Book Promo Campaigns – When and What is Too Much?


If you follow any authors, book bloggers, or publishers on any form of social media, chances are high that you’ve seen book promotion campaigns of varying sizes. The “big” books and authors get much more attention from their publishers’ marketing departments, and recently it seems that they’re becoming more and more grand with their ideas for how to promote a new book release.

I love seeing the books, series, and authors I love getting lots of publicity and attention.

But what I don’t like is when it gets to be too much, my feeds are saturated, and I actually start to resent the mention of something/someone I used to think of with fondness. Today I want to talk about some of these from a reader’s perspective, comparing some promotional campaigns that I’ve felt were successful with some that just became annoying.

[stextbox id=”kelley2″ image=”null”]Disclaimer: I do not work in, nor have I ever worked in, the publishing industry in any capacity. I have zero access to any kind of behind-the-scenes data, statistics, budgets, resources, or personnel. This post is strictly from a reader’s perspective — that is, you know, the kind of person to whom these marketing campaigns are targeted. Remember that I am judging the success of these campaigns not by how many books they sold, but how well the readers were engaged and treated.[/stextbox]

So what makes a book promo campaign successful? At what point does it start to go overboard? Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Example #1: This Wicked Game by Michelle Zink

Michelle Zink is one of my favorite authors — not only because I enjoy her books — but because she’s actively engaged in her fanbase community and does most of her promo all by herself. From what I’ve seen in the past, she gets little in the way of marketing support or budget from her publisher (as is the case with many, many authors, I believe). So for her latest book, This Wicked Game (published Nov 2013), she took it upon herself to put together a blog tour full of interesting content and fantastic prizes.

Campaign Features & Highlights

  • Engaging the fans: Zink reached out to her followers on various social media communities to find bloggers interested in being part of her blog tour. I like this approach because it is most likely to yield participants who are actually familiar with — and excited about — the author’s work.
  • This Wicked Game Blog Tour Prize Package

    This Wicked Game Blog Tour Prize Package

    Themed and bountiful giveaways: Let’s face it — giveaways are everywhere these days. They’re nothing new. But what I liked about the giveaways for this campaign was that they not only included the book and book swag, but specialty items that went along with the book’s theme; handmade voodoo bracelets and candles.

  • Involving other local creatives: The handmade voodoo bracelets included in the giveaway packages were sourced from a local artisan that Zink personally sought out. Each one is unique and specially crafted just for this promotional campaign. This kind of partnership with other local artisans is a great way to support the indie community and adds one more level to the grassroots feel of the whole campaign.

What sets Michelle Zink apart, in my mind, is the genuine and kindhearted nature that just exudes from her — even through the internet! It was clear that this marketing campaign was about engaging readers in a meaningful and memorable way — not about amassing followers or what I tend to think of as empty viewers.

Reader’s Verdict: Success

Example #2: Vitro by Jessica Khoury

One of the things I really like is when a book, video game, or TV show adds an extra level of immersion for the audience by creating things in the real world that are part of the story. The Secret World (MMORPG) did this by creating several websites the players actually have to search, register for, etc. in order to proceed with their quest objectives in-game. When I saw that this same sort of thing was happening for Jessica Khoury’s latest novel, Vitro (published Jan 2014), I was thrilled! Inviting the audience to become a part of the investigation and collect “secret” pieces of information — all the while earning tangible prizes — is such a fun idea.

Campaign Features & Highlights

  • Corpus Network website: This campaign included a website created for Corpus Network, the (evil?) company behind much of the strife in Vitro’s plot. The site looked as a real company website would, complete with promotional videos (shown above) and more.
  • Making each reader feel involved: Not only did the Corpus Network website exist, but it included a special set of objectives for readers to work toward. Each company department had a different set of tasks to complete, and once so many were completed, the viewer was given a highly classified bit of information (documents, photographs, character profiles, a recorded interview with one of the characters, etc.) along with a piece of the password to the mainframe. Once all the password pieces were collected, one could access the mainframe and the grand prize raffle.
  • Fun and interesting tasks: A lot of times, giveaway entries are simple things like following the author on a social media network, adding the book to your wishlist on Goodreads, or tweeting about the giveaway. What I liked about this campaign was that some of the tasks were more challenging, but were also fun and interesting. Examples? Creating book spine poetry, taking a quiz about the free book excerpt available online, or taking a themed photo.
  • Prizes for Everyone: One of the cool things about each department was that not only did each task earn you entries into a rafflecopter giveaway, but once you achieved the department password, you got to choose a piece of swag to have mailed to you! This means every person automatically got up to 4 pieces of swag, just for participating — on top of the four department prizes and the grand prize! And on top of that? The swag and prizes were all shipped out almost immediately after the campaign ended.

