One of the sites I stumbled across while reading advice for unpublished authors was the fantastic Future Perfect Publishing. On the site Tom Masters discusses the changes that technology has brought about in the publishing industry and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Q: Why is blogging important for authors trying to get published?
A: There are several ways that blogging can help authors:
·They can use a blog as a research tool to collect information and stories for their work – especially helpful in non-fiction.
·Blogs tend to do well in search engines relative to less frequently updated sites. An author can use the blog as a place to showcase his or her writing and build an audience while they write using all the tools of search engine optimization and social networking.
·A considerable amount of information can be collected about your audience by using metrics – e.g. Google Analytics – on your blog. This can be used with publishers to demonstrate that you have an audience for your work. Both traditionally published and self-published authors can also market their book back to this audience both prior to and after launch.
·Blogging helps writer maintain a writing discipline.
·Blog metrics can be used to help an author determine which content and topics are most popular with his or her audience. Thus, it can be used as a feedback and content selection mechanism when it comes time to create / edit the manuscript.
·Because blogs share many structural similarities with a book, going from blog to book is a strategy to quickly assemble a manuscript.
Q: Should an author consider self-publishing, and if so why? What factors should affect their decision?
A: Absolutely. There are many technologies which are making it easier for authors to consider self-publishing. First, print on demand makes it easier and cheaper for authors to produce a print or e-book. Second, there are a number of online venues available to sell self-published works, most notably Amazon. Third, social networks, blogs and other online tools / strategies are available to help authors publicize and market their work at relatively low cost. Self-publishing lets authors keep more of the revenue, though they do all the marketing and publicity.
Probably the biggest consideration for authors in making this decision is time. Unless you have a proven track record as a published author, or have really good connections with a publisher or agent, it can be very time consuming and frustrating to get a book deal. Even if you manage that, you are then on the publishers time frame for going to market and that may be a considerable amount of time after a contract is signed. It may make better sense to invest the time in building your audience and marketing your own work. Once you demonstrate you can build an audience around your work, finding a publisher is a much easier task. The one thing that going with a traditional publishing arrangement still buys an author is more credibility with the traditional media. But even that is changing.
Q: How should unpublished authors get started in using social media as a marketing tool?
A: Social networks are great places to aggregate small audiences into bigger ones. Depending on the content of your book, you can join appropriate groups on Facebook, LinkedIn or other social sites and talk about your work, ask for feedback, share ideas, etc. Your social pages can link back to your blog or website. The other easy way is to make it easy for readers to bookmark your blog posts. You would be surprised at how many readers will discover you that way. Authors can use Twitter directories to find individuals who interests in line with themes in their book. Use the “follow me, I’ll follow you” protocol and create Twitter entries for some of your better blog posts and book related events.
The other thing you can do is mirror your blog posts on your social site pages. This makes it easier for people to discover your writing and your book.
One of the technologies that is very exciting is print at the point of purchase. There is a new system from OnDemand Books called the Espresso Book Machine. It can print and bind a book from a digital catalog in just a few minutes. The machine itself looks somewhat like a Xerox machine. Bookstores and libraries are now beginning to realize that they can extend the books they offer by having one of these machines in their store. They can offer less popular books to shoppers without the need to sacrifice shelf space. There are currently about 4 million books in the catalog, and the linkup between OnDemand Books and Lightning Source (the print on demand arm of Ingram Books) almost assures that most books will become available this way over time. What that means is essentially this – anyone can become a bookstore. You can imagine these machines in just about any commercial or retail venue. It makes the market for less popular books much wider.
E-books have continued to grow in popularity. While they currently represent a small piece of the overall book market, the growth rate in e-books is many times higher than that for print books. E-books also have the advantage of generally lower costs, no need for physical storage or distribution and none of the ecological downsides that print books have. Plus more readers are consuming books through laptops and cell phones. I doubt the print book will go away, e-books will become a bigger part of overall book sales and market share. Many types of books will probably only be available as e-books in the not too distant future.
Q: How do you think the publishing industry will change over the next 20 years?
A: Yikes! Twenty years is a long, long time in any industry these days. But here goes anyway.
Industry – Publishers and distributors will diminish in importance as time goes on. They are the middle players between authors and audience. Publishers are doing less and less for authors. The new technologies of book production, marketing and sales , as well changes in mainstream media (their primary focus for book publicity) will render them of less and less value to most authors. Distributors will certainly hae less of a role to play when most book are held in digital format until they are purchased. A Large patchwork of consultants will shift from helping traditional publishers get books to market, to helping individuals self publish quality books.
Bookselling – Non-bookstore markets will continue to grow in importance and become the dominant way books are sold at least in the US). Google will become the premier online bookseller and overtake Amazon in overall book sales.
e-Reader technology – E-book readers with proprietary formats, will fade away. They will be replaced by highly capable readers using a standard e-book format. Books will become more like experiences, incorporating multimedia and social networking, in addition to traditional e-ink and audio formats. Print books will take on a much higher value-add than today since most books will remain in digital format. Books will shrink in size to accommodate the tight schedules of our daily lives.
Reading – Contrary to what many people believe, reading and literacy will not decline. Our use of language will change; the way we consume books will change; even the definition of what a book actually is may change somewhat. But reading will still be a key way that we communicate and future generations will be as adept at it in their own social context as we are in ours.
Q: Do you have any last thoughts for unpublished authors?
A: There has never been a better time to be an author. Technology is overturning the old “gate keeper” era of publishing where most authors could never get to square one with their work. A true democracy of publishing has emerged, making it possible for authors to produce, market and sell their work at relatively low cost, without having to get someone else’s permission. While there is no guarantee of success, the opportunity is at least present and beckoning.
Tom Masters has extensive experience in strategic consulting, technology management and product development. For the last 7 years, he has provided web consulting services including information architecture, SEO, search marketing and social media strategy for numerous clients. He is a frequent speaker and lecturer on blogging and social media, and has published 2 book on blogging, Blogging Quick Easy: A Planned Approach to Blogging Success and Blog to Book & Beyond: A New Path to Publishing Success. He also teaches blogging courses for the University of Washington Experimental College. Since 2007, Tom has served as the president of Book Publishers Northwest, the Northwest regional affiliate of the Independent Book Publishers Associations.