Nicholas Sparks knows a thing or two about relationships. The author has penned 20 romantic novels in 20 years, including The Notebook and Dear John, and his books have inspired 11 feature films. And just as how his protagonists’ relationships evolve each chapter, Sparks’ relationship with his fan base changes as his career and storytelling methods progress.
Sparks was a fairly unknown author in 1995 when he finished the manuscript for Winter for Two, which would ultimately become The Notebook. He sent it to a number of agents, but only heard back from Theresa Park, his current agent and founder of Park Literary and Media, who, at the time, was an editorial assistant at literary agency Sanford J. Greenburger Associates.
“I sent a query letter for The Notebook to 25 agents, and Theresa was the only one who took a chance on me,” Sparks said in an email interview. The Notebook was published in 1996 to stunning success.
Sparks’ career has taken off since then with an audience to match. But whereas in 1996 the industry had a “fairly streamlined” approach to publishing, today the Sparks brand spans across a variety of channels, including print, in-store, and digital.
Marketing has significantly changed, as well. No longer is it enough to just do a tour and hope for positive book reviews. A modern author has many more opportunities and challenges.
His “addressable” audience includes 2.8 million Facebook fans, 571,000 Twitter followers, and approximately 300,000 newsletter subscribers who he emails every quarter with special offers and news.
“As the internet, social media, and other new technologies exploded in popularity, we found many opportunities and mediums to supplement our marketing tactics and connect with fans and new audiences around the world,” Sparks says. “These days, to successfully promote a novel, you need to evolve ‘beyond the book’ and find broader opportunities along the lines of social media campaigns that engage with fans; in-store events and unique retail partnerships; film and TV adaptations; and, ultimately, book tours.”
But with this loyalty comes expectations: expectations, Park says, for a certain kind of content and for it to deliver a certain kind of experience. And while the product itself ultimately determines whether these expectations are met, the marketing around the story plays a crucial role, too.
Sparks’ marketing tends to be very “event-driven,” Park says, often centering on the release of a new movie or book. The challenge is that different people have different connections to his stories. Reading a Sparks book, for instance, often produces a “much more intense and more personal” experience than solely going to see the movie, she notes. So, readers who go see the movie might share a common bond that those who haven’t read the book may not understand. Sometimes, she adds, moviegoers aren’t even initially aware that the film they’re seeing is based on a Sparks book.
To ensure that Sparks’ most devout fans remain up to date, Park and her team often target this audience first when promoting a new product. If a new movie is coming out based on one of Sparks’ book, for instance, they might notify his email newsletter subscribers first before publishing the news on his website and social media. Laquishe Q. Wright, otherwise known as Q and founder of Q Social Media, runs Sparks’ social media.
In addition to broadening Sparks’ brand through print, digital, and film, Park and her team develop creative retail and brand partnerships. To promote Sparks’ 2013 book The Longest Ride, for instance, Park partnered with the Professional Bull Riders (one of the story’s protagonists is a cowboy who participates in the sport). Knowing that the sport has a fast-growing audience, Park partnered with Walmart, which was selling the book, to find the sexiest cowboy among the Professional Bull Riders crew. Fans could vote for their favorites, and the winner was featured on the Walmart-exclusive paperback edition in May 2014. According to Park Literary and Media, participants cast about two million votes. At the time of the paperback’s release, Walmart also hosted “Sparks Month”—a month-long promotion highlighting Sparks’ movies and books via Walmart, Walmart.com, the retailer’s circular, and video streaming service Vudu. By promoting “Sparks Month” and The Longest Ride through these respective channels—as well as through Sparks’ channels and the channels of his studio and publisher partners—the companies were able to generate 100 million impressions, according to Park Literary and Media.
Then, to promote The Longest Ride film, which debuted in 2015, Park and Sparks partnered with Sam’s Club to debut a film-inspired furniture collection. According to the literary agency, the brands promoted the furniture line through Sam’s Club book signings, social media, and custom content. They even featured the furniture in the film. Park Literary and Media reports that Sparks and Sam’s Club generated two million impressions and more than 11,000 pieces of furniture were sold.
More recently, Sparks and Park worked with musical artist JD Eicher to create a soundtrack for his book Two by Two. The duo also worked with music streaming services Spotify and Pandora to create Sparks-themed playlists.
Even though Sparks now engages with his fans via a multitude of channels, he says entering new media formats hasn’t changed his writing style. He does, however, say that he adjusts his content for each medium.
Park says crafting stories all readers can identify with is the secret to developing this “multi-generational” following, citing A Walk to Remember as a prime example of this. Although the protagonist Jamie Sullivan is a teenager—and hence appeals to a younger audience—the book is set in the 1950s and, therefore, also attracts an older demographic.
“Part of it is that people want to see their own stories,” Park says, emphasizing the importance of delivering an emotional experience. Indeed, Sparks says that his novels provide “literary escapism” and imagination.
“I’m a novelist and that’s what I set out to do—storytelling that people will absorb and remember,” he says. “I am, however, cognizant of my readers’ interest and market demand. So, for example, if my fans desire more content, I can provide ‘extras’ on one or more social media platforms—and my writing would ultimately be tailored to that medium. The same is true for any type of media concept.”
He’s also entering new channels. Sparks says he’s currently developing a TV series with Park that will be based on The Notebook.