The Wisdom of Mickey Rivers applied to Writing and Publishing
“Ain’t no sense worryin’ about the things you got control over, ‘cause if you got control over ‘em, ain’t no sense worryin’. And ain’t no sense worryin’ about the things you don’t got control over, ‘cause if you don’t got control over ‘em, ain’t no sense worryin’.”
—Mickey Rivers (former NY Yankees baseball player - and author of "Ain’t No Sense Worryin")
Aside from the fact that this is just great advice for any of us to live by, it’s well worth thinking about how baseball player Mick the Quick’s great common sense approach to life applies specifically to writing and publishing.
What do we control? For writers, it’s the books you write and for publishers, it’s the books we publish. For both, we also control what we say and do to support the books when we are trying to persuade readers to give us some of their time and attention.
In other words, we only control the work we do ourselves. Don’t worry about anything else, just do the best work we can. Why spend our valuable time and energy worrying about the so many things we can’t control?
Bookstores are closing and shelf space for books is declining. More people are writing more books than ever before in history. Books have to compete with online reading, billions of YouTube videos, mindless web surfing, oceans of emails, RSS feeds, apps, movies, games, blogs, texts, tweets and oh yeah, life itself.
Finding readers who will pay attention to us is harder than ever. Whatever happened to book reviews? They’ve been replaced by reader comments, discussion groups, and comments to blog posts. Just when we thought something new and different had come along, Amazon buys Goodreads.
What, me worry?
Seriously, MIckey Rivers is right. Writers write. Publishers publish. Readers? Ain’t no sense worrying about readers - bless them - we can’t control ‘em.
Posted by David Wilk on 04/01 at 11:13 PM
Marketing Advice for Writers (and Publishers too)
"There is no magic button to build your audience."—Dan Blank
"So it all comes down to relationships. Do you have a relationship with those you’re selling to?"—Bob Lefsetz
Writers need to think about is what "being social" actually means.
Social media is not a tool. It’s not a strategy. And it’s also not a guaranteed path to success, especially for writers.
Social media is an expression of human culture and communication. It’s another form of "talking amongst ourselves." In many ways, being social is simply about being human. And trying to use social media as just another form of marketing is counterproductive, unless you think about marketing differently, by thinking first not about what you are trying to sell, but what your audience cares about. People today want a deep connection; authentic relationships are more valuable because so much of what passes for social connection today is, in fact, meaningless.
I’ve written before about "connecting" instead of "marketing". Think of social media as another opportunity for sharing, for connecting, for building relationships with people. Writers might be creators sometimes, and other times might be consumers. Both roles are reflective of our urge to share, to communicate, to be with our fellow human beings. So if you pay attention to who you are as a consumer, you will be a better provider of the content you create for certain.
So what are the principles of human interaction? Most of us probably know instinctively what works, whether we are ourselves introverts or extroverts, or somewhere in the middle (ambiverts). It really helps to think about these ideas before you try to participate in the online social graph.
Ask before you tell.
Pay attention to what others want and need.
Help, assist, give of your time, energy and heart.
Don’t think of what the reward will be, just know that what you give will come back to you one way or another.
(This is especially true, if what you provide is what people want or need so try to provide value whenever you can - the brilliant Tim O’Reilly has said about modern business that it must "Create more value than you capture" - this applies directly to everyone who is participating in social media.)
So how to apply these concepts? If you are a writer, you clearly have a lot to give. You start with a big advantage - you know how to express yourself in words. Writing is transformative. So much social media is based on writing, you are ahead of the game from the outset, you can express your thoughts and ideas, you can provide information, and you can instruct. So begin by reading. See what others in your network are saying or sharing, and then find your own way to engage in the social ongoing conversations that are happening all around you. Be yourself, or find the part of yourself that loves to share ideas and information. Have fun and make a difference. Remember the basic rules of karma. If you do, good things will always happen.
"To sell is human."—Daniel Pink
Posted by David Wilk on 02/01 at 11:40 AM
Enhanced Ebooks - So What?
I’ve heard from any number of publishers and publishing consultants that there is not an economically meaningful market for so called "enhanced ebooks" (which are ebooks that include "features" like audio, video, and interactive elements) and that ebooks are best suited for "immersive reading" of mostly text products. Publishers seem to doubt that readers want or will accept anything other than a straight digital conversion of text based books.
I’m going to suggest that the experience of a so-called "enhanced ebook" is not meant to be the same as the immersive state of text based reading on the print page. If there is a comparative it should be with illustrated print books, which are usually not experienced the same way as readers experience a novel or nonfiction text either. Some have described the experience of these new kinds of books as "grazing." But I don’t think "grazing" is the right term for either experience, as I think it is reductionist. My experience of a book like the wonderful Longleaf, Far as the Eye Can See from UNC Press is not at all the same as my experience of the narrative text like The Forest Unseen from Viking. I don’t expect an ebook that engages me in visual and auditory experiences to be the same as one that engages me purely textually.
On the production side, I think the same comparison should apply. Publishing an illustrated coffee table size book today is economically a tremendous challenge. The cost of publishing is high, shelf and display space is highly constrained, and offshore printing means impossible supply chain problems. By comparison, the cost of publishing an illustrated book in fixed page layout, with or without enhancements, has come down tremendously. Every day the digital equivalent of shelf space increases, as more and more people buy tablets that display these books brilliantly.
Publishers and tablet vendors have by no means figured out how to make and sell digital illustrated books *yet* but the growth of the potential market is so persuasive, and the cost of production now so relatively reasonable compared to print, that the opportunity is becoming more compelling for publishers and creators. Audiences may not be there *yet* either, but we don’t need huge numbers when the breakeven threshold is so relatively low, and the potential for large profits from modest success is clear. Meanwhile, successful or otherwise, a print coffee table book still has to be printed, then shipped from an overseas printer, and then distributed locally, whereas a successful digital equivalent has no such constraints and higher margins. And importantly, there are effectively no returns of digital books.
