A Canadian book blog: Publishing, marketing, books and technology from a Canadian perspective

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Book Launch for Robert J. Wiersema

I’ve just returned from the book launch for Robert J. Wiersema’s first published novel, Before I Wake. It was a bit of a private party at Railspur Alley Cafe and Bistro on Granville Island, which is a great local touristy sort of place but also an awesome Vancouver locale—public market, cool bistros and coffee shops. They have a rule on the island that there shall be no chain stores. It is a Starbucks-free zone.

The launch was good. Robert’s editor Kendall spoke about Rob and the recent reviews and the praise the book has received (recently reviewed in the Globe and Mail quite positively). Then Rob got up and talk a bit about being part of the Random House family and that that wasn’t a bad thing. (He mentioned to me later that the world rights have been sold to St. Martin’s Press, which should mean excellent things for this novel internationally.) Then he read the first couple of pages of the novel. Pages that are heart-wrenching. The story opens with Karen and Sherry crossing a busy road. Sherry is 3. There is an on-coming truck and Sherry runs into the same lane as the truck. Those opening pages are all about the guilt of looking away for a second, of how things could have been if ...

I’m working my way through the first section of the book now but my first impression is this is the type of book I like. The writing is strong. There’s something quirky going on (in this case, a little bit of mystery and magical powers), and I’m not sure how it’s going to end.

I took some photos at the launch, none are spectacular but feel free to have a look.

I wasn’t really sitting is a good spot for photos:

Google Allows Users to Download Books Out of Copyright

In the beginning Google said that they would not allow the download and printing of books that are no longer protected by copyright [is this true? I need to confirm that], but that changed today. Google is now allowing people to download books whose copyright has expired: Here’s the story on Techcrunch.com.

When the copyright on a book expires, the work enters the public domain, which means that anyone can then take the opportunity to re-publish it, bind it, do whatever. So what’s the big fuss about Google offering up these works for download and print? Nothing. I think it’s great. If the work is in public domain, then they have the opportunity to digitize the works and mine them for revenue. It’s a commercial interest. The more digitized content they have available, the more pages they have to put advertising on, the more ways they have to make money.

The only concern I have is how are they determining when a book’s copyright has expired? What happens if they release it and the copyright hasn’t expired? The owner of the copyright has the right to gain financially from that work. It’s not Google’s turn. And once you’ve released the files online, there really isn’t a way to pull them back.

I suppose copyright law could change, there are certainly those advocating for that. But at the moment it is what it is, so I wonder what the plan is. Likely it will cost Google less to apologize and pay out if they do accidently release a copyrighted work vs. implementing a system to ensure accuracy.

How do you feel about Google?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

So Many Ways to Begin by Jon McGregor

Jon McGregor is the author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, which is one of my all-time favourite books. His second novel, So Many Ways to Begin, is out this fall from Bloomsbury UK.

What I loved about If Nobody Speaks was the narrative style. It was different and complex and lyrical. I wouldn’t call it experimental, but it certainly was no run of the mill novel. I resisted reading So Many Ways to Begin because one of the first comments I heard was that it was more of “a novel.” Not really what I was hoping for.

So Many Ways to Begin made the Booker longlist, which was announced a couple of weeks ago, and I know that he is coming to Vancouver to the writer’s festival. Two reasons to crack the spine so I dove into the book this weekend.

Overall I liked the novel. The narrative structure wasn’t as compelling as If Nobody Speaks, but it wasn’t entirely conventional either. There are nice looping storylines and you get the sense of spiraling in on the plot rather than following along in a linear fashion.

Without telling too much, the story is about David Carter, who grows up wanting to be a curator in a museum. He’s encouraged by his Aunt Julia, who later in the novel mistakenly mentions that David is adopted. Much of the novel is the circular way he tries to deal with wanting to meet his birth mother. The problem is that he was born during the Second World War, at a time when good English, Scottish and Irish girls were filling London to work, but also getting into a bit of pregnancy trouble. They didn’t exactly leave a lot of personal, identifying details behind.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Garneau Block by Todd Babiak

The Garneau Block and its story of a “Let’s Fix It” campaign to save the neighbourhood is one of the funniest pieces of Canadiana I’ve read in a long time. The residents of this Edmonton neighbourhood are memorable for their quirkiness but are also reminiscent of the residents of Winnipeg and Vancouver—two places I’ve lived. If you’re looking for satire, local politics and humour, you’ll enjoy the book.

