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Five Questions for Harlequin


Recently, Harlequin held its first event in Second Life – a reading of The Reincarnationist (published on their MIRA Books imprint) and live chat with author M.J. Rose.  The event was held in a venue built specially for Harlequin, an Italian piazza that recreated one of the main locations in the book.  The venue is living on after the event.  Residents can explore the piazza and adjoining church with crypt to find clues to the mystery in the book as well as a sample first chapter and additional information about the author.

One Degree sat down with Jenny Bullough, Manager of Digital Content and Interactivity at Harlequin Enterprises, to discuss this foray into Second Life.

One Degree: What made you decide to hold an event in Second Life?  How does it complement other events on the book tour?  How did you get the word out?

We decided on Second Life for a number of reasons: because the unique nature of the virtual world would allow us to recreate settings from the novel; because holding an author Q&A in Second Life would allow numerous readers to interact with the author in real time from their own time zones; and because the theme of the novel is very much in keeping with the concept of a virtual world, as the protagonist is experiencing another, “second” life through intense past-life regressions.

The event complemented the author’s own book tour because, like other author events, attendees could interact with her directly in real-time through the SL chat function, and sample the novel through the audio segment.

We got the word out in-world mainly by posting classifieds and listing the event in the SL events; in RL we reached out to book bloggers and review sites.

One Degree: What are your measures of success for this project?  Are you selling books in-world?

We’ll judge the event successful if we’ve increased awareness of MJ Rose and the book – and judging by the number of interview requests fielded by the author and myself both before and after the event, it’s been successful.  We aren’t selling the books in-world per se, but if you click on any book or poster of the book at the event site it will take you to a website where you can buy the book in print, ebook, or digital audio formats.


One Degree: What were the challenges you faced putting together this event?  Are there issues or questions that came up that surprised you?

There were the usual technology challenges (some attendees had lag-time issues with SL that we couldn’t affect; the author’s access to SL was fairly basic and as a result she experienced significant lag during the event), and I had to overcome my own ignorance about the capabilities of SL when planning the event.

One Degree: Compared to real-life events, is the cost (both in time and dollars) more or less expensive?  Anything that came up that you didn’t expect?

Confession time: I don’t know, I’ve never organized a real-life author event!  I would say however, that based on the cost of this event in time and dollars, it’s certainly worth it.

One Degree: What is your advice to marketers who are considering a foray into virtual worlds?  Anything tips or tricks?  Are virtual worlds better for certain types of brands?

My advice would be to consider your brand and your product and make sure it’s the right fit for the right virtual world.  Second Life was a good fit for M.J. Rose and The Reincarnationist; however, because SL is restricted to those 18 and older, it might not be right for a young adult novel, for example.  And my only other advice would be to plan extensively, including involving yourself in the virtual world long before the implementation stage so that you know exactly what you’re getting into.

One Degree: What were your big “lessons learned”?  Is Harlequin planning any other events in Second Life or other virtual worlds?

Our biggest lesson learned is that there was a lot more interest generated out of the event than we expected, and we unfortunately had not planned with the author to hold any follow-up events; as a result of this learning, we are currently putting together a more extensive plan for our next author and book, which will involve multiple events in SL tied to the novel’s theme and settings as well as another Q&A or two with the author.  Stay tuned for more news!  And if you want more info, join the MIRA Books group in SL to receive updates and exclusive invites to upcoming events!


  1. miro
    miro October 15, 2007

    do you have any basic metric you can share:
    how many people attended the event
    how many clicked through
    did you create a special promotional code to track the sales
    roughly speaking how much did it cost to create the event
    $10k, $50k, $100k

  2. mose
    mose October 15, 2007

    First I congratulate Harlequin for takin a chance. Very cool. very brave. I love it!!!
    I love SL have been on for over a year and run some businesses there – 4 T shirt shops an art shop and two clubs. We were involved in a charity event and raised over 500k Linden 1 dollar = 300 Linden
    One of the sad parts of SL is that it is way too wide. Tough to get the word out in the game about events. Advertising is sketchy at best. The driving the folks from Blogs is a terrific way.
    Again I am so impressed. I always have been with Harlequin tho … I did a dozen or so covers for them a couple of years back and they were a terrific client.
    Oh, no, that isn’t me on the cover … That was Fabio… but thanks for asking!

  3. Jenny Bullough
    Jenny Bullough October 16, 2007

    Miro, to answer your questions, no, we didn’t create any special promo code and we didn’t record click-through rate; we measured success chiefly in buzz created, as well as attendance at the event (about 20 avatars at its peak). The entire cost for the event was Miro, to answer your questions, no, we didn’t create any special promo code and we didn’t record click-through rate; we measured success chiefly in buzz created, as well as attendance at the event (about 20 avatars at its peak). The entire cost for the event was <$10K. Thanks to you both for your comments, and Mose, thanks for the kind words!

  4. Eden Spodek
    Eden Spodek October 16, 2007

    Another secret of Harlequin’s success is Jenny’s understanding of Second Life.
    She has spent a great deal of time over the past year experiencing Second Life and learning about it’s culture.
    As a result she and Harlequin knew when it made sense to have a book launch in that space and how to make it work.
    Most articles I’ve read about companies that fail in Second Life single out one common factor: a lack of understanding of Second Life’s unique culture.
    Congratulations Jenny and Harlequin for taking a risk. I hope you’re next launch is in the evening (or after 5 SLT).

  5. It’s remarkable how more and more people are marketing or introducing their products in the virtual world. Then again, with millions of Second Life residents all over the world, there should be a wide reach with lesser cost. I recently heard about Evian’s own venture into Second Life. They are saying that the skin of your avatar actually becomes smoother after a visit to an Evian vending machine.

  6. john
    john October 17, 2007

    Was the awareness generated from the actual event or marketing blogs like this one covering that a marketing event was held in SL? Just to play devils advocate, it seems like it’s only marketers who want this stuff to succeed in SL. Kinda like a self-fulfilling prophecy by solely focusing on awareness?

  7. Jenny Bullough
    Jenny Bullough October 17, 2007

    Oops, sorry, that comment of mine above should read “The entire cost for the event was much less than $10K.”

  8. Kate Trgovac
    Kate Trgovac October 17, 2007

    John .. it’s an interesting point you make. I know there are residents in SL who are violently opposed to any kind of marketing invasion.
    But there are also residents who, under the right circumstance, value the contribution and more importantly, the partnership that a right-minded marketer can bring.
    Kinda like in first-life.
    It would be a good thing if marketers who hold events like this did some kind of follow-up or questionnaire after the event (again, similar to best practices in first-life where you would have a brand impression survey). Do events like this increase the enjoyment of the product? Was it interesting for residents? Did they find value?
    I’d like to see us move to that next step when working with residents in virtual worlds.

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