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Stephanie Argy — Social Media Strategy by Genre

I’ve been struck by the way different genres demand different strategies to connect with their audiences. For this project, I’ve set out to explore that further by creating a set of marketing recommendations for five first-time novelists whom I know from a writing group. Each writer is working in a different genre; these are the five represented: 1) 2) 3) 4) 5)

Middle grade Contemporary literary drama Time-travel romantic comedy Mystery/thriller set in Los Angeles in the 1980s. YA superhero story

The five novels are in varying stages of completion, from a first draft in progress to a finished manuscript already being submitted to agents. My goal with this analysis is to look more deeply into how authors working in different genres reach their audiences. To do that, for each of the five novels, I found four comp titles, ideally (but not always) debut novels published within the last two years. I looked at what marketing and publicity approaches had been used for those comp titles, what sort of press coverage (traditional and otherwise) each comp title received, what forms of social media the author used, and what kind of sales each achieved. From that information, I’ve made a set of custom recommendations for each author and his or her book. I have two overall observations for the authors to whom I’m offering suggestions. First, for this set of comp titles at least, Twitter is by a wide margin the dominant social media platform; although all but one of the authors have a Facebook presence (either a personal page or an author page), most of those are much smaller than their presence on Twitter. And second, all but one of the comp title authors has a personal website, in addition to whatever social media

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presence he or she may have. So my first global recommendation would be for all five of the writers to launch their own website (if they don’t already have one) and to increase their activity on Twitter. Now I’m going to consider each of the five books and their comp titles individually. (Also, at the end of this report, I’ve included tables showing statistics for each group of comp titles.)

MIDDLE GRADE Our middle grade title is about a boy who becomes an ultra-marathoner and sets out to win a race that his late mother was never able to finish. The comp titles I used for this book are likewise focused on sports: 1) 2) 3) 4)

Because of Mr. Terupt (Rob Buyea) – Release to Date Sales (RTD) 255,265 Point Guard (Mike Lupica) – RTD 7,287 Ghost (Jason Reynolds) – RTD 55,484 Sidetracked (Diane H. Asher) – RTD 853

Several of these middle-grade authors have large existing fan bases. Mike Lupica is a wellknown sports writer; Jason Reynolds has over 19,000 followers on Twitter, and another 11,000 on Instagram. (Of all the authors in the analysis, he has by far the most substantial presence on Instagram; he’s also the only one who has no Facebook account at all.) It seemed almost unfair to include Because of Mr. Terupt, because it came out in 2010, but it’s so close in tone and theme that it felt like a good parallel—and with 255,265 sales to date, it certainly demonstrates the success that’s possible in this genre. Those sales numbers came with relatively low social media support: the author, Rob Buyea, has 1,298 likes on Facebook, and only 826 followers on Twitter.


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All of these comp titles were well covered in high-end legacy media, both for interviews and for reviews. In addition to print coverage, both Mike Lupica and Jason Reynolds were interviewed by network news programs. On the other end of the spectrum, reviews also came from a small number of BookTubers—including, most charmingly, middle-school-age BookTubers. This was one genre in which awards seemed to matter. Mr. Terupt had multiple nominations and a few wins for awards on the state level, and Ghost was a National Book Award finalist.

LITERARY FICTION The author of our literary fiction title was a recipient of the Oregon Literary Fellowship this year, and her book is a suspenseful drama about a woman who falls into an obsessive friendship with another woman whom she meets while on a business trip in Spain. The comp titles focus on female friendships and on similarly mysterious and fraught relationships: 1) 2) 3) 4)

The Girls (Emma Cline) – RTD 249,333 Marlena (Julie Buntin) – RTD 7,482 Swimming Lessons (Claire Fuller) – RTD 6,931 A Separation (Katie Kitamura) – RTD 7,741

The monstrously successful title in this collection of comps was The Girls, but all the titles except for Swimming Lessons received extensive high-level legacy media coverage, from outlets such as the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, Vogue and NPR. The author of Swimming Lessons, Claire Fuller, does have a very strong Twitter presence, however, with 9,249 followers and over 14,500 tweets, so perhaps that made up for some of the lack of press.


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The big surprise for me was the strong support these titles (with the exception of A Separation) received from BookTubers—more than for any of the other genres I looked at.