Babiak initially serialized the work in the Edmonton Journal, but the novel doesn’t read in a choppy way at all. There are no cliff hangers that ring false in the full, novel version. It’s just very funny—ridiculous at times but definitely believable.

I received an early copy as part of the M&S 100 Readers Club. Thank you M&S.

What’s the book about?
It’s a satirical look at life in a Canadian neighbourhood, in this case a fictional cul-de-sac in Edmonton’s Garneau neighbourhood. The neighbourhood has been rocked by the sudden death of one of its neighbours, and then mysterious signs appear on their trees. The signs read “Let’s Fix It.”

The neighbours are pretty funny. In some cases they are stock characters, the local wanna-be politician, the university professor, the shop owner, the single, pregnant woman, the leftist, the foreigner and the gay guy. But they’re never presented as 2-dimensional characters, each is quirky and crazy in a way that takes you deeper into the characters and closer to the realization that “hey, I know this person.”

I keep saying it’s funny. It is. Not slapstick but like parody or satire or Miss Marpole. Funny like that. I really enjoyed the read.

Check out The Garneau Block on Amazon.ca

Nick Hornby’s Otherwise Pandemonium

Penguin Press is celebrating 70 years of pocketbooks. I mentioned in an earlier post that while in Winnipeg I stumbled across a brilliant display of new Penguin pocketbooks. These are tiny pocketbooks, 70 in total, promoting the 70th anniversary.

The one that really caught my eye was Nick Hornby’s Otherwise Pandemonium.

First the cover is brilliant. It’s a video tape making a face. Check out the link to see what I mean. I’m not a huge Hornby fan. I loved About a Boy and High Fidelity but How to Be Good wasn’t ... good, ok it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great.

This little paperback, which cost me $4, was brilliant. Two short stories. One about a boy who buys a video recorder so that he can tape tv. Turns out it doesn’t just record, it projects into the future and he sees the end of the world. This, of course, lets him convince a girl in his band class to have sex with him. It’s very very funny. The other story is about a guy who’s well hung and gets a couple of roles in adult films. A neighbour kindly mentions this to his mother and provides her with the video tape. Again, madness and hilarity ensue.

I read both stories over the course of an amazing Italian dinner. It was worth the $4 and I can’t recommend the book enough. I’m still laughing at some of the scenes.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Online Book Marketing

Last week was a week of presentations. On Thursday and Friday I met with WESTAF. And on Tuesday, I met with the students in the SFU summer workshop in book publishing.

I had an hour to give a presentation on online marketing (a little long to include all my notes, but again I want to post this content for my reference and in case it’s of interest to anyone else). Here we go ...

If you ask most people in publishing what business they are in, they’ll say book publishing or selling books. But you really have to look beyond that, selling books is the end result. What you’re actually involved in is telling stories. People don’t just buy books, they buy-into an author, a diet plan, a travel experience, a story. What drives them to buy the book is the promise of mental stimulation, of practical help advice, or cooking tips, of engagement with an author or experience. That’s what you need to get across online.

In the Writers to Readers Sessions at BookExpo Canada, speaker Michael Cader, who runs Publishers Lunch and Publishers Marketplace, said that you have to think of the Web as a platform for everything neat you have to say—not just about the book, but about the author and the content. The idea is to not focus only on the book, but to move beyond the covers, think about all the associations that might be interesting to a reader. Michael’s example was if you have a book about salmon fishing, put salmon recipes up on your site. Put a Guinness Book of World Record’s stat on the biggest salmon ever measured … Put a link to a great short story about fishing, etc. Not to mention an excerpt from the book, and every review you can find. [original post/report on BEC]

It’s kind of a corny idea, but if you step back from it and look at why people buy books and why and how people recommend books to their peers, it makes sense. Number one reason people cite for buying a book is peer recommendation. What is it about the recommendation?

