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Authors need help with their digital presence that they still are not getting

13 April 2017

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

A major difference between book publishing today and book publishing 25 years ago is the practical power of the author brand in marketing. Multi-book authors can not only build their own followings in ways that can be usefully exploited, they now have an unprecedented capability to help each other.

Of course, they can do that best if they’re “organized” in some way. But both of the most obvious potential organizers who deal with many authors — the publishers and the agents — have commercial and structural impediments to being as helpful as they could be, or as authors need them to be, at either of the new needs: helping authors be better marketers of themselves or getting them to act in a coordinated way to help each other.

Building an individual author’s digital marketing footprint is an important component of career development. And, in fact, the foundation of the author’s “brand” footprint has strong influence on the success of the title marketing publishers would see as their principal objective.

But the publisher has a book-by-book relationship, not an assured ongoing relationship, with authors so investing for a longer-term gain is not structurally encouraged. And agents live with pretty strict ethics rules limiting their compensation to a share of the author contracts they negotiate, so they also have a structural impediment against investing money and time in the author’s general welfare beyond getting the best possible deal they can for every book they represent.

. . . .

When you discuss author marketing with literary agents you find that many of them already think of themselves as career consultants for their authors. Many of them build it into their own job description. But, frankly, the skill and expertise agents have to advise on financial management or digital marketing is highly variable. There could be even less consistency to what agents know about digital marketing than there is across publishers.

One agent, expressing what I think is appropriate humility, said she thought of herself as a “coach” for authors on career and digital marketing matters, not a “manager”. It seems likely to me that most agents with a multitude of clients will have some that know much more about digital marketing than they do!

. . . .

But organizing authors to help each other in this way is also touchy for both agents and publishers. For agents, there are two obvious problems. One is that the best marketing partners for any particular author might be represented by a different agency. That makes things complicated. But the other is that the agent’s “job” is to get an author deals. Getting authors engaged in a perhaps-complex marketing consortium requires another level of understanding and persuasion that agents could rightly see as a distraction to what pays the bills: developing proposals and getting offers from publishers. From a publisher’s perspective, organizing the house’s writers and having them communicate directly is a bit like asking big-company management to organize the union. There might be good arguments to do it but for many it would provoke a visceral negative reaction.

One consultant I spoke with in the course of writing this piece made a long list of concerns publishers would have about what authors encouraged to trade war stories might talk about, including contract terms and how much attention they were getting for their marketing efforts. But, of course, the authors’ agents already know these things.

. . . .

Trelstad made clear that authors are talking to each other about marketing and organizing themselves to help each other. With modern digital tools, this is easy. It is also very hard to track. There is one effort that has gotten some notoriety called the Tall Poppies, a collection of writers organized and spearheaded by author Ann Garvin. Their mission statement explains that “Tall Poppy Writers is a community of writing professionals committed to growing relationships, promoting the work of its members, and connecting authors with each other and with readers. By sharing information and supporting one another’s work, we strive to stand out in the literary marketplace and to help our members do the same.”

According to Trelstad (who is herself a “Tall Poppy member”), this kind of collaboration among authors is becoming increasingly common under the radar, like with her “masterminds” groups. It makes sense. The Trump and Sanders supporters didn’t need the party apparatus to get themselves together in common cause. Using the same tools and techniques, authors can also unite in their own interest without needing a publisher or agent to facilitate it for them. And apparently they are.

. . . .

So authors talking to authors is a development we may as an industry not be as aware of as we should be.

. . . .

When I asked Trelstad if any publisher seemed to be getting this right, she said, without hesitation, “Amazon. They are very good at communicating with their authors. They help overcome fear and uncertainty. And they automatically give authors and editors a voice in their covers.”

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG should be smarter by now, but he continues to be constantly surprised by how clueless the pillars of traditional publishing are about what’s happening outside their small circle.

Authors are talking to each other!

Authors are helping each other!

Authors are creating websites and blogs – sometimes all by themselves! In every one-stoplight town in America, there are people who know how to build websites and blogs who are happy to be hired by authors who don’t want to do the work themselves.

