This is the final essay I wrote for my Publishing class on Marketing for Book Publishers. The assignment was to explain the marketing campaign of a recent release.
Examining the marketing strategy behind Karina Halle’s Discretion perfectly illustrates the nature of marketing within the romance genre and how it differs from the marketing of other genres. In The Book Business: What Everyone Needs to Know, Mike Shatzin and Robert Paris Riger write about the future of the publishing industry, and how romance is shaping it. Shatzin and Riger propose, “at a future date it would be fascinating to study the shift from the mass-market paperback-dominated romance industry to the robust e-book-controlled romance world of today (128).” This paper will tackle one facet of the “robust e-book-controlled romance world of today,” how marketing for these e-books is vastly different than the strategies and best practices for any other genre within the publishing industry.
Catherine Sheldrick Ross’ contract theory of genres states that readers have clear expectations of what they have signed up for (Broadhurst). A writer must satisfy the request of their reader, in the case of romance there are expectations around meet cutes and happily ever afters that authors need to fulfill to make their readers happy. For many romance authors they must market their books as fulfilling the contract in order to bring their readers back for more. Ursula K. Le Guin’s piece “Staying Awake: Notes on the Alleged Decline in Reading” describes the relationship between the reader and the writer as one of mutual necessity (Le Guin). A writer needs a reader in order to have a story and this is the case no matter the genre. A unique aspect of the romance genre is that the marketing strategy also relies heavily upon the reader, the reader as a reviewer is an essential marketing tool that the best romance authors take advantage of. Through examining the marketing done by Karina Halle herself, the publisher Montlake Romance/Amazon Publishing, and the countless reviewers including myself one can garner the uniqueness within the industry of marketing for romance titles.
Marketing Done by Karina Halle Herself
An essential marketer in the romance genre is the authors themselves. The nature of the genre puts pressure on many romance authors to release books at a rapid pace. Karina Halle herself has published close to fifty books in less than ten years of writing. So, for an author like Karina Halle much of her fan base supports her overall rather than latching onto a particular book, and it is up to her in many cases to market her own books. Karina Halle started independently publishing in 2011 with the first book in her Experiment in Terror series, Darkhouse (“Darkhouse (Experiment”) Jumping forward to today, close to fifty books later Karina Halle has amassed over 4,500 members in her Facebook Fan Group(Karina Halle’s (Anti)Heroes,over 37,000 likes on her Facebook page (Karina Halle), over 12,400 Twitter followers(@metalblonde),and 31,500 followers on Instagram (authorhalle). It is on these platforms where her marketing for her books will take place. In the case of Discretion there was a heavy marketing presence before the release.
The marketing began from the day Karina Halle announced that Montlake Romance had acquired The Dumonts series. All three books in the trilogy had Goodreads pages, which prompted fans to quickly add the new stories to their to be read shelves and they began to post about their anticipation online. This was quite strategic as now Karina Halle’s fans were anticipating the release for months and because of this they were generating buzz online for months prior to release. When marketing was to be done closer to the release date many potential readers would have already had a familiarity with the anticipated series.
This leads us to the most anticipating drops in the romance reader world, the cover and synopsis reveal. The day before the cover reveal, Karina Halle took to her Facebook Fan Group, Karina Halle’s (Anti)Heroes to announce the cover and synopsis. These Facebook Fan Groups are vital places in which marketing can occur as it is a space in which the people in it will be very suspectable to wanting to read what you’ve written. By posting the cover and synopsis a day early to fans within this group, Karina Halle makes the fans here feel special and she makes group membership look like an easy way to gain exclusive content. Facebook Fan Groups allow for readers to feel more connected to the authors, and this connection pays off. Facebook Fan Groups also provide the ability for author takeovers and promotion. In this example another author Melanie Harlow posted a giveaway for her latest release Insatiable in the Karina Halle’s (Anti)Heroes group. Karina Halle also posts in other author’s Facebook Fan Groups in order to promote her books. These types of posts support and grow the overall community of romance writers, readers, and stories. Then later, on the actual cover reveal day she posted about the release on her public facing social media accounts. Within her posts on the cover reveal she positions her release as “think Dynasty crossed with Crazy Rich Asians (but make it Fashion! And French!)” Piquing her readers interest through positioning she eludes the reader to what they have signed up for, yet still leaves room to put her own spin on it and surprise her readers with twists and turns.
