“Wicked Reads: Devour Them Before They Devour You” reads the tagline for the recent Halloween-themed promotion spotlighting a roundup of scary YA books from Penguin Young Readers Group’s various imprints. The month-long campaign featured in-store and online components, as well as author participation and sampler giveaways at late summer and fall consumer festivals, including Geekycon and New York Comic Con.

Erin Berger, PYRG v-p and creative marketing director, reported that the campaign was inspired by the house’s unusually robust selection of “creepy” YA frontlist fiction. “When we realized what a fantastic lineup of books we had coming out with creepy undertones, we decided to group them together for this promotion,” she explained. “We hesitate to call these ‘horror’ books, since that connotes something different. Though some of these stories have thriller aspects, what they all have in common is an unsettling atmosphere or undertone, which there’s always a significant readership for.”

Wicked Reads showcased novels and short stories that are unsettling on different levels. The diverse selections included The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle (Kathy Dawson Books, Aug.), a novel of magical realism involving a violent family history and forbidden romance; Slasher Girls & Monster Boys, selected by April Genevieve Tucholke (Dial, Aug.), an anthology of tales by celebrated YA thriller and horror authors; and Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett (Putnam, Sept.), a paranormal story touching on unrequited love, murder, alchemy, and immortality.

Additional titles headlining the campaign were Survive the Night by Danielle Vega (Razorbill, July), Nightfall by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski (Putnam, Sept.), and The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen by Katherine Howe (Putnam, Sept.).

For retailers, the publisher created a display merchandising kit designed to grab the attention of customers with a penchant for creepy reads. Included were an oversize easel, staff buttons, copies of the sampler, and a box from which an eerie skeletal hand emerges – holding a Wicked Reads sign.

Approximately 200 independent booksellers signed on to receive the kit, which Berger observed, “is quite a phenomenal number for a first-time campaign.” Among those who created Wicked Reads displays in stores was Lois Hanson, owner of Paragraph’s Bookstore in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Her store’s display, which included a menacing skull, “really got people’s attention,” she said. The bookseller, who “skim-read” the Wicked Reads titles to ascertain their level of scariness and be able to advise customers accordingly, noted that the display seemed to draw as much customer interest as her larger display of younger Halloween-themed books, historically the bedrock of the holiday’s book sales.

Hanson said she would “definitely” take part in this holiday promotion in future years, as did Emily Quackenbush, book buyer at Longs’ Cards and Books in Penn Yan, N.Y. “The display drew attention to books for older children, which traditionally aren’t part of our standard Halloween displays.”

A Creepy Online Presence

To bring the Wicked Reads promotion to virtual life, Penguin Teen promoted the initiative through what Berger described as “organic, engaging social content,” including roundups posted to the Penguin Teen Tumblr, quizzes, and book photos. Penguin Teen organized four #WickedReads Twitter chats in October, in conjunction with influential book bloggers and Mashable Reads. The #WickedReads hashtag earned close to 20 million impressions across Facebook and Twitter, said Berger, and reached 6.2 million individuals.

The campaign culminated in the week leading up to Halloween with daily giveaways on the Penguin Teen Facebook page and a #TwitterGhostStory sweepstakes in partnership with Mashable Reads. Readers were invited to tweet 140-character scary stories to be entered in the sweepstakes to win a collection of all featured Wicked Reads titles. The sweepstakes (which the publisher originally debuted last Halloween) received more than 700 entries, a volume of response Berger called “pretty fantastic.”

The promotion also allowed some of the authors to introduce their spooky stories to live audiences at Wicked Reads panel events at B&N Tribeca and New York Comic Con in early October.

Berger, who said that it was still too early to “do a post-mortem” to determine the promotion’s effect on book sales, noted that the enthusiastic online participation by readers and response from retailers was extremely rewarding – and that authors benefited as well. “The promotion had the added bonus of bringing books published a few months ago back into the spotlight online and in stores,” she said. “We were so impressed by the incredibly positive response all around that we’re already thinking about doing another YA Halloween promotion next year.”