Tag Archives: publishing

what is (book) discoverability, and why do readers need it?

12 Feb

Before I put my thoughts out there, let me preface by saying:

There are a number of ways to describe this concept, and I’m sure that my definition will not align with everyone concerned with the issue as it regards publishing.

Also, I’m going to be citing blog posts by two people who are not only smart, relevant and incisive, but friends of mine.

Guy LeCharles Gonzales and Brett Sandusky have recently posted articles arguing that “discoverability” is a problem primarily for publishers and industry professionals trying to get people to buy the books they are marketing. Conversely, readers are “just fine” because of the plethora (love that word) of book recommendation resources (goodreads being an excellent example).

In other words, there are so many books and so many places to get online reviews and recommendations, readers have more reading material than they could ever consume at their fingertips (literally, if you’re using a keyboard). But to me, this is what constitutes the problem.

It’s not a lack of available sources to discover and acquire books, it’s too many. The “noise level” is so great, with so many new contenders for the readers’ attention, it’s difficult to filter it all. Especially for new authors, getting attention paid to the introduction of newly published books is daunting, and oft times doomed.

(I’m inserting an addendum here.  In response this post, Guy tweeted that my “noise level” point is still a publisher problem, not really one for readers as “filters” favor readers.  To me, this is like saying noise is only a problem for the musician, no the listener.  That’s not really a fair analogy because it’s too literal and doesn’t account for filters, but I couldn’t resist.  Instead, let’s take the cable television model, where the consumer has literally hundreds of channels and thousands for programs to choose from.  Channels and reviews provide filters, but they only work when there is an established audience and a body of reputable reviews.  The viewer can “find” what he already knows he’s looking for, but not that which has yet to be discovered.  Search engines are smarter, but if we are relying on them, then we’re back to metadata and algorithms, the very technology that fails to account for taste and affinity.  Currently, the existing filters make popular that which is already popular, based on rising popularity.  Which does nothing to help me or any other reader find new authors or their works.)

It’s not enough to be good, or even recognized as such. The writer/publisher/marketer must, at some point, have access to a community of scale. Of course, that’s no guarantee the book will be well reviewed, reader adopted or financially successful (each a distinct phenomenon) but without that exposure, the best book is very unlikely to find an audience, or looking at it from the other side, it’s unlikely that receptive readers will find it.

Yes, cream rises to the top and people win the lottery and lightening strikes twice. And sometimes, if you build it, they will come. But not often. Not most of the time. Even the best writing needs to be made more “findable” than the needle in the proverbial haystack. Anyone who has ever tried to gather an audience for their blog knows how difficult this can be.

Just look at the number of well written blogs with followers numbering in the double digits. Let me make it clear that I agree… quick fixes or one size fits all solutions are as non-existent as unicorns (or as rare… I’m not sure there isn’t a unicorn out there somewhere looking for a home…).

As both of my peers astutely observe, automatic devices like SEO, metadata and algorithms alone are not going to make a book get noticed, much less sold. As a matter of fact, this is part of the problem… algorithms tend to lift the most searched and most popular books to the top of the list. And, alas, so do reviewers and recommenders.

I don’t think there is a one size fits all solution, or that it’s easy to make a book findable (as opposed to just ‘available’). Brett has it right when he says that relationships are the key: engagement that leads to these relationships is always personal and unique. But to engage effectively, we must be able to find readers and get their attention. And they must be able to find us.

I agree that most readers do not line up books for constant consumption, and those who do are not making entirely predictable choices. I happen to be the kind of reader with a TBR pile. But the fact is, I still have difficulty finding new authors I enjoy. My friends, in both the physical and digital world, tend to recommend the same currently popular books over and over again (of the same old nuts I’ve already read). If I go outside my circles, I get too much information which in many cases I find too unreliable, agenda posted reviews posted by friends or enemies of the author being a good example.

My scenario here is general and anecdotal, but I think it makes my point. And besides, if I have to work that hard to research a likely book to add to my TBR pile, then it’s not very findable.

