Well, we’ve reached the end of Monster Movie Month. If you’ve been following along, you have a lot of background information, resources, and recommendations for both movies and books at your fingertips, on topics from Asian ghosts to killer rats. So how do you use all this to get horror movies and fiction into the hands of likely readers? We asked Becky Spratford, author of The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Horror, Second Edition (reviewed here), which includes an entire chapter on marketing horror, to share her expertise, and she wrote us this guest post.
Marketing Horror All the Year Through
By Becky Spratford
One of the biggest questions I get from my fellow librarians is how they can best market their horror offerings throughout the year. Of course it is easy to get patrons to notice horror in October. Every other marketer in the world is priming the public for all things scary, so when people walk in the library, they are horror hungry zombies, looking for their next meal. We have to do little more than place the horror books within their line of sight, and patrons snatch up the books by the handful.
Ah, but the rest of the year we do not have the entirety of mass media working for us; we have to try just a little bit harder. But as daunting a task as it may seem, marketing horror to your patrons during the other 11 months of the year, is not as difficult as you might think. I have 2 easy ways you can seamlessly incorporate horror into your general work marketing books at your library.
First, let’s talk about traditional library displays. Most of you out there probably put up a big horror display in October. But why aren’t you doing it other times of the year? The most common answer is that you think your patrons aren’t thinking about horror outside of October. But in the last few years this is not necessarily true.
Let’s take the first 6 months of 2012 as an example. In April, we saw the release of The Cabin in the Woods, a terrific and popular haunted house movie. In May, there was the Johnny Depp vampire soap opera Dark Shadows and in June, the king of mash-ups, Seth Grahame-Smith helped to bring his bloody, smart, and amusing novel, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter to the screen. Each of those movie releases had their own marketing campaigns that resulted in buzz about them among the general public. For each, a small display could have easily been created.
You begin by putting up a graphic of the movie poster on regular 8 ½ by 11 paper (just do a Google image search for the movie) next to a handful of books. Then you grab some books that are connected with the movie. So for Cabin in the Woods, you could pull out some haunted house books, vampire books for Dark Shadows, and some comic horror novels for Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. Displays do not need special shelving. Just put books out anyplace where you have space. For example, at the Berwyn Public Library, we put these small, current event displays up on our desk, on a top shelf that we keep clear to rotate with impromptu displays, and even on small side tables in our seating areas.
These current event displays not only show your patrons that you understand their interests, but they also make a trip to the library easier for them. Patrons are daunted by the large number of books on our shelves, so anything we can do to pull out good books for them, makes them less intimidated and more willing to browse. And, displays linked to current media darlings are a sure fire crowd pleaser.
But how do you choose the books? Here is where I can help. In my new book and on its companion website, I have a lot of lists that would help you to identify titles that you could highlight. I am even fine with you using my annotations, as long as you cite where they are from. In the book I have entire chapters on haunted houses, vampires, and comic horror that include long annotated lists of popular titles available at most public libraries. On the website, RA for All: Horror, I use tags on each post. You just need to choose a tag, like vampires, and all of the relevant posts come up. There are literally hundreds of options at your fingertips.
Another way you can work horror into your displays throughout the year is to simply include a few horror titles in the mix in your larger, more planned displays. For example, we have done displays featuring coming-of-age stories at our library. Since this is such a popular theme in novels, on the display we included books from every genre. There was literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, suspense, and horror, just to name a few. As I argue in my new book, a coming-of-age theme is huge in all horror. In most horror novels, the protagonist has to overcome his own shortcomings, face his inner demons, and grow up before he can defeat the physical monster in front of him. So what horror books can be included on a “Coming-of-Age” display? Any you want.
What about a display on gardening? I have lots of “plants of terror” titles to suggest to you in my book or on the blog, but here are two of my favorites– The Ruins by Scott Smith and The Caretaker of Lorne Field by Dave Zeltersman.
This plan works with just about any theme. If you just make an effort to incorporate horror into all of your displays, I am sure you will find a tale of terror to fit most displays. The moral here is to consciously mix all genres into your displays. You will have more fun, and you will make a wider range of patrons happier.
My second tip for marketing horror all year also plays off of the media. I mentioned a marketing strategy for one-time movie releases, but what about the excitement we are seeing for popular horror television series throughout the year? Again, let’s stick with just the first 6 months of 2012 and talk about two of the most popular series on television, period– AMC’s The Walking Dead and HBO’s True Blood (okay, technically True Blood is paranormal, not pure horror, but trust me, I will address that in a moment).
The Walking Dead ran on TV in the winter and spring, while True Blood is currently running this summer. For each series I took a different marketing approach at the library. For The Walking Dead, I focused on a web campaign of all things zombie. On my blog, I ran many Walking Dead inspired posts and worked hard to incorporate book suggestions in these posts. I did this throughout the run of the show, culminating with a display of zombie books in the library during the week leading up to the finale.
True Blood was a little more difficult, since its fans are mostly those who like paranormal stories. In paranormal, the main thrust of the story is NOT to invoke fear, as it is in horror. The scares come, but they are not the overall point of the work. As a result, some horror fans do not like paranormal and vice versa. But, that doesn’t mean NO horror fans like True Blood. To address the wide range of appeal in the TV series and the book series, a few years ago, I created this list of Sookie Stackhouse read alikes broken up by appeal. I considered all of the reasons you may like the series and included plenty of horror options on the list. This list is available online and in the library and is one of most popular lists.
I hope I have inspired you to consider marketing horror throughout the year. The popularity of horror TV series and movies today proves horror’s staying power. And if huge production companies think it is okay to push horror during the other 11 months of the year, why shouldn’t you? We have way less to lose than they do.
And don’t be scared of helping your horror patrons. They are not monsters, they just like to read about them.
Becky Spratford is a busy Readers’ Advisor. Between manning a desk at the Berwyn (IL) Public Library and corrupting the minds of library school students at Dominican University, she runs two popular and critically acclaimed RA blogs: RA for All and RA for All: Horror. Her new book The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror, 2nd edition (ALA Editions, 2012) is available now. She also writes content for EBSCO’s NoveList database and is a proud member of The Horror Writers’ Association. She can be reached at bspratford[at]hotmail[dot]com.