Ron Hogan: Putting the Reader First
By Marian Schembari, Contributing Editor, Digital Book World
The first time I met Ron Hogan was during the Digital Book World Conference back in January, when he was still Senior Editor of GalleyCat and right before he started at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as their Director of E-marketing Strategy. There was a seat between us during a panel, and there wasn’t a moment when some person wasn’t clamoring to ask him for a favor, run an idea by him, say hi, or offer to massage his feet.
If there was a contest, I’d vote Hogan Nicest Dude in Publishing, which is why my jaw literally dropped when I heard about his abrupt departure from HMH two weeks ago.
In the mid-90s, Hogan worked at a Los Angeles bookstore while finishing his Master’s in Film Studies, and originally wanted to be a professor but had doubts about academia. Those doubts coincided with the rise of the Internet, and he launched Beatrice.com in 1995, publishing interviews with authors as they came through LA.
“Like a lot of people, I kind of thought it would be cool to do a website.”
Since then, Beatrice has become one of the top book blogs, a destination site for anyone who loves books and is looking for something new to read.
“It’s not pinned down to any one type of book or story. I talk about things I happen to think are cool and some of that catches people’s eyes on a relatively regular basis.”
The HMH Drama
While running Beatrice, Hogan has freelanced for a number of dotcoms, took a staff position as Category Editor at Amazon.com, was the Senior Editor of GalleyCat, and most recently, became the Director of E-marketing Strategy at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a job he “really enjoyed doing.”
So what happened?
“Basically, as I’ve come to understand in retrospect,” Hogan explained, “the VP who conceived of this position and hired me was herself let go during an earlier corporate restructuring in March. I can only assume that the people who weren’t invested in this position from the beginning have reevaluated their needs. I think they believe their e-marketing strategy can be met by existing marketing staff.”
“I didn’t accomplish half of what I had hoped to accomplish in that position. I hope the publisher will continue to move forward in some capacity. They are serious about online marketing, as any major publishing has to be at this point and the books are fantastic. One of the reasons I was so glad to take this job was that it was an opportunity to work with an incredible front list of consistently excellent titles.”
A free agent again, he’s keeping an eye out for a similar position, with a publisher that is open to using online tools to engage readers more directly; and to be more responsive to those readers.
“That’s the kind of staff job that I would be looking for at a house,” Hogan continued. “In the meantime I will be consulting for authors, small presses and independent booksellers on using social media tools. Coach them on identifying what they want to accomplish, picking out the tools, giving them an action plan and then touching base with them and tweaking their strategy a bit. Giving them tools and the know-how.”
“It’s a great opportunity to do a lot more than say, ‘Oh, our book comes out today.’”
Hogan wants publishers to use those tools to bring communities of readers together and actually take seriously what they have to say. “That will result in a much more significant long-term advantage,” he said. “These aren’t just more platforms to put out news of new releases.”
Future of publishing – half-full or half-empty?
“The best answer I’ve heard is: ‘Twice as big as it needs to be.’ I’m very optimistic about publishing’s future. I don’t know if that future is going to be print-oriented, or how much of a chunk will be eBooks, but I am confident that there are publishing companies forward-thinking enough to be responsive to communities of readers and that they will be able to deliver stories and information in any number of formats. The rest is containers.”
Ron Hogan helped create the literary Internet by launching Beatrice.com in 1995. In 2010, after writing about the business side of publishing as a senior editor for GalleyCat for several years, he briefly served as the director of e-marketing strategy for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. His most recent book is Getting Right with Tao, a print edition of his popular online “translation” of the Tao Te Ching into modern vernacular.
Marian Schembari digs social media and books. Usually at the same time.