Browse Tag by publishing
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Kobo Emerging Writer Prize Winners: 2016 Edition

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Michael Tamblyn announces the winners of the Prize. Can you spot me in the crowd? Picture via Kobo’s Facebook.

Earlier this week, the winners of the second annual Kobo Emerging Writer Prize were announced in Toronto.

As with last year, I was on the internal shortlisting committee, sifting through submissions and organizing the Kobo team to pick the shortlist before turning it over to the panel of author judges, this year Camilla Gibb, Lynsay Sands, and Gail Anderson-Dargatz. There were a lot of titles dear to me on the shortlist this year; I particularly loved Pillow, Debris, Specimen, Born to Walk, and That Lonely Section of Hell. This year’s genre category was romance, and though I didn’t read any of the shortlisted titles, it’s exciting to see these books ranked alongside the more prominent categories.

The announcement event, held at Terroni on Adelaide St., was a lovely, sophisticated affair with many of the nominees in attendance. It was a delight to chat with Andrew Battershill, Wab Kinew, Irina Kovalyova, and many members of the Toronto publishing industry as well. I’m so excited to see what our winners have in store next.

specimenFiction Winner: Specimen by Irina Kovalyova

Of this winners, Specimen is the only one I’ve read, and I enjoyed it immensely. Kovalyova’s stories are sharp and witty; each one is influenced by her science background. The one that stuck with me the longest was “The Blood Keeper,” a novella-length story about a student and her father who go, separately, to North Korea for research.

Non-Fiction Winner: The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinewwab

Immediately following the announcement of The Reason You Walk on the shortlist, Wab Kinew was elected as an NDP constituent in Winnipeg. Related? Perhaps not, but it was exciting to have such a high profile nominee. This book is a heartfelt story of reconciliation between father and son; I’m interested to read it.

Genre Winner: Fury’s Kiss by Nicola R. White

furyI’m so excited that Fury’s Kiss won in this category because it’s a self-published book. In a time where more authors are turning to self publishing as a means of releasing their work, it’s wonderful to see self-published books legitimized and celebrated. And Fury’s Kiss sounds fascinating, with a Greek-mythology twist. I can’t wait to see more of White’s work!

The winners each receive $10 000 and marketing and promotion support from Kobo for the year. Are you planning to read any of this year’s nominees?

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So You Want to Work in Digital Publishing: Getting an Internship in eBook Production

It’s that time of year, when a couple dozen eager publishing students are released from Humber’s Creative Book Publishing program and begin hunting for an internship in the wilds of Toronto’s publishing industry. Digital publishing has become a more and more popular option as the traditional avenues of editorial and marketing positions become scarcer. Digital publishing, although it has stabilized in the past few years, is still a growing aspect of the publishing industry, and some of the more exciting changes in publishing are happening here. It seems pretty natural that keen young publishing students, with strong grasps on social media and technology, turn their prospecting eyes to the semi-uncharted waters of e-publishing. Maybe that’s just how I felt when I was a new graduate, as I felt that my publishing school education had sort of skimmed over some of the important aspects of digital publishing when I began looking for internships. What are the components of an epub? How do you QA an epub? What is metadata, really? Whatever brief lessons we had on making epubs (with Sigil lol) didn’t seem like it actually translated into helpful experience when I was job-hunting. I did, however, have experience with coding and eReading, and all sorts of other computer skills.

Via Kobo on Instagram
Via Kobo on Instagram

I landed an eBook Production internship at Random House, a Publisher Operations internship at Kobo, and later a full-time job wrangling ebooks and metadata. My knowledge skews heavily towards the retailer end of ebooks, but I also have some experience with the publisher side; I’ve worked with ebooks at every stage of their lifecycle, from conversion to epub to deactivating out-of-print titles. Now that I’ve been working with eBooks for over two years and have been on both sides of the interviewing table, I have some advice for breaking into eBooks. I’m going to avoid basic job application and interview advice, such as doing your research on the company and asking knowledgable questions, and stick to what you should know for ebooks in particular.

