How Google and Facebook Are Monopolizing Ideas

5 July 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

In early May Google banned bail-bond companies from advertising on its platforms. Such companies profit from “communities of color and low income neighborhoods when they are at their most vulnerable,” it explained in a blog post. They use “opaque financing offers that can keep people in debt for months or years.”

That Google can ban ads from an industry that offends its values is not, by itself, noteworthy. Media companies have long decided what content or ads to carry for the same reason. The difference is that even after decades of consolidation, no media company enjoys a U.S. market share as dominant as Google’s in Internet search (close to 90%) or Facebook Inc.’s in social networking. Like earlier bans on payday-loan ads, Google’s bail-bond ad ban, which Facebook copied the next day, effectively kicked an entire industry out of a major advertising channel.

The debate over whether Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., and Facebook are too big usually revolves around economics: Do they suppress competition for goods and services? The bail-bond ad ban raises a different, and potentially more troubling, possibility: that they also undermine competition for values and ideas. While Google and Facebook claim to be neutral platforms connecting users, advertisers and content providers, decisions about which ads to ban and which content to delete or reclassify are inherently value-laden, even when those values are embedded in an algorithm.

Data monopolies “can actually be more dangerous than traditional monopolies,” Maurice Stucke, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville specializing in antitrust, wrote earlier this year in Harvard Business Review. “They can affect not only our wallets but our privacy, autonomy, democracy, and well-being.”

Bail bonds aren’t a sympathetic industry. For a steep fee, agents agree to pay the court’s required bail if the client doesn’t show up for a court date. They are, however, legal and, in most states, regulated. And the industry says it serves low-income and minority clients because they are caught up in the criminal-justice system without the means to post bail on their own.

Jeff Clayton, executive director of the American Bail Coalition, whose members insure bail agents, says Google gave the industry no opportunity to comment on or appeal the ban. A Google spokeswoman declined to comment. Facebook did consult with both the industry and criminal-justice-reform groups after announcing its ban, a spokesman said.

Bail-bond agents used to advertise in the yellow pages, but as the public abandoned phone books for Google, so did the industry. “There are just no other options,” Mr. Clayton said. The ban doesn’t extend to regular search results, but it makes it harder for individual companies to stand out.

Conservatives tend to see tech companies’ progressive leanings at work in what gets banned or reclassified—for example, Facebook’s labeling of videos by two prominent supporters of President Donald Trump as “unsafe.” Bail bonds and payday loans have long been targets of progressive activist groups.

But as the companies come under growing pressure to police their platforms and weed out “fake news,” a growing range of content gets banned, labeled or deleted for often opaque or arbitrary reasons. ProPublica and Reveal, both nonprofit news publications, have had content dealing with hate groups and immigrant children, respectively, deleted or rejected by Instagram or Facebook. Video artists complain of viewership and ads being restricted because their content violated YouTube’s community standards.

Unhappy users, advertisers and content providers wouldn’t have as much to complain about if Google (which bought YouTube in 2006) and Facebook (which acquired Instagram in 2012) had strong competitors to which they could switch.

Absent such competition, expect pressure for the government to regulate it. But that’s a slippery slope. Politically appointed overseers may simply replace the companies’ judgments with their own. For that reason the Federal Communications Commission long ago gave up policing the nation’s airwaves for fairness.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 

S&S Launches New Book Club Initiative

26 June 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

Simon & Schuster has announced the launch of “Book Club Favorites,” a new direct-to-consumer initiative intended to promote titles from imprints across the company deemed of particular interest to book clubs. The first pick will be Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic, which goes on sale June 26.

The publisher will select a new book—primarily paperback fiction—each month and invite readers to join a digitally-organized book club. The club will consist of a free monthly newsletter, a website, a Facebook group, and monthly sweepstakes held in conjunction with Bright Cellars (a monthly wine club partnering with the publisher on the program).

Customers can buy the book club selection from retailers listed on the book club site. Throughout each month, discussion questions and exclusive content will be housed on the website and Facebook Group.

“We are thrilled to be showcasing Simon & Schuster titles in this new way, which expands on our existing book club efforts and provides readers with a new way to engage with our books and authors,” Wendy Sheanin, v-p and director of marketing at Simon & Schuster, said in a statement. “We are equally excited to see the Book Club Favorites program bring readers together for thought-provoking and lively conversations about some of our favorite books.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG wonders how indie authors can possibly keep up with the marketing geniuses in Big Publishing.