And then there’s that internet thing that lets an author in Boston hire a digital designer in Anchorage to create the author’s online presence and promotion materials that an internet marketing consultant in Dallas uses to run the author’s book promotions all over the world.

The idea that authors talking to each other, sharing inside information in the process, will only happen if publishers or agents organize such gatherings is truly bizarre. Publishers and agents would be out of business without their suppliers – authors – yet they have huge gaps in their knowledge about what authors have been routinely doing for years – getting together electronically to talk shop, share information about royalties, advances, which marketing techniques work and which don’t, etc., etc., etc.

Of course, Amazon is different. Amazon is a well-managed, highly-efficient 21st century organization. Amazon is obsessively customer-focused and Amazon’s publishing arms – KDP and Amazon Publishing – view authors and readers as their customers.

As many regular TPV visitors know, one of Mrs. PG’s books was selected for publishing via Kindle Scout. For someone who had a lot of books traditionally published, the Amazon Publishing experience is extraordinary. Information is shared, emails are answered, the publisher treats the author like an intelligent human being who wants the same thing the publisher does – a high-quality book. Mrs. PG’s book is likely to be published and selling sooner than a New York publisher could manage to email her a publishing contract.

Also, Amazon knows more about selling books than any publisher and any conventional bookstore because, unlike the English majors running big publishing, Amazon understands the value of data and employs a whole lot of people who are extremely talented at mining big data for its secrets. In Jeff Bezos’ letter to shareholders, referenced in an earlier post, he talks about how much of what happens behind the scenes on Amazon’s websites relies on cutting-edge artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques.

Speaking of data, PG’s impression is that, when Data Guy speaks to a large gathering of traditional publishing folk, 99.9% of the analytical brain power in the room is up on the podium talking and running the PowerPoint presentation.

Meanwhile 99% of the audience really needs a stiff drink because Data Guy is showing them reams of information about their own industry that they didn’t know before the PowerPoint started.





Amazon quietly launches its own social media influencer program into beta

1 April 2017
Comments Off on Amazon quietly launches its own social media influencer program into beta

From TechCrunch:

Social media influencers – like Instagram stars or YouTube celebs – often promote products they like, either as part of a brand relationship or as means of generating income through affiliate sales. Now, Amazon is looking to get in on this action as well. The company has quietly launched the “Amazon Influencer Program,” which is currently in beta testing as of a couple of days ago. Similar to the Amazon Affiliate program, the new program will offer influencers commission on products sold, but is not open to the public.

One of the key things that makes the new Influencer program different from Amazon Affiliates is its exclusivity.

Today, anyone can sign up to be an Amazon Affiliate, which lets you build links and shopping ads that you can use on your own website or blog. When a reader clicks through to buy the product, the affiliate receive a commission on those sales, which varies by product type.

Amazon Influencers, meanwhile, must submit an application to be considered for inclusion.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to Barb for the tip.


This Bookstore’s Clickbait Headlines on Facebook Are Actually the Plots of Classic Novels

17 March 2017

From AdWeek:

Does the end ever justify a means like clickbait?

That’s debatable. But a new contender in the discussion is Dallas bookstore The Wild Detectives, which is using what it wryly calls “Litbait” … to trick people into reading classic, copyright-free novels.

. . . .

Facebook posts featured witty teases like “British guy dies after selfie gone wrong” (The Picture of Dorian Grey), “Teenage girl tricked boyfriend into killing himself” (Romeo and Juliet), “When it’s OKAY to slut shame single mothers” (The Scarlet Letter) and—wait for it!—”This Italian politician makes Trump look like a saint” (The Prince by Machiavelli … which got as passionate a response as you can expect).

. . . .

“You fell for the bait, now fall for the book,” the video concludes, which pretty much sums up the goal of the campaign—to remind people that there are way better things to read than clickbaity articles on the internet.

Link to the rest at AdWeek and thanks to Dave for the tip.