Excel

My number one piece of advice: Get some excel skills. Like, don’t just say you know how to use excel if you’ve opened up a spreadsheet once or twice. You don’t need to be an expert (I use it every day and I’m not!) but hands-on experience goes a long way. Learn how to use fomulas. Learn how to do a vlookup. Learn the glory of a pivot table. Filters are your friends. Chances are you’ll be working with spreadsheets with lots of data on a daily basis, so get comfortable with the features of Excel. If you had called me up when I was in university and told me I would have favourite Excel tools (Text to Columns and Compare, fyi) and never use Word documents in a professional setting, I probably would have thought you were crazy. As an employer looking for an intern, show me that you’ve got some solid excel experience and I will swoon.

eReading Experience

Needless to say, probably one of the most basic things you can do if you’re hoping to work with ebooks in publishing is to actually read ebooks. Ideally, if you have a specific retailer or publisher in mind, you should read their ebooks, and be familiar with their devices and apps. What kind of ebooks and devices/apps are they selling, and what sort of features do they have? What kind of features do you wish they had? If you come to an interview without having ever read an ebook, or mention that what you’re actually more interested in print books, or not know the difference between a Kindle and a Kobo, you are not proving yourself as a strong candidate.

Metadata

Metadata is great. It’s the core of ebooks and you can do a lot of cool stuff with it; more complete metadata pretty much means your book has a better chance in hard-to-browse ebookstores. I’ll let you in on a secret: no one likes working with it. ONIX is the industry standard and it’s the worst to look at, unless looking at rows of impenetrable, always-different, non-standard lines of code is really exciting to you. Pro tip: you’ll never have to build an ONIX feed from scratch, no matter what your publishing teacher tells you. You will have to crack open publishers’ ONIX feeds and poke around, though. Know what a composite is, what the difference between ONIX 2.1 and 3.0, and what sort of information is transmitted through metadata. Take a look on booksellers’ websites and see what kind of information they display for a book – there is a 99% chance that information came from the publisher’s metadata. Each ebook retailer also has a proprietary, non-standard Excel-based metadata sheet (see, I told you that excel knowledge would come in handy) that some publishers use in place of ONIX.  Editeur, BISG and Booknet all have good ONIX resources. In lieu of actual experience with metadata feeds, experience with coding (XML, CSS, and HTML are all good; mine was in HTML and TEI (lol)) can make up for it.

ePubs

This is the standard (non-Amazon) file type for ebooks. It’s supremely helpful to know what’s inside one (it’s basically just a bunch of HTML files, images and CSS zipped up), so I’d suggest buying one and cracking it open to take a look. There are different kinds of epubs: reflowable and fixed-layout, epub3, ebooks with “enhanced content” like audio and video; be aware of these different formats and if your prospective employer makes or sells them. I know a lot of publishing schools have their students build epubs from scratch but it’s highly unlikely you’ll have to do that in your internship, as most ebook production is outsourced to conversion houses. The most I ever had to do as an intern was unzip, make a minor change, and rezip, so make sure you know how to do that. Find yourself an epub validator that you like (my favourite is Pagina). It’s best to know what a standard reflowable ebook looks like on the inside, and how to make changes, but if you can figure out what’s wrong with a broken ebook, I will be impressed.

All this might sound like a tall order, especially if your digital publishing courses were less than spectacular. However, employers know that it’s hard to gain practical experience with such specialized files, so if you can show them that you’re ahead of everyone else by demonstrating interest and experience, and the ability to learn quickly, it can give you a real leg up. It’s also important to know that your employer will train – it’s an internship after all! Do you have any questions about getting an internship in ebooks and digital production?

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Kobo Emerging Writer Prize – Winners!

One of the exciting things about working in publishing is the chance to not only discover great reads, but to help build the careers of new authors. Book awards are one way of singling out talent, often helping boost the sales of the winning author’s books and launching a long and hopefully profitable career. With that in mind, Kobo created a literary award, the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, which celebrates new Canadian authors’ debut books. With three categories – Literary Fiction, Non-Fiction, and a revolving genre (this year Mystery), contestants have a chance to win $10 000, marketing campaigns, and fame and glory. emerging-writer-prize-logo

