Thursday, 24 March 2011

Digital Marketing and Publishing - Pt.2

As promised, I'm going to resume my thoughts on the new kind of marketing strategies which are either developing as we speak, or which are currently applied by various industries, including the publishing one, to their targeted markets.
I will try to answer an obvious question: are all these social media strategies right for the publishing industry?
I'll do my best to bring to you the latest news on apps and what-else could be useful for small publishers. I will also provide some suggestions in the use of the basic tools that are already been used in the marketing field by big and small companies alike: Facebook, twitter and Linkedin.

I'd like to start by talking about Facebook.
Everybody knows what FB is. It doesn't matter if you're living in Africa or in Iceland, you'll be able to find users from all over the world - or wherever they have an internet connection.
Lately there's been a boom of pages dedicated to all kind of things, from make-up products, to animals adoptions.
The publishing industry hasn't missed the chance to join in, and publishers - especially the big ones - are now basically opening a new page for each new title released. 
I'm going to use a couple of examples. I'm a huge Charlaine Harris' fan (True Blood anybody?), and while I was minding my own (ha!) business on twitter, I came across a retweeted msg from a friend of mine. It was something along the line ''RT this message and Like our page to win a free copy of Charlaine Harris' latest book''.
Of course, I followed the link and landed on this FB page
As you can see it's a page dedicated to Gollancz inprint Dark Fantasy, which includes all the titles published under the Twilight-sort-of tag - even though Harris' books are waaaay better than that sparkling saga!!! 
Anyway, 2.5k people are Liking the page and following the updates loaded by the digital marketing team behind all this. They offer 2 free give-away per week, they engage fans, asking their opinion on covers and anything else. I find it to be quite repetitive at times, and they don't seem to reply to many of the comments people post, and that's what I think it should be done.

You're human.
It's important to show the reader that there's a real person behind that page/screen, and not merely a team of bored people. I mean, I appreciate how this kind of job isn't necessarily the most exciting one, but the reason why you start and run these pages and your various social network accounts is to engage with potential readers. Liaise with a potential customer and develop your market. This is something that needs to be kept in mind by big and small publishers alike!
Whereas big publishers already have a reputation and cover a big part of the market, and therefore will have automatically thousands of people interested in their page/blog/account,  it's the small publishers who should focus on updating relevant and interesting content and create a meaningful dialogue with their 'fans'. They need to find them, lure them in and keep them put.
In Gollancz case, for example, there's this kind of detachment from the readers. Sure, there are some interesting, catchy lines such as 'are you thirsty for Thursday?', making a connection to the vampire books they're marketing, but in my opinion that's not enough.
You need to reply to your 'fans' as much as you can, appreciate the fact that they thank you for the book they've won, and so on. They'll feel appreciated, and as all human being, people like to feel appreciated, noticed and involved. I know I would!

Mind Your God**mn Content!
I loved this title...eheheh! :)
But seriously, when taking care of your FB page or  work blog, you need to be careful and think about what you're writing about. You can give your content the direction you prefer, but keep it coherent.
When it comes to publishing-related content, I prefer an approachable and light tone. Books are made to allow us to dream of other worlds. They make us laugh and cry, dream and study. Unless you're selling exclusively serious legislation tomes, than your tone should be fresh and nice. I'm not saying you should address your readers with ''yo! mate'', or greet them like ''c y'all!!!'' - you're not 13! - but you should keep it light and interesting. I know it's not the easiest thing, but hey! you're talking about stories, and there's already so much seriousness and sadness in the world!

Customisation is the salt of life. Nah, I simply hate @ and # in my FB news feed! So if you really have to send the exact same message from all of your accounts, at least have the decency of edit it a tiny little bit, so people won't have to read the same thing, in the same format over and over again. RT are already extremely annoying when half of your followers follow each other!

