illustrated cover art for book showing a car, a moon and city buildings. Text reads "Sleeping in My Jeans" and "Teaching Guide"

Reimagining Marketing with Curriculum-Based Teaching Guides

Here at Ooligan Press, innovation has been the name of the marketing game in the past couple years. To market a book, you’ve got to market your brand.

This is where extending outreach to new or secondary audiences reimagines a stagnant brand strategy. We’ve taken the hassle away from literary analysis and created an online, self-guided curriculum for teachers, librarians, and independent learners alike.

Marketing to Educators

We all know Ooligan is staffed by Portland State graduate students. It would seem only natural that Ooligan serve educational or academic audiences outside of the typical target consumer. So, why teaching guides? And what titles will be included in this new outreach?

Extending our outreach to educators is really all about brand strategy. Every book has a specific target audience, but teaching guides act as promotional materials that appeal to a singular audience across multiple genres. This outreach attempts to solidify a stable target audience for our press. And a stable consumer means a potential increase in sales.

With creative writing exercises, reflection questions, and interactive activities, Ooligan’s new teaching guides will appeal to educators as well as the homeschooled learner or the not-so-enthusiastic reader. Not only do these guides reinforce Ooligan’s mission of regionality, community, inclusion, and social-emotional awareness, but they also strengthen pre-existing connections with educators and the Multnomah County Library.

In fact, as Ooligan Press’s 2021-22 Marketing Manager, I was shocked to learn that the press actually had dabbled with teaching guides in the past. With curriculum-based teaching guides of backlists like Ricochet River and Sleeping in My Jeans drowning somewhere in the deep, dark Ooligan archives, I took inspiration from the strategies of yesteryear and am seeking innovative ways to reimagine how these strategies may be more consistently and successfully implemented now and in the future.

In particular, we will be focusing this effort on YA titles. They may be fiction or nonfiction, but must teach valuable social-emotional lessons or spread awareness about key regional, historical, social, or political spheres. Think of it this way: if one of our YA titles can contribute to meaningful discussion in either a high school classroom or library setting, it is probably a worthy candidate for a teaching guide.

So, what does the process actually look like? Well, it’s taken some trial and error. First, the 2017 teaching guides from Ricochet River and Sleeping in My Jeans had to be redesigned. While the curriculum the 2017 Oolies had created is smart and interactive, the design was not much more than a PDF-converted Google Doc with some on-brand fonts. To ensure each guide seamlessly adhered to its respective title’s branding aesthetics, one volunteer crafts a beautifully designed guide. The sparkly new Ricochet River and Sleeping in My Jeans teaching guides are live on the Ooligan website’s Educator Portal, where access is just a simple click and download away for educators and independent learners.

The tricky bit? Creating the actual curriculum for new titles. Each teaching guide must have a particular set of interactive activities, discussions, and additional materials like comparative readings, teaching slideshows, and K-W-L curriculum worksheets.

Whew! Oolies are multi-talented, absolutely. But it’s not like all book publishers are versed in the art of curriculum building, so how the heck do we do it? With the assistance of fellow educators, our curriculum will be reviewed and given the green light. Once this happens and the curriculum has been created, a callout goes live for yet another designer to conceptualize and design the curriculum into a brand new teaching guide.

What’s Next?

Promotion, promotion, promotion.

With all this hard work, it’s crucial that we ensure these standards are incorporated into future production schedules. Project Managers now have access to a Teaching Guide Checklist to assess their title’s appropriateness for a teaching guide. In the Marketing Plan stage, project teams will begin planning for teaching guides in their Marketing and Publicity Highlights, and will begin production after blurb requests—before publication.

