The World of Books Braces for a Newly Ominous Future

From The New York Times:

In these isolated times, many people are inside reading, but the book business, like others, is bracing for catastrophe. Major literary festivals and fairs around the world have been canceled. Public libraries have closed. Author tours, signings and bookstore appearances have been scrapped.

As the severity of the coronavirus outbreak continues to intensify, authors, publishers and booksellers are struggling to confront and limit the financial fallout. Many fear the worst is yet to come, including more store closures and potential disruptions to warehouse and distribution centers, as well as possible paper shortages and a decline in printing capacity.

“There’s no question we’re going to see a drop in sales,” said Dennis Johnson, co-publisher of the Brooklyn-based independent press Melville House, who has directed staff to work from home. “It’s unprecedented. Nobody knows what to do except hoard Purell.”

. . . .

The potential long-term effects for book retailers are sobering. Many in the industry are worried that independent bookstores will be devastated as local and state officials mandate social distancing and order some businesses to temporarily close.

. . . .

Mitchell Kaplan, the founder of Books & Books, an independent chain in South Florida, said sales have fallen at the company’s stores and cafes, and author appearances have been canceled.

“The irony of all this is that what makes bookstores so potent, our ability to be community gathering places, has become our biggest liability,” he said.

. . . .

Some independent booksellers, including Powell’s, have already begun cutting staff. On Monday, Powell’s announced to employees that it will begin involuntary layoffs after determining the minimum number of employees it needs to keep the online store functioning. A representative of the local union that represents 400 Powell’s workers said that about 85 percent of them had already been affected by temporary layoffs, and that the company has signaled that permanent layoffs are likely to follow.

McNally Jackson, an independent chain in New York, let a substantial number of its employees go after deciding to shutter its stores for the time being. On Twitter, the company said it had temporarily laid off many of its staffers while “facing down a massive, unprecedented loss in revenue,” and added that “we intend to hire back our employees as soon as we can.” A note on the company’s website said that it is still accepting phone and online orders while the stores are closed, and offering delivery.

. . . .

The American Booksellers Association said it has been lobbying publishers to support independent stores by offering discounts, free shipping to customers and a removal of the cap on returns of unsold titles, among other measures. Other groups have been raising money to donate to hard-hit independent stores. The Book Industry Charitable Foundation, which gives financial support to independent stores, released a statement offering potential assistance to stores that have been impacted by the epidemic and are unable to pay their rent or utilities bills as a result of lost sales.

Still, many in the industry worry that financial losses stemming from the outbreak will cripple a significant number of stores and cause them to close permanently. Others fear that the lockdowns and government guidelines mandating social distancing will give an even greater advantage to Amazon as more homebound customers turn to internet shopping.

. . . .

The art critic Jerry Saltz was scheduled to launch his new book, “How to Be An Artist,” at the Strand in New York on Tuesday, but will instead appear in a livestream conversation broadcast on the store’s Instagram account, which has 225,000 followers.

Some stores see virtual events as the best alternative for the foreseeable future, and perhaps the only way to stay connected with readers and their communities as more physical spaces are forced to close.

Politics and Prose, in Washington, is aiming to turn all of its scheduled author appearances into virtual events, with writers hosting a conversation about their books remotely by web video through the platform Crowdcast. “Authors are self-isolating along with the rest of us,” said Liz Hottel, the director of events and marketing at Politics and Prose. “I’m sure they are as starved for meaningful dialogue as readers are.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG notes that there is nothing that prevents indie authors from using web video to promote their books in the same manner as described in the OP.

India’s Juggernaut Opens #ReadInstead, a Campaign and Literature Fest

From Publishing Perspectives:

Known in the industry as one of world publishing’s most resourceful thinkers, New Delhi’s Chiki Sarkar has alerted Publishing Perspectives this morning (March 26) to her sure-footed adaptation to the COVID-19 crisis.

“As you know,” she says, “the coronavirus has closed down print business–so that part of our business is making zero money, as it is for all Indian publishers.”

Indeed, as Jeffrey Gettleman and Kai Schultz have reported at The New York Times, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi gave his nation just four hours’ notice before locking down all 11.3 billion people for three full weeks, “the biggest and most severe action undertaken anywhere to stop the spread of the coronavirus.”

. . . .

So it is that in announcing the shuttering of India on Tuesday night, Modi said, “There will be a total ban on coming out of your homes … Every state, every district, every lane, every village will be under lockdown.”

Sarkar, whose Juggernaut publishing company is two years old and presents more than 5,000 titles by some 2,000 authors, is, fortunately, a publisher whose grasp of digital marketing capabilities has defined her success. Supported by her CEO Simran Khara and a strong editorial staff, she’s been carefully watched for her understanding that making books less intimidating to many in her culture has meant also making Internet retail and development less intimidating in a tradition-bound industry.

You see how she puts across an aggressive appeal to readers on her site. The first banner in her slider at the top is a massive ad for a book offering the World Health Organization’s guidelines on safety in the pandemic. And after a single line of “Readers Club New Releases,” she’s showing potential customers an entire “COVID-19 Reading List.”

This is the sort of adaptive, social response she uses to reach into consumer interests, and as her enormous market’s physical retail channels went dark on Wednesday morning—and with some foresight—Sarkar was positioned to take advantage of her online fluency.

“Last week,” as the contagion’s approach grew, she tells us, “we initiated a massive #ReadInstead campaign.

“We made our app go free, which has been huge for us. Our installs doubled and our ebook downloads have grown four times. The campaign is also being extremely well received on social media.

. . . .

With the #ReadInstead campaign moving, she says, “We launched a massive online literature festival with Scroll.in“–the news and entertainment site that registers a reported 12 million unique users’ visits daily.

. . . .

The festival opens Friday (March 27), and Sarkar says, “We’ll run it for a month, and most of India’s top writers are taking part. The festival has talks, dialogues, and writing workshops, and some of India’s most respected actors are doing readings.”

She’s not kidding about the level. Author Amish Tripathi—who can pull seven-figure advances for his work based in Indian mythology—leads an impressive array of authors whose headshots have gone up in advance of a timed announcement coordinated with Scroll.in.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG noted the statement that ebook downloads have increased four-fold.

Given the lack of perceptible marketing (and marketing talent) in American publishing, particularly now, it was nice to see some innovative promotion and marketing on the part of an Indian publisher in the face of difficult business conditions. Not all publishing minds are sheltering in place.

Distillers Turn Whiskey and Gin Into Hand Sanitizer

Absolutely nothing to do with books or publishing and not something PG thinks is a good idea for you to try yourself, but he was impressed that distillers want to do their part to fight the coronavirus pandemic (besides helping harried medical personnel unwind after a long day).

From The Wall Street Journal:

Distillers around the country are using their alcohol supply to churn out hand sanitizer as Americans scramble to find the cleaner, a tool in fighting the coronavirus.

U.S. consumer demand for hand sanitizer outpaced supply weeks ago, as Americans raced to stock up and the biggest U.S. brand—Gojo Industries Inc.’s Purell—focused its supply on hospitals and other establishments.

“We have the processing equipment, and we know the skill sets, and we have the people,” said Chad Butters, chief executive of Eight Oaks Farm Distillery in New Tripoli, Pa. “Let’s get to work making this. We are just going to push it out.”

Eight Oaks recently turned its production line from whiskey and vodka to hand sanitizer. The company is giving out its hand sanitizer to local nonprofits and community members for a donation.

The distillery joins a growing number that have set up sanitizer-making operations, either using excess alcohol or temporarily halting production of their spirits. Companies in towns from Portland, Ore., to Durham, N.C., are churning out sanitizer.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration regulates production of sanitizer and generally requires the product be inspected before it is sold to the public. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends hand sanitizer contain at least 60% alcohol, a far greater concentration than liquor sold to consumers.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has exempted spirits companies from getting authorization typically required to manufacture hand sanitizer. The FDA said last week that it wouldn’t take action against any company that produces alcohol-based hand sanitizers for use by consumers or health-care personnel.

Distillers had been finding ways to work around restrictions, including donating rather than selling sanitizer, or calling it something other than hand sanitizer.

For instance, Los Angeles spirits maker Amass was selling “alcohol-based hand wash” on its website, alongside dry gin and Copenhagen Vodka. The company will now call the product hand sanitizer.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Change Your Author Blog into an Author Website

From Nate Hoffelder via The Book Designer:

In the “olden” days, many author websites were set up as blogs first, with a few pages tacked on almost as an afterthought. Web design was easy in that era; you put a column of blog posts on the left, and a sidebar on the right for things like sign up forms, related posts widgets, etc.

That was the era I, and a lot of bloggers and authors, got started in but that era ended about 5 years ago. Web design has moved on since then; now the column of blog posts is on its own page, leaving the homepage to serve a whole new purpose.

Homepages

Homepages are now designed with specific goals in mind. The goal will vary between sites and between industries (not everyone wants to accomplish the same thing) but almost all homepages are designed with goals in mind.

Updating Your Homepage

While it’s okay to keep your site’s homepage in the old style, if you want to switch to a new homepage, I have a few tips on how to make the switch.

The trick to designing a homepage is to understand what you want to accomplish. That can be quite difficult to do; in fact, my blog stayed in the old style for years because I couldn’t figure out how to move forward.

Fortunately for you, I have since learned not just the concept of goal-oriented homepage design but also I have figured out the questions that will help you understand what your goal is.

Organizing Your Homepage

The short version can be boiled down to a few simple questions. The first question tells you what you want to put at the top of your homepage. The second and third questions help you decide what you want to put below that.

1. What’s the one action you want visitors to take?

There are a bunch of ways to answer this question, so let me help you narrow it down. What is the one simple small act that you want your visitors to take? The answer is not “buy your books”; that is a big act. No, what we are looking for is something easy for your visitors to do so that you can connect with them.
For many sites, that simple act is signing up for a mailing list, but that doesn’t have to be your only choice.

