Random House's Crown division had not experienced the marketing power behind YouTube video campaigns, 230,000 Facebook Fans, 20,000 Twitter followers and millions of monthly Web site clicks and visits until it signed a deal with Michael Bender and Doug Chernack to publish their blogger book "Awkward Family Photos." Now the two have launched a sister site called Awkward Family Pet Photos, with a book on the way scheduled for release in fall 2011. The third book could become a sequel to either one.
Bender has worked on the MTV Movie Awards and wrote "Not Another Teen Movie." Chernack produced reality TV shows such as 2002's "Star Dates." Now they spend their days trying to figure out how to sort through about 250 submitted photos daily. The online piece came easy.
It started with a "killer" idea for a video on YouTube making the campaign work, according to Jay Sones, paperback and digital marketing manager for the Crown publishing group at Random House. "We had planned some other ads for the book, but that's preaching to the choir because online is where the new eyeballs are going, so there's no other good way to merchandise a book," Sones says. "Video makes a great awareness campaign, but not really a strong call to action, so the print ads were a natural next step."
A flashback to an uncomfortable memory came flooding into Bender's head after mom hung a family photo on the wall in her home. While the skiing vacation photo where mom and dad forced the family to awkwardly pose created the idea for the "Awkward Family Photos" Web site and the book, an online marketing campaign pushed book sales to goldmine fame.
Bender, along with long-time friend Doug Chernack, both local L.A. screenwriters, launched the Web site with 11 family photos as a pet project, but the Web site began gaining clicks after a D.J. in Rhode Island posted a note about the site on the small Clear Channel radio station's site. Other Clear Channel stations began picking up the link. Within a week, traffic on AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com went from zero to more than 1 million impressions. Soon, calls from publishers began to roll in.
Although not a marketer at heart, fresh out of college, Bender worked for a cinema company in marketing. Random House picked up the publishing deal and inked the contact. Sales on the book really gained momentum after Bender and Chernack launched a YouTube channel and the two got creative.
A few years ago, Bender bought his 90-year-old grandparents who live in Florida a computer and taught them how to iChat. "The iChats are always hilarious because they both sit in front of the camera," he says. "They have a great dynamic after being together for almost 70 years."
Bender's first idea to market the book prompted the grandparents to shoot an iChat video and become spokespeople. So he talked them through recording it. In the first video they would explain how to pre-order the book. He got back the video and realized grandma had never disconnected the sound and camera after shooting the prepared remarks.
"It was perfect because in that extra footage, my grandma looks in the camera, talks on the phone, and my grandfather dances in the background," Bender says. "We uploaded the video to YouTube and it got a really big reaction."
That "big reaction" sent pre-orders for book sales rocking. The video got picked up by AOL and Huffington Post and Random House had the second most successful prelaunch for a book behind "The Girl With The Red Dragon Tattoo," according to Bender.
The grandparents became the spokespeople in the marketing campaign. They're family. It's real. It made the campaign ambitious and natural. Random House ran ads for the book based on the videos of the grandparents. Awkward Family Photos has been on The New York Times bestsellers list for more than 16 weeks.
Today, the Web site gets about 16 million impressions and 3 million unique visitors monthly. Before the book release on May 4, the site got about 12 million impressions. The site always had decent traffic, but now manages to sustain the hits and growth. The Web site allows Bender to tie the YouTube and online campaigns back to sales.
Authors have needed to turn into savvy marketers. Barbara Demarco-Barrett, author of "Pen on Fire" and KUCI-FM radio show talk host, tweets on Twitter about her radio show and frequently posts on her Facebook page about events. The radio show is turned into a podcast. She says there are more people downloading the podcast than live listeners. "I promote my Pen on Fire Writers Salon event, where authors come to speak, on my Web site, Facebook page, tweet on Twitter, and I send out e-mailings," she says.
The Southern California chapter of the American Society of Journalists and Authors recently held an event to help authors learn to market online. One of the panels focused on crowd sourcing, but there are other such events on the way as publishers expect authors to do more.