Oh, but that’s not all. We’ve got to spread the word. Social media promotion and community connections will be important here. So, get to work on those social media collateral callouts and continue to reach out to educators and libraries for some awesome deals on class sets. This year at Ooligan we’re all about innovation. If all is implemented successfully, teaching guides can set a precedent for a stable target audience within our little independent graduate press.

pile of bracelet beads with nonbinary spelled out on top

 A Selection of Gender Diverse Books With Characters Using Multiple Pronouns

As our knowledge of gender and sexuality expands, more and more people feel comfortable in trying out numerous ways of expressing themselves. Many books using the LGBTQ+ BISAC codes may represent characters who are coming to terms with their identities. But “coming out” and growing into one’s own identity is not the end of the story, and oftentimes many queer people look to find characters who represent an experience that more closely represents their own.

For instance, there are many people who utilize multiple sets of pronouns for different reasons, whether that’s because of who they are with, the situation they are in, or simply because one pronoun doesn’t fully encapsulate how one experiences their gender. There are a wide variety of reasons why someone might choose to use multiple pronouns, and it is in this way that one might wish to see this experience represented in a book.

So what are some books where characters are genderfluid and/or utilize multiple sets of pronouns? And what about neopronouns, which are pronouns outside of he/she/they? I set out to curate a short list of some of these books across multiple genres, so that those looking to expand their ever-growing reading lists with gender diverse characters need look no further!

1.) Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan

Those who enjoyed Riordan’s Percy Jackson series may have to check out this middle-grade fantasy. The Hammer of Thor is the second book in a series that includes a character named Alex Fierro, who uses both he and she pronouns. Alex also identifies plainly as both genderfluid and transgender in the book. In this book, Thor loses his legendary hammer to an enemy, so Magnus Chase and his friends must retrieve it in order to stop an oncoming war.

2.) Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker
If you’re more in the mood for a heartwarming story about acceptance, Zenobia July is a middle-grade mystery that follows a trans girl who wants nothing more than to feel confident in her own skin. She moves to a new middle school and household, and while she struggles with gender dysphoria and fitting in, a mystery arises regarding the perpetrator of an offensive website hacking. The main character uses she/her, but this book also features an extremely diverse secondary cast, including genderqueer Arli who utilizes the neopronouns vo/ven/veir.

3.) The Genesis of Misery by Neon Yang
In this adult science fiction book, Misery Nomaki (who uses she/they pronouns) is a character in a world full of space battles and dangerous factions. Misery is from a mining planet and possesses the saint powers of stone-working, but said powers can be dangerous, leading them to hide these powers; that is, until Misery finds themself pulled between two factions that hope to win a violent war by using their powers.

4.) The Heartbreak Bakery by A. R. Capetta
The Heartbreak Bakery is a young adult magical realism that stars Syd (who uses no pronouns) and Harley, who uses both he and they, wearing a pin to denote which the character is more comfortable with at a given time. Syd gets through the tough things in life, such as being dumped, by baking. But Syd’s brownies seem to have magical powers, and anyone who eats them ends up breaking up with their significant other. The owners of the Proud Muffin, Vin and Alec, even fall victim to this magic, and it’s up to Harley and Syd to harness this magical baking to fix things.

5.) Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Lastly, if you’re more inclined toward the classics of queer literature, Woolf’s Orlando explores gender, pushing the boundaries of social construct. This book is a departure from the above, because Orlando changes sex mid-novel. But regardless, Orlando breaks down all gender boundaries, all the while exploring relationships with men, women, and even a character that uses they/them pronouns. This book has also been described as magical realism, since the plot spans three centuries.

The majority of these books were discovered through personal recommendation and Goodreads. Through my research, I did notice I am wanting more books with characters that use neopronouns, such as xe/xem/xir or fae/faer. I’m curious to know if anyone has found or is planning on writing a book with gender non-conforming characters that either use neopronouns or use multiple sets. I’d love to hear about them!

photo of author getting book signed by Ann Patchett in 2016 at Powell's Cedar Hills location

A Look at How the Pandemic Impacted Book Events

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly changed the world when it came knocking on our doors in 2020. Things we didn’t expect to change did, while other things like in-person gatherings stopped altogether.

