September 2008

Blanche DuboisIn A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois tells the kind hearted doctor, who takes her away to the mental hospital after her breakdown, that she always depended on the kindness of strangers.  The same could be said of many publishers.  The typical book marketing plan is mostly aimed at getting the title into the bookstore or library channel.  Certainly good exposure, but it comes at a huge cost.  The cost involves inventory, discounts, promotions and returns.  The clutter in these channels is huge.  Often this means paying more for less attention.   For independent publishers with smaller marketing budgets, this can result in financial loss.

Why not depend, at least initially, on the kindness of those closest to you – in a social network sense.  Think of every customer as being so many degrees of separation from the author.  According to current thinking in network science, there are at most 5 or 6 degrees of separation between any two individuals.  If your objective is to sell books, you could organize your marketing efforts by degrees of separation from the author.  The first degree of separation might include friends, family, colleagues or others in the author’s extended contact list.  It would probably be relatively inexpensive to find and market to these prospects with a good probability that they might purchase the book.  The first degree of separation can represent a test of sorts.  Sales are via pre-order; inventory is scaled precisely to demand. 

The next degree would be generated from those individuals – via word of mouth.  As Chris Webb recently pointed out, word of mouth is still important.  In fact, the connectedness brought about by the Internet and all the new social media technologies makes word of mouth buzz ultimately important.  If demand is weak at this stage, the book may not sell no matter what promotions are applied.  More promotional  and marketing resources are required to move beyond this stage.  However, if this initial marketing has been successful, there may be enough profits to cover the extra costs associated with marketing to perfect strangers. 

Marketing by degrees of separation leverages the connectedness of the Internet age.  It may also become more important as the bookstore channel assumes a less prominent role in overall book sales

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Sheila 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.

A key consideration when producing a book video is the tradeoff that frequently arises between production values and budget.  Book trailers run the gamut in terms of quality.  Some high-budget book videos use HD or film and have movie or TV stars in them.  At the other end of the spectrum are amateur videos, that may have serious creative and technical problems.  Both types get posted to the same distribution sites, such as YouTube.  People watching the amateur videos may decide that the low quality book video reflects the quality of the book it is intended to promote.  If video isn’t your avocation, it is worth consulting a video production firm to find ways to manage the budget / quality trade-offs and still produce an effective trailer.  Here are some questions we frequently get asked about book videos.

How do you work around a limited budget?

Most of the trade-offs in production values originate with the budget.  Since the primary client is an author with limited funds, we must respect what this imposes on the trailer we make.  One trade-off is the number of scenes.  Often we are asked to do several scenes for a minimum budget which means that our props or actors may have to reflect that budget.  It might be better to have fewer scenes and invest more in the quality of each scene.  Another trade-off occurs around the use of professional talent.  For instance, an author may want a friend to be in the trailer or to do voiceover narration.  Unless that friend is a professional, it usually just creates more work for the production company without resulting in a higher quality video.

Another tradeoff is using digital vs. film or HD.  Originally, we used digital to keep costs down.  Our intent was to create a look specific to trailers and not attempt to compete with movie trailers.  However, publishers or wealthy authors may be willing to pay the tens of thousands of dollars for a book video shot with the higher quality media.  

Sometimes a client will insist on having something in a trailer that is NOT appropirate for what the video is trying to accomplish.  All to often this is more about ego than effectiveness.  For example, COS Productions created one trailer where the author insisted upon choosing the actors.  In particular, she had the male actor in mind when she wrote the book.  In fact, she wrote the book with this person in mind and described him knowing he would, one day, be in the trailer.  But, the majority of people commenting on that trailer said he looked nothing like the hero in the book. The trailer took a huge hit.  But the author loved it, the booksellers used it and a fair number of bloggers said it influenced them to purchase the book. Obviously, anything creative that you make will be viewed through the filter of what that viewer feels at the time they watch it. It’s all subjective.  Sometimes you win with fans and sometimes you lose.

Do bad videos affect customer loyalty?

Loyal readers will see a video and if they like it they will credit the author. If they don’t like it, they usually blame the producer. Even if the client made creative decisions that the readers didn’t like, the producer will be held responsible because fans like being fans and they will always support the author, even to the detriment of the producer, even when it isn’t the producer’s fault.  In this respect, having someone else produce your trailer provides a buffer for the author. 

Do bad videos negatively affect sales?

