Tag Archives: strategy

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

Advertisements

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.

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.

Twitter Chat #3: Do Book Trailers Sell Books?

27 Apr

A short time ago, Susan Orlean (one of my favorite authors, and really, if you read her, she’ll be one of yours too) asked the question, “Does anyone think book trailers sell books?”  As is usually the case, an interesting twitter chat ensued.

@susanorlean concluded:
The rough tally on the book trailer question: Most people don’t think they sell books except in rare instances….
Also: many, many people have never seen a book trailer. There’s no good, easy place to go to view them en masse.

Of course, the interesting part was the stuff people said in between. I thought the conversation revealed why most book trailers DON’T work, as well as some fundamental understandings about why they don’t, and perhaps most importantly, how they COULD work to effectively build an audience for a book. But first, I’ve recorded the conversation below, taking the liberty of editing it for relevance and continuity.

@susanorlean Susan Orlean
Just curious: Does anyone think book trailers sell books?

@R_Nash
Nope but if some1 uses video 2 express their relationship to ur book & it’s compelling, it could help. Ditto if they use words.@mllecheree
Bk trailers have potential 2 sell more books if they’d b shown n bookstores, theaters.

@susanorlean
Totally agree. Where would anyone SEE one otherwise? Browsing Youtube? Seems unlikely.

@kathrynth
I’m sure they do help—a little bit. But I think most trailers, by most authors, don’t yet reach enough people.

@susanorlean
Totally agree with that. I think someone should start the book equivalent of MTV (back when MTV was all music videos).

@annleary
I really don’t think anybody who’s not in publishing even knows book trailers exist, so no.

@susanorlean
Do you have any idea of how many people thought I meant big trucks filled with books? I’m cracking up over here.

@ericsmithrocks
I like to think they do. When we (@quirkbooks) release a book trailer, Amazon rankings tend to skyrocket.

@susanorlean
Really? That’s very interesting. And surprising!The best part of the conversation continues below, so if my marketing talk bores you, just skip to the end… But if you’re still with me, I wanted to comment on the conversation, and talk about Book Trailers in general.  I’m qualified to do this, having taken part in making a number of successful trailers, but perhaps even more importantly, having been the number of viewers to some degree.

That said, I don’t believe Book Trailers work.  Usually.

And that’s an important point.  Because I believe that book trailers CAN work. They actually do in some cases.  But I’ll get to that in a minute.First, I’d like to address some misconceptions.Here they are, in order of appearance:

1. Book trailers don’t have the potential to reach enough people unless they are shown in book stores, on TV or in the movie theatre.
2. That in order to find them, they would need to be aggregated and located in one place for convenient viewing.
3. Only people involved with publishing even know what a book trailer is.
4. That book trailers are big trucks filled with books traveling from community to community selling books along the way…

Starting with our last point, a book trailer is a kind of commercial made to market a book.  They are usually shown on the internet, and are meant to represent a book the way a film trailer represents a movie.

Now, working in reverse order, I’ll address the other concerns.  We’re on number three now… and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that many people who are not involved in publishing have seen book trailers, even if they don’t know to call them that.  My company participated in a trailer that played to a large audience, and you can see it here.

Number two implies that the best place for book trailers to live would be a trailer library of sorts, or a literary equivalent to MTV (when they played music videos all the time).  Again, not a bad idea, but beside the main point.  The point of a book trailer is not to be found.  It’s supposed to find you.

And yes, while showing these videos in public space, book stores, on TV and in the movies are great ways to create more interest in the book (and will), this is not how book trailers are intended to work.

Book trailers are successful when they are so cool they stand alone as little gems of entertainment and engagement. In other words, they should to be viral, meaning that they spread from user to user.  It doesn’t matter where they live or originate… they are passed along online via link in Twitter, Facebook, Blog, Tumblr, etc.  The link is replicated and passed on… voluntarily  (this is my definition of viral: something that gets tens of millions of hits overnight is an epidemic, i.e. Rebecca Black).

In some cases book trailers are doing this.  Quirk Books does a great job playing off of this, and making quirky, off beat, humorous trailers that are worth watching, even if you never read the books.

In most, book trailers fail to become viral at all.  Why don’t they?  There are a few reasons.  Mostly, they are poorly made, misleading, and are not strategically implemented.   Most book trailers currently function like snazzy business cards, lending a small amount of media presence to a book.  At best, they might help cement a sale when posted as “additional media” on Amazon.

The sad truth is, if you have to go looking for a book trailer, it has already failed to be viral, which is (in my opinion) the whole point.

But back to the conversation with Susan Orlean and her Twitter friends…

Another user responds to the question “Does anyone think that book trailers really sell books?”

@CherylStrayed
I’m curious about that too. Is it worth it? When does it end, this stuff we must do besides write the damn books?

@susanorlean
It is endless, I’m afraid. I plan to visit each prospective buyer and personally read the book to them, for instance.

@USelaine
I’m looking forward to that, btw.

@quinncy
Will you act it out with puppets? Please?