2. What do you want from your visitors?

I may not have phrased that very well, because what I am asking is for you to define your long term relationship with your site’s visitors.
Since we’re talking about author websites, the general answer to this question is that you want them to become readers of and buyers of your books. That answer does not apply to all author sites, however, and you might find it doesn’t fit your goals. A non-fiction author, for example, might want to use their site as a springboard to paid speaking gigs.

Your homepage needs to be designed with that long-term relationship in mind, and ideally you should only include sections that support this goal. For example, visitors should be able to tell what genre you write so that, say, the SF readers know they won’t be interested in the work of an epic fantasy author.

3. What parts of your site do you want to showcase?

Your homepage should be designed with your goals in mind, but sometimes your goals are fuzzy. Sometimes you have several conflicting goals. Sometimes you have a passion project that you want to promote even though it doesn’t serve your business goals.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Transworld postpones launch of Ruth Jones’ second novel until September

From The Bookseller:

The publication of Ruth Jones’ second novel Us Three (Transworld) has been postponed from 14th May to 3rd September to avoid jeopardising promotional plans for [the] book following the coronavirus outbreak.

Transworld was clear that Jones’ book tour, originally scheduled for 10th–19th May in collaboration with FANE, has not been cancelled.

Given the current circumstances, with events being cancelled across the country, a spokesperson for Transworld said it was “mindful” of the fact that a huge proportion of Jones’ promotional platform is through events. To avoid jeopardising this, the decision to postpone publication of the book has been taken pre-emptively by Transworld.

Jones’ agent, Jonny Geller, c.e.o. Original Talent and chairman, Curtis Brown, commented: “We took the decision to move Ruth‘s publication date because so much of the success of her debut novel, Never Greener, was as a result of her meeting readers, supporting bookshops on tour and having the space to talk about her book at public events. Ruth wants to do the same again for her new novel, Us Three, and support the trade as much as she can and looks forward to launching this joyful novel in September.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

4 Steps to Your Author Branding Statement

From The Book Designer

One way to do [get more book sales] is to create your author branding statement: a concise, one-sentence description of your book or of your body of work.

Firstly, your Author Branding Statement is meant to engage. Not to explain your story. It’s a hook, not a story summary.

Secondly, you don’t want to bore your listener or reader. You want them to get excited and come closer, or say, “Not for me.”

Next, I’ll walk you through how to nail down the four ingredients, which are:

  1. Your genre
  2. Your audience
  3. Your audience’s desired result or experience; what they want
  4. Your intended action upon your readers

. . . .

In some Author Branding Statements it may be useful to explicitly state who your books are for. But in most cases, you may just want to state your readers’ desired experience.

As a starting point declare who your intended readership is. You could say: men, women, children, but be specific. You could say women over forty; or children between the ages of eight and eleven; or men just out of high school.

Good. That’s a start.

But what’s really important is what they want from a book like yours.

Let’s put together your audience and what they want and create phrases like this:

  • women who want an out-of-this-world adventure
  • middle-age Midwesterners looking for a sweet escape
  • savvy women desiring a smart adventure
  • young women who want to be the hero of their own lives
  • men looking for new definition of being a man in the modern world

If you’re not sure who your readers are because you haven’t published yet or because you haven’t connected with your readers, then describe yourself.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

8 Social Media Scheduling Apps for Writers

From Social Media Just for Writers:

If you don’t want to be online all day posting your tweets and images, you need to check out this list of eight social media scheduling apps.

The beauty of scheduling apps is that you can spend a few minutes each day or a week uploading your images, messages, captions, hashtags, and status updates.

Once you schedule your posts, all you have to do is check your social media accounts a few minutes a day to engage with your readers.

These apps help you stay regular with your posts and also improve your account growth. If you are starting with social media, apps on the lower end of the price range are an excellent option for you. 

. . . .

The Social Media Scheduling App I Use

#1 SocialOomph

SocialOomph is a social media scheduling app that lets users plan their posts on various social networking platforms. Use it with Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, Discord, and others. 

However, the free services are only active on Twitter and are very limited. The subscriptions start at $15 a month, and the app also features annual subscription options.

Pros: It’s easy to use and set up with Twitter. You can use this app to schedule recurring tweets. For example, if you create an image with a quote, you can set up the tweet to repeat every 24 weeks, once a year, or every 12 weeks or even more frequently. It is a useful feature that other apps don’t offer. I also set up recurring tweets for specific blog posts.

Cons: You can only use certain features on twitter for free. It isn’t straightforward to connect the app to LinkedIn. Also, the recurring post feature is available at an additional cost. Although I use and like this scheduling app, most writers will want an use one that is easier to set up.

Link to the rest at Social Media Just for Writers

How To Use Keyword Research To Sell More Books

From Indie Reader:

To get your book noticed by potential shoppers, you have to learn what kind of phrases customers search for on Amazon when they’re shopping.

Luckily, there are easy ways to get this data. In their search box, Amazon has created a function that guesses what you’re typing; their suggestion is based on the popularity of what other shoppers type when they shop–the autofill function.

Today, we’ll look at how you can use this free feature and a few free tools–along with a trusty notepad and pen–to gather your keywords and, ultimately, promote and sell more books.

. . . .

Part One: Find Your Keywords

Prepare Your Browser

The first step is a short and very important one. I made this its own step to ensure you wouldn’t miss it. 

When you go to do keyword research, you need to put your browser on incognito mode, or private mode, depending on what browser you use. Here is a quick video on how to set your browser to private mode. 

We use incognito mode because, on your regular browser, your search history is used to match your search results to your needs. That’s great for everyday use, but when doing keyword research, you want the results to be as objective as possible. 

[PG Note: If you search on the Google Chrome Web Store, you’ll find some Chrome extensions that allow you to go into incognito mode with a mouse-click.]

Visit Amazon and Start Searching

Before you start typing anything into the search bar, make sure that you’ve selected the ‘Kindle Store’ from the list of browsing categories in the drop down menu on the search bar. Or, if you’re looking for hard copies, you’d select ‘Books.’ That way, you’ll know that any result that comes up is relevant to books and not other products on Amazon.

Now, get out your notepad and pen. 

Start typing phrases into the Amazon search bar that are related to your genre and to your book. Note down what Amazon instantly pre-populates in the search box. The goal in this step is to narrow your search down to specific examples. So, rather than generic phrases like ‘how to write’ or even ‘how to write a book,’ you’ll want highly targeted phrases like, ‘how to write a horror novel’ or ‘how to write a good business book.’ Write down all the potential keywords that suit your book. 

You can add a single letter to the end of each phrase and note the auto-fill results, as well. For example, ‘how to write an a,’ ‘how to write a b,’ ‘how to write a c,’ and so on.

. . . .

I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what Amazon gives you as a suggestion. Keep in mind, it’s important that you don’t choose keywords that violate any of Amazon’s Keyword requirements (it’s under the “Keywords to Avoid” section). 

. . . .

Part Two: Honing Your Search

Now that you’ve got your keywords, let’s zero in on which of those keywords are selling books. There could be popular searches that won’t bring as many sales as you’d like. 

To discover which keywords are ‘buyer’ keywords, search for that phrase on Amazon–again, using incognito mode–and open the top three results. From there, you’ll need the book’s ABSR–the Amazon Best Seller Rank. Basically, the ABSR is a store-wide ranking that updates hourly. It takes into account the amount of sales and borrows that a book has had in the past day and the current one. The better the rank, the more books it has sold. 

To figure out how many copies of a book have been sold, you can use my free Kindle Calculator. All you need to do is copy and paste the ABSR into the calculator and it’ll do the rest. 

For example, if the book has an ABSR of 23452, it’s sold approximately 12 copies per day. If it’s in Kindle Unlimited, this number counts the borrows, as well.  

Calculate the average number of books sold for the top three results for your keyword. You’ll want a keyword that is selling something, but that isn’t too competitive. If you happen upon a keyword that’s hardly selling any books, one of two things is happening:

  1. Not many people are looking for that keyword.
  2. All the book results for that keyword aren’t relevant, so searchers aren’t buying the books because they don’t match expectations. You can use your judgment to decide if this is the case or not (more on that in the next step). 

Do this same process for all of your keywords. It will take time, but it will be worth it in the end. 

Link to the rest at Indie Reader

About 15 years ago, PG got tagged with marketing in addition to legal duties in a tech startup and got into Google Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as a cheap way of drawing prospective purchasers of the company’s products to the company’s website.

The principles for Google were about the same as Amazon SEO for books, but with Google, you could construct different web pages to optimize for different search terms instead of being limited to an Amazon book product page. The Google search engine was capable of very precise targeting as well, more so than Amazon’s (in PG’s experience).

If you want to take a quick look at the current state of Google SEO, here’s a link to a Beginner’s Guide to give you an idea of its complexity and sophistication.

While the large majority of those searching for a book on Amazon search using Amazon’s built-in search function, Amazon permits Google to crawl its book listings as well, so a search on Google can pull up a product on Amazon. For example, searching for “Hercule Poirot books” on Google will include a link to those books on Amazon a few spaces down from the top.

PG has not thought through the implications of a Google/Amazon SEO or paid search strategy, however. If any visitors to TPV have knowledge of anyone who has, PG would appreciate a link in the comments.

Barnes & Noble Cancels Black History Month Covers After Backlash

From The Huffington Post:

Major bookseller Barnes & Noble canceled a Black History Month initiative at its flagship Fifth Avenue store in New York City after public backlash. 

The store planned to host an event Wednesday evening launching its new “Diverse Editions” project, which would showcase ”classic” books ― like “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and “Moby-Dick” ― with new covers illustrating the main characters as people of color. The store planned to feature the newly jacketed books in its window display all month.

But after significant outrage online, the company canceled the initiative midday Wednesday.

People on Twitter suggested Barnes & Noble promote diversity by featuring works by actual writers of color. Most of the books the bookseller created new covers for, including “Emma” by Jane Austen and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, were written by white authors and feature white protagonists.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

PG wondered if B&N’s brilliant marketing/virtue-signaling strategy included a black Moby Dick.

‘American Dirt’ was supposed to be a publishing triumph. What went wrong?

From The Los Angeles Times:

It was poised to be a blockbuster long before copies arrived in bookstores last week: a thrilling contemporary migration story following a mother and her son, desperate to cross Mexico and reach the United States.

