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30 posts from April 2008

Daemon: A Lesson on Leveraging the Community

Daemon_2I don't tend to read novels but the story of this one caught my eye.  It's called Daemon and it's an interesting study in what an author can do to build momentum for their book.  Wired recently ran a short article about it here.

The author, Daniel Suarezes (who reversed most of those characters to "Leinad Zeraus" for credit on the book) tried the same old agent-to-publisher route but couldn't generate interest.  He wound up taking matters into his own hands and got some key bloggers and other influential names interested in it.  Next, he and his wife created their own publishing house, Verdugo Press, and are selling it as a print-on-demand title.

Although Bookscan numbers are still pretty modest the book currently has a very nice Amazon ranking (in the 1,500's), so the grassroots efforts are obviously paying off...and the Wired article doesn't hurt either!

So if you're an author, what steps have you taken to drive excitement for your book from influential people with huge platforms?  Even if you have a small platform you can always work to leverage other people's platforms.


"The Secret"...Again

Question_markI'm pretty sure I made my thoughts on The Secret pretty clear with this earlier post.  The bottom line: It's a scam.  A joke.  A cheesy ripoff of The Power of Positive Thinking.  I don't see how anyone could have misinterpreted my opinion.

Earlier today, however, I got an e-mail from a fellow representing Evan Carmichael, whose website headline reads "Motivation and Strategies for Entrepreneurs."  It seems Evan is publicizing a page of "The Top 50 Blogs Posts on The Law of Attraction In 2008" and my review of the book is...wait for it...wait for it...#1 on the list.  Huh?  Did he not read my review before including it in this list?!

That's right.  If you click on that link you'll find 49 posts that hype this "Law of Attraction"...plus one more link to my scathing review.  Gee, you'd think the "Law of Attraction" would somehow take control and knock my negative review out of the list.  Actually, I figure by the time you click over there Mr. Carmichael will have already taken care of that.  If it's no longer #1 on the list you'll have to take my word for it...


SharedBook Interview with CEO Caroline Vanderlip

Sharedbook2SharedBook is the underlying technology provider for a number of great new content offerings.  I've stumbled across them several times in the past year when I've researched services like Blog2Print and eGuidebook.  With all the exciting new initiatives they've been involved with I figured I could learn even more by interviewing one of their executives.  Caroline Vanderlip, CEO, graciously agreed to answer my questions -- here's what she had to say:

JW: SharedBook seems to be the engine behind many of the newer e-content services I've come across recently.  What's the overall vision for SharedBook and the products you've already released?

CV: We believe SharedBook offers a disruptive enabling technology that has the potential to expand the way people think about publishing in the 21st century. Using our platform, any business or consumer can publish personalized print media on demand.

SharedBook works with traditional publishers, web sites and other types of companies to maximize the long tail potential of existing materials. For example, traditional publishers can use the platform to allow readers to add personalized elements (Random House) and to publish customized anthologies. Web sites (Allrecipes.com, ProfessionalTravelGuide.com) and other types of companies (Regent Seven Seas Cruises) can re-purpose their existing content to suit the individual interests of their customers.


JW: Your website refers to your "reverse publishing platform."  What exactly does that phrase mean for SharedBook and your product line?

CV: I’m glad you asked. We spent a lot of time in the last year working to raise awareness for the concept of "reverse publishing," which simply means publishing online content in print format, or Web to print publishing.

There is a tremendous amount of content available online today, much of which now appears on the Web first. In fact, I recently read that IDC estimated that in 2006 alone, the amount of digital information created, captured and replicated was approximately 3 million times the information in all books ever written.

Since launching our first data integration project with Legacy.com, the Legacy Commemorative Guest Book, in November 2006, we have seen a growing interest, from businesses and consumers, in publishing personally-relevant Web content across a variety of categories. SharedBook currently offers reverse publishing solutions in the book publishing, food, memorial, sports and travel industries, among others.   

SharedBook’s Reverse Publishing Platform automates the book making process, enabling consumers to produce a book dynamically with just a few clicks. Users can choose to preview and purchase a book immediately, or personalize it further by adding their own text and photographs.

SharedBook’s application is also fully collaborative, enabling users to invite family and friends into their private and secure book making space to contribute their own content. Anyone invited into the space can also publish a book if they like. 