The next significant phase in Karina Halle’s own personal marketing is the weeks before release in which she continually reminds her readers in a certain number of weeks or days that Discretion is coming. These types of posts tend to contain teasers of what is to come in the upcoming novel. The example post provided, showcases how the teasers not only states a quote or passage from the book, they also illuminate aspects of the story and characters through the chosen imagery. Hence the man in the teaser who is portraying Olivier is tan in skin tone to highlight his Western European roots. In all the teasers for the second book in The Dumonts series Disarm, the woman in the teasers is of Indian descent in order to accurately portray that the leading lady of the story, Seraphine is of Indian descent.
The final stage of the marketing campaign from Karina Halle’s perspective takes place on the actual release day. On August 6th, Karina Halle took to her social media accounts and shared her excitement about her latest release. Her Instagram featured a picture of herself with a finished trade paperback edition of Discretion. Karina advertises the book as a standalone romance in order to make the book seem approachable to new readers. Karina Halle also shouts out how to read her book, specifically she highlights the fact that it is available for free as a part of Kindle Unlimited. As well as referencing the fact that it is available in eBook, paperback, and audiobook in order to satisfy every readers preference for format. Karina Halle’s marketing starts to taper off here, she does naturally mention the book and celebrate any successes it sees on the Amazon charts. She does have to move on though pretty quickly as her next release followed soon after. Karina Halle does not go on a publicity tour or get any media attention. She moved on to discussing writing The Younger Man an independent published story she was working on, now releasing on December 11th, 2019 (“The Younger”). As well as another independent release that came out on October 19th, 2019, The Royal Rogue the fourth standalone story in her Nordic Royals series (“The Royal”). Karina Halle soon also began marketing the standalone sequel to Discretion, Disarm which released on November 19th, 2019 (“Disarm (The”). Karina Halle has to repeat this process: cover reveal, teasers, and release day marketing with every new story. With a case like Discretion she even got another boost of marketing as upon the release of Disarm, she was once again able to market Discretion to new readers.
Marketing Done by Amazon Publishing
In most cases, romance authors do not have a publishing company behind them. Mike Shatzin and Robert Paris Riger write, “Romance, a huge category overall selling 156 million units… is now 96 percent e-books, and a controlling share of these—55 percent of romance units—are self-published independently (128).” For much of Karina Halle’s career, she was self-published and relied upon her own marketing and the enthusiasm of her fans through word of mouth to spread information about her latest releases. Many more authors are turning towards Amazon for help as through programs such as Kindle Unlimited and Audible exclusive releases romance authors are being rewarded for their dedication to their craft and the hard work they put into every story.
In Discretion’s case it was published under the Montlake Romance imprint of Amazon Publishing. Montlake Romance lacks its own social media presence so all marketing from the publisher is done on Amazon Publishing’s pages. During the release month of August, Amazon Publishing did market Discretion to their followers through promotional imagery and videos. Leading into September, Amazon Publishing began to include Discretion in videos as a part of a lineup of some of their other recent releases.