Encountering Literary Bots in the Wilds of Twitter

2 March 2017

From Literary Hub:

“I don’t do Twitter,” the poet Anne Carson replied baldly to my request for a comment. No great surprise there, I guess: many people feel compelled to avoid the site and its multitude of abrupt publications. It’s a timesuck, and a cacophony, with few genuine bon mots amid a relentless volley of reaction gifs. And it appears Twitter may not be around forever. Now in its tenth year, the company reported on February 9th that it had missed its targets for the fourth quarter of 2016, and shares in the company fell 10 percent in response.

I had emailed Carson to ask about a Twitter account with over 6,000 followers that is tweeting her translation of Sappho’s fragments, published as If Not, Winter. It is one of several successful bots—some true robotic accounts, and some that are accounts run by humans—publishing works of literature 140 characters at a time.

Linguist and programmer Esther Seyffarth defined a bot in a Medium post last year as “a program or agent that generates content and posts it to Twitter automatically, following some schedule or reacting to some trigger.” In the case of Twitter’s literary bots, or “corpus-fed” bots, programmers take a body of work—for example, the text file of War & Peace as it stands at Project Gutenberg—and build a program that “reads” the novel, 140 character at a time, “aloud” by publishing sensible whole-word extracts as tweets from a dedicated Twitter account.

To give an example, the code behind one such bot begins by breaking the whole text up into sentences. If a sentence is <140 characters, it checks if that sentence and the next sentence still come in under 140; if so it adds the next sentence and carries that on for as long as possible before tweeting it. When sentences run longer than 140 characters, the bot waits for a semi-colon, comma, or words like “and” or “but” (words the developer has listed in order of importance), then splits the sentence at the point of the pause and tweets the clauses separately.

@finnegansreader is a great introductory example of a literary bot on Twitter: it publishes extracts of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, 140 characters or shorter, in sequence. Liss Farrell was studying for a PhD at the Irish Institute of the University of Liverpool when she encouraged her friend Timo Koola to build the bot. She recalls: “I don’t think either myself nor Timo were expecting the Finnegans Wake bot to become so popular! I think I was doing my MA when I asked him about it on a whim—as he had set up the Ulysses bot, I guess there seemed to be an audience for it.”

What’s the appeal of a bot like @finnegansreader? Non-sequiturs, synchronicity, and the enduring Twitter-appropriate gift of brevity.

Link to the rest at Literary Hub


The Mark Zuckerberg Manifesto Is a Blueprint for Destroying Journalism

18 February 2017

From The Atlantic:

It’s not that Mark Zuckerberg set out to dismantle the news business when he founded Facebook 13 years ago. Yet news organizations are perhaps the biggest casualty of the world Zuckerberg built.

There’s reason to believe things are going to get worse.

A sprawling new manifesto by Zuckerberg, published to Facebook on Thursday, should set off new alarm bells for journalists, and heighten news organizations’ sense of urgency about how they—and their industry—can survive in a Facebook-dominated world.

Facebook’s existing threat to journalism is well established. It is, at its core, about the flow of the advertising dollars that news organizations once counted on. In this way, Facebook’s role is a continuation of what began in 1995, when Craigslist was founded. Its founder, Craig Newmark, didn’t actively aim to decimate newspapers, but Craigslist still eviscerated a crucial revenue stream for print when people stopped buying newspaper classifieds ads.

Craigslist was the first signal (and became the prototypical example) of a massive unbundling of news services online that would diminish the power and reach of the news, culturally, and make it more difficult to produce a profitable news product.

Zuckerberg’s memo outlines a plan for the next phase of this unbundling, and it represents an expansion of Facebook’s existing threat to the news industry.

Facebook already has the money. The company is absolutely dominating in the realm of digital advertising. It notched $8.8 billion in revenue last quarter—more than $7 billion of which came from mobile-ad sales. One analyst told The New York Times last year that 85 percent of all online advertising revenue is funneled to either Facebook or Google—leaving a paltry 15 percent for news organizations to fight over.

Now, Zuckerberg is making it clear that he wants Facebook to take over many of the actual functions—not just ad dollars—that traditional news organizations once had.

