By Iris Blasi, Associate Editor, Union Square Press
At the 2010 Digital Book World Conference panel “Get Noticed: How to Earn Attention for Every Book,” this much was true: the medium was the message.
The four panelists— Debbie Stier, associate publisher, HarperStudio, and director of digital marketing, HarperCollins; Ryan Chapman, Online Marketing Manager, FSG; Yen Cheong, Assistant Director of Publicity, Viking and Penguin Books [@yodiwan]; and Peter Costanzo, Director of Online Marketing, Perseus—were all masters of the art of the soundbyte, with ridiculously quotable tips and tricks that went flying out of their mouths and into the twittersphere. (Search #dbwpr on Google for samples of the frenzied live-tweeting.)
“I don’t know how to publish an author who will not engage online,” Stier stated early on, in what would become one of the panel’s most-repeated tweets. “It seems like Lotto would be more successful.”
“Everyone should think of themselves as online marketers,” Costanzo later added.
Authoring an Online Self
It was a given at the panel that, in today’s publishing environment, every author needs a web presence of some sort. The question was finding the online cocktail that best suits each individual. A website, a Facebook fan page, and a twitter account? A WordPress blog and an active email list of subscribers? What was reiterated time and time again was that online activity needn’t be expensive to be effective.
“I would rather my author have an updated Wikipedia entry than an expensive website,” Chapman said.
According to Stier, success in developing an online presence is directly proportionate to time spent. “It’s blood, sweat and tears,” she said. “If you put in three hours of time, you’re going to get three hours of results. If you put in ten hours of time, you get ten hours of results.”
With the understanding that an author has more to do with their days than play around online, time constraints were a consideration in the development of online campaigns. Recognizing that not all authors have the time or desire to blog, Chapman suggests pitching guest-blogging stints, as putting together five 1000-word blogs for the likes of Salon, Slate, and other similar sites can provide an effective payoff without the investment of full-time blogging.
A huge time suck for new authors can be time spent trying to “get” social media. Acknowledging that, Stier hires social media coaches to help orient authors and works with them directly herself when she can.
Metrics as a measure of success
From Google Analytics to bit.ly, there are many tools to track traffic; the struggle is in making the connection to actual sales. Hits are nothing if they go nowhere, said Chapman. “I don’t want to be in the million YouTube hits business.”
More than one of the panelists cited requests by authors to “make something go viral.” Doing that is impossible, they said; the best that can be done is setting up all of the elements (such as coordinating consistent links sent out simultaneously from multiple origins) to make it as easy as possible for something to catch on. But ultimately, no one can guarantee anything will go viral.
“Just make something fabulous and I’ll send it out,” Stier said plainly.
Additionally, “traffic doesn’t tell you everything,” said Cheong. It’s important to look at the stickiness of online content, including the number of comments to measure audience engagement. It is a matter of quality of quantity.
An engaged author teamed with an innovative marketing and publicity team (“Mad Men, but without the racism and misogyny,” Chapman suggested) is central to a book’s success. And communication is crucial, as one hand must always know what the other is doing to optimize online outreach.
So, how to decide which blogs to target via online marketing efforts?
Outreach must involve a combination of big blogs and niche communities for maximum exposure, Costanzo said. And here’s where authors can be particularly crucial in supplementing a publisher’s efforts.
“Author[s] should know [the right blogs], especially for nonfiction,” Chapman said.
Sure, publishers working their verticals will have made in-roads into their niches, but authors will always be the foremost experts in their field. It’s important for them to help guide publishers to the smaller alcoves on the web that may be particularly receptive to a certain book.
“I’m not going to say the New York Times Book Review doesn’t matter,” said Cheong, “but we have so many outlets online now.”
Moderator Kate Rados, Chelsea Green’s Director of Digital Initiatives, closed out the panel by asking for a single trade secret from each member on the panel:
- Costanzo is happy to utilize author’s email lists in promos, but insists that the message must come from the author, not the publisher. Potential readers can spot inauthenticity from a mile away.
- Cheong is a fan of Booktour.com.
- Stier listens to Leo Laporte’s This Week in Tech podcast for tech pointers.
- Chapman likes to use Issuu.com to feature shareable material.