The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

Don’t know anyone on Twitter?

Last week a college friend posted a question about Twitter as his Facebook status.  He’d just signed up, he said, and was having trouble finding friends who use Twitter.  Several of his friends — Facebook veterans, obviously — said they’d tried Twitter but “didn’t get it” or couldn’t find anyone.  (Although Oprah, who finally got on the bandwagon and started tweeting, picked up almost 500,000 followers in less than a week.)

Just in time, Wendy Kaufman of NPR’s Morning Edition explored, earlier this week, how businesses are using Twitter as a marketing tool and how individuals use it to keep up with the news in Thumbs To The News: Public Turns To Twitter.  Yesterday, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd debated — in her typical sardonic fashion — To Tweet or not to Tweet.

The dirty, little secret of Twitter is that it’s really basic: it lacks the bells and whistles of Facebook or LinkedIn, no photos, no audio or video, no groups, just 140-character status updates.  The Twitter website isn’t pretty.  It crashes all the time (displaying the much hated “fail whale”).  Still, it works well enough that fire departments use Twitter — among other tools — to track wildfires, doctors use it to share information and L.A. foodies use it to hunt down mobile taco trucks.  (Not to mention it’s a handy tool for those of us in book publicity, allowing us to follow the news and network with authors and others in the industry.)

Guy Kawasaki, Internet guru and How to Change the World blogger, showed How to Demo Twitter earlier this week, covering why one would want to use Twitter, how to find people to follow and what desktop applications can run Twitter.  (That’s the summarized version; for more, check the Twitter section of his news aggregation site Alltop.)

For more Twitter basics, I’ve posted about how to get started on Twitter and how to figure out the Following / Follower lists.

And for a glossary of Twitter terms, try this recent post from Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists.

Lastly, for those of you inclined to regurgitate at another mention of Twitter but who understand that one must nevertheless adapt to change, Dave Fleet suggests (non-Twitter) Social Media Baby Steps.


For those of you in the publishing industry, don’t forget that Jennifer Tribe of Highspot maintains a directory of bookish tweeps.

April 23, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking, Trends | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The ebook question

As a book publicist, I spend a fair amount of time pondering ebooks.  Will ebooks really catch on?  (For all the talk about ebooks, anecdotally, I’d say pretty much, well, no one actually owns an ereader.)  How much should publishers charge for them?  Will the “iTunes of ebooks” emerge or will we still be reading ebooks in half a dozen formats?  Will publishers continue to struggle with DRM (Digital Rights Management) to protect files from being pirated or will we throw caution to the wind?  When will book publicists be able to promote upcoming titles with egalleys and ebooks?  How do booksellers feel about ebooks?  Why can you preorder thousands of (tree) books on Amazon, but when it comes to Kindle books — which would seem like natural candidates for preorders — only 118 not-yet-published titles are available?  These are the issues that keep me up at night.  (Actually, nothing keeps me up at night as my college roommate will attest, but that line sounded good.)

At any rate, these are the issues that are keeping a lot of people up during the day.  Last week on Talk of the Nation, Slate’s Jacob Weisberg debated the cultural effect of the Kindle.  And All Things Considered considered DRM.  On Monday, Oxford University Press executive Evan Schnittman (quoted in the ATC story) posted about the economics of ebook publishing on his new blog Black Plastic Glasses and tackled a question oft bandied about by ebook fanatics: why aren’t ebooks free?  The piece was picked up in short order by Teleread and GalleyCat and garnered dozens of comments.

Meanwhile, as publishers and readers work through the thorny issues that have hamstrung digital publishing — and while we all await Apple’s rumored ereader — don’t forget your Smell of Books.  (And no, this is not an April’s Fools Joke.  Or is it.)

April 1, 2009 Posted by | ebooks, Trends | , , | 12 Comments

The not-so paper news

Yesterday, Yahoo! News posted a list of the 10 newspapers most likely to fold / move entirely online.  Some of these newspapers are in cities with more than one daily newspaper (Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia); others are their city’s only source of daily (paid circulation) print news (Boston, San Francisco).  On the other end of the spectrum, TechCrunch listed the 50 most linked to media sites.  (Fortunately for the beleaguered newspapers, there is some overlap.)