Before the pandemic, I attended author events monthly, sometimes weekly. I went for various reasons, mainly under the umbrellas of personal and business purposes. I’d refresh the webpage daily to check for anything new. Seeing the whole next month’s events released, it’s like Christmas coming early. I’d often see favorite authors of mine, so I’d attend solely to gush and get my book(s) signed. Other times while I’d see someone like Celeste Ng, for example, who is wildly popular for her title Little Fires Everywhere, I’d also see an opportunity. Being a part of the Powell’s community means that you have endless possibilities to meet all types of authors: big and small. With the release of Little Fires Everywhere, I got two books signed and hosted a very popular bookstagram giveaway. And there were the times I attended purely for selfish reasons, like when Ann Patchett came on her Commonwealth tour. Authors don’t just travel anywhere, and I was lucky Powell’s was on her tour.

Powell’s Books has slowly gotten back to in-person, though only the Burnside and Cedar Hills are hosting events based on their events calendar. Hawthorne is already the smallest store, and the staff would have to reappropriate the middle grade section in order to hold events there. Not only is losing sales potential harmful for business, but I can understand why, with the new norm of being COVID-19 conscious, they’d choose to avoid hosting the public in a small space. But for the downtown (Burnside) and Cedar Hills locations, events are back, and out of the twenty-six book events in April of 2022, ten were hosted via Zoom, and sixteen were in-person events. Powell’s went virtual with their authors early on, but it wasn’t entirely virtual last year since they started welcoming people at one of their locations.

While Powell’s is the Madison Square Garden of book event “arenas,” Broadway Books in NE Portland is a charming little shop run mainly by its owners. Their May 2022 calendar boasts two in-person author events and an all-day anniversary party sure to be packed with fun and book-related sales. Broadway books weren’t hosting events much of the pandemic and recently started up again in March 2022.

It’s hard to say how the pandemic will change the future of book events. As it stands, the occupied seats feel less, and some people are still wearing masks, cautious of sitting for a period of time near others. Comparing the in-person versus Zoom events, it didn’t seem to matter where an author lived or was traveling from to determine the type of event; authors were traveling from Maine to the Burnside location, and authors who had to travel much less joined via Zoom. For Ooligan Press, our first in-person event was in April 2022. We had a great turnout with a mix of people wearing masks.

During the height of the pandemic, we learned to adapt in many ways. And I, for one, am very glad to see that author events survived. There might always be a hybrid option for people, but giving accessibility will always be a great thing for a couple of reasons, like not being able to attend due to location or being autoimmune-compromised. Author events have historically been exclusively for book lovers in the vicinity of the hosting bookstore. With COVID-19 came many hardships and accommodations, but with resilience and great technology like Zoom, we can all hear from our next favorite author whether or not we’re nearby.

Ann Patchett author signing

Photo of Rachael Renz getting books signed by Ann Patchett at Cedar Hills Powell’s location

illustration of Man yelling through megaphone in front of Facebook logo

Using Sponsored Ads on Social Media to Sell Books

Our blog post from October 2020 by Erica Wright, titled Marketing to Millennials: Native Advertising, explains the types of sponsored content that appeal the most to millennials. But how does an author or publisher go about purchasing and targeting sponsorships for social media ads?

Sponsored content is a type of promotional media that’s paid for by a publisher or author but shared by another brand, social media platform, or influencer. As Marketing to Millennials: Native Advertising tells us, native advertising is the most effective method of content creation because it blends in with the other types of content one might encounter on social media.

Sites such as bookinfluencers.com connect publishers and authors with social media users who focus their content creation on reviews of literature (aka book influencers). This is a sponsorship option that does not require a publisher/author to create or promote their own material. Rather, the publisher/author pays influencers to review or promote their books, making it a rather hands-off promotional opportunity, but the cost varies.

