Bevolution

After a great meeting with Susan Toy of Alberta Books Canada this weekend, which built on a conversation I’d had with an indie publisher a few weeks ago, I thought I’d do a quick post on what I’m calling ‘bevolution.’ Bevolution is short for ‘book evolution.’

Susan said to me, there are actually five (or six) sales involved in getting a book from author to consumer. Here they are – followed by an additional four steps involved in the consumer purchase decision when the customer is actually in the store with the book in front of them:

1. Author must sell manuscript to agent or acquisitions editor at publishing company (this is two steps if you have or are seeking an agent – you have to sell your book to an agent, who will then sell it to an acquisitions editor at a publishing company).
2. Acquisitions editor must sell book to marketing department.
3. Marketing department must sell book to sales department.
4. Sales department must sell book to retailers and etailers.
5. Retailers and etailers must sell book to consumers.

Once the book is in the store or on the book etailing site, Kate Sullivan of Candlemark & Gleam outlined four more steps in the decision-to-buy process:

6. Front cover.
7. Back cover (including marketing synopsis and blurbs from other authors/reviews).
8. First sentence/paragraph.
9. Random sentence/paragraph from the approximate middle of the book.

That’s a lot of bases to cover. It took almost four billion years for human beings to evolve in anything like their current form. Does that put your career trajectory from unknown scribbler to ‘best-selling author who’s a household word’ into perspective a bit?

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100 Marketing Stats for 2011 (with some charts and graphs thrown in for good measure)

HubSpot’s latest 100 [Awesome] Marketing Stats, Charts and Graphs – some good stuff in here – always nice to have a fact or two at one’s fingertips.

The focus on ‘earned media’ as a descriptor for marketers makes me uneasy as a PR person. But check out the 2/3 of the US of A that’s on the ‘do not call’ list, and the percentage of direct mail that never even gets open. But amount of money spent on blogging doubling in what, two years? That’s got to be good news for corporate communicators. Such as myself. Ahem….

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Author/Publisher Checklist for Online Bookselling and Promotion

I’ve been threatening to create this checklist for a while, but there’s no time like the present, so here goes.

I’m amazed at how often I have to remind authors and publishers (well ok I don’t have to remind them all but when it’s a book I’m involved in promoting or even just one I want to see do well, I can’t help myself) to cover off the basics.

The online book buying and recommendation process is not the same as the in-store buying experience, and while it’s got some advantages (instant gratification when you’re buying an ebook, for instance; no trek to the store or waiting for a special order to come in the case of pbooks), it’s also got some disadvantages. The inability to browse the entire book tops the list for me – while I’m a fairly conventional in-store browser easily hooked or turned off by the first page and I certainly never look at the last page of a book when considering buying it, I do flip through the book and my eye is often caught by a phrase or a paragraph that influences my decision to buy. Cover, paper colour, quality and show-through as well as typography influence me. I rarely buy books I think are ugly. When buying online though, I’ll let content override style if content’s available. If not, you’ve probably lost the sale.

Far too often though I notice publishers (whether traditional or self publishers) haven’t taken advantage of the ‘look inside’ feature on Amazon’s various sites. Borders offers a Google preview feature. At Barnes and Noble it’s ‘see inside.’ Chapters Indigo and Waterstones don’t offer this feature, and I can only hope they’ve got something in the works. And then there’s the matter of coverless books on Goodreads, Shelfari, and LibraryThing. So – here’s the pre-release checklist. If anyone can think of anything I’ve forgotten, please chime in in the comment section and I’ll update the list.

Authors: even though it may not seem like your job, you need to be engaged with your own product. If you notice your book is listed but the listing isn’t complete, get on the phone to your publisher, sic your agent on your publisher – just make it happen.

