Posts Tagged ‘indie publishers’

On today’s #FollowReader Twittersation, we’ll be joined by Heather McCormack (@HMcCormack), Book Review Editor of Library Journal. Heather’s article (“Patrons Are Consumers, and Consumers Are Patrons; or, How Publishers Can Learn To Stop Worrying and Love Libraries Again”) on the Tools of Change blog has become a jumping off point for a larger discussion about how publishers and libraries can work together and create a win/win for everyone — including readers!

Among questions we will address:

  • Do libraries provide marketing opportunities for publishers, or are they siphoning away potential book buyers?
  • Should ebooks be treated differently than paper books when it comes to library lending?
  • Is it a good idea for U.S. libraries to go to a system such as that in the U.K., where micro-royalties are paid to publishers for each lent title?
  • Would the “Brigadoon Library,” (required reading! click on that link and go read Tim’s article – it’s chock full of interesting ideas and good information on the library/publisher relationship) as proposed by Tim Spalding (@librarythingTim) of Library Thing. Also go and read this handy list that Tim compiled.

I encourage everyone: readers, publishers, librarians, those who have an interest in the industry, to join in the conversation tomorrow. Should be interesting.

To join the #followreader conversation, here’s what to do:

  1. Just before 4pm ET today,  log in to Twitter or whatever interface you prefer. (We recommend Tweetchat, which refreshes quickly and automatically loads your hashtag when you are in the discussion.)
  2. To follow the discussion, run a search for #followreader
  3. I’ll start by asking a few questions, before opening up the discussion to the group.
  4. To post a comment to the discussion, make sure that the hashtag #followreader is in each tweet you write.

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When it comes to building online communities around books, authors and publishing imprints, what are the top social media platforms and analytical tools? To what extent can the results of these online efforts be tied to increased book sales? And which independent publishers are ahead of the game, and what obstacles do they face?

These are some of the questions we explore in the second part of my conversation about building online communities with social media consultant Jesse McDougall, which picks up where we left off in Tuesday’s interview

Q&A with Jesse McDougall

What are the top two or three technologies have you found most valuable in engaging audiences online?

Twitter for daily conversation. A blog as a conduit for book, author, and community content. Blip.tv for serving up high-resolution video with no size or time restrictions.

For tracking your success and progress, ChartBeat, HootSuite, and Google Analytics are essential.

What concrete results have you achieved so far?

In the first year after Chelsea Green implemented the new social strategy, the company roughly doubled their web traffic. Eighteen months after launch, traffic regularly spiked to 150% over the starting point. In that time, Chelsea Green added several thousand people to the e-newsletter mailing list, grew to become the second-most-followed book publisher on Twitter, and established weekly content delivery relationships with top blogs in the niche (Huffington Post, PlanetGreen, Alternet, etc.). Also. many of Chelsea Green’s authors were invited to become regular contributors on many of these same blogs—increasing the exposure to new and major audiences.

To what extent can you tie your results to increased book sales?

At the present time, the effect social media promotions on book sales can be difficult to track. The only time a publisher can directly track sales from online promotion is if a person learns of a book “out in the digital wild” and then follows the accompanying link back to the publisher’s online bookstore where he or she purchases the book. If the person decides instead to purchase the book from their favorite local bookseller, or from a different online retailer, that sale is difficult (or impossible) to track directly back to online promotional efforts.

The best a publisher can do—if they would like to prove that their social media strategy improves sales—is to boost their own site traffic through social media outreach, and then focus on boosting their own site’s sales conversion rate to do a better job of converting the new traffic to sales.

Which publishers do you see as most effectively marketing their books this way?

Chelsea Green, obviously, is still doing a great job. O’Reilly is another great example. Greywolf Press in Minneapolis is doing a great job on Twitter. The keys to being effective are consistency, personality, and community involvement. These are not one-way media channels, they require that participants speak AND listen. The presses above do a great job of that.

What are the biggest obstacles for independent presses in building and maintaining these online audiences?

Time and staff. Some of these campaigns require significant upkeep. It can be difficult to find the time and people to maintain a consistent presence on any of these social media platforms. The key is to do something every (week) day—whether you can afford five people for five hours, or one person for ten minutes. People who reach out and contact you in any fashion on Twitter or Facebook or your blog will need a response, or they’ll disappear.

Do you see any downside to giving away books or content online?