When posting content on Instagram or Facebook, certain posts can be turned into advertisements that will appear in the app users’ feeds with identifying information (disclosures) that they are ads. The advertiser then has access to the metrics which detail audience engagement with the ad, which can inform future sponsored posts.

Meta (the company that owns Facebook and Instagram) now features a “brand collabs manager” tool that allows influencers or creatives to connect with publishers/authors looking for help promoting their books or social media pages. When Facebook and Instagram accounts are linked to each other, ads placed through one social media outlet will automatically be shown on both Facebook and Instagram.

According to Kindlepreneur, there are a few key settings to utilize when placing ads through social media outlets such as Facebook and Instagram. At the Campaign level, during which you will set your campaign objective, selecting the “traffic” objective will send ad viewers to a book product page for the lowest cost. Word-of-mouth marketing just might sell the most books. For this reason, book-centered marketing strategies should attempt to drive “traffic” to a book to increase the audience’s exposure to the book title and cover, and improve familiarity with the book’s brand to further improve the effectiveness of word-of-mouth marketing. Other objectives available at the Campaign level include: brand awareness, reach, engagement, app installs, video views, lead generation, messages, conversions, catalog sales, and store visits.

At the Ad Set level, advertisers have the opportunity to select the target audience, which uses demographics such as location, gender, age, interests, and language. There are also options for selecting placements for the ads, such as social media news feeds vs. stories. Meta offers an option to decide where to show ads if the “Automatic Placements” option is selected.

While placing paid advertisements for books might be intimidating at first, I hope these tips will make the process a bit easier to navigate and encourage publishers and authors to have fun with their content creation and drive traffic to their books.

person seated, looking through a phone

New Ways To Find New Books

How do you find books for your TBR (To Be Read) pile? Whether you are looking for your own next read, making a library run, or buying a gift for someone, chances are that you have a favorite source. It might be a trusted local bookseller. Maybe you have a “go-to” reviewer whose taste in books anticipates yours. Or perhaps you are one of those brave souls who enjoy strolling through a shop and literally judging a book by its cover! We’ve all done that, which is why we spend so much time and love on our Ooligan book covers. Maybe you are one of the lucky folks who has a friend with opposite taste in reading, and your book list stays fresh that way.

There’s no wrong way to select reading material. However, speaking from personal experience, using the same method to choose books can get us into a little bit of a reading rut at times. Especially if an author is prolific and writes in a popular genre, it’s all too easy to get into a groove with the familiar when we reach for a book. So we have a few suggestions for using technology to expand your reading list. Say it with me . . . “There’s an app for that!”

Goodreads

This is the grandmama of social reading apps. It’s great for keeping lists of what you’ve read, and the reviews are peer-written and genuine. Goodreads has millions of users and a huge catalog of books. However, it has been around since 2006, and it’s increasingly being surpassed by other, newer recommendation algorithms. But if you want to get recommendations from family and friends, or to join groups that are focused on specific topics or genres, you can probably find them on Goodreads. (Some consumers choose not to use Goodreads because it is owned by Amazon; in that case, StoryGraph is a similar app that is a little more modern.)

Likewise

Are you a reader who likes to align their books, TV, movies, and music? The Likewise app covers far more than books. You can follow friends or celebrities, browse quirky curated lists, get reading recommendations based on your viewing and listening preferences, and even ask the community to solve reading conundrums for you.

LibraryThing

This is an Ooligan favorite! LibraryThing lets you scan your books to build a library, and then explore recommendations, groups, community projects and games, and many other ways to find and play with books. Forgot the name of a book you read once? There’s a group just waiting to help you figure that out! You can check out other people’s libraries, and even flip the recommendation algorithm to get lists of books that are wildly different from what’s on your shelf. LibraryThing isn’t a sleek user interface, but it is stuffed full of information, and it’s a great place to go explore.