I was on the committee for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, coordinating the shortlist judging. I read many worthy entries, full of diverse stories, beautiful prose, and suspenseful plots. Some of my favourites made the shortlist; some didn’t. One the finalists had been selected, they were turned over to judging panel of authors: Miriam Toews, Ian Hamilton, and Charlotte Gray, each of whom chose the winner from their respective categories. The winners were announced at a ceremony in Toronto earlier this month, and lo, the writing careers of three authors were changed. Here are the winners of the inaugural Kobo Emerging Writer Prize:

circus-claire-battershillFiction: Circus by Claire Battershill 

Circus is a collection of short stories focusing on the performance of everyday life, whether it be love, family, or working in a miniatures museum. My favourite was probably “Two Man Luge: A Love Story,”  which detailed the rise to Olympic glory for one athlete and his Olympic-sized crush on his sometimes-rival Paresh. Battershill captures small moments and quiet feelings well. At the awards ceremony, Claire shrieked in surprise at her win and was charmingly smily for the rest of the night. She also met a U2 band member in the elevator earlier in the evening, so she has more than one story to tell about that night.

Non-Fiction: Crazy Town by Robyn DoolittleCrazy Town cover

Crazy Town made a big splash when it came out at the height of the Rob Ford scandal, and has been lauded for its clarity and detail amongst the disaster of the Toronto mayor’s downward spiral. Of the winning books, this is the only one I haven’t read, and I’m looking forward to seeing more from Robyn Doolittle in the future.

last-of-independentsMystery: The Last of the Independents by Sam Wiebe

Of the mysteries on the shortlist, this one was my favourite. I was hooked from the first page, where a new client tells detective Michael Drayton that someone’s been sleeping with the corpses at his funeral home. Drayton is just hard-boiled enough to keep you guessing, and I loved the noir interpretation of familiar streets in Vancouver. I talked with Sam Wiebe at the awards ceremony; he was softspoken and seemed overwhelmed at all the attention his book was getting. He told me he’s got a couple forthcoming mysteries coming from Random House, and I’m excited to see what’s in store for him next.

Have you read any of the winners, or do you have a favourite shortlisted book? Let me know in the comments or on social media using #KoboEmergingWriter.

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3-Day Novel Writing Tips

3DN-logo1Now that Rachel Slansky’s novel “Moss-Haired Girl” has been named the winner of the 2013 3-Day Novel Writing Contest, along with the shortlist, I thought I’d share a few tips on writing and submitting a good entry for this contest.

The 3-Day Novel Contest began in Vancouver in 1977 and runs every Labour Day weekend. The premise is simple: in 72 hours, write a complete short novel with minimal pre-planning. It’s an intense creative experience and sure to jumpstart your imagination. First prize is publication, including editorial work with a real editor. I’ve been judging the 3-Day Novel Contest for a few years so I thought I’d weigh in on what makes a good submission.

Disclaimer: All opinions are my own and are not officially sanctioned by the 3-Day Novel Contest, and are not guaranteed to give your work a leg up. Also, these tips are biased towards my own acquisition and reading preferences, and may be completely different for another judge. But same goes for any writing submission, really.

I suspect that most of this advice can also be applied to submitting a manuscript to a publishing house or agent. In which case, swap out “judge” for “editor” or other appropriate title.

Content: What makes a good novel?

Outline Your Novel Before You Write It. Some of the strongest novels I see are, unsurprisingly, the ones with defined plots that are present from beginning to end. The reader should always know what the main character wants and why they’re doing it. Let the reader see the goal at the end of the novel. That doesn’t mean that there can’t be any suspense, but it’s better when the surprises aren’t an unexpected supernatural plotline halfway through your previously realistic novel.* The rules of 3-Day permit you to outline your novel before the contest begins. Use that bit of extra time to your advantage!

Related: Spend time making your opening pages really good. As a judge, I can usually tell whether I’m going to pass an entry to the next round within the first three pages or so, so make them good. Use this space to grab the reader’s attention, not slowly meander into the story. If you are going to revise or spend more time on any part of your novel, do it here.

Keep the number of major characters down, if possible. Your novel is probably going to be in the neighbourhood of 100 pages, and that’s not enough room to have a fully-developed protagonist with seven sisters and two love interests.* Simple can be better.