There is an understandable confusion between making a book findable and closing the sale, or making people buy what publishers wish to sell. But even in terms of sales,integrity based marketing is all about connecting people with the products and services they need and want (not manipulating or coercing them into a sale). If that’s the case, then making a book findable is a service we owe readers, and one with they will value (I would).

There is no easy answer… issues of organization, findability, marketing and sales have been greatly disrupted by the access and choices available to us via the internet and its technologies. But while these issues have been aggravated, the haven’t disappeared.

Though a one size fits all solution is not attainable (or even desirable, I would argue), there are workable principals and strategies that can be used as the foundation to foster better user experience, community formation and reader engagement.

So while I disagree with some of my friends’ definitions of findability and its relevance to the reader, I agree with their fundamental points. Technology, programs and even better formatted information will not provide an easy panacea to the book seller. But it’s a two way problem without a simple solution.  Engagement models and strategies are possible and necessary to motivate reader engagement, make the process of finding a book (which isn’t already a best seller, or just another piece of hack writing thrown in the users path) easier, more intuitive and more fun.

I think that’s what the issue of “findability” is, regarding the reader. Or at least, it should be.

By Gabriel Paul

What is a Mere Book? Twitter Conversation #6

16 May
For this week’s twitter conversation, I’m going to take a statement made by @ColleenLindsay, former agent and bookish bon vivant, in a brief about books vs. content.  Warning: I go far beyond any implications the original context would justify.
***

ColleenLindsayI’m not sentimental about books as objects; I’m only sentimental about the content contained in those books. #sosueme

johnandrewhall@ColleenLindsay Well the content of a book is its object. Anycase what about something like this … http://twitpic.com/4y4xkv

ColleenLindsay@johnandrewhall Illuminated manuscripts are a work of art and a piece of history; not just mere books.


So, as you may have guessed from the title, Colleen’s last statement got me wondering: what is a mere book?  Is the content in a book equally transferable to all forms, or “containers”? Is an eBook intrinsically less satisfying because of it’s digital format: can it present a more fulfilling experience than it’s printed counterpart? Is the printed book, in it’s tree consuming, space eating, wrist strain inducing form, ever preferable over electronic books?

First, I have to admit, I’m a bit of a paper fetishist.  Which is ironic, as I make my living marketing books, both “p” and “e”, almost exclusively via an online, digital platform.

That said, I think many books have little relationship to their format… a beach book, whether romance or thriller, will seldom be kept or remembered for the paper it’s printed on, and is more likely to be find it’s way to a garage sale bin than onto a book shelf.

Similarly, many eBooks, produced as a series of static, .pdf like pages, are not creating a unique digital experience.

These sorts of books, their formats and the marriage of the two is once of convenience and availability, determined by the tastes and access of the reader.

But while the illustrated manuscript is indeed historical and a work of art, it must be noted that when it was produced, it was a just a book… all books were to some degree artful, as they were copies, illustrated and bound by hand.  None were historical when they were originally read.  That perspective only comes with the passing of decades and, in the case of illustrated manuscripts, centuries.

But it’s true, you can’t have the same experience of this book digitally, even in the best electronic simulation.

Conversely, Alice for the iPad provides is a unique experience, with no corollary to a standard print book, no matter how well illustrated, no matter what quality the paper, or beauty of the binding.  An enhanced cookbook with video demonstrations will provide a different experience than the most beautifully photographed print version.

We’ve all seen movies that didn’t provide anything close to the books they were adapted from, and some excellent movies have become mediocre books.  I make this point because there are many sorts of media, and while certain content may be duplicated in both print and digital, they are different media, have different strengths and weaknesses, as with film, audio, television, digital and print.

None is necessarily superior, though for specific projects, they may provide a uniquely superior containers for their specific content.

Content, and the experience of its consumer, changes with the format in which it is expressed.
While I agree that content and form are not the same thing, I have observed that when a concept is artfully explored, content and from can be inextricably melded to produce a format specific experience that could not be duplicated in other media.

What do you think?  Do you have examples of media/platform specific narratives?

Let me know…

How to Use the Internet to Promote a Book (without really trying).

