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July 31 2012

Publishing times, they are a-changin’

The NYC Publishing Innovators Meetup group held its inaugural roundtable in its quarterly speaker series in July. Panelists, led by Kat Meyer as moderator, included: Ned Lomigora, co-founder of; Diane Gedymin, executive editor at Turner Publishing; Peter Balis, director of online sales, John Wiley & Sons; Linda Holliday, CEO of Semi-Linear; Jesse Potash, founder, PubSlush, and; Michelle Toth, founder, 617Books. The thesis was: “What role can publishers play in supporting a direct relationship between readers and authors?” The discussion was energetic, but everyone agreed on one thing: the times, they are a-changin’.

Key points from the full discussion include:

  • Where there’s a will, there’s a way — Utilizing technology, authors with the time and will to publish and market their books can bypass traditional publishers. Technology “is the great enabler and democratizer.” [Begins at the 13:20 mark.]
  • Is it good? — Quality content matters; curation is a valuable role for professionals, from freelancers to traditional publishers, but a panelist postulates that an alternate path can be found in the tools available to authors who self-publish, including community. [Begins at 24:05.]
  • Should publishers worry about losing big authors to self-publishing? — If traditional publishers are going to continue to add marketing value, they need to master the new technology toolset and grow it. Publishers lag behind other industry leaders as to what they do online. [Begins at 34:19.]
  • The distance between readers and writers is shrinking — Whoever owns the sale owns the relationship with readers, and effective marketing is key to establishing that relationship. [Begins at 38:05.]
  • What is distribution in today’s world? — A spirited discussion begins with the declaration that you can’t distribute a book “with the push of a button.” Publishers create books in multiple formats sent to multiple vendors for sale via multiple channels, with metadata included for discovery purposes. [Begins at 47:02.]
  • Transparency in e-publishing — Peter Balis talks about the complex process of publishing in various formats, information that should be shared with aspiring authors who want to self-publish and self-distribute. [Begins at 56:00 with insightful follow-up comments starting at 1:05:40.]
  • Our understanding of what a publisher is is changing — Jesse Potash addresses changing roles and perceptions, and how experts can potentially replace certain roles publishers currently fill. [Begins at 1:00:25.]
  • Branding — A great discussion about the role branding is playing in today’s world starts with a question from the audience. [Begins at 1:25:21.]

You can view the entire roundtable in the following video:


March 06 2012

The core of the author platform is unchanged — it's the tools that are rapidly changing

Digital not only is affecting the way books are produced and consumed, it's also affecting the way readers and authors interact. In the following interview, Jeff Potter (@cookingforgeeks), author of "Cooking for Geeks," talks about the changing author platform, which is requiring authors to don marketing hats and connect with readers directly. He says the book as a product is expanding to include the conversations and communities surrounding the book.

Potter will expand on these ideas at Mini TOC Austin on March 9 in Austin, Texas.

Our interview follows.

What is an "author platform" and how is it different today from, say, 10 years ago?

Jeff_Potter.pngJeff Potter: There is so much amazing writing available online, whether curated by hand (New York Times, The Atlantic) or by community (Reddit, Hacker News). Readers today can satisfy most of their reasons for reading for little time and money. That's a pretty big hurdle for a book author to compete with. I realized that, in order for people to want to spend time with my book, it was going to have to fit into a lifestyle that's already full of amazing, quick content.

Readers are buying books as experiences, not just for the facts or knowledge, and a component of that is the author-reader relationship. A decade ago, it was a very one-directional conversation: The author wrote and the reader read; ideas and questions rarely flowed from reader to author or from reader to reader. Today, that's no longer the case. Readers tweet me questions; they file errata and corrections on O'Reilly's site; they send me messages. The "book" is no longer the product — the product is now the conversations and community that grow around the book.

Historically, an author's job was done when the final manuscript was submitted, maybe along with a minor number of press interviews after the book launched. The author platform today has expanded to include fostering that online community and supporting readers. Being an author is about communicating ideas, not about writing a book, and once framed this way, it's easy to see that an author's platform, at its core, is unchanged — anything that helps the author spread ideas and excite readers — but that the tools for doing this are rapidly changing.