Be aware of trends (and maybe avoid them if possible). It’s tempting to write about creatures or character types that are hot right now, but be aware that the market is pretty saturated. Like, I’m sure your zombie novel is great, but it’s hard to be fresh when there are 12495 books and movies starring them already. Also, I have probably read like six other zombie entries already*; how is yours going to stand out? This is something to keep in mind, especially if you’re writing in a supernatural genre that has received a lot of attention in the past decade or so (e.g. vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, etc.). Past winner Terroryaki is a great example of employing a fresh take on the supernatural: the haunted teriyaki truck is reminiscent of the Flying Dutchman, which is an unusual trope that creates great tension and suspense.

Related: Build your world. If your novel has a supernatural element, make sure that the “rules” of your fantasy world are clear, or at least mention how this world is different from regular old earth or other well-established supernatural worlds. Vampires allergic to caffeine*? Interesting! An elf, a dwarf, and a goblin attempting to seize a magic ring on the edge of a volcano*? Been there, done that.

Basic historical accuracy counts. I’m not saying you have to do in-depth research for every aspect of your novel, but maybe perform a quick google here and there before you have your protagonist lovingly gaze upon a photograph of their mother in 1650.*

Presentation: So you’ve written the novel and it’s time to submit it. Now what?

If you have time, do a quick spellcheck and/or proofread. Make sure you are consistent with your character and place names, and pay attention to those homonyms! Your manuscript is much easier to take seriously when you don’t mix up orgasm/organism* and when people aren’t dying “in vein.”*

This is definitely my own bias, but don’t submit your manuscript in Courier. Courier is a headache to read on the screen, and do you really want to annoy the judges more than you have to? Same goes for other fancy fonts that make your manuscript look “edgy” or “futuristic.” I recommend a more standard (read: boring) font such as Times New Roman or similar plain, serifed font. Let your writing, not your font, be the thing the judge remembers. Leave Courier to scripts (which, reminder, are not eligible for 3-Day).

Submit your novel in black ink. I really don’t think more needs to be said about that.

So, this is my advice for you, 3-Day Novel Writers! Again, there are no guarantees that following this advice will put you at an advantage (except the spelling and proofreading. Do that!), but at the very least your novel will outshine those that didn’t read this blog post. Let me know your tips for writing under pressure, and feel free to ask me any questions you have about the contest!

 

*real example.

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Social Reading Revolution: What’s Next?

In Sean Prpick’s CBC article ‘Social reading’ the next phase of e-book revolution, he claims that e-reading is going to evolve into a social activity. The article mentions two types of social reading: Socialbook, an in-browser reader that lets you make comments, add marginalia, highlight text and more, while also allowing your friend network to see what you’re reading; and what are essentially hyperlinked web books, of which Hugh McGuire is a major proponent. McGuire’s vision is for books to be published online as their own websites, with hyperlinks peppering the text connecting to useful information such as photos and maps to enrich the text. The article mentions using a web book edition of Dracula to take a tour of the book’s setting in London. Both of these types of books and networks offer different and social reading experiences.

Social reading is new again. Via Wikimedia Commons
Social reading is new again.
Via Wikimedia Commons

The article asserts that McGuire’s vision of free web books is frightening to publishers because they “are in the business of selling access to that information in order to get you to buy a copy.” While this is for the most part true, I don’t think that free web books are necessarily scary to publishers – for example, Penguin UK has its own series of interactive web books called We Tell Stories, including one Google Maps-based version similar to the one described for Dracula. I also predict that free web books will work best for public domain texts, because websites for books do not offer the same kind of revenue stream that traditional books or e-books do, because there are no sales; website revenue is driven by ad sales, which would likely be undesirable on this kind of website. If publishers got on board with this kind of model, it would be just as but probably more expensive than developing an e-book: regular editing and marketing and some production costs would still apply, while the development and maintenance of the website (similar to building an app, I suspect), the research necessary to provide useful hyperlinked information and other costs, would also apply to this project. Unless the book was hidden behind a paywall, I don’t see how web books would be a lucrative channel for publishers; the paywall, of course, dashes McGuire’s dreams for open access content. (Side note: Hugh McGuire gave a talk similar in content to the CBC’s interview to my Public Texts class at Trent University last fall. It is interesting to note that his new book, Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto is available for purchase in traditional format as well as online in a free, hyperlinked web book. Even Hugh needs to pay the bills, I guess.)