More bad news for book publicists?  Well, yes, obviously, if the newspaper disappears entirely.  But maybe not so bad if the paper goes, but the news remains.

March 10, 2009 Posted by | Miscellaneous, Trends | | 2 Comments

Literary cage fight: print vs. online

Late last week, four days after the publication of the last print edition of The Washington Post Book World, Dick Meyer posted a lament on about the demise of newspaper book sections.  Bloggers, not surprisingly, took umbrage at his comments.  M. J. Rose of Buzz, Balls & Hype and Ed Champion were particularly outspoken.

Meyer distinguishes between “professional reviews” and “amateur, unedited and niche reviews.”  As someone who spent five years editing my school newspapers in high school and college, I don’t dispute the benefits of editorial oversight.  But web reporting isn’t “unedited” — it’s edited by everyone.  For those who doubt the collective wisdom of the online community, I would point you to the much-talked about study that showed Wikipedia to be nearly as accurate as the vaunted Encyclopedia Britannica (although, of course, the accuracy of the study itself has been disputed — not the least by Britannica).

What is clear also is that the lines between print and online journalists are blurring.  Many literary bloggers write for print publications (or, alas, did before they folded / downsized).  And book publicity firms kelley & hall and Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists both posted about a recent study of print journalists from PWR New Media that found “60 percent of respondents said they now contribute to a blog or other online site.  39 percent of these journalists said they acquired these responsibilities in the past year and 71 percent added online work to their duties in the past two years.”  In other words, print journalists aren’t checking out — they’re adapting.

Meyer’s analysis is actually more even handed than the alarmist “Literary Death Spiral” headline would have you believe and he is, after all, the Editorial Director of NPR Digital Media.  Further, he brings up some thoughtful and important points about the wider cultural significance of books.  Still, what frustrates me about complaints about a dying print culture is the accompanying small-mindedness and sense of superiority about reading.  Are we in book publishing in the business of bringing literature to  people and fostering appreciation of it?  Or are we simply trying to promote page turning?

February 24, 2009 Posted by | Miscellaneous, Trends | | 1 Comment

A new era

That’s right — Gossip Girl just announced their new spin-off series.  Battlestar Galactica is in its final season, again.  And we have a new president. 

For those of you glued to your television sets for the Inauguration, you may be interested to know that the online world is encroaching on not just the print but also on the broadcast world.  Today, the New York Times reports record online viewership of the inauguration.  Of course, traffic was so high that viewing live video footage on sites like CNN and MSNBC was difficult (or for yours truly, impossible), although the Timessays that might be the fault of individual offices’ Internet services rather than the bandwidths of the media companies.  (At any rate, having decided to boycott my office viewing of the Inauguration — which utilized the Civil War technology known as the “teevee” — I was stuck listening to it live streamed on NPR and then catching the video on YouTube later in the afternoon.)

I find it encouraging that a lot of people in the publishing business are coming around and realizing the influence of online media (helped by posts like this one at Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists about the increasing influence of online media.  Phenix & Phenix notes that online coverage means not just online book reviews, but also commenting, links, blogs and more).

For many, now, the question is not “Is online promotion worthwhile?”  but rather, “Which site(s) are important?” given that there are now dozens of social networks and hundreds (or thousands, more likely) of publishing blogs and websites.  Which makes the social networking numbers GalleyCat posted last week particularly handy.  Also of note: according to TechCrunch, Twitter surpassed Digg in traffic last week.  (Twitter is a micro-blogging site that allows a user to tell followers what they’re doing 24/7.  Because you really want to know what I had for dinner last night.  Digg is an aggregator that posts the most popular online stories according to readers in various categories.)

If you are pretty handy with social networking sites, you might consider heading over to Booksquare’s social media survey if you haven’t already done so.  You could win a free pass to the O’Reilly Tools of Change Conference (sort of the BEA of the social media world).  Deadline is tomorrow, January 22, so step on it if you’re interested.

