#scotbookconf | Sam Missingham, HarperCollins UK: “We’re in the business of words.”

Publishing Scotland Conference – COSLA – 24th February 2015.

As much as she’d like to say otherwise, Sam admits there’s little brand awareness from readers when it comes to publishers and imprints. Every book is a launch, entertainment is changing and there’s a lot of noise and clutter to be heard over. More importantly, do we know who our readers are?

These are some of the challenges in marketing and social media. There’s a vast landscape and understanding their pros and cons is key. “You don’t need to be using all of the platforms, all of the time,” Sam explains. “But you do need to do some very well.”

Snapchat is utterly baffling, she laughs, but it’s important for certain demographics who find Facebook uncool, with 71m users, most of which are under 25. Twitter has 288m visitors per month and 500m tweets per day, Instagram has 300m users, with 41% 16-24,  Goodreads had 30m users who have logged over 900m books. The numbers speak for themselves, and the markets and demographics are there.

The platform is already built, you just need to work out how to tap into the section that works for you for amplification and connecting with readers, shops, librarians and so on. So why do people fear social media? Maybe it’s the misconceptions. It is not a waste of time, people talking solely about food, or just Stephen Fry (though she recommend to use him if you can!). Most importantly, it’s not easy.

You need an authentic voice, one for your brand. What a lot of businesses forget is that each staff member is their own person and can give a different staff voice to the company brand. It doesn’t need to be boring and static. When done well it drives traffic. Waterstones is one that springs to mind.

“You cannot just limit yourself to your lists if you really put the reader first.”

Sam details the thought process and execution of the romance festival HarperCollins ran on 7/8 Feb this year. They sought to deliver fan-facing engagement, publisher-agnostic, inclusive event. This would build an email list, engage with people on social media and, hopefully, sell books.

But what to consider? Where is the target audience? Do we have an established audience? How do we add value for them? They decided there were two distinct groups – authors and fans – and made Saturday an author development day, while Sunday was more about the books and authors.

120 authors from the UK, US, France, Australia and South Africa. 10+ publishers, several self-published authors. 15 multi-million selling authors and Sunday Times bestsellers. The basics are staggering, but they utilised those working with them in a variety of ways to create a diverse event.

It resulted in an audience of 27m from 5,500 tweets of the hashtag. 13% bought a book within just 24 hours based on the event, while 91% said they had learned more about the genre.

This was their virtual sci-fi festival, which had many similar objectives. Live virtual events included Margaret Atwood and Matt Haig, 40 author Q+As, scientists answering anything related to their field. They had podcasts, spotify lists, short story competitions – each offered something interesting for fans and it’s these interesting ways of viewing sci-fi that engaged with them.

The hashtag was, according to Twitter, more popular than Christmas. So that’s always something! The artwork/creative/visual side to a campaign like this is always key – it has a power and impact unlike most other elements, so has to be right from the start.

With this consistency in mind, Sam then moves onto the campaign for George R R Martin and Robin Hobb’s event in August 2014. The hashtag was consistent from day one. They offered the opportunity for ticket information first through an email sign up, and gained thousands of people. Eventbrite cannot be recommended highly enough: aside from margins, it gives you data on your customers that you can’t get otherwise.

In line with knowing and utilising social media, she contacted Reddit and offered them tickets as prizes. The person there suggested a poetry/haiku contest based on their pair’s work. It was something she would never have thought of, but worked for the community.

Note: My favourite is –
Hodor, Hodor, Ho?
Dor, hodor, ho-dor hodor.
Hodor, hodor, ho.


The visuals not only matched the authors and fantasy genre, but it tied into the final event, which is absolutely key, and shown to work very well throughout this campaign.

Data should be a part of every marketing strategy, she concludes. You get a database of fans and audience and can work accordingly. There needs to be storytelling, given that “we’re in the business of words”.

You need to curate, put the reader first, focus on data and adding value. You must be authentic, seek engagement, be 24/7, be relevant, humourous and have a personality. Design influences, and don’t be afraid to collaborate.

Definitely a personal highlight of the day. Such an interesting talk from an innovative company. Sam has also just started posting about #killerfest, a live and virtual festival on March 13/14. Details here.

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