November 2007

gadget madnessWe all suffer from a fascination with gadgets at some point, especially during the holiday season.  There has been a lot of press lately about the potential of book widgets as marketing devices.  Great, but how do you get one for your book if you don’t know a programmer?  Not to worry, there are some simple ways to make a book widgets for yourself – no programming required.  

Here is one simple approach using Google gadgets.

  1. Pull some juicy excerpts from your book.
  2. Go to the Google gadget site and select the free form type. 
  3. Drop in your first quote, and if you choose, add a picture.
  4. Add a link in the title to your blog.
  5. Publish the widget and place in the Google gadget directory.  Note that you also have the option to mail the gadget and its content to a distribution list.)
  6. Every few days, update the quote and republish.

Another programmer-free tool is WidgetBox.

  1. Link to WidgetBox
  2. Select ‘blidgets’ from the left hand menu.
  3. Select your color, title and size options
  4. Point it to your blog. 
  5. Click create and you’re all done.  The widget you have created goes in the WidgetBox directory for others to view and install and delivers updated posts from your blog.

Another approach is to go stealth.  Embed your title in a book widget such as those from Amazon or Shelfari along with several other related titles.  It’s not as effective, but at least it gets your book seen in good company.

elf in workshopThe caveat with all of these is their limited functionality and limited options.  But they do provide additional exposure for your content.  For the more technologically adventurous there are sites that supply templates with embedded Javascript and wizards to guide you through the process of creating your own book widget.  This would actually be a great service for the self publishing services like Lulu and Blurbto offer their users.   (I’ll add it to my holiday wish list.)   Given the feverish pace of widget software development today, waiting for the Swiss army knife book widgets that does it all may be your best strategy.

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book vid lit iconSheila Clover-EnglishBook Vid Lit

by Sheila Clover-English

Sheila Clover English, the CEO of Circle of Seven Productions, has been a pioneer
in book video production, marketing and distribution for authors and publishers

The pace of technology leaves many of us struggling to keep up.  So it’s not surprising that sometimes we find experts contradicting each other when it comes to predicting where a technology trend is headed.   I recently found a couple of articles from reputable sources that might seem, at first glance, to have conflicting views on the direction of online promotion and advertising. 

The first article, Online Videos Attract Broad Audience,by Mark Walsh in Online Media Daily, contends that online videos are attracting a broader demographic, while the other article, Internet Expands Reach, But Narrows Vision, by Diane Mermigas, claims that internet promotion and advertising are narrowing the scope and vision of online video.  After reading both articles, I realized they don’t represent opposing viewpoints.  The demographic for online video use has indeed expanded beyond its original base of the young and tech savvy.  Now viewership runs the gamut to include professionals, housewives, seniors, hobbyists, and researchers, with participation by individuals of all ages and backgrounds.  What are they looking for?  Most indicate they want to be entertained.  What they are notlooking for, as you might guess from the popularity of TiVo and DVRs, are advertisements that interrupt their online entertainment experience.

girl-mad-at-monitor.jpgWhat are we doing about giving them what they’re looking for?  With new online marketing technology we’ve figured out how to track and predict the behavior of online users. does it with great success and the new Borders site scheduled to launch next year also has the capabiity to remember customer preferences.  Search for books on fishing and soon Amazon is sending you emails saying “From what you looked at (or bought) previously we thought you’d like this…” and they suggest a book on fishing.  Providing customers with tailored recommendations in areas where they have indicated a preference has proven to be a useful and profitable service.  But the practice, if carried too far,  risks excluding topics of potential interest that aren’t a perfect match to historical behavior?  There is a danger that sophisticated new recommendation technology and the need to sell using behavioral marketing schemes could prevent new products from succeeding and frustrate customers.

