Unboxing: A Look Inside Promotional Book Boxes
By Georgia Rees and Caitlin Davies
Promotional book boxes are a unique marketing tool sent alongside advanced reading copies (ARCs) to influencers within the book community. Their purpose is to help elevate the book and author within the community and to inspire positive endorsements that will help to increase sales of the book. The contents are typically either branded or themed merchandise, such as stationery or clothing, or props to help cultivate a unique reading experience.
There is a growing community of book bloggers and bookstagrammers online, and publishing companies often use this opportunity for word-of-mouth publicity. Hearing a positive review from someone who is trusted and shares a similar reading taste is likely to encourage followers to research and purchase the upcoming release. Influencers play a large part in online marketing, and so maximising the chances that they will have a positive experience of the book is key, as followers are likely to keep coming back to the same accounts for recommendations. Promotional book boxes are an important part of this strategy and fit well within the aesthetic nature of platforms like Instagram, providing a way for people to visually engage with the book and enter a discussion with other readers.
The Project by Courtney Summers
Published by Wednesday Books in February 2021, this YA thriller grapples with themes of belonging and explores the question of what leads people to leave their family behind to join a cult.
The promotional book box campaign strategy is a great example of building hype for an upcoming release by creating a unique reader experience. Alongside the ARC, influencers were sent a package from “The Unity Project” themselves, containing a welcome pack, a press pass, a confidential research file and an invitation to a sermon with the founder. The boxes were featured in countless Instagram posts under the hashtag #WelcomeToTheProject, a genius way of creating a cult-like atmosphere that echoed the contents of the book.
Thought was clearly put into how the target audience (young adults with an interest in true crime and cults) would view and engage with these posts. This book was heavily promoted over Instagram with teaser posts, video trailers and curated Project Playlists being shared in anticipation of publication.
Summers perfectly summed up the impact of this marketing strategy: “The Project releases in six months…We’re going to spend that time pulling you into its world piece by piece until it’s all you can think about and it’s the only place you want to be.”
The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel
Lucky readers of Alison Bechdel’s highly anticipated third graphic memoir, The Secret to Superhuman Strength, also received a box of goodies upon its release in May 2021. Whilst Bechdel’s award-winning memoirs Fun Home and Are You My Mother? focused on family, the change in direction of this graphic novel was reflected in its promotional material. This memoir explored sports and exercise, with Bechdel’s decades of experiencing different fitness crazes driving the narrative. Jonathan Cape sent a box to book bloggers containing a signed copy, along with a bum bag and cap to reflect the sport and wellbeing themes. The cap, adorned with “I passed the Bechdel Test,” is a nod to Bechdel’s infamous test concerning the representation of women in fiction. The bum bag is designed with the front cover art, along with the dark blue colour palette of the book. The box created a real buzz around Bechdel’s first book since 2012, appealing to new and existing fans of the legendary cartoonist. Completing and releasing the memoir during the pandemic, Bechdel connected her fascination with the outdoors to our own, as more of us turned to nature to escape cabin fever.
The ongoing pandemic created new challenges for promoting books, with the cancellation of in-person events and the closure of bookshops during lockdown periods. Promotional book boxes are proving to be a viable route to continue promoting books to readers at home, and are popular with both authors and readers alike.
For self-published author Philippa Atwood, these boxes are “perfect to give readers something extra.” As she prepares for her re-release of southern romance novel Texas Eire, she values the “amazing support network among authors and readers” on social media, with the boxes enabling communication with her readership and the chance to “give them a more personalised experience.”
Bookstagram users seem to enjoy the niche of receiving “paraphernalia” with a new release. @pickagoodbook enjoyed experiencing “the feelings of a kid opening a birthday present” and @queerbra.rian found that book boxes were a great way to discover new series and an opportunity to “not only promote the author, but also the creators of the goodies” that accompany new releases. @bibliowino added that boxes “take the excitement to the next level,” and “will also guarantee that I do a permanent post on my feed to thank the publisher/author.”