12 May

Alright.  The title is a bald faced lie.  While there is always the possibility that a new author might experience some accidental, viral internet fame for, oh I don’t know, writing silly captions for cat photos, or posting the worst music video ever, it’s far more likely that she’ll be hit by lightening.  Twice.  And survive.

And of course, nothing beats writing a good book.

So let’s say you’ve written a good book.  You’ve got a year to eighteen months from the time the book is acquired until it hits the shelves – or you’re wondering how to get attention in the self-publishing gold rush. Keep in mind, the key time for social media marketing is at least a year before the book hits the market.  Much of what I’m saying can be applied to both traditionally and self published books, but obviously, strategy must be revised… but there is no substitute for that pre-launch time.

That said, there are some great, unexpected ways you can build an online platform, and promote your book… by doing something that is not directly related to your book.

Here are a few examples:

John Green had already successfully published LOOKING FOR ALASKA, and AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES when he started Brotherhood 2.0, better known as the Vlogbrothers project, in which John and his brother Hank agreed to cease all “textual” communications for the year, and instead converse via video blogs, which would be available to the public.  Of course, John and his brother are brilliantly funny, but I’m pointing to a fresh, exciting way the author John Green built a brand that keeps him in the viral eye.

In 2009, Kay Cassidy began The Great Scavenger Hunt Contest, involving YA and Middle Grad authors, in a trivia contest sponsored by libraries.  The participants choose from a list of over 200 books: if they can answer 8 out of 10 questions correctly, they are entered into a nationwide drawing for a $50 gift card to a bookstore of their choice.  Coincidentally, in 2010 she came out with her debut YA book, THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY.  For $600 a year, Kay is building positive relationships with librarians, authors and readers.  That’s probably the best $600 she could have spent on a promotional budget.

Scott Sigler started podcasting his books for free in 2005.  In 2007, his trade paperback ANCESTOR briefly hit #1 on Amazon’s SciFi and Horror charts, #2 in overall fiction.  Subsequently, his manuscript for INFECTED was purchased by Crown in what in what became a five book deal, and a film option.  In 2008 he had a fan base of 100,000 when he decided to self publish a high end, hard cover book in a limited press run which sold out in a matter fo days to long term, diehard fans.  Too find out more about how Scott created a kind of perfect self publishing/traditional publishing storm, click here.

While extremely different in focus, duration and execution, here’s what they have in common.

Self Containment: none of these initiatives dealt directly with SELLING the author’s next book.

Low Cost: these initiatives could be sustained with very few resources, time being the key requirement.

Duration: each project or initiative built the author’s platform and reputation over time (100’s of hours over months or years), creating mass.

Uniqueness: each project was based on the unique talents, concerns

Passion: Each author chose to do something that they could commit to, and enjoy, regardless of the outcome.

There’s an adage in social media, which played a key role in each strategy: be interesting (or conversely, don’t be boring).  So while bookmarks and blog tours and trailers are all standard, and may produce results, do something unique and interesting to produce breakaway results.

Do Bound Books, eReaders, iPads Determine Content? Twitter Chat #5

10 May

I drew inspiration for this week’s Twitter Chat post from a conversation I followed a while back between my friend, (and one of the most forward thinking about all things bookish) Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, repeat offender Susan Doerr (indeed a smart girl/reader/publisher) and Peter Turner (at the tail end, but with an insightful point of view).

The conversation began with Guy’s assertion that print vs. digital is an irrelevant argument, and implying that digital devices were merely containers for content.  As ever, I both agree and disagree with each participant in the conversation:  my comments appear after the end of the conversation.

@glecharles The container is NOT a business model. The print vs. digital debate is tiresome. Content + Context = Value. #fullstop #dbw

@susanmpls @glecharles Disagree. Content is what people want, yes, but containers can be a biz model, i.e. Amazon & it’s Kindle.

@glecharles @susanmpls The container’s nothing w/o content. Kindle wasn’t first ereader; Amazon’s success was value to readers via content + context.

@susanmpls @glecharles Disagree. Content is what people want, yes, but containers can be a biz model, i.e. Amazon & it’s Kindle.

@glecharles @susanmpls If it were all about containers, Smashwords would be Amazon. Or Apple.