We need to balance the narrowing effects of behavioral targeting and recommendation software found on many bookstore sites with an approach that simultaneously reaches out to new market.  I have found that social sites can help in this regard.  I participate in online social sites to learn what interests the individuals there and discover what groups are active when considering whether to make it a distribution venue for our book videos.  I believe that thoughtful distribution choices, guided by human experience, observation and judgment, offers our authors a way to reach their core audience, while still exposing their work to new groups beyond that core market.  Distributing book videos so they can be found through general searches vs. being served up exclusively through behavioral marketing systems ensures they will reach a broader readership.

shopping onlineEvery new technology present us with challenges as well as opportunities.  Behavioral marketing and recommendation software have made it possible to precisely measure and respond to audience preferences.  But it has an inevitable narrowing effect on choices presented to customers.  Online social networks offer us the opportunity to find new audiences and expand readership.  Used together, they act to balance each other and create a powerful book marketing mechanism.

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paper clipYears ago, I remember reading a delightful book by Henry Petroski entitled The Evolution of Useful Things.  The book considered the labored genesis of inventions like the paper clip, zipper and fork – items so commonplace that today we take them for granted.  They become almost invisible to us.

One such Internet innovation is the permalink, a tool that is at the heart of a blog’s ability to build traffic .  The permalink, is a unique identifier (typically human readable) that ensures Internet users will always be able to link to your posts, even those in the archives.  When  someone links to one of your archived posts, they use a permalink.  This humble innovation means that the content you generate in your posts is forever available (unless you choose to delete it).  The thing that makes permalinks so useful is that linkages made with them become small traffic feeders to your blog.  In this sense, every post is a magnet with the potential to attract a steady stream of visitors over time.  As content accumulates, your traffic naturally increases in tandem.

You can amplify this potential by adding a “related posts” section to the end of each post.  The related posts are simply links to other content that is relevant to your current post.  Why do this?  This exposes more of content to readers.  Every time you publish a new post, it pushes older posts further down the list.  At some point, readers will have to page back to older posts and it is unlikely they will.  The related posts area keeps older, relevant content within easy reach.  It also makes it more likely that someone will create a link to one of those older posts.

Another tool to expose archived content is a “Featured Posts” area on your sidebar.  This is just a set of permalinks to posts you think might be of interest.  You can use other variants such as “Popular Posts.”  The idea is to use these links to get visitors, especially new visitors, to explore your content. 

Social bookmarking sites have become very popular in the last couple of years.  Millions of individuals use sites like, StumpleUpon, Digg and others every day to share URLs to content they like.  Adding a bookmarking widget to the end of each post makes it easy for them to do this and potentially drive more traffic to your site.  I would recommend a single widget that contains access to many bookmarking sites rather than cluttering yours posts with multiple widgets.  For example, I use AddThis, which lets you choose a bookmark from a list of 36 sites.

large turkeyPerhaps some day, Petroski might decide to compose a history of useful Internet technology.  Surely the venerable permalink would be near the top of his list to write about.  It is so simple, useful and ubiquitous that it has become invisible.  Today, Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, a time when we consider our blessings after enjoying an impossibly large meal.  Writers contemplating the power of the blog to create a readership for their work, should give thanks for the humble permalink.

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Jeremy Wright photoWe have often speculated that blog networks will play a key role in the future of publishing.  We decided to get an expert’s opinion and talk with Jeremy Wright, the CEO of b5 media.  ZDNet defines a blog network as “An organization that hires people to write blogs. It sells advertising and owns the blogs.”  With more than 290 blogs, 15 vertical channels and over 10 million unique visitors a month, b5mediais clearly one of the largest blog networks in operation today. 

Blog Marketing book coverJeremy Wright is a serial entrepreneur, some have even said a “blogpreneur” for his focus on communications-oriented ventures.  He is also the author of Blog Marketing, designed to help businesses figure out blogs, and use them to get into the conversation with their customers.  In addition to running b5media, he also writes the blog Ensight, a popular business and technology blog, and consults on blogging, communication, IT and time management.   

In our interview, Jeremy provided insights about the inner workings of blog networks and what he sees for the future of this nascent publishing medium.