Books should be owned and content should be free. Content is stolen when publishers make it easier to steal than to buy. By locking up digital content with DRM or asking readers to sign unholy licenses or making content exclusive to one vendor, publishers are making it more attractive to snub the law and steal (and distribute) the digital content than to buy it. Publishers should offer digital books and chapters for sale for a slightly reduced price straight from their web sites in an open-source (or universal) format. Currently, a DRM-free PDF gets my vote, but I see room for something better.

What technological tools or developments are you most looking forward to in the coming year?

I’m looking forward to the development of mobile media. I think that high-quality digital content delivery through mobile devices with screens big enough for reading long-format books will revolutionize book reading and book content. Paper books will continue to have their place and incredible value. Lifelong readers recognize that and will continue to buy paper books for their unique virtues. Electronic devices will never be as good as paper books for quiet, powerless, peaceful reading.

However, once high-quality digital mobile content delivery is done well, book content can grow beyond paper and e-ink devices. Books will slowly evolve to look more like web pages, with links, supplemental videos, audio clips, and the book publisher’s intended formatting and design. Of course, plain text should still be an option for readers who don’t want to be bothered with the flash and bother of videos, etc., but the option for all the bells and whistles we’re already used to on the web should be available as well. The ability to include such ancillary content will provide publishers with an entirely new product that offers more than the bound book can or should. This new product could be a powerful new revenue stream.

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Good question about formats @bradmacl Epub and PDF (DRM-free of course) are the ones we know. Still working out the rest. #followreaderPosted by angelajames

Last Friday we had a lovely TwitChat with Angela James, editorial director of Harlequin’s new digital press, Carina. You can read through the full transcript by clicking here (archived TwitChat).

Angela shared some basic info about Carina Press including:

  • They will be digital first, no advance, higher than usual royalty
  • They are interested in publishing a number of romance subgenres including: historical, paranormal, and fantasy/sci-fi
  • Distribution will be both direct from Carina site & through 3rd party sites
  • They are aiming for an early summer 2010 launch of titles
  • Titles will be DRM-free

Some highlights from the chat:

RT @angelajames: Lit agents can (&do) have a role in @CarinaPress We’ve had agented subs already & they are enthusiastic. Posted by GalleyCat

any plans to work with bookstores (specifically indies) to promote and distribute? Posted by AaronsBooks

That’s a great ? @AaronsBooks we wld love to innovate something with bookstores for digital & work with booksellers.Posted by angelajames

What about the tech end? Will @CarinaPress Books be available on a variety of ereader platforms? Posted by bradmacl

Good question about formats @bradmacl Epub and PDF (DRM-free of course) are the ones we know. Still working out the rest. Posted by angelajames

@angelajames I’m excited to hear you’ll include back copy copy in ebooks – any other features you’ll be adding? Posted by CheekyReads

We’re still in early days of planning formatting, so no definitive plans yet @CheekyReads Posted by angelajames

I hope that people stop using the term “real books” in regards to print  & realize that digital is just as “real”! Posted by angelajames

I would also like to see the fear of digital go away in the publishing industry (along with current DRM on most platforms) Posted by angelajames

I’ll continue to answer questions on Twitter or our blog www.carinapress.com if there are more that come up! Posted by angelajames


Just a reminder: Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, there will not be any #FollowReader this week. But, we’ll be back in full force on Friday, December 4th.

~ Kat



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Robert Rosenwald of Poisoned Pen Press

Robert Rosenwald of Poisoned Pen Press

Here at Follow the Reader, we’re always excited about events and tools that bring authors, publishers, readers, and other bookish types together to talk books. So, when a month or so ago, I stumbled across the website for Poisoned Pen’s Web Con, I was muy intrigued.

Taking place this Saturday, October 24, 2009  PPWebCon is described as the world’s first major virtual mystery and crime convention bringing authors and readers together online from all over the world. Pretty cool, eh? And, if anyone can deliver the goods on such a cool premise, it’s the folks at Poisoned Pen.

I sent a few questions to Robert Rosenwald, who kindly (and promptly) returned some answers. So, for those who want to know more about what is likely the coolest (and premiere) virtual event for mystery lovers EVER, please read on!

KM:  Where’d the idea for WebCon come from?

RR: It came from several places at once:

  • It’s something that had been riding around in the back of my head for a while.
  • One of our authors, Mary Reed, suggested that Poisoned Pen Press authors might want to have an online conference.
  • Janice Hally, the con’s web mistress, goaded us on.
  • Several PPP authors jumped on the bandwagon.

KM: Who is the target audience, or attendee, for WebCon?

RR: Mystery readers and writers, and people who’d like to be mystery writers.

KM: What authors will be presenting at WebCon? What has their reaction been to the idea of a virtual conference?

