Marketers take the wheel – plus 10 key learnings from the Crime & Thriller Masterclass with James Spackman

POSTED ON: 24/04/19 TAGS: Masterclass crime & thriller

by katie

Almost exactly a year ago, I was delivering a “Get a Job in Publishing” conference with my two bks Agency colleagues and we were talking about marketing careers. I found myself declaring “marketing people are the most disempowered and exploited people in publishing!” Alright, a bit of an overstatement but I (and probably you) have suffered enough last-minute pitch documents, author-appeasing “distress advertising” briefs and feedback like “just the packshot and the shoutline please … and the Tesco tag” to feel like marketing was more service department than agenda setter.

But are things changing for marketers? I detected an upbeat tone at our recent BMS Masterclass, at which we heard in detail about four tremendous crime and thriller campaigns, all of which went beyond the narrow confines of book promotion into actually driving the publications.

Lullaby by Leila Slimani was about to suffer the fate of many books whose commissioning editor has moved on; being somewhat undersold and neglected, when Katie Hall, Faber’s marketing director, led a drive to reposition the book in a commercial and ambitious direction (but still stylish – this is Faber, right?) . The hook – “The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds” – became the focus of not just the marketing activity but the whole publishing strategy, with proof copies acting as book prototypes, to gauge reaction. As a result, the cover and copy neatly positioned Lullaby right on the edge of the domestic noir market and was a huge commercial success as a result.

Abbie Salter told another reboot story when she described her work on The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley, which wasn’t chosen for the HarperCollins “Event Book” treatment. Convinced of its potential, Abbie and colleagues ran a radically responsive campaign for the book which, far from prioritising delivery of a pre-agreed masterplan, embraced the opportunity to test – using a free esampler on Amazon and of course netgalley – to gather reaction and adjust their messaging. With spend focused on digital channels, and a split ebook/physical publication schedule, closely coordinated with sales colleagues, everyone involved needed to forego a “ta-da!” moment in favour of an always-developing publishing strategy. A big leap of faith for nervous editors, when you’re asking them not to worry about a small initial subscription.

Viking’s Lindsay Terrell is driving the he fast-growing crime author Cara Hunter’s brand, using some similar tactics; using Netgalley, bloggers and Amazon reviewers to gather valuable reaction; as “social listening” tools as much as promotional ones, to gather fuel for the campaign, one reader at a time.

Vintage lead a huge international brand in the form of Jo Nesbo, as Sophie Painter explained. Because the author broke early in the UK, they’ve been in the driving seat, defining the global approach, coordinating activity and timings and making decisions about use of the author’s time. Their brand activities are year-round, and the brand is genuinely international, so their regular newsletter to partner publishers is a vital focus. Sophie and team have also had a strong influence on publishing strategy; they repositioned Nesbo’s Macbeth retelling, based on solid reader insight.

What does all that amount to? Firstly, a hugely reader-focused approach to book marketing. But not through formal market research or paid-for insight work; instead, using reviews, book communities and socmed as social listening devices. The reader data gives marketers the insight and the evidence required to influence position and cover copy. And fast-responding digital work puts marketing teams in more collaborative relation to their sales colleagues.

Marketers often now have their hands on the controls of a publication; monitoring, adjusting, testing and refining. It’s an increasingly technical role, and increasingly central.

Our next Masterclass, in July, will focus on YA marketing, and we’ll have a mix of campaigns from traditionally children’s and adult lists. Our “surgery” session will address the big questions addressing YA marketers and we’ll talk in detail about dilemmas and challenges facing our peers.

Thank you to Katie, Abbie, Lindsay and Sophie for sharing their work so generously and helping us all see what exciting times these are in book marketing.

James Spackman

As always, there was so much to take away from the day, but these ten things in particular stood out to the BMS team…

  1. Clear positioning of a book is key. While Lullaby was already an international bestseller and prize winner when it was released in the UK, the marketing team knew they needed a way to position it clearly as an upmarket domestic thriller. Pulling the first line out of the book was the perfect way to do this.
  2. Samplers are not dead! Several presentations talked about sampling in various formats. 50,000 samplers of Lullaby were given away with Elle magazine, and a free digital sampler, listed on Amazon, was a key part of the Hunting Party campaign.
  3. Proofs are still vital in building up word-of-mouth. 700 proofs were given away for Lullaby, The Hunting Party campaign used around 1,500 and they formed a key part of the strategy for launching Cara Hunter.
  4. When it comes to digital campaigns, be as agile as possible, testing and learning constantly. Test with small amounts of budget as early as you can so that you know that you’re running the best possible creative and copy when the book is released.
  5. A free digital sampler released a few months ahead of publication is a great way to test your Facebook messaging. The Hunting Party campaign kicked off four months pre-publication, promoting a free sampler on Amazon. This allowed them to test their creative and copylines while driving people to something free that was an easy sell for consumers to download.
  6. Twitter advertising is making a come-back. Thanks to their improved targeting, it looks as though it delivers good results within the crime and thriller genre in particular.
  7. As social media algorithms change, newsletters are becoming increasingly important. Vintage put together a monthly newsletter for their biggest brand author, Jo Nesbo. They have very limited time with him, so plan out a year’s worth of content in advance, so that they can get exclusive material from him. They also have an always-on acquisition plan to get new readers to the list, with a mix of paid-for and owned activity to promote it.
  8. Regular activity is really important to a newsletter’s engagement – the Nesbo newsletter had a big drop off in terms of engagement when frequency dropped from monthly to every other month.
  9. Reader reviews have huge power in digital advertising. The digital marketing results for Cara Hunter showed that time and again, reader reviews from Amazon and Netgalley delivered better results than copy featuring traditional media or comparable author reviews.
  10. Making a big book now is all about the build. You start early and keep pushing it and pushing it. Then when publication comes around, you just keep going. There’s no splashy outdoor to kick off publication and end the marketing activity. If a book is getting traction, you need to be thinking about ways to build on that and reach more readers.

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