The moral of the story is that we need to view the online world with a new appreciation.  Although most of us do indeed have at least some understanding of online and social media, we all need to take the next step and follow through on that with acceptance if we are indeed going to usher in a new era.

January 21, 2009 Posted by | Blogs, Online Marketing, Social Networking, Trends | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

EBooks — promotion and reviews

There’s been plenty of talk about eBooks over the past few months (years), but between klunky readers and the half dozen eBook formats, they’ve gotten off to a rocky start.  Leave it to Oprah to up the ante.  (For anyone who’s been living under a rock, Oprah announced on Friday that the Kindle has “changed her life.”) 

On the review side, GalleyCat ruminates on digital book review sites, i.e., sites devoted to reviewing eBooks, and the possibility of an IMDB for books.

All Book Marketing talks about promoting eBooks — do you guest blog?  Place ads?  Comment on related blogs to drive traffic to your book / site?

October 28, 2008 Posted by | ebooks, Trends | , , , | Leave a comment

What’s Twitter all about and how can it help book publicists?

I came late to Twitter.  I didn’t think a lot of my friends used it (they don’t) and I thought “Twitter” was a stupid name (it is).  But why’s it so important that everyone can’t shut up about it?

There are actually two types of things you can do on Twitter: post your status for people who are following you and follow the status of those people whom you might be following.  You may be thinking this sounds dumb because we really don’t need to know what someone is eating for lunch, but some journalists and bloggers also use Twitter to post queries or even to conduct interviews (and of course there’s that Berkeley kid who managed to post the word “arrested” to his Twitter account when he was nabbed at a protest in Egypt).

In the past couple days, PR Squared posted a list of media people who use Twitter and ReadWriteWeb explained how they use Twitter as journalists.  Both posts show Twitter screen captures so you can see what exactly is going on.  Yesterday Valleywag chimed in.  (Apparently there are 80,000 Twitter users.  Business Week’s Blogspotting blog just posted about how various business are using Twitter and if you really want to stay on top of the Twitter big shots, check out Alltop’s Twitterati.

April 30, 2008 Posted by | Online Marketing, Trends, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Papyrus Files: Cold call voicemails

The other day I had three meetings before 1 p.m. and when I finally got back to my desk to find the red voicemail light on my phone, all I really wanted to do was smash it into the wall.  (It takes 7-13 steps to access VM versus 0-3 to access email — believe you me, I’ve counted.)  Meanwhile, on the email front, I’d answered all my urgent messages and Blackberried an author and producer several times, managing to confirm an interview while on the subway (IRT lines are pretty darn close to the surface) or in my last meeting (even though I was running it).  Needless to say, given my visceral hatred of voicemail, I very rarely inflict that torture upon editors / producers when cold calling (and in just the last few days a couple publicists have mentioned they too no longer leave voicemail when pitching).

So I thought it might be helpful to start a discussion about when to leave a voicemail.  I do, in fact, leave phone messages when a) I already know the person or b) I’m already working with the person or c) I’ve already emailed the person to no avail.  But to call a person I don’t know to tell them about something they don’t know about when they are possibly on deadline seems like a waste of time for all of us (unless you happen to be contacting someone who has expressed a preference for phone calls).  A couple years back I was at a PPA / Publishers Publicity Association luncheon and one of the panelists mentioned that when she gets back from lunch she often finds herself with a couple dozen voicemail messages from folks like us asking if she received a book / is going to cover a book.  A couple more PPA panelists have told us they can either answer our calls or do their jobs.  Think about it — how many times has your cold call voicemail been returned?