What are some of the key ways authors can connect with readers?

Jeff Potter: Google Alerts and Twitter searches, these are some of my favorite things. Readers will tweet out or blog about my book without even thinking that I might see it. I make a habit of responding, even if only a short comment ("Glad you liked it!" or "Let me know if you have any Qs"), and I can't tell you how many times that's blown people away and led to a fun conversation.

As for blogging, and this is just me, I find it to be more work than it's worth to post regularly, but that's probably more an artifact of who I am and the particular topic I deal with. There are tons and tons and tons of food blogs; coming up with something novel and not just being an echo chamber is harder in this field. If, however, you're dealing with a specific topic and can create a blog of real value to your community, definitely do that.

In marketing your book "Cooking for Geeks," what were some of the most successful tactics you used?

GeeksCover.pngJeff Potter: In a nutshell, being creative and coming up with tactics that fit my audience and message. I was incredibly lucky to have my book come out the same month that JetBlue sold its "All You Can Fly" pass — I put up a blog post that read, "If you buy a box of books, and JetBlue flies to your city, I'll come and give a talk." This worked out amazingly well. I didn't have to deal with cash or selling book-by-book — I had the boxes of books shipped ahead of time, and I got to go to events where someone else was excited enough to have me come and speak that they made sure there were plenty of people for a fun talk. And by selling a box (using my author's discount), I was able to pay for my costs along the way. It wasn't glamorous, but it was an incredible experience.

In the interest of offering something directly actionable, here's my quick punch-list of things that I recommend:

  1. Have a website for your book that comes up right away in Google when searching for the title. (Change the title if necessary!)
  2. On the main page, have a very clear "Media / Press" section.
  3. On your press page, give the following information:
    • List your contact info, including a phone number (You can remove it after a few months; get a Skype or Google Voice number if you prefer.)
    • List two or three bullet points of what makes your book unique (from the viewpoint of what would be interesting from the journalist's readers perspective).
    • Photos of you and your book, with a permission release.
Mini TOC Austin — Being held March 9, 2012 — right before SXSW — O'Reilly Tools of Change presents Mini TOC Austin, a one-day event focusing on Austin's thriving publishing, tech, and bookish-arts community.

Register to attend Mini TOC Austin

What advice would you offer to new authors just starting out?

Jeff Potter: This is going to sound cheesy, but write a good book that readers want. Worrying about publicity and even author platform stuff is much further down the list, compared to having something interesting to share. So, to that extent, here are a few tips I wish I'd been given on day one on how to write a book.

  • Dedicated time; dedicated space. This is the magic formula that I hear over and over from successful creative people. Whether it's a dedicated writing desk or a table at a café, find a space where you can get into the act of creating content. And then carve out time in your schedule to go there. The hardest challenge, I found, was to get the proverbial pen and paper ready to go. Once out, things seem to take care of themselves, at least most of the time.
  • Do creating separate from editing. The act of creating is about adding words (or paint or clay or cocoa powder); the act of editing is removing the weaker ideas. Trying to do both at the same time is like trying to play tug of war with yourself: You'll end up exhausted and in exactly the same spot you started.
  • WIIFM: "What's in it for me?" Every single sentence is there for the benefit of the reader. Not you, the writer, nor your editor, nor as an inside joke between you and a friend. (Well, maybe some of that's okay, right Marlowe?)
  • Know who you're writing for, and write for them. Don't worry about trying to make something "broadly appealing." For me, I wrote the book I wish I would have 10 years ago when just starting out in the kitchen. It was that simple.
  • Answer one and only one fundamental question in your book. The "Cooking for Geeks" question was: "How do you go into the kitchen and have fun cooking?" As a corollary to this rule, develop a simple litmus test for anything you're putting in your book. In "Cooking for Geeks," everything had to be a) fun or interesting, b) directly applicable, and c) answer the fundamental question.