Pre-release checklist for authors and publishers

Publishers

  1. As soon as the book you’re about to release is finalized, get the cover up on online booksellers’ sites.
  2. Apply immediately to activate the ‘look inside’ (or whatever it’s called) feature everywhere you possibly can. People need to be able to browse online and without this feature, they’re dependent on reviews and on previous experiences with the author. If it’s a first novel they haven’t got the latter. And not all reviews are good. It can take a few days for this feature to ‘propagate’ – or whatever the heck it’s called in the online tech world. Don’t delay – and don’t start publicizing the release until it’s up and running. Some people may find it anyway, but you don’t have to make matters worse by promoting a book people can’t begin to judge for themselves.
  3. Get the book listed on the three major book social networking sites, Goodreads, LibraryThing and Shelfari. Make sure a cover image is uploaded for each edition (hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback) and for each geographic region (people may not recognize the book if only the UK or only the US or only the Australian cover is posted).
  4. Make sure you add both 10-digit and 13-digit ISBN numbers (having a copy of the book in front of you is helpful for this).
  5. If you’ve invested in a trailer for the book you’re releasing, create a YouTube channel either for your publishing company or for the book and get content up there. You may want to put comment moderation on YouTube – it’s not your grandma’s social networking playground and it’s better to never let comments appear than it is let them get up there and then delete them.
  6. Organize giveways on the book social networking sites for at least some of your titles. Don’t be stingy, especially with first books by unknown authors. In order for word of mouth to work, you’ve got to get mouths moving.
  7. ASK people to add reviews to online book selling and book networking sites. They may do it if you don’t ask but they’re more likely to do it if you remind them to. This is one area in which the online book selling sites have an amazing advantage over bricks and mortar stores – take advantage of it, because it’s the one real advantages you’ve got over the three dimensional in store buying experience.

Authors

  1. Get a decent photo of yourself taken and experiment with converting it to black and white if it’s a colour photo. Choose one you can live with for a while. While it would be nice to have an official photo shoot done, you may not be able to afford this. If you can take a decent self portrait, do it (you’d be amazed how much more interest self portraits generate on flickr than portraits do – presentation of self is fascinating to many). Make a deal with a decent photographer – amateur or pro – to ensure you don’t show up as an egg on Twitter or a big blank on Amazon and Goodreads. It matters. I know Julian Barnes is never going to propose to me. But I buy or read all his books and it isn’t just because he’s an amazing author. It’s also because, based on his photo, he’s someone I’d love to have a conversation with.
  2. While your book’s being edited, make sure you’ve created author profiles on every online site that will be selling your book. That means multiple Amazon profiles – you’ll have to create them for .co, .com, .ca, .au. Don’t reinvent the wheel: use the same profile. This may make the process seem less onerous.
  3. Repeat step 2 for Goodreads, LibraryThing and Shelfari.
  4. Claim your books on the book social networking sites listed in step 3.
  5. If you’ve got a blog or a web site, add the blog feed to the book social networking sites listed in step 3 and push your blog content to these sites.
  6. Add your blog feed to your Facebook page as well and do status updates with new posts as well.
  7. Get someone to take photos of the launch if you’re having one. The photos shouldn’t all be of you – get photos taken of people enjoying themselves at your reading/launch. Video works here too. Then post the photos to your Facebook page, tweet a few of them, blog about the experience (Were you terrified? Did you have fun? Were you artfully keeping your legs crossed so no one would see the run in your pantyhose? How many times did you check to see if your fly was open? Did someone ask a question that startled you, or made you think about the book you wrote or a character you created in a different light?)
  8. Post news about your book – dates it will be available, translation rights sold, foreign rights sold, upcoming interviews, great reviews, interviews that have appeared or that you’re about to do, readings, signings, festivals you’re attending on Facebook and Twitter and the book social networking sites.
  9. Create events when you’re making appearances on Goodreads and LibraryThing – or nag your publisher or publicist or your spouse if s/he’s willing to help – to do so.

What have I missed? Let me know in the comments and I’ll update the post.

Posted in book marketing, Social media, social media for authors, working with authors | 2 Comments

The power of Twitter hits mainstream TV

For those who aren’t yet convinced of the power – or the merits of Twitter – watch this nine and a half minute clip from the February 4, 2011 episode of Grey’s Anatomy (the really good part starts around the five-minute mark). I’m not embedding it here because I don’t want to violate copyright. But here you have most people’s reactions to Twitter: initial lack of comprehension, disdain and scorn, reluctant agreement to try it, and finally, acceptance, information and knowledge sharing. Since Grey’s Anatomy is a medical show, that knowledge sharing leads not only to collaboration but to lives saved. And yes, it is a TV show, not real life.

Sorry about the subtitles, but English audio’s still available. Please let me know if the link stops working.

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The Literary Project interviews – me!

