To build a fan base for first-time author Andrea Cremer’s Nightshade well before it went on sale this week, Penguin Young Readers Group sought out potential YA readers where they were sure to be: online. The publisher enlisted the aid of Cremer and marketing agency Campfire to create a multi-platform viral campaign to build early buzz for this first installment of a paranormal romance trilogy, released by Philomel with an announced 200,000-copy first printing.

The promotional strategy involved a crafty meshing of fiction and fact by bringing one of Nightshade’s main characters to life—sort of. Shay Doran, human love interest of werewolf narrator Calla, was given a Facebook page and a blog, which enabled him (i.e. Cremer) to interact with fans. In addition, eight webisodes, videos allegedly created by Shay shortly before the plot of Nightshade kicks in, fashioned a back story for this character and invited viewer participation to help Shay solve some mysteries. The webisodes can be viewed on the Nightshade Web site and are also posted on YouTube.

And there’s yet another dimension to this digital extension of Cremer’s book. The author used the plots she wrote for the webisodes to create an e-book prequel to Nightshade. Entitled Shadow Days, this 80-page novella is available on Amazon for free download and as of November 1 will also be available on Nightshade's Web site. To give fans extra incentive to maintain contact with Shay through Facebook and his blog, Cremer wrote a handful of his most engaged and enthusiastic friends into Shadow Days.

All of this has kept Cremer extremely busy for the past few months. “My publisher asked if I would be willing to create the Facebook and blog’s real-time content as the backbone of this campaign, and I was very excited to do it,” she says. “It gave me an opportunity to write part of the story from a different character’s perspective. I do love the character of Shay, and it was fun to spend time in his life and get into the depth of his back story.”

Her initial questions about how much attention the webisodes and Shay’s Facebook page and blog would attract were soon answered. “I had no idea how any of this would play out, or what the response would be, but it’s been fantastic,” she says. “People got really involved in Shay’s story. Some asked up front if this was for real, and we wanted everyone to know that this was a character coming out of a book. From the start we emphasized that connection so that there’d be no deception involved.”

In addition to writing the content of the webisodes, Cremer was involved in the auditioning process for the actor who portrayed Shay. “I was very concerned about who we’d select, since Shay is such a pivotal part of the whole story,” she says. “I knew it was important to get him right.” When Cremer viewed the video of the audition of Florida college student Will Browning, she knew he was the one. “I said, ‘That’s him! He’s my character!’” she recalls. “And everyone who saw his audition was in consensus.”

Penguin has good reason to proclaim the Nightshade viral campaign a success. Emily Romero, v-p of marketing for Penguin Young Readers Group, reports that the eight webisodes have had some 35,000 views, and Shay’s Facebook page has registered 12,000 active users, 1,600 of whom have become his “friends.”

Nightshade is an incredible series by a dream debut author, and we wanted to do something different,” Romero explains. “Our goal was to create an interactive campaign to give readers the opportunity to engage with a character in advance of the book. We also wanted to give Andrea the chance to interact in real time with the readers who became involved in the book early and to include some of them in the prequel based on the campaign.” Though obviously pleased with the number of teens responding to the online campaign, Romero is especially thrilled with what she calls “the quality of engagement and interaction” of fans who established online contact with Shay.

Penguin has created a floor display for Nightshade and is also backing the novel with a TV, radio, online, and print media campaign, print and online consumer advertising, and promotion at school and library conferences.

A post-pub date highlight for Minneapolis resident Cremer will be the launch party for the book on October 29 at The Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul. Will Browning will attend the pre-Halloween party, at which guests are invited to dress as their favorite literary character. “He’ll be a special guest who will judge the costumes,” says the author, who looks forward to seeing Browning again. “I’ve come to know him quite well, and I think he’s an amazing actor.” And some lucky fans will actually get to meet Shay in person.

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer. Philomel, $17.99 Oct. ISBN 978-0-399-25482-6