A Facebook group! A website! Where do they come up with all these brilliant ideas?

Author Brand 101: What It Is and Why You Need One

24 June 2018

From BookWorks:

What is an author brand? Take a moment to think of your favorite book. What springs to mind?

If you’re anything like most readers, you’ll think about not only the captivating characters, or the gripping plot, but also the author behind the magic.

Consider some of the bestselling and most-loved authors out there. Stephen King. JK Rowling. Dan Brown. No matter what they write, they are sure to have an eager army of fans ready to buy it.

Why? Simply put, these authors have cultivated solid author brands.

. . . .

The term ‘brand’ in a marketing context originates from the markings manufacturers applied to physical products to differentiate them from their ‘competitors’. The term has since evolved to refer to the psychological impression a product or service has made on customers.

So how does this apply to authors? Think of any two authors, for example, Charles Dickens and JK Rowling. What are the thoughts, feelings, and impressions you have about these writers?

The sum total of these impressions can be thought of as the author brand each writer has cultivated.

. . . .

By taking the time to build your author brand, you benefit in the following ways:

Sharing your authentic personality and motivation with your readers creates a sense of trust
Buyers of your books become fans of you as an artist
You differentiate your work from competing works that lack personality and brand
Now that you know what exactly an author brand is, and why it matters, let’s explore the two keys to effective author branding—story and purpose.

. . . .

So how do you convey information about yourself as an author in the way which is most likely to interest your readers and turn them to fans?

In the words of Mish Slade –

“It’s your opportunity to connect with readers and make them feel like they know you and *want* to read your work. You just need to make sure the information you include is relevant and will be of genuine interest to them.”

As you can see from the above, it’s vital to know your readers in order to understand the details of your life that will resonate with them. Some other tips for effectively sharing your story with your readers include:

  • Matching the tone of the info you share with your work. For example, if you write humor, share funny stories.
  • Make it personal. Don’t be dry and only describe your work. Add an insight into your life so readers feel they know you.
  • Make sure the info fits with the image of yourself as an author you wish to project

By sharing your story, readers feel connected not only with your work, but with your personal life journey as an author.

Link to the rest at BookWorks

Everyone Judges a Book By Its Cover—So Choose Wisely

8 June 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

We all know how the saying goes: never judge a book by its cover. As broad-stroke life advice, it works. But readers rarely follow it when deciding which books to buy.

If a book’s cover art involves human models, the author may be on especially slippery ground. The perfect-looking people speak to someone, but to whom? Common wisdom advises authors to broadcast genre and win new readers through halting visuals. Yet the fact that we are not all intrigued by the same kinds of people makes the use of humans on covers problematic. If cover models alienate me, I won’t buy the book.

I’m not kidding. I don’t care how many people are talking about a book. I don’t care about five-star reviews. I don’t care if I love the blurbs, or how badly I’m dying for a great romance read—I won’t buy it.

I swear, I’m not a narcissist. It’s not about needing to see some mirror image of me. It’s not about me being black and wanting to find more African-American fiction. I dislike full-face images of humans on covers, no matter their ethnicities, genders, or body types. Stories hold greater appeal if I’m given the leeway to interpret characters through my own imagination. Seeing cover images that are highly specific limit a story’s potential for me.

. . . .

I’ll stop long enough to acknowledge that there’s a market for model-heavy covers, and for stories with correspondingly idealized worlds. Among a certain demographic, these books are popular. But how many more copies could be sold without fully visible cover models? How many readers care more about compelling characters who form in their minds than about defined, idealized character images?

. . . .

Even in my genre (romance), in which cover models are pervasive, some of the most iconic books avoid full faces, and people, altogether. Christina Lauren’s Beautiful Bastard, Alice Clayton’s Wallbanger, and even E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey signal genre without being overly specific.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Social Media for Children’s and Adult Books: Who Posts Where?

17 May 2018

From Publishing Trends:

Look at some of the top authors on Twitter and you’ll see that the list is pretty evenly divided between authors of books for children and adults.  Paulo Coelho weighs in at 12.2 million, followed by JK Rowling at 11.3 million.  Then a steep fall to Anthony Bourdain (6.1) and John Green (5.33), Stephen King (3.52) and Neil Gaiman (2.62), and Chris Colfer (2.52) and Margaret Atwood (1.7).  You get the idea.

