Social media is important. Building connections between authors and readers (both in person and online) is important. Getting fans excited and involved early: extremely important. That was the message at a panel called "Beyond the Hunger Games: Young Adult Book Marketing and Strategies," held Tuesday morning at BEA.
"We're in the golden age of young adult book publishing," said moderator Susannah Greenberg, president of Susannah Greenberg Public Relations, noting that publicity coverage for YA titles is becoming more mainstream: YA features on NPR aren't unusual, and cover reveals and other YA coverage regularly appear on MTV and Entertainment Weekly blogs, for instance.
Three of the four panelists represented publishers that have launched dedicated YA imprints in the past few years: Michelle Bayuk, director of marketing at Albert Whitman; Michelle Renaud, senior public relations manager at Harlequin; and Derry Wilkins, publicity manager at Sourcebooks Jabberwocky and Sourcebooks Fire. The fourth, Becky Anderson, co-owner of Anderson's Bookshops and president of the American Booksellers Association, sees book sales in a "variety of ways": through the two Anderson's Illinois retail locations, through book fairs and conferences that Anderson's runs, and even through the Anderson family drugstore, Oswald's Pharmacy, which has a large book section and dates back to 1875.
Branding was key when Albert Whitman launched its teen imprint. If the question, according to Bayuk, was "what do we want to say with these books?" the answer was to turn to Albert Whitman's existing strengths. "We've been known as a publisher of hard-hitting issue books," she said, so when it came to Albert Whitman Teen's books, "Not only will we not shy from hard issues, we will run toward them."
The Harlequin Teen imprint launched in 2009 and now has dozens of titles on its list, including Julie Kagawa's bestselling Iron Fey series. For those books, "The PR team worked with our marketing, editorial, and digital groups to develop an integrated marketing campaign and shout a consistent marketing message across all touchpoints," said Renaud. Harlequin Teen now conducts blog tours "for every one of our titles we put on the market" and offers social media training for its authors on how to use Facebook and Twitter, interact with fans, and build their brands from day one—well before their books are published.
Blog tours are also key at Sourcebooks Fire, the two-year-old teen imprint from the independent publisher Sourcebooks, which organizes cover reveal and book trailer blog tours in addition to "traditional blogger tours," according to Wilkins. (In case it isn't clear just how integral online media and social networking are to book marketing, we are indeed at the point at which blog tours are considered "traditional.")
However, Anderson says, one can't discount the importance of both physical events (Anderson's organizes massive pre-pub events that connect local children and authors) and physical places to find and sell books. "The physical space of a library or a store is where books are going to be discovered," she said.
Anderson also sang the praises of group author tours and events ("We're getting great turnouts, selling a lot more books than if [the authors] came individually") and underscored the importance of reaching out to teachers ("a lot of educators have no access to bookstores," she said, especially post-Borders) and helping schools create memorable author events "that kids will remember for their entire lives."
Audience members asked how to make the best use of a limited number of ARCs ("Is this someone who can make a difference?" Whitman's Bayuk asks herself. "If it's a blogger with 50 visits a month, maybe we can wait to send them a hardcover") and how to organize blog tours without publisher support ("Develop those key relationships on your own," said Harlequin's Renaud. "Connect with bloggers on Twitter, friend them on Facebook").
Another hot topic: whether YA's explosive growth could continue. The panelists suggested that while certain publishing trends and genres are reaching their pinnacle (read: paranormal), others are stepping in to fill their place (including contemporary, science fiction, mysteries, and nonfiction) and that YA's popularity is unlikely to wane. "It's an evergreen experience," said Wilkins. "We all go through adolescence."