Tuesday, 24 May 2011

International Chick Lit Month: Promoting Chick Lit

Working for a book publishers is a dream for a huge book lover like me; imagine being surrounded by gorgeous titles all day. Brings me out in trembles as I write. A good few years ago I read Bestseller by Olivia Goldsmith which gave me a real indicator about how the publishing industry works and how crucial the departments such as sales, editorial, marketing and PR are to the success of a title. Because She Can by Bridie Clark also provided us with a pop cultural view of the book industry and how they analyse trends in order to shift books. I was introduced to the Sphere clan at the launch of From Notting Hill with Love Actually and I was struck by how much passion they had for the books they were working on. I caught up with Hannah Hargrave, the acting publicity manager at Little, Brown Book Group (which owns Sphere) and she gave me the lowdown on the publicity department and what exactly goes on in there.

Describe your role at Sphere.
As Acting Publicity Manager at Little, Brown Book Group – looking after the Sphere list primarily – I work in an incredibly busy publicity department. Everyday I handle a huge number of media enquiries, with requests for review copies, interviews and features with our many authors coming in from the national and regional newspapers, magazines, websites, TV and radio stations. I plan and carry out publicity campaigns for around four new titles a month, and this involves writing press releases, sending out review copies to all the literary editors and key reviewers, and pitching to journalists in order to persuade them to feature our authors. I also need to stay in constant contact with my authors and keep them updated on any news of coverage, as well as manage their interview and events schedules, which can involve promotional book signings and festival appearances across the country. With so many amazing authors on our list it can get very hectic!

How do you define Chick Lit?
Chick lit is often dismissed as being formulaic, sentimental froth – the desperate single woman seeking a Mr Darcy figure has her happy ending, all bound together with a pastel pink cover! However, the genre is as strong and as vibrant as ever, with an incredible range of themes, characters, dilemmas, humour and romance. Books published today need to offer readers more than the usual girl-meets-boy story, and our key authors, including Jenny Colgan, Fiona Walker and Dorothy Koomson – to name but a few – write books that are genuinely funny, compelling, gripping, emotional and intelligent. And I think that good chick lit is defined in the same way.

Name a few of your favourite Chick Lit books.
I have a very long list, but it would definitely include The Imperfect Girlfriend by Lucy-Anne Holmes, Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding (classic!), Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella, My Best Friend’s Girl by Dorothy Koomson and I am currently loving Victoria Fox’s Hollywood Sinners (although technically this is more of a bonkbuster!).
What sort of tactics do you use to promote a Chick Lit novel?
It does depend on the book I’m working on, but I’m always willing to give anything and everything a go, and authors always have lots of good ideas themselves. At the moment I am fully embracing digital strategies – using Twitter, Facebook, blogs and websites to create as much buzz as possible. I’ve also sent out treats with review copies (cakes and chocolate always go down well!), created themed parties with costumes and props, and wrapped books in luxury paper and ribbon to make them look and feel extra special. If it will give us an extra national review – and more sales – it’s always worth a try.

Tell me about your most recent campaign.
At the moment I’m working on a debut publishing in June – Laura’s Handmade Life by Amanda Addison - an irresistible cross between Slummy Mummy and Kirstie Allsopp's Homemade Home, with all the chaotic humour of family life combined with everything crafty - sewing, patchwork, knitting. The cover is absolutely gorgeous, and there has already been a lot of interest from the women’s magazines. The editor, Caroline Hogg, who acquired the book, is a huge fan of crafts and she organised people in the office to get together and make some adorable flower brooches: They are all unique and hand-sewn, and will be sent out with a copy of the book to all the literary editors and reviewers across the national press, which will hopefully make it stand out from all the others they receive for that month. Amanda Addison is a graduate of the Chelsea School of Art, so I’ve been putting her forward for interviews and features as well. We will also be launching an incredible competition to win a sewing machine and some other crafty goodies. Caroline has created a Blue Peter style ‘how to make a book bag’ video, and we’re hoping that all those people who love sewing and making things will join in and send us pictures of their own creations! Again, websites and blogs are incredibly important to this campaign, and I’ve been contacting quite a few who are keen to review the book or run competitions - and help us with ours. Amanda will also be popping into local shops to sign copies.

How much input do the authors have in promoting their book?
Authors are essential to the publicity campaign. Early on we brainstorm ideas for features and news hooks, and I make sure they are happy to take part in interviews or events with bookshops, festivals and libraries. We also encourage authors to set up websites and Twitter feeds so that they can engage with their fans on a daily basis. I check press releases with authors, and make sure that any useful contacts they have in the media, or famous friends, get sent a copy too.

How would you say social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and blogging have played a part in marketing the genre?
Social networking sites are vital in generating word of mouth excitement and getting your message straight to the fans. I always make sure that every book and author I work with has an online presence, and bloggers who review books are becoming increasingly powerful. Whereas a magazine will have one slot a week for a book review, websites can run limitless amounts of reviews and comments from fans. Increasingly chick lit readers are using these sites to determine which book they buy next, and I need to make sure that Sphere books are in all the right places.

You can follow Hannah on Twitter.

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