Friday, June 19, 2015

IBPA 's "Publishing University" 2015: My Notes on Four Outstanding Talks on Selling Books, Making Books, Metadata, and Video— and a Felicitous Observation

No, as an author I'm not all jumping-jacks about self-publishing publishers can and, on many an occasion, actually do provide important added-value to a book. (My own have been published by Grijalbo-Random House Mondadori, Literal Publishing, Milkweed Editions, Planeta, Unbridled Books, University of Georgia Press, University of Utah Press,  and Whereabouts Press whew, that list is as much a testimony to the diverse genres of my books as to the tumult in the publishing industry.) But as I noted in this previous blog post, the light flashed on for me when I realized, no matter what happens with my future books, because I have self-published several ebook editions and the print-on-demand paperback, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution, and because digital bookshelf space is marginal cost zero 24/7 (in other words, click, it's in the store, and nothing digital is going out of print anytime soon), for the rest of my natural life, I will always play some role, whether large or minuscule, as my own publisher. And towards that end, I realized, it would behoove me to figure out, or rather, continue trying to figure out what the heck I'm doing. Over the past few years, for my imprint, Dancing Chiva, I've explored my way around a good part of this newfangled digital labyrinth (PODsKindles, iBooks). But of course, there is always more to learn; publishing is a fast-changing game. 

Ergo, I signed up for the Independent Book Publishers Association's 2 day 2015 seminar "Publishing University"It was, in two words, Austinesquely fabulastic.

Herewith may they serve you or someone you know my notes:

1. How Books Sell 
The keynote at lunch was by Peter Hildick-Smith, CEO of Codex Group, on "How Books Sell." I was encouraged to hear that this veteran of the publishing business, who's crunched more than a few truckloads of numbers, believes that "there is a lot of untapped potential in this industry." [My comment: Crowd pleasingly encouraging! I confess, this prompted evil thoughts about Pet Rocks.]

Hildick-Smith said there are three pillars to selling a new book, and you must have all three:

(1) Discovery (Readers are aware of the book) 
(2) Conversion (They decide to buy it)
(3) Availability (It is available to buy when, where and how buyers want it)

On Discovery

+Most people, when thinking about how to sell a book, conflate discovery with conversion. 
+The vast majority of book buyers are not even aware of best-selling authors! 
+Internet promotions (via email, social media, free Kindles, etc) has "generated a lot of low quality discoverability." 
+Analog publicity remains very effective. The quality of discoverability is key. 
+The book needs to get rated. But books must be read before they can be rated. Therefore offering free ebooks as a way to improve discoverability is low quality. 
+ The discoverability source affects 5 star ratings.

On Conversion

+Many times there is a disconnect here. There is no conversion to sales without discovery. "Conversion" is not about liking, it is about acting actually deciding to buy the book.
+Statistics show that the author series brand is the biggest factor. In other words, author brand is key. Ergo, best-sellers are dominated by brand authors. Their fans are 15 x more
Notice that HarperCollins added
"author of Bel Canto"
likely to buy their favorite authors and to give more favorable reviews. "Brand author" = 500,000 fans or more. 
+An author brand is a "rare and valuable asset" but this is not the same as "being famous." Lots of famous and even belovedly famous people publish books that tank. 
+Readers do not always connect the author with the title of the book. In other words, they may love the book but not remember who wrote it. Key: if the author wrote a book with a recognizable title, it makes a difference to add "Author of XYZ," to the cover. 

[My comment: As a reader, yes, it does influence me to learn that the author is also the author of a book I have read and loved, but mainly when I am browsing in a brick-and-mortar bookstore; on a screen, I have to squint to read that line of text. I plucked out this example, of Ann Patchett's Run, see image right. The simple design with large font size for the author name and title works well for viewing on a screen. It also says, "bestselling author of Bel Canto," though that looks like a mushy blur on my iPhone.]

Hildick-Smith then gave a slide show of a study on buyers' reactions to alternative book covers. Oftentimes it was the ineptly designed books that performed better (!!) And it rarely worked to have the author's face on the cover, even when that author is both famous and attractive.

[My comment: my notes become a bit thin at this point. He went into a lot of detail about the elements of cover design.]

On Availability

The speaker ran out of time, alas, before he could delve into this topic, but I don't think many in audience minded because his slide show about book covers was so entertaining and full of practical advice.
[My comment re availability: yep, it drives me bananas when I visit an author's website, decide to buy the book, but then cannot find a link to buy.] 

