Warcross, the new sci-fi thriller from bestselling YA author Marie Lu, officially pubs on September 12. And the Penguin Young Readers Group marketing and publicity team is running at full tilt to make sure that as many readers as possible have a copy in hand by then.
The book, the first in a planned duology, is a departure from Lu’s two previous hit series, Legend and The Young Elites, both from Putnam. “Warcross is a return to science fiction for me,” she said, “but it is very near-future science fiction.” The story features 18-year-old Emika Chen, a bounty hunter in New York City, who is offered the job of a lifetime by the young billionaire creator of the phenomenally popular video game Warcross, which has taken the world by storm. “I wanted to write a book that was just really fun for me,” Lu explained. “There’s a little bit of mystery and a lot of action, and it includes a lot of my favorite things in the world. Even my dog is in it! I have a corgi and she walks across the screen for like two seconds.”
Part of Lu’s enjoyment during the writing process was informed by her previous career as an artist in the video game industry—and her passion for gaming. “This book includes little nods and hints back to when I was at Disney Interactive Studios,” she recalled. “It was absolutely my favorite job I ever had in the corporate world before I became a writer. I was with eight other interns and we all became really good friends. I’m actually married to one of them now.” Some of the shenanigans that Lu and her pals would get up to are included in Warcross, and Emika makes several friends that are reminiscent of the people Lu used to work with. “That was very fun for me to explore,” she said.
Buzz for Warcross began building in early 2016 when the project was first announced. As soon as galleys were available, Penguin set its marketing and publicity plans in motion. A teaser campaign for the book kicked off in the spring with a cover reveal and book excerpt posted on EW.com on March 9. Efforts picked up steam with galley and swag giveaways and appearances by Lu at spring and summer conferences, including BookExpo, BookCon, the American Library Association annual conference, International Literacy Association, and San Diego ComicCon.
One of the key promotion features during conferences that included YALLWest, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and SDCC, was the creation of Warcross street teams. Erin Berger, v-p and creative marketing director for the PYR Group, described how the street team idea came together. “Warcross is a page-turning immersive ride,” she said. “We wanted to give fans the chance to be part of the game at festivals, so we introduced an interactive street team, modeled after the five teams in Warcross.” To that end, the attendees became bounty hunters, just like protagonist Emika Chen, searching for Warcross team captains and winning prizes such as samplers, postcards, keychains, t-shirts and virtual reality headsets along the way. “The fan response was immediate and they loved it!” she said.
On the digital front, PYR leveraged its social media channels and created new content for several additional promotional strategies. A website for the book launched this summer and features a countdown clock to release day as well as an excerpt and components of the game to explore that will go live on September 12. PenguinTeen.com has additionally crafted a guide for Warcross gamers to explain how some of the features on the website will work, once launch day arrives. On July 27, Lu read the first two chapters aloud on @penguinteen’s Facebook Live segment. And the #PlayWarcross campaign launched on July 31; for that campaign, more than 30 book bloggers have been participating throughout the month of August, by writing posts about the players—all characters from YA novels and popular culture—they’ve chosen for their Warcross teams. The bloggers then tag five more people to draft their own teams and further spread the word about Warcross. All the while, each blogger has been promoting the Warcross pre-order campaign, which allows early purchasers to receive a new story called “Life After Legend” set in Lu’s Legend world.
Pre-publication and on-sale advertising aimed at consumers appears across social media, as well as in digital and print publications. Early reviews from the major trade journals have all been starred to date, and additional coverage in national print media is being scheduled.
Fans will have more opportunities to celebrate Warcross’s release face-to-face with Lu, as a national tour has been announced. First stop is the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. on September 2. Towne Book Center in Collegeville, Pa., hosts Lu on her book’s on-sale date, September 12. Her bookstore visits continue through September 22, hitting Asheville, N.C., Portland, Ore., Menlo Park, Calif., and six additional cities. According to Penguin, during this tour, Lu will be making one school appearance at each stop as well. And after a short break, she will serve as keynote speaker at the Texas Teen Book Festival on October 7 and as a featured speaker at two other—as-yet-unannounced—fall regional festivals.
All the pre-pub hubbub over Warcross has been a thrill for Lu, but this time around, the attention has a whole different vibe. In May, before the galleys went out into the world, she commented about leaping into a project that is quite a shif tfrom her wildly successful previous works. “I feel like I’m a debut author all over again,” she said, “which makes me quite anxious and excited at the same time.” Based on early reaction to Warcross, her anxiety has likely calmed a bit.