These days it doesn’t take long to change the face of marketing. According to Tom Dean, senior marketing director in the trade book division at Zondervan, “The game has changed dramatically in the past 18 to 24 months.” That change comes thanks to the power of social spaces that allow authors to interact with thousands of readers quickly and easily. Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and new avenues such as Pinterest put authors in direct contact with both established and potential fan bases.

“Our practices have changed tremendously across the board given the advances in social media we’ve seen in the past couple of years,” says Tamara Crabtree, executive director of marketing for Abingdon Press. “We now look at a social media strategy for every publishing division and every author.”

With social media having been around a while, Christian publishers are becoming more adept at using these social spaces themselves and encourage their authors to do the same. Some publishers, such as Zondervan, train their authors in using social media, as well as help those authors create content for the social media spaces. Others, like Thomas Nelson, Baker Publishing Group, and Tyndale House, strongly encourage authors to blog, get on Facebook and Twitter, and use their networks to talk about their books.

“While it’s not by any means a requirement, a Facebook page and Twitter feed can be a good way for our authors to connect with readers, so we encourage them to get as plugged in with social media as they feel comfortable,” says Anna Scianna, publicist for Baker Books, an imprint of Baker Publishing Group.

Facebook has yielded results for Zondervan and its Amish fiction by Amy Clipston (A Life of Joy, Jan.) and Vanetta Chapman (A Perfect Square, Mar.). Fans of Amish fiction can interact with authors, watch videos about upcoming releases, find recipes, and “live” the Amish world without giving up their “English” (non-Amish) comforts.

“All of this content can live in one place,” says Alicia Mey, Zondervan senior marketing director focusing on fiction. “If someone has collected all that content for you, great, but you can also meet others there like you.”

Debbie Johnson is senior advertising and promotions manager at Tyndale, which builds a marketing campaign on a book-by-book basis, but most often blends traditional (print, radio) and nontraditional (online) methods. Radio interviews yield online visits, while print ads drive traffic to Facebook and Twitter feeds. The most successful campaigns, she says, use social spaces and traditional marketing routes.

“We tend to see better mileage when we use both methods,” she says, but the publisher is pushing further into the social space. “We’re definitely engaging more, and we’re experimenting more.”

At Abingdon, “We work with our authors to develop a social media strategy that makes sense for each individual and the launch of their books,” says Crabtree. “This could include a combination of personal blogging, Facebook, Twitter, book trailers, videos, and a robust Web site with book and marketing information.”

Publishers land somewhere between setting general social media strategies and having strict social media requirements. Zondervan’s strategies, whether for individual authors or the company as a whole, are always author-centric, driving consumers back to author social spaces. Publishers are using physical books to drive readers to social media spaces by including Web site addresses, Facebook and Twitter information, and QR codes that link to YouTube and other sites. Advertising campaigns also point to social media in these ways.

Mey has three main goals: first, to create social media communities and, second, to train authors to be effective with social media. “We want them to be consistent, relevant, and offer significant content,” she says, crediting both Karen Kingsbury and Lisa Terkeurst for their social marketing savvy. The third goal is to go where the consumers are. Some are on Facebook, others on Twitter. “I say to authors to be true to who you are and be true out there in the different spaces.”

For Thomas Nelson, whose products range from Bibles to curriculum, books to apps, each publishing team develops its own specific strategies to meet its core readers. Baker Publishing Group does the same, with Baker Academic/Brazos Press creating the Brazos Blog last September and Bethany House creating a Facebook page called Book Banter. Brazos Blog authors are asked to write a “Behind the Book” piece, explaining the story or idea behind the book, as well as original content that explores the themes of the book or links it to current events.

“We host an author on our Book Banter Facebook page for a day a couple times a month,” says Noelle Buss, publicist for Bethany. “They can interact with fans, share stories, photos, recipes, answer questions, etc.”

Abingdon aims at different blogs for fiction and nonfiction as well as different Web sites. Baker Academic/Brazos Press does tours with “bibliobloggers,” many of whom are Ph.Ds., and has had successful tours for Daniel Kirk’s Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? (Baker Academic, Jan.) and A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jesus (Baker Academic, 2011).

Navigating the Blogosphere

Blog tours—instead of the author tours of years past—are one of the newest ways to touch readers. The Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, started and run by Bonnie Calhoun, has 225 member bloggers, carefully screened, who can choose to blog about the six to 12 books offered each month by publishers (or authors) who pay the CFBA fee.

Calhoun says usually 40 to 60 bloggers sign up for each title, which is featured Monday–Wednesday or Wednesday–Friday of a given week. Bloggers, who receive the book free from the publisher after agreeing to blog about it, can write their own reviews or use a standard post from a press release.

“I’m not going to say that a blog tour increases sales,” says Calhoun, whose first novel, Cooking the Books (Abingdon; reviewed in this issue), releases in April. “But I can say that any blog tour I do puts that book cover in front of a minimum of 10,000 people. Blog tours are one incremental part of a whole marketing campaign.”

Howard Books, says publicity director Jennifer Smith, does a lot of its blog outreach in-house. “We have worked diligently over the past few years to develop a core list of bloggers and Web sites and a specific blogger review program. It opens up an entire demographic of readers that traditionally may not have been reached.”

Launching their own blog tour and online review sites is a tactic now used by many publishers eager to tap into a ready-made audience. Thomas Nelson created BookSneeze, a blogger-specific book review program featuring new Thomas Nelson and WestBow Press titles. It has 22,000 active members.

Revell, an imprint of Baker Publishing Group, created the Blog Tour Network, in which the company invites bloggers, based on topics they express interest in, to review books and post within a time frame. Revell offers interviews, q&as, and other material for bloggers to post.

“The result is that we have happier authors who feel like more people are engaged with the book, and it creates a richer word-of-mouth environment for sales,” says Deonne Lindsey, publicity director for Baker Publishing Group.

Authors and Publishers Working Together

Publishers build on platforms already established by authors or encourage them to shore up those platforms. Authors are quick to use their platforms to spread the word about their books, with publishers offering ideas and content and goal-setting strategies.

Reviews and recommendations from authors’ contacts are important as well, says Crabtree of Abingdon, “and having an active social media plan in place allows us to get this information out quickly.” She says that blog tours and online reviews have been successful for the house.

Says Katie Bond, fiction publicity manager for Nelson, “We refer to our authors’ social media communities as their assets: something they own and will always take with them. So it behooves the authors to be developing these networks.” Key is helping authors chose where they are more comfortable.

“Some of the biggest frustrations authors express are regarding how to best devote their limited promotional time, without taking away from writing and life. But when they’re told it’s okay to pick just one or two, the pressure falls away,” says Bond.

Zondervan is quick to cross-promote as well as leverage an author’s existing platform, using, for example, Max Lucado’s (God’s Story, Your Story, 2011) 335,000 Twitter followers or Anne Voskamp’s (One Thousand Gifts, 2011) 13,000 Twitter followers and active blog presence, or Tricia Goyer’s (The Memory Jar, Nov. 2012) active Facebook community, Twitter following, and Pinterest postings..

Primary, says Lindsey of Baker, is building relationships between authors and readers. “Readers really crave relationships with authors.”

Publishers agree that social marketing is here to stay. Some believe they have reached a temporary plateau in using social spaces; others are still learning what works and what doesn’t for their authors. All acknowledge that the energy of social marketing constantly requires new content to keep readers interested.

For all the power of social marketing spaces, a book’s trajectory still moves upward as one person tells another who tells another. The difference is how and where the telling takes place. Says Howard’s Smith, “Word of mouth is huge, but viral word of mouth is even bigger.”