Tertulia

This is the new app on the block, partially funded by Ingram Content Group (which will also provide purchasing and shipping services for the site’s online bookshop). “Tertulia” means a literary or artistic salon, and this book recommendation service aspires to recreate the informal “book talk” often heard in Spanish cafes and bars. Tertulia differs from some other sites through its combination of algorithms plus editorial curation; it pulls information from thousands of sources online to figure out what books are being talked about, but also uses the opinions and recommendations of vetted experts to curate lists. This app is a good choice if you are looking for academic and artistic conversation about books, rather than a simple five-star rating system.

This is just a small sample of the many book recommendation apps that are available today. There are many ways to find books for your reading pile. While recommendations from friends and booksellers will never go out of style, technology can help you out too. If you are looking for ways to shake up your reading, consider exploring these or others. And please comment below and let us know: What is your favorite book recommendation app?

Graffiti of the word "poetry" being painted by an adult hand

Social Profit in the Process of Publishing Poetry

Many avenues come to mind when we think of marketing a book. Social media, public-facing events, local outreach, and more—there are numerous ways that authors and their teams can work to get consumers interested in the upcoming release. However, the one genre that seems to be overlooked here (leaving the responsibility to therefore fall on the writer) is poetry. Such has been the case since the debut of poetry collections, but I would argue that, in order for the genre to reach its full potential of artistry and audience, the marketing style must become a collaborative process.

For an example of how things are currently run, you could turn to the writer-friendly website pw.org. There, folks who have hopes of getting their work out there can find different guides and tips on how to do so. What’s interesting is their webpage devoted to publishing advice for writers of poetry collections. Poets & Writers almost immediately states that poets should first look into small presses to have a great success rate at getting published, and also at finding people who will be more devoted to helping them develop their work: “We suggest you begin your search for a book publisher by looking at small presses and university presses [. . .] they do not have the resources of larger publishing houses and offer smaller advances, they are usually more willing to help you develop as an author even if your books aren’t immediately profitable.” This suggests a contention between large publishing houses and new poets in the sector of marketing. If larger publishers are unwilling to help new poets develop, then the responsibility lies with poets to first seek out smaller journals, magazines, and publishing houses to get their work out there and make a name for themselves. While this is a concept that is in practice with other genres, it does seem to occur most often with poetry.

And this goes back to the beginning. You could think of poets such as Ezra Pound or Edgar Allen Poe, who both have been remarked as having enough determination and entrepreneurial spirits to get their work published (because they had to). Or Walt Whitman, who first self-published in 1855 before he was taken seriously. The list goes on, of course, and still continues to be added to in the twenty-first century.

In today’s marketplace, self-promotion is a given. The hardship of success for writers, though, comes from the fact that just about all areas of art and creativity are (and I’m trying not to sound harsh) over-saturated. With growing technology and various social media platforms, artists of all kinds are competing for a spotlight. Knowing that, the evidence is clear that poets’ being left to their own devices (literally) for self-promotion of their work just won’t cut it. If the marketing teams at publishing houses would combine their industry knowledge of the booksellers market with the personality and intimacy of the artists’ identities, we’d find an equation for achievement. And while you could argue that using a business to market oneself could be construed as “selling out,” this is a position of privilege—and naivety. New-to-the-scene writers can’t deny promotion if they have no platform to begin with; and the refusal of established artists to collaborate only serves to maintain the divide that disadvantages those hoping to break into the domain, and the benefits of a better relationship would go both ways.

Of course, there is much to gain from simply being on the receiving end of poetry; but there can also be financial security for businesses. In working around poetic language, moguls with a tendency toward the practical can learn new ways to market for their own benefit. As one article puts it: “There’s no doubt that poetry is profitable for brand managers and marketing researchers both. Poetry improves our prose (Stern, 1998). Poetry stimulates our synapses (Sherry & Schouten, 2002). Poetry transports us to the secluded bower of creativity, imagination, management.” Studying verse and the imaginative minds who write them can teach a manifold of pathways for reinventing language. In my experience, that’s the best thing about poetry: reshaping speech for the purpose of distinct, unique expression. By observing this skill set, managerial teams can obtain a better understanding of how they could morph their outreach ideals to draw more people in.