Facebook mirrors Twitter in that Coelho is still at the top, but with 20.5 million followers.  Others are closer to parity with their Twitter followers, e.g. Stephen King has five million on Facebook while John Green (who’s on every major platform) has three million-plus on Facebook. James Patterson has a healthy 3.7 million.  Lemony Snicket has a half million under A Series of Unfortunate Events and Rick Riordan has more than three million under Percy Jackson.

Beyond Twitter and Facebook, the numbers are generally much smaller and harder to track.  Still, in conversation with agents, publishers, social media gurus and writers, it’s clear that authors are generally encouraged to embrace one or more social media platform. However, what they really accomplish in promoting themselves differs depending on what their goals and expectations are their level of commitment and skill.

. . . .

Most agree that authors should engage with social media only if they are comfortable. Rachel Fershleiser, HMH Executive Director of Audience Development and Community Engagement, says she’s a “huge believer in authors setting their own boundaries,” both in terms of where to post and what to write about.  She encourages authors to try Instagram, because it’s generally the least contentious, and allows an author to express his or her personality “without the stress” of a network like Twitter. Writers HouseDigital Director Daniel Berkowitz thinks that, for many, how one interacts on social media “almost runs counter to how an author operates.” Authors want their posts to reflect the same level of writing that their books exhibit, and so are anxious about achieving that, especially on “of-the-moment” platforms like Twitter.  In her blog post, So You’re An Author Without a Social Media Presence: Now What?, Jane Friedman warns that, while engaging in social media offers “an opportunity to learn about your readership as well as better establish your platform,” it’s “not necessarily an opportunity to hard sell the book you’re about to release.”

. . . .’s Pete McCarthy believes that, done right, social media is “one of the most cost-effective ways” of marketing an author.  He believes middle-grade authors often ignore Goodreads because they forget it’s a good place to meet their readers’ parents.

Link to the rest at Publishing Trends

Untapped Markets: Meeting Readers Where They Are

7 May 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

“You should be going to every Girl Scout Jamboree in the country!” urged a troop leader to author-illustrator Sarah Dillard. Sarah, whose Mouse Scouts chapter book series is beloved by Daisies, Brownies, and Girl Scouts the nation over, had been invited to the Girl Expo in Vermont on our state fairgrounds, and her publisher, Random House, arranged for a booth where we could set up and sell the books. What struck me was how many Daisy and Brownie leaders hadn’t known about the books and were intensely interested in them. It was as though Sarah had filled a need in the Girl Scout universe heretofore unrecognized.

The last time we did this event was two years ago, when there were just two books in the Mouse Scouts series. Now there are four, and you would not believe the response Sarah had from young readers and troop leaders alike. She was greeted like a rock star.

. . . .

This series is heavily illustrated with charming spot art throughout, and my favorite thing to do was to see a little person shyly eyeing the books, encourage them to open them up and look at the drawings inside, and then point to Sarah. “She wrote the words AND drew all of the pictures,” I would say. Their eyes would widen in surprise, and they would look anew at Sarah. One little girl pointed to the cover. “Even this?” she said. “Even that,” I said. “Even the wood frame around the mice!” They were uniformly astonished. Some of these kids are young enough that the word “author” carries little significance, but everyone is wowed by someone who can draw terrific pictures.

. . . .

A few years ago, I had the honor of attending a diversity conference for book industry people. I was lucky enough to be in a focus group with the amazing Just Us Books publishers, Cheryl and Wade Hudson, who have worked for diversity in children’s books for decades. They talked about their efforts to get their books into bookstores, but found that those efforts weren’t enough to reach all of the people who wanted and needed them. There just weren’t bookstores in all of the neighborhoods where the very children Cheryl and Wade were publishing for lived, and some of the bookstores that were there didn’t feature a diverse collection of titles. So they took books to church festivals and neighborhood parties and school events, where people would gather around the tables, delighted. Cheryl and Wade would hear comments like, “I had no idea there were kids like us in books!” They sold grocery bags full of books to an audience eager to embrace them, because they had gotten creative and met their audience where they lived.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Thirty Minutes a Day is All It Takes to Automate Your Social Media Activity, But I Don’t Recommend it

23 April 2018

From The Digital Reader:

As I am sure you know, there aren’t enough hours in the day to get all your work done. This is why we are always looking for new ways to automate tasks, and why I started the Tech Tools for Authors series (soon to be a newsletter).

Sometimes, however, the automation is counterproductive or just isn’t worth using. For example, a couple months ago I developed a way to automatically gather tweets from chosen Twitter accounts and load them into a Buffer queue so the tweets can be shared from one of my clients’ social media accounts.