SharedBook also provides an extensive range of personalization options. For example, users control which content flows into their books, the placement of text and photos, and the inclusion of comments, notes and annotations.


JW: What are one or two of the most important lessons you've learned from your customer base after releasing some of these products?

CV: We really have two customer bases: the partners that integrate with us and offer the product under their brands and the buyers of the product. From our partners, we've learned to keep the product offering and the solution simple. Make the product offering as easy to understand as possible and then market its uniqueness frequently enough so people begin to understand that they can create something here never before imagined. From our buyers, we learn which content and features are most appealing, some of the product features that they would like to have added in the future, and how satisfied they are with the final product.

SharedBook conducts customer satisfaction surveys every month and while we have an increasingly high level of satisfaction, we know that we need to evolve as the market for our product and capabilities becomes more mainstream.


JW: What's the goal of the SharedBook Open API and can you tell us about any interesting third-party applications that have been developed using it?

CV: SharedBook’s API is available to enable any third party, business or consumer, to integrate data into SharedBook’s platform for on-demand output.

Most recently, Steve Murch of BigOven.com, a social network about food, used SharedBook’s API to develop the BigOven Cookbook. Using one of the wrappers that are available to developers, Steve was able to produce working results within a few hours and had a market-ready solution in less than eight weeks. BigOven.com is the first company to offer multiple ways to connect to SharedBook. Users of the social network about food can create cookbooks from the Web site or from BigOven’s award-winning desktop recipe software.

SharedBook’s API also formed the basis for Create-A-Cookbook from Allrecipes.com, which launched in November. The application enables cooks to automatically publish collections of their favorite online and personal recipes in professionally-printed book format. Users can choose to purchase the cookbook once a preview of the finished book product is created, or to personalize it further by adding notes to the recipes, and the stories and photographs that make the foods special.

I am not sure if you are aware of this, but the Blog2Print blog printing widget was also built using SharedBook’s API.  Some of our own developers created the widget shortly after we introduced the API to demonstrate how easily an application could be created.

There are several additional third party examples in development now that we expect to announce by the end of Q2.


JW: How do you see your business and the products you're developing evolving in the coming years?  Are there any noteworthy projects you're working on that we should keep an eye out for down the road?

CV: This is an exciting time for SharedBook. Our business has grown significantly in the last 18 months. We added partners in eight different content categories in 2007, and expect to announce as many partnerships in 2008 if not more.

We're currently working on projects that will introduce reverse publishing to several new categories including gardening and magazine publishing.

We envision a time in the not so distant future when consumers will be able to publish any of the online content they need, regardless of the topic, in the format they choose.

The custom cookbook publishing solutions for Allrecipes.com and BigOven.com and the Pocket Guidebook for ProfessionalTravelGuide.com illustrate how it's already possible to create your own book for a particular topic today.

We believe this is only the beginning of a new era in publishing.


Getting Nudged By the Heath Brothers

Heaths_2The Heath brothers are at it again.  I'm talking about Chip and Dan Heath, Fast Company columnists and authors of the excellent book, Made to Stick (see my review here).  Every time I read one of their articles I spend the rest of the day thinking about how their observations affect my world.

The latest issue of Fast Company features a Heath article called Get Laziness on Your Side: How to sway people's decisions with the gentlest of nudges.  At first it reminded me of the bookclub model where a member's non-response led to another book in their mailbox.  That's yesterday's approach though, so what's tomorrow's model?

Google and Amazon come to mind.  Both are rapidly building up an enormous inventory of e-content, Google with its Book Search and Amazon with their Search Inside program.  Currently both programs are free to everyone, but both have limits on how much content any one person can see from any one book.  Advertising and book sales are generally cited as the way these services can be monetized, but what about a paid subscription option as well?

I could see a premium version of either of these services where customers pay a flat fee for unlimited online reading access.  Instead of hitting the 5%, 7% or whatever content ceiling each publisher has put in place on these services, the paid model would be uncapped.  Reading an entire book on your computer screen isn't the most pleasant experience, so I'm not sure many people would use this to keep up on all the latest novels.  But reference information, quick how-to's, etc., lend themselves quite nicely to this approach.

The price has to be right, of course, and publisher buy-in is critical.  This model already exists with services like Books24x7 and Safari, btw, but I'm talking about leveraging the power and major brand names of Google and Amazon.

