Tidbits and Tricks for an Old Dog; or, The Best Lessons I Learned at Publishing University
by MaryAnn F. Kohl
If prizes besides the Benjamin Franklin Awards had been given at IBPA’s 2011 Publishing University, I would have won for Having the Most Questions. After 26 years as a profitable, confident publisher, I feel like an old dog learning more than a few new tricks. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this wide-eyed “Huh?” feeling; I witnessed the glazed looks in the eyes of more than a few publishers like me.
One theme that resounded throughout the sessions was: Pay attention to metadata, which is “all the data about each book you publish.” As Jon Fine, Amazon’s director of Author and Publisher Services, declared: Metadata matters. Metadata. Write that one down; read—or reread—“Desperately Seeking Good Data,” Parts 1, 2, and 3 at ibpa-online.org for detailed basic information, and see “Learn to Master Metadata” below. (Jon, by the way, shared his email address with us; if you need him, you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
With the explosion of e-books and everything digital, I learned a lot of other tricks, too, which I’m now going to share with you.
In the session called The Great Debate: Are Publishers Irrelevant? speakers argued the topic this way and that, challenging the thinking of us all about our place as publishers in the ever-changing landscape of e-books and beyond.
I don’t believe publishers will be irrelevant, but to remain in the game, we’ll have to keep up with readers’ changing expectations and methods of reading, and with changes in delivery methods for our titles. Issuing print-on-paper books will not be enough. The two most relevant tidbits I gleaned are: (1) The best-quality books at the best price will survive. (2) Niche matters more than ever, so focus on yours, and refer to (1).
In E-Magination: What’s Now and What’s Next in E-Reading, Christopher Kenneally of the Copyright Clearance Center and his panel focused on their visions of e-issues and meeting today’s e-challenges.
James Howitt of Bowker told us that the average e-book reader is aged 45 years or older, female, and middle to high income. Is that person going to buy my books? Your books? And he said that 15 percent of book sales are e-book (4 percent last year). Striking growth, although it’s good to remember that different sources report different percentages.
Ami Greko of Kobo, with its e-reading platform and the Kobo reader, advised us to remember to communicate about the books we publish using Facebook and other online networks, so that users can find out about our books in the communications channels they tend to use. Amy stressed that the new generation of readers is watching and responding through social networking, so we need to be there.
Ron Hogan of Beatrice.com (a site devoted to “introducing readers to writers”) discussed electronic literature. One point he made is that the e-book market mirrors the previous book market, which is good to know. I had no idea, and this is important information.
Mark Cocker of Smashwords spoke about international concerns involving e-reading. He reported that 50 percent of e-book sales are outside the United States, and that exploitation of our e-books is bound to be a reality, so be ready.
As for social media, when Steve O’Keefe, Shelly Francis, and Nettie Hartsock began their discussion of LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube for Publishers, I was feeling pretty comfy, as though I knew a fair amount about each of these arenas for promoting Bright Ring’s titles and used them well. When the session ended, I realized I don’t know more than about 1 percent of what is possible. Now I think I may have to hire someone to handle social media if I want to be as up-to-snuff as these savvy promoters, but I’m going to start small; I’ll add an author video to YouTube and take it from there.
Advice About Amazon
Addressing the subject Amazon Success Stories, Amazon’s Jon Fine and Danny Snow of Unlimited Publishing focused often on pricing, and in particular on the “sweet spot” of pricing for e-book sales. Did you know that Kindle pricing can be adjusted within 24 hours if you want to change it?
Fine’s recommendations for helping your books on Amazon included:
• Use SITB (Search Inside the Book) and Author Central to help readers find your books and to boost sales and rankings (and it’s easy to find important data about book sales and rankings at Author Central).
• Encourage your authors to attach their blog postings to their profiles on Author Central, which keeps their author pages fresh and interesting for Amazon readers and augments the search metadata.
• Use keywords in subtitles; if you have a subtitle without keywords, you’re missing a great opportunity to help potential buyers find your book even when they’ve never heard of it.
Several publishers suggested that Amazon set up a Publisher Central page much like the Author Central page, and Jon made notes to follow up on that. Since independent publishers are often as well known by name as individual authors, it makes sense.
Current resources at Amazon that Jon recommended include:
•kdp.amazon.com (Kindle Direct Publishing), which lets people self-publish at the Amazon Kindle Store quickly and for free. Books self-published through KDP can participate in a 70% royalty program and are available for purchase on Kindle devices and Kindle apps for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, PC, Mac, Blackberry, and Android-based devices.