@susanmpls @glecharles I didn’t say it’s all abt containers, just that containers are a biz model, though, as @brianoleary says, not for publishers.

@glecharles @susanmpls If your workflow is container-centric, so is your business model. @brianoleary‘s advocacy of “agile workflows” is where it’s at.

@PeterTurner @glecharles Agree: content+context=value but container can and should shape content. #dbw

@glecharles @peterturner Yes, the container shapes (contextualizes) content but it shouldn’t define it; ideal content flows into multiple containers.

***

So I have to say, it was Guy’s comment that got my attention.  I only follow Guy on Twitter, so it took me a minute to find the conversation that followed.  But I do think that Guy’s statement that Content + Context = Value.

And I do not believe that the “container”, in this case eReaders, iPads or even printed bound books are synonymous with a a business model. Though I think we can agree that the container will influence the business model… Amazon dominates the eBook model not only due to the low cost, high service sales model they champion, but because of it’s strong online presence, and the early introduction of Kindle to the market.  It’s a different model than the traditional publisher to printer to warehouse to distributer to retail store to reader model.

So far, so good.  But here’s where I’d interject my own assertion.  The container not only contextualizes content, but content must be shaped for the unique capabilities of the container.  Because when you’re talking about something like the iPad, or even a smart phone (cell phone novels are big in Japan, for instance), you have a different set of capabilities (and limitations) than you’ll find with the beloved print book which was one of the only devices through which long form content could be delivered.

A bound book requires no power source, it’s easy on the eyes when reading by daylight, and is ideal for engraved illustrations. A backlit screen requires a battery, makes reading long chapters more difficult, but you can incorporate illustrations that move (video, animation).  While a Kindle emulates the functionality of a book (Instapaper and inanimate graphics), it still has enhanced capabilities that might shape the formation of content (annotation for example) in new and interesting ways (book clubs? school based reading initiatives?).

These containers mean nothing without content… but the funny thing is, we’ve never really wanted to pay for content.  We’ve always paid for the container, ro means of distribution: the paper a book is printed on, the cable service that delivers TV, the cinema that allows for a giant screen and a group experience).

So while I agree that content is what gives value to a container, the container will promote the success of different kinds of content.  And content should be created with the method of distribution in mind.  This is how containers and content succeed… in that differentiated, symbiotic way.

New containers allow for new and more varied kinds of content.

Those are my thoughts, anyway.  What do you think?  I’d love to know.

Digital Dickens? Serializing Books on the Internet: Twitter Chat #4

4 May

Once again, Twitter lurking pays off: Fran Toolan, founder of Firebrand Technologies (which owns NetGalley), Susan Doerr, Carolyn Jewel, and Jane L had a discussion about what internet reading will do to the print publishing industry, with Fran suggesting that online books will be serialized (something I’ve thought about too: I would have joined in this conversation, but it was already complete when I discovered it).

This is just a snippet of a longer conversation which happened on May 2, 2011.  My comments follow.

jane_l: RT @ftoolan: after reading @brianoleary ‘s http://bit.ly/j6yU9a, wondering how long it will be b4 all novels are released in serial form

cjewel: @jane_l @ftoolan @brianoleary The midlist author will have moved on , , ,

ftoolan: @cjewel @jane_l @brianoleary thought process was a bit non-linear, but pubs need to keep readers attn in an age of exponential content avail

susanmpls: @ftoolan serialization comment makes me wonder (present company excepted) will readers read more just b/c it’s avail? @cjewel @jane_l

ftoolan: @susanmpls @cjewel @jane_l don’t think so, but keeping them wanting more, from a trusted source should lead to buying more

jane_l: @susanmpls I can’t envision paying a lot of money for many serialized books. Who knows how badly it may turn out? @cjewel @ftoolan

I think everyone in this conversation is right.  Sort of.

As I mentioned, I’ve thought a lot about delivering ebooks in serialized form. I don’t know that all ebooks will be sold this way, but I do think it’s a smart idea, and here’s why:

1.) When people read on a backlit screen (smart phone, computer monitor, or currently available tablets), they read in shorter chunks.  Short chapters of 2 or 3 pages would be ideal for this format.