Its publisher, Flatiron Books, an imprint of Macmillan, paid a seven-figure advance after outbidding several competitors for the novel. It snagged a coveted selection in Oprah’s Book Club and had been shipped to key celebrity influencers, including Stephen King, Sandra Cisneros and Salma Hayek. A reported first run of 500,000 copies was printed. The film rights were sold.

But by week’s end, the novel “American Dirt” had garnered attention that its boosters likely didn’t expect: angry charges of cultural appropriation, stereotyping, insensitivity, and even racism against author Jeanine Cummins, who herself said in the book’s author’s note, “I was worried that, as a nonmigrant and non-Mexican, I had no business writing a book set almost entirely in Mexico, set entirely among migrants.”

Despite the backing of towering figures in American media, Cummins’ page-turning portrayal of a mother on the run is now at the center of the first bonafide literary controversy of the year, and is forcing a hard reflection on the state of Latinos in a cultural field that remains overwhelmingly white.

In the face of critiques, Cummins is pushing back in public. Her publisher released a statement encouraging discussion around the title, while some authors and booksellers have come to Cummins’ defense. In a culture that is used to debating black and Asian representation and stereotypes, the entrenchment around “American Dirt” is fueling even more complaints over the ease with which popular culture still employs Latino-related stereotypes in contemporary movies, television and fiction.

“American Dirt” is also highlighting factors that observers say have contributed a near shutout of contemporary Mexican and Mexican American voices from the top tier of the publishing publicity machine — the sorts of books that are guaranteed handsome sales by virtue of projection.

What went wrong?

As passages from the novel began emerging last month, Mexican and other Latino voicesbegan raising red flags. The author’s portrayal of Mexican culture was called outlandish, littered with stereotypes, stilted bilingualism and an awkward peppering of italicized Spanish phrases.

. . . .

“American Dirt” has also sparked an emotional discussion about how far the publishing industry still must go to more richly represent the scope and diversity of the Latino experience, said authors, literary agents and other industry figures in interviews last week. It’s a discussion focused on a complicated question: Who gets to frame others’ stories, and how?

. . . .

“American Dirt” has opened a window into the ways a few select books are brought to the public’s attention at a time when many authors have to hire their own publicists or arrange their own book readings and events. The roll-out to some took on the veneer of insult to Central American trauma and pain surrounding the treacherous passage through Mexico.

“They’re handling it like they handle a Marvel comics movie,” said Roberto Lovato, a Salvadoran American writer in San Francisco, who is finalizing an upcoming memoir. “But this industry will make you dance the minstrel salsa dance or the minstrel cumbia dance,” he added, in reference to the tenor of Latino-themed titles that are deemed palatable to wide audiences.

Indeed, the operation behind “American Dirt” made what many describe as cringe-worthy errors even before the book hit stores.

. . . .

More criticism followed among Latino writers, from the fringes to the center of the literary power establishment. Mexican author Valeria Luiselli, a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant recipient, called the book the “worst possible” pick for Oprah’s nod. Francisco Goldman, the celebrated Guatemalan American novelist and journalist who divides his time between New York and Mexico City, said in an interview he was “shocked” by the “tone-deaf” publicity roll-out. “And these are supposedly sophisticated people.”

. . . .

Kate Horan, the director of the McAllen Public Library in Texas, posted portions of a letter she sent to the American Library Assn. and Oprah’s Book Club, declining to participate in a recorded “unboxing” event meant to push “American Dirt.” Horan said she felt compelled to turn down the offer from Oprah’s Book Club after seeing the reactions among Latinx writers she and her staff admire

. . . .

“When we took the book out, our hearts dropped,” Horan said in a telephone interview from Philadelphia, where the American Library Assn. is holding its mid-winter conference. “There followed many conversations with people in my community, and of course reading the book, I can only compare it to a telenovela. It’s so hyper stereotyped, that it’s harmful.” 

. . . .

By week’s end, as the U.S. commercial publishing industry was reeling from the expanding maelstrom over what its critics called a cartoonish melodrama about contemporary Mexico, Cummins still hit the road on a book tour. At an industry conference last week in Baltimore, she defended her right to write the novel from the perspective of the Mexican woman at the heart of her book.

Her character Lydia, 32, is middle-class, college-educated wife and mother who owns a bookshop in the resort city of Acapulco and survives a bloody massacre at a family quinceañera. With her journalist husband and other family members killed, the bookish protagonist and her 8-year-old son make a desperate run for the U.S. border, partly on the freight train La Bestia. Critics have mocked the narrative ploy as implausible for anyone of Lydia’s class stature, who can usually buy airline or bus tickets.

In Baltimore, Cummins said the migrants she met during her research for the novel “made me recognize my own cowardice” as she grappled with early failed drafts and doubts about authenticity. “When people are really putting their lives on the line, to be afraid of writing a book felt like cowardice,” she said, according to a report for the trade site Publishers Lunch.

The author, who did not respond to a request for comment for this article, identified as white as recently as 2016. On Wednesday, Cummins, whose grandmother was from Puerto Rico, said she was “a Latinx woman” while addressing the negative reactions to the book among Mexican, Central American and Chicano readers who have vigorously questioned her authorial integrity. “Not everyone needs to love my book,” she said.

On Friday, Cummins turned up her defense during an interview with NPR: “I am a white person. … I am a person who has a very privileged life. I am also Puerto Rican. … That fact has been attacked and sidelined by people who, frankly, are attempting to police my identity.”

But her critics weren’t buying it.

Gurba and others accused Cummins of profiting off Latina identity and transforming her own ethnicity over time to suit professional interests. “She became a person of color for the sake of financial convenience,” Gurba told The Times. “I call that POC, a person of convenience.”

Another set of earlier photos of Cummins with barbed-wire decorated fingernails brought even more criticism. “Every day I see something new that pertains to this, that it seems like it can’t get worse, and it gets worse,” said YA author Rivera.

Cummins’ somewhat apologetic author’s note also fanned the flames. In it, she says she wished someone “slightly browner” than her had written her book. She also argued that her effort seeks to counter depictions of immigrants as a “faceless brown mass.” Goldman, reached in New York, called the phrase an admission to the book’s “pornographic feedback of violence.”

“It’s just unbelievable,” he said Thursday. “How mediocre, third-rate and sleazy it is for a fiction writer to appropriate violence and suffering that way.”

In her note, he added, Cummins also writes, “we seldom think of [migrants] as human beings.”

. . . .

The controversy doesn’t look to go away soon. On Saturday, a group of writers including Lovato, Gurba and others said they sent a letter to Macmillan promising more “action” if the publishing house doesn’t respond more directly to their critiques. Industry players are abuzz with the topic, book agents said, as a string of “American Dirt”-inspired Twitter parodies by brown writers took flight, mocking the publishing industry’s devotion to tired Latino tropes involving gangs and grandmothers.

Eddie Schneider, vice president of JABerwocky Literary Agency, and who represents author Rivera, said Flatiron Books made a string of mistakes in rolling out “American Dirt” and isn’t correcting them. On Thursday, the publishing house defended the title in a statement to The Times.

“I’m baffled I haven’t seen any apology yet,” Schneider said. “Maybe not for the book, but certainly it seems like an apology is in order for the insensitivity of the roll-out.”

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Times and thanks to Karen and Elaine for the tip.

PG says that indie authors must admit that, for executing a really big book release, nobody can match the world-class talent and savvy that a major New York publisher brings to the task.

The 9 Best Apps to Create Fast Graphic Designs

PG recently posted some links to discussions about online graphic design programs for authors. Here are some other possibilities

From Makeuseof:

In today’s world where selfies rule and videos are king among content, there’s no doubt killer visuals are important. But adding visual elements to your written content can feel like a major time-suck, especially when you don’t have any design skills to lean on.

Here are the best apps to create fast graphic designs.

1. Klex

klex editing app

Want to create beautiful graphics at warp speed? Well, Klex has got you covered. This application is best used to customize visual assets with stock photos, vectors, and illustrations, and add in text, fonts, and backgrounds that meet your needs.

Add your own photography or use the stock photos they provide. What I like about Klex is this platform gives you some space to mess around with a whole host of effects. It’s also not hard to use.

Klex uses the same technology behind Gravit Designer, but the aim here is to give users something much easier to work with. The app includes templates for everything from properly sized social graphics to posters, cards, and blog graphics.

. . . .

5. Desygner

Desygner Templates

Desygner is one of the best web-based apps for graphic design. The process is much more smooth than you’ll find with some of the other apps, such as Pixlr, which can feel a little clunky at times.

Where Desygner shines is in its mobile functionality. It’s perfect for social media users designing on the go, as Desygner has virtually eliminated the frustrating dragging and pinching process you’ll find in other tools.

We like that there’s a web app and a mobile version, as this potentially can save you a lot of time if you’re sick of wasting time on graphics when that’s not your main job, or it feels like a chore.

But as far as features go, this app is similar to Canva, but not as robust. Meaning, you do miss out on some features, but you also get a simplified experience where you can rearrange items, add layers, text, and customize photos with ease.

Desygner is free but offers a $6.95 monthly plan for access to more templates and features.

6. Google Drawings

Google Drawing interface

Want to create a customized PNG image with a transparent background? All you need to get started is a Google account, and who doesn’t have one of those?

Now, Drawings isn’t the most sophisticated tool; you’re essentially working in a Google Doc. However, it’s quite convenient. All you need to do to get started is install the extension. From there you can edit photos and create little graphics just as easily as a Google Doc.

Still, adding little labels or designs on top of a photo or plain backdrop can be a great way to incorporate humor or helpful instructions into your visuals. And once you get the hang of the “drawing” aspect, you’ll realize just how incredibly intuitive this tool is.