More formats make people...content! (I know...)
I always wonder if I'm the only one fascinated with pictures. I love going through them on FB and on Twitter. Not only pictures of my friends, but also of strangers. Is the voyeurism of it I think, the excitement of peering into people's lives. The colours are appealing, and honestly people usually post the weirdest stuff. So why not post pictures of your products, of your team, of your office. Let the readers/fans/followers know what's going on behind the page, that's always interesting. Show them some artwork in the making, ask for their opinion - you're actually sell the products to them so you might as well want some feedback!
Upload a book-trailer. I haven't seen many, but they're really not that hard nor expensive to make.
Upload an audio interview with on of your authors; organise a Q&A and ask the author to answer   to the readers' questions. Give sneak-peeks, build anticipation.

Speaking of pictures, I came about this new app called Color, which allows you to build a network with people who are physically close to you, whenever you update a picture from your phone. All the pics are public and visible to anybody within 100 feet. I don't know how this could be useful for publishing, but if you see a book you're interested in and take a pic of it, it will be then shared by anybody in your area who uses the app. If the content is interesting then it will appeal to more and more people. Word of mouth is always great, isn't it?

It's not (exclusively) about sales!
I can never stress it enough. If you're looking into sky-rocketing your sales thanks to your FB or Twitter account, then you don't have a clue! Sure, every visitor in your blog/page/website, or every new follower is a potential customer, but what they're really looking for is not an easy sale. People know better, and go after free stuff. True story. It's a little bit like throwing a giant net in the sea and wait. You'll eventually catch some fish, but you'll have to make sure you keep them in the net.

OK, I think that's all from me today. I'm so busy in preparation of the London Book Fair, and I'm really sorry I managed to update the blog this late in the week!
More from me on publishing and digital marketing in a few days! ;)

Friday, 18 March 2011

A Book By Its Cover

This week I'd like to start by taking a look at one of the most prestigious UK prizes for the best book cover: the V&A Book Cover Illustration Award.
Some of the entries for this prize are simply stunning and proper works of art! This made me wonder, because I'm not quite sure how the artistic part works in publishing. I'm pretty sure designers don't read every book they've been asked to design a cover for. Do they get a general idea, or they just go with what the title tell them?
A few covers bring to the surface the content of the book. I call them 'literal' because I like to translate Italian expressions whenever I don't know the right word in English, so please forgive me. If I could say it in English, it would be something on the line of 'it does what it says on the tin', the 'tin' being the book jacket! ;)
Although, then, it really depends on the country which publishes the book, and it's funny to see how the American and Canadian covers for this book are so dissimilar from the European ones!
This makes me wonder: are Europeans intrinsically shallow, and base their reading decisions exclusively on the appearance of the book, while Americans merely look at the size of the tome and the amount of pages they get for a buck?
All 4 covers have this strange sense of panic and inquietude. A lot of trees, and in 3 out of 4, there's also the reference to a female character. I personally was attracted by the second cover... again it must have been that turquoise which I looove! But I also would have liked the 1st one. I wouldn't have recognised Highgate cemetery, which is an amazing place - go and take the tour there, save the cemetery! - but the picture gives away something about the plot of the book.
The third option is simple and nice enough, but it doesn't give away much in terms of content. It would definitely inspire me as some kind of Goth story. Or...Neil Gaiman...Coraline anyone?
I don't care much for the 4th option. It's pretty generic, and reminds me of other book covers. The first title that I would instantly connect to cover number 4 would probably be The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides - a very nice book -, or Alice Munro's Runaway - a collection of stories which on the other hand I totally HATE.
Can you see what I mean? Cover number 4, in my opinion, is just bland, and could apply to any kind of generic fiction involving a female character.
I think the first two covers are instead very detailed and unusual. Two identical twins, dressed up entirely in white, in a weird place - in the first cover - or in a romantic setting - second cover -, but the colours are not right, there's not enough softness in the focus to make it look like a title out of an Harlequin series. 
That's what I thought as soon as my eyes caught a glimpse of the cover.
It might sound like a long, boring assessment, but it realistically happened in a couple of seconds. That's really all you need in order to be attracted or repulsed by a cover. 
I appreciate that graphics must be going crazy in the attempt to create a proper artistic cover, so I really want to know if they at least get a brief of the story. I wonder if the author has a saying in all that.