Though the general consensus from booksellers has been that they see an increase in sales when a video goes up, there’s really no hard evidence on this issue yet.  With thousands of books coming out every month there is one thing that is for sure; if people don’t know your book exists they won’t buy it, the quality of the book video notwithstanding.  If on an average 10,000 people hear about your video through normal channels then the most you can hope to sell is 10,000 books. With video, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people will learn about your book; so your potential sales above the normal channels stands to go up. Even if they don’t like the video, they may like the story. Or they may still check out your site. If only 1,000 people buy the book because of the video, and 5,000 won’t because of the video, you are still gaining 1,000 readers above what you would have gotten through normal channels of marketing. Readers who depend on normal channels of marketing (word of mouth, back cover copy, RT ads, book reviews) are less likely to be influenced by a book video one way or another.

People who work in a creative field, such as writing or making entertainment videos, will always be subjected to the opinions of the general public. Bad book reviews, like bad book video reviews, come from a lot of places. Just because someone gives a book a bad review doesn’t mean the book isn’t good. It just means that that person didn’t like it. For whatever reason.

How much should you pay attention to bad book video reviews?

As with any creative endeavor, a few bad reviews are expected.  But, if the majority of the reviews from a variety of sources say the video has problems then let’s face it; it has problems. But, that doesn’t mean your career is over. It means that you need to take that input seriously and DO something with it!  At COS Productions, we set up a beta tester program back in 2006. We have reviewers watch our videos and they answer questions about it such as: “What was your least favorite scene and why?” and “Was the music appropriate throughout the video?”

We won’t beta test all videos because we produce too many and it isn’t always necessary.  However, we do test our full production videos and we sample test our videos using a maintenance schedule. So all types of videos are occasionally tested as are all of our producers. So, even if we have one that ends up not being well received we know we can do better next time because we take comments, constructive or otherwise, into account.

Not every book video is going to be a Telly award winner. But when the majority of them are, you can withstand the occassional bad comment and still feel successful.

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While blog touring is still relatively new as a book marketing and promotion strategy, some anecdotal learning and tribal knowledge are beginning to emerge.  There are a number of good reasons why authors, publishers and book marketers should consider blog tours.  The blogosphere is:

  • Influential – 12 of the top 100 media properties in the US are now blogs
  • Large – 100+ million blogs & over 1.3 million posts daily
  • Global
  • Mainstream

Since blogs often bear the personal imprint of their owners, it is easy to forget that they can be powerful media properties.  For example, in May 2008, Nielsen Online reported monthly audience numbers for some of the top blogs.  Here is a sampling:


VISITORS (million)

Huffington Post









One important consideration is which blogs to invite to a blog tour.  Bill Rederick’s approach to selecting blogs for a tour is highlighted in this guest post on All Book Marketing.  Bill is the author of My Virtul Book Tour Secrets!, which covers blog touring in depth.  He describes his formula that involves combining seven factors to determine a blog’s suitability.

Author Karen Harrington who recently conducted a blog tour to promote her book Janeology(published by Kunati Books) shared her experiences and learning in a recent post.  She used the firm PumpUpYourBookPromotion.comto manage her tour.  She was accompanied on her virtual tour by other writers and found this helped amplify the positive results she achieved.  She also found that the blog tour had an “echo effect” with many bloggers who became aware of the tour contacting her about follow-on interviews.  She also noted that many of the bloggers on her tour also posted on Shelfari and LibraryThing giving her book additional exposure.

Another example of a blog tour, for author Mary DeMuth’s (Authentic Parenting) blog tour in late 2007, was showcased on Gooward Editing.  It demonstrtes some important lessons learned about blog touring and provides a good analysis of the data used to evaluate the success of the tour. 

Author Susan Wittig Albert has had expreience with both blog tours and traditional book tours.  She compared the two types of promotion in an interview on Blog Book Tours.  She liked the convenience and low cost of the blog tour, but felt it lacked the impact with readers of a conventional book tour.

Ben McConnell & Jackie Huba

Ben McConnell & Jackie Huba

The authors of Citizen Marketers, Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, provided a new twist on the traditional book tour.   In October 2006, they asked readers of their blog, Church of the Customer, to help them select cities for their upcoming book tour.  Readers could invite them to speak at events in their locala area.  As a result, they went on a book tour that spanned 40 venues in 5 months.  They sold almost 7,500 copies of  their book and in the process tripled traffic to their blog.   Nice work!

intrepid explorers

intrepid explorers

The blog tour is coming of age in step with the maturing of the blogosphere.  At some point in the future, much of the experimental wisdom will be refined into neat should’s and should not’s, must’s and must not’s.  Until then, success belongs to the intrepid explorers who aren’t afraid to try new things.  We salute you – and keep that wisdom coming!