Link to the rest at Makeuseof

OverDrive Reports Record Digital Borrowing in 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Public libraries around the world generated a record level of digital content circulation in 2019, providing patrons access to more than 326 million e-books, audiobooks and digital magazines, a 20% increase over the previous year, according to a report by Rakuten OverDrive, a digital distribution vendor for libraries

According to the report, 73 public library systems in five countries each loaned over 1 million digital books over the past year, including eight systems that hit the million loans mark for the first time. Among the top digital library lending systems are the Toronto Public Library (6.6 million digital loans), Los Angeles Public Library (the top U.S. library with 5.9 million digital loans); and the National Library Board of Singapore (the top lender outside of North America with 4.2 million loans).

According to the OverDrive report, the increase in digital borrowing represents the “library’s role as a valued discovery channel” for publishers and authors. Nevertheless, the OverDrive report on digital lending comes in the wake of continuing concerns by publishers that digital borrowing may undermine book sales. These concerns have led to a continuing dispute between publishers and libraries over efforts by some publishers to restrict the ability of libraries to offer digital access to their titles.

According to the OverDrive data, the number of e-books borrowed rose 15% in the year to 211 million; digital audiobooks borrowed jumped 30%, to 114 million, and 59 million children’s/young adult checkouts took place, a gain of 27% over 2018.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG thought publishers’ concerns about consumers borrowing physical titles from the library instead of buying them at bookstores had been resolved a long time ago. If lending libraries and the consumer behavior they enable were dangerous or fatal to publishers and physical bookstores, such damage would have manifested itself long ago.

If it makes sense for publishers to sell physical books to libraries with the understanding that the library is going to lend the book and the publisher will receive no incremental income from such loans, nothing about ebooks should really change the underlying business considerations. With the specialized software the library uses to lend a copy of an ebook and delete it from the reader’s device at the end of the loan, the likelihood that ebooks lent through the library are going to be pirated is lower than those sold (licensed) through Amazon where no such automatic deletion function is built into the ebook management system (at least to PG’s knowledge).

Here’s an excerpt from the help file of Libby, a popular (the most popular?) lending software used in the United States:

Books are automatically returned to the library on their due date. When they’re returned, they’re also removed from your Loans and deleted from your device (if downloaded).

PG has noted before that on a scale of most to least sophisticated marketers and advertisers, traditional publishers are at the bottom, just below used car lots and payday lenders.

Why?

Free samples are a long-time staple of advertising and promotion campaigns for a variety of products.

Perhaps there are physical bookstores that do not allow visitors to leaf through and read parts of books as part of the shopping process, but PG is not aware of their existence. Such consumer behavior is sampling. Amazon permits the same behavior in its bookstore. No one expects that everyone who samples a product will purchase it.

If sampling was not a reliable method of increasing sales, PG expects retail establishments would end the practice.

If a reader borrows an ebook from a library by an author she hasn’t read before, from the reader’s perspective, that’s another form of sampling. (In this case, the publisher receives some compensation from the library for licensing the book in the first place.)

If this instance of book sampling is successful and the reader enjoys the book, then returns it to the library and looks for the next book in the series or another book by the same author and finds a two-month waiting list to borrow that next book, the reader is only a few clicks away from buying the next ebook by that author on Amazon and starting to read it in a couple of minutes. The reader may even purchase a printed version of the book she has borrowed and enjoyed for her own physical library, sign up for the author’s and/or publisher’s email list, etc.

Discovering a great new author and buying other books written by that author is a far more frictionless process with ebooks than it is with physical books. Going to a physical bookstore to buy that book requires transporting oneself to that store, hoping the store stocks the book, etc., etc. Buying a physical copy of the book from Amazon involves a wait of at least one or two days.

The incremental cost of goods for the publisher in creating, storing, transporting, etc., a copy of the second ebook is probably zero. The same costs for a physical book are definitely more than zero.

A sophisticated seller would be overjoyed to sell products with no incremental costs of producing and transporting those products instead of dealing with the costs and friction involved in selling physical products. Bill Gates, Microsoft and a lot of other people and business organizations have become extremely wealthy from selling organized collections of electrons.

Harrogate stands by author exclusion clause

From The Bookseller:

Harrogate International Festivals has stood by its author exclusion clause, saying the exclusivity option only applies to 5% of its authors.

On Friday, The Bookseller reported that Harrogate’s special guest authors are required to appear exclusively at Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival and not as a special guest at other crime fiction festivals taking place in the same calendar year. The requirement was branded “predatory” by crime fiction event CrimeFest.

Now, Harrogate has clarified its stance saying: “While 95% of authors who take part in the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Festival are not subject to an exclusivity option, for our special guests we make this request at invitation stage to ensure that our offering for both authors and visitors is protected, and this is something which is carefully discussed and considered on an individual basis in conjunction with each author. As a not-for-profit arts charity, rather than a convention or commercial venture, Harrogate International Festivals relies heavily on ticket sales to deliver our year-round literacy development programmes, and our curated offering therefore must be as distinctive as possible, ensuring authors and guests alike enjoy the best possible experience.”

The statement added Harrogate’s policy is to “offer authors fees and accommodation, and to support smaller publishers in taking part—something which some other events do not provide”.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

The Best Book Covers of 2019

From BookRiot:

It’s the season of best of lists, and with the bonus of this being the end of a decade, we’re being treated to double the number of best of lists this year. What shouldn’t be overlooked among those lists are the incredible book covers that graced shelves this year. Works of art in and of themselves, it’s an outdated belief that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The reality is we do and that we should. In honor of that, let’s take a peek at the best book covers of 2019.

 

 

The Ash Family by Molly Dektar

Cover design and illustration by Kimberly Glyder.

This is one of those covers of which I would happily buy a print and hang on my wall in the center of the living room. The shades of blue and orange contrast against each other beautifully. That stark contrast gives off the feeling of turmoil amidst the calm of the forest—imagery that aligns with life in the Ash Family commune.

 

 

 

 

. . . .

 

 

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Cover Art by Noah Saterstrom.

I saw Patchett speak in Chicago shortly after her new novel’s release. She said: “Book jackets are like your birthday.” A week before, you insist you don’t know what you want to a friend and say you don’t want anything, “and when that person gives you nothing, and you go to bed on your birthday hurt and bitter, it’s only your own fault.” So she fought for her version of the cover. She didn’t want a house—she wanted that to exist in the reader’s imagination—but she thought it would be wonderful to have it feature the portrait of 9-year-old protagonist Maeve, an object that is important within the novel. Her first choice for artist, Noah Saterstrom, delivered the art that would become this gorgeous, richly colored cover.

 

. . . .

 

Medieval Bodies by Jack Hartnell

Cover Design by Peter Dyer.

I found this in a book fair. It was the only copy in show and it caught my eye instantly. It is printed in a silky paperback, with lots of different textures and gold foiling. Plus it is an amazing piece that incorporates both amazing graphic design and medieval art work.

(PG note: Evidently somebody with influence didn’t like the original cover. Here’s a link to the more predictable current cover he found on Amazon.)

 

 

 

Link to the rest, including lots more covers, at BookRiot

PG was struck by the note that Ann Patchett had to fight for her preference for a cover. Ms. Patchett has made a great deal of money for her publisher(s) and PG expects she would be well-connected with the thoughts and feelings of her readers.

PG suspects that an author who hadn’t sold as many books might well have been less successful in a fight for a good cover. It’s not difficult to find a prolific traditionally-published author who has one (or more than one) horror story about being saddled with a terrible cover that doesn’t do anything useful to sell the book.

Absent a quite unusual clause in a traditional publishing contract, the author has no say about what her/his cover looks like.

Indie authors, on the other hand, hire their cover artist, share their ideas and collaborate with the artist to develop a cover the author really likes.

Do all author have great tastes where covers are concerned? Of course not. Do all underpaid editors at traditional publishers (who are almost always dealing with a limited production budget) have greate tastes where covers are concerned? Ditto. If the editors are familiar with the applicable genre (not always the case), they may be more concerned with a cover that fits in rather than stands out on the shelf or Amazon product page.

One additional point PG will make is that it is very, very difficult to persuade a typical publisher to pay for a cover refresh for a book once it has been published. The experience of many authors who are able to wrangle back their rights to a traditionally-published book is that their new cover choices for the indie version can have a very beneficial effect on sales.

Promote Your Book with Local Collaborations

From The Book Designer:

I often advise authors to start their book marketing locally. Local “gatekeepers” – retailers, librarians, and reporters – will nearly always be more open and friendly to a new author with a great book than their counterparts in distant locations will be.

This approach applies to distribution and publicity opportunities, of course, but what if you used your local know-how to collaborate with a wider range of local businesses?

. . . .

When a local physician spoke about the health benefits of chocolate at the grand opening of a candy shop near me, I was disappointed that he wasn’t an author. If he had written a book about that topic – or even about healthy eating in general – opening day chocoholics would have been eating out of his hand and buying his book.

Think about the potential for partnering with a range of local retailers or other business owners in a way that benefits all parties. What can you do that will attract news media attention – publicity – along with increased traffic for the business and book sales for you?

Here are just a few ideas to show you how this could work:

  • A young adult author can talk about writing at a tutoring center.
  • The author of a financial planning book can present to bank customers.
  • A romance novelist can speak at the grand opening of a lingerie store.
  • A parenting book author can offer toddler parenting tips to parents touring a new daycare center.
  • The author of a local historical novel can host a themed dinner at a landmark restaurant.

. . . .

Naturally, some authors are high-profile enough locally that they receive invitations to speak at these types of gatherings without making any effort. Most of us, though, have to look for or create those opportunities.

This requires getting plugged in locally so you know what’s going on and what’s coming up. There are a number of ways to do that:

  • Like and follow Facebook pages for businesses that reach your book’s target audience.
  • Subscribe to the mailing lists of businesses that reach your book’s target audience.
  • Monitor retail storefronts for remodeling and the “coming soon” signs that go along with that activity.
  • Be an active member of your Chamber of Commerce.
  • Participate in business membership groups such as Rotary and the National Association of Women Business Owners.
  • Read the local daily and weekly newspapers for relevant announcements.
  • Follow local leaders and elected officials on Twitter for advance information.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

With no disrespect to the author of the OP or Book Designer Joel, the OP reminded PG of the sort of busywork that low-level operatives at publishers used to suggest to authors because it cost the publisher nothing and might generate a small payoff for the publisher. The author’s time cost nothing.