A green-speckled, orange pumpkin sits on a small bundle of tan wheat and a green leaf. Next to it sits a white present with a red bow. Sitting on top of the present is a red rose.

Holiday Romance Success

Safe to say, if you’re looking for a sweet, cozy read with a happily ever after, romance is the genre for you; and if you’re also looking for a little bit of holiday cheer, romance has plenty of options to choose from. But the amount of holiday themed romance novels that are advertised through the last half of the year makes one wonder—does anyone read those books after the holiday season passes?

To answer this question, I compared five Halloween books and five Christmas books that are popular recommendations on Booktok and Instagram. Six of the books were published in September or October of 2021, and the other four were published in August and September this year, 2022. After looking at the weekly sales of each of these books from their release dates to this October, the simple answer is no: these festive holiday love stories are not widely read year-round.

Despite this simple answer, however, there are a few interesting exceptions in the six books that have been released for a full year. Particularly, two of the books saw quite a bit of success throughout the year, despite their clear holiday subject matter: The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling and Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper. While the other four books showed a large decline in sales during the months of March through August, these two titles remained quite successful for holiday themed titles. According to NPD BookScan, both novels had steady weekly sales throughout spring and summer. In comparison, every other book published in 2021—Nick and Noel’s Christmas Playlist by Codi Hall, The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox, The Holiday Switch by Tif Marcelo, and Window Shopping by Tessa Bailey—sold significantly less.

What is so different about those four holiday titles from the other two published at a similar time in the exact same genre? The most obvious difference—those four are all Christmas books. Interestingly, NPD BookScan also shows that these four romances had fewer sales in their first four weeks after release than the two Halloween titles. Sales for the 2021 Christmas releases stayed relatively low, whereas Sterling’s The Ex Hex and Harper’s Payback’s a Witch both sold three to four times more copies. The preference for Halloween novels could lie in the advantage of Halloween being the first holiday of the year between itself and Christmas. However, it could also be because consumers are spending more money during the Christmas season than in the months before Halloween.

While the complete year of data is not available for the holiday romances released this year, the beginning of this same sales pattern is shown in the BookScan numbers for the 2022 releases. When comparing all ten titles together by weekly sales organized from publication date rather than calendar year, the Halloween titles—Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match by Sally Thorne, The Kiss Curse by Erin Sterling, and The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna—mirror the sales for last year’s stories. These three Halloween stories had strong sales numbers right at release followed by a slight decline, then a steadying of numbers a few weeks after publication. The Christmas title, however—Codi Hall’s There’s Something About Merry—has low numbers with neither an increase or decline since release. This differs from the 2021 titles because they all saw an incline during the months of November and December, then a decline in the month of January. Presumably, Hall’s title will follow the same pattern.

Ultimately, while the answer to the initial question of “are holiday romances read year round” is no, the Halloween titles still see reasonable success throughout the year. Whether this is because romance readers are always in the mood for something a little witchy, or the fall season is the go-to for a cozy read, the numbers prove that if you want to write or publish a holiday read, Halloween is loved year-round.

Halloween books discussed in this post:

    Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match by Sally Thorne
    Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper
    The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling
    The Kiss Curse by Erin Sterling
    The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna

Christmas books discussed in this post:

    Nick and Noel’s Christmas Playlist by Codi Hall
    The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox
    The Holiday Switch by Tif Marcelo
    There’s Something About Merry by Codi Hall
    Window Shopping by Tessa Bailey
Gargoyle overlooking city of Paris

Marketing YA Fantasy

At Ooligan Press we publish about four new titles each year. Each book has a unique aesthetic which is consistent across all marketing, design, publicity, and social media collateral. In order to inform this aesthetic, our team puts together a “branding brief” for each book. This document serves as a way to inform how our marketing should look and feel.

