How Publishers Can Build Their Own Communities

Marian SchembariBy Marian Schembari, Contributing Editor, Digital Book World

“If you’re in marketing and in publishing and not in social media, you’re not going to have a job.”

~ Jennifer Hart, HarperCollins

If you’re reading this on the Digital Book World web site, it’s highly likely you “get” social media. You understand that you can’t have a book without a web site; an author without a web presence; or a publisher without a Twitter handle. But it’s not just about signing up for the latest social media tool.

Now that everyone and their mom uses social media (my mom does), it’s all about conversation and community and building credibility. During the panel, “How Publishers Can Build Their Own Communities: Using Social Media Tools,” Pablo Defendini (, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez (F+W Media / Digital Book World) and Jennifer Hart (HarperCollins), with moderator Charlotte Abbott (Follow the Reader), talked about – wait for it – how publishers can use social media tools to engage with and build communities.

Listen, Engage, Repeat, the online sibling of the well-known sci-fi/fantasy publisher Tor Books, is also famous for covering (and selling) other publishers’ books. Not every Tor book gets featured on the site, and that fosters a certain amount of trust between reader and publisher. By creating a site that wasn’t only about Tor news, but also about the sci-fi/fantasy community as a whole, it became a destination for fans, regardless of who published their favorite books. That no other publisher is doing this means Tor looks pretty awesome compared to other imprints in the sci-fi/fantasy niche.

Since they’ve engaged their community as equals and not marketers, Tor has a foundation in place that enables them to connect with readers long before a book’s publication date. This is good for both Tor and for sci-fi/fantasy authors from any publisher, a feat Defendini described as “gratifying”. He also pointed out that the complete lack of “us vs. them” mentality adds to the conversation.

“Publishers need to stop looking at other publishers as competition.” Amen!

Book Club GirlJennifer Hart, sometimes better known as Book Club Girl, is a major blog advocate, saying, “The idea that bloggers have to beg for authors is not the case. Most authors want to talk to readers and they understand bloggers are the way to do it.” When you work with paperbacks like Hart does, book clubs are your bread and butter. And what better way to target book clubs than by creating a web site specifically for them?

Not a site to promote HarperCollins’ books, but one that consistently sparks the conversation about books in general, helping authors – any author – get their name out there and start engaging with passionate readers. Hart established a personal connection with readers based on her tastes, love of books and a contagious excitement about book clubs.

It isn’t about publicity, it’s about listening; but if you play your cards right, the publicity will eventually follow. Engaging with a community on social media platforms isn’t a one-shot campaign, it’s an ongoing, listen-and-connect-with-your-audience kind of thing.

Digital Book WorldDigital Book World’s Guy LeCharles Gonzalez talked about creating buzz for a conference that didn’t even exist 6 months earlier. He attributed the earned attention to an integrated mix of email, LinkedIn, Twitter, and a series of free educational webinars that covered the primary themes of the Conference.

“Be where your community is, listen to what they’re talking about and what they’re asking for,” Gonzalez advised. “Find your niche. If you don’t have a niche, you better get one.”

Beating the time-suck

But what about time? Where does social media fit in an already busy day?

One issue that came up several times during the panel was the issue of social media as a major time-suck. If your blog/website/Facebook page actually gets the traffic you want, it can make upkeep difficult to manage. The panelists suggested setting up Google Alerts and Twitter searches; using Google Analytics to gauge what works and what doesn’t; and retweeting links when there’s no time for in-depth engagement.

Hart advises publishers to be vigilant about monitoring traffic because it helps identify what’s resonating with your audience, and what isn’t, to figure out what people find most interesting. Comments are also an effective way to keep your ear to the ground. However, the bottom line is that if you do this right, it’s going to take time.

“Sleep is optional,” she noted, half-jokingly.

“’Time-suck’ is relative,” Gonzalez added. “Social media isn’t a time-suck, it’s an investment; it’s probably one of the more important things you can do with your time.”

[NOTE: DBW is hosting a free WEBcast, Social Media: Time-Suck or Investment, on Tuesday, March 30th @ 1pm EST. Register today.]

So while you may initially be tweeting and blogging mainly for your mother, that’s just the first step. If you’re constantly feeding the social media beast and have a little bit of patience, it can turn into an incredibly important, valuable and, most importantly, fun tool.

If there’s not some fun involved, “ur doin it rong”.

Marian Schembari digs social media and books. Usually at the same time.

5 thoughts on “How Publishers Can Build Their Own Communities

      1. Martha McPhee

        Excellent. And your Mom’s right. SMART. Debbie Stier has been telling me about you for a bit now, always stunning me with stories of your astonishjng leaps. I love you’re opener here too.

  1. Don Lafferty

    Great stuff, Marian. I couldn’t agree more. This panel really gets it.

    I’m finding that creating effective author strategies require a pretty standard set of listening tools combined with a healthy dose of author branded content and some highly defined work processes and business development tactics to drive the desired outcomes. When well defined, documented work processes are follow, the time suck is effectively eliminated.

    Even when an author is borderline antisocial, a sharp publicist or marketing assistant with the right tools and skills has the ability to maintain a valuable line of direct communication with the market through a solid web presence.

    1. Marian Schembari

      You’re right about having a good publicist, Don. I also find that “antisocial” authors have a better time using social media than those that are used to traditional book tours, signings and interviews. Those are the ones that oftentimes struggle the most with the digital transition. Hmm… maybe that’s a new post 😉



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