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Campaign Spotlight: Yellowface by Rebecca F. Kuang

By Amy Greensmith, Danielle Hernandez, Emily Lavin and Georgia Rees

The award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Babel, R. F. Kuang’s latest novel Yellowface is one of 2023’s most-anticipated releases. Described as “a blistering satire about publishing” by The New York Times, the publishing industry has climbed aboard the hype-train created by HarperCollins’ clever marketing campaign. With a dash of yellow and suspicious eyes always lingering in the background, hidden between social media feeds, or staring directly at you if you attended the London Book Fair, the promotion for Yellowface has been inescapable.

The novel follows Juniper Song, a bestselling author, who is not who she says she is. In fact, her name is not even Juniper – it’s June Hayward. When her friend Athena Liu, an upcoming literary star, dies in a freak accident, June is left with Athena’s newly finished manuscript. What follows is a humorous thriller that examines cultural appropriation, representation and diversity.

Following the successes of her previous works, the team at HarperCollins have curated a creative marketing campaign, including a transatlantic book tour, extensive social media promotion and stunning bookstore window displays.

Book Events

Despite the success of her popular fantasy trilogy The Poppy War and her stand-alone novel Babel, Rebecca F. Kuang had yet to do a full US tour: something that she cannot say anymore. For the release of Yellowface, the HarperCollins marketing team are taking advantage of the witty, intelligent voice of their New York Times bestseller by getting her in front of as many crowds as possible.

Kicking off the North American tour with the landmark cultural event PEN World Voices Literary Festival, Kuang made an entrance back onto the literary scene in an insightful conversation with Roxane Gay. Tickets included a signed copy of Yellowface, which were showcased all over social media channels after the event. The festival is known for its lively debates on current issues and for celebrating the power of literature from diverse international voices, making this the perfect event to launch Kuang’s latest novel, a dark satire that tackles questions of diversity and cultural appropriation in the publishing industry and throughout western society.

After a successful book tour around North America, Kuang headed across the pond to begin her UK tour. To build anticipation for the new release, we have seen a lot of in-person promotion. Bold billboard adverts have popped up around cities in England and print articles featuring an interview with the author. Special editions with unique sprayed edges have also been an effective way to grab attention and bookshops have created fantastic window displays to go along with their special hardcovers. Some particularly innovative table displays feature working typewriters as part of their arrangement. This marketing buzz finally culminated in the arrival of the author herself at the end of May to tour the UK for two full weeks. The tour includes an appearance at the Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye, where Kuang will be in good literary company, talking about the experiences that led to her writing this uncomfortable and thought-provoking fiction novel.

Photo by: @oziasmidwinter on Twitter

Social Media

Yellowface has been a long time coming, with both Kuang and her publishers at Borough Press first posting about it back in December. The iconic yellow cover with the eyes feels like it has been a consistent presence across social media in the months leading up to publication. In one of her promotional posts on Instagram, Kuang reveals the intentionality behind this cover, the “yellow signifying racial identity as a fixed, essentialised quality blanketing every other feature… There’s no nuance, no individuality, no subjectivity on this page.” The marketing team clearly understood the message Kuang is trying to deliver and splashed this same flat shade of yellow across all promotional materials, proof copies, merchandise and social media, making Yellowface by Rebecca F. Kuang instantly recognisable.

Photo by: @sianrichefond on Twitter

In true Waterstones Piccadilly style, a Yellowface installation was created for publication week. Featuring what is presumably June’s writing room, they really leant in to the motifs of the novel, with a self-typing typewriter, green pandan pancakes and a huge stack of Athena Liu’s original manuscript. Those representing at the London Book Fair also leaned in to the social media marketing potential, with HarperCollins’ stand emblazoned with a huge pair of eyes on a yellow background, which surveyed the whole fair. They handed out yellow tote bags bearing the message “may contain stolen books” – a nod to the events of the book.

In a similar vein, the Waterstones homepage currently (as of May 2023) features a yellow banner with the eyes and a carousel of images showing off the Waterstones exclusive cover which features typewriter sprayed edges, spot UV boards and an exclusive endpaper design. Both FairyLoot and Illumicrate also have special editions out, with the Illumicrate design even featuring a hidden book cover under the dust jacket, depicting the stolen book. The proof copies which were seen all over social media capture the dark satirism of the novel perfectly, emblazoned with words such as “diverse”, “necessary” and “important” and with the author’s name “Athena Liu” scribbled out.


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