An enormous number of information seekers are already using Google and Amazon for free, so can they use the Heath logic and nudge enough of these seekers to a paid model?  I think so, assuming the right pricing and content options are available.


Heather Johnson Guest-Blogging About Baseball Books

Ball_fourIf variety is the spice of life, other voices are probably the most important spice of the blogosphere.  With that in mind, look for the occasional "Publishing 2020 open mike night" as I encourage others in the community to post their opinions as guest bloggers.  First up, Heather Johnson, and she's here to talk about one of her passions: baseball books.

Top 5 Baseball Books to Read this Summer, by Heather Johnson

What is better than curling up with a great book on your favorite beach in the summer? Well, maybe only one thing: reading a great baseball book. It seems the number of books about baseball has gone through the roof in recent years as every two-bit player that toiled in the minors is writing a tell-all about his time riding the buses from one town not listed on a map to another. If you're tired of sifting through the titles that will never make it to the big leagues, consider these great reads:

  1. Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. There have been many tell-alls to hit the bookstores over the years but Ball Four is the gold standard. Its greatness is not even just due to its recounting of Mickey Mantle's drinking day, rather, its true greatness emerges when we see how much the game meant to Bouton and how he'd do nearly anything to stay in the game for just one more turn on the mound. This is a must-read for any true fan of the game.
  2. Bill James' Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. This is the Bible of books dedicated to the numbers of baseball. No other sport has a rich appreciation for statistics as baseball and Bill James is the authoritative figure in this realm. James ranks players at every position throughout the history of the major leagues and this is sure to spark a heated debate around your beach blanket.
  3. Jerrold Casway's Ed Delahanty in the Emerald Age of Baseball . This fascinating work chronicles the best hitter many people have never heard of and his contributions to the game. In the latter part of the 19th century, first generation Irish-Americans ruled the sport and brought a new, aggressive style of play to the game. Ed Delahanty was a tragic hero as his lifestyle contributed to a shorter career – a career that would have rivaled that of Babe Ruth.
  4. Bill Littlefield's Prospect. This popular NPR host shows his flair for the game in this wonderful, little novel that follows a prospect through the eyes of an incredulous scout. The scout feels as much pride as the prospect when he finally makes it to the big leagues.
  5. Jim Collins' The Last Best League. This production is a magnificent insight into the Cape Cod Baseball League in Massachusetts. The amateur summer league is considered the premiere league of its kind and Collins does a masterful job of portraying the game and the community in this effort.

Heather Johnson is a freelance business, finance and credit writer, as well as a regular contributor for Business Credit Cards, a site for comparing business credit cards. She welcomes questions, comments, and freelancing job inquiries at her email address heatherjohnson2323@gmail.com.


"The One-Volume Wikipedia Encyclopedia"??

Wikipedia2_2I don't think I've ever come up empty after a Wikipedia search.  That's one of the most attractive features of the Wikipedia, right?  You rarely leave without finding something of value.  The search options seem endless and it's got way more content than you could possibly squeeze into one volume or even a shelf full of volumes.

So what's up with this announcement that Bertelsmann is going to "publish what could be the first in a series of annual yearbooks whose content is derived from the many hundreds of thousands of user-created entries on Wikipedia."?  The One-Volume Wikipedia Encyclopedia is going to feature the content covering 50,000 of the most-searched terms (from the German language edition).

OK, the One-Volume product will feature information on some pretty popular topics, but am I the only one who feels this whole idea turns the core strengths of the Wikipedia into a weak print product?  Again, I love the sheer breadth of the Wikipedia; every time I visit the site I'm confident I'll learn something.  The One-Volume product will be hit and miss, even though it will cover the most frequently searched topics.  Then there's the living, breathing nature of the Wikipedia.  Whatever I'm reading right now is more up-to-date than the print version.  That might not matter for subjects like World War II but it could mean a significant difference for major political elections or candidates, for example.

Don't get me wrong.  I think there's a great opportunity for Wikipedia content in print.  Flexibility is the key though.  Let customers print the pieces they want, not simply a collection of the most frequently searched topics.  That means print-on-demand is the only viable manufacturing option.

Have you heard of PediaPress yet?  It's still a work in progress but it sure sounds like they're building the model described above.

