By Georgia Rees and Caitlin Davies
If you are on any form of social media, it is almost impossible to ignore the cult-like status afforded to best-selling Irish writer Sally Rooney, author of Normal People and Conversations With Friends. Rooney’s third novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You (BWWAY), was released by Faber Books on 7 September, immediately entering into a world of expectation and hype.
The UK publisher Faber Books, and the house publishing the novel in the US, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, both began posting about the upcoming release of BWWAY months ahead of publication, riding the wave of the hype surrounding the BBC adaptation of Rooney’s second novel, Normal People. Waterstones stores across the country displayed posters of the new release alongside Rooney’s other offerings and some even hosted a Sally Rooney Book Club. Marketing BWWAY alongside Rooney’s other bestselling works is an inspired way to draw in fans of both Normal People and Conversations with Friends, as well as encouraging potential new readers to “try before you buy” by picking up one of Rooney’s already published successes. Evidence of this marketing strategy even extends to the cover of BWWAY, which acknowledges its connection to Normal People.
With the story of Marianne and Connell still at the forefront of public imagination, a cornerstone of the marketing strategy was to saturate the online space with news and teasers of the hotly anticipated third novel. Influencer promotion was a key part of the online strategy to draw attention to a book that EVERYONE would be talking about come publication. Two genius bits of marketing that were included in the promotional boxes sent to influencers were a cotton tote and an iconic yellow bucket hat emblazoned with the title of the book. These items were clearly aimed at a key demographic of Rooney’s readership – the socially conscious millennial. Aside from making excellent photo props, these literary accessories are on-trend and functional, providing hassle-free marketing both presently in the streets and well after publication.
BWWAY is clearly being marketed as an Instagram-worthy must-have accessory that will stand out in anyone’s hands and on anyone’s shelf. A quick search of the hashtag #BWWAY yields hundreds of images of beautiful exclusive editions for Waterstones and indie bookstores, as well as the rainbow of pastel proofs sent out by Faber. An article published by political and cultural magazine New Statesman ponders whether Sally Rooney books have become the new status symbol. There is certainly evidence that the marketing strategy around Beautiful World, Where Are You achieves this.
As the exclusive indie cover indicates, this is a campaign not only interested in promoting BWWAY, but also UK independent booksellers. Faber Books prides itself on ‘“publishing independently since 1929,” and this is evident in its marketing of BWWAY. After a difficult eighteen months of shop closures, independent bookshops have navigated and adapted to COVID-19 restrictions, finding alternative ways to reach book lovers. Some have introduced click and collect services and are working in partnership with alternative online storefronts such as Hive and Bookshop.org, which share a portion of profits directly with booksellers.
On 24 August 2021, two weeks ahead of the book’s release, Faber announced that twenty independent bookshops across the UK would be opening their doors early for Sally Rooney fans to grab a copy of her latest novel. This was an unprecedented release day. In addition to a copy of BWWAY, shoppers were promised exclusive merchandise, which had already been creating a buzz on social media. From Edinburgh to Devon, booksellers prepared to open their doors for this noteworthy publication day. Readers unable to access one of the twenty stores were still encouraged to pre-order from independent booksellers, not only for the chance to acquire a special edition copy, but also to continue the renewed momentum of supporting indie bookshops. Additional pop-up events of calligraphy workshops, candle making and BWWAY book clubs were also announced (though the price of these activities raised questions).
Red Lion Books in Colchester, Essex, was one of the twenty bookstores offering an early morning opening. An Instagram post promoting their event offered a sneak preview of some of the incentives for book lovers keen to get a copy. A goodie bag would be available, along with exclusive merchandise such as t-shirts and pin badges. Given the time of the event, breakfast pastries would also be available at the store. The post also highlighted illustrations by Manshen Lo, illustrator of the endpapers in the hardback copies of BWWAY. There was evident cohesion in the Instagram marketing, with posts coordinating the pastel colours from the ARCs (advanced reader copies) and hardback cover that have been used to promote the book since the cover was revealed back in April 2021. Whilst the campaign aims to highlight each bookshop, the similar visual style of each bookshop’s promotional post unifies the campaign and establishes early morning opening as one exciting event.