In my opinion, the creation of more and better fixed layout ebooks, combined with more and better tablets on which to read them, and compelling economics for publishers, will drive the market for these products.
And ultimately, this is not an either/or choice, but an additive situation—books that take advantage of the many features that the digital book experience provides will create new and different consumption experiences for readers, that will do not need to replace or subvert immersive text reading for most readers. Why not? We watch TV and go to the movies, and we - or at least many of us - still somehow find the time to read books. Digital devices give us more opportunities to read text and a chance to experience books in new ways altogether. Publishers are now in position to create new products for new readers and expand the market for our content. In fact, what may be lost sooner than later, is the large-scale market for illustration heavy, beautifully designed print books that has thrived for the several decades prior to the past few years.
Thanks to Ron Martinez for reading, commentary and advice
Posted by David Wilk on 11/02 at 11:33 PM
THE GOAL IS NOT TO PUBLISH A BOOK, BUT TO BE READ
Dan Blank is a brilliant marketer. He helps writers build and maintain their careers, their brands, and improve their thinking and execution in marketing their work. The tagline on his website really says it perfectly: Helping Writers & Publishers Make an Impact and Build Their Legacies. Now Dan has put together a terrific online course (that runs September 5 to October 23, 2012) called "Build Your Author Platform," that I am recommending to all my clients. Here’s what he says about it:
Too many writers publish books that do not get read. Most books don’t sell that well: they don’t get reviewed, they don’t get shelf space in bookstores or libraries, and most importantly: they don’t make their way into the hands of those readers who would most appreciate them. My friend Jane Friedman said something to me once that gave me chills:
“The most disappointed writers I know are not the unpublished writers, but those who have been published.”
What she means is that these writers were disappointed because after years of hard work, only a few dozen books were sold. That no one cared about their book. With so many more books being published each year; with publishers overwhelmed with the many titles they produce; it is increasingly up to the writer to learn how to connect their writing to readers who will appreciate their work.
Join me and a group of writers for a 6-week online course that will build the platform you need to establish an audience for your writing career.. – TO IMPACT READERS
Sign up here. And just to be clear, I have no financial or other interest in Dan’s workshops, I just think what he has to say is valuable and powerful for writers (and anyone else interested in brand and career building)
By the way, Dan is also participating in the series of Self Publishing Workshops that I am running along with Betty Sargent of Bookworks. Our next workshop is September 24, 2012 at the Beekman Hotel in New York City. This workshop focuses on the "nuts and bolts" of self publishing for writers, and will include a terrific program, all for the low price of $99. If you’re interested in coming send an email as soon as possible to .
Posted by David Wilk on 08/18 at 11:54 AM
Seth Godin’s advice for writers
The best way for an author to use the internet is to slowly build a following. Difficult, time-consuming and effective.
I’m not even sure there’s a useful plan B.
My recent experience working with authors and publishers mirrors what Godin says. It’s an inescapable fact that there is an overwhelming abundance of content today. We can debate endlessly whether this is good or bad for culture, and are we seeing the decline of immersive reading and the rise of ADD behavior in all forms of cultural consumption.
Just about everyone I talk to instinctively recognizes that the "noise" level online is very, very high, and that makes connecting our book signals to readers a very difficult undertaking.
Nonetheless, there are plenty of readers out there for the books writers are writing.
And there is a lot of brainpower being devoted now to figuring out better ways for readers to find the books and other products they need and that will suit them the best. That problem may well be solved sooner than we think.
While Godin says that there is no plan B, he does not suggest whether writers should build their followings on their own, or with the help of others (or a combination of the two approaches). I.e. “do-it-yourself” versus outsourcing.
Personally, I think it is best for writers to spend the bulk of their time writing, rather than being social and devoting valuable time to building a following. You can find plenty of ways to get help on the social side. Of course, the best way to build a following is to create compelling writing, and then to hire really smart people to support you. And yes, sometimes, publishers can help. In the end, all of this is really up to each writer to determine.
There is so much information to keep up with and so many new skills to master, we all need guidance and assistance in some (or many) things we can’t learn or do ourselves. Without some help we end up not having a life. And for writers, time to contemplate, concentrate and create is precious. Why waste it?
Seth Godin’s blog is well worth reading. I also always recommend Dan Blank as an inspiring source of ideas for writers.
And here is a writer, Jonathan Rintels, who is currently building his following.
Posted by David Wilk on 06/19 at 09:33 AM
The Path to Success for Publishers
Thank you Dan Blank. In a recent blog post called Writers: The Path To Success is Not a Privilege, But a Choice, Dan said some really great things about writing that I want to endorse and apply to publishers.
Dan started out by talking about a video he saw recently that documents the Fender guitar factory in 1959, where you get to see the crafts people of that time building guitars by hand. And then he looked at newer videos that show that same factory doing the same work today. As he says "Our culture has become so automated, that anything crafted with human hands and a deep level of passion is treated as special."
With all the technological change that surrounds us, it is still the unique ability of an individual writer to create a narrative by hand that makes writing such a special activity.
Dan’s point is that writers should not despair in the face of massive dislocation and change. Writers have more options than ever to have their work published and read. "There is no longer "one way," even in a single writing career. You, the author, are an entrepreneur."
I agree with what Dan says to writers, and in addition, I think publishers too must also believe in their own abilities and their role in the process of bringing great writing to readers. Technology empowers us, but it also confuses us with its speed and efficiency. We lose sight of details when we don’t have our hands and eyes on every word. When we move at digital speed, we forget to pay attention. We’ve got to recommit ourselves to the difficult and time consuming work of publishing.
As Dan points out to writers, you "not only get to create a world in your writing, but you get to choose how that work reaches and effects others.....No, we do not live in simple times. But what is important - CRITICALLY IMPORTANT - is that you have the ability to choose your path."
Publishers, and those who work with writers in the myriad roles that contribute to the publishing process, this is true for all of us as well. We have to believe in the importance and meaning of what we do, and not lose sight of the underlying principles and values that provide meaning to the work we do."