PG is happy to be corrected if he misperceives the value of this type of activity for an indie author, but the idea that there is a broad general market for all but a handful of books is hearkening back to a much earlier era when the US (and perhaps many other countries) were more homogeneous in their tastes and media consumption than they are today.

Online promotion and interaction with the particular slice of the reading world that is interested in what the author is writing about seems a much more useful activity than speaking at the local Rotary Club.

But PG could be wrong.

How Google Interferes With Its Search Algorithms and Changes Your Results

From The Wall Street Journal:

Every minute, an estimated 3.8 million queries are typed into Google, prompting its algorithms to spit out results for hotel rates or breast-cancer treatments or the latest news about President Trump.

They are arguably the most powerful lines of computer code in the global economy, controlling how much of the world accesses information found on the internet, and the starting point for billions of dollars of commerce.

Twenty years ago, Google founders began building a goliath on the premise that its search algorithms could do a better job combing the web for useful information than humans. Google executives have said repeatedly—in private meetings with outside groups and in congressional testimony—that the algorithms are objective and essentially autonomous, unsullied by human biases or business considerations.

The company states in a Google blog, “We do not use human curation to collect or arrange the results on a page.” It says it can’t divulge details about how the algorithms work because the company is involved in a long-running and high-stakes battle with those who want to profit by gaming the system.

But that message often clashes with what happens behind the scenes. Over time, Google has increasingly re-engineered and interfered with search results to a far greater degree than the company and its executives have acknowledged, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.

Those actions often come in response to pressure from businesses, outside interest groups and governments around the world. They have increased sharply since the 2016 election and the rise of online misinformation, the Journal found.

Google’s evolving approach marks a shift from its founding philosophy of “organizing the world’s information,” to one that is far more active in deciding how that information should appear.

More than 100 interviews and the Journal’s own testing of Google’s search results reveal:

• Google made algorithmic changes to its search results that favor big businesses over smaller ones, and in at least one case made changes on behalf of a major advertiser, eBay Inc., contrary to its public position that it never takes that type of action. The company also boosts some major websites, such as Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook Inc., according to people familiar with the matter.

• Google engineers regularly make behind-the-scenes adjustments to other information the company is increasingly layering on top of its basic search results. These features include auto-complete suggestions, boxes called “knowledge panels” and “featured snippets,” and news results, which aren’t subject to the same company policies limiting what engineers can remove or change.

• Despite publicly denying doing so, Google keeps blacklists to remove certain sites or prevent others from surfacing in certain types of results. These moves are separate from those that block sites as required by U.S. or foreign law, such as those featuring child abuse or with copyright infringement, and from changes designed to demote spam sites, which attempt to game the system to appear higher in results.

• In auto-complete, the feature that predicts search terms as the user types a query, Google’s engineers have created algorithms and blacklists to weed out more-incendiary suggestions for controversial subjects, such as abortion or immigration, in effect filtering out inflammatory results on high-profile topics.

• Google employees and executives, including co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, have disagreed on how much to intervene on search results and to what extent. Employees can push for revisions in specific search results, including on topics such as vaccinations and autism.

• To evaluate its search results, Google employs thousands of low-paid contractors whose purpose the company says is to assess the quality of the algorithms’ rankings. Even so, contractors said Google gave feedback to these workers to convey what it considered to be the correct ranking of results, and they revised their assessments accordingly, according to contractors interviewed by the Journal. The contractors’ collective evaluations are then used to adjust algorithms.

. . . .

The Journal’s findings undercut one of Google’s core defenses against global regulators worried about how it wields its immense power—that the company doesn’t exert editorial control over what it shows users. Regulators’ areas of concern include anticompetitive practices, political bias and online misinformation.

Far from being autonomous computer programs oblivious to outside pressure, Google’s algorithms are subject to regular tinkering from executives and engineers who are trying to deliver relevant search results, while also pleasing a wide variety of powerful interests and driving its parent company’s more than $30 billion in annual profit.

. . . .

Google made more than 3,200 changes to its algorithms in 2018, up from more than 2,400 in 2017 and from about 500 in 2010, according to Google and a person familiar with the matter.

. . . .

As part of its examination, the Journal tested Google’s search results over several weeks this summer and compared them with results from two competing search engines, Microsoft Corp. ’s Bing and DuckDuckGo, a privacy-focused company that builds its results from syndicated feeds from other companies, including Verizon Communications Inc. ’s Yahoo search engine.

The testing showed wide discrepancies in how Google handled auto-complete queries and some of what Google calls organic search results—the list of websites that Google says are algorithmically sorted by relevance in response to a user’s query.

. . . .

The Journal tested the auto-complete feature, which Google says draws from its vast database of search information to predict what a user intends to type, as well as data such as a user’s location and search history. The testing showed the extent to which Google doesn’t offer certain suggestions compared with other search engines.

Typing “Joe Biden is” or “Donald Trump is” in auto-complete, Google offered predicted language that was more innocuous than the other search engines. Similar differences were shown for other presidential candidates tested by the Journal.

The Journal also tested several search terms in auto-complete such as “immigrants are” and “abortion is.” Google’s predicted searches were less inflammatory than those of the other engines.

. . . .

One Google search executive described the problem of defining misinformation as incredibly hard, and said the company didn’t want to go down the path of figuring it out.

Around the time Google started addressing issues such as misinformation, it started fielding even more complaints, to the point where human interference became more routine, according to people familiar with the matter, putting it in the position of arbitrating some of society’s most complicated issues. Some changes to search results might be considered reasonable—boosting trusted websites like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, for example—but Google has made little disclosure about when changes are made, or why.

Businesses, lawmakers and advertisers are worried about fairness and competition within the markets where Google is a leading player, and as a result its operations are coming under heavy scrutiny.

The U.S. Justice Department earlier this year opened an antitrust probe, in which Google’s search policies and practices are expected to be areas of focus.

. . . .

In one change hotly contested within Google, engineers opted to tilt results to favor prominent businesses over smaller ones, based on the argument that customers were more likely to get what they wanted at larger outlets. One effect of the change was a boost to Amazon’s products, even if the items had been discontinued, according to people familiar with the matter.

The issue came up repeatedly over the years at meetings in which Google search executives discuss algorithm changes. Each time, they chose not to reverse the change, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Google engineers said it is widely acknowledged within the company that search is a zero-sum game: A change that helps lift one result inevitably pushes down another, often with considerable impact on the businesses involved.

. . . .

Many of the changes within Google have coincided with its gradual evolution from a company with an engineering-focused, almost academic culture into an advertising behemoth and one of the most profitable companies in the world. Advertising revenue—which includes ads on search as well as on other products such as maps and YouTube—was $116.3 billion last year.

Some very big advertisers received direct advice on how to improve their organic search results, a perk not available to businesses with no contacts at Google, according to people familiar with the matter. In some cases, that help included sending in search engineers to explain a problem, they said.

“If they have an [algorithm] update, our teams may get on the phone with them and they will go through it,” said Jeremy Cornfeldt, the chief executive of the Americas of Dentsu Inc.’s iProspect, which Mr. Cornfeldt said is one of Google’s largest advertising agency clients.

. . . .

One former executive at a Fortune 500 company that received such advice said Google frequently adjusts how it crawls the web and ranks pages to deal with specific big websites.

. . . .

“There’s this idea that the search algorithm is all neutral and goes out and combs the web and comes back and shows what it found, and that’s total BS,” the former executive said. “Google deals with special cases all the time.”

. . . .

Online marketplace eBay had long relied on Google for as much as a third of its internet traffic. In 2014, traffic suddenly plummeted—contributing to a $200 million hit in its revenue guidance for that year.

Google told the company it had made a decision to lower the ranking of a large number of eBay pages that were a big source of traffic.

. . . .

Companies without eBay’s clout had different experiences.

Dan Baxter can remember the exact moment his website, DealCatcher, was caught in a Google algorithm change. It was 6 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 17. Mr. Baxter, who founded the Wilmington, Del., coupon website 20 years ago, got a call from one of his 12 employees the next morning.

“Have you looked at our traffic?” the worker asked, frantically, Mr. Baxter recalled. It was suddenly down 93% for no apparent reason. That Saturday, DealCatcher saw about 31,000 visitors from Google. Now it was posting about 2,400. It had disappeared almost entirely on Google search.

Mr. Baxter said he didn’t know whom to contact at Google, so he hired a consultant to help him identify what might have happened. The expert reached out directly to a contact at Google but never heard back. Mr. Baxter tried posting to a YouTube forum hosted by a Google “webmaster” to ask if it might have been a technical problem, but the webmaster seemed to shoot down that idea.

One month to the day after his traffic disappeared, it inexplicably came back, and he still doesn’t know why.

“You’re kind of just left in the dark, and that’s the scary part of the whole thing,” said Mr. Baxter.

. . . .

Google’s Ms. Levin said “extreme transparency has historically proven to empower bad actors in a way that hurts our users and website owners who play by the rules.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

A Comprehensive Guide to a Content Audit

From ReadWrite:

In content marketing, it is always the 80/20 rule. 20% of content brings 80% results. This holds water for every content marketing audit I have done. A handful of articles pull the maximum number of clicks and conversions. When we talk about content marketing, the first thing should be to create and distribute content that often we don’t reuse.

According to a study, most content marketers don’t feel the need to audit, which is strange as it helps improve content marketing strategy.

What is a Content Audit?

It is a process of systematically reviewing all the content on your website. The process allows you to pay special attention to the optimization efforts and see whether you meet your business objectives or not.

If performed adequately, you can find gaps in your content which can be fulfilled to serve your target audience better. Finding your target audience will not only step up your content game but will also help mature your digital strategy following the dynamic industrial trends.

. . . .

Before creating content, you must ask yourself who your audience is? What is your audience looking for? How can you solve their problems? All these questions will help you to write a clear and crisp copy that is as relevant to your audience as possible.

Once you’re done, you’ll be all set to write content copy that can move mountains. Every content marketer has their way of creating and publishing high-quality content, but there are a few things you must ponder before creating a writing piece. The first one is the audience.

