Marketing “The Shack”

The New York Times says The Shack has been a “surprise best seller.” Published in over 30 languages around the world, The Shack now has over 7 million copies in print and ranked first on the New York Times best seller list for 70 weeks. Some might argue the success of The Shack derives from effective use of traditional and social media marketing efforts. However with most book titles struggling to sell 1,000 copies, might there be something more to the success of The Shack than just good marketing technique?

Written by William Paul Young, The Shack was intended as simply a story for Young’s children and a few family friends. After reading the book, friends encouraged Young to send his novel to publishing companies. However, after rejection by more than 15 publishing companies, Young decided his book probably wasn’t ready for a wider audience. That is, until his friends banded together to form their own publishing company for The Shack.

In an attempt to not spoil the plot, The New York Times writes that The Shack is a “slim paperback novel … about a grieving father who meets God in the form of a jolly African-American woman.” And while the content of the book have made for lively debate on talk shows, religious forums and book clubs, Mr. Young states that The Shack was simply meant as a metaphor for “the house you build out of your own pain.”

With a mere $15,000 for an initial publishing run and a “starter” $300 marketing budget, The Shack became an instant phenomenon as buyers passed the book to friends, and others purchased cases through Young’s website.

And while controversy may have helped create awareness of The Shack, one would be remiss not to appreciate marketing efforts for the best seller.

In addition to use of traditional media to spur sales such as book signings, speaking engagements and website development, publisher Windblown Media also made extensive use of social media.

For example, a specific and bold call to action asked readers to visit The Shack website and share their own personal experiences after reading the book. In addition to an author blog, website visitors could join a Flickr group to share pictures of “beauty,” sign up for email updates, become a fan on Facebook and follow author tweets.

Also of significance, the marketing campaign accessed terrific word of mouth techniques, as the author encouraged readers to share the book with friends, blog about The Shack, buy books for women’s shelters and prisons, and even write reviews for local papers, magazines and websites.

The results? While some authors clamor for even 10 reviews of their book on Amazon.com, The Shack racked up over 4,000! A cursory review of Amazon’s listing shows that the book definitely struck nerves, sparked controversy, and deeply touched readers.

While Paul Young and Windblown Media certainly employed traditional and effective marketing techniques to maximum effect, selling seven million books is no small potatoes. Indeed, The Shack reached a tipping point then quickly accelerated to become an international sensation.

The question remains, why? Is success of The Shack due to marketing, or is there something more?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!