RR: Too many to name. Our Guest of Honor is Dana Stabenow, International Guest of Honor is Lee Child. Laurie R. King will be interviewing Lee Child and Kate Miciak, Editorial Director of Bantam Dell at Random House Publishing Group (and another Guest of Honor). The reaction has been very positive. Many are a little bewildered and confused by what technology they need to master but people are really looking forward to it.

KM:  What’s the feedback so far from prospective attendees?

RR: Very strong. Some have expressed amazement at the concept.

KM: Authors will have a chance to pitch to editors – how will this work in a virtual setting, and what editors will be present? Any agents?

RR: We’ll have four Poisoned Pen Press editors available including our senior editor, Barbara G. Peters. Each will handle five pitches. Writers will submit a synopsis and the first 30 pages of a manuscript electronically to the editor assigned to them (assignment shall be done by random draw). The editor will spend about ten minutes talking with the writer about their reactions to what was submitted and issues with the written materials they’ve looked at. This will be done one on one using Skype.

KM: How is the tech end for the event being handled? Will there be video/tech people involved in more than one location?

RR: There will be relatively little live video though there will be some. There are several YouTube videos that have been created for the Webcon and I really don’t know what all else. There will be a fair amount of live audio through BlogTalkRadio.com which basically lets one stream to the web a conference call. We’ll be doing a live video from the bookstore at 9:00 am (our time – PST) in which Libby Fisher Hellmann will be moderating a panel of authors, Betty Webb, Frederick Ramsay, and Donis Casey on Building Suspense. We have a handout that will be available for download as well.

KM: Will there be an offline component to the conference?

RR: Everything will be online. There will be components that are not real time but will have been prerecorded or previously created.

KM:  Since it’s virtual, do you expect the conference to continue in a virtual setting after the conference date?

RR: We’re planning on leaving up the website at least for the next year to be available to anyone who is interested in going back through one or more of the presentations or panels. The audio and video will also be archived.

KM:  I love the idea that you’re offering a $20 book voucher for the PP bookstore with registration. What are some of the other goodies that conference goers can expect?

RR: There are some short stories, there are some audio and video clips, book trailers, recipes, a variety of things in the goody bag. I really don’t know all that has been collected.

So, if you are a mystery fan, author looking to chat with publishers and other professionals in the genre, or – like me — just really intrigued at the idea of an online/virtual bookish conference, head over to the PPWebCon site and check it out. There is no limit to the number of attendees, and 100% of profits from your $25 registration fee will be donated to public libraries.

~ Kat 🙂

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ECW's Simon Ware

ECW's Simon Ware

At Follow the Reader we love hearing about publishers who love connecting with readers. One such publisher is Toronto’s ECW Press. Their innovative (and adorably named) Shelf Monkey program allows for direct (and very personal) interaction with, and feedback from their readers.

What novel thinking from a publisher! Recently, ECW’s publicity director,  the charming Simon Ware, answered a few questions about Shelf Monkey and what it offers to both readers and to ECW.

KM: Describe ECW’s Shelf Monkey program:

SW: Shelf Monkey is an advance review program for people who wish to review new ECW titles. Signing up takes a couple minutes via an online submission form found on our homepage.

When we’ve got new books on offer in the categories that Shelf Monkeys like, we email them to see if they are interested in any of the titles that are currently available; the choices are entered in a random draw by Jennifer Knoch (Shelf Monkey’s top banana) who then sends a galley or advance review copy to the selected Shelf Monkeys.

KM: Where’d you come up with the idea for Shelf Monkey?

SW: In a digital age book publicity is still about old fashioned word-of-mouth. Our aim is to invite people who love to read and write about books to read and write about our books. We can’t claim it’s a unique idea (various publishers have built review communities for marketing purposes) but we do handle it on a personal level. The process isn’t automated – we answer emails, pack galleys, and send them all from our office here in Toronto.

The program name comes from the title of a satirical novel called Shelf Monkey, by Corey Redekop (ECW 2008). The novel is about a secret society of book lovers who strike back against what they consider homogenization of books; they refer to themselves as Shelf Monkeys. To go meta-Shelf Monkey, there’s even a review of Shelf Monkey left by a Shelf Monkey on our website.


KM: How many Shelf Monkeys do you currently have in the program?

SW: We launched Shelf Monkey earlier this year at Book Expo America and membership has been steadily increasing. So far, we have a smallish troop. Given the current rate of growth we can maintain the personal nature of the community, something that’s really important to us.

KM: Who are your Shelf Monkeys? (bloggers, professional reviewers, etc.?)