1) it came from a trusted source
2) it was tailored specifically to their interests
3) there was something interesting about the author, the story behind the book, the actual story itself. When you listen to people talking about books and recommending a book to a friend they start with “well it’s a story about X,” but it’s really cool because the author wrote it on napkins in prison, or the story was found in an abandoned suitcase, or I heard the author reading on the radio and she has this great Jamaican accent.

The book is just this cold, physical object. The warmth is the interaction you have with the book or author.

In online marketing and promotion you want find ways to
- Be a trusted source.
- Tailor suggestions to the user’s interests
- Indentify the anecdotes, the interesting elements of the story (or story behind the story) that people are likely to pass on or share with friends.

You also want to look at your digital assets and find ways
- to make content PARTICIPATORY, both in its creation and its consumption.
- to make Web pages a place of ENGAGEMENT with your market.
- and to create a VIRAL effect. (The link is the currency of the Web.)

Again we’re in the business of ideas, content and lifestyle—not just books. Books are just the beginning of what we’re selling. And when we talk about content as participatory and website being places for conversation and engagement, what we’re talking about is the basic concept of what users do online and how that’s different than what they did 5 years ago. The buzzword you usually hear at this point is Web 2.0.

The concept of “Web 2.0” began with a conference brainstorming session between O’Reilly and MediaLive International in 2001 [See O’Reilly, What is Web 2.0]. Dale Dougherty, web pioneer and O’Reilly VP, noted that far from having crashed, the web was more important than ever, with exciting new applications and sites popping up regularly. The other thing he noted was that the companies that survived the dotcom crash and the new companies emerging involved: good content, user participation, engagement, a viral effect. Examples include Flickr, delicious, Gmail, Google Adsense, eBay, Wikipedia, BitTorrent; and the buzz words are blogs, long tail, web as platform, user participation.

Why is this important?

It’s important because people’s attitudes towards the web have change, you want to manage the expectations of your users but you also want to provide them what they’re expecting.

[Then we looked at the basic steps of an online campaign and some examples. I would have liked to go through setting up an online ad campaign, understanding web stats better, monitoring the blogosphere and working with online media ... maybe next year. It was the first year I presented at the summer workshop program and definitely a positive experience but also a learning experience. Thank you Tom Best and SFU.]

Sunday, August 20, 2006

On Firing a Cannon

When firing a cannon, get the fodder

When firing a cannon, get the guy with the cannon to fill 'er up

When firing a cannon, plug it in there really tight

When firing a cannon, take it far away from the house ... then run

The Convergence of Arts Organizations and Technology

This week I was part of a panel discussion and brainstorming session with members of the Vancouver technology community and WESTAF, the Western States Arts Federation.

From the About Us: WESTAF is a nonprofit arts service organization dedicated to the creative advancement and preservation of the arts. Based in Denver, Colorado, WESTAF fulfills its mission to strengthen the financial, organizational and policy infrastructure of the arts by providing innovative programs and services to artists and arts organizations in the West and nationwide.

WESTAF is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts; the state arts agencies of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming; private and corporate foundations; and individuals.

Basically WESTAF is trying to figure out how to better use their existing web properties and technology to support the arts organizations they represent. They have some really interesting tools such as ArtJob Online for job seekers and ArtistsRegister.com. But they also have online tools for helping arts agencies and funding bodies put out electronic calls for submission and online ways to review grant applications and entries.

For privacy reasons I don’t want to post my full presentation notes, but I think some of the basic points are things that all arts organizations and artists could consider. Here’s a summarized version.

What I notice working with arts agencies and funders is that umbrella arts organizations are good at communicating with their member arts organizations, those organizations are good at communicating and building relationships with the artists they represent, and the artists are good at peer-to-peer networking.

At each level there is a certain amount of promotion of artists and services to the public. But arts organizations are seeing a decrease in audience attendance, in book sales, in season tickets, in arts funding in schools—whatever it is.