I'll leave you with two of my favorite quotes. Stephen King: Writing is "like crossing the Atlantic in a Bathtub" (I'd add "with a teaspoon as an oar"). And Gene Fowler said, "Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead." Writing a book is the single hardest thing I have done in my life. It's also the most rewarding.

This interview was edited and condensed.


February 09 2012

Now available: Best of TOC 2012 anthology

Best of TOC 2012We just released "Best of TOC 2012," a free anthology that brings together key interviews and analysis from Radar's publishing area.

The material in Best of TOC falls into four sections:

The adaptation of publishing — The disruption in publishing is just getting started. Journalists are experimenting with ebook options over traditional outlets, readers are wrapping their heads around the concept of paperless books, and authors are wondering if they even need publishers.

Digital publishing and the legal landscape — The emerging global market for books is stirring up all sorts of legal questions concerning copyright, public domain and digital publishing rights for authors and publishers. Existing laws are slowly adapting to new media platforms as well.

Publishing tech and tools — Digital publishing is requiring tech education for everyone, from publishers to authors to readers. In addition, the rise of mobile is driving the development of publishing's next toolset.

The edge of publishing — Adaptation to a new publishing landscape starts with a change in thinking — not only in how we think about technology and books as objects, but in how we define our various roles and how we choose to collaborate.

You can download a free copy of "Best of TOC 2012" here (available in EPUB, Mobi and PDF formats).

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

February 23 2011

August 31 2010

Hacking online advertising

I gloss over the text ads that appear at the top of Gmail, but this one caught my eye:

Mike Arrington ad

I think it's clear I'm not the founder of TechCrunch. In that sense the ad failed to reach its intended audience. But I did notice the ad. I even clicked through. And in the world of infinite web inventory and diminishing attention, that counts as a win.

Now, will this work again? Probably not. I'm on to it, and "clever" has an expiration date.

Yet, there's something to be said for of-the-moment creativity: the actions and initiatives that only work once. The best recent example of this is Alec Brownstein's job search.

As the following video shows, Brownstein spent $6 on ads targeting the names of five creative directors:

It worked. Brownstein landed a job at Y&R New York.

I'll admit, these examples earn little more than a chuckle and passing admiration when taken on their own. But there's more going on here. The creativity hints at something much bigger.

These are ad hacks

Web 2.0 Expo New York - 20% off with code RadarOnline advertising has big problems. That's clear. Audiences are too dispersed and browsing habits are too entrenched for traditional models to take hold. Unfortunately, the knee-jerk response has been a mix of shoe-banging rhetoric and ill-advised projects.

Both of the examples I noted above are relevant because they represent counterpoints to grand and bold declarations of demise.

The people behind these ads took a system many believe is irreparably damaged and calibrated it for their specific needs. They didn't rail on and on about the need for a new model. They didn't passively seek salvation in a new device. Instead, they got to work and hacked online advertising.

Will either of these efforts "save" media? No. Absolutely not. And that's not the point.

It's the mindset that matters: worming inside a system and moving pieces around to make it do what you want it to. This mindset, which isn't a hallmark of entrenched media, is why the future will be determined by upstarts who don't realize -- and perhaps don't care -- that they're reinventing an industry.


The future of online advertising will be discussed at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York, running Sept. 27-30. Save 20% on registration with the discount code "Radar".

February 23 2010

The future of publishing lives on and around the web

I'm at the Tools of Change for Publishing conference this week interviewing folks at the forefront of the publishing world. I'll be posting a few videos here on Radar and you can find others at the TOC blog.

My favorite part of TOC is the energy. There's a lot of positivity coursing through the venue. There's a lot of forward thinking, too. And when you run into Richard Nash, founder of Cursor, you're encountering the embodiment of all that TOC enthusiasm. He's the anti-curmudgeon.

As you'll see in the following interview, Nash is passionate about the web's ability to connect audiences and authors with the topics that excite them. I found his thoughts on tagging really compelling (1:57 mark). It's a useful reference point for the organic nature of web communities.

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