I'm also still intrigued by the DailyLit model and how it could be leveraged for the Wikipedia (see this earlier post).  There seem to be a number of new, viable Wikipedia content delivery models to experiment with; I'm just not convinced the One-Volume project is one of the best.


Dilbert 2.0

Dilbert I love Dilbert.  Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that some days I feel like I live Dilbert.  I have several Dilbert strips taped to my monitor.  Call me a simpleton but every so often one will catch my eye and I'll laugh all over again.

I read the strip every day and was delighted to see that Scott Adams is taking it, as well as dilbert.com, to another level.  Dilbert has grown up and gone Web 2.0 on us, as noted in this Webware post.  The site currently lets you write your own punch line to a strip and then share it with others.  Next month you'll be able to write the copy for all the panels in a strip.  The Webware post also talks about other community features due in May where you and your friends will be able to collaborate on all the panels.

Dilbert is the perfect platform for this sort of thing.  It's almost on par with water cooler chatter or episodes of The Office; everyone can relate to Dilbert at one time or another and it's fun to share the humor.  This observation (excerpted from Webware) shows that Scott Adams "gets it" when it comes to community and intellectual property as well as how to leverage the former to bolster the latter:

"We're accepting the realities of IP on the Internet, and trying to get ahead of the curve. People already alter Dilbert strips and distribute them. If we make it easy and legal to do so, and drive more traffic to Dilbert.com in the process, everyone wins. Plus it's a lot of fun to see what people come up with in the mashups."


14 Points about Author Websites

Books2The author website debate will probably never end.  Do you need one?  What's the purpose?  What elements should it include?  The questions go on and on.

I recently came across this excellent blog post entitled The 14 Things I Have Learned about Author Websites.  Be sure to check out the whole list.  Here are a few things that went through my mind as I read through it:

#2. Author websites are different than book websites. Blogs, twitter, myspace and facebook are different tools, use them in different ways.

Excellent point!  How many times have you come across an author's website that has no personality and lacks the critical attributes of a social network-like page?

#4. Frequency is important...

#5: Frequency isn’t as important as you may think...

Ah, the thorny subject of frequency.  This has been one of the most criticized and probably misunderstood issues on this subject.  How frequently do you need to update your site?  That depends.  It depends on what kind of product you've published and what sort of expectations your readers have.  Two-way communication is the key here.  Don't say you'll be updating every day and then fall back to once every week or so.  Also, check in with your readers and see what they want from your site and how often they'd like to see new content from you.

#6: Free is your friend. Make your work available in its entirety. If someone is willing to read your 400 page novel on screen, you have found a fan for life.

I don't think I could have said it any better myself.  This is an important concept that we publishers seem to be sloooowly embracing.  Just don't forget that if you signed a traditional publishing agreement you probably need your publisher's permission to post all that great, free content...


Author Solutions Interview with Kevin Weiss

Author_solutions_2Author Solutions is the parent company of several brands including AuthorHouse and iUniverse; recently I was fortunate enough to sit down with several key members of their organization.  The Author Solutions team showed me some of their existing tools and talked a bit about their vision for the future of the industry.  It was a great session and I plan to cover some of these items in future posts.

In the mean time, Kevin Weiss, President and CEO of Author Solutions, agreed to do a blog interview as well.  Here's what Kevin had to say about Author Solutions, the iUniverse acquisition and the marketing and PR process:

JW: What are the key attributes that you feel help distinguish Author Solutions from the other self-publishing options out there today?

KW: Leadership and innovation. At AuthorHouse and iUniverse we have continually introduced new services and systems to make publishing more professional, affordable and accessible to authors. That commitment has enabled us to become the worldwide market share leader. But we’ve only just begun.

We are currently making significant investments in both our internal production and customer-facing systems. By Q3, we will introduce the most advanced systems in the industry, which will give authors --and publishers-- unrivaled flexibility, efficiency and opportunity to make the best choices throughout the publishing process. 

We are also working diligently to make publishing a more "open" environment. Historically, the industry has been "closed" in the sense that a select group of people decided what should be made available to the market. We don’t think that system will work with the next generation of authors.