I’m working on a presentation on Slow Publishing, in which I will outline these ideas in more detail, and will post it here soon and it will be available as a slideshare as well.
To read Dan Blank’s complete post, visit his site, We Grow Media, and subscribe to his blog. And thanks Dan for permission to quote you.
Posted by David Wilk on 05/15 at 12:03 AM
Booksellers and Co-opetition
Co-opetition: Cooperative competition. Practice where competitors work with each other on project-to-project, joint venture, or co-marketing basis.
Historically, most independent bookstores have viewed Amazon and Barnes & Noble not only as direct competitors, but as enemies. Which is certainly understandable.
Barnes & Noble has long been a dominant force in retail bookselling. B & N gets better business terms than small stores, is able to publish its own books, and now, of course, like Amazon, has major advantages over independent stores in selling ebooks and print books online.
And for so many bookstores, Amazon appears to be its most dangerous and predatory competitor - its discounting has always been impossible for any land based store to match, it doesn’t charge sales tax (in most states), and it is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Its proprietary Kindle e-readers more or less established and then dominated the ebook market, because of Amazon’s unmatched ability to offer instant gratification, broad selection and low prices integrated with its low-priced device.
Demonizing your competitors is of course an emotional response when your livelihood is threatened. But Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and for that matter, Apple, are all rational actors in the business stage. It make good business sense for Barnes & Noble to have its own e-reader and to not carry Amazon published print books in their stores. They are competing with Amazon head-to-head and can use their market share and national bricks-and-mortar presence to battle with Amazon on a number of fronts.
It does not make sense, however, for independent bookstores to marginalize their own businesses by boycotting the entire digital reader business, when their own customers are happily, if in some cases, guiltily patronizing their competitors.
Kindles, Nooks, and iPads are increasingly owned by many hard core readers. Who are or should be any booksellers’ best customers. All these devices are being sold by plenty of retailers beyond their manufacturers’ own retail outlets. These days you can buy Nooks, Kobos, Sony Readers and Kindles at Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy and many others, literally in hundreds of retail outlets and websites.
Why should independent booksellers forego these revenue streams and lose contact with their customers as ebooks and digital reading devices continue to grow and print reading declines? Certainly some will argue that they will lose their independence this way. I think not. Bookstores sell the same print books as their competitors. Why should they enable their customers to decide that independent bookstores are unnecessary or irrelevant?
There are solid business reasons for independent booksellers to practice co-opetition and join the device selling market.
1. Profit. Someone is going to sell these devices to your customers. Why shouldn’t it be you?
2. Long term customer value. Sure, once a customers owns the reader, there is a good chance she will buy books from your competitors. But if you sell the reader to a customer, and show her how to use it, you have a far better chance to get her to buy books for it from your IndieBound portal rathern than from B&N or Amazon. And you again offer personalized service, which is what your business is based on, right?
3. Again, profit. Become an affiliate of Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Even your customers go from your website to either of these big retailers to buy their ebooks, you still capture some revenue that otherwise you would never see. And people who buy e-readers buy more print and ebooks. From you, instead of from the other guys.
4. Knowledge=power. If you are seen as expert in e-reading technology, as well as in the books that you traditionally are known for, you will have more people coming to your store or website for news and information about this growing universe. Ebooks are not going away. Don’t be marginalized.
5. Who cares about how and where people acquire their books? You are a community based business. Amazon can’t bring live writers anywhere. B&N stores are still chain store experiences. If you become essential to your customers, you will always win more of their business. Give customers another reason to buy from you and not the other guy.
6. Take advantage of the millions of dollars that Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble have already invested in devices and advertising. Let them pay for sales you make.
7. Broaden your business. In late February, there were reports that Google e-books may not be available through all independent booksellers anymore. True or not, if Google changes course one day in the future, independent booksellers will need more options. Becoming broad based retailers of all available e-reading devices will give you a better chance of helping to shape the digital reading future.
Up to now I have not promoted Kobo or Sony Reader. I do think that booksellers should sell as many ebook devices as they can. Both Kobo and Sony devices are not exclusive to any national retailer. They both utilize industry standard epub file formats which booksellers offer through Google ebooks powered IndieBound. I know the profit margins on e-readers are slim for retailers, so if you don’t want to sell Kindles and Nooks, why not at least sell both of these devices in your stores in order to compete with Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble? In fact, selling a range of devices gives customers a range of choices they cannot get from either Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
If a bookstore is a center for reading, why not carry as many different types of readers as possible? Some may be difficult for small retailers to carry. It’s not easy to become an Apple reseller and for that matter, maybe Amazon would not allow indies to sell their devices directly, forcing booksellers to buy their products from wholesalers instead at lower margins. But why not try?
Barnes & Noble will soon be providing Nooks and ebooks to the Waterstones chain in England. Why not to independent booksellers in the US too?
Granted, e-reading devices and ebook delivery platforms require significant investment. Maybe booksellers will need to form a marketing co-op (ala the national hardware brands like Ace) and use their combined buying power to build and support a deal with Kobo or B&N. Or all devices, as I have suggested here. Selling just through Google e-books without devices just may not satisfy customers or provide bookstores with enough clout in the emerging digital landscape. In the end, bookstores need to become alot more digital friendly, and it’s almost past time for this to happen. Most readers want a healthy book marketplace, with a variety of buying choices. Co-opetition is one way for independent booksellers to secure their future. Embracing a broader view of the retail digital marketplace and contributing to its shape may be the only way for independents to retain a meaningful role as community based bookstores.
February 28, 2012
(thanks to Phil Turner for editorial input)
Posted by David Wilk on 02/27 at 11:04 PM
Technology Time Lines
E-books are to books what horseless carriages are to horse-drawn carriages. In other words, we are only a short distance down the path to the development of digital writing, publishing and reading.
Would it be possible to say that the term e-book should be discarded as Horseless Carriage was supplanted by Automobile or eventually the “car”?