SW: Membership ranges from professional media to dedicated book bloggers to first time reviewers who post a comment on our site. It’s open to North American residents over the age of 16.

KM: Is it difficult to keep track of all the shelf monkeys and their reviews?

SW: Not difficult – it can be time-consuming. However, we request notification of any review or mention posted externally (Facebook, LibraryThing, GoodReads, Amazon, etc).  And we only send out one book at a time per reviewer. Before sending a second title to a Shelf Monkey we’d need to see they’ve reviewed the previous one.

KM: Do you send out physical arcs, or do you encourage people to use the digital arc system via Net Galley?

SW: We’ve offered both. Most Shelf Monkeys seem to want a copy of the book in the mail as compensation for their time. But as e-readers gain popularity we’ll see more digital galley requests. NetGalley users who’ve downloaded an ECW book have received an invitation to become Shelf Monkeys. Being familiar with the digital galley format already, they are more likely to download and review from a pdf.

KM: What looks exciting on the fall 2009 ECW list?

SW: How long do you have?! What’s exciting for me personally is the variety of new titles landing on my desk right now. Highlights include Grinder, the second book in a wicked noir fiction series by Mike Knowles (move over Richard Stark!), Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review this month; Spotted, by Crissy Calhoun is a must-have accessory for fans of the stylish show Gossip Girl; unofficial TV companion guide books for shows Lost and Mad Men are finding their audiences of die-hard fans. And speaking of die-hard fans, two new wrestling titles are due to hit shelves this fall: Chris & Nancy: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide, by Irv Muchnick, and Drawing Heat the Hard Way, by Larry Matysik, reveal shocking and compelling stories from inside and outside the squared circle.

Simon Ware is publicity director at Toronto-based ECW Press. Recognized by Publishers Weekly as one of the most diversified independent publishers in North America, ECW Press is a publisher of fiction and non-fiction. Nearly a thousand titles have been published by ECW Press and distributed throughout the English-speaking world and translated into dozens of languages. Every year ECW Press releases about fifty new titles and continues to support and promote a backlist that includes poetry and fiction, pop-culture, sports books, biography, and travel guides.

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Rich Rennicks: Father, bookseller, gardener, writer, jack-of-many-trades

Rich Rennicks

Oh dear, lately we seem to have gotten a bit lax here at Follow the Reader. But, today we are making up for our recent lack of quantity, with a whole lotta quality in the form of a lovely chat with the Word Hoarder‘s own, Mr. Rich Rennicks.

Rich is a self-described “father, bookseller, gardener, writer, and jack-of-many-trades,” who works as bookstore liaison for Unbridled Books, and part-times it as a book seller for Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, NC.  As you will find out, Rich also enjoys the pleasure of a good book.

If you needed another reason to be fond of him, Rich is a huge advocate of book sellers using social media to engage with their customers, and has a fantastic post all about it over at Word Hoarder. Go check it out after you read our equally fantastic interview with him.

Kat Meyer: Through extensive research (I clicked on the “About” section at your blog), I discovered you are not native to North Carolina, but hail from Ireland with some time spent in the UK. You mention on your blog that your  library reflects your travels. Can you elaborate? Are there any titles that stand out as touchstones for particular times and locations of your life?

Rich Rennicks:

There are several books that impacted on me for one basic reason: their authors lived (or had lived) nearby, and that brought the world of arts and letters close enough to home that I began to think I might have a part in it some day.  Brendan Behan’s memoir Borstal Boy, J.P. Donleavy’s hilarious The Ginger Man, and Francis Ledwidge’s poetry, were particularly impressive and remain so..

I read Pynchon, Rushdie and Eco for the first time while I lived in the UK. Any of their books could change a person’s life.

I read Silas House’s marvelous Clay’s Quilt on a trip to NC while I lived in Michigan. That book, with its warm and nuanced understanding of Appalachian culture, had a great deal to do with my family deciding to relocate back south after years up north. Also, Look Homeward Angel is one of my favorite books of all time — and one of the few to reduce me the tears – so, Asheville carries a certain aura and romance for me because of Thomas Wolfe.