Sum up: 

+Be bold, stand out; 
+books are an extreme niche business; publish for the untapped 85 million buyers; +recommendations can take 6 months to deliver; 
+brand authors are a massive sales factor; 
+it's not one size fits all; 
+a book's message is a mini-story that must connect; 
+brick-and-mortar bookstores remain the the largest discovery source, not; +to sell books, you must have discoverability and convertibility and availability.

2. The Art of Making Books

Tim Hewitt, sales rep for Friesens, gave an excellent and fascinating talk about the elements of a traditionally printed book. 

I didn't take elaborate notes on this one, but I was delighted that he could answer my question, Why is the POD (print-on-demand) paperback so much heavier than an offset-printed similar sized book? I have two editions of my book in Spanish, one printed in the U.S. as a POD under my own imprint, Dancing Chiva, the other offset printed (traditionally printed) in Mexico by Literal Publishing. The editions are the same design and size (only a couple of centimeters of difference), but the Literal Publishing edition is both nicer and substantially lighter weight. 

Hewitt's answer was that the machinery for PODs requires heavier paper, but with offset printing, you can go with lighter weight but still thick paper, which saves money on paper and shipping, and also maintains spine width. 

[My comment: It occurred to me at this point that if one has a large enough review copy campaign, because of savings on both shipping and postage, it could make sense to print the review copies traditionally, even if the bulk of sales are expected to be POD via amazon and other online booksellers. Well, of course, that's a question of plugging in the numbers at the time.] 

Hewitt emphasized that, before deciding on your paper, it is key to understand, who is your target audience / the end user of your book? 

[My comment: For my latest book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution and the Spanish translation Odisea metafisica hacia la Revolución Mexicana, the answer is, primarily students, Mexicophiles, and scholars. That means a good-looking but affordable and easy-to-find paperback edition available on amazon (and on various other booksellers sourced from Ingram). However, in Mexico, where fewer book buyers buy online, this means a traditionally published paperback available in major urban bookstores, hence the Literal Publishing edition. (A hardcover edition for libraries? I'm working on it. Yes, the Kindle edition is already out.)] 

Hewitt also fielded several questions from members of the audience who were concerned about environmental impact of the printing industry. The Friesen's website has a page dedicated to that very subject, with some surprising information.

[My comment: It's a mistake to assume digital editions have zero environmental impact. It's also a mistake to assume digital means immortal; in fact, digital files degrade much faster than acid-free paper. I've already had some files and software from the late 90s turn into garbage. Sometimes, dagnabbit, paper is superior.]

3. Book Metadata from Head to Toe
Laura Dawson of Bowker, the ISBN agency, gave this super chewy talk about ISBNs, Library of Congress numbers, BISAC categories, and best practices.

I googled around and found Dawson's chapter, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Metadata," from High McGuire and Brian O'Leary's Book: A Futurist's Manifesto (O'Reilly), which is better than my notes.

> Book: A Futurist's Manifesto on amazon

4. The Power of Video 
Tanya Hall, CEO of Greenleaf Book Group, gave this riveting talk— it was at the tail-end of this cram-packed conference, so that's saying a lot. 

+ Why video? Discoverability. Video is 52 times more likely to show up on Google search than text results. 

+Video gives a personal connection, humans are drawn to other humans, used right it can increase the trust factor, use it to set tone at events. 

+It's memorable.

Some types of video you might produce: animation, behind-the-scenes., book trailer, expert trailer, a reading, talking heads, daily tip, tutorial

Tips [My comment: I didn't get all of them, I was flagging.]:

+ Subject should face light to avoid being backlit

+ Add your logo to your videos (a watermark or what's called a "bug")

+ Consider a personal message and/or opening

+ Use music to set tone / build emotion

+ Transcribe video content to increase searchability 
[my comment: Jane Friedman convinced me to do transcriptions of my podcasts for this same reason. Transcription, however, is extremely time-consuming and tedious work. If you can afford it, I would recommend hiring someone to do it; nonetheless, you'll still have to go through it yourself and make corrections. Yes, I know about speech recognition software. I tried it out and there was so much gibberish in there, it turned out to be faster, easier, and far more reliable to get it done by a human being. Yes, that may change.] 

+ Commit to a regular schedule 
[My comment: sounds optimal but not necessarily doable... I'd rather be writing...I've committed to regular schedule with this blog, but that's my limit.]

+ Put your video on your website, a video landing page can increase conversion by up to 80 percent. 

+ Participate in the community, comment on other videos on YouTube 
[My comment: sounds optimal but...I'm out of breath just thinking about it...]

+ Upload your video to amazon and goodreads 
[My comment: Yes, that goes on my "to do" list...]