It has not been easy for digital printers, even Lightning Source, the largest, to get across the notion that Digital Short Run printing is really a better, more descriptive and more accurate term for what they provide than "POD," but Print on Demand sounds better, and POD seems to make more sense to folks than the more opaque DSR.
Terminology is likely not created by the technologists who make the products and maybe not even by the marketers who sell them. It’s always about the users and what they see, feel and believe.
Television was in many ways a new development, not radio with pictures, and not exactly movies at home on a tiny screen. Television is a great descriptive and TV is the perfect abbreviation for modern culture, and thus has been absorbed into the zeitgeist at a very deep level.
It seems to me that the true definition of an e-book may be difficult to create. People like the term “e-book,” because it is descriptive and connotative (much like Horseless Carriage is a perfect description of the early automobiles, and works in the same way we have created in the e-book a sort of relational analogue to the print book).
We know what a book is. An “e” book sounds just like what it is, an electronic book.
But now change is accelerating in technology, and the display of book-like content on screens of many types and sizes, and what will emerge over the next few years is an explosion of digital reading technology. And with that will come an explosion of creativity, as publishers, authors and technologists try to imagine what the digital reading experience can and should mean to readers.
Soon after the first horseless carriages hit the roads, inventors in garages and barns all over America (and the world) were building their own versions of motorized transport. We saw cars that ran on steam, electricity, and gas, cars with six wheels, cars steered by tillers, engines in front, middle and back, one cylinder, two cylinders and many more variations on what motorized vehicles could and would be. Some worked, some didn’t, but as time went on, inventors, manufacturers and retailers all learned what really worked for drivers and passengers, who literally drove the technology into use.
We are seeing the same sort of innovation in reading devices and content now. We will soon learn what works and what doesn’t, and we can be certain of experiencing many aha moments as the future unfolds. And just as many, or more, deadends, good ideas that fail, great technology that simply does not delight and thrill the user.
From the writers’ and readers’ perspective, what we are creating are Digital Reading Experiences on Digital Reading Platforms and Devices. But no one wants to say “how’s that new Digital Reading Device you bought the other day?”
Maybe until a perfect new term like “blog” is coined by someone, we’ll be stuck with “e-book” even as the range of what is possible to be written, made, displayed, read and consumed expands exponentially. And maybe what we will call these objects and experiences does not really matter as long as they are great at what they do.
Meanwhile, pass me that DRD would you?
February 1, 2012
Posted by David Wilk on 02/02 at 08:34 PM
I want to write a book .... How many of us have said that to ourselves, or out loud to our friends or family? I’d guess almost everyone I or you know has uttered these words at one time or another, or perhaps many times over our lifetimes.
Writing a book is a cultural milestone for anyone who writes one, and has grown to have tremendous meaning and impact.
It’s pretty common to hear people in the book business (writers too) complain that there are "too many books," worried as they are that the bad will drive out the good, or at least make it difficult to find the good ones among the dross. I do not doubt that is difficult to find all the good ones, but I think finding a great book to read today is like falling off a truck.
Isn’t it interesting, and in some ways heartening, to realize that writing a book is something that so many people aspire to? Doesn’t that tell us something good about our culture? At the same time we also worry about the level of literacy in America, and the fact that millions of our fellow citizens never read books, hell, maybe never read magazines, newspapers, or in some cases even the street signs that they ought to be reading to know when to stop, yield, or merge properly.
It seems to me that we are in a golden age of creative culture, whether we recognize it or not. It may not last - we can’t know what kinds of challenges we are going to face in the future that could diminish the time we have to read, write, listen to music, make music, watch films, make films - so much of this engendered by the openness and vast reach of the internet.
If anyone in the future has enough time to sift through all the creative outputs of this era, I believe ours will be thought of as an amazingly productive and interesting culture like no other that has come before us.
I think this huge wave of cultural creativity is a good thing. I don’t care that we don’t have commonly accepted "giants" of literature anymore, I’m happy that there are so many great books to read, new writers to be discovered, riveting stories I may never have time to uncover.
We don’t have a homogenous culture anymore. When those "great" writers of their times were considered great, the critics and tastemakers were a small bunch, themselves a homogeneous group, with similar backgrounds and educations or aspirations to same. Even if you look at the rebels of past times, like the Beatniks, they had all read and then rejected the same writers, they were reacting against the given culture, but to do that, they first had to consume and understand it. Today there is no single stream of culture. I think that is a good thing. But it does eliminate a certain cultural certainty and comfort, which for some people is uncomfortable.
I’m even thrilled that so many writers want to become publishers, or at least make themselves more involved with the business of publishing. I think that is a healthy development too. The wide availability of tools and information spurs creativity on multiple levels.
What this means for everyone who is writing, making music, art, film, video, etc., is that they have to focus on what they do first and foremost, and not worry about becoming rich, famous or even mildly popular. With so much output, the only thing you can strive for is attention.
We live today in an attention economy, where time is more valuable even than money (mostly because we know instinctively that time is precious, fleeting, and in finite supply). All that matters is to find audiences, and to be found (and appreciated) by them. And that makes it all kind of fun, doesn’t it?
Posted by David Wilk on 11/25 at 11:30 AM
Good-bye Marketing Plan, Make way for the CONNECTING PLAN
Top-down marketing is history” – Bob Lefsetz
Everyone know that the Internet has changed the way business works. This is especially true when it comes to marketing. Traditional “megaphone” marketing simply does not work anymore, and this is especially true for books. For one thing, authors can’t be heard above the din of all the product and service marketers with huge budgets. And for another, most consumers are just plain turned off by the constant stream of empty marketing promises and gimmicks.
Instead of thinking about “marketing” our books, we should be figuring out how we can be “connecting” with our readers. This means: communicating your ideas to a community of readers that will be interested in what you have to say once they find out your book exists. It also means connecting you as a writer to readers who want to know what you are doing next. Connecting to communities means a creating a two-way conversation, engaging with people in conversations, about a cultural activity they really care about.