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The American Booksellers Association recently announced a partnership with Applewood Books that will enable its member booksellers to publish out-of-print books on demand.  Applewood Books specialize in publishing exacting recreations of historic books.  Its titles include complex reprints of children’s art and pop-up books as well as books published using methods which replicate antique publishing techniques.

The new program will provide participating booksellers with the ability to publish any title that is in the public domain or any book, such as a local interest title, whose rights exist with or have reverted to the author and to sell it at margins from 50 percent (for up to 14 units) to 75 percent (1,000 units or more).

Applewood, which has more than 30 years of experience working with out-of-print licensing and public domain publishing, was a logical choice for the partnership.  Under the agreement, booksellers pay an advance fee of $250 for each title they co-publish. Applewood digitizes the work, creates a cover design, assigns an ISBN, etc. Lightning Source prints the titles. Booksellers can distribute titles through Applewood if they choose.

According to Bookselling this Week,

The partnership between ABA and Applewood Books was facilitated by Ingram’s Lightning Source, which had been engaged in conversations with the association to find ways to help independent booksellers tap into the print-on-demand market.

While Applewood will use Ingram’s Lightning Source as their printer, any store is welcome to work with Lightning Source directly or use other POD vendors. 

Espresso Book Machine

Espresso Book Machine

Lightning Source has a partnership with On Demand Books which gives On Demand Books access to its scanning facilities.  But it also provides the company access to copyrighted material through an opt in/opt out clause that Lightning Source will add to its publisher contracts.  Both the ABA – Applewood and  Lightning Source – On Demand Books partnerships represent continuing progress toward the “insta-book” – where a customer can walk into a store and get any book. 

Brownie camera

Brownie camera

The next step is to move the printing / binding part of the process out from a central distribution center to the local book buying venues.  It is somewhat reminiscent of the history of consumer photo finishing.  Originally, you had to send your photos off to be developed and wait days or weeks to get them back.  Then 24 hour photo processors sprang up.  Then retail venues like drugstores began offering photos developed in an hour.  And now it has evolved to self service (if you even want prints of course).  Can you say book ATM?

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Every book marketer dreams of having a title go viral – when a product catches on and is purchased by a huge numbers of customers in a relatively short period of time.  Such events are rare, but have captured the marketing imagination. 

Duncan Watts

Duncan Watts

Scientists, like Duncan Watts and Albert Laszlo Barabasi, who study such contagions in social networks call these events global cascades.  These cascades are made possible by the presence of what they term a “percolating cluster.”  A percolating cluster is made up of nodes in the network (read prospective customers) whose decision threshold is low and where the average degree (or number of other influencers) is not too high.  The good news is that we can characterize the conditions that will allow a new book to go viral.  The bad news is that we have no way to find these percolating clusters.

That hasn’t stopped marketers from giving advice on how to use viral marketing strategies.  Ralph F. Wilson of Frugal Marketing is a representative example.  He provides 6 tips for an effective viral marketing campaign, including:

  • Gives away products or services
  • Provide for effortless transfer to others
  • Scale easily from small to very large
  • Exploit common motivations and behaviors
  • Utilize existing communication networks
  • Take advantage of others’ resources

David Meerman ScottVahid Chaychi offers some additional tricks in his online article Viral Marketing Strategies – Learn How to Spread the Word for Free! including affiliate programs, recommendation campaigns.  Keith Gloster, of the Concept Marketing Group puts a special focus on using e-books to create viral buzz in his article, 10 High-Impact Viral Marketing Strategies.  He contends that free e-books or downloadable items make good viral accelerants.  The highest profile champion of viral marketing is probably David Meerman Scott (see picture at right), whose PDF, The New Rules of Viral Marketing, became its own viral hit.  Bob Bly offers some refinements on the Scott model by using the free e-book to feed an e-list campaign.  For books, one can now add videos and widgets – those ubiquitous creatures of the cut & paste web -to the viral toolbox

percolating cluster

percolating cluster

Despite the cornucopia of advice, those percolating clusters remain elusive.  Many marketers hope that early adopters will ignite a viral stampede.  But early adopters are not the key to viral success.  It is the receptivity of the network of potential customers to the new idea.  This receptivity is determined by network parameters that have little to do with being a highly connected (influential) early adopter.  And this receptivity is both dynamic and not something we can easily measure.  So – if network science is right – most viral campaigns will wind up like the proverbial seeds that fall on barren earth; they will not bear the desired fruit.

The real global cascade here may be the dream of viral marketing success rather than the reality.

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