By Amy Greensmith, Danielle Hernandez, Emily Lavin and Georgia Rees
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah hit the ground running with his first book, Friday Black, an acclaimed collection of dystopian short stories. With this release, Adjei-Brenyah established himself as an author who is highly skilled in his ability to incisively examine issues of systemic racism, police brutality, and the prison-industrial complex. As such, it is no surprise that the release of Chain-Gang All-Stars, Adjei-Brenyah’s debut novel, was a highly anticipated event on the publishing industry’s calendar.
Chain-Gang All-Stars takes place in a not too distant future, where the moral corruption of the privatised prison system has reached new heights. In this dystopia, prisoners must fight for their freedom in gruesome battles before a paying audience. The novel implores readers to reconsider the meaning of freedom and the dangerous implications of unfettered capitalism.
This issue will explore all aspects of the marketing campaign for Chain-Gang All-Stars, from its innovative use of social media and influencer marketing to its jam-packed book tour spanning both the US and UK.
Often in our campaign spotlights we talk about busy book tours, but the team at Pantheon (the book’s American publisher) have really outdone themselves and taken the American book tour to a new level.
Kicking off the expansive tour was a talk at PEN America, coinciding with Chain-Gang All-Stars’ publication day, for a “PEN Out Loud” event, Adjei-Brenyah sat down with Pulitzer Prize recipient, Mitchell S. Jackson. Over the month-long, coast-to-coast tour, appearing at twenty different events, the author was in conversation with fifteen guests to discuss every theme and topic from the novel. From fellow writers – Jennifer Croft and Sequoia Nagamatsu – to experts in issues raised in the novel, Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia (criminal reform) and Jared Loggins (black studies and political studies), Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah was able to fully discuss every corner of his novel.
The book’s UK publisher, Vintage (an imprint of Penguin Random House), followed a more typical schedule spanning a week, and featuring a mixture of popular independent and chain bookstores. Much like the American book tour, Adjei-Brenyah sat down with several guests, including the author of Hold, Michael Donkor, and Dipo Faloyin, the senior editor at VICE, whose writing focuses on race, culture and identity.
Starting the buzz early, US publisher Pantheon offered twenty early copies to a few select winners who took part in their Goodreads giveaway. As we all know an advanced reader copy is a precious commodity, not just for readers, but marketers as well. Early readers bring with them early reviews, blogs and bookstagram posts ahead of release date, making this Goodreads giveaway an effective strategy.
While early readers filled the designated hashtags with their own content, Pantheon kept pace, endeavouring to build more anticipation themselves in the usual ways. A bold book trailer was released on their Instagram, attractive book stacks were shared featuring quotes from outstanding reviews in the captions, and a clip from the audiobook was even spotlighted.
However, there were a couple of strategies that stood out as particularly unique. In the countdown to the release day, Pantheon changed their logo on social media for a limited time with a new look inspired by the iconic cover. A distinctive promotional technique that I’ve not seen as often, a logo takeover could be a clever way to grab attention and spark curiosity. Following this came a distinctive partnership with original creator @pieladybooks, who baked a pie decorated in the style of the Chain-Gang All-Stars cover art. This unusual influencer marketing made a statement on their feed, while also bringing this new release to the attention of her substantial following and increasing engagement.
The UK publisher Vintage seem to be following in those same bold footsteps with their own creative trailer designed in collaboration with @kingston.school.of.art. As part of an annual Animation Prize, students were tasked with creating a 30-second promotional video for the highly anticipated dystopian novel, which was shared across channels to mark the UK release.
And of course, we can’t forget the role authors play in their own social media marketing plans. A crucial part of your job as a marketer will be your relationship with the authors. Encouraging creatives to self-promote on their own channels can sometimes be a struggle, but finding a way to seamlessly integrate these posts to an extent that they feel comfortable with and in a way that suits their personal style will be a balancing act that you navigate together. Nana is a great example of this. He seems to have embraced the celebratory posts with pride and the result has been a colourful feed for readers to peruse, including a funny behind the scenes TikTok narrating the ups and downs of the editing process as well as snippets from his publicity appearances.