FPP:  Technorati has indexed over 100 million blogs. Why do you think blogs have become such a powerful publishing medium?

Jeremy:  There are really 2 kinds of blogs (as far as I’m concerned): personal/family blogs and “professional” blogs. Personal blogs are really all about you telling your family how you’re doing, what you’re up to, etc.  In some ways, social networks like Facebook are starting to take the place of this kind of blog. But personal blogs are about expression, connecting with people you know and love, etc. For these kinds of blogs, this is the first time in history that we’ve been able to basically pen pal with everyone we care about, which is incredibly powerful. The second kind is “professional” blogs, which is really 2 camps: those who are blogging what they love and are good at (at least in part) so they can improve their career, establish new connections, network, establish themselves as thought leaders, etc. And the second kind are commercial properties which range from one guy writing about something to make money all the way to true blog-based content companies like b5media, Gawker Media and Know More Media.

FPP:  What is a blog network? Are blog networks like online newspapers or magazines, or do they represent a new type of media?

Jeremy:  In a lot of ways a blog network is like a magazine, just without the paper. Some networks, like Gawker Media, treat each blog as their own magazine (complete with editors, researchers, correspondents, etc). Others group blogs together and treat the whole as a magazine (this is how my company, b5media, does it). At the same time, they definitely represent a new form of media, as they really bridge the gap between mainstream media’s “we talk, you listen” metaphor and blogging’s “we talk, we listen” metaphor. It’s still commercial, but the best of these blogs (or magazines) are the ones that serve both metaphors: quality content, interactive conversation, by/for/with passionate people.

FPP:  Do blogs in a network intentionally reinforce each other with shared readership? Or do they operate as standalone media properties?

Jeremy:  The ability for a network to grow and establish a community of bloggers who are all passionate about similar topics (be it technology, business, entertainment or fashion) is really where the magic happens. Sharing strategies, linking to relevant stories across multiple blogs, drawing energy from the community… These are what make blogging at a healthy network so much more enjoyable than blogging on your own (which can often feel quite lonely). At the same time, the individual blog still has its audience to serve. So bloggers in a network are able to write for their audience, while drawing strength, inspiration and energy from the community.

FPP:  What do you believe are the key success factors for a blog network? Are there particular metrics you use to measure the effective of blog networks?

Jeremy:  The best metrics for any online company are the hard and fast ones: traffic, revenue and growth. But those don’t really speak to what it takes to achieve those key metrics. Each network motivates writers, chooses content areas and builds out the network differently. For us, we’ve always believed that if we keep writers happy, they’ll produce great content. And great content will mean more traffic. And with enough traffic it’s hard notto make money. So we focus a lot of energy on community and blogger happiness. We also regularly conduct surveys of our bloggers, our readers and our partners to see how we’re doing on the “soft” elements of success.

End of the day, a strong network has a strong editorial side with committed and energized writers, a solid business behind it, and talented folk to run technology, ad sales, marketing and admin areas.

FPP:  Many authors have successfully gone from blog to book. Do you think it is feasible for book publishers to set up blog networks to enhance and scale this process?

Jeremy:  That’s an interesting question. It’s not something I’ve seen yet, primarily because book publishers tend to exist to promote a book at launch, and then sit back and wait. The exception to this rule would probably be O’Reilly, which publishes a lot of information online, and encourages its authors to publish a lot of information online both pre and post-publication of the book. The idea of publishers getting into daily publishing is interesting, but it’s probably outside the DNA of all but the most technically-oriented publishers (where daily content is the norm). After all, if a publisher can’t do a weekly newsletter, can they really run 10-20 blogs, all with daily content?

FPP:  What services do blog networks typically provide the writers who work for them? What type of compensation models are currently used by blog networks?