In this day and age of IM, live blogging, texting, wall posts, PDAs, Twitter, WiFi and email pushed to cell phones, a cold call voicemail — with no initial indication of who called, when, what the message is or how urgent it is — is akin to launching a carrier pigeon with a piece of paper afixed to its leg.  (Although if I had an actual carrier pigeon land on my desk then yes, I would find it within me to check its message although I would still be pretty annoyed if the message was any less urgent than, say, THE BRITISH ARE COMING!!!)  The point is, you may think it’s easier to leave a voicemail than to type up an email to a journalist, but think about what’s easier for them — having to dial in several codes and listen to a message that may need to be replayed several times or reading the subject line of an email?  I personally loathe having to write down voicemail messages with my quill.  And I’m running out of papyrus …

April 7, 2008 Posted by | Papyrus Files, Pitching Tips, Trends | , | 4 Comments

Old / new media

I’ve been really busy / away these past few weekends so I haven’t been looking through my print NY Times as closely as I should have been doing, so imagine my surprise when I opened the paper Sunday morning to find not only a revamped table of contents on page 2, but also a ToC for on page 4!

Technophile though I may be, I’d have to admit that I think what we’re seeing these days is not so much the triumph of new media over old media, but the mash up of new media and old media — much like Hera and Nicky (the Cylon / human hybrids for those of you who have the misfortune to not be Battlestar Galactica fans).

So the venerable Gray Lady, for example, started an online-only section called City Room. And several book sections also feature blogs: the Boston Globe has Off the Shelf, the Chicago Sun-Times The Book Room, the Dallas Morning News Texas Pages, the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel’s Off the Page, the LAT Jacket Copy, the NYT Paper Cuts and Reading Room and the Washington Post Short Stack.  Former DM-N BRE Jerome Weeks now blogs at Bookdaddy and now-retired Philly Inky BRE Frank Wilson continues to blog at Books, Inq.  On the other side of the coin, many bloggers have made inroads into the print community. When Wilson retired, a slew of lit bloggers who have reviewed for that publication posted fond farewells. Or Carolyn Kellogg, the blogger behind Pinky’s Paperhaus, now has a regular gig with Jacket Copy.

What does this mean for book promotion? More flexibility. Our media contacts who once were limited to only one medium can now bring their writing to multiple audiences. Happy Monday. 🙂

April 7, 2008 Posted by | Trends | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Free eBooks + increasing popularity of eReaders = critical mass?

Electronic books have been around for years.  No one read them.  Even my brother-in-law who built his own stereo (and Lego Millenium Falcon) never got around to getting one.  Then last fall Amazon came out with the Kindle.  And Amazon went out of stock with the Kindle.  And everyone started buying the Sony eReaders they’d spurned for years.  (Not to mention, most of us in publishing have heard of Jeff Gomez‘s Print is Dead, also published last fall — available as a Kindle Edition, natch.)   

At the same time, Harper was offering free downloads of certain books.  Random House offered PDFs of Charles Bock’s novel Beautiful Children.  Wired guru Chris Anderson penned a piece about “freeconomics” for the March issue of the magazine.  Saturday, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about Scott Sigler’s new novel, Infected, published by Crown on Tuesday and downloaded (for free) 45,000 times in the 100 hours after its release.  (Sigler was also interviewed by Liane Hansen on last weekend’s WeSun.  The print edition is #493 on Amazon as of Saturday afternoon.  By Sunday evening, the SF Chronicle article had made it to Digg.)  Richard from Soft Skull just mentioned they are offering their own freebie novel, The Pisstown Chaos.

This raises two issues for book publicists (well, among many, but I’m just going to raise two here).  The first is, how effective is giving away eBooks?  Do people take their free stuff and run?  Or does offering them one free thing make them subsequently buy not-free things?  Me, I downloaded my free copy of Beautiful Children and deleted it unread when IT came to do something to my computer and insisted I clean up my desktop, but I’m thinking about buying it.  I wonder how many other people also downloaded it, read a few pages — or none at all as the case might be — and then proceeded to buy the book?  I’m not sure of the answer — and I suspect Harper, Random and Soft Skull are still trying to figure this out.

And secondly, if eBooks are finally gaining popularity, what does this mean for bookstores?  And author events?

April 6, 2008 Posted by | Online Marketing, Trends | , , , , , | 2 Comments