What motivated you to take on your blog in addition to your very busy jobs as sales reps?
Michael: Talking about the books has always been my favorite part of the job. Several times a year we present titles to reading groups [in bookstores], and often get asked to do many more than our schedules would allow. Ann came up with the podcast as a way to have those conversations online, on a regular basis.
Ann: At one of our evening presentations at bookstores, a consumer approached the store owner and asked if Michael and I could write a monthly column in the store newsletter. Though circumstances prevented it, I didn’t forget the exchange. A year or so later, as part of a new hobby, I saw the incredible power that a well-written and engaging blog or podcast could have in creating excitement about a yarn or pattern. And I finally put two and two together and realized that we create excitement about books and give readers a peek behind the “publishing curtain” by starting our own blog.
Has blogging made you better at selling books to your accounts?
Michael: I think the feedback we’re getting directly from readers has given us a better intuitive sense of what’s being read out there. Yes, I knew The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society was a big, popular book, but the feedback we received from our readers and listeners let me know exactly how much this book touched people.
Ann: It has made me read differently, and think and talk about the books in a different way. In our sales calls with the bookstore buyers, we tend to emphasize comparisons: this book is similar to that book. We talk about the marketing and publicity campaigns. We look at the book jacket. But for the blog and podcast, we speak much more in the language that frontline booksellers use when selling a book to their customer: This is why I love the book; here’s how I felt when I was reading it. We talk about the use of language and the storytelling ability of the author. I think this change has made us more effective in talking to booksellers, and allows them use our information with their customers, even if they haven’t read the book themselves.
Which of your blog posts has been most popular?
Michael: One of our most commented on posts was ironically one I called “95% of You Don’t Need to Read this Post.” It was about baby naming books. I just love that it happened to be useful and perfectly timed for so many people!
Who is your typical reader?
Ann: We recently did a survey of our readers and listeners, and found the following to be quite interesting:
- 88% of our readers and listeners are from the United States
- 28% of our audience works at a publisher, at a bookstore, or at a library
- 26% of our audience has a blog that frequently discusses or reviews books.
- 87% of our audience has read at least 1 book based on our recommendation, and 24% have read 6 or more.
- Just under 50% of our readers/listeners engage with Books on the Nightstand through our GoodReads or Facebook groups, or regularly comment on our blog.
To what extent do the bookstores in your territories tune into your blog, versus readers who have stumbled on the blog but don’t work with you professionally?
Ann: People in our stores read the blog, though I don’t have any hard numbers, and I don’t know if they are subscribers or just occasional readers. We also have bookstore readers who are not in our territory, as well as readers from used or nontraditional bookstores. Overall, though, the bulk of our readers are “civilians”–people who love books and want to hear or talk about them.
Michael: On the blog, I raved about one of Ann’s titles several months before it came out. When she was selling the list to one of our stores, the buyer said he’d definitely take that book “because Michael loved it.” Things like that still surprise me. You represent your publisher’s books to regional bookstores, yet by blogging about Random House books, you’re taking on a role that’s akin to marketing or publicity, since you’re now reaching consumers as well.
Ann: We’ve been speaking directly with consumers through bookstores for the last several years, so those roles have already been shifting. In the publishing industry, there has always been a filter between the publisher and the consumer: bookseller, book reviewer, TV personality. But it turns out that book consumers also like to hear directly from the publisher.
Michael: It’s so hard to know exactly how the reps’s role, and indeed all publishing positions, will change over the next few years, but I think we can all agree that it will. It’s vital to be adaptable and that’s what I think Ann and I are doing. And not only with blog: we’re doing more consumer interaction than before, like reading group nights and holiday gift presentations.
I do want to stress, though, that at Books on the Nightstand, we don’t speak in an official role for the publisher. It is an independent project, and so we truly talk about the books that we are passionate about, or the books that we think our readers and listeners will love, and we don’t care who the publisher is. The reality is that we read mostly Random House books because of time constraints, but we never write or talk about a Random House book just because we want to “market” it. I believe that our readers and listeners would see through that in a minute.
How does Random House regard your efforts? Are they encouraging people to blog, or just tolerating those who do?
Michael: Everyone at Random House has been incredibly supportive of our work. A few of the RH publishers have given us books for giveaways and have been pleased with the attention those giveaways received.
What person in publishing do you most wish would write a blog?
Ann: I can’t limit it to just one. I wish everybody would blog. In our industry, we work with the most interesting people, and I would love to get to know them all better. And I’m not alone. I think there’s a huge opportunity for publishing people to connect with readers. Readers have a fascination with the “glamorous” world of publishing, and I know they would love to hear from publishers, editors, publicists, designers.
What upcoming book are you most excited about?
Michael: From the Random House list: Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. It’s an amazing novel about identity and identity theft and features three separate storylines that come together in very unexpected ways. From “out-of-house:” Stitches by David Small. I got this galley at BEA and read it that weekend. I’m still thinking about this graphic memoir about Small’s childhood. I expect it to end up being one of my favorite books of the year.
Ann: I can’t wait to see what happens with The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, coming from Doubleday on September 15th. Personally, I am over the moon about Lorrie Moore’s new novel, A Gate at the Stairs (Knopf, September). As soon as I finished the novel, I wanted to re-read it — something that I never ever do. Beyond Random House, I’m dying to read Scholastic’s Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, the sequel to The Hunger Games, one of my favorite reads from last year.
We are pleased to report that Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman will make a guest appearance at this week’s #followreader publishing discussion on Thursday, July 30 from 4-5pm EST. To follow to our discussion in real time, go to Twitter Search and type in #followreader. To add your questions to the discussion, tweet them to moderator @charabbott with the #followreader tag. And to contributute comments to the discussion, use the #followreader tag.