It’s a clever and relatively low-cost trick that ties together IFTTT and Buffer in a way that lets the two services handle the majority of the work automatically.

You’ll need to invest some time in finding sources, but aside from that the only costs are a Buffer subscription, some skull sweat invested in choosing sources, and the time spent curating the Buffer queue to remove unwanted updates.

. . . .

I won’t be using it, however, and I don’t think you should either.

I have come to the realization that I am not comfortable with the act of scraping people’s tweets. It feels too much like plagiarism, and I think using someone else’s work like this is going to backfire in the long run.

And even if this weren’t plagiarism, it’s a sub-optimal way to maintain a social media presence.

Ask any social media expert and they will tell you that the best way to get attention or build an audience is to say something original and clever. In this case that means you have to read (or at least skim) each story and find something to say. This process can’t really be automated, at least not without a lot more investment than I can afford.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

As usual, Nate has a lot of good suggestions and shortcuts and reading his extensive series of posts on the topic, collected as Tech Tools for Authors, provides a lot of ideas.

PG uses some automation for TPV, but not a lot. For example, visitors to TPV can sign up for a daily email update which collects all the posts that appear on that day and sends them out in an email. You’ll see a signup box in the right column of the blog, fourth from the top. He also has a Feedburner RSS feed of all posts with a link at the top of the right column of the blog.

PG uses some other services to automatically forward information and links to Facebook, Twitter, etc., but it’s all one way.

That said, PG is not terribly social on social media. He doesn’t lack for online conversation about the book biz which mostly happens at TPV. He does use Feedly and Alltop on an inbound basis to keep track of what’s happening on several topics and help find items for TPV.

PG does use a variety of tools to make non-personalized outbound communication easier. Most of the time, PG prepares several posts for TPV at the same time, but schedules them to appear at intervals during the day. Each post is spread beyond the TPV site via RSS, email, etc., when it goes live.

For some non-TPV purposes, PG uses Buffer to schedule items for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. He likes the ability to go heads-down on a task and create several outbound items that will appear automatically over the next few days. He has discovered it’s more efficient for him to use many of his tools at one sitting for a series of scheduled releases than to do one thing with a tool, then another thing with a different tool.

In the OP, Nate mentioned free tools Canva and Pablo for creating striking visuals for social media. PG has used both of those tools and obtained good results. However, his current favorite for this task is Adobe Spark.

He likes Spark because it can do a lot of things in a useful and aesthetically-pleasing way. For one thing, links to free photo sites are built into the program. It also has a large number of pre-built templates to get you started plus you can choose from a large number of color palettes for your posts, so you don’t need to worry about what color will compliment your graphic. If you start with a colored photo, Spark will automatically use a palette that goes with the photo.

PG made the following item in under one minute, starting with a Spark template. Text colors were selected automatically.

Here’s another – creation time – 60 seconds – again, starting with a Spark template

And one last Spark graphic:

6 Top Ways for Indie Authors to Make Self-published Books More Discoverable and More Competitive on Amazon

1 April 2018

From The Alliance of Independent Authors:

Amazon Kindle SEO is the process of using keywords to have your book rank higher in Amazon search results than other books. If you’ve put blood, sweat and tears into writing a book, you want readers to find and buy it! Luckily for you, there are a number of ways to (ethically) manipulate Amazon Kindle’s search engine results in order to get your shining star of a book to crawl up to the top of its search results.

. . . .

There are a multitude of keyword search tools at your disposal in today’s digital age, but you’ll only need two to get the job done in this case:

Google Keyword Planner &

  • Step 1: Come up with 15-20 keywords that best describe your book and/or its main topic.
  • Step 2: Input these words or phrases into Google’s Keyword Planner.
  • Step 3: Gather the top 5 -10 keywords that receive the most traction based on your search and add them to a new list.
  • Step 4: Make a new, separate list that features this new list of keywords.
  • Step 5: Type your new keywords into’s search bar and take note of other auto-populated keywords that come up and are relevant to your book. For example, if you type in “decorating”, what comes up right after that? will likely show you “Decorating tips” or “Decorating ideas”.
  • Step 6: Write down these auto populated keywords in a third list.
  • Step 7: Combine the auto-populated keywords with the proven best-performing keywords you found in Google’s Keywords Planner.

Link to the rest at The Alliance of Independent Authors and thanks to Rob for the tip.

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