Romance giant Harlequin Enterprises only ventured into the YA genre about 18 months ago with the launch of its Harlequin Teen line, but if its current campaign for author Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series is any indication, Harlequin and its teen readers are already pretty committed to each other.

The marketing campaign for The Iron Queen, the third book in Kagawa’s series about a teen heroine who is half-fairy and half-human, is Harlequin’s largest ever for a teen title (the company declined to provide figures). Natashya Wilson, senior editor for Harlequin Teen, says the Iron Fey series is among Harlequin’s top teen series such as the Intertwined novels by Gena Showalter and Soul Screamers by Rachel Vincent, but Kagawa “is a debut author and she’s gone from zero to 60 in a couple of seconds.”

Harlequin has gone back to press for the series eight times in the last year – four times for The Iron King, three times for The Iron Daughter and once before the January 25 street date for The Iron Queen, which had a print run of 225,000. The total print run for the series is now more than 450,000. The site gave the series its endorsement as “the next Twilight,” and The Iron Queen is already on the New York Times bestseller list. Rights have been sold for seven languages, including German, Portuguese, Russian and Turkish.

Wilson says that Harlequin had been considering doing YA books for about a decade, but didn’t really turn its focus to it until its other new lines, HQN and Mira, were well-established. She says that was “about the time that Twilight was exploding, so it seemed like really good timing…” Wilson says she enjoys the YA genre because “you don’t have to pigeonhole books so much. They are just young adult and this audience is very accepting.” In 2009, the company launched Harlequin Teen with three titles. In 2010, it published 16. This year that will grow to 18, and Wilson says there will be at least 20 in 2012.

Watching a Series Grow

Wilson met Kagawa’s agent at a Romance Writers of America conference in San Diego before Harlequin officially established its program, but she was already actively seeking YA submissions. The agent sent her Kagawa’s manuscript, and as Wilson recalls, she “fell in love with it, brought it to our team, they all fell in love with it, we made an offer and acquired the project.”

Amy Jones, product manager for Harlequin’s YA marketing team, says it has been exciting to see momentum for the series grow since the first positive feedback for the first book. “We put a bit more money behind it and kept watching it grow, and people just kept picking it up and picking it up,” she said. So when it came to designing the campaign for the third book, she says they looked at all the best advertising routes and said, ‘Let’s do all of them.’ We’ve really developed a segmented campaign where we can target every bit of the potential readership.”

To introduce the series to a new readership, both teen and adult, moviegoers in 10 major U.S. cities received one of nine bookmarks when they bought a ticket during a two-week period after the book’s release at the end of January, and there will be another two-week run starting on February 25. The bookmarks also include a coupon for a book discount, and once inside the theater they will see a trailer for The Iron Queen. There will also be print advertising in various teen magazines, as well as adult lifestyle and entertainment magazines such as OK and InTouch.

To market The Iron Queen to readers already familiar with the series, the marketing team focused its energies online, where fans are already making their own YouTube trailers and chatting about who ought to play which characters if a movie is made. “The blog tour [which started at the end of January and has just wrapped up] is sort of our epitome super-targeted really engaged fans, keeping them engaged,” says Jones, explaining that they were able to group the nine blogs into three teams tied into the three fairy courts in the books to add a competitive element to the tour. The marketing team tried to build on the interest already present online. They found a fan who was making Iron Fey jewelry and selling it online and asked if she would like to be a part of the campaign; her jewelry is now being used in an official giveaway.

Jones says that the biggest thing the Harlequin team has learned in marketing YA books is the importance of targeting these different types of readers. “Some people are reading these books and are so engrained in the series, it is fantastic. And then other people are coming in and they’re just hearing about the first book in the series for the first time.” It’s essential, she says, “to build a tiered plan of attack for consumer segments.” If Harlequin is right about that, then love may conquer the YA market. If “divide and conquer” works as well in marketing as it does in military strategy, then many more readers may be stepping into the world of the Iron Fey soon.