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  • Writer's pictureThe Publishing Post

Home: An Interview with Mark Ballabon

By Caitlin Davies, Danielle Hernandez and Georgia Rees

We have had the incredible opportunity of speaking with author Mark Ballabon about his upcoming Young Adult (YA) novel Home. Home is timely in its exploration of issues such as self-belief, bullying and the climate crisis, which for Ballabon have had a huge impact on today’s young adult audience. For Ballabon, “just in the last few years, younger generations have been increasingly confronted with world crises, which have fundamentally undermined their confidence, belief and hope for the future.” He hopes that the story of the protagonist, Leah, "not only highlights these challenging social and world issues, but also aims to offer some practical and original solutions.” When asked to pinpoint Home’s key concept, Ballabon describes, “the concept of this book is that ‘home’ is not just your postcode. The concept is that ‘home’ begins inside a person – a place where you feel well in yourself, at peace, safe. It’s where you feel good inside your own skin.” In the first instalment of this exciting YA trilogy, Leah explores home alongside teenage rites of passage like summer camp and first love, as she asks what home means to her in the midst of the climate crisis. We find out more about the book’s unconventional marketing campaign and environmentally friendly launch.

The release of Home coincides with Earth Day 2022 – how important is this release date for the book’s core message?

Very important. The theme of Earth Day is “Invest in our Planet,” and it chimes strongly with one of the core underlying messages of Home, which is to care for and treat the planet as our home. This is explored more deeply when Leah, Kayleigh and their team develop a project at summer camp which features the planet.

Although Leah and Kayleigh have two very different approaches to the planet and the climate crisis, once they overcome their conflict, they realise that both approaches are vital.

Home was released on Earth Day to highlight and emphasise that not only are there many practical things that can be done to mitigate the climate crisis, but that also a change of mindset could be the deciding factor. There’s a chapter in the book called “A Change of Climate,” which specifically focuses on this.

Home is written to and for young teens. How did this influence your marketing approach?

The concept of Home, and the style in which it is written, both encourage the reader to slow down. The story is designed to be captivating – of course – but it is not a thriller with a juicy conclusion that you race through in one night. It is a book that possibly sparks more conversations and questions than it answers. My hope is that it might help young teens to slow down their thinking and offer an opportunity for reflection.

With that in mind, the marketing team have approached the campaign for this book with a heavy emphasis on connecting with readers in person and creating opportunities for extended conversation – for us that means working closely with schools, libraries and associated organisations. We are about to embark on a two-week school and library tour, where I will speak to over 1,500 young readers.

When we think of teens, many of us automatically think of hyper-dependence on technology and it is very easy to jump straight to planning the next big Book Tok campaign, but that approach wouldn’t have been authentic to the content of Home, which centres around a main character who doesn’t even have a smart phone.

While it would be foolish to launch a campaign that does not engage at all with any of the brilliant online reading communities to be found on sites like Instagram, NetGalley, Readers First and Toppsta, we have mixed this sort of activity with planning a high dose of in-person interaction and live events.

As well as connecting with young readers, as an independent publisher it was important for Eminent Productions to work with as many independent bookshops as possible, and we previewed Home for many independents back in November. We have had so much valuable feedback and support from the independent bookselling community and promoting the book within the trade through activity with places like the Booksellers Association and Gardners has of course formed the basis for one arm of our marketing activity too.

In your opinion, how can the publishing industry adapt to encourage more environmentally friendly marketing campaigns?

I think a large part of the problem with the sustainability of publishing marketing campaigns is the question of where the campaigns will drive customers for book purchases. You can execute a very well-intentioned campaign, but if all the traffic from your activity is driven to one of the major online book retailers, that will under-value its eco-credentials. This is not a problem that I have an immediate answer to, and it is a trap that we all fall into through necessity. But, for example, if publishers could use their collective power to hold major retailers to account on green issues and also support independent bookshops even more, using their marketing resources to drive more of their customers into independently owned, high street stores, that would be a very positive step – both for the environment and for the economy.

We have tried hard to ensure that every aspect of our campaign, and also our book production, is as environmentally friendly as possible. For example:

  • The book is printed in the U.K. on FSC certified paper using vegetable inks and is being manufactured at a printer with strong environmental policies.

  • All our marketing material is being printed on FSC certified paper and is fully recyclable. Promotional products such as t-shirts are made from 100% certified organic cotton.

  • Any copies of the book sent to reviewers or buyers are posted in fully recyclable packaging.

  • At the launch event in Waterstones there will be organic wine and food, and even our promotional roll-up banner is sustainably made.

  • Despite being an international team, we have minimised business travel by exclusively using Zoom and Skype meetings throughout all the planning stages of the campaign.

  • The messages of the campaign are designed to raise awareness and drive positive climate action and a change of mindset wherever possible.

I think answering consumer questions about the environmental status of books will increasingly become a key aspect of marketing campaigns, particularly when speaking to younger generations. I hope that normalising the inclusion of book production details and the publisher’s approach to environmental issues within marketing communications may help to drive bookseller- and consumer-led change more widely in the publishing industry: for example, when it comes to issues such as supply chains, manufacturing more closely to the consumer point, reducing carbon emissions from air freight and offering print on demand in export territories.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in creating an environmentally friendly marketing campaign?

Philosophically, it is difficult to align any marketing campaign with a fully environmentally friendly ethos because all marketing campaigns create an excess – of promotional materials, of data storage and of new products. So, before you begin, I think you have to ask whether the product you are promoting will add some value to the movement towards climate recovery. In the case of Home, I believe the book has genuine value, particularly to teens who may be struggling with climate anxiety themselves or who might be looking for ways to approach their own version of climate activism.

Practically, one of the biggest challenges is verifying the origin of materials used for marketing. This is because many manufacturers advertise their eco-credentials and it’s often difficult to verify not only how sustainable their materials are, but also how environmentally friendly the company’s policies are.

This is especially true in the production of books and paper promotional material, where there is a high level of complexity involved in researching a printer’s use of green energy, biodegradable and recyclable materials, and even down to the material used to manufacture the printing plates.

Home is the first in a young adult trilogy; do you plan on approaching all the marketing campaigns in the series from this environmental angle? Is there anything you would do differently next time?

Yes, Leah’s commitment to the environment is a key theme that will continue throughout the trilogy and throughout our campaigns! There is nothing that I would do differently next time, but I would do more – working more closely with suppliers, manufacturers and youth climate groups to ensure the values we demonstrate throughout the production of the book and the creation of its marketing campaign are totally in line with those of the story and its intended audience.

We’re so thankful to Mark for giving us the opportunity to highlight this incredible start to his new series. Make sure to follow the campaign over on Instagram, and on the Leah’s Universe website. Home is available to purchase right now and if, like us, you feel inspired by Home’s message, it has just been announced that Mark will be involved in a panel event at this year’s Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) on Friday 8 July. You can find tickets here.



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