tara Hudson, Illusions by Aprilynne Pike, Once in a Full Moon by Ellen Schreiber, Something Deadly This Way Comes by Kim Harrison, Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini, and Unearthly by Cynthia Hand.
The campaign: A www.pitchdark.com Web site, which links to a Twitter feed and a custom Facebook page with more than 24,000 fans; select appearances as part of two five-city group author tours will be livestreamed on Facebook; QR codes on promotional beach bags, calendars, and bookmarks; writing contest on Harper's Inkpop.com Web site; and a Dark Days app to launch this spring.
Delirium by Lauren Oliver (Harper, Feb.)
The book: With 95 days left until her treatment to eradicate love, Lena does the unthinkable: she falls in love.
The campaign: Facebook app photo contest hosted on HarperTeen's Facebook page to win a Tiffany Heart Bracelet and signed copy of Delirium. Livestream event with Oliver answering questions via webcam on HarperTeen's Facebook page on February 24; writing challenge on inkpop.com; and QR codes and short codes on print ads that link to the mobile site with author video, exclusive fan song, and book excerpt.
The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens (Random House, Apr.)
The book: Kate, Michael, and Emma, who were removed from their parents to protect them from forces of darkness, find a magical green book that takes them into the recent past. First in a trilogy.
The campaign: Launched www.EmeraldAtlas.com; countdown clock; Google Search ads; trailers at movie theaters for last fall's Harry Potter 7 and the upcoming Diary of a Wimpy Kid film; three character videos on YouTube; Twitter buzz; social media campaign; and Google retailer-aligned campaign to drive pre-orders.
Entice by Carrie Jones (Bloomsbury USA, Jan.)
The book: Zara and Nick are soul mates, meant to be together forever. But in the latest book in the Need series Nick is dead, and Zara's been pixie kissed.
The campaign: Launching a Pixie Kiss app in March that lets friends send a kiss from Zara, Nick, or Astley.
Forever by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic, July 12 laydown)
The book: Wolves are being hunted down and love becomes harder to hold on to for Grace and Sam in the conclusion to the Wolves of Mercy Falls series.
The campaign: Video teaser of Stiefvater reading from the book; e-cards with a custom heart image and a link to the trailer will go to booksellers, teachers, librarians, and bloggers to send to consumers and friends and post on their Web sites; targeted advertising on Facebook.
Kingdom Keepers IV: Power Play by Ridley Pearson (Hyperion, Apr.)
The book: When Disney Imagineers installed hologram guides for the Magic Kingdom using teenage models, they had no idea the technology might backfire.
The campaign: Extending the online universe found at thekingdomkeepers.com to include a new game and launching a 20-week hypervideo game that enables fans to tour the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot.
Ladder to the Moon by Maya Soetoro-Ng, illus. by Yuyi Morales (Candlewick, Apr. 12 laydown)
The book: In her first picture book, President Obama's half-sister imagines her daughter getting her wish and climbing a golden ladder to see her grandmother and go on a magical journey.
The campaign: Dedicated Facebook page with an author and illustrator video and an author q&a, blog outreach, giveaways, and a Facebook ad campaign.
The Loud Book! by Deborah Underwood, illus. by Renata Liwska (Houghton Mifflin, Apr.)
The book: The animals from The Quiet Book are back—boisterous and loud.
The campaign: An online art giveaway for consumers promoted through a mommy/parenting blog campaign, and on the HMH Web site, Twitter feed, and Facebook page.
Passion by Lauren Kate (Delacorte, July)
The book: This prequel to the first two books in the Fallen series describes what happened before Luce and Daniel met at Sword & Cross and fought immortals at Shoreline.
The campaign: Outdoor advertising at beaches in eight cities with QR code; online advertising on teen girl and women's Web sites; summer beach ride online advertising on women's sites; polls, contests, and videos on Facebook.com/FallenBooks with a 42,000+ fan base; updates at FallenNovels.com; and cross-promotion on Kate's Twitter account: @laurenkatebooks.
Press Here by Hervé Tullet (Chronicle, Mar.)
The book: Starting with the yellow dot on the cover, readers are invited to press the dots, shake the pages, and tilt the book to see what happens next.
The campaign: Viral online button for bloggers; custom e-blast to buyers, educators, and librarians; landing page at www.chroniclebooks.com/presshere; downloadable activity kit; video trailer; Scribd excerpt; and interstitials on chroniclebooks.com.
Scorpia Rising by Anthony Horowitz (Philomel, Mar.)
The book: In the last book in the Alex Rider series, everything has changed. The story moves from the British Museum to Egypt, Paris, Gibraltar, and back to England.
The campaign: A Scorpia Rising app will contain a lie detector, spy goggles, videos, and excerpts from all nine books in the series. Also promoted through online entertainment networks and arcades for teens with a 30-second spot that will play before videos, games, and full episodes of popular shows.
Shark Wars by E.J. Altbacker (Razorbill, June)
The book: A young reef shark named Gray, exiled from his home, must venture deep into open water to unlock the secrets of his destiny in the first book in this series.
The campaign: Launching an adult-free zone app to brand the series; advertising targeting gamers.
World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull (Simon & Schuster, Mar. 15 laydown)
The book: A routine day at the zoo ends with Jason being transported from the hippo tank to Lyrian. As he searches for a way home, Jason meets Rachel, who's also been drawn there from our world. First in the Beyonders series.
The campaign: Advertising on Poptropica with an in-game inventory card from Beyonders that links to a live-action trailer and the first 100 pages of the book.
The Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure: Everest by David Borgenicht and Bill Doyle, illus. by Yancey Labat (Chronicle, Mar.)
The book: Invites readers to be part of the youngest team to climb the world's tallest peak.
The campaign: Teaser landing page for accounts; series landing page launching at ship date; custom e-blast to buyers, educators, and librarians; landing page at www.chroniclebooks.com/worstcaseadventure; downloadable activity kit; video trailer; Scribd excerpt; and interstitials on chroniclebooks.com.