In December of 2010, Gemma Noon of The Literary Project asked if I’d do an email interview with her to talk about marketing and promoting books and authors. I surprised myself by treating it like a real interview, answering the questions in sequence and not revising. I did do the ‘let me just sleep on it’ thing and printed out my answers so I could proofread the hard copy before sending it off. I also added in a link on a relevant topic I happened to come across the day I was answering the questions.

Here’s the interview.

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Media prep, Skeptical Radio, and science-y books for all

Several weeks ago it occurred to me that we should have a Canada Reads for non-fiction – and more specifically, for books that appeal to scientists and sceptics (or skeptics, as they call themselves) – to be known as Skeptical Canada Reads.

Naturally I couldn’t keep this idea to myself, and proposed it to the wonderful folks at Skeptical Radio out of Edmonton. Of course, I wanted to do this before Christmas too, because it’s THE season in the book business. I must have forgotten I’m no longer working for a global PR firm with a bevy of assistant consultants at my beck and call (ha!) and enough clout to pitch this to my former firm as a pro bono project (ha! ha!).

Luckily wiser heads than mine prevailed, and the good folks at Skeptical Radio came back to me with a twist on my idea (brainstorming by email): a special pre-Christmas show devoted to great science books (many, but not all of them, written by great scientists). Much to my surprise, I found myself invited to be a guest on the show.

Cue cold sweat. Here’s my dirty little secret: I do know how hard it is to be a spokesperson, and I don’t like being one. Nor, as a PR person, am I supposed to be part of the story – my role is a combination of cheerleader, counsellor, and stage mother. I’m not the star: my clients are. This is why I work so hard on their behalf to develop key messages, ensure they’re media trained, do comprehensive interview preps for them, try to catch all their appearances/read and analyze their media coverage so I can help them do it better next time around.

However, every once in a while it’s good for me to get a taste of my own medicine and a reminder that as I’m issuing ‘say this, don’t say that’ orders and tweaking phrases, this isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. The good news: I had done a four-page interview prep for myself, and had even arranged the pages so I could see them all without rustling while recording the interview via Skype. The bad news: I was nervous. The worse news: I had neglected to ask that most fundamental of questions, what form will the interview take? So I was little startled when it turned out I was expected to talk for three minutes (Desiree Schell, the host, said she’d prompt me and edit out her prompts afterwards, but that seemed like too much work for her to have do, so I just swallowed hard and told myself I could do this). Apparently I could – she said afterwards no one had ever talked for three minutes straight without being prompted. Wind me up….

Here are the books I talked about:

Massive: The Hunt for the God Particle – Ian Sample
Bright Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America – Barbara Ehrenreich
Bad Ideas?: An Arresting History of Our Inventions – Sir Robert Winston
Newton and the Counterfeiter – Thomas Levenson
Inventing Green* – Alexis Madrigal (due in spring 2011)
The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth* – Stuart Clark (due in spring 2011)
Solar – Ian McEwan
The Honest Look – Jenny Rohn
The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse – Jennifer Ouellette
Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and our Place in Nature – Brian Switek

And here’s the podcast in its entirety (I’m on starting at about 31:00). It’s a great show, with a wonderful variety of suggestions for the serious, the curious, and the hard-to-buy-for on any gift-giving list (don’t forget December babies need birthday presents too). Oh and that word I swallowed when trying to talk about Bright-Sided? That was ‘Calvinism.’ Erm – and I seem to have taken closer to six minutes than three. But mercifully my mispronunciation of both Tycho and Brache got edited out.*

* This cannot be considered proof of God’s existence, but should instead be considered proof that I am, in fact, both loquacious and garrulous.

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Goodreads for authors

Originally planned in late May 2010 as a comprehensive post on the three major book social networking sites (Goodreads, Library Thing and Shelfari), working with all three sites has led me to change my mind about a single-post comparison of all three. I’m going to break it down into three separate posts and start with Goodreads. Perhaps best-selling authors in late career with full-time assistants have the means to manually upload all the books they’ve read to all three sites, but that’s not us, is it? You can easily export the data you’ve entered on Goodreads to Library Thing and then from Library Thing to Shelfari (but from what I’ve experienced, you do have to do it in that order if you want it to work). Ian Martin at Atomic Fez Publishing talked me through doing those file exports, and I’m hoping he’ll do a post himself on how to do it. [Update: November 23, 2010: here’s the post from Atomic Fez that explains how to enter your books into a single database, then export to the other two. Have also realized that I should have been more clear about the fact that this post (in terms of references to ‘competing reads’) is primarily aimed at fiction authors. Writers of non-fiction can still benefit greatly from using these sites, but the subject-matter competition is far less fierce for non-fiction authors.]