So somewhere along the line we’re missing the key step, which is getting artists or arts orgs networking not just with other artists but with a fan base (so finding fans, creating a fan base, engaging with them, giving fans tools for word-of-mouth or buzz marketing—basically increasing public awareness and enhancing the value of the arts in the mind of the public).

Sometimes it is easy to see how individual artists can use the web to do this type of social networking, but it’s more difficult to figure out what you as an organization can do.

The challenge is to get arts funders, arts agencies, etc. to understand the importance of online tools and services and how they have an impact on the end result, which is selling more ideas, content, lifestyle.

It’s not about the physical product: books, artwork, season tickets. You sell the physical product by building communities of interest through networked effects. [There was some discussion about this, which also came up in my SFU presentation this week. More on that later.]

The first thing to understand is that the ways people use the web today is different than the ways they were using it five years ago. Remember also the web is only 15 years old. A lot of sites we talk about [Flickr, Digg, delicious—sites launched in the last 1-5 years] might not seem relevant at first glance, but understanding the nature of the web is going to help drive the changes you make to your existing products and to help make decisions about what you want to do next.

Look at the websites that are successful or have a commanding presence: Flickr, delicious, Gmail, Google Adsense, eBay, Wikipedia, BitTorrent; all these sites have things in common: good content, user participation, engagement, a viral effect.

The objective is to get organizations or artists to look at their digital assets and find ways
1) to make content PARTICIPATORY, both in content creation and content consumption.
2) to use the Web to ENGAGE with their target market.
3) And to create a VIRAL effect. Whatever they/you are doing online needs to be cool enough or interesting enough or important enough for people to pass on to their friends or colleagues (most likely in the form of links).

So how do make you (as an arts org) make your existing content participatory? What might that look like? [Here we had a discussion based on some suggestions particular to WESTAF.]

I was really thrilled to be a part of this panel. I enjoy understanding industries that are related to my own and looking a the overall strategy. It was mentally very stimulating and I thank Darren Barefoot for inviting me along.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

How to Actively Promote Your Book

I’ve recently been part of a number of conversations with authors about how they can successfully promote their books. These aren’t self-published books, these are books published by traditional publishing companies, all of which have marketing departments.

Over at Buzz, Balls and Hype, M.J. Rose has a fantastic article about exactly how to do this.

Read: Get thee to a marketing/pr meeting!

Working in a publishing house and having an author as a partner has given me an interesting perspective on the industry. From the author’s point of view I see that there is usually little communication between editor or publicist and author about what to expect in terms of the process. From the publisher’s point of view I see that there is very little time to walk someone through the whole process—you’re busy actually getting the interviews and sending the books out for review. Both side are in need of help from each other.

What’ I like about the Buzz, Balls and Hype article is that it explains the process nicely and gives sound tips on ways an author can approach his/her publisher.

Here are the points that stand out for me:

1) 4-6 months before your book comes out ask for a marketing/PR meeting
The timing is going to be dependent on your particular publisher and the type of book you have coming out. But basically before it hits the stores, before it goes out for review, make sure you have a meeting about what’s going to happen.

2)Key talking points to cover in that meeting:
- Do you want to spend some of your own money promoting the book and if yes how much?
- How many ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) are going out (if any)?
- Is there a tour planned?
- Are there any online or off line advertising/promotional plans?
- What would the publisher like you (the author) to do for the book? What don’t they want you to do?
- Is there any incentive program that makes sense?
- If appropriate is there a reading group guide?
- Will you have/who is your publicist? What time frame will he/she be working on your book? What kind of reviews/press is the publisher going after?
- Do they have other authors with similar books coming out at the same time? Would they be interested in piggy backing efforts?
- Do they have a problem with you setting up your own speaking engagements, do they/how do they want to know about them?

The article offers excellent background information on why these are key questions to ask and the purpose behind asking them.

If you work in publishing or are an author or potential author, have a read through this article.

Article: Get thee to a marketing/pr meeting!