This is not the kind of marketing that tries to be as loud as possible to cut through the background noise of modern life or that follows information theory and tries to get its message across so many times that the reader will finally pay attention.
Books are special. Sure they are products, but they need special handling because we are trying to convince people to give us some of their valuable time to read them. It’s important to remember that in the modern world most people are trying to make sure they will have more money tomorrow than they have today – our growing economy is intended to create abundance. However, it’s not money, but time that is ultimately our most precious commodity because in the money economy we all know that no matter how much money we are accumulating, time is never going to be increasing for us. We have less of it every day.
So when we give our time and attention to a book, we are engaging in a truly powerful exchange between reader and writer, an exchange that writers and publishers must honor and cherish. That’s why we need to nurture the relationships between readers and writers, and why shouting from the rooftop that “I have a book here I want you to read” makes no sense at all. Nobody likes being shouted at, therefore it makes sense that they will be much less likely to sample your book than they would have been if they had learned about it through a more subtle approach.
So let’s not talk about a “Marketing Plan” for your book. Let’s think about how to create a “Connecting Plan.” We all know that when we walk into a room full of interesting people, the best way to engage with them is not to start talking about ourselves, but to look them in the eye and ask them questions that can be the beginning of a real connection between us.
Creating meaningful relationships almost always begins with an introduction and a genuine interest in the person to whom you are talking. Real engagement almost always happens one person at a time.
Whether you are speaking to one person or making a presentation to a large crowd, you should always try to find ways to engage with your audience, to become “one of them,” a person who can be trusted and to whom people can relate.
And of course it is critical to know your audience before you even start to talk to them. A “Connecting Plan” must begin with research and with questions about the audience for your books. Only when you know to whom you are talking are you able to say things that will attract people, engage them, and allow them to care deeply about what you are saying to them, and ultimately, about the books you would like them to read.
Write me at , and I will send you a comparison chart between the “old” megaphone-style marketing plan for a book and a “new” connecting plan we would undertake today.
David Wilk, October 2011
Comments and additional suggestions are always welcome!
Thanks to Lou Aronica and Betty Sargent for comments and editorial assistance on this essay (though any mistakes or mis-statements are mine alone).
Posted by David Wilk on 10/30 at 09:08 PM
Got kids? Get this: Yo! Millard Fillmore
Recently I’ve had the pleasure of working on a new "enhanced ebook" version of a book I’ve known and loved since it was first published in 1992, the very cool Yo, Millard Fillmore! by Will Cleveland and Mark Alvarez, with illustrations by Tate Nation ($7.95 in the iBookstore.) Using mnemonics and lots of brilliant wordplay, kids can learn the presidents quickly and easily and have fun doing it. Working with the very creative Ron Martinez of Aerbook, we have completely re-envisioned the book’s contents to take advantage of the many multi-media advantages that the Apple iBook platform enables. And how fun is it for this early effort in e-book building to be recognized - named by USA Today as one of the ten coolest book apps of 2011. Here’s what that newspaper’s Charlotte Abbott said about Yo, Millard:
The details: This amusing educational app is based on a best-selling book that promises to teach kids how to memorize the U.S. presidents in 20 minutes. Colorful cartoon videos bring alive the book’s wacky mnemonic memorization devices (for example, a washing machine stands for George Washington), while chronological mini-biographies of each president keep kids grounded in facts, and interactive quizzes help ensure full comprehension.
The ebook includes more than 30 minutes of video, interactive how-to diagrams, and a way to navigate that lets kids either just run through the cartoon mnemonics, dive into historical detail about the U.S. presidents, or alternate between both with one touch.
Next up is the ehanced ebook version of the companion volume, Yo, Sacramento! which naturally features our fifty states and capitals, but in the ebook version, adds an video that shows America becoming a country, state by state.
There is a tremendous amount of creativity brewing as people learn to use the new capabilities that ebooks allow us. I’ve said before that we are just at the early stages, but books like Yo, Millard Fillmore! and Yo, Sacramento! are going to demonstrate a new path to the future for readers of all ages. And will make it fun too.
Visit the YoLearnAlot website for more about the ebooks,and don’t forget the print book versions too - no color and no moving parts, but still alot of fun and great gifts, Yo,Millard Fillmore! and Yo, Sacramento!
Posted by David Wilk on 09/21 at 10:03 PM
MJ Rose: The Writer as Willy Loman
I’ve been told, Tweet, Facebook, MySpace, blog, use all the free tools and use them all the time… I’ve been wondering how people write here and write there and still write books. I’ve been working on a balance but I feel like I’m not putting enough of my time in my books when I’m here and not enough time saying, "Look at me" when I’m writing. I love meeting people on these sites but my real love is books. -Sarah Winters
Here’s an idea: Spend two or three hours a day at least five days a week in front of a bookstore wearing a sandwich board with your bookcover on it while you chase and chat with anyone you can corral and who is willing to talk to you.
Would that be a valuable way to spend a chunk of time? What size chunk of time? How would you decide?
If four people stopped to chat with you?
If, on the way out, two stopped to tell you they bought your book?
And how can you be sure the people you are talking to are even enjoying what you are saying? Are you reaching them? Or annoying them? How many of them might have bought your book if they saw it on the table but the sandwich board turned them off?
It’s a fairly ridiculous scenario—right?
And yet that’s what many authors are doing every day by investing incredibly valuable writing time on what might turn out to just be tomorrow’s MySpace—Facebook and Twitter.
We’re doing it because we’re anxious and desperate to sell our books and to keep our sales high enough to keep our careers viable.
We’re doing it because so many of our fellow writers are doing it.
And (in many cases) we’re doing it only because our publishers are encouraging us to.
In fact many publishers are sending us cheat sheets on how to do it better. Some are even suggesting it’s the only marketing worth doing. They are telling us this is the new way to get people to hear about our books.
And it does work at some level. But what is that level? What will it actually get us? And what happens to our creativity when it gets sucked up by Facebook and Twitter?