Jeremy:  In terms of compensation, there are typically 3 types: revenue share (where the writer gets a percentage of the revenue the network earns), payment per post (often with a traffic bonus) and flat-fee (ie: like a contract writer would make). All 3 models work, though revenue share tends to put all the risk on the writer so is often used by networks when they’re starting out (to keep costs down). But, all 3 models can work. At b5media, we use a combination of flat-fee for meeting the writing requirements (which is kind of payment per post) along with a traffic bonus, though we’re currently evaluating new pay models. In terms of services, most networks really just ask writers to write and try and get them and their blogs exposure. I know at b5 we try and do as much as we can for our writers, ranging from free hosting for their personal blogs to training and from attempting to arrange press access for events to promoting the individual blogger in every way we can. It’s certainly one of the things writers should ask about before joining a network.

FPP:   What traits does a writer need to have to be effective in a blog network?

Jeremy:  I’ll defer to some of our most prolific writers on this, but in a recent training session, Leora Zellman and Mary Jo Manzanares said the most important things to have or develop were fantastic time management, to find your source of motivation daily and to both have your own quiet space and to reach out to other network writers so that you aren’t alone.

FPP:   Blog valuations and acquisitions have become hot topics recently. What factors does b5media take into consideration when evaluating a blog purchase?

Jeremy:  At b5media we have an internal engine we use to value a blog’s worth. We typically stay within range of that valuation when we acquire blogs, but sometimes there’s something that’s intrinsically more valuable than our model takes into account, so we don’t mind deviating. For us, traffic, revenue, unique visitors and subscribers are the key metrics. We’re able to gauge pretty successfully how well a blog will do over the long term with these metrics, so tend to stay pretty close to them. If it’s more of a strategic buy (we recently purchased a video platform company, for example, and are currently negotiating for a podcast network), then other factors may come into play that can bring the valuation up or down. As with any acquisition, you set your initial boundaries and then either go up or down based on strategic or external factors (such as a trend towards or away from text links, in the case of our most recent acquisition).

FPP:   Where would you like to see b5media in the next 3 years? Do you think book publishing is part of its future?

Jeremy:  While we might do a few e-books or encourage our authors to do books, I don’t think we’ll get into the book industry in a big way. I do see e-books as being a potential growth area, though. Beyond that, I’d like to see b5media move beyond the “blog network” box. We’ve started to do that a bit already by licensing our platform to Know More Media, doing ad repping, syndicating our content, etc. But we need to do more. I don’t want to get into specifics, largely because I believe talking before you have something to show is bad luck ;-).

FPP:  How do you see blog networks evolving in the future?

Jeremy:  Well you’ll definitely see more consolidation and more partnerships. The last year has already seen a dozen or so of these (we’ve led 3-4 of them), but the pace will continue to quicken as the larger networks are able to grow traffic and revenue more quickly than the smaller ones, the larger ones will simply pick up small to medium sized networks because it’s cheaper than building blogs themselves. Beyond that, you’ll continue to see a meshing of blog networks with social networks (9rules and Instablogs have started to do this, and our gateway release at will continue this trend over the next few months), and you’ll see more partnerships between blog networks and mainstream media networks (online and off).

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Gutenberg printing pressPonder some of the great moments in the long evolution of the book.  

  • Papyrus – This provided a durable, flexible medium for writing; a giant leap in usablity from the Sumerian clay tablets.  Records were easier to keep, making possible powerful centralized governments such as Egypt.
  • Paged, bound books – The transition from scrolls in late antiquity provided a much more portable and less awkward format for knowledge. 
  • Printing press with movable type – This opened up an era of mass produced books, eventually accompanied by mass literacy.  It had huge cultural and political ramifications.  The greater demand for books meant that publishers who could feed that demand with diverse offerings succeeded.