As for SocialBook, I like that its creator links his service with the oral and social history of the book. In the CBC article, Bob Stein, SocialBook’s founder, connects it to the “pre-historic, preliteratre era [when] storytelling was communal, as tales were told around the campfire.” In fact, you don’t need to go quite that far back to find social reading as a part of everyday culture. Reading aloud was a form of entertainment as late as the 19th century, before silent, isolated reading became popular. While I agree with Stein that social reading is valuable and deserves a comeback, I don’t know if I would use his product. While I have not taken the plunge into e-reading on devices, I have tried desktop readers, and browser-based readers such as Zinio, Issuu and Flipbook. I do not like sustained on-screen reading. Additionally, I am not sure that I actually want my friend network knowing what I am reading as I read it via a social network (for that matter, I don’t want another social media platform to keep track of). Furthermore, Socialbook is also only available for Chrome and Safari, which excludes Firefox users like me, as well as Internet Explorer and other browsers. The ability to add marginalia is cool, but I think adding this feature to an e-reading device would eliminate SocialBook’s edge.

Both of these new forms of e-reading raise interesting questions about the direction of e-books and publishing. Will offering different e-reading experiences increase sales or an interest in reading? I am not sure. People who use e-reading devices might not try out a new type of in-browser reading. As mentioned before, I don’t see how web books can be profitable enough for traditional publishers or authors to become mainstream, while the source of SocialBook’s online library is unknown. McGuire is suggesting a move away from publishers-as-gatekeepers and towards open access and self-publishing. I think that if SocialBook takes hold, it could be an interesting alternative to GoodReads (rest its independent soul) if a review feature were added, while web books might work for traditional publishing if they were paid content; otherwise I suspect they will be more popular with public domain and self-published books. Either way, I will stick to reading a codex or on an e-reading device.

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Gendered book covers are over, if you want it: Tumblr, Fan Interaction and Publishing

Maureen Johnson’s Coverflip project, which made the rounds on twitter, tumblr and news sites such as the Huffington Post a few weeks ago, calls attention to the differential treatment of male and female authors, specifically in relation to the covers for their books. Johnson, a veteran YA author, notes that the treatment of texts written by female authors still “is of a lower perceived quality” than work by male authors, and is so outfitted in “girly” packaging and reduced to being called a “girl book” or “chick lit,” no matter what the subject matter. Johnson asked her followers to take book covers and redesign them as if a person of the opposite gender wrote the book. Her call to action resulted in hundreds of flipped covers, with books by Salinger, Kerouac, Jonathan Franzen, among others, appearing with teenage girls on softly-lit pastel backgrounds, while covers of Lauren Olivier, Sarah J. Maas and Johnson herself lost those qualities.

Coverflipped Why We Broke Up by tumblr user <a href="http://heart-deco.tumblr.com/post/49833231620/so-i-was-inspired-by-maureen-johnsons-post-to">heart-deco</a>. Used with permission.
Coverflipped Why We Broke Up by tumblr user heart-deco. Used with permission.

In a follow-up post after her idea went viral, Johnson both defended the right to like the more feminine covers (after all, femininity is not inherently degrading!) and stated that despite the buzz, nothing is likely to change on the publishing end of things unless the readers speak out. She invites readers to not only consider books beyond the cover, but contact publishers to let them know what they as readers would like to see instead.
Johnson acknowledges that the writers themselves, for the most part, have no say in what cover appears on their book.  She also is clear that she doesn’t believe publishers are “trying to subvert the cause of feminism and keep us down”. Instead, they are just trying to sell books. The decision for covers are up to the publishing house, usually a team of editors, designers and marketers. The publishing team chooses a cover that reflects what they think is the taste of the market. Since #coverflip, it has become evident that the taste of the market is more broad than publishers previously assumed, and that gender-neutral covers are, in fact, desirable.