Points of Criticism

While I really enjoyed the whole idea of this campaign — and just about salivated over the secret bits of information revealed in each department — I did find that some of the tasks bordered on too much.

Some of the tasks were things like sharing on Facebook (not everyone uses FB), designing a logo, writing short fiction, etc. Some of these things take a lot of time, which not everyone has. I guess it’s about accessibility and rewarding those who are the most dedicated. (It’s sort of like how the people who have all day to spend grinding/farming in an MMO are obviously going to have an advantage over those who — you know — work for a living…)

[Also: I’m disappointed to report that shortly after the book’s release, the Corpus Network website was taken offline. I wish they had kept it up for a while longer. I was hoping to go back to it while reading the book.]

Reader’s Verdict: Success

Example #3: Cress by Marissa Meyer

Look, it’s no secret that I am a HUGE fan of The Lunar Chronicles and Marissa Meyer; I push that series any chance I get! I am thrilled by the popularity of the series, and I adore the high level of design (have you SEEN the website?) the series gets. But the promo campaign for Cress (published Feb 2014)? Well, it’s what prompted me to write this whole post in the first place. This is when I began to say, “No, please, no more. Enough is enough!” And when I’m saturated by something I generally can’t get enough of? Well, that’s a problem.

Campaign Features & Highlights

  • Website with unlockable prizes: The promo website — — is undoubtedly GORGEOUS. I love the attention to detail involved in promoting this book, and the various prizes are cute, fun, and interesting (come on, who doesn’t want an Iko USB drive or a Cress laptop?!). The method of unlocking these prizes, however, is where I lost interest. In order to unlock the various prizes, readers are encouraged to tweet the #SaveCress hashtag; different prizes are unlocked after increasing quantities of tweets.
  • Tagline and Hashtag – #SaveCress: When I first started seeing ads for Cress on sites like Goodreads, I got all tingly inside! But then when I saw the line “Save Cress” on the ad, a wave of confusion rolled over me. Yes, I was lucky enough to read an early copy of Cress, which means I was already familiar with the story. I didn’t understand why Cress needed saving, and even more, I didn’t understand why that was supposed to be the highlight of the book and its promotion.

    As of writing this post, weeks after the campaign began, this prize still needed close to 1 million tweets in order to be unlocked.

    Invitation for readers to “Join the Resistance”: Once again, this confused me. When I hear “join the resistance” I instantly think of a second/third book in a YA dystopian trilogy (because there is always a resistance, you know). I’ve never seen The Lunar Chronicles as a dystopian series (granted, it’s not as if a resistance can only be present in a dystopian society, but hear me out). I’ve always experienced it — as Marissa Meyer has described it from the beginning — as a space opera. Certainly there is a need for Earthens to resist against Levana, the oppressive Lunar queen, but honestly that’s always felt like an underlying theme, rather than the main focus, of the books.

Where, Why, and How it Lost Me

It’s clear that I’m passionate about this series, and maybe I’m alone in my feelings about its promotion — I don’t know. But there’s no way I’m the only person tired of:

  1. Seeing random tweets with the #SaveCress hashtag.
  2. Checking the website, only to discover a dismal amount of tweets still required to unlock one of the first prizes (let alone the grand prize).
  3. Attempting to think up something relevant (and not boring, repetitive, or annoying) to tweet along with the #SaveCress hashtag, in order to contribute to the numbers, only to give up a short time later.

This is depressing and disappointing for me because not only does the campaign feel like it’s not reaching the amount of success that we all want, but it’s getting on my goddamn nerves. I hate the thought that they overestimated the level of engagement this book/series/author would receive, and it only makes the perceived failure of the campaign hurt more.

It’s kind of like when your boss gives you a completely unreasonable monthly sales goal, because even if you do a badass job and exceed anything else you’ve ever done, you’re still seen as a failure for not meeting their outlandish expectations. This is bad and wrong and unfair.

Reader’s Verdict: Mild Success?

In Conclusion…

Again, these verdicts are purely from a reader’s perspective, although I really wish I had more hard data to use for further analysis. I tried my best to be objective without being outright critical or mean, but I wanted to be sure I shared my honest observations and feelings here.

What do you think?

How do you feel about the various book promotion campaigns you’ve seen online? Have you participated in any? What were your favorites? Which ones have annoyed you?

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