. . . .

In the past, the deaths of news organizations have jeopardized the prospect of a safe, well-informed, civically-engaged community. One 2014 paper found a substantial drop-off in civic engagement in both Seattle and Denver from 2008 to 2009, after both cities saw the closure of longstanding daily newspapers. (In Seattle, the Post-Intelligencer halted its print edition, but continued to produce online news; In Denver, the Rocky Mountain News folded.) Lee Shaker, an assistant professor of communications at Portland State University and the author of the 2014 study, found that the decline was “not consistently replicated over the same time period in other major American cities that did not lose a newspaper,” suggesting that the decline in civic engagement may be attributed to disappearance of local news sources. (The effects in Denver, where 20 percent of the population had subscribed to the shuttered Rocky Mountain News, were especially pronounced.)

. . . .

News organizations provide the basis for public action by building and strengthening community ties, “so, if local media institutions are strong and are binding individuals and groups together, then citizens should be participating in more community groups, contacting their government more frequently, and circulating more petitions because they are more aware of shared problems, interests, and opportunities,” Shaker wrote.

Zuckerberg obviously understands this. “Research suggests reading local news is directly correlated with local civic engagement,” he wrote in his manifesto. “This shows how building an informed community, supportive local communities, and a civically-engaged community are all related.”

The problem is that Zuckerberg lays out concrete ideas about how to build community on Facebook, how to encourage civic engagement, and how to improve the quality and inclusiveness of discourse—but he bakes in an assumption that news, which has always been subsidized by the advertising dollars his company now commands, will continue to feed into Facebook’s system at little to no cost to Facebook.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic


WordPress blogs defaced in hack attacks

11 February 2017

From the BBC:

A security flaw in the WordPress blogging software has let hackers attack and deface tens of thousands of sites.

One estimate suggests more than 1.5 million pages on blogs have been defaced.

The security firm that found the vulnerability said some hackers were now trying to use it to take over sites rather than just spoil pages.

WordPress urged site owners to update software to avoid falling victim.

. . . .

The vulnerability is found in an add-on for the WordPress blogging software that was introduced in versions released at the end of 2016.

. . . .

In a blogpost, WordPress said it delayed going public about the flaw so it could prompt hosting firms to update their software to a fixed version.

The patched version of WordPress was formally released on 26 January and led to many sites and blogs automatically applying the update.

However, many blogs have not followed suit leaving them open to defacement attacks.

Security firm WordFence said it had seen evidence that 20 hacker groups were trying to meddle with vulnerable sites. About 40,000 blogs are believed to have been hit.

Link to the rest at the BBC and thanks to Jan for the tip.

PG says if you have a blog that uses WordPress, make certain both WordPress and all of your plugins are updated.

WordPress should automatically update itself (but not plugins) for major releases under most circumstances. However, if you want to check on the status of updates, you’ll need to be signed in as an administrator, then click on (or hover over) the Dashboard button in the left column, then click Updates.


Writing Prompts by iAuthor

11 February 2017

Here’s a link to an interesting Google+ Collection of writing prompts from iAuthor UK.

From iAuthor UK:

iAuthor is an interactive book discovery and promotion platform.

Through eye-catching book profiles, ultra-smart book samples and mind-expanding book themes, iAuthor connects AUTHORS and PUBLISHERS to READERS. iAuthor is global in reach and vision. We aim to give the publishing world something unique: a hub for serendipitous discovery.

Link to the rest at iAuthor UK

Since PG hasn’t paid any attention to Google+ for a long time, he had to look up an explanation of Google+ Collections.


Author Blogs: 5 Bad Reasons for Authors to Blog and 5 Good Ones

6 February 2017

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

5 Bad Reasons for Author Blogs

1) Getting Rich Quick

Nothing infuriates me more than those books and blogs promising writers they can make a gazillion dollars of “passive income” with a blog in the next month if they take this overpriced course or buy that book of rehashed advice from 2005.

