Did you know that Goosebumps has sold over 400 million books worldwide in thirty-two languages, and is the second-best-selling book series in history? That’s what I’d call scary good! So today, we’ll take a look at how to use Goosebumps books marketing techniques and lessons, and how you can apply them to create the very best eBooks.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, the original Goosebumps is a series of children’s “horror” fiction novels (62 books!) by American author R. L. Stine, published by Scholastic Publishing, from 1992 to 1997.
Why was the series so successful? Hard to say because hindsight always feels like it’s 20/20, and correlation starts to look like causation. Though Stine once attributed the success of his books to their absence of drugs, depravity, and violence. Which definitely has something to do with knowing his audience. But, beyond that, you might be surprised by some of his clever marketing secrets, such as how he filled the first few pages of every book. So let’s jump in!
Discover Goosebumps books marketing techniques
Here are a few ways you can amend your eBook program to set it up for success, inspired by how Goosebumps rose to popularity.
1. Make it a series
OK for starters, Goosebumps was a series. And it had a great name. Stine said the name for the series came to him after seeing a TV station’s ad in TV Guide that stated “It’s goosebumps week on Channel 11”.
And, more importantly, the series had incredibly steady releases. It arrived on the scene in 1992, with Welcome to Dead House. And within the next 10 years, Stine had produced 93 kiddie horror books, including those in the relaunches such as Goosebumps 2000, Goosebumps HorrorLand, and Goosebumps Most Wanted. That’s about 10 books per year.
Knowing more books were coming out, kept everyone wanting to get through the latest book. And kids could count on the next one, so they always had something to look forward to – no need to savor this one. Plus, by making it a series, kids could be sure the books would deliver on their brand promise – and they wouldn’t waste their time or their hard earned chore money on something they didn’t enjoy.
To apply this to your ebooks, consider launching a branded series with its own name (ideally just one word). You could even let a TV channel, movie, or another book’s description help guide your naming. Perhaps create an entire beginner-track series in an area of expertise relevant to your product. Plot out new drops consistently every month. And let readers know up front to set the expectation.
Also, consider what your eBooks will promise that those of your competitors’ don’t. For example maybe your branded series always has amazing visuals of data, like Chartr, or you inject humor and Easter eggs throughout, or you reveal new trends first like Exploding Topics, or you tug at heart strings by sharing first-hand stories, or you save them time with CliffNotes like content.
2. Tap into universal emotional themes
Goosebumps harped on fear, one of the most common human emotions: fundamentally it’s hardwired in our brains. And on top of that, they packaged it up with humor. Stine, himself, characterized the series as “scary books that are also funny.” By playing into these emotions, Goosebumps hooked us right in.
This is definitely hard to do. But consider rather than just teaching something in your eBook, making readers feel something. And start with that as the goal, before crafting the content. Some of the most basic emotions include: happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, and surprise.
For example you could do a series about the biggest mistakes your personas could make at work or at home (fear!), you could do a compilation of case studies of the most unique use cases for your product where you reveal the results first and then explain the how (surprise!), or you could interview customers using the Proust Questionnaire to reveal what’s led to their success (happiness).
3. Make the covers extra colorful
The Internets is a crowded bookstore these days, so you have to be sure your eBook is going to pop. The Goosebumps series was illustrated mostly by artist Tim Jacobus, who was selected because of his use of saturated colors. I mean just try to miss these images in your Facebook feed:
No way, no how. By using bright and contrasting colors, these beauties catch your eye. Their color palettes remind me a bit of candy, which I’m sure was intentional as kids freaking love candy.
So create eBook covers that pop by using a mix of complementary colors. The high contrast of complementary colors creates vibrancy, especially when used at full saturation. Also, for many of the same reasons original blog images matter, original eBook art matters. So consider hiring an illustrator to bring a unique vision to life. Don’t just use stock photos!
4. Add texture to the experience
Bruh, those drips on the covers be crazy. No other books were doing this at this time. And, slime and Gak were all the craze – making the drips even more relevant to things kids craved. I even think you could feel the texture on some of the books, which is next level!