Amazon Publishing tagged Karina Halle in these posts and wrote similar body text to what Karina Halle wrote in her publicity posts for her own book. Yet Karina Halle’s social media posts have more engagement: more likes, comments, and shares. Karina Halle has spent years cultivating a fan base, while Amazon Publishing is still relatively new to the world of romance book publishing. Their strategies are good, they match the work that public relations companies such as Social Butterfly PR and InkSlinger PR have been doing quite effectively within the genre for years. It will take time for Amazon Publishing to become respected amongst the romance community due to the highs and lows of Amazon’s relationship with the community. Inventions like CreateSpace and Kindle Unlimited have gotten romance books into the hands of readers for which authors will be forever grateful. For every good side, there is bad though and Amazon has been bad to romance authors. Amazon has the power to decide if people see your book, specifically if the algorithm will show the book to potential readers. Lauren Blakely learned the hard way when months after her book The Engagement Gift had been released Amazon contacted her to let her know the book was deemed “erotica” based on a number of reviews that had described the book as such. Amazon refuses to recommend erotica to readers, so Lauren Blakely was told her book would no longer be recommended to potential readers. This forced Lauren Blakely to take the book off Amazon and to write more chapters in order to flush out the more love story aspects of the book to prove to Amazon it was not a hardcore erotica novel. Other authors, specifically Jay Crownover have had their release dates completely ruined when Amazon does not review their e-book in the timely manner, that they said they would and consequently the book does not go live on release day. It is cases such as these that have eroded the trust between Amazon and the romance community. In order for Montlake Romance to become successful at marketing to romance readers they will need to mend the broken relationship the community has with Amazon.
Marketing Done by Fans (Specifically Reviewers)
With the Amazon dynamic described above, it should come as no surprise that I will argue that the most prevalent marketing comes from the readers themselves, in two ways through fan excitement and through the work of reviewers. The aforementioned Karina Halle’s (Anti)Heroes is where these fans congregate and form a succinct marketing strategy. That strategy is the teasers to share, the promotional images to spread, the book cover to swoon over, and the release day celebrations. Karina Halle’s fans are encouraged by positive interactions with her and with other fans to pick up Discretion, review Discretion, and share their love for Discretion with other readers across the social internet. The nature of today’s internet has allowed for almost any fan to naturally and easily transition into a reviewer, thanks to such platforms as Goodreads. It is these fans that demonstrate where and how to get your hands on a copy.
The nature of the romance genre is that not every store will be able to carry all fifty books Karina Halle has ever published. Some authors have more success regionally, for example Helena Hunting a hockey romance writer from Ontario has many of her books in store in the Indigos of the greater Toronto area (“MEET CUTE”). While for someone like Karina Halle despite being a born and bred Vancouverite not a single trade paperback was available at any of the Indigo locations in the lower mainland (“DISCRETION by Karina”). This is common with every Karina Halle release, but is truly the norm with most romance authors. The best retailers for romance novels remain independent speciality stores, such as The Ripped Bodice in Los Angeles, California or Amazon for both the trade paperback and e-book format. BookNet data may demonstrate this book as a break-even book, maybe even a flop. BookNet data from September 20th, 2019 stipulates that the book sold thirteen copies in the first seven weeks it was on sale (Broadhurst).Then compare that to two days after release on August 8th, 2019 the book was a number one bestseller in the Billionaire Romance category on Amazon. This is marketing at work there was so many teasers and posts spread around about Discretion being on Amazon and being in Kindle Unlimited that much of the book’s success was on that platform. Despite Karina Halle’s Canadian heritage there was no considerable Canadian campaign, she chose to work with an American publisher, and the top retailer in Canada never carries any of her backlist.