And does taking on this much more of the of the marketing burden really help publishers in the long run? Wouldn’t they be best served proving their power—not empowering us?
Even if Facebook and Twitter are wonder tools in the right hands—how many of us can be Neil Gaiman or Jennifer Weiner? How many of us are really clever in 140 characters including spaces? How many of us are great at posting enchanting, provocative posts at Facebook? Just because we can tell a story doesn’t mean we can chat.
Maybe even more important is that all those people who like us or friend us or follow us are not people whose email addresses we own—not people we can be certain we can contact in the future.
For one thing the way feeds work—how many people read backwards at social media sites? How easy is it to miss a post? But even more important, Facebook and Twitter own their sites and the information on them.
They can wipe any one of us out in a second and we lose all those fans and friends. (MySpace used to do this repeatedly.)
This is not a post about whether or not to have fun on Facebook and Twitter. Nor is it about the value of networking with your peers or people in your industry.
This is about the questions I hear over and over from writers and that I ask myself over and over:
How worthwhile is it for a writer to invest time in social media for marketing purposes, and how much time?
Should we torture ourselves to do it if it isn’t in our DNA?
Does it really work?
Do the authors held up as examples rely on social networking as much as we think? Don’t most of those big names also have big support from their publishers too as well as dedicated publicists and serious marketing campaigns?
Are our publishers right in pushing us to get out there and get strangers to like our Facebook pages and follow us on Twitter?
Is it a marketing solution?
Or is this a temporary fix to the problem our industry really needs to solve—the real and vital and urgent problem of discovery—of coming up with new and meaningful ways for readers to find new books?
Is the Social Net Working?
There is no debate that social media is a great tool for networking with others in our industry. It can lead to friendships, support, and serendipitous connections with reviewers, agents, reporters, or editors.
There’s no debate that social media gives fans access to us. Of course it does. When it works there’s nothing like it. One Tweet can be heard ‘round the world if the right people retweet it and the right people notice it on their feeds.
And there’s no debate that some readers will discover us via Twitter and Facebook or whatever tomorrow’s next new great social network turns out to be.
The issue each of us has to address is, what is the return on the effort we are making? Or as author James Scott Bell calls it—the ROE.
Is the time we are investing in social networking worth the effort? Is the pressure we’re feeling to do it reasonable? How much of a toll is it taking on our work? After all, it is writing, and many writers have told me that after tweeting and posting on FB for two hours a day—they don’t have as much to say on the page. (I know I don’t.)
So are we actually doing ourselves and our work a service? (There are inevitably going to be readers who get turned off when they find out what we’re really like. Sometimes mystery works in a writer’s favor.)
Would we be better off spending most of our time writing another book and hiring people to do PR and marketing and blog tours for us?
Well if you look at the stats we might be.
How Do People Discover Books?
Codex, one of the leaders in book audience research, has done over a quarter million book reader studies—the most recent, which was based on 8,224 surveys and completed in February, was recently presented to hundreds of industry professionals and is very much worth noting.
When it comes to discovering books—the majority (81%) of book buyers said they first learned about the book they bought last from more traditional means—like browsing in bookstores, personal recommendations from people who had read the book, email announcements, reading groups, prior book information, news, interviews and reviews, advertisements and other related sources.
The remaining 19% learned about the book they bought last from online sources like e-book stores, blogs, reader reviews, author websites, advertisements and other book related websites.
Of that group, only 1.2% learned about their last book bought from social networks like Facebook or Twitter, or online video like book trailers.
The Plural of Anecdote Is Not Data
Whenever this to-be-a-social-animal-or-not issue comes up with writers, someone always mentions an instance of a writer who got a huge boost via another writer posting about her at Facebook.
Or someone recalls the five fans who wrote to say they bought a book because of an excerpt posted to Facebook.
But an anecdote is not data.
Of course there are people who will find us and read us and buy us because of our online efforts. And if you ask ten writers about the value of these efforts you will get ten anecdotes.
One writer told me "I was just about to get off of Twitter when I got a DM that said, ‘I discovered your books on Twitter and I love them.’ Sigh."
The question isn’t—does it work? Instead it’s—does it work well enough for the time it takes? Are we seeing a worthwhile ROE for the time we spend on Twitter or Facebook?
Is it worth it to spend two hours a day to reach two new readers? How about four? How about 10?
Or is it a better ROE to take those two hours and write your next book? Or pen a few short stories you can give away or give to your publisher to use in marketing efforts—or hell—even sell online for a buck a piece?
Many people believe the very best way to grow your career is to write your career. And to keep writing it until you write into the tipping point where you have a shelf of great books and critical mass.
No one buys a book they never heard of—but at the same time no one buys a book without picking it up and reading a few pages—on- or off-line—and falling in love.
Even if you have 10,000 people like your Facebook page—they still aren’t going to buy the book you’re shouting about unless they love that excerpt you posted, or that the online bookstore offers, or that they read standing in the aisles.
What would Charles Dickens do? Or Hemingway? Or Agatha Christie? Or any author you admire? No one knows. That was then. This is now. And the question is: what should you do now?
• Grow your newsletter list.
• Guest blog at meaningful places.
• Put up excerpts and short stories as often as you can.
• Hire someone to do marketing and, if warranted, PR.
You can do most of the things on your own that the studies show work best or hire someone to help you: blog tours, newsletter promotion, getting excerpts up at blogs and websites, online media, online ads (online ads even at Facebook are cost effective.)
If you do hire someone, long term they will free up your time and you can write that next book or short story and make the money back tenfold. Or you can continue to spend time meeting readers and growing your fan base at social media sites. But without the painful live or die pressure.
I’m not saying suggesting there is nothing to be gained from Facebook and Twitter and other venues like them. There is.
If you want to Facebook and Tweet, have at it and have fun.
But do it because you want to.
Do it because you believe in the ROE.
But don’t feel panicked or guilty if you decide you’ve been hurting your career and wasting time without getting enough in return.
