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Margaret Atwood

JENNIFER ROBERTS/jennifer roberts The Globe and Mail

Who was the brave publicist who suggested that austere Margaret Atwood not only do the usual book-signing tour for her new novel, The Year of the Flood, but also build it into an interactive website, Twitter it, blog it, flog it on T-shirts and turn it into a contest on YouTube?

In fact, it was the novelist herself who conceived and organized the book's exhaustive online marketing campaign, which also includes theatrical and musical "events" in Canada and abroad.

"She understands that this is part of the book-selling process and she does it flawlessly," says McClelland and Stewart publicist Ashley Dunn.

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The inventor of the Long Pen - a device that allows authors in one city to sign books in another - has once again charged into new frontiers of book marketing.

Sure, there are more eyes glued to the website and Twitter feed dispensing clues to the puzzles contained in The Lost Symbol, the latest effort from The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown - publishers have ordered 6 million copies of that book prior to its Sept. 15 release - but online Atwood fans have more to chew on.

In addition to promoting the book, yearoftheflood.com functions as a clearinghouse for environmental activism. Fans can also use it to download ring tones for the new-age hymns peppered throughout the book, which are being sung by local artists in each of the theatrical "events" coinciding with the release.

The events, which began this week in Britain, are drawing their own raves. "With typical eccentricity and aplomb, and in the surroundings of a magnificent Regency church, Margaret Atwood yesterday brought the Edinburgh International Book Festival to a rousing climax with a bravura performance that included a contribution from the pulpit by a former bishop of Edinburgh - dressed in a leopard-skin robe - and musical accompaniment from a choir clad in sun hats," The Times reported on Monday.

Atwood was more succinct: "First YOTF event brilliant actors & singers, rocked roof! RSPB made ££, yay!!" she Twittered. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is one of a dozen non-profit groups she has nominated to benefit from the events. Others include Nature Canada and Sudbury's Junction Creek Stewardship Committee.

Each of the events is being sung by local performers. Those unable or unwilling to attend will be able to use the website to create and record their own hymns in the spirit of God's Gardeners, the futuristic nature worshippers at the centre of the novel, link to green websites or buy Flood-themed T-shirts.

"I think she's been having fun," says Lisa Charters, director of digital operations at Random House of Canada. Many of the tools used to create the "enhanced book experience" weren't available even two years ago, she adds, but are now essential. "You won't be able to not have a digital presence as an author going forward. Social media is here to stay. It already has become a key ingredient in marketing campaigns."

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In the past, publishers have had success using book clubs to build word-of-mouth recommendations for new titles, according to Charters. "We've always seen the Internet as being able to do that and now it's really happening. It's explosive."

"Social media has generated this wealth of opportunity to drive attention to new titles," agrees Michael Tamblyn, vice-president of Chapters Indigo e-book division Shortcovers. "You as a fan can see Margaret Atwood out there talking about her experiences promoting her book, which we think is very compelling to readers."

Needless to say, Shortcovers will be selling The Year of the Flood in electronic form, at a price of $18.99, beginning Sept. 8 when the book goes on sale in stores. (The hardcover is priced at $32.99.) Electronic sales of widely anticipated titles spike heavily the moment they become available, according to Tamblyn. "It's about the day of, the morning of, not the week that the book comes out," he said. "So we do everything we can do to capture that release-day excitement."

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