There are then some styles that have become incredibly common, and every time I enter a bookshop, it seems like the same book is being sold over and over again.
One interesting artwork that I've seen copied a million times by others, and of which books I don't remember the titles - I promise I'll look into it properly! -, is Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer.
The mind behind the cover is Gray318, and you can see some of his other works here. He must be an aficionado, because he's created all the UK covers for Foer! And you definitely can see that the author is the same. 
Is this just a matter of consistency when it comes to a certain publisher, edition and author, even if this in not a series? I find it understandable to use the same style when it comes to a specific series, written by one author, or even, say, the classics. But should it be the same with contemporary titles, which are not plot-related to each other?

I'll explore all this, next week ;)

Have a lovely week end and happy belated Paddy's day!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Digital Marketing and Publishing - pt.1

I love reading about new ways to catch people attention on the web, and divert it towards your products. 
That's basically what marketing is all about: making your product stand out among the billions of other similar products.
Strictly talking about books, if you think this is hard in a good, old-style bookshop, then imagine how hard that's going to be on the web! Millions of people are purposely or randomly scanning the web, looking for or casually stumbling over billions of different titles.
How do you make your book stand out? How do you target your audience?
Social Media Marketing seems to have been the latest trend, targeting groups of people on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, but in these specific cases marketing has adopted a new approach from the strictly product-selling policy. 
Social networks are not supposed to sell, they're meant to connect. It's the direct connection between publisher and reader that has revolutionised marketing and its strategies in the last 2 years. To my eyes, this is like the old witch using sweets to attract to her house poor Hansel and Gretel. 
Thousands of FB group pages are created every day by digital marketing people at big and small publishing houses. New jobs have been created for people to specifically update the publishers' social networks pages, all-day-long.
The main aim is to lure people on the page/website, get them interested and hooked up with free give-aways and competitions, in exchange of a connection to the person's personal account, tweet and email address - to which targeted newsletters will be sent until further notice from the person, who could really not be bothered to subsequently unsubscribe from it.
How terribly effective is all this?
As a marketing person I find all this very exciting, especially because I entered the publishing field just as these new techniques were starting to appear. I had the chance to apply some of these at the small publishing house I was doing work experience for, and they seem to work.
I must admit, this is a work of love. 
You really need to make time to interact with your audience, and not all small publishers can afford to pay a person to do this full time. But here are my suggestions for small publishers:

  • Save aside half an hour a day to update your pages, blogs, and twitter with the latest news from the authors, new titles and releases, interviews and so on.
  • The give-away trick is very efficient if played right. 
  • Send out advance copies to bloggers, especially to those who have a blog that specifically deal with topics in your books.
  • Look out for people to review your books on Amazon, and reward them. Some people would die for signed copies of books, even if they don't really know the authors. (I'm one of them).
  • Think outside the box! I'm amazed at how so many small publishers are still so stuck up in the past and don't recognise the potential of social media marketing! It's not as hard as you think it might be!
  • Put some work into your newsletters. Make them look slick and professional, but also interesting. Invest some time to play around with Publisher (yes, a lot of people still use that!!), it'll pay in the long run!
  • Be consistent. Don't expect great results after a month or two. Social media marketing is all about building connections and maintain them in time.
Nobody knows how and if this whole social media marketing campaign will be efficient in the next few years, why, with all these new technologies and websites coming out every month, it's almost impossible to predict how long things will be the same! But this is exactly why publishers, big and small, should be aware of what's going on around them, exploring and trying new alternatives.
Especially at the early stages of every new internet phenomenon, it's very easy to dive into new marketing opportunities often without even spending a penny!
So keep your eyes open; look out for new ways to target your market and audience and go for it. Visit websites such as Mashable, and Future Book and see what's going on.

Tomorrow  Next week I'll write about some new trends in digital marketing, especially for small business, so stay tuned! :)

Monday, 14 March 2011

How to Read and Handle a Book

Sunday was a relative slow, relaxing day.
I spent most of the morning reading the big tome on my bedside table, Beyond Black, by talented Hilary Mantel. 
Synopsis and review HERE

A quite entertaining book, which I'm reading extremely slowly, savouring every word and page...why, between proofreading and various evening events, I'm always so busy! 
I also took the chance to dive into my new Lonely Planet guide to Greece, since the man and I have decided to spend 12 wonderful days in Santorini, in August. Since I'm definitely not your conventional tourist, I need to know well in advance where and when I want to go once I'm there.
Don't expect me to lay on the beach all day long. I won't. I need to run around, exploring, visiting museums, and tasting local food...and, ahem, wine.

Anyway, all this long introduction to write about something that really fascinates me: how people read and handle books.
Sometimes I think I have a very peculiar way to read and treat my books. I use them, mistreat them, rape them. Whenever I start a book, especially if it's brand new and, you know, rigid, I tend to open it up to the maximum, so much so that the spine creases in a million tiny wrinkles. Hard back, paperback, doesn't matter, I'm going to f*ck it up for good. That's why nobody borrows my books, ever.
I want to be able to spread each and every page. I hate words that disappear near the binding.
So after the first minute into the handling, my book is impossibly ruined. I tend to do the same with second-hand books. I cannot believe the state of some of these volumes! It almost scares me that some people handle their books with gloves, making sure they look like new. Brrr.
Another of my guilty pleasures when it comes to books, is the folding of the upper part of the page to keep track of my reading, or stuff that I'm interested into, like quotes and interesting locations. At the end of each reading session there are so many folded pages that I wouldn't have a clue about what's going on, where I am and why I made that mess. Dog-ears different in size, everywhere in the page. On the side, at the top and at the bottom. Just to make sure I remember what I wanted to. It never works, but I'm proud of actually using my books! They shouldn't be treated like the good tea set you're afraid of breaking and therefore never use.

I found this lovely poem by an unknown author, it's called The Folded Page and it goes like this:

"Up in an old attic,
as the raindrops patter down,
I sat paging through an old schoolbook --
Dusty, tattered, and brown.
"I came to a page that was folded down.
And across it was written in a childish hand:
"The teacher says to leave this for now,
'Tis hard to understand."
I unfolded the page and read.
Then I nodded my head and said,
'The teacher was right; now I understand.'
'There are lots of pages in the book of life
That are hard to understand.
All we can do is fold them down and write:
"There are lots of pages in the book of life
that are hard to understand.
All we can do is fold them down and write:
'The teacher says to leave this for now,
'Tis hard to understand."
"Then someday -- maybe only in heaven --
We will unfold the pages again,
Read them, and say,
"The teacher was right; now I understand.'"
When it comes to the death of a loved one --
Though complicated and less than perfect,
About all we can do is fold down the page and write,
"The teacher says to leave this for now,
'Tis hard to understand."

This could easily open a debate about digital products and their likeness to take over the publishing world. I won't go on and say that digital is the devil and we should all call an exorcist and stick to the holy printed page, especially because I'm a gadget freak. But there are some things that a digital product doesn't allow you to do. You can't fold a kindle, you can spread it wide open and smell it - although some people came out with this hilarious scents for your Kindle!
You can't stain its pages with the food you're eating, and when you go back remember how good that chocolate cake went with that specific chapter! 
I think that books still are the best and most enhanced publishing products, just because the reader fills them up with their memories, scents, stains, references. There's nothing more personal than that! 

Finally, I'm going to reveal my worst habit, ever. I tend to abandon books, indiscriminately, at 5 pages or so from the end. Usually the plot ends in the final chapter, and more likely in the first few pages of it. I have no interest for epilogues. The same thing applies to films I'm watching and songs I'm listening. I think that at that point I know what I need to know in order to find closure, and I also suspect that most authors are so tired of working on their book that they just write down whatever they feel like without revising it. I know I would. And I also noticed that very often the ending is disappointing and nowhere near the interesting style experienced throughout the book. 

But that's just me. I'm crazy.

Friday, 11 March 2011

A Book By Its Cover

I've decided to feature every Friday a cover that I particularly like. I'll also try my best to explain why so. I got the idea from this amazing website The Book Cover Archive. Isn't it amazing?
There's something about covers. They drawn the eye, while you're browsing in a bookshop. They can tell you everything or nothing about the story inside - it really depends on the ego of the designer -, and sometimes they visually force you to approach the book.
At least that's what happens to me, all the time. I love browsing bookshops, especially the little, second-hands one near Bloomsbury. They're a magical place I want to get lost in, and very dangerous when it comes to my finances. I could spend hours, zig-zaging among the piles and tables of books in these tiny, crowded, dusty shops. At the end I will always come out with bags full of volumes written by authors I never even ever heard of!
First the cover catches my attention; the colours, the typefonts, the images... Then it's the synopsis usually at the back that seals the deal. 
What I really, really hate is when the jacket is covered up in quotes and praises for the author, without leaving any space at all for the content of the book!
So, yes, I tend to judge the book by its cover , at first, but then I obviously need to have a general idea of the storyline. I'm kind of fussy when it comes to what I read, and I avoid some topics like hell. Unless I know and like the author.

This week winner, and first of the Friday A Book By Its Cover series is Time's Legacy by Barbara Erskine.

I haven't read the story, yet, but it sounds pretty fascinating. You can read the synopsis HERE.
Here are what I think are the strong points of this jacket:
  • The colours are beautiful. The combination of that turquoise, green, white and black gives a very exotic feel to it. This is also given by the amazing bird and flowers/leaves on the upper and lower corners.
  • The black, smudged frame makes it almost look like we're spying the scene from a space in a garden wooden fence. It's like looking inside a secret garden, with all its beautiful creatures and vegetation.
  • The perfect typeface for the title. It's like written with an old stylo - I absolutely love them! - it gives it that old, magic effect.
  • The author's name is nicely centred and the dimension is just right, even though I tend to prefer a bigger title, than a bigger author's name! I also like that yellowish colour; it just blends in perfectly with the rest of the artwork.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Royal Wedding

At present my agency represents 12 publishers. Out of these, 5 of them are publishing something about the Royal Wedding, or re-printing something revamped with a Royal wedding feel to it. It's hilarious.
What's even more hilarious is what I found today on the Penguin website though:

© 1995 - 2011 Penguin Books Ltd

Isn't this a little too much? Why, with all the cutlery, tea sets and underpants, you'd think that publishing would actually create reasonable products for this occasion! But this? 
As a marketing person I see the point of milking the cow as much as possible, but at the same time, I don't know how many copies this title could actually sell. It's funny and all, but would I honestly spend my money on it? I doubt it. Would I buy it for somebody else? Hardly. So, who's this book/product market for?
Isn't one of the main marketing rules to examine the market and look for products which will actually found their specific niche? What's the niche of this product?
Another really fun book on the topic is this:

Yes. The Royal comic book. 

I can see the point of this. This is a collectable item from a very famous publishing house, Blue Water Comics, which creates these comics based on famous artists and series. They've covered artists such as Beyonce, and Lady Gaga, and TV series like Glee. So why not? If you're a collector, or you're into comic books, then this is your cup of tea!
I wonder if the collectibility of this one-off occasion products is what makes the Dress-up Dolly Book marketable.
Forbidden Planet in London went for it as well, with a Royal Wedding -themed party focusing around the release of yet another graphic novel:

I think William's hair looks shopped. I mean he's half bold anyway!

Forbidden Planet will also be selling two one-off commemorative copies of William Windsor: A Very Public Prince and Kate Middleton: A Very Private Princess

I'm baffled.

Why this blog?

I've decided to start a blog about books.
I know, there surely are at least a thousand out there, lost in the web, ignored, praised; but hey! I just felt like sharing with others what I find interesting about books, their markets, their popularity and look, and why not, their evolution.
I hope you enjoy what I have to say, and that you'll engage with me in interesting discussions.
I'm not a writer, but I have loads of -strong- opinions, therefore I need to communicate!

Enjoy! :)