Internet Advice for Authors, Courtesy of The Penguin Group
Self Publishing Today Blog

How Can Book Publishers Remain Relevant?

Businessweek Sarah Lacy feels she has the answers in this BusinessWeek article and I think she makes some good points.  She presents five important lessons book publishers need to learn from "the new web", as she puts it.  Here are my thoughts on each of her five points:

Make it social.  Amen!  In fact, social network capabilities are something I've been pleading for Amazon to consider when developing Kindle version 2.0, 3.0 and beyond.  I especially love her point that "social networking could do for book clubs what Scrabulous did for fans of Scrabble."

Take book tours out of the stores.  A couple of points here.  First, Sarah is wrong to abandon the bookstores.  I believe a better approach is one that leverages all potential platforms and locations, including bookstores. Secondly, if you're not familiar with BookTour you should check it out as soon as possible.  BookTour is an excellent example of a service you can use to coordinate all types of tours, including ones involving bookstores.  After all, let's not throw the baby out with the bath water!

Create stars -- don't just exploit existing ones.  Excellent, excellent point here about how we often focus too much on proven winners and not enough on the up-and-comers.  I'm particularly intrigued by this suggestion from Sarah and I wonder how other authors would respond to it: Require as part of the contract that the author blog, speak on panels, attend events. Give them incentives for delivering—say, through Web traffic or the number of followers they amass on Twitter.  I'm not so sure her multi-book agreement approach will take off though.  After all, few books are a guaranteed hit, even ones from an unproven author with what appears to be a promising platform.  So how many publishers are prepared to commit to more than one title from the start?  Sure, it happens, but if the first book is a flop the next one (to fulfill the agreement) is likely to be painful for everyone.  On the other hand, if the first one's a hit I'll bet the author would prefer to renegotiate a better deal on the next one.

Go electronic from the get-go.  I'm sure there are still plenty of old school publishers that work exclusively with hard copy as Sarah describes, but that's not how things operate in my world.  In fact, the Professional/Trade division of Wiley that I'm part of has developed a state-of-the-art production process that depends on electronic files from authors.  That's one of the reasons my colleagues were able to produce the first book available on Apple's 3G iPhone, for example.

Make e-commerce even easier.  Another excellent point.  I can't wait for us to get to the vision Sarah describes here: Take the titles far beyond—through one-click widgets appended to blogs, Facebook pages, and other sites across the Web. Link these tools directly to PayPal and Google Checkout. Think: one-click purchase, not one click takes you to Amazon.  It will probably take longer than we'd like to get there, but I'm convinced we will.


Liza Daly

I agree, especially in terms of electronic workflow and social networking. In fact, without having read the BusinessWeek article until now, I just yesterday posted some thoughts on deeply integrating social networking with devices like the Kindle.

I like BookTour but I find I don't really check it. Again, a more customer-centric "push" solution would work really well -- my ereader or even Amazon knows what authors I like. I shouldn't need a third-party service to tell me when they're doing a reading in my area.

Timothy fish

I’ll have to give it more thought, but I think contractually obligating authors to blog, speak on panels and attend events could be a good thing for authors. As it is, there is an implied obligation. The publisher signs the author, then says, “we’re only going to spend $6,000 on marketing.” The author doesn’t think much about it until his agent calls him and says, “if you expect to get another publishing contract you’re going to have to sell at least 7000 copies of your first book. So the author starts blogging and speaking at events. If the obligation is in the contract then it is easier for the agent to go to the publisher and say, “the contract requires the author to put in this much labor and travel, so you are going to have to give the author this much to cover that.”


Bravo for "don't abandon the bookstores"!

I work for a book publisher and have dealt with hundreds of bookstore author events.

First, Sarah Lacy had an existing following before she wrote her book, and so was able to martial her fans to turn out for a signing. Many (most?) authors don't have a following -- the bookstores can help to introduce the author to an audience. Secondly, the bookstores have the resources and the know-how to promote the event, order the book, and make sure there are enough books at events. They can also reach out to local organizations in the community that would have a specific author event relevant.

Most bookstores will do events outside the bookstore at a larger venue if the author is big enough and if there is an obvious reason to go off-site.

Lastly, and not insignificant, is the fact that bookstore will continue to sell the book long after the author has left town. I guarantee that the staff will have read the book before the event, and if the author is pleasant and engaging, and the book delivers, the bookstore staff will tell their customers about it for months beyond the date of the event. I have known stores who have sold 20 books at a signing but have gone on to sell thousands of that book in its lifetime.

If you only rely on your existing fans to turn out for an event, you won't get any new fans as a result. Bookstores can help grow the audience.

Michael A. Banks

Multi-book contracts ... as you say, the success of a book doesn't necessarily foreshadow success for the next one by the same author. "The next book" after a bestseller most often achieves success if said bestseller left the readers wanting more. That's why there are so many wizards and elves trilogies out there.

Anent everyone going off to blog and twitter to promote books, there has to be a saturation point for that, a point at which people ignore the hype or pretty much treat one book's promo like that of any other. The only way to stand out then will be by doing things that others aren't--like bookstore events.

Semi-related to this, a post at Mashable discusses how everyone sending out press releases based on the same strategy blunts their effectiveness.

Francis Hamit

I find book tour events a great way to meet people and talk about my book "The Shenandoah Spy". I've just finished a tour where I did eight Hastings Entertainment stores in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. The customer reactions validated the sales power of our cover and some of the Book Managers thought so much of it they set up special endcap displays of the book before we arrived. I also found out that many people bought the book to give to someone else with a strong interest in the Civil War. I've got a smaller tour this month and a table event with a Civil War Round Table. I'm selling books, but the real purpose is to create "buzz" for the book by getting people to read it. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

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