The only people making a lot of “passive income” from blogging are the people selling the overpriced courses and worthless advice. Pyramid schemes always provide “passive income” for the people at the top of the pyramid. That’s not going to be you at this point. The boom is over.

Blogging is work. Writing is work. There’s nothing “passive” about it. Anybody who tells you otherwise is lying.

I used to subscribe to a couple of hype-y “how-to-blog” blogs, but I had to unsubscribe because these people are getting so desperate. One blogger now sends an email 15 minutes after you click through to read his post saying, “You’ve had enough time to read my post. Now share it to Facebook.”

Creepy!! I’d just shared his post to Twitter, but I deleted the Tweet and unsubscribed. You’re not the boss of me, dude. And I’m not responsible for your bad life choices. If you really were making the fortune you claimed to be making a decade ago, why didn’t you invest it?

Another sad truth is that Internet ads pay less than they used to. You’re not going to make more than pennies a day from ads (especially “affiliate” ads that only pay when somebody clicks through and buys something.)

Your best bet is to get a deep-pockets sponsor to bankroll you, but even so, that’s not likely to pay a lot of bills.

Medium, the popular blogging platform started a couple of years ago by Twitter and Blogger founder Evan Williams has not found a way to make money. You probably won’t either.

Author blogs are for promoting your own brand. You’re making money by not spending it advertising elsewhere, but that’s not going to buy you a house in the Hamptons.

2) Overnight Fame

The days of Julie/Julia  over.

Yes, you can still raise your profile with author blogs, and I strongly recommend you use a blog as one tool for getting your name out there.

But nobody’s likely to become an overnight sensation with author blogs in these days when everybody and his grandmother has one.

When Julie Powell started her Julia Child blog in 2002, the term “blog” itself was only 3 years old. Blogging was a whole new concept.

Now, WordPress alone, with about a quarter of the market, hosts more than 76.5 million blogs.

The odds for instant fame are not on your side. I highly recommend that authors blog, but we need to be patient.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

Here’s a link to Anne R. Allen’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.


IMDb is closing its message boards

5 February 2017

From The Verge:

The Internet Movie Database is an indispensable resource if you have any interest whatsoever in films. Want to try and figure out where you’ve seen that character actor before? Do you need to know ratings, runtime, or quotes? But if you want to discuss movies, you’ll now have to go elsewhere: the site is shutting down its message boards system.

According to a statement on IMDB, the site’s message forums and the private messaging system will be disabled on February 20th, because they “are no longer providing a positive, useful experience for the vast majority of our more than 250 million monthly users worldwide.”

It’s a bit of an end-of-an-era moment. IMDb predates the World Wide Web: it got its start in 1990 with a series of lists on Usenet and migrated in 1993. At that time, the internet was almost nothing but discussion forums. Since then, we’ve seen the rise of dedicated message forums, social media companies such as Myspace, Facebook, and Reddit. IMDb noted in its announcement that more people were going to the site’s social media channels to post comments and interact with the site.

. . . .

The decision appears to mark the latest website to question the value of forums and comments, which can require heavy moderation. Other major websites, such as National Public Radio and Popular Science, have closed their own commenting sections because patrolling them for toxic users became a costly and time-consuming chore.

Link to the rest at The Verge and thanks to Jan for the tip.

PG has long believed that the comments are the best part of TPV. He has learned a great deal from various visitors over the years.

PG intends to keep welcoming comments. He asks that each commenter be respectful toward the views of others. The old saw about disagreeing without being disagreeable is still applicable here. Disagreeing without diminishing those who hold different views does not take a lot of time, effort or thought.

PG does suggest that, while the most recent US presidential election season was nasty on all sides and its outcome captured the interest and emotions of many, a large number of other virtual meeting places are much better venues to express views about such matters than TPV is.


Social media is a giant distraction

31 January 2017

Social media is a giant distraction to the ultimate aim, which is honing your craft as a songwriter. There are people who are exceptional at it, however, and if you can do both things, then that’s fantastic, but if you are a writer, the time is better spent on a clever lyric than a clever tweet.

Bryan Adams

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