•createspace.com (Create Space), which offers tools and services for making a book available to “millions of potential readers.”
•amazon.com/author (Author Central), which displays information including bibliographies, biographies, author photos, and feeds to blog posts. Plus, as noted, it offers a great way to check ratings and track sales of individual titles.
•amazon.com/sitb (Search Inside the Book), which can help publishers promote and merchandise books on Amazon for free.
•amazon.com/associates (Amazon Associates), which provides a way for publishers to earn money from sales that originate on their Web sites and hop to Amazon. (And not just sales of your titles—also sales of any other books or products the customer buys at the same time. Imagine your percentage of the purchase of a big-screen TV!)
•amazon.com/authorgrants, a grant program for authors that’s worth checking out.
More Routes to Readers
And what about selling books in other channels?
Todd Bottorff of Turner Publishing Company, Brian Jud of bookmarketing.com, and Dave Marx of PassPorter Travel Press stressed the need to target your reader and then present the book in the proper form for fulfilling that reader’s need. In other words, ask yourself, What does my reader want? Then deliver. Todd’s tidbit: Don’t let promotion on Facebook and Twitter spread you too thin; keep your perspective on what works.
Pratip Banerji from Google and Matt Supko from American Booksellers Association offered more than a few tidbits about Google’s e-bookstore and Indie Commerce—selling books through retail partner sites. I’ll be looking into this more, as I have much to learn. Check out these links:
The Virtue Assessment
Being a virtuous publisher has been part of my mission statement since I founded Bright Ring Publishing, Inc., in 1985, and Skip Prichard, leader of Ingram Content Group, reminded me how important virtue is. He asked us to score our companies on seven points of virtue using a scale of stars from 1 to 5:
• fortitude (integrity, strength of character)
• grit (resilience)
• magnetism (the draw of the author)
After 25 years as a publisher, I was satisfied that my self-evaluation and ratings measured up to my mission statement, and I am inspired to keep them that way.
And Now . . .
The IBPA Publishing University is many things to many people, including us old dogs. The highlight of this gathering for me was being with colleagues and sharing our best tricks and ones that need reworking. The tricks I learned at IBPA University offered me a mind-blowing awareness of the e-book revolution and everything digital.
To follow up, I’m going to turn up the heat on my metadata, investigate social media tools, and polish my existing digital books to take advantage of the latest options and meet the current standards.
But at the end of the day, I’m going to curl up in bed with a real paper book, and as I drift off to sleep, delight in the aroma of printer’s ink. When I wake up, my human battery won’t need recharging, and if the power goes out, I’m still good for a great day of reading by my window.
MaryAnn F. Kohl, the owner of Bright Ring Publishing, Inc., also writes for Gryphon House, Inc. She has more than 20 titles on the topic of art for children, teachers, and parents. Her book Discovering Great Artists has an Amazon ranking of 1994, and her latest book is Art with Anything (Gryphon House, 2010). To learn more: brightring.com; maryannfkohl.typepad.com/blog; twitter: maryann_kohl.
Learn to Master Metadata
To help you steer readers to your books, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) has created a Metadata Webcast Series—four sessions of hands-on instruction from industry experts about using product metadata to increase sales and maximize marketing opportunities for print and digital books.
IBPA members can get a 20 percent discount; just order any session or all four sessions using the code IBPA-20.
Session 1. The What: Demystifying Product Metadata
An introduction and a refresher course covering both the digital and the traditional supply channels as well as sales direct to consumers. (Speakers: Laura Dawson from Firebrand Technologies and Renee Register from DataCurate)
Session 2. The How: Building Product Metadata
Hands-on instruction on how to create metadata that will work for booksellers, librarians, and others using BISG’s Product Metadata Best Practices for Data Senders. (Speakers: Tom Richardson from BookNet Canada and Richard Stark from Barnes & Noble)
Session 3. The Next Level: Enhanced Metadata
Practical guidance on how to use enhanced metadata to sell more books and to help readers discover your content online. (Speakers: Patricia Payton from R.R. Bowker and Richard Roberts from OCLC)
Session 4. Putting It All Together: Implementing ONIX
How to use ONIX in your business to provide richer title information for readers to search, browse, and buy. (Speakers: Rebecca Albani from R.R. Bowker and Tom Richardson from BookNet Canada)
For more information or to order the BISG Metadata Webcasts with your IBPA discount (code: IBPA-20), visit bisg.org/event-cat-6-webcasts.php#series.
—Mindy Im, BISG Marketing Director