I almost began grad work in Indian and post-colonial literature after falling under the spell of Rushdie, Roy, Mukherjee and others. My wife and I traveled throughout India in 1998, and I brought home a ton of Indian novels and some literary nonfiction. Upamanyu Chatterjee’s hilarious English, August is one of those special books for me. I’ve discovered an informal fraternity of travelers who have spent serious time on the subcontinent and have often read that book. It captures the distaste the urban, educated Indian often feels for the raw, superstitious life of rural India, which often mirrors the first impressions and feelings westerners have of the country. It’s a book I’ve bonded with a few people over, and one that is something of an antidote to the glossy, sprawling family sagas that were being published as fast as possible for a few years. English, August is no more comprehensive or representative of India’s myriad communities than those sagas, but is one of the few books I’ve found that takes a brutally and humorously honest look at what’s often romanticized.

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Chasing down the gossip that a consortium of big publishers are brewing a new strategy for distributing Sony Readers to book reviewers brings to mind that REO Speedwagon song:

Heard it from a friend who/ Heard it from a friend who/ Heard it from another you’ve been messin’ around.

Everyone I called admitted to thinking about getting other publishers to do the nasty, but no one wanted to be publicly identified or quoted on the record.

Of course, this is an idea that has made the rounds repeatedly in various forms over the last few years.  But now the moment just might be right – since e-readers have become almost as indispensible as Blackberries to sales reps and executives at Hachette, Random House, Simon & Schuster and other publishers, and the Kindle has become such a hot consumer commodity.

Some Quick Caveats

Before we go any further, bear in mind that no one is proposing that print galleys will immediately become archaic or that the Sony Reader is the only e-reader option. The main idea is to get e-readers into the hands of key reviewers, as an incentive to become more familiar with the advantages and (let’s be honest) the disadvantages of e-readers and e-galleys, given that they will almost certainly co-exist with print galleys for many years to come. I’m assuming here that most publishers will opt for the Sony Reader, since it doesn’t carry the charged political symbolism of the Amazon Kindle for them.

Why distributing Sony Readers to book reviewers is a good idea from the reviewer perspective:

  • Instant Access: no more days spent waiting for a print galley to arrive while a deadline looms
  • Portability: e-galleys are easier to work with on the go
  • Reduced processing costs: e-galleys are easily opened, stored, forwarded, read and archived or deleted than print galleys, which have to be shucked of their mailers, sorted and stored, mailed to other reviewers in some cases, and eventually boxed up for recycling, donation or destruction
  • Waste reduction: though designed for temporary use, print galleys are still made of trees, and shipping them around only increases their carbon footprint. Anyone who works with galleys shares in the responsibility for this.

 Why it’s a good idea from the publisher perspective:

  • Cost reduction: each galley costs $ 12 – $20 to distribute (e.g. $6- $10 to produce and $6- $10 to ship)
  • Waste reduction: see above
  • Focus on e-reading can’t hurt the e-book market
  • Proof positive that publishers are technologically forward-looking and solution-oriented

How can we prevent this from becoming a good idea that a consortium of publishers will never agree on?

Let’s take a look at the issues around distributing e-readers from the publisher standpoint, in the interest of overcoming them:

  • Are e-readers worth supporting? The jury of publishers is still out on this basic question, which includes whether electronic readers encourage more reading as print outlets diminish, and its corollary: do e-readers diminish the attention given to printed books?
  • How to maximize cost efficiency? What’s the best way to allocate minimal dollars to a maximum number of reviewers?
  • How to determine a reviewer list? Different houses favor different reviewers, after all.
  • How to navigate hierarchies of reviewers? Is it better to target the assigning editors at a publication or the freelancers who write for them? Is reaching out to some reviewers over others going to create ill will?
  • What about indie publishers? Will indie publishers in the consortium be able to attract enough respect and attention from the designated reviewers to make it worth the expense?
  • What about booksellers? Will reaching out to reviewers create resentment in other quarters – e.g. will booksellers demand their own initiatives?
  • What about platform and security issues? How to cope with the limitations of the Sony Reader or any other e-reader?

Has anyone formally asked the reviewers how they feel about all of this?

Rather than speculate about what reviewers are thinking , I’m going to stop here and open this discussion to comments from them, with the aim to get back to you, dear readers, with a synthesis of the responses within the next week or so, so we can keep this discussion going.

Questions for reviewers to consider as you respond:

  • Is it an unacceptable influence on the review process if publishers underwrite the cost of such a valuable professional tool?
  • Would it help if e-readers were loaned to reviewers, rather than granted outright?

And for those who can’t wait until the deliberations end

Here are a couple of contests you can enter to win a Sony Reader:

  • Until May 30, 2009 – Purchase key fiction titles from White Rose Publishing and enter to win. Details: http://ow.ly/2Wnn
  • Until June 9, 2009 – Purchase key romance titles from Wild Rose Press and enter to win. Details: http://ow.ly/2Wk3

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