They have been raised with file sharing, online collaboration and self-directing content creation. They also expect nearly simultaneous feedback. Waiting months for a rejection letter won’t work with this crowd. That's why we have made our Wordclay platform available to individual authors and communities who have members who want to publish books quickly, affordably and professionally.

We take all we’ve learned from publishing nearly 80,000 titles and make that available to any one who has a book in them. We believe the end result will be more authors publishing more titles for more readers, which is good for readers, good for us and good for the industry.

We expect to have more to say about both of these areas around BEA, so stay tuned.

JW: Last year you completed the acquisition of another self-publishing operation, iUniverse.  How do you see these two teams fitting together and what does this mean to authors from both organizations?

KW: Author Solutions acquired iUniverse because we see the brands as distinct and the teams as complimentary. AuthorHouse, which was Author Solutions first acquisition, has a broader product offering both in publishing and promotional services. iUniverse has distinguished itself by its editorial services and traditional-publishing experience.

With this acquisition, we are able to take the best practices of both organizations and offer authors of both brands the most valued services in the industry and more expertise than any other self-publishing company in the world. Because we are publishing nearly 20,000 titles, we are also able to create production efficiencies that we can pass on to authors in the form of higher value and more affordable services. We are excited about the future of both brands and the strength of the leadership teams.

JW: How about on the marketing side...what programs do you offer your authors to help them get the visibility they need to succeed?

KW: Ask successful authors today and they will tell you they work on their marketing plan as much as their manuscript. So while we provide a range of services to help authors gain visibility, they still need to make a commitment to promote their books.

Depending on the brand, we can offer authors a public relations program, bookstore marketing packages, including returnability and even a personal publicist if they have the budget and the title warrants it.

Perhaps the most important marketing tool we provide though is a free author Web site. We've been offering this service through our AuthorHouse brand since December and authors love it. Four weeks ago, we just announced a beta version of AuthorTree. AuthorTree is a site that offers all published authors a free, easy-to-use tool to set up an author Web site.

These Web sites give authors 24/7 visibility for potential readers and provide a powerful way for them to build an audience.

JW: How much do you rely on authors to help with the PR and marketing effort?  Do you have any success stories you could share?

KW: As I stated previously, the author is the key to marketing and PR. Even JK Rowling has to get out and talk about her books, and it is no different for our authors. We have  many great examples of authors successfully marketing their works, but two recent ones stand out.

The first is a book AuthorHouse published titled The Gift that Heals by Reg Green. Reg's seven-year old son was murdered in Italy 12 years ago on a family vacation. They made the decision then to donate his organs and the story received worldwide acclaim. Since then Reg has become a leading advocate for organ donation and wanted to write a book about how organ donation affects the people involved in the process. He is very passionate and has a great sense of urgency, so he didn't want to wait for months or years to have traditional publishers decide to publish his book. He self-published with us and the book is selling well. A few weeks ago, he was featured in People magazine and last week he was on the morning talk shows in New York

Another example is Martha Barnette. Martha had previously published with a traditional house, but they allowed her books to go out of print. In the past few years she has become the host of a radio nationally-syndicated Public Radio show called A Way with Words, which focuses on the beauty and intricacy of words. She has published two books with iUniverse that were previously out of print and brought them back for her listeners. Self-publishing has allowed her to develop a whole new following of readers and create an even greater platform.


Travel Guides 2.0

ProtravelguideWhat's the worst part of most printed travel guides?  Lugging them around.  Plus, although they're written by travel experts, I generally find that I really only need portions of the book, not the whole thing.  After all, how many hotels can one person stay at during a one-week trip?!

What's really needed here is more flexibility and customization.  I'd like to pick the contents from a list of options and create my own custom guide.  That's possible now thanks to Professional TravelGuide's new service, eGuidebook.  You'll find information on more than 7,000 destinations and it's easy to pick and choose the content you want in your custom eGuidebook.  Build it by yourself or in collaboration with other friends or family members.  Once you're happy with the contents, turn your eGuidebook into a print product with the Pocket Guidebook service (click here for a demo).  Pocket Guidebooks are produced via print-on-demand with prices starting at $18.95 (including shipping in the U.S.)

I tend to think cellphones and other portable devices will eventually become the key travel content delivery platform, but between now and then, we can use services like eGuidebook and Pocket Guidebook to add more of a personal, fun touch to a family vacation or other getaway.