Currently, our team just completed the branding brief for Keepers of Aris, our upcoming YA fantasy novel by Autumn Green. Keepers of Aris is about a young woman, Jay Raremore, who was born with immense and growing magical powers. At the time when our story takes place, Aris Magica, the secretive realm of magic that exists parallel to humanity, is in danger and Jay is the only one powerful enough to save both worlds.

Keepers of Aris touches upon themes such as grief, loss of innocence, and the struggle of battling with real-life and inner demons. Because the content of the story is more advanced, one of our goals is to make it clear in our marketing materials that this is a book that will appeal to an adult audience, as well as to young adult readers. To do this, we need to make it clear that Keepers of Aris, as far as young adult books go, leans more towards the adult end of the spectrum, rather than the middle grade end. Often middle grade novels include cartoonish or illustrated images on their covers or images with recognizable faces or silhouettes, which we have avoided using on the cover. For future marketing materials, we are avoiding bright or vibrant colors and using a darker color palette instead. On the other hand, we also want to avoid communicating that Keepers of Aris is too heavy or dark for a young audience. As a result, we are not going to focus on the violence or bloodshed in the story; this is not a significant focus of the novel, so we don’t want it to be a significant focus in our marketing.

Another consideration when branding Keepers of Aris is how to communicate what type of fantasy the book entails, or what subset of fantasy it falls into. Keepers of Aris can be considered low fantasy, meaning that the story takes place in a world that is otherwise normal, outside of the magical elements that our characters encounter. This is in contrast to high fantasy, in which the story takes place in an alternative world. Keepers of Aris takes place in the modern-day universe, so we want to steer away from an aesthetic that would communicate a medieval, ancient, or futuristic setting.

The plot of Keepers of Aris largely takes place at the Institute, a boarding school for teenagers with magical abilities. To communicate this, we are going to focus on images related to the aesthetic of “dark academia”. Dark academia is typically associated with a darker, moodier color palette and images of gothic architecture, vast libraries, school uniforms, and candlelit study sessions.

All of these things help communicate the tone of the book, which we described as being “serious, somber, dark, and mysterious”. Developing a cohesive brand for a book helps communicate to readers the core message and themes of a book, thereby connecting our book with our target audience.

black and white photo of vintage "Books" sign on building

Why Do We Love Books About Bookstores?

Recently I finished reading The Sentence by Louise Erdrich and Christmas by the Book by Anne Marie Ryan. Both books are about bookstores, the people that work in those stores, the customers that visit the stores, and the folks that own the stores. Erdrich, along with being a Pulitzer-prize winning author, also owns an independent bookstore, Birchbark Books, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Though Ryan does not own a bookstore, she has written several other books of her own.

Both authors do a masterful job of creating and centering the story in and around the bookstore. Why are books about bookstores so magical? I am not sure I have a solid answer, but somehow bookstores manage to take us into other lands, and these two books remind us of that magic. The moment we walk through the bookstore door, a portal opens to a world of imagination and possibilities. A space dedicated to the power of story thus becomes a space held for powerful connections and changes to happen in those spaces.

On a recent visit to Broadway Books, I noticed the moment I walked through the door my system calmed and the worries I walked in with melted away. Bookstores also create a center for community, where folks can gather spontaneously or intentionally and talk about the ideas and scenes that moved them in their favorite books. Erdrich, in The Sentence, even goes so far as to write herself into the story, but centers her story around Tookie, who works at the bookstore, and the ghost of a former customer that refuses to leave the bookstore. Also set squarely in the middle of the pandemic, as well as the the center of the largest social justice movement in history after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Erdrich creates such vivid characters that you cannot help but fall in love with them. Does Tookie rid herself of her ghost? I’ll never tell.