+ Keep it short, 60 seconds if possible 


[My general comment on video: I get that it's a powerful medium and I've already invested time in learning how to make brief, edited videos using iMovie. For example, here is my trailer for my novel in Spanish, El último príncipe el Imperio Mexicano:

And here is my minute-and-a-half video about a rock art site, apropos of my book in-progress on Far West Texas:

My current enthusiasm is for making 1- 2 minute edited videos that can work like a step-up from a GIF to illustrate an article / book / blog post although I realize that these don't necessarily help sell books or "go viral," as would, say, a baby moose frolicking in a lawn sprinkler. I do have a couple of longer videos about my latest book on my "to do" list a trailer and a talk about some of the rare esoteric books I consulted, which I'll get to... oh, lala, one of these days-- and maybe sooner rather than later. 

The thing is, making videos is a very different endeavor than writing, and it eats up time for writing. Delegate the video-making to a service or a freelancer? Ouch, that's a bit of a pricey proposition, and frankly, I've been underwhelmed by most of the ones I've seen. (Translation: I'd really rather make my own.)

More importantly, I doubt my readers, current or potential, are those who spend their free hours surfing around on YouTube. 

Do I sound a bit down on video? I do relish learning about the ever-expanding menu of options for marketing books, what others are doing and have found valuable for them. But  book marketing is a bottomless abyss of more, more, always something more one can do. After listening to all the ideas and experiences and whatever data there might be about this or that, one simply has to refocus on one's intentions and priorities, decide what to do and what not to do, and move on.]

5. And a felicitous observation on the emergence of so many new "hybrid" or "independent" publishers

Greenleaf Book Group is one of several new so-called "hybrid" publishers at the seminar, and I am happy to see them because it seemed to me that there was a yawning gap that needed to be filled. On the one hand, there are traditional publishers and on the other, various vanity presses, from CreateSpace to Lulu and all the rest of those that publish anyone and everyone and their uncle's chinchilla's macaroni recipes. 

What is needed, and so I see from this "Publishing University" seminar is beginning to emerge, is a viable business model that offers not only professional quality editing, design, and marketing, but some curation. So yes, the author does shell out the clams, but his book won't end up swept up with the roaring river of riffraff.

(Put another way: every book is a needle in a haystack, but the smaller the haystack and the nicer the hay, the easier it will be to find it.)

Of course it would be lovely if the author didn't have to pay for anything, and instead received Niagaras of royalties and kowtows from all major bookstores, Oprah, and newspapers of national and international circulation. But the fact is, many books are worthy of readers but, for various reasons, cannot be expected to cover their costs if traditionally published. (University presses take on scholarly and some literary works, but their budgets are increasingly constrained. Oftentimes, to publish a given book they require "underwriting," as they so delicately call the clams, from the author's employer or a foundation.) 

Related to this is the emergence of more accessible a la carte services, including book design, cover design, cataloging and metadata consulting, editing, copyediting, ebook file testing and quality assurance, indexing, and of course, ye olde book marketing. For example, Firebrand TechnologiesTLC Graphics, and Philadelphia-based Parlew Associates are now on my radar.

Another of these "hybrid" or "independent" publishers is poet and novelist Michele Orwin's Bacon Press Books, which has a carefully curated catalog. The latest from Bacon Press Books is the paperback edition of Kate Blackwell's  brilliant collection of short stories, You Won't Remember This, which was originally published in hardcover by the now sadly defunct Southern Methodist University Press. (Buy your football tickets here.)

> Read my Q & A with Michele Orwin here.

> Read Bacon Press Books Q & A with Yours Truly here.

There were more panels I attended, all excellent, and, lacking a robotic avatar, many more I couldn't attend. 

Another benefit was the chance to talk with the various vendors, among them, graphic designers, freelance publicists, editors, and many printers, as well as old friends and workshop students. In addition to Michele Orwin, there were several people from She Writes, including Barbara Stark-Nemon, who took my fiction workshop at the San Miguel Writers Conference, and whose historical novel Even in Darkness is just out; and Denise Camacho, President of Intrigue Publishing. Literary, scholarly, cookbooks, Christian, mystery, history, diet advice, bear attack memoir, marketing how-to participants were publishing an astounding variety of books.

In sum, if you're at all interested in learning about the nuts and bolts of publishing, whether as a small publisher or as a self-publisher, the IBPA's Publishing University is an all-star 2 day conference. Next year, 2016, it will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

> Your comments are always welcome. One of these days I'll get my next newsletter out. You are welcome to sign up for that here.