What do you think? Valuable info?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Web Resource Links

Yesterday I gave an hour-long presentation to Simon Fraser University students in the summer book publishing workshop. I had an hour to talk about online marketing. No sweat, right? I can’t remember who it was now, but I heard about a presenter who started by saying “oh my god, I don’t have enough time to tell you everything.” That was exactly how I felt. I’ll post my session notes later, but in the meantime here are some web resources I thought I should note somewhere for future reference.

Web Theory
Harness the power of the web. How business models need to change to adapt to online markets. If you read anything, read this. The full book is free online.

What Is Web 2.0? Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software

Social Signal’s Tech Tips

Web Stats & Measuring Success
Google Analytics. Great web analytics software. Sign up for a free invitation code.

Work Industries blog on web strategy. Post on How to Read Webstats

The four general questions that you should ask yourself to measure your online ad or website’s return on investment.

Search Engine Advertising
Google Adwords. Run a search engine advertising campaign.

Search engine for blogs. See what people are searching for, talking about online.

Free blog software & hosting:

Paid blog software/hosting (most have a free option as well):

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but feel free to add your own links in the comment section. The more the merrier.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Thoughts on Fiction

Working in the publishing industry means that people like to talk to me about books. I, of course, like to talk about books so this is never really a problem. But this summer I have been stumped twice when asked about good novels. I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately and I suppose I haven’t been paying attention to what good novels people are reading this summer.

If you’ve got a good novel on the go, let me know what it is.

Here’s the list of what I’ve recommended so far:

Beverly Billingsly Borrows a Book
Bruce Hale’s Chet Gecko series
Terry Griggs’ Cat’s Eye Corner trilogy

Fiction for Adults
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Time in Between
Daniel Isn’t Talking

Here’s the novel I started today. So far I think it is going to be a very good book.

The Garneau Block by Todd Babiak

Thursday, August 10, 2006

McNally Robinson Bookstore in Winnipeg

Yesterday I visited my favourite Canadian bookstore, McNally Robinson. First it is a beautiful store. We had lunch in the cafe then perused the selections. I noticed a table display for Cormorant Books, a small Canadian publisher, and another display for McClelland & Stewart’s 100 Year Celebration, and a Penguin Books display. Last year in London James and I saw the 70 years of Penguin book design display at the Victoria and Albert Museum. At the time I couldn’t carry around anything extra so I didn’t buy the book on the exhibit, but there it was yesterday in McNally so I’m now the owner of a copy of Penguin By Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005 by Phil Baines. It’s a history of the jacket design of Penguin paperbacks. The display also had a cool section of 70 titles in the Pocket Penguin series. I bought a copy of Otherwise Pandemonium by Nick Hornby. It’s a really cute little book. About 60 pages. $4.00.

What McNally did well was create an atmosphere for browsing. I didn’t intend to buy either of these books. I actually went in to buy Water for Elephants, which is a Harper Collins book I’ve been looking for. I didn’t end up buying it because I read the first page and wasn’t terribly impressed. The displays of the other books though and the face out selections let me rediscover one book I’d been interested in before and newly discover a series of books that I think is really cool.

Speaking of browsing I have some comments on Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail and what he’s missing about the in-store browsing experience, even if the selection is smaller than an online retailer. And, I have a side thought on why it’s important for book publishers to look not just at what types of books are being published and promoted in stores but where people are actually browsing in store. But, that will have to wait for another day.

Friday, August 04, 2006

60 Years of Marriage

Yesterday we celebrated the 60th anniversary of Bob and Joan Sherrett, James’ grandparents. It was quite a thing. Both are in their 80s and are happy and functional and living in an apartment they’ve lived in for 30 years. They were one of the first to move in. I sat next to a lady Ellen who is also one of the “originals”. I asked her how things were going and she replied, “slow but at my age ... that’s to be expected.” I naturally asked her how old was she, “99.” Her 100 birthday is January 28. She’s going to have a party. No doubt I thought. 1907.

It was a day for remembrance of many years. I passed by my former elementary school, built in 1931, it’s celebrating 75 years. James and I