Henry Holt Experiments With Online Marketing: A Q&A With Marketing Director Richard Rhorer
Earlier this year, Richard Rhorer, marketing director at Henry Holt and Company, chose the online social-networking site MeetUp.com—on which visitors meet around a shared interest, first online and then in person—to help better connect the publisher with its readers. To help spread the word about an upcoming release, “What Was Lost,” he used the online tool to invite Web-savvy book lovers to come together at a Manhattan bar with the book’s author, Catherine O’Flynn. Attendees were mailed galleys of the book ahead of time, and about 50 people showed up for the event. “Getting 50 people to attend an event for an unknown author is a terrific result,” says Rhorer.
In addition to generating interest in the title, Rhorer also pulled focus-group information from those in attendance. He tells Book Business Extra that the event was just one of several new digital options Holt is utilizing to help create buzz for its upcoming releases.
Book Business Extra: What did you get out of the recent experience on MeetUp.com?
Richard Rhorer: [This] was just a … small experiment we were conducting. If we offered the book early, how many people would take us up on it? How many people would show up beyond just getting a book [in the mail]? … We had hoped that these people would have Facebook or MySpace profiles and blogs. We did see people who went to that [MeetUp.com event] writing on their blogs about it. That was one outcome we hoped would happen. In terms of the focus group, it helped us as we prepare the final book descriptions for the back panel of the jacket. It was very instructional.
Extra: What can appealing to Web-savvy readers involved in social-networking sites offer to book publishers who are looking to get the word out about a new title?
Rhorer: … In the past, if someone liked a book, they might recommend it to a couple of friends. It’s [common] to see someone with 300 or 400 friends [on a social-networking site]. That word of mouth thing—which we believe is the most effective marketing—can be amplified. People who want to be opinion-makers have these Web connections where they can post a link to a review and 400 people, as opposed to two or three, will see it. It speeds up the process a lot where word of mouth is an essential. Engaging that audience, especially those people online, can be hugely beneficial.
Extra: What traditional forms of publicity aren’t as effective today?
Rhorer: I wouldn’t say [that] there is anything that used to work well, and now it suddenly doesn’t. … Publishers have always looked to all forms of media to sell print. What has changed is that there is so much media. The long-range impact of a single hit has been watered down a bit. People have so much information coming at them all the time. Publishers absolutely can do all the things they used to do, like … sending out [review copies and] early copies to booksellers. There are still the front-line booksellers who are speaking to people who are coming into stores.
Extra: In what new ways can publishers connect with their core audiences? What online tools have seemed to work and what have not?
Rhorer: Nothing has really changed. There is just added dimensions to marketing, [including] the Web, that are really important. The top 50 reviewers on Amazon—we’ve reached out to them so that they have an early copy [of a new book]. You want those endorsements when [the book] lands. It’s not that anything has been less effective. The things that are in our bag of tricks have just expanded. In the past, it was enough to … send out review copies to all the reviewers. And now we spend large amounts of time here at Holt [working] very closely with 200 or 300 political bloggers who reach a large audience [to get guest blog posts]. … It’s a new option to have. It doesn’t replace book reviews and author interviews on [National Public Radio].
Extra: What types of online marketing have you tried?
Rhorer: We’ve been learning as we go. As with all different kinds of media, you have to develop content and market content that works for that medium. This week, we launched something that is pretty effective. We have a graphic novel-style version of “A People’s History of American Empire.” It’s a very left-leaning political point of view of history. What we did was, we had the author, Howard Zinn, write an essay for TomDispatch.com. [Then] we edited it down, and had the editor create a short video. We had actor Viggo Mortensen narrate it. It was picked up by 40 left-leaning political blogs. A couple hundred Web sites have linked to it or mentioned the video. It helped propel the book into the Top 100 on Amazon. It was an effective promotion. We used a short essay, which is good for the Web. You don’t want long excerpts. We’ve created content that sold the book, but it wasn’t directly derived from the book. It was other content that sold the book. …We used to just post full chapter excerpts, and that was the big marketing push, to offer that to other sites. I don’t think that was the most effective thing to do. If you have a willing author to create content, create different content.
Peter Beisser is a regular contributor to Book Business Extra. He previously was the managing editor of several North American Publishing Co. titles and has written extensively about the publishing industry.