No matter what you do, don’t let anyone—not your agent or publisher or best friend—make you feel that to grow your career engaging in social media is the end-all-be-all key to success. If it was, we wouldn’t need anecdotes… we’d all have data.
M.J. Rose, is the international bestselling author of 11 novels;Lip Service, In Fidelity, Flesh Tones, Sheet Music, Lying in Bed, The Halo Effect, The Delilah Complex, The Venus Fix,The Reincarnationist, The Memorist and The Hypnotist.
Rose is also the co-author with Angela Adair Hoy of How to Publish and Promote Online, and with Doug Clegg of Buzz Your Book.
She is a founding member and board member of International Thriller Writers and the founder of the first marketing company for authors: AuthorBuzz.com. She runs two outstanding blogs; Buzz, Balls & Hype and Backstory.
Posted by David Wilk on 09/12 at 11:08 PM
It’s hard not to feel badly for Borders - especially for its dedicated staff of hard working book people - and it’s certainly unfortunate for many readers all across America, not to mention authors and publishers. A longstanding member of the book community and a once-important component of the book ecosystem will be gone. The seeds of their destruction were sown over a very long period of time and reach back more than ten years to a period when Borders failed to invest in their supply chain to fully modernize their inventory and book buying systems. When I was in book wholesaling and distribution, it was pretty obvious that Borders was being eclipsed in logistics by Barnes & Noble. And when they failed to understand or adapt to the revolution of online commerce, outsourcing their website to Amazon (of all companies!) they pretty much sunk themselves. Mike Shatzkin has told this story on his blog, The Shatzkin Files very well - "Borders Crosses the Final Frontier" and Ed Nawotka writing for Publishing Perspectives has also gone into detail about the Borders story with a piece called "Bad Decisions, Worse Luck: How Borders Blew It."
This is not to say that the overall context of the changing book industry was not working against them. Borders, along with literally thousands of independent bookstores, faced an uphill battle trying to cope with a rapidly changing book economy and many other macro economic and social changes over the past dozen years. It’s literally true that only the strong, agile, intelligent and sometimes lucky ones survive in times like this.
And of course, every challenge presents opportunities for innovative and intelligent players to rise to the occasion. Don Linn has a new post at Bait ‘n’ Beer (Let’s Get it on Indie Booksellers) challenging independent booksellers and entrepreneurs to fill some of the voids left by the closing of so many Borders stores in communities that have supported profitable stores for years. I wish I could believe that this will happen, but I agree that there are plenty of ways that independent bookselling could be remade (and should be - a new localism would be a powerful rebuilder of community and integration in the face of alienation, displacement, and the disappointments that globalization and mass corporatization of America has brought us). My own approach would be to create bookstores based on the principles we have seen in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
So farewell Borders and here’s hoping we can learn from your mistakes.
Posted by David Wilk on 07/22 at 08:06 AM
Don Linn, former CEO of book distributor Consortium, and Publisher at Taunton Press, writes an excellent blog called Bait ‘n’ Beer. Don recently published a longish essay in two parts called What Men (and Women) Talk About When They Talk About Publishing that I recommend you read and think about as soon as possible. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says, though an awful lot I do. He has certainly raised some really important points and started a conversation that we need to have, and set down some principles that anyone in publishing can live by.
In part one of his essay, Don lays out what he considers some of the key foibles going around the industry today - as he says, "a number of sexy topics, many of which, I would argue, are tangential to the success of most publishers." These topics include: devices, enhanced books, one-offs and anecdata (a great term for generalizing from too little information, what I like to call "the focus group of one - me" - very common in publishing), Transmedia is the next big thing and "We need to be like gaming companies", Amazon is the villain, and do lots of experimenting and fail forward fast.
In part two, Don turns to what he calls a "handful of things that are critical for us to be figuring out." These are all important (and impossible to argue against): discovery, workflow and content management, solving the supply chain/distribution conundrum, rights/rights/rights, hitting all the channels, and business models, financial managment, and capital formation (which might well have been first and foremost).
I am sure many of us can come up with additions to these lists. We certainly agree on many things, including the emerging future of "books in browsers." For myself, I’d at least add paying attention to what customers want and really need to his list of "things that are critical for us to be figuring out." And that deeply affects how I think about some of the things Don might consider to be foibles - there are so many really dedicated readers buying large quantities of books today, who are themselves deeply engaged in the devices they now use to read, and many of them are exploring reading as it develops in newly enhanced ways through technology and especially through the social graph.
Where "enhanced" books reflect only shallow thinking about readers and their engagement with digital forms, I agree completely with Don. But writers, publishers and technologists who pay close attention to the reading experience and use technology and social media to creatively extend that experience, or literally create experiences that move people in ways that were not possible in other forms are in fact, doing "things that are critical for us to be figuring out" also.
I am really grateful to Don Linn for writing this essay, and urge you to read both parts, think about what he says, and let me know your own thoughts on this subject. You might also be interested in an interview discussion about the future of publishing that I had with Don about a year ago, posted as one of my Publishing Talks podcast series at WritersCast.
Posted by David Wilk on 06/23 at 09:47 PM
Guest Blog: Samuel Johnson vs. Google: Writing for Money in a Tough Market
If you’ve never heard of Samuel Johnson, he’s the guy who wrote the first English dictionary.
He is an 18th century version of what the 20th century called a ‘copy-writer,’ and what the 21st century calls a ‘content-manager’ or sometimes an ‘SEO.’ He used language like a kind of molten currency, and deployed copy as a vessel for transactions in the emerging free-market; with the interests of his patrons always tacked-on or barely submerged in his prose, the specs supplied by book merchants always at least partly over-determining the dimensions and style of his work. His life and works are a kind of microcosm of the industry in which I find myself presently self-employed.