While you can’t put physical texture on your eBook cover, you could certainly mimic it. Drips, splashes, glitter, mirrors, fireworks, tie dye, watercolor, spray paint (think Microsoft Paint) – there are tons of options to catch eyes amidst a sea of boring squares and circles.
You could also consider adding other physical ways to interact with the eBook such as instructions to fold the paper, cut something out like a bookmark, check off a checklist, and so on. Or, you could go the other way, and totally embrace the virtual by incorporating fun animations, effects like confetti, and VR/AR components.
5. Keep it short & clear
Most of the books in the series were under 150 pages. The font size was large, and there was plenty of line spacing. Plus, the pages were small. Basically the books were very digestible. It was easy to get through one in a day. Also, and critically, the vocabulary was fairly elementary.
So instead of a 50-page eBook, consider shortening it up to just what’s necessary. And format it for easy reading by using large headlines, a large font size, numbered and bulleted lists, and plenty of white space. Consider leaving at least 25% of each page blank to make it even easier on the eyes.
And, be sure you write at a level that doesn’t exceed 7th-grade. Studies suggest that consumer comprehension may be compromised if content exceeds a 7th-grade reading level – the average American reading level identified by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
You can use a tool such as Yoast, which rates writing using the the Flesch reading ease test to measure the readability of a text. It uses two variables to determine the readability score:
- the average length of your sentences (measured by the number of words)
- the average number of syllables per word
6. Goosebumps book marketing includes teasers
One genius move was that each new book opened with pages listing the other books in the series. This served as a sort of checklist so you could pine after another book right from the start. It also helped make you feel like you were making progress.
Beyond that, each book ended with a few chapters from an upcoming, not yet released book. A sneak preview! And, you’d better bet those were some of the most gripping sections, right before the resolution. So you just had to get the book to know the answer.
You can create a list of other eBooks in your series and include it in the front of each downloadable. You could also tease one of the biggest problems addressed next eBook, as well as a just a vague hint of answer, at the end. These seem so simple and obvious, but I’ve not ever seen an eBook that uses these techniques.
7. End with a twist
Another cool component of the books that made you want to tear through them was that they often concluded with twist endings. This also made kids try to keep up with the latest book drops, because they didn’t want to be the last to read each book out of their friend group, as someone might spoil it for them.
To translate this to your eBooks, save the best for last, and make it unexpected. Put your original data at the end, and reveal something surprising.
8. Use common worst-case scenarios
The books typically featured characters who either recently moved to a new neighborhood or are sent to stay with relatives. These are some of the toughest situations for kids, and also moments when they’re the most alone and scared.
Think about the moments your audience is the most vulnerable, and start off with them on page 1, making it easy for them to relate to your writing right away. For example, kick off by describing their worst case situations: an email marketing send gone wrong or starting a new job and not knowing where the bathroom is.
9. The title is (almost) everything
Stine shared that he often thinks of a title to a novel first, then lets the title lead him to a story. Your title is the thing that will grab readers’ attention (or not)! If the title doesn’t interest them enough to get your book, it doesn’t really matter how great the content inside it is.
Make sure you’re using this big point of leverage for your eBooks by being incredibly thoughtful about your title. Consider writing 25 titles, allowing colleagues to vote on their top three, and then running ads against those to see which gets the most clicks. Then, you’ve got your title, and you can write your book.
10. Include a contest
The What Gives You Goosebumps? contest promoted within certain Goosebumps books asked respondents to write “what gives you goosebumps” in 25 words or less. Winners got their picture, their “monsterized” picture, and their story to appear in new Goosebumps books. A total of six winners were selected each month from March 1994 to August 1994, and were announced on the back inside cover of the books beginning in December.
I mean, what a great way to get kids to have to see the next book! They’d want to know who’s stories got in. And you can bet the featured kids’ parents bought a few copies to show off.
To accomplish this with your eBooks, you can advertise a contest involving the skills using your product, or use cases for your product, for a chance to be featured in the next book and/or on your website. You can also quote influencers throughout the eBook, making them more likely to share your final product as well.