As publishers, I think it is important that the demand for gender-neutral covers is not forgotten or disregarded. Besides eliminating underlying sexism, gender neutral covers expand a book’s market by making it more appealing to all readers, instead of just those who are attracted by “girly” covers. Johnson tweeted “I do wish I had a dime for every email I get that says, “Please put a non-girly cover on your book so I can read it. – signed, A Guy.” Johnson’s tweet suggests that there is an untapped market of male readers who are put off by feminine covers, and the following discussion surrounding #coverflip indicated that many female readers feel the same way. While this is not the venue to discuss why feminine covers are seen as unappealing to guys (and girls), it is significant to note that readers want book packaging to appeal more broadly to them, in order to help them find reading material that they like. If a gender-neutral cover could help sell more books, why would we as publishers not accommodate that?

06book  "Why We Broke Up" by Daniel HandlerInstead of creating another lookalike feminine cover because we think that’s what the market wants, those of us in the publishing industry should strive to deliver strong, interesting book packaging that doesn’t rely on gender stereotypes or suggest that women’s writing is inherently less valuable.

For publishers, #coverflip shows again the values of a fan base on social media as a means to engage and mobilize an audience, while at the same time it gives the publisher more information on what readers would like to see in regards to the books they read. In addition, Johnson’s call for readers to contact or tweet publishers with their concerns further highlights the role of social media as a way not only for readers to connect with authors but publishers as well. By giving consumers the opportunity speak directly to the publishing house, the publishing house is able to collect more information about what their readers want to read and possible new directions or trends to follow.

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Should Authors Tweet? Publishing and Platform in the Social Media Age

Publishers Weekly’s recent article Teenage Tweetland by Karen Springen investigates the importance of social media platforms for authors trying to capture the teen reader. The article examines many of the top social media sites and gives examples of authors successfully using them to engage their readers. The article notes that some authors devote up to several hours per day maintaining their social media presence, while others consider it a burden. The verdict: a well-attended social media platform can help sell books, but the hot social media space for teens evolves quickly and authors will need to adapt.

The PW article demonstrates the importance of linking authors through social media with their audience, especially for books aimed at a teen audience. The article recommends that authors select platforms that their audience uses, but only ones they themselves feel comfortable using. Examples include YA author John Green, who has 1.5 million twitter followers, 1.1 million YouTube subscribers and over 400 000 Tumblr followers. While Green’s social media platform with the largest scope can arguably said to be his YouTube channel that he shares with his brother, Green asserts that Tumblr is “right now a bigger deal than facebook or twitter” and that the best use of Twitter is to promote one’s tumblr. Green says that social media promotion helped him sell “a LOT” of The Fault in Our Stars leading up and at its release. But a year after its publication, “it’s other people talking about it, not [Green], that sells it.” Green’s case is one that demonstrates the benefit of an active social media presence and fan base: it helps get the initial word out there, while engaged fans keep spreading the word after the book moves off the frontlist.

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 4.25.25 PM
Tumblr > Facebook and Twitter, According to John Green.

As a reader, I like to keep track of my favourite authors through social media – in fact, it is one of the primary places I learn about books I might like to read. Being able to engage with an author’s online content, and having the illusion of intimacy that social media gives, allows me to be a more involved reader and fan. I follow and engage with John Green on all his social media platforms, for example, in addition to being a consumer of his books; in fact, I was aware of his social media presence before I became a reader. The same can be said, for me, of Neil Gaiman, Maureen Johnson and Kate Beaton. In reverse, when I find an author I like, one of the first things I do is look for their Twitter account so I can stay connected with them – frequently I find that they have no meaningful social media presence (Daniel Handler, Jonathan Safran Foer, Donna Tartt, I’m looking at you). I count this as a missed opportunity for the author to promote themselves to their fans.

As a publisher, this engagement on established social media platforms is highly desirable for an author, from the acquisition of their manuscript to the publication of their book, because it indicates both a built-in audience and some measure of sales for the author’s book. As a publisher, I would look for an established social media platform from any new author I would attempt to acquire; if they don’t have one, I would suggest getting at least one platform, probably either Facebook or Twitter, depending on what the author is comfortable with, and the demographic they are attempting to engage.

