By Marian Schembari, Contributing Editor, Digital Book World
Prior to January, Chapman worked in a central services role at Macmillan, on projects that ranged across all of the publishers’ imprints, but he has since transitioned to FSG. His new job (created just for him) is a mix of front-of-house work, including helping those usually clueless about the online world (authors, publicists and editorial), while also assisting with campaigns that establish relationships between the publisher and readers.
“As you’d expect with any digital-oriented department,” Chapman explained, “our work evolves and changes direction constantly. Late in 2009 I realized I wanted to work on a more concentrated level with a publisher; I don’t have much talent for business development projects, though my old boss graciously humored me. Jeff Seroy at FSG and I hashed out my present job, and here we are. The books are really f***ing good, too.”
“About 10% of the job is black box secret stuff. Kanye [West] and William Shatner made me sign NDAs.”
As for his blog, Chapman said he felt his writing muscles atrophying and creating his blog was a way to exercise them. “So much of my work is research and analysis that I wanted a space to hone my thoughts. I think you’ll find my series of animated cat gifs fulfills this nicely.”
People start blogs for a number of reasons, some as a release, and others as a way to advance a career. While Chapman may have started his to get the writing juices flowing, he says it’s also helped him meet a lot of great people. “To paraphrase Cory Doctorow, I’m thankful that anyone wants to read what I have to say. It’s helped my career in that the blog’s a shorthand introduction to my ideas, and I think it establishes credibility with authors.”
Speaking of blogging (and social media as a whole), how is FSG using new media?
“One of the first things I’ve done at FSG — a quick, scalable project — is to create documentation for our authors, which leads to one-on-one discussions with them about online possibilities. The approach for each author must be unique. I find there’s also a lot of misinformation out there that I hope to correct. Beyond this, FSG’s got plans for the iPad, some mobile media experiments, and some exciting work in establishing better rapport with readers. It’s no secret that one of the prized assets online is an ability to separate the wheat from the chaff – see Pitchfork.com – which is what our editors have in spades. I’m looking to increase transparency and dialogue there.”
“We also have really good content that we simply need to re-orient for online use. An example: the recent Sam Lipsyte LipSite is just a weekly email of the author’s quotable passages, for the fans. It wasn’t difficult to put together, and I’ve been encouraged by the signups so far. ”
How can publishers in general be taking better advantage? Are there places where you think they’re lacking?
“Good question. There are two stumbling blocks. First, the lack of real R&D money, which makes sense, given our profit margins. John Sargent isn’t Tommy Mottola, dropping $20M in marketing on a debut release (see Mariah Carey). The solution there is going to be ingenuity. The second stumbling block I’ve seen is this misconception of our industry as a steady state system. All change is disruptive, as they say. This is easy for me to say, I admit, given that I don’t have decades of publishing experience behind me. But that doesn’t make it any less true.”
Do you have any examples of anyone who’s really on the ball right now?
“At FSG, I’m chiefly concerned with an admittedly small slice of the adult trade pie: literary fiction and ‘literary’ nonfiction, whatever that means. What Little, Brown does with James Patterson doesn’t automatically work for us. Penguin UK consistently impresses me. Their recent Product Red covers, the We Tell Stories campaign from a few years back… they speak the language of the internet. They allow room for tangential ROI. Just because you can’t see where you’ll end up doesn’t mean you should abandon the trip. In the US, Hachette does good work, and I think Quirk Books in Philadelphia is very innovative. I’m also jealous of W.W. Norton’s twitter followers.”
What are you really excited about?
“The YA market’s experiments with transmedia storytelling (see Scholastic, Fourth Story Media), which will carry over to adult trade pretty soon. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I always get excited when a novel arrives that can only be a novel, that perfectly articulates the strengths of the medium. Alex Garland’s The Coma; Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage; and Zachary Mason’s The Lost Books of the Odyssey come to mind.”
Future of publishing: half full or half empty?
Half full! With the water doing that ripple effect from the T. Rex in Jurassic Park.
Ryan Chapman is Online Marketing Manager at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He’s privileged to have collaborated on digital campaigns for Thomas L. Friedman, Alex Ross and Naomi Klein. Before publishing, he created online education content for a dotcom in Seattle and DJed in Prague. He speaks often at conferences and programs the infrequent 7×20×21 event with a few of his most respected and contentious colleagues.
Marian Schembari digs social media and books. Usually at the same time.