Ryan, on the other hand, writes about a struggling bookstore in a small village in England in Christmas by the Book. Her story centers around a family-owned bookstore struggling to pay back taxes that might force them to close the bookstore right in the middle of the Christmas season. The husband and wife owners, Nora and Simon, live above the shop. In an effort to dispense some kindness, despite their own hardships, Nora and Simon decide to ask for nominees, online, of local folks in the village who could use some cheer. Six nominees are chosen and six random books are delivered by Nora and Simon. On the night of their annual Christmas Eve party, the magic of these books brings the community together in ways Nora and Simon could not have foreseen.

I loved both of these books. Though they are different in every kind of way, what they have in common is the sense of community the bookshops in each of the stories engender, the people that inhabit these stores, and the magic of the bookstore.

Book shelf including books of different genres, colors, and sizes.

Eight Celebrity-Run Instagram Book Clubs and Where to Find Them

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced people around the world indoors, many picked up books to pass the time. Due to the global nature of social media, readers were able to connect over titles with people they may never meet in person. Celebrities or influencers with existing social media followings have found their platforms to be an opportunity to share their interests and spark mass discussions about books via book clubs on Instagram. Here is a list of eight celebrity-run book clubs which host discussions on Instagram:

  1. Belletrist, founded by Emma Roberts and Karah Preiss @belletrist on Instagram

    Emma and Karah, both avid readers, channeled their hobby into an online community of like-minded subscribers. Though social media and the unifying power of the internet have shaped Belletrist’s success, the project kicked off twelve years ago thanks to snail mail. Best friends Karah Preiss [living in New York] and Emma Roberts [living in LA] would always be sending each other books in the mail and writing little notes on them. It became the center of their friendship, exchanging recommendations and discussing them. They have similar tastes, but are also very different, so there was a nice blend of having so much in common yet still being able to learn from each other.

  2. Our Shared Shelf, founded by Emma Watson @oursharedshelf on Instagram

    As part of her work with UN Women, Emma Watson decided to start a feminist book club to share what she learned and hear other thoughts on the works she engaged with via Goodreads. Watson decided to step back from the Goodreads account, but will continue sharing books on Instagram with #OurSharedShelf.

  3. Between Two Books, founded by Florence Welch @betweentwobooks on Instagram

    Between Two Books was started in 2012, when an Irish teen tweeted Florence with the idea that she should have her own book club. It has grown into a vibrant online community, still led by original members, Kate and Leah, along with Florence, Maria, and Terri-Jane. The club regularly features guest recommendations from artists, writers, musicians, and directors.

  4. Reese’s Book Club, founded by Reese Witherspoon @reesesbookclub on Instagram

    Each month, Reese (book-lover-in-chief) chooses a book with a woman at the center of the story. There is no formula to book selection, but the book club looks for ways to deepen connections to books, authors, and ourselves.

  5. Noname Book Club, founded by Noname @nonamereads on Instagram

    Noname Book Club is a community dedicated to uplifting POC voices by highlighting two books each month written by authors of color. In addition to building community with folks across the country, the organization also sends the monthly book picks to incarcerated comrades through the Noname Reads Prison Program.

  6. Read With Jenna, founded by Jenna Bush Hager in collaboration with The Today Show @readwithjenna on Instagram

    Each month Jenna picks a new book to read with viewers and discuss on The Today Show.

  7. Andrew Luck Book Club, founded by Andrew Luck @albookclub on Instagram

    Andrew Luck uses his book club as a platform to share his love of reading with a large audience. Every month, Andrew recommends two books for readers: one for the “Rookies” (younger folks) and the other for “Veterans” (more seasoned readers). Andrew tries to interview one author each month and share that podcast on his website.

  8. Kaia Gerber’s Book Club, founded by Kaia Gerber @kaiagerber on Instagram

    In the midst of COVID-19 lockdowns, Kaia decided to start a book club as a way to stay connected with her followers beyond the surface level uses of social media. Kaia shares book selections in her Instagram story, and the following week discusses the book on Instagram live (sometimes with a friend, writer, guest, etc.)