Each of these innovations was a major disruptive force, leading to cultural and political change.  The full impact these developments were to have was probably not appreciated at the time.  I wonder if we can fully comprehend the future impact of all the changes we are now seeing in the publishing industry.   To try, I would like to take out the crystal ball and envision life in publishing a decade or so from now. 

book ATM of the futureSo, close your eyes and fast forward a few short years into the future.  Production at the point of purchase, originally embodied in the Espresso Book Machine, has become commonplace.  The technology has improved to the point where consumers have come to expect that they can buy any book anywhere, and have it in a couple of minutes.  The elimination of inventory, returns and distribution costs together with the availability of product in a wide variety of venues has led to lower cost books. 

The universality of the web, combined with enhanced search / recommendation capabilities and the viral power of social media has made it possible to find and aggregate niche markets at low cost.   Publishers also begin to realize that all online marketing and PR will continue to turn up in consumer searches long after the book is released.  Each time this happens, there is the opportunity it will lead to a purchase.  This means that their web marketing has a much longer shelf life and a higher cumulative return.

Authors develop their work on blogs, testing every piece of content, building and measuring their audience as they go.  Their pitches to publishers and agents are as much about their audience metrics as about the work itself.  Savvy authors skip the pitch altogether, publish their own work and do their own marketing.

The new environment creates new opportunities for publishing success.  And the biggest opportunity is further out on the long tail of books available for purchase.  The emphasis shifts away from finding and funding a few bestsellers to aggregating a lot of small and medium sellers with proven markets.  Publishers realize that every book has a market, a small market perhaps .  But the carrying cost (production, inventory, distribution, returns) of these “long tail” titles is negligible.  And once the modest initial development and marketing expenses have been repaid, it’s all profit.   It’s also easy and inexpensive to bring out new editions to keep titles current.  Bottom line:  a big backlist generates a comfortable and dependable annuity. 

What this ultimately means is hard to say.  Certainly, we’ll see more authors, more publishers and more titles.  This could lead to a more participative literacy – where a greater number of individuals both andwrite books.  We’re already seeing this phenomenon in the blogosphere and it could soon be echoed in book publishing once technology has reshaped the economics of book production and marketing.

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book vid lit iconSheila Clover-EnglishBook Vid Lit

by Sheila Clover-English

Sheila Clover English, the CEO of Circle of Seven Productions, has been a pioneer
in book video production, marketing and distribution for authors and publishers

Book videos are becoming a popular and accepted form of book marketing.  During the past several years, I have produced and distributed many book videos and found them to be potent devices for attracting readers and selling books.  But authors and publishers who venture into this new realm need to understand a few things about web marketing in order to use this new tool effectively.

Book Videos are Objects of Desire

First, book videos work because, unlike the advertisements we are used to from the print or broadcast media, they are objects designed to be found and consumed as the result of intentional searches.  By this, I mean that individuals find book videos because they are searching for information or resources related to a particular topic or interest.     The very fact that an individual found a book video as a result of their own searching means the odds are greater they will watch it – and if they find it compelling, that they will buy the book. 

For example, if an individual likes cave pearls and this is their hobby, they might search on the term “cave pearls.”  They may look on YouTube they may look for blogs about it.  When they do they will find the book Pearl Jinx by Sandra Hill. It is a story about people hunting for cave pearls.  “Did you say cave pearls?!  Wow!  I love cave pearls!  This might be something totally new for me!”  Now, they have found a book about their favorite topic and are more likely to take that next step and buy it.

This is what makes book videos such a useful online marketing and branding tool for books.  They turn up in searches for book trailers.   But, because they are tagged, book videos  can also be returned in general search results related to the topic of the book.  Book video can nurture potential readers or bring established readers to topics they want to read about.

Use Tags to Help Readers Find Your Book Video

Tags are descriptors attached to the videos you upload to online video sharing sites.  They are important because they help people find your video.    Tags are a form of “meta data” – information about your book video that search engines incorporate when they index your content.  When an individual types a keyword or phrase into a search box, this meta data is what the search engines uses to return search results.  For this reason, tags are very important.

There are three types of information you should provide when you upload your video online.