Your content should resonate with your audience, so they keep on coming back to you. Seek feedback from your current customers through social media pages, emails, and surveys.

. . . .

Identify where your SEO stands:

  • Identify your high ranking web pages and keep them aside from the low ranking ones. Take the help of Google spreadsheets or any other spreadsheet while doing so.
  • Understand what content you need to remove or update on your website.
  • Check for backlinking and interlinking.

Link to the rest at ReadWrite

Finding and Using Competing Book Titles in Your Book Marketing

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

As an author you’ve probably been told to look at competing titles through multiple stages of your journey from writing, to publishing, to book promotion.

Competing book titles can be lucrative references for cover design, book length, and choosing your categories and keywords. They’re also helpful in deciding how to price your book and determining the best strategies for marketing to potential buyers in your genre or topic, and more!

. . . .

Keyword research will show you who else is showing up on Amazon for the keywords you’d like to be ranking for. This is beneficial not only because you’ll start developing a list of titles, but it will also clue you in if you’re not on the right path with your keywords, or sometimes your branding. But we can fix that!

For example, what if a keyword search brings up a bunch of books that make you say, “My reader wouldn’t be interested in these!” That’s a sign you might be using the wrong keywords.

. . . .

Maybe your keywords are on track but the books coming up just don’t look like the kinds of books you had in mind. Then perhaps you need to do some cover comparisons once you have a solid list of competing titles to work with. It may mean you should consider tweaking the branding of your covers to align with your readers’ expectations for your genre or topic.

. . . .

Similar to keyword research, category research is just another layer of ensuring you’re aligned with your reader market’s expectations.

Get on Amazon and I recommend the Kindle search because there are so many more categories to choose from. That way you can get really niche with your comparisons. Start digging into categories you’d like to rank in. Take notes of which books come up along the way, and go as far as you can down the rabbit hole of refine by terms that fit your book because this is how you find the competing book titles that are most like yours.

. . . .

The “also bought items” section on your book page on Amazon is a great place to look for competing book titles.  It will give you insight into buyer behavior. Be prepared for some surprises here. Not every book will be a direct competitor of yours. But it’s a good reminder than a lot of readers, especially in fiction, will bounce between different subgenres.

. . . .

Once you have a solid list of competing book titles, be sure you’re not only reading as many of the books as you have time for. Definitely read the reviews for the books as well.

Reviews tell you what readers like, what they don’t like, what stood out as special, what they found distracting or too complex. They’re another great tool for gathering insight into how to compete in your genre or topic.

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

Public Speaking

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I never meant to become a public speaker, although I did train for it. I was in competitive forensics (public speaking) in 8th and 9th grade, although I transferred over the debate in high school. Even though I went to State both years (once with a poem I wrote myself), I didn’t like memorizing and declaiming. I was much more comfortable with debate—learning a topic and arguing it in front of judges.

. . . .

I learned how to speak in front of groups then because speaking in front of groups terrified me. That tends to be my M.O. If something frightens me, I confront it. If it’s a “silly” fear, like public speaking, I learn how to overcome it—enough.

(I also had a career in radio, but it doesn’t translate: what terrified me was being seen, not the speaking part.)

. . . .

One other side effect of being a “famous” author was attending a lot of banquets, many of which had speakers. I had to go to every major event in science fiction when I was the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which gave me a heck of a speech-survival instinct (still!). Back then, I could flee a room faster than anyone except Jack Williamson and Robert Silverberg at the very whiff of a bad speaker. (Oh, dear, I would say to my seatmates, I need to hit the restroom. And then I would vanish…until the speaker was done. You see, it’s not polite to return to your seat while a speech is in progress…)

I’ve given speaking a lot more thought than I usually admit. Here’s what I do.

  • I make sure I know the topic I’m asked to talk about. (You’d be surprised how many folks don’t.)
  • I make sure I’m as entertaining as I can be. Or as shocking as I can be. (Sometimes I want writers in the audience to think about what I’m discussing.)
  • I leave time for questions, because that’s often the best part of a presentation. People ask questions about things I’ve never thought of. If I don’t know the answer, I say so. If I do, I pontificate a bit. And often, I end up thinking about that topic for a while thereafter. That’s one reason why I started doing Ask Kris Anything, because I can’t travel, and I miss the questions.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG has also done a lot of public speaking. One of the results is that he has developed a love/hate relationship with Powerpoint.

When Powerpoint is good, it is very, very good, but when it is bad, it is horrid.

PG has a tendency to push Powerpoint toward its theoretical maximum. When he has been dealing only with Powerpoint, it generally manages not to embarrass PG by doing something different during the presentation than it was doing while PG was practicing with it in his hotel room.

PG’s worst Powerpoint disasters have occurred when he has used third-party programs or programettes to do things Powerpoint can’t do on its own. On those occasions, what looked wonderful and entertaining in his hotel room has sometimes crashed and burned when a couple of hundred people were watching it on a large screen. A general rule is that a computer takes ten times as long to reboot when other people are watching than it does when PG is the only viewer.

Yes, there are many more boring and terrible Powerpoint presentations than there are good ones. However, there are many more boring and terrible speeches without Powerpoint than there are good ones as well.

Being an expert on a topic and being able to speak in a fluent and interesting manner about that topic in front of lots of people are two different things.

For some people, the speaking part seems to come naturally, but speaking fluently is often the result of a lot of practice and spending time thinking about how the speaker’s knowledge can be communicated in an interesting fashion to an audience. If attending the presentation is like reading the book, the speaker has not succeeded.

Here are a few of PG’s don’ts for making a presentation:

  1. Don’t read your speech.
  2. Don’t avoid looking at your audience – look at individual members of the audience just as you would if you were standing or sitting in a group with them having a discussion. Human beings respond to eye contact.
  3. Don’t read your Powerpoint. The Powerpoint is for the big picture, to help provide structure and continuity for your presentation. No tiny type in your Powerpoint, either.
  4. Don’t use one of the default presentation themes that come with Powerpoint. If they don’t seem boring to you in and of themselves, they are boring for at least some members of the audience who have seen those same themes before. If you spend a little time searching online, you can find lots of free and paid themes that are better than Microsoft’s and that your audience hasn’t seen before.
  5. You don’t have to use Powerpoint. Google Slides can also provide a good presentation platform if you don’t want to pay for Powerpoint. The last time PG dug deep into Google Slides, it didn’t have as many bells and whistles as Powerpoint does, but there’s no reason you can’t prepare a creative and effective presentation with Google Slides. As with Powerpoint, look for a Google Slides theme that at least some members of the audience haven’t seen lots of times before.
  6. You don’t have to run a presentation from your laptop computer. PG can’t speak for Android, but your iPhone and your iPad can provide a platform for presenting with Powerpoint. The first step is installing a Powerpoint app, which you can find online. You will want to check your presentation thoroughly using your iPhone or iPad before showing it to others. In PG’s experience, iPhone/iPad presentations are sometimes a bit different than the same one on his laptop. Fancy transitions between slides don’t always work right. He hasn’t had any similar problems with Google Slides on a smaller device, however. Make sure your iPhone/iPad has a good battery that’s charged up and bring your plugin charger just in case.
  7. Don’t trust hotel internet connections. If you have anything in your presentation that relies on a good internet connection, have a Plan B if the connection is slow or nonexistent. Most hotels have improved their internet access greatly from the net dark ages many years ago, but a presentation that works well with a wireless signal in one room in the conference center may not work as well in a different room in the conference center. Smart presenters check the internet speed in the room where they are going to present on the day or night before their formal presentations to make certain the internet connection works well. (Even doing that is not a guarantee the internet experience will be the same the next day when 500 audience members are on the same internet connection you’re trying to use, however.) If you don’t have a reliable internet connection where you are going to present, or you’re not sure and want a Plan B, you can take screen shots of your browser and drop those into your Powerpoint to create a faux online experience. You can even click on the appropriate buttons or icons in the screenshots to move forward to the next screen shot for a more believable faux experience.
  8. You don’t need a Powerpoint to make a good presentation. People have come to see and hear you, not your Powerpoint. If all else fails, be prepared to present your thoughts effectively without a big screen. PG always has a printed version of his Powerpoint that he can use to present if the technical/internet gods are displeased with him. And don’t act like the lack of your Powerpoint is a disaster that has ruined everything. Be chipper and upbeat. Generally, the audience wants you to succeed and will appreciate your pluck for forging ahead without your electronic crutch.

The 30 Scariest Author Website Mistakes And How To Fix Them

From Bad Redhead Media:

I recently had the pleasure of taking part in the Wednesday evening #BookMarketingChat hosted by BadRedhead Media. Our topic was easy updates to refresh your author website. To prepare for the chat, I visited the sites of several writers, including those who have left comments here in the past. I figured I would snoop around and find out what kind of slips the average writer is making with this vital part of their online platform.

My verdict? As a community, we need to pull our socks up if we want to show our readers we value their website visits and respect their time. I saw too many websites that were dated in design, neglected in content, or both.

According to a Stanford University study, 75% of users admit to making judgments about a company’s credibility based on their website design. Readers will lose trust in your professionalism and the quality of your work if you can’t present a reasonably spiffy website to the world.

Since it’s October and Halloween is fast approaching, here are the 30 website mistakes I consider the scariest, in terms of turning your reader off. I’ll start with the ones I saw on multiple websites that are easiest to fix.

Dated items, which show how long you’ve neglected your website. For example:

  1. Blog post dates
  2. A book page which announces a title is “Coming Spring 2018”
  3. An events page with nothing forthcoming or recent
  4. Copyright year not current

. . . .

 Links to social media accounts that you no longer use. Watch out in particular for an icon advertising Google Plus, which shut down 6 months ago!

. . . .

Cluttered sidebars. Sidebars are a magnet for outdated distractions, for example: tag clouds, tiny photos of your followers, or badges for everywhere you’ve ever been featured. A little social proof is important, but too much looks desperate.

. . . .

No “About” page, and/or no contact information. Even if you’re writing with a pen name, you should still give visitors some context to connect with. Your readers want to get to know you, not just your work.