TIME TRAVEL ROMANTIC COMEDY This novel is about a Jane Austen scholar who finds herself transported back in time to Austen’s era—accompanied by a fellow Austen aficionado with whom she’s currently at odds, as well as romantically attracted to. For these comp titles, I chose three that are explicitly linked to Jane Austen, and a fourth that shares the same magical qualities as our title: 1) 2) 3) 4)

The Jane Austen Project (Kathleen A. Flynn) – RTD 7,897 The Austen Escape (Katherine Reay) – RTD 638 First Impressions: A Novel (Charlie Lovett) – RTD 10,405 The Bookseller (Cynthia Swanson) – RTD 9,553

This set of comp titles was covered less in big legacy publications, other than Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. Instead, there were multiple reviews in smaller outlets that specialize in historical fiction, especially Austen-related (Austenesque Reviews). BookTubers did have some interest in these titles, especially The Jane Austen Project and First Impressions, but less than I’d expected. The author of The Jane Austen Project also edits the Upshot section of the New York Times, which undoubtedly helped her place an essay in the Times: “How is a Debut Novel Like Lizzy Bennet?” This was the one genre in which Facebook was more popular than Twitter. With the exception of The Jane Austen Project, all of the authors had larger presences on Facebook than on any other platform.


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MYSTERY/THRILLER SET IN LOS ANGELES IN THE 1980s Our thriller follows a young Japanese-American translator whose affair with her boss plunges her into a dangerous adventure through the myriad cultures that make up the city of Los Angeles in the 1980s. Because of the book’s rich portrayal of the city, I looked for comp titles set in Southern California with a similar tense, mysterious tone: 1) 2) 3) 4)

Wonder Valley (Ivy Pochoda) – RTD 1,897 Catalina (Liska Jacobs) – RTD 376 All Involved (Ryan Gattis) – RTD 5,233 The Barbarian Nurseries (Hector Tobar) – 8,541

In the table at the end of this report, I also included one other title: Southland by Nina Revoyr. It was published in 2003, so I felt it was too old to be a true comp, but it shares some major themes with our book, so I wanted to include it the analysis. As with the literary fiction book, these titles relied heavily on high-end legacy media coverage: The New York Times, KCRW, the Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly, and less on social media than the other genres.

YA SUPERHERO ADVENTURE A teenaged Vietnamese-American girl believes that she’s The One—a superhero with secret powers waiting to be activated—but when the time comes, she discovers that she’s not The One, but a sidekick. To find good comps for this title, I had to go a little farther back: 1) 2) 3) 4)

Not Your Sidekick (C.B. Lee) – RTD 1,405 A Hero at the End of the World (Erin Claiborne) – RTD 1,257 Dark Star (Bethany Frenette) – RTD 2,960 The Vindico (Wesley King) – RTD 2,675


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Of these, the closest comp might be the most recent, Not Your Sidekick, which also features a Vietnamese superheroine. I was surprised by how few BookTubers reviewed these titles (with the exception of Not Your Sidekick), though that may be partly because the other titles were older (from 2012-4). These books didn’t attract mainstream articles and interviews, but as with the time travel romantic comedy, there was a small and dedicated set of specialty outlets that covered the books: Talk Nerdy with Us, Think Ponder, Fangirlish, YA Reads, My Bookish Ways. The author of A Hero at the End of the World may be the least successful of the comp authors using Twitter: despite having fired off over 49,000 tweets since joining in 2010, she has only 827 followers. (Her book also had the lowest sales of these four comps, despite having been released in 2014.)

CONCLUSION This is a very small sampling of titles, but based on them, I have a brief set of recommendations for each of the five authors. As mentioned above, all of the authors would do well to make a website and build up their Twitter presence. In addition:

Middle grade: Become familiar with the youngest BookTubers and learn about the possible awards to pursue. In-person appearances work well in this realm, so cultivate relationships with middle schools for future engagements.


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Literary fiction: This is definitely an area where it helps to have the heft of a big press behind a book. Social media can help, but I would advise this author to do all that she can to expose herself to large publishers via conferences, workshops, contests, etc.

Time travel romantic comedy: Even if this book is published by a large press (which all of these comps were), it may need to rely on promotion that’s closer to grassroots, such as BookTubers and small publications that specialize in historical fiction. I would suggest that this author become familiar with all of those outlets and become part of that community, to better be able to draw on them in the future. This is one instance in which the author might also want to cultivate her presence on Facebook.

Mystery/Thriller Set in Los Angeles in the 1980s: Like the literary fiction book, this will rely on a push from its publisher so that it can get covered by bigger publications. But it can also draw on its genre identity, and this writer should start exploring some of the more genre-driven festivals, such as Bouchercon.

YA Superhero Adventure: Although these comps didn’t attract the level of attention that I expected from BookTubers, I would still suggest that this writer become familiar with BookTubers who might be good reviewers and allies later on. Also, it would be good for her to look at the publications that reviewed the comp titles or ran interviews with their authors, including Rich in Color, YA Books Central, Fangirlish and Talk Nerdy with Us.


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The important thing for each author to remember as they set out to build connections with their future audiences is that this part of the process needs to be as authentic and natural as the writing itself. Fans of each genre will see through opportunism, so the more effort the authors put into becoming part of the community, the more effective those connections will be. These authors already have something important in common with their potential fans: they all love that particular genre, so that’s a starting point right there.

Social Media by Genre  
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