Note that stats are from early June of 2010.

Since this post is designed for authors, let’s start with the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what.’ It’s hard to get up-to-date figures, but take a look at these stats from 2005: 895,755 books published in that year. Of those, 397,900 were published in Canada, the US and the UK. Your book is competing with each and every one of those other books published. Now think about that other very sad statistic, which is that many people read only one book per year – which means your book is competing with more books while the market for books appears to be shrinking. At the same time, there are fewer and fewer bricks and mortar bookstores. Fewer bricks and mortar bookstores means that the opportunity for your book selling as an impulse purchase (assuming the cover is brilliant and it’s displayed in a bookstore’s window) are declining. Increasingly, books are being noticed – and sold – online. That means both authors and publishers need to be online and present. Book social networking sites give you the opportunity to reach your precise target market: avid readers who purchase and read books. Continue reading

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Blogging for authors: mostly why, with a who and a how or two

It’s exciting to watch authors on their journeys through social media – some of them already well established in various online media, others taking their first baby steps, and yet others ‘working it’ a little too assiduously. (Names of the latter will not be named.)

One way or the other, the process of writing and publishing a novel is a marathon rather than a sprint, and it inevitably spans more than a year for most. The many slips that can occur between cup and lip in the course of writing a novel and being able to share it with readers include writer’s block (natch), rejection by agents and/or publishers, and a very slow time-to-market cycle: the book may be finished ahead of schedule, but if your publisher can’t afford to print and promote it in 2011, you’re looking at yet another delay of between six and 12 months.

Even if you, as an author, experience none of these delays and can juggle promotion of your 2010 novel as you’re plugging away at the one to be published in 2011, using a blog as the base of your social media pyramid has so many advantages I’m surprised there are writers without blogs. I wanted to highlight three very different authors’ blogs to give novelists some idea of the vastly different approaches they can take to blogging. Continue reading

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The importance of sitting in on interviews

While I wouldn’t call it a groundswell by any means, I was startled to encounter not one but two articles in a week that challenged the notion of having a public relations/corporate communications person sit in on interviews.

The first was this interview with Yann Martel by The Guardian‘s Stephen Moss, who admits that his first move is to ‘rather rudely insist that the young woman who is steering him round the UK and Ireland on the publicity tour for his new novel, Beatrice and Virgil, absent herself from the room while we talk.’

Ahem. I’m guessing Stephen Moss is a tad old school, shall we say, in terms of his views on PR folks? I think I might perhaps counter with the notion that anyone smart enough to get a more than one million dollar advance from a publisher in this day and age can probably figure out how to take a taxi by himself and get to an appointed meeting in a hotel, especially in a country where his own mother tongue is spoken. And that, therefore, the young woman’s role might have been just a bit more than merely that of courier/chaperone.

But then I saw this article from the fine folks at Knight Science Journalism Tracker at MIT, in which the suggestion was made that disclosure is necessary when a public information officer (who fills the role of a corporate communications or public relations person) sits in on an interview – and that the situation should be avoided at all costs to avoid having the interview ‘influenced.’ Continue reading

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Some more social media tips and experiences from authors

It was nice to wake up to the lovely comment from my client Andrew Smith on my previous post, the hilarious video of Dennis Cass talking to his publicist about using social media to market his book.

Andrew’s right – Twitter in particular and social media in general are such overwhelming and customizable experiences that it’s really bewildering when you first try to get involved and leverage it for business goals. One of the things I really enjoy about working with authors, (aside from the fact that you can count on them to do some of the writing for you – because let’s face it, public relations is about writing compelling copy in exactly the right way – and then tweaking it and repurposing it and coming up with yet another catchy angle that will help you reach another segment of your target audience) – where was I? Oh yes – while authors (not the ones I work with!) may sometimes be a bit off in the EQ department, they’re rarely slouches when it comes to IQ. Continue reading

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