. . . .

Unless you’re using a free service, you don’t have to declare which theme you’re using, or that you’re powered by WordPress. Professionally designed websites don’t do this, so you needn’t either.

Link to the rest at Bad Redhead Media

 

How to Use MailerLite (So You Can Dump MailChimp)

From Social Media Just for Writers:

Yep, I gave the boot to MailChimp and am a happy MailerLite customer.

In the past I raved about MailChimp. I wrote blog posts about it. I even recommended it to clients.

 But over the years, I liked it less and less. Their customer services degraded as their prices climbed. 

 A terrible combination.

. . . .

MailerLite’s customer service is superb. Whereas before, I would wait four days for an email response from MailChimp’s tech support, with MailerLite, it’s just a few hours.

 Learning MailerLite’s system took a bit of time, but their tech support made it a smooth transition.

 And it’s cheaper than MailChimp while offering the same services.

 I’m paying $30/month for MailerLite (MailChimp was $75/month) because I want extra features. You can use it for free if you’d like to.

. . . .

Let’s face it; email marketing is more effective than social media marketing. 

 And consider this fact: if Instagram or Facebook disappeared or changed into a format you couldn’t make sense of, what would you do?

 All those people you were connecting with would be gone. 

 Consider email marketing as an insurance policy and an excellent way to connect with your readers.

Link to the rest at Social Media Just for Writers

9 Most Frequent Mistakes in Author Press Releases

From the Nonfiction Authors Association:

When an author snail-mails me a new book, whether or not I’ve asked for it, I page through it to see if I can find a press release that will help me decide if I want to read it.

Nine times out of 10, the release is missing.

But if I find one and it includes seven tips from your nonfiction topic that interests me, or tells me about the wild adventure thriller your novel is going to take me on, chances are good I’ll set it aside to read later.

Seldom does a press release perform that important duty.

Too often, author press releases land with a thud. They’re boring. They lack the important details that explain what the book is about. Almost always, the author or publicist fails to include information that helps make the author make money aside from selling the book.

. . . .

Mistake #1:
Not taking advantage of the many opportunities to write releases.

Your book launch is just one of many events that warrant a press release. Others include book awards you’ve won, speaking engagements and book signings, a second edition of your book, getting a celebrity endorsement, convincing a celebrity or influencer to write the foreword to your book, library appearances and classes you’re teaching.

. . . .

Mistake #2:
Cutesy headlines that offer no clue what the release and book are about.

The writer relies on a pun or bad alliteration to be clever but only confuses the reader. A confused reader does one thing. Leaves.

Don’t worry about writing headlines that are too long. One of the new rules of today’s press releases is that we can bypass the media gatekeepers and write for consumers, not only journalists.

. . . .

Mistake #7:
No links to high-resolution photos of the book cover and the author.

Magazine editors are practically begging for high-resolution (300 dpi) images of book covers. Editors have told me that they’d love to feature books in their “New Products” section but can’t if they don’t have an image that will reproduce well. Again, a missed opportunity!

Link to the rest at the Nonfiction Authors Association

Facebook has begun hiding likes (in Australia)

From C/Net:

Facebook began hiding likes on Friday, Sept. 27, making the number of reactions, views and likes visible only to a post’s author. The test kicked off in Australia, the social media giant confirmed last week, and includes ads.

“We are running a limited test where like, reaction and video view counts are made private across Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNET in an emailed statement on Sept. 26.

. . . .

As of Sept. 30, Facebook said it is still expanding the experiment to more people in Australia, but it should be out to the majority of people in the country within the next day or two.

The social network indicated earlier in September that it might experiment with hiding likes, after testing the approach on Facebook-owned Instagram this year. In August, Facebook said the Instagram test was meant to “remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive” on Instagram, and that Facebook was “excited by the early test results.”

Link to the rest at C/Net

PG would be interested in comments from serious Facebook users about whether this is a good/bad/whatever idea for authors who use FB as an important part of their promotional efforts.

Amazon is Shutting Down Kindle Matchbook, Its Print+eBook Bundling ProgramAmazon is Shutting Down Kindle Matchbook, Its Print+eBook Bundling Program

From The Digital Reader:

It’s only been a few short days since Amazon announced that Amazon Giveaways was ending, and now they’ve decided to shut down another promotion service.

. . . .

Starting October 31, we’re retiring the Kindle MatchBook program. If you have books enrolled in Kindle MatchBook, they’ll be unenrolled at that time.

Here are a couple things to know:

  • Readers will still be able to buy books in their preferred format (eBook or paperback).
  • We’ll issue payments from any remaining Kindle MatchBook sales on your regular payment schedule.

Best regards,
The Kindle Direct Publishing Team

Launched in 2013, Kindle Matchbook was a program where authors and publishers had the option of creating ebook+print bundles that combine a Kindle ebook with a print book sold by Amazon. The ebook could be given away for free, or sold for $1.99 or $0.99.

. . . .

Most authors have never heard of it, and the ones that do have books in the program report that there was little interest from readers. “I can see why they are retiring it. I’ve had all my books enrolled in Matchbook since the beginning, allowing people to get a free ebook copy of any paperback they buy,” Shawn Inmon wrote on FB. “I think I’ve given away maybe 20 copies in all those years. It just doesn’t seem to be something people are interested in.”

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

What influences Book Purchasing Decisions?

From Marketing Christian Books:

BookNet Canada conducts studies on book reading and buying behavior. In one of their studies, they looked at which element influence readers to purchase a particular book. Were readers drawn in by the awesome cover design? Were they won over by the gripping book description? Did endorsements influence readers purchase decision?

It turns out familiarity was the most cited influence for reading a given book. In other words, the reader was familiar with the author. Somehow the reader knew about the author. They may have read another book by that author. They may be familiar with the author because he or she is already famous. Maybe they saw the author on television or heard her on the radio. The key ingredient was that they “knew” the author somehow.
Here is the breakdown of the percentage of people who ranked each option first in terms of how they influence when books they read / listen to:

  • Familiarity with the author – 35.5%
  • Read a synopsis – 25.8%
  • Familiarity with the series – 17.2%
  • Cover design – 6.9%
  • Awards and bestseller stickers/badges – 6.5%
  • Saw an ad for the book – 4.7%
  • Author or celebrity endorsement – 3.1%

Notice in this breakdown that “Familiarity with the Author” was chosen by over one-third of the readers, and “Familiarity with the Series” was chosen by just about one out of every six readers.

From Marketing Christian Books

Questions for Indie Authors

Mrs. PG and PG were discussing the upcoming release of her newest book (more details in a later post) and came up with a couple of questions, the answers to which we were uncertain:

1. What is the best day of the week for the release of an indie book? Or does it not matter?

2. What experience has anyone had with BookGorilla?

Feel free to provide facts, opinions, opinionated facts or factual opinions in the comments.

The Five Myths of Crisis Management for Authors

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

I know what you’re thinking. You see the word crisis and say, that will never happen to me. Sorry to burst your bubble, but you are wrong. As with all public figures, a reputation-tanking, book-disappearing, fan-stalking, Twitter-storm crisis can happen to any author.

And it could ruin your business and your reputation if you’re not prepared.

You need to know about crisis management.

Let’s face it, author businesses thrive or die online. Whether it’s a website, social media, our newsletters, online classes, bookstores like Amazon—whatever it is—our business and our reputations exist online. We may have lots of offline marketing going on, but the bulk of our livelihood is attached at the hip to the internet where the good, the bad, and the ugly hang out.

. . . .

1) I don’t need crisis management. I don’t pay attention to what’s being said about me online.

Listening is the first line of prevention when it comes to your reputation. If you don’t have your author name set up on a Google Alert, it needs to be. This is the bare minimum of prevention. These searches can be set to come to your inbox once a day. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And in online crisis, sometimes there is no cure.

If you’re not listening to the chatter around your name, you will miss the warning signs of a potentially life-changing event. On the flipside, if you’re overanxious and listen to everything, you won’t know what you’re looking for.

If you don’t know how to evaluate the severity of the crisis, you’ll respond to nothing or everything. And, if you don’t have a response plan, you will be making spur of the moment decisions fueled by emotional pressure. Or worse, you’ll be tempted to hide your head in the sand—a sure recipe for failure in this connected age.  The old adage is truer in crisis than anywhere else: fail to plan – plan to fail. And you can’t afford to fail in a crisis.

. . . .

2) I don’t have time to build a core group of engaged fans that will support me.

When you build engagement on social media and through your newsletter, you’re building credibility. Advocates can do more to shorten a crisis than anything you can say or do.

I have personally seen many crises cut short or averted by purposeful intervention by engaged friends, fans, and press. The sum total of your engaged network constitutes your reputation. And reputation is your biggest asset in most crisis events.

We’re not talking about taking to the internet to let loose an army of positive talking do-gooders here. We’re talking about building a network of core readers, author friends, media people, and industry friends who know you, like your books, and would do you a strategic favor if asked.

You never want to try and go online to dispel your own crisis. Everything you say when you’re under fire is gas on the fire.

. . . .

4) If people start harassing me or talking about me, there’s nothing I can do.

Actually, there are lots of things you can do. You can’t stop them from blabbing, but you can do some things to slow them down.

  1. Report them. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all have procedures for reporting stalking, hate speech, impersonation, and more. Become familiar with them.
  2. Familiarize yourself with deleting, blocking and reporting features on all the social media channels where you maintain a presence. Know how to report inappropriate content, where to go to register a complaint or concern on Amazon (I’ve found using Author Central is the best way), get a manual review on an ad, and report someone who has stolen your name on a social media channel. Don’t skip this one—it will save you a ton of time when you discover something is wrong.
  3. Don’t engage in dishonest online practices like buying followers or reviews, adding email subscribers that haven’t opted in, buying or trading reviews, or sending out spam (or cold calling as the marketing world politely calls it). Bad habits invite crisis. Your ignorance may not get your books reinstate on Amazon. Be honest, transparent, and remember you are on rented land. You don’t own that Facebook page—you’re renting it.
  4. Have a posting policy on your social media sites. Stick it under your About tab. Tell people you have the right to delete, block, or report. Ask people to be civil or risk getting the boot. Have the courage to delete posts that don’t comply with the policy or block people who don’t play nice.