Besides building engagement, social media platforms also allow publishers to mine data about an author’s fans. Through platforms like Twitter and Facebook, the publishing house can establish information about where an author’s fans live, and provide concentrated real-life media promotion to those areas, adjust print runs accordingly, tap overlooked markets, or keep those destinations in mind should there be an author tour. The publishing house can also find out more about the readers’ other interests, which may help them discover new trends. The information about a customer’s specific reading habits (as discoverable on GoodReads, for example), or general interests (such as on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube) has not been freely available in the past. I would argue that access to this trove of information is something that publishers should seize upon and use to their advantage, especially during the midst of the digital and e-reading revolution. Social media benefits both the author and the publisher: the author can interact with a fan base and self-promote, while the publisher profits from the author’s established fan base and free information on the consumers of the product. Overall, as both a reader and a future publisher, I think that engaging readers through social media has become an important and necessary part of the job.

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Pinterest and Publishing: Engaging Readers through the Last Social Media Platform

As far as social media platforms go, publishing hasn’t quite caught on to Pinterest yet. Pinterest is mainly used for posting standalone images, and is not friendly towards large amounts of text. As Marcello Vena for Future Book points out, just pinning covers is not enough to attract readers’ interest to a new book, and it’s not converting into followers. As a Pinterest user, I would not be interesting in following a publishing house that only flogged their own books. For one thing, Pinterest is not a place I look for new reads. For another, the platform does not offer me an innovative way of interacting with the pinned books – as demonstrated by Maureen Johnson’s coverflip project – covers are not always an accurate portrayal of a book’s contents. This leaves publishers searching for ways to engage Pinterest users with their content.

Publishers have varying levels of success with Pinterest. For example, Harper Perennial’s Pinterest is an example of one which does not attract me as a follower. With only 736 followers, Harper Perennial posts just covers with short summaries, while the clickthrough links don’t even go to the publisher’s book page, but the individual image page. This means possible lost conversions and an inherent misunderstanding of the platform’s potential. Random House, on the other hand, has successfully used Pinterest to post thousands of pins of anything to do with books and reading, not just their own books; providing a diverse mix of fun content has translated into over 1.5 million followers, one of the top Pinterest users, and more than double the number of followers @randomhouse has on Twitter. Still, of the publishers only Random House has achieved this level of success, likely because they are creating a good brand image with this platform. I would consider following Random House because they pin a variety of things without excessively promoting their own titles.

One Italian publishing company, RCS Libri, has done something innovative with their Pinterest. Last week they launched an e-book streaming feature, which allows users to read a sample of over 100 titles in-browser. RCS Libri pins the cover and a blurb about a book, while the clickthrough link leads to an external site called Flipbook, which allows the user to read an excerpt of the book. Currently they have 121 followers.

Stream Pier Bergonzi’s e-book here.
Stream Pier Bergonzi’s e-book here.

I think that RCS Libri has found an exciting way to bring more dimensions of books into Pinterest and an interesting way of promoting e-reading. They have found a way to connect Pinterest, one of the last social medias to be adopted by publishing houses as a marketing channel, to their content in a dynamic way. Used in conjunction with other social media platforms, especially Twitter and Facebook, this concept could both drive traffic to RCS Libri’s Pinterest page and boost their sales (or at least, put more attention on their content).

While I like this idea, I don’t think that this experiment will be successful unless all the major publishers on Pinterest start doing it. For one, a pin with e-book clickthrough looks just like any other pin when I am scrolling through my Pinterest dashboard. Nothing in the picture’s description mentions anything about being an e-book sample and the pinner of a photo is not always immediately obvious. To me, this means that I would probably skip over RCS Libri’s pins without realizing what I am missing. Unless users come to expect e-book samples upon clickthroughs for all books posted on Pinterest, I suspect that RCS Libri’s content will be lost in the mix. Another thing is that there are no links to purchase the book either on the Pinterest page or in the e-book clickthrough page, only an ISBN. Without providing a venue for readers to buy the book after sampling it, the publishing company loses out on potential conversions since there is no call to action.

Do I think that RCS Libri’s model is the best way to unite publishing and Pinterest? No. Random House’s method has proved more effective at earning followers, because it posts more fun content that is not obviously marketing-driven. However, RCS Libri’s concept fills a need in the publishing-Pinterest relationship that I can see other houses adopting. At present, RCS Libri is brand new, and it may be too soon to judge whether their model will succeed.