Digital Strategies for Tapping the YA Market #BEA14 Panel Recap

Whatever your campaign, and however you manage your overall platform, the key to “tapping” the YA marketplace, or any marketplace, really, is finding a way to be innovative and creative in your approach and execution.

I had such a great time on the Digital Strategies for Tapping the YA Market panel at #BEA14. The moderator, Professor Manuela Soares, asked incisive, thoughtful questions, and the panel — featuring a very well-balanced cross-section from the industry—was able to weigh in with insightful and honest answers. The panel included a publisher, Arthur A. Levine, two authors — Alaya Dawn Johnson and Carolyn Mackler, an editor, Cheryl Klein, a librarian and book reviewer, Jennifer Hubert Swan, and a marketer — that would be me.

This subject of this panel truly interests to me — I wholeheartedly believe that some of the most interesting and engaging things going on in the digital space with respect to publishing is happening with YA books. Why? Because the authors are game for anything, the readers are vocal, voracious, willing to connect, and hungry to share their thoughts and opinions, and the savvy YA marketers are being really creative about helping to forge authentic relationships between the authors and the overall YA community. I also know that none of this is easy. I am personally enjoying the learning curve and getting to try some new things out.

Here are some my thoughts on the topics addressed during the panel.

— It’s important to understand the different types of audiences that make up the YA marketplace — teachers, librarians, parents, YA writers, aspiring writers, adults who read YA, kids who read YA, just to name a few. Many of these segments can be reached through diligence and research — librarians, for example. But the teen readers themselves — that’s the key audience, of course—are the hardest to forge lasting connections with. That’s where you want to focus your innovation and experimentation.

— Authors are the key to forging connections, but of course each author is different. Some are not going to want to be on social media at all. For others, it may only make sense for them to engage on a single platform — and that’s okay. It’s all case by case. That’s where a supportive publisher and editor come into play, as well as a marketer who has the experience and up-to-date knowledge to provide proper guidance.

— Should ideas come from outside the publishing industry? Hell yes! The echo chamber of sales sheets and downloadable reading group guides and tote bags and bookmarks and all the rest of it often lack the creative fire that’s going to work in the YA space (or any segment of the book marketplace, truth be told). Look to what movies and rock bands and TV shows are doing. See what the latest breakthrough self-publishing author is up to — how did they break out? Was it Amazon’s marketing muscle, or something else entirely? Go to non-book industry events to hear from people that are likely on a edgier cutting-edge.

— In terms of print marketing versus digital marketing — more and more of the budget and focus is spent on digital, but of course we’re still printing books and we still create blow-ups and galleys and other types of printed marketing collateral. To me, it’s all important, and the great thing about digital is it allows you to create a thread that can more seamlessly connect all the various parts of your campaign — both the elements that are physical, and the assets that are digital.

— Video is a big part of the way people are connecting in the YA marketplace. That is of course stating the obvious (like asking if anyone has heard of John Green and the vlogbrothers). Creating videos that work, that’s not obvious. That is hard. During the panel I mentioned two channels that are producing great videos that are worth taking a look at for insights and inspiration: Epic Reads and PolandBananasBOOKS.

— One question from the audience was rather specific — the person is planning an imprint launch later in the year and asked what can she do now to build awareness, from a digital standpoint. I’d need more information about the books and the authors and the overall plan, but my quick one minute piece of advice was: decide on a single page/url where you send all your traffic throughout this pre-launch period, and on that page, have a really exciting campaign where visitors have to join a mailing list and/or connect on social media. Sometimes people overthink it and give people too many options, when they aren’t really invested yet. We forget that they don’t know all that we know, and they certainly don’t care as much as we do. Keep it simple and direct and make sure that once they land on that page, they are creatively incentivized to forge a connection that you can leverage when the time is right. And remember to ask yourself, how is this person benefitting?

— In terms of platforms — are teens leaving Facebook? What’s the new thing? Those question are important in the sense that you be following the digital news and engaging in the various platforms yourself. But I don’t get hung up on platforms. If you are being creative, and using the platform that makes sense for you, then you will forge meaningful, authentic connections that will benefit both you AND the reader for the long-term. That doesn’t necessarily mean fire your livejournal or myspace page back up, but for the most part, creativity trumps all.

I keep coming back to creativity. Whatever your campaign, however you handle your single channel, or your overall platform made up of multiple channels, or the video series you produce and focus on — whatever IT is — the key to “tapping” the YA marketplace, or any marketplace, really, is finding a way to be innovative and creative in your approach and execution. Try something new. Put stuff out there that makes you a little nervous. Throw things against the wall knowing that some of it — maybe most of it — is going to fall flat and utterly fail. Work fast and don’t overthink things. Keep pushing it, because if you do, the creative ideas will come, and how fun it is when things click into place and you realize your campaign is actually working.

Special thanks to the NYC Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA), which sponsored the panel.