The panellists were a really good mix of people, all with different skill sets and perspectives on what the on-line world means to people working in publishing:
- JUSTIN SOMPER is the author of the bestselling VAMPIRATES series but also works as a book publicist and has recently started Author Profile, a company that helps to guide authors through the business side of being an author and which provides training on on-line strategies.
- Sarah McIntyre is an illustrator and comic book artist who's well known for her stunning blog here on Livejournal at jabberworks.
- Liz de Jager is a well known book review blogger who runs the blog My Favourite Books, which hosts book reviews, author interviews and an awful lot more.
- Clare Hall-Craggs is Publicity Director at Random House, a publisher that's really getting to grips with the need for on-line strategies.
Justin began by saying that he was initially reluctant to get involved with the digital age and didn't blog, Tweet or Facebook. However he gradually realised that getting on-line had two major benefits:
(1) managing communications with his readers in a timely manner; and
(2) the ability to stay in touch with his industry network.
Justin said that being on-line is all about visibility and means that, as an author, he will have a changing relationship with his readers.
He worries about offering too much free content. He will do blog entries and drafts of chapters that never made it into his books but he doesn't want to give out free original, new content.
He suggested that authors stay in touch with their publicist in order to make sure that on-line content is connected to their new book release and feeds into it.
In terms of on-line strategy he recommended that you go for the means that give you the most bang for your buck because not all on-line techniques/forums/events are equal. For most authors nowadays the blog tour is a key component of a book release campaign and you should be looking to reach the 3 key groups of people:
(1) the gatekeepers - librarians, teachers and reviewers who can help signal boost information on your book;
(2) core readers - if you're published then this will be the people who already read and enjoy your work; and
(3) wider readers - i.e. the people who don't yet know about your book.
Justin believes that television and radio coverage still carries the biggest impact together with coverage in national newspapers. However you need to reach a combination of outlets.
Authors with an established or well publicised following (e.g. Jacqueline Wilson, Anthony Horowitz etc) will tend to get the best and the most attention but digital strategies can keep authors who aren't in that group in the focus of readers and do it in a cheap and time-efficient manner.
Sarah ran a fantastic power point presentation, which I really wish I had pictures of - not least because of her illustrations, which were awesome.
Sarah said that you don't need the latest gadgets to run a digital campaign, but you do need to have content. She believes that an on-line presence should be part of your life. If you build your on-line presence then people will come to you.
She said that photographs and images can be more effective than text in blogging and she advised attendees to learn to use their camera in order to get the most out of photographs - photos should feature the author, their book and the venue. She also recommended that attendees teach themselves how to use iMovie and other film programs.
Sarah explained how meeting people at events can lead to on-line creativity and how readers really like to get involved with what's on blogs. However social networking has to inspire you or no one else will get inspired. She recommended keeping it simple by using a home base (e.g. a blog or a face book page) and then linking back to it through other avenues like Twitter, Tumblr etc.
Because children don't read blogs, you need to have other content that can engage them. She does activity sheets and other stuff for them to do and she also posts pictures of them from events that she does.
Liz de Jager
Liz explained that she started blogging 7 years ago and originally only had one intention, which was to read 100 books per year. She found that people slowly started reading her blog so that the hit count was gradually going up. When a friend of hers got a book deal she hosted an interview on her blog, which helped to bring more people in. Although she had a Twitter account she didn't use it for the first 2 years but then she found some people there whose names she recognised and started following them and in turn found that people started following her back.
After a year of running the blog she started writing to publishers and began to build up contacts with different publishers' PR departments and thanks to the help of some librarians she knew, she got invited to book and publishing events.
Liz said that blogging introduced her to a new world and meant that she got to meet writers and learn what makes them tick and what their voice is. She also saw first hand how the publicity machine works at the publishing houses.
Liz pointed out that bloggers and reviewers have a symbiotic relationship but it's hard work to get the reviews done and the blog established. She also pointed out that bloggers tend to have good relationships with book sellers as well who are now starting to recognise bloggers as a good way of selling books and themselves. She noted that some booksellers are now doing blogger specific events to try and cultivate this.
There are a lot of new book review bloggers and she thinks that in the early days, many make the mistake of being too sycophantic in their reviews but as they get more and more books they realise that they can't keep that approach up. She stressed that it was important for book bloggers to have integrity.
She concluded by saying that vlogging and podcasts are beginning to develop in popularity in the review sphere, particularly in respect of graphic novels.
Clare said that newsprint coverage of books is drying up at a very aggressive rate and particularly in respect of children's books, which tend to be the first reviews/articles dropped if there are space problems. However she does not believe that newspaper reviews are as important in selling now as on-line reviews and authorial on-line presence.
Random House think about who the author is trying to reach and then work out how to target those readers and are looking at new strategies for helping them to reach them. She said that recently Random House had invited in Facebook to speak to their authors about how best to use it.
Being on-line gives authors a lot of opportunity to talk to readers between the release of a hardback and paperback version of their book.
She suggested that authors loiter on Twitter to see how it works before beginning to get stuck into it. She pointed out how important it is to use the hashtag (#) when talking about books because people are itching to talk about books they love and the hashtag gives them a means of connecting with other people. For example, the #wonderofwonder, which was used for the release of WONDER by R J Palacio and which is still generating activity.
She said that publishers would be lost without the blogging community, which is why Random House host a blogging brunch.
She concluded by saying that although authors aren't obliged to get on-line, Random House does offer training and encourages its authors not to be left out.
The event concluded with a series of questions of answers from the audience, of which the two that I found most interesting were as follows:
- In response to a question about how Sarah's approach to giving away on-line content differed to Justin's, Sarah said that she does it because if someone does decide to rip off her content (and it has, unfortunately, happened) then she knows that she can always produce more ideas and she does use her legal rights against those who try to profit from her work. Justin said that he thinks it's good for writers to let people into their world by talking about things like the process of writing and the creation of a book but it is possible to give away too much and his concern is that people can become so wrapped up in creating free on-line content that it distracts them from producing the work they need to do for publication.
- Justin and Sarah were also asked how they cope with bad reviews. Sarah said that she found it was great because people really rally around you while Justin said that although the bad reviews stay with you more than the good ones, there's always someone else who's worse off in terms of on-line feedback.
Many thanks to all who organised this event, which was sold out well in advance and was both interesting and enjoyable.