The most influential marketers for romance authors, such as Karina Halle are her reviewers. As a reviewer myself I can speak to the process of obtaining the advance reader copy (ARC), writing the review, and sharing the review on social media. It was within the Karina Halle (Anti)Heroes Facebook Group that I first saw talk surrounding the ability to request the ARC on NetGalley. As Mike Shatzkin and Robert Paris Riger describe it, “a service… which makes it easy and much cheaper than it would otherwise be to distribute physical proofs to get the book in front of potential reviewers (40).” NetGalley is a great bridge between the publishers and the reviewers, as the publishers such as Montlake Romance can directly send a reviewer an e-galley that will transfer directly onto the reviewer’s Kindle device. Once you have been approved for an ARC by the publisher a reviewer is contacted by email with both a link to download the book on NetGalley and any specific notes from the publisher. Romance reviewers are used to a fast pace of reading, reviewing, and posting. In many cases an author will work with a PR company rather than with NetGalley and in many of those cases reviewers will have less than a week to read the book. NetGalley on the other hand caters more to traditionally published books so the books are actually finished months before release, which is not always the case with independent published books. For Karina Halle’s next release, The Younger Man, for which I am also reviewing I received the ARC on December 4th and are expected to produce a review for the 11th of December. While for Discretion I was given over a month to read the story and then craft a review. Montlake Romance was an immense help during the review writing process. Similarly, to the PR companies I am used to traditionally working with the reviewer is provided with a release blitz or a blog tour promotional package. This promotional package contains all the necessary information used to inform aspects of a review blog post, such as promotional images and teasers, excerpts from the story, links to the author’s social media, the author’s bio, and links to where the book can be purchased. These media promotion kits are essential as they promote a succinct strategy for the marketing campaign for an author’s new release. Reviewers are able to market the book using the teasers and excerpts that the author and the publisher wants people to get excited about. The final step in this process is to have all the reviewers post their reviews, collect them up through NetGalley or a Google Form, and interact with these reviewers on social media. Karina Halle will spend the days after a new book releases interacting with reviewers online, on Twitter for example she will like, comment on and re-tweet, reviewers’ tweets about their reviews. Reviewers will post their reviewers all over the internet from their blogs, to Twitter, to Goodreads, to NetGalley, to Amazon, and to BookBub. Fans ultimately trust reviewers over publishers when it comes to recommendations, so working with a well-established and well-loved reviewer goes a long way towards an effective marketing strategy.
Through examining the marketing of Karina Halle’s Discretion, one can gather just how unique marketing and publicity are in the world of romance publishing. The reader plays an essential role in the marketing of romance novels through interaction with the author, through spreading excitement about an upcoming release, and ultimately through dedication in reviewing. This does not discount the marketing done by the author herself, as Karina Halle is her best advocate online. As for Amazon Publishing, in a romance community dominated by independent publishing developing their marketing strategy will be an uphill battle. The hegemony of Amazon has not been stopped by traditional retailers and traditional formats in the face of digitally disruptive technology such as eBooks, Kindle Unlimited, and CreateSpace. I have no doubt that the hegemony of Amazon will make its impact felt in the romance publishing world as it has in the wider publishing industry.
Broadhurst, Jamie. “Readers and Genres.” Pub 350, 20 Sept. 2019, SFU Harbour Centre, Vancouver. Lecture.
“Darkhouse (Experiment in Terror #1) by Karina Halle.” Goodreads, Goodreads, Inc., www.goodreads.com/book/show/11356211-darkhouse.
“Disarm (The Dumonts #2) by Karina Halle.” Goodreads, Goodreads, Inc., www.goodreads.com/book/show/45693765-disarm.
“DISCRETION by Karina Halle (Paperback).” Indigo, www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/discretion/9781542008532-item.html?ikwid=discretion&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0.
Halle, Karina. Karina Halle’s (Anti)Heroes, Facebook , www.facebook.com/groups/912577838806567/.
Halle, Karina. “authorhalle.” Instagram, www.instagram.com/authorhalle/.
Halle, Karina. Discretion. Seattle, Montlake Romance, 2019.
Halle, Karina. “Karina Halle.” Facebook, www.facebook.com/authorkarinahalle/.
Halle, Karina. “@MetalBlonde’s Twitter Bio.” Twitter, twitter.com/MetalBlonde.
“MEET CUTE by Helena Hunting (Paperback).” Indigo, www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/meet-cute/9781538760185-item.html?ikwid=meet+cute&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=1.
“Montlake Romance Media Kits.” Montlake Romance Media Kits, Amazon , montlakeromancemediakits.com/book/9781542008532.
Morden, Christina. “Karina Halle’s Discretion ARC Review.” ClaryNathanWill, 14 august 2019, clarynathanwill.com/.
“The Royal Rogue (Nordic Royals #4) by Karina Halle.” Goodreads, Goodreads, Inc., www.goodreads.com/book/show/48196387-the-royal-rogue.
Ursula K. Le Guin, Staying Awake: Notes on the alleged decline in reading, Harper’s Magazine, February 2008
“The Younger Man by Karina Halle.” Goodreads, Goodreads, Inc., www.goodreads.com/book/show/45446297-the-younger-man?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=arfk8AWsb8&rank=1.