Campaign Spotlight: Babel
By Caitlin Davies, Danielle Hernandez and Georgia Rees
One of the most hyped releases of the year, R.F. Kuang’s Babel has already carved its place as a staple in the dark academia genre, joining the likes of The Secret History and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Published on 1 September in the United Kingdom, coinciding with back to school, Babel is an insightful commentary on colonialism and the use of language in the forging of the British Empire, set against the backdrop of an alternative Victorian Oxford. The release of Babel has been highly anticipated by many and in this issue we look at both its strong social media campaign and the stunning exclusive editions that are on offer.
TikTok and Socials Campaign
Harper Voyager UK have utilised a full range of social media platforms to build a strong digital campaign leading up to the release of Babel. Rebecca F. Kuang’s first series The Poppy Wars, originally published in 2018, launched her as one of the biggest names in modern fantasy and created a huge fanbase for the author that has spread across the internet. Tapping into this pre-existing resource is a valuable way to build attention during a marketing campaign, creating buzz amongst existing readers of that genre as well as pulling in interested social media users on the fringes.
Sending advanced reader copies to YouTubers with a similar reading taste was the first in a series of well thought-out actions from the Harper Voyage marketing team. In true BookTuber fashion, the avid readers devoured the pages they were gifted and took to the platform to share all their opinions and recommendations in detailed videos that racked up thousands of views ahead of the release date.
Similarly, the Bookstagram community welcomed a new release from Kuang with open arms, filling the #enterbabel hashtag with flat lay posts of the beautiful cover design, reviews of the book and all manner of academia and university-related posts celebrating the unique overlapping of fantasy and dark academia genres Kuang has managed to pull off.
However, BookTok has perhaps been the most active in hyping the new release. As we have seen in the past, this platform, which Kuang herself describes as “the force that can’t be ignored in publishing anymore,” has the potential to make one five-second video viral within a few hours and turn a single book into a bestseller overnight. In other words, it is an incredibly useful platform for marketers to engage with. For example, early unboxing videos of Babel have acquired over 600,000 views in the months preceding the release and the #enterbabel tag now has over five million views.
As the TikTok and YouTube reviews went viral, much of the focus of this media was the array of exclusive Babel editions that can be purchased. On an international scale, special editions of Kuang’s latest novel flew off the shelves, sold by booksellers and subscription services including Indigo, Barnes and Noble, Illumicrate and FairyLoot. Many of these books were in demand months in advance of the September publication date, as enthusiastic readers were encouraged to sign up to pre-order campaigns with sellers such as Mysterious Galaxy. With striking designs and exclusive merchandise, fantasy and dystopian fans were keen to add a unique copy of the novel to their collections.
Fox and Wit, an online subscription service and bookseller that specialises in supplying “beautiful, exclusive editions of highly anticipated books to your shelves” offered a special edition of Babel in collaboration with Kuang. Their edition included a custom exclusive dust jacket, as well as the option to include a signed bookplate. Nearly two months before the launch date, early access was granted to subscribers, followed by the general public. The popularity of Babel clearly was not underestimated following Kuang’s success with her award-winning debut novel The Poppy War, along with The Dragon Republic and The Burning God, which was also published this year. It will come as no surprise that all variations are currently sold out and a waitlist is in place for those wanting a copy.
Waterstones has also offered an exclusive edition, naming Kuang as “one of the leading lights in the visceral grimdark fantasy genre.” Contrasting with the warm autumnal colours used by the Fox and Wit edition, this striking monochrome cover with sprayed edges has proven to be popular. Sprayed edges have become a treasured design element, particularly in the Bookstagram community, as aesthetics continue to influence readers’ choices and purchases. In addition, Waterstones was one of the many hosts of Kuang’s highly anticipated UK tour. With in-person signings across various stores, this also included two evenings in conversation in Waterstones Piccadilly and Waterstones Oxford, the city established as “a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge” in Babel.