The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

The art of the conversation a la SXSW

By now, most people in book publishing have heard about what happened at South By Southwest’s New Think for Old Publishers panel Sunday evening.  The gist: while the panelists were talking, a second discussion among audience members transpired on Twitter.  Many people in the audience follow each other on Twitter–the book publishing community being fairly insular–so when one person posted a Tweet about the panel, others saw.  Within minutes, a spirited debate had emerged.

If you have not already done so, you will want to check the #sxswbp-tagged tweets.  If a blow-by-blow recap of the panel isn’t your cup of tea, you can also read summaries of the online (and offline) discussions in Monday’s Publishers Lunch newsletter, or online at Austinist; Kassia Krozser’s invaluable publishing industry blog, Booksquare; Freebird Books & Goods; GalleyCat; Medialoper; or So Misguided, among other sites. 

On the one hand, the conversation on Twitter was related (and a reaction) to the offline panel discussion; on the other, it took place without the involvement of the panelists—the Web 2.0 equivalent of passing notes behind the teacher’s back.  Welcome to the New Think.

For authors attempting to connect with readers—and book publicists guiding authors attempting to connect with readers—there are a few lessons that can be learned from this experience.

— Relinquish control of the conversation.  At a time when the Internet allows anyone and everyone to participate in a discussion, no one person can control the direction or tenor of a conversation.  It’s like when movie stars insist they won’t discuss their personal lives with journalists.  The stars may not talk, but we’re sure still devouring all the juicy details of their lives.

Know where readers are and what they are saying.  Is there a Facebook group dedicated to an author or a book(s)?  Or a Twitter hash tag?  Which websites and discussion groups come up when an author’s name / book are Googled?

— Adapt.  You as an author / agent / editor / publicist may view a book in a certain way.  Readers might not.  Pay attention to the reception of a book and its messages.  Be prepared to adapt your message in order to connect with anyone who might come to the book in any fashion.

Roll with the punches.  When you initiate a discussion, realize you’re opening yourself up to all manner of reactions, from sympathetic to vitriolic.  I would say not to take negative reactions personally, although, having once been practically threatened with bodily harm for making a rude joke about some marathon runners, I realize that’s easier said that done.  What’s important to remember is that there are benefits to publicly speaking up, to starting a conversation, to interacting with and listening to people (particularly when others don’t).  This is how bridges are built, how change is made.


March 16, 2009 Posted by | Miscellaneous | , , | 10 Comments

New media marketing — wisdom from SXSW

Today’s post is late because I’m in Austin for the South by Southwest Interactive conference!!!  Imagine my excitement being in a room surrounded by hundreds of bloggers with laptops and / or iPhones.  It’s just heavenly.  Almost better than chocolate.  Almost.

Thanks (or not, depending on one’s point of view) to the virus that has been wreaking havoc on the Eastern Seaboard, I found myself an 11th-hour replacement jetting to the Kingdom of Heaven—by which I mean SXSW—late Saturday night.  By late, I mean too late to get a room at my overbooked hotel.  So I found myself in a cab, at 1 a.m. in the morning (Eastern Time? Central Time? I forget which) to a place that was distinctly not my hotel.  (Note to book publicists: remind your authors check in early whenever possible.)

No matter.  New Hotel (I forget which) overlooked the Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail (to which my Austin-based buddies at Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicity had directed me when I requested a suggestion for a not-hotel-gym place to run).  Kismet, no?  Thus, Sunday morning found me sightseeing, i.e., hitting the trail for a 13-mile jog.

That afternoon, I attended the Marketing Meets New Media: Building Your Audience Online panel.  It was geared more to artists, musicians and film makers, but there were takeaways for those of us in the book publishing business.  The discussion soon turned to methods of communication with fans since some people like receiving email messages while others prefer accessing news via RSS or on a social network like Facebook or Twitter.  The panelists agreed that it made sense to reach out to fans in as many formats as possible … but also that doing so is extremely time consuming.  So one panelist suggested taking one day every so often to connect with fans (rather than feeling compelled to, say, Tweet every day).  Another panelist advised linking content—posting a Twitter feed on a website, for example—to generate as much traffic as possible for each effort.

Another online must do for authors: setting up a program like Google Analytics to research who goes to your website and how they get there.  Panelists at this morning’s Beyond Aggregation–Finding the Web’s Best Content talk seconded this suggestion.  They also advised checking to see which blogs and websites link to yours (which can be done with a service like del.i.cious, among other methods) and researching and reaching out to those blogs.  The panelists also talked up FriendFeed, which aggregates information from multiple social networks.  I must admit that although I’ve signed up for FriendFeed, I, uh, haven’t quite had the time to try it out.

Another important issue: how do you engage an audience and get them to help spread the word about a product or issue?  Suggestions from the panelists: get the audience involved.  Start a project that allows them to interact with the creator.  Hold contests.  Make up trivia questions.  If a fan / readers feels like s/he is part of the experience, s/he will talk about it.  And bring it to other communities.  Also, depending on the situation, authors can explicitly ask readers to talk up / review a book.

Lastly, for authors who still equate new media, i.e., blogs, social networks, etc., with mumbo jumbo, you are actually in good company.  Panelist and gamer Burnie Burns of Rooster Teeth Productions admitted he only signed up for Twitter two days ago—when he heard someone talking about how sick they were of it.

“I can’t learn how to use this stuff as fast as other people can learn to hate it,” Burns concluded.


Stay tuned for a recap of the New Think for Old Publishers panel …

March 16, 2009 Posted by | Online Marketing | , , , , | 1 Comment