  • Title. Make the title clear.  Be sure to include your name as well.  People will be able to find you according to what’s in your title.
  • Description.  Don’t let your description become a commercial.  Make it exciting. My experience with producing and marketing book videos shows that this is how you get people who are interested in your topic to pick up your book.  Use the description to write what is exciting and unique about your book!   Some video sharing sites limit the number of words so choose yours carefully. If you use your name in the title, don’t waste your limited description copy to repeat it.  Keep your description topic focused, not just genre specific.  Give the reader a feel for the story. 
  • Tags.  Tags are another device to help people find you. Tags allow individuals to search for your book video using specific words.  Again, there is no need to include your name as a tag, if it is already in the title.  If people want to find youspecifically they will go to your website.  Often, the number of tags you can use is limited.  Use terms that capture the essence of your book without being so popular that your listing will appear near the bottom of results from searches using those terms.  For example, you would probably want to avoid using terms like “love” or “sexy.”  Try out your tags in searches on the sites where you are planning to upload your video.  The number of items returned by the search query will let you know how much competition there is for thosee terms.

Using the descriptors above help people find you whether the topic of your book is vampires or football.  Note that I always include the word “book” or “novel” in the tags just to be sure people understand what they are looking at is a book.

Tell a Good Story to Energize your Web Marketing

People looking for what you have to sell are more likely to buy it.

How do you use a video to get people interested in reading your book?  In my experience, the answer is straightforward. Make good videos.  Make the videos appealing, exciting and entertaining.  Perhaps the best advice to give here is:  don’t use a video to sell your book.  Use it to sell your story and make potential readers want more.  For example, give them one sentence that asks a question they will want answered:

“If you could go back in time and change 20 seconds of your life, what would it be?”

That’s a great question to make someone read on or go to your website. That puts them in the story. What would they do is what they will be asking themselves.  It lets the viewer invest themselves in a story they don’t know about.

Or you can make a statement that ties into other entertainment that might resonate with the viewer.  For instance:

“James Bond meets the Geek Squad in this romantic comedy about spies, planes and TV sci-fi programs.”

That let’s your viewers know about the story and still makes them wonder what in the world that could be about?

Think bigger when you market your book.  Get your readers to buy into your story. Get them to want to invest their time in it by investing themselves (asking questions, hitting a topic they already like).

Most books are targeted at a specific readership.  The internet offers the best way to aggregate niche audiences.  Make it easy for them to find you, then make them want your story.

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blook looks icon

Blook Looks

by Cheryl Hagedorn

Cheryl Hagedorn authors Blooking Central, which examines
published books to discover what makes for a blookable blog.

Business books that are based on blogs – “blooks” – are finally coming into their own.  There have already been monster successes, of course, such as:

  • Seth Godin’s Small Is The New Big
  • Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More
  • Eric Sink’s On the Business of Software
  • Robert Scoble and Shel Isreal’s Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers

Now, others are catching the vision.  Authors such as Avinash Kaushik (Web Analytics: An Hour a Day) and Michael Lopp (Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering) compiled their selected essays and posts into book form.  Even Harold Feld of The Sausage Factory is considering capturing his blog’s content in dead tree form.

On the other hand, Tammy Lenski’s approach (Making Mediation Your Day Job) was deliberate from the outset – she intended a book – and invited comments, criticisms, and suggestions as she posted. This seems to be becoming the norm. A case in point is a blook called We Have Always Done It That Way: 101 Things About Associations We Must Change by Five Independent Thinkers.

A quote from a post called Beta Publishing really lays out the argument for blooks:

The software industry has been able to grow and be more effective by actually releasing “beta” versions of programs. Users recognize that these products are not finished (thus not perfect), but in exchange for the ough edges, they get to provide feedback to the designers and actually have an impact on the final product. This concept has now been extended to the book publishing field as well, particularly by Pragmatic Programmers Press.

Blogging your strategies, concepts and wisdom – as a “beta” form of pubishing – seems to capture the idea, doesn’t it?

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