2.) Tablets, phones and other reading devices are often used on the go, in the spaces we used to reserve for being bored as we rode trains or waited for doctors appointments.  A serialized format requires little time per chapter, allowing the reader to consume the story in spurts, while maintaining suspense and long term interest (if it’s a good story, that is).

3.) The afore mentioned devices are all perfect for integrating visual enhancements… illustrations, animations (or moving illustrations), and video (when appropriate to the source material).

4.) Finally, the revenue model can be very attractive on both sides: cheap automatic system for the publisher, and reasonable, staggered cost for the reader.

Consider this model: serialized delivery is a low cost of method of delivery by the publisher.  If the publisher sells the serialized material 30 short chapters at a time for say, $3.00 a run, and then provides an easy pay button to purchase the next 30 chapters (let’s call it Act Two), and again for the final 30 chapters (Act Three), then the reader will ulitmately have paid about $9.00 for a standard length novel (250 to 300 pages or so).

Upon completion of the serialization cycle, the  novel could then be offered as a full ebook, and a print book as well.  The longer, staggered delivery of the story could allow the book to gain an audience over time, initial free chapters would have the possibility of spreading virally. This would also give publishers an idea of what sort of success the book might achieve in print, as internet popularity increases the sale of books across all formats.

The success of serialized cell phone novels in Japan would point to the likely success of such a delivery method… and iPad sales seem to suggest that a whole new kind of reader is buying books that suit the tablet’s format.  It seems an inevitable evolution (though it takes us back to the very root of the Victorian novel… serialized in newspapers and periodicals).

That’s our story.  And we’re working to create a serialized format for books as I’ve described above.

I’d love to hear what you think.

Hitching Your Wagon to a Star: the Value of Collaboration

25 Apr

It’s been a busy time at Diabolical Toy, and so I’m reposting some of our more popular articles from our humble beginnings… This is a re-post of an article I originally wrote in January of 2010, while working with my Diabolical Toy’s first ever clients, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, the authors of BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS, and the upcoming BEAUTIFUL CHAOS.

Beautiful Creatures: The Beginning

My last week has been extraordinary.

I stumbled upon a great opportunity to work with two authors designing an online promotion tied in to their book tour through the southern states. I’ve been designing a game that mystifies and intrigues, taking the players across the internet. I’ve had the chance to interact other authors of books that I admire. And it has come as a wonderful surprise.

How did this happen? Through Twitter. At this point, it’s almost a cliche.

I’ve been chatting on Twitter with Kami Garcia since before the release of Beautiful Creaturesthe book she wrote with Margaret Stohl (If you haven’t read the book yet, get in line. It’s been on the NYT best sellers list for over 6 weeks now, and bookstores are running out of copies). Kami, Margaret and I decided to meet for lunch when I came to town for a work gig. And we got to talking… about their book, about a bookI wrote and the marketing strategy I was designing to promote it.

When Kami said “Can we use your ideas?” I said, “Sure, as long as you use me with them,” or words to that effect. It was the most spontaneous case of preparation meeting opportunity that I’ve ever experienced… really good luck, some would say.

And so with two days notice we began designing and implementing The BEAUTIFUL CREATURES Southern Tour Scavenger Hunt, a cross-internet game in which players solve virtual riddles. In designing clues, we’ve teamed up with the incredible Vania StoyanovaCarrie Ryan, the author of THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH and nowJackson Pearce, who wrote AS YOU WISH.

In a late night conversation with Kami, at the end of another grueling day of the book tour, we got to talking about these sorts of advantageous connections… the people we meet who can help us, and the people we can help. In the best possible sense, we are using one another… as opposed to abusing one another to further our own agendas.

And this is the value of collaboration through social media. Authors like Kami and Margaret and Carrie and Jackson working together to support each other. Book promoters like Vania and me who love the books and connect with the authors. And the opportunity all of us have to connect with readers to create special experiences.

It’s a simple truth. Whether you’re just starting our of firmly established, it pays to cultivate relationships with talented people you like, with the goal of creating value for everyone.

It makes sense to hitch your wagon to a lucky star.