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

Level the Playing Field for Books in Translation

From Publishers Weekly:

(PG Note – The author is a Slovenian publisher)

Nowadays, when everything is just a click away, people around the world have come to expect the latest installment of great TV series such as The Handmaid’s Tale or Game of Thrones to be delivered to their screens more or less simultaneously with the original release, together with corresponding subtitles in Croatian, Macedonian, Serbian, Slovenian…. There are many people involved with the production, and the security risks are extremely high, but still—the magic happens.

It is therefore somewhat surprising that in book publishing we’re witnessing a discriminating practice that has become increasingly common in recent years. In fact, this is now a sort of a status symbol, which divides major from merely big or important authors. At my Slovenian publishing company, Mladinska Knjiga, we still receive Mr. Barnes’s or Mrs. Hawkins’s or Mr. McEwan’s or Mr. Nesbø’s or Mr. Walliams’s new novels way ahead of publication (Mr. Nesbø even kindly provides the complete English translation for those who are not translating from Norwegian!), whereas this is not the case with authors (brands?) such as Dan Brown, John Green, or J.K. Rowling. Even Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, was strictly embargoed until publication of the English edition. And now Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments faces the same issue.

The reason given is always the same: security. We were told by Atwood’s agency: “If this manuscript leaks, the consequences are huge, and therefore we have to have a strategy that minimizes the risk.”

A strategy? Some (well, most) of us are obviously not trustworthy. But there’s more. Initially a universal practice, this “strategy” is not without exceptions now. For example, the German version of The Testaments is scheduled for simultaneous publication with the original—so is the Spanish one and the Italian one. Is this then just a variation on a good old theme of “paying more” ? (One wonders how much of this is known to authors themselves, all fine people, who are usually sincerely grateful to each of their publishers from all around the world.)

The Booker shortlist was just announced, and it includes The Testaments. This is great news. It means that the book is good. But what it also means is that the jurors were given the manuscript ahead of publication, too. How did security procedures work in this case? I would rather not speculate, but let me just say that this only made us even more furious.

. . . .

In the case of The Testaments, we were particularly disappointed because we had initially been promised the manuscript in March (just enough time to publish more or less simultaneously), only to later be told that we’ll have to wait until September 12.

Why is this so crucial? We will lose the global promotional momentum and lose face in the eyes of our readers, booksellers, and librarians: the book is published, so where’s the Slovenian version? Most of them will think that the publisher is rather sloppy and slow.

The bottom line: we will sell less. And this is as important for German publishers as it is for Slovenian, Slovakian, and Icelandic publishers. Literary bestsellers are extremely rare. Therefore, one must seize every selling opportunity, and publishing simultaneously with the original edition is an especially effective one.

Sure, there are those houses that will hire multiple translators to finish the translation in two weeks, enabling the hasty publisher to publish the book just in time for the Christmas season. But would you really want to see or read the result? Margaret Atwood is a very fine author, one of the best. Her books deserve a committed translator and proper editorial dedication. And this takes time. So here is another factor that speaks against this strategy—the author’s reputation is at stake.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suggests that large publishers are almost religiously attached to their superannuated ideas about how to promote and advertise the books they release. Based upon shared folklore that the world is breathlessly awaiting the next release from OldPub in New York, they believe that a relative handful of chosen bookstores and an exclusive review in The New York Times will move the sales needle like it did before most people buy books online and the Times print circulation is plummeting.

New York Times Print Circulation – Monday-Friday – Wikipedia

Amazon Under Fire for Breaking Margaret Atwood ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Sequel Embargo

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Margaret Atwood’s latest work The Testaments — the highly anticipated sequel to her 1985 best-selling novel The Handmaid’s Tale — is set to be released globally next Tuesday. However, a “retailer error” by Amazon broke the embargo, resulting in a “small number of copies” already ending up in the hands of readers.

Todd Doughty, Doubleday’s executive director of publicity, told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement, “A very small number of copies of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments were distributed early due to a retailer error which has now been rectified. We appreciate that readers and booksellers have been waiting patiently for the much-anticipated sequel to the best-selling The Handmaid’s Tale. In order to ensure our readers around the world receive their copies on the same day, our global publication date remains Tuesday, Sept. 10.”

. . . .

The embargo breach has also created an outcry from independent booksellers on social media, including Astoria Bookshop owner Lexi Beach, who shared her frustration on Twitter. “There will be ZERO consequences for $amzn violating not just the fine print but the entire basis of this embargo agreement some exec surely signed digitally through Adobe Sign just like the rest of us did,” she wrote Tuesday.

Added Beach: “And the kicker is that $amzn will make hardly any money selling this book. Books (especially big splashy publications like this) have always been a loss leader for them. Whereas I and many other independent retailers are counting on this release to pay our bills.”

Link to the rest at The Hollywood Reporter

PG notes that embargos occupy a hallowed spot in the uninspired world of Big Publisher marketing.

Embargos are also breached with some regularity by people other than Amazon. PG is not the only one who suspects that publicity about the breaking of more than one embargo has been part of a publisher’s staged marketing campaign for quite a while.  Throw in the dreaded Zon and people become even more excited.

From The Washington Post, September 27, 2012:

The embargo on the J.K. Rowling novel “The Casual Vacancy,” reportedly one of the most draconian non-disclosure agreements in the history of publishing . . . did not quite work. ¶ Thursday is the release date for the first book for adults written by the empress of Hogwarts. Reviews were embargoed until 1 a.m. and book sales until 3 a.m. Since Rowling’s Harry Potter books have sold more than 450 million copies worldwide, the release of her new book — even though it is set in an unmagical British town called Pagford — is one of 2012’s largest publishing events. ¶ Thus, it is a test case for the common, if unloved, practice of forbidding booksellers from selling the book in advance of the embargo date, and forbidding media outlets from reviewing said tome before the date the publishing company decrees. ¶ The practice generally has several intents: to make sure books are in stores when readers hear about them; to retain the news revelations in nonfiction books; and to try to bottle up interest in big fiction titles, propelling them onto bestseller lists with an unusually high number of immediate sales.

“For franchise authors, you want to drive it to Number 1 by having everyone buy it the first week of release,” said Elyse Cheney, a literary agent in New York.

Rowling, who is nothing but a franchise author (she is the first in the world to earn more than $1 billion in book sales), added spice to this release with an unusually strict legal document that its publisher, Little, Brown, reportedly imposed on prospective reviewers.

The Independent in London reported a clause that not only required signees to hold off on sales and reviews but also forbade them to even mention a contract.

But — and this almost always happens — somebody got the book anyway.

The Associated Press and the New York Daily News (and perhaps others) said they managed to get early copies of the book, and they published reviews Wednesday. AP reported it did not sign the contract but “purchased” the book; the Daily News said the novel was “obtained.” Because they alone had reviews, those two organizations set the tone for readers’ perception of the book.

The Post and other news organizations observed the embargo, running reviews Thursday.

Just about nobody was happy.

“I couldn’t even get an embargoed copy to review,” said Dan Kois, editor of the book section for the online magazine Slate, which is part of The Washington Post Co. “They wouldn’t send it to us. They had very clear levels to this campaign.”

. . . .

The Post and the New York Times refrained from publishing their staff-written reviews online Wednesday, though The Post put AP’s review on its Web site. The Post’s executive editor, Marcus Brauchli, said he thinks the publishing industry is ultimately “fighting a losing battle.”

A spokeswoman for Little, Brown said she would have a company representative call for comment on this article, but no one had done so by press time.

This sort of struggle between publishers and media outlets has been small-arms combat for years. With some books, in which authors and publishers have signed exclusive excerpt rights with magazines or newspapers, there is a clear business mandate to preserve those rights and to keep others from writing about the material.

. . . .

Connie Ogle, books editor for the Miami Herald, and LaFramboise, the Politics & Prose book buyer, both noted a similarity between some embargoed titles and B movies that are not made available to critics for pre-screening.

“There is a core audience that is going to go see the movie or read the book anyway,” Ogle said, “and those films or books often tend not to have a long shelf life.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

Is a “Personal Relationship” with Authors What Readers Want?

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

The latest trend in online marketing is building a “personal relationship” with customers and readers. Sending newsy emails about your fab summer vacation isn’t enough anymore. Now you have to ask them about their fab summer vacations.

This is supposed to let readers know you really care about them.

Does it?

Speaking as a reader, that would be a…not so much.

I read lots of books. Do I want all those authors clogging my inbox, trying to be my BFF? Nope. Not even if it’s Margaret Atwood. If she really cares about me, she’ll write another book, not have a virtual assistant send me a faux-friendly email.

As an author, it all makes me want to cry. How can a working author find time to be pen pals with thousands of readers—even with robotic help?

. . . .

In this current marketing scenario, the author/vendor offers a bribe, like a free ebook (called a “reader magnet”) in exchange for a potential customer’s information. (And recently many vendors have dropped the freebie, and the “magnet” is simply the privilege of entering a website.)

Once they’ve got your deets, they’ll hammer you into a “personal” relationship with their robots whether you want it or not.

. . . .

The plan goes like this: once you’re on the hook, the author or vendor sends an immediate automated email that asks friendly questions like:

  • What books do you read?
  • Where do you live?
  • What do you like to do?
  • Yoga? And when are your classes?
  • Oh, so you’re out of the house on Tuesday evenings between 7 and 9?
  • Where do you keep your valuables?

Kidding aside, not everybody feels warm and fuzzy when asked personal questions by complete strangers. The line between “friendly” and “invasion of privacy” can be a thin one. When you cross it, you are going to have less than positive results.

. . . .

And somehow unsubscribing takes weeks, if it happens at all. (I still get emails addressed to “Dear Unsubscribe Me You Morons.”)

And unsubscribers are also subjected to a major guilt trip. “Where did we go wrong?” one site asks if you try to leave. Or you have to hit a button that says: “I’m not interested in becoming a published author,” or “I prefer to remain ignorant.”

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

 

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