Samuel Johnson: the 18th century equivalent of a Googlebot. He read his way through the library of texts available in his era and tore them apart, endlessly sub-dividing and compartmentalizing in order to determine the meaning and value of each word relative to any number of contingencies. His dictionary is primarily known for its brilliant use of quotations to define words in context. For example, he found, in his textual survey, 58 senses of the word ‘take’: to apprehend, to steal, to appropriate, a percentage of profit etc. Each of these senses is illustrated by a quotation.
I will spare our readers a detailed comparison of the similarities between Johnson’s methodology and the LSA & LDA systems that Google’s Algorithm employs toward a similar goal (that is, ‘to develop a functional linguistic omniscience in order to anticipate the way that people use words and why). Suffice it to say that the similarities between Johnson’s methodology and Google’s are many and the resonances are striking.
Johnson was a kind of demiurge. Tourettic, obese, blind in one-eye, deaf-in-one ear, prolific beyond all normal human limitations, he both appeared and behaved like more like a level 5 hurricane, than like just another ‘literary fellow.’ Similar to the way that Google seems ‘super-human,’ so did Samuel Johnson. The conversation, recorded in Boswell’s Life of Johnson, is evocative of the way in which Johnson often came off sounding like a force of nature:
Dr. Adams found him one day busy at is Dictionary, when the following dialogue ensued...
ADAMS: This is a great work, Sir. How are you to get all the etymologies?
JOHNSON: Why, Sir, here is a shelf with Junius and Skinner…
ADAMS: But, Sir, how can you do this in three years?
JOHNSON: Sir, I have no doubt that I can do it in three years.
ADAMS: But the French Academy, which consists of forty members, took forty years to compile their Dictionary.
JOHNSON: Sir, thus it is. This is the proportion. Let me see; forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman.
…With so much ease and pleasantry could he talk of that prodigious labour which he had undertaken to execute. (64)
I could write a book or at least a series of posts on what today’s SEO’s and content-managers today could learn from Samuel Johnson as a model and an inspiration.
For today’s post, I will confine myself to one aspect of his praxis: he wrote for money.
Money was both carrot and stick for Johnson. He was always in debt, and always shooting to clear a high bar, always living above his means, and lay the groundwork to pay off the people who were capitalizing him. He was one of the first writers to succeed spectularly according to this model. ‘The Muse’ was just a cameo character in his career. Reading Johnson’s work is like looking at a snapshot of the moment that literary production shifted from the patronage model (where writers wrote for patrons) to the free-market model (where writers wrote for a large, and not necessarily aristocratic literary public). The excerpts of his life work appearing in Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson’ are a litany of solicitations and submissions. Quotations from letters where he’s quibbling and cajoling with his publisher’s greatly outnumber quotations from his actual work, a proportion which accurately reflects the nuts and bolts of his actual life and ‘literary production.’ Contemplating the cost and agonizingly slow speed of domestic shipping in England in the early 18th century is enough to turn the stomach of any modern day blogger, yet—by all appearances—it hardly slowed Johnson down. Apparently he got a good rhythm going and kept it going with great time-management skills.
Here is a quotation from his letter to Mr. Cave, whom he is begging to publish ‘London,’ which became a wildfire commercial success for the aforementioned Cave:
“I do not doubt but you will look over this poem with another eye, and reward it in a different manner, from a mercenary bookseller, who counts the lines he is to purchase, and considers nothing but the bulk”(38).
The exception here proves the rule. For the most part Johnson wrote according to the specs of ‘the mercenary bookseller, who counts the lines he is to purchase and considers nothing but the bulk.’ And yet, Boswell is always remarking that, ‘thankfully’ Johnson was never able to get ahead financially: otherwise he would never have produced so many great works.
As Boswell writes:
In 1756 Johnson found that the great fame of his Dictionary had not set him about the necessity of “making provisions for the day that was passing over him.” No royal or noble patron extended a munificent hand to give independence to the man who had conferred stability on the language of his country. We may feel indignant that there should have been such unworthy neglect; but we must, at the same time, congratulate ourselves, when we consider, that to this very neglect, operating to rouse the natural indolence of his constitution, we owe many valuable productions, which otherwise, perhaps, might never have appeared.(108)
While the specs have changed, the rules remain more or less the same. We’ve all got to figure out a way to make a living by our pens or our keyboards. Without a gun to our heads, most of us wouldn’t be able to muster the energy to produce our best works.
All references from Boswell, James. The Life of Samuel Johnson. 1791. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co. 1946.
Thomas Doane is a freelance writer, blogging at gospel(s)
and a consultant, with expertise in shipping services.
Posted by David Wilk on 05/31 at 09:50 PM
Buzz, Balls & Hype
MJ Rose’s excellent blog
Where I podcast interviews with writers and thinkers about books, publishing and the future of culture.
This is the Livewriters blog, fun perspective on books and writing.
Ron Silliman’s Blog
one of my favorite and most regular visits
Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers
Incisive, intelligent blog well worth bookmarking!
The renowned Carl Lennertz covers the book business and more
Fresh Eyes Now
Robert Gray’s consistently interesting bookseller’s journal
The Long Tail
Chris Anderson’s ongoing exploration of how the web and human behavior creat new opportunities for information to be distributed (my words)
Blog about the bookbusiness
Conversations in the Book Trade
Chelsea Green Press’ ongoing blog
Publishing 2.0: the (r)Evolution of Media
A blog about the (r)evolution of media, driven by the migration of media to the Web and new digital technologies by Scott Karp. Highly recommended.
An e-book business site, but their blog covers book business stories as well.
"The Digitalist was originally conceived as an internal sounding board, discussion forum and blog for the publisher Pan Macmillan to start thinking about a range of digital issues it faced. It still is. Only now it’s open for everyone to join the debate about books, publishing, the web, and the future." Highly Recommended reading for anyone interested in the future of publishing.
Teleread "Bring the E-books Home"
David Rothman’s outstanding blog covering all things related to e-books, now with the assistance of Paul Biba.
Really smart people thinking hard about books, publishing and the emerging social conversation. Creators of Aerbook: an author platform service for the social web. Highly recommended.