@susanorlean
Oh yes. Puppets and marionettes. Very cunning.@quinncy
I liked Ulysses so much better once I saw the Punch and Judy version.

@susanorlean
Couldn’t agree more. The cute costumes!!

@CherylStrayed
My next book is called WILD, so I thought I’d give people the whole “wild look” thing… I was also going to cut their hair. I bought one of those buzz cut clipper thingies.

@amitavakumar
As a prospective buyer I’d like with the new book an egg that will later hatch into a book of my own. #ifimay

So there you have it.  In lieu of a successful media campaign, authors may travel from reader to reader, narrating their stories with the use of marionettes with funny haircuts.  Or deliver the book inside an egg that will hatch at the readers command.

Not bad ideas… though perhaps a bit labor intensive.

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.

Take the E-book, Turn It on Its End, and Shake Vigorously

18 Apr

I originally wrote this article for my friends at Digital Book World.  You can see it there, as well as a bunch of other useful information about what happens at the intersection of publishing and the digital revolution by clicking here.

Market an ebook with its enhancements

I market new books through social media channels, and I’m going to tell you why I think ebooks should be produced very differently from the current model.

Right now, an author writes a book and secures an agent, after which an editor negotiates the rights and purchases that book, after which revisions and edits are made, after which fonts are chosen and a cover design created, after which an ebook is fashioned (most likely text only) and a release date determined….

Then after all of these things are finished, someone like me might or might not be brought in the help market the book online.

As we market a book on the internet, my company will almost certainly create video segments designed to create interest in the book: videos are more likely to show up early in search pages and more likely to be clicked on when they do.

But, these video segments are created after all the previous production steps have been accomplished and the book is on its way to market.

And that’s the problem.

Any additional media created, which might include websites, animation, video, games and contests, will be built on top of already secured rights.

This limits what can be done to market the book, especially if the film rights have been secured. Also, when creating video content to advertise a book, we are very conscious that the visual aspects, the actors, costumes, sets, etc., are not directly representative of the book they promote. They are not a part of the book and may not even relate to the cover design.

Creating content like this, after the novel is fully realized, is like making a movie and then hiring a new set of actors, dressing them in similar costumes and placing them in a different setting to create the trailer, and then telling the audience that the trailer looks something like the movie being promoted, rather than parsing the trailer from elements of the film itself.

Of course, the reason we love movie trailers is that they give us a taste of what we will actually experience in the movie itself. Trailers are great ways to generate interest.

And that’s why I think we’ve got the whole ebook thing backwards.

I’ve always maintained that marketing strategy is most important in the product development stage. That means the marketing should be built into the product itself. For books, we need to reverse the order by which books are currently created, negotiated and sold.

We should produce an enhanced ebook first.

Ideally, these multimedia pieces inform the actual writing of the book. The book would be written into existing media capabilities, the way a screenplay is written to capitalize on the visual and sound capabilities of film or TV. With enhanced ebooks, it would help if some forethought was given to potential interactive capabilities, but for the sake of this article, I’ll limit myself to the video/animation elements.

That means that dynamic multimedia ebook content would be created before the physical book. In the months before the physical book is released, this dynamic content could be parsed and re-edited for distribution over the web, as well as through TV and even film. This newly edited content would be representative of the actual experience a user will have with the enhanced ebook. That makes better marketing, which means better findability.

In a best case scenario, the content is created at the same time as the book is written. While in most cases that may not be possible, I believe that the agent should package both the content creator and the author when bringing the book to market, supplying a demo of the intended ebook.

Of course, this would require a new rights model: literary agents would negotiate digital rights to include paying the content creators, much as illustrators are paid out of the advance and later through royalties.

I believe that the ebook will eventually lead the market, rather than the hardcover book: it’s easier and cheaper to sell and distribute. Edited ebook content can be used for marketing through social media. If this content is unique and interesting in and of itself, it is innately viral. By “viral,” I mean that the content is voluntarily passed on by a user to her network (not that the content will be viewed millions of times overnight; that would be more like a pandemic than a simple virus).

Ebooks have gained a significant share of the overall market in a very short time. While some of those sales may cannibalize the traditional print market, numbers suggest that the availability of ebooks Is creating whole new markets.

Ebook sales could actually undergird and support sales of print books. This would allow for more effective and authentic marketing, where the marketing is actually an extension of the product itself (the ebook, in this case). It also gives users the option to purchase the book at their preferred price point; the inexpensive ebook, the more expensive paperback, or the high-end elite hard cover.

Most customers are going to buy in their preferred format anyway. Why not create more interest upfront with ebook content?

Of course, I’m talking about specific types of books—the books that are suitable for enhanced viewing on a tablet like the iPad. Children’s picture books are a natural choice for this kind of model. While nonfiction offerings like cookbooks and home improvement books are also obvious choices, here at Diabolical Toy, we work mostly with fiction, especially paranormal, speculative and historical narratives.

I’m betting that turning the model on its end would not only allow for more effective integration of traditional and ebook marketing efforts, which is a cost saver in itself, but sell more books in both formats.