11. Advertise branded merchandise
Goosebumps also featured ads for a Goosebumps calendar, book bag, games, and puzzles. You could create branded merchandise for your eBook series as well.
Another great conversion driver for Goosebumps were the featured ads for the Goosebumps fan club packs. The pack included stickers, The Scream newsletter, a watch, a bandana, water bottle, and pencils. Basically branded items that related to other interests of his core audience. You could create a fan club for your loyal readers as well, including an email newsletter, and advertise it within your eBooks.
Or, obviously, you could advertise your core products in a similar way. Notice how there’s a clear, actionable next step at the bottom, and how they get the price looking lower by making shipping cost extra. And, critically, they show the product within the ad.
12. Keep the price low
Goosebumps were priced quite low, at $3.99 making them accessible to a wider audience. Today you can get 20 books for about $60, meaning they’re still only about $3 a pop.
Smart pricing doesn’t have to be complicated. There is one thing that almost universally holds true: the demand curve slopes downward. Higher prices mean less demand. Lower prices mean more demand. Consider making your eBooks less than $5 or free.
13. Be specific with your audience
Stine picked a specific niche to target from the start. The series was originally aimed at girls and was basically G-rated. But both boys and girls enjoyed the series equally, with half of Stine’s fan mail being sent from boys.
Rather than setting out to create an eBook that hits all of your personas, cater to a very defined persona. For example, try to hone in on a three to four word definition of the reader: not “dogs” but “smiling huskies in snow.”
14. Repurpose the content
Walt Disney Records released six abridged Goosebumps audiobook cassette tapes in late 1996 and one in 1997. And in 2015 Scholastic released fifteen new unabridged Goosebumps audiobooks based on the Classic Goosebumps series in anticipation of the first Goosebumps film’s release. Today, the Scholastic audiobooks are available digitally, and can be streamed from services such as Spotify.
When you find an eBook series that hits particularly well with readers, be sure to repackage that content up across all sorts of mediums and channels such as podcasts (be sure to use accompanying podcast show notes to capitalize on SEO as well), Youtube videos, as social posts, and more. Learn more about how to harness this successful content marketing secret.
15. Grab attention with every space
The spines of the first 19 books in the series feature the Goosebumps title in a standard font. But from book 20 onward, this was replaced with the Goosebumps slime logo. This helped the books stand out on crowded library and bookstore shelves.
Consider making your virtual eBook shelf equally compelling. First, be sure to make your books easily searchable. Second, display them on shelves or rows to mimic how readers are used to browsing. Third, you could even try showing their spines, rather than full covers, to feature more books above the fold. Check out how Bookshop.org and Goodreads merchandise books for some inspiration, as you’d certainly hope they’re employing best practices.
16. Ensure content matches the title
When ignoring punctuation and capitalization, there are 16 books in the original series where the title appears as a line that’s worked into the story.
This one’s a no brainer, but when it comes to your eBooks, you have to deliver on the promise! Don’t waste readers’ time with a total click-bait title and then not back it up with compelling, related content. People love a funnel that continues to hit on the same promise throughout. That’s why when you use the keyword you optimized your blog post for, also in your in-post call to action, you’ll see your click-through rate increase.
Also, if you’re having trouble brainstorming titles, look at the words already in your eBook if you’re done writing it for additional inspiration.
17. Distribute where the audience is
Scholastic brought Goosebumps right into many schools’ gyms with their annual book fair. Basically, students didn’t have to go out of their way at all to purchase the popular books.
So bring your eBook to your audience. Ensure you have a space on your homepage, customer login page, and highest trafficked pages and related blog posts where you can regularly feature new content such as the latest eBook. And if someone downloaded the first ebook in the series, let them know once the next is live with a helpful email.
So there you have it, R. L. Stine’s winning formula in a nutshell.
Use Goosebumps books marketing for better eBooks
Now there will be no Night of the Living Dummy. Only a Day of the Successful Marketer putting the Goosebumps secret formula into practice with 17 simple steps. Up next, learn all about Beanie Babies marketing ideas you can apply too.
Would you be willing to send a $5 tip to my Venmo tip jar because you enjoyed this article? @megsterr.
Or my Paypal: