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Going Social – Publishing article in Business Week

August 28, 2008

It’s been a hectic week, but I finally got around to reading Sarah Lacy’s article in Business Week about how book publishing needs to evolve and be more Web 2.0.

Initially, I was a bit skeptical.  Having seen first hand her interview of Mark Zuckerberg at SXSW, I’m not exactly a fan of hers.  I read bits of her book and wasn’t blown away either.  But her article has merit.  Some of it is kind of same old same old, in my opinion, but she has a number of points that people in the industry should pay attention to.

1. Make it social – Remember your mom’s “book club”?  Ok, so the only ones I know of these days are excuses to get together with other moms for “ritas and fajitas”, but it emphasizes the fact that reading is a solitary experience that begs to be social.  You read a great book, you want to tell the world about it.  That’s why sites like GoodReads, Shelfari (recently acquired by Amazon.com) and LibaryThing are getting traction.  I love the idea of Facebook apps around your titles, and we’re working on such things now – some groups at Wiley have already launched them. 

2. Take book tours out of the stores – I agree that the focus on “tours” should be less about the conventional “author goes into a store, talks about the book, and then signs mom and dad’s copy and their cousin Hugo’s copy.”  The model of the author event, outside of the true celebrities, doesn’t work.  It died in my category a long time ago, so I’m fortunate in that most authors don’t bring it up in the course of marketing planing for a title.  Work on new models for author tours.  Great advice.  Think social – webinars, partnering with established players like Social Media Club and NY:MEIG, Facebook sites.  Nothing against the corner bookstore, whether chain or indy, but pound for pound, it’s not worth your time doing in store events.  You’re much better off going social online.

3. Create stars—don’t just exploit existing ones – ah, easier said than done.  Every publisher has a mix of titles that they do every year.  Some are from new authors, or on new topics, and these are the ones where they’re taking a chance. However, the bulk of any publisher’s list has to be from sure things and close to sure things.  Of course, we would all love to sign authors who are on their way up, but that’s easier said than done. 

On her other points:

Require as part of the contract that the author blog, speak on panels, attend events. Give them incentives for delivering—say, though Web traffic of the number of followers they amass on Twitter.

Interesting idea, but we’re lucky if we even get an author questionnaire in, much less a manuscript these days.  I don’t see any author agreeing to these kind of incentives.  Authors should want to promote their books, as a part of promoting their own personal brand.  I certainly wouldn’t put this stuff in a contract, but I would be warry of signing anyone who was not interested in doing these things.

4. Go electronic from the get-go – what she’s describing is not necessarily the way we work at Wiley.  Much, if not all, of our development in electronic.  I don’t think our editors would know what to do with a printed manuscript.

5. Make e-commerce even easier – Amen to that.  Increasing the places customers can find out about and buy books is good for everyone.

All in all, worthwhile reading for authors and publishing types.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve permalink
    August 29, 2008 9:01 am

    I know what to do with a printed manuscript. Send it back. Or read the first few pages for the inevitable laughs that will follow. Printed manuscripts are definitely relics preferred by would-be authors who don’t (and probably won’t ever) get what it exactly is that we do.

  2. August 31, 2008 7:32 pm

    Thanks for this article. I agree with most of the points. I wonder what’s an unpublished author to do with those who seems stuck in the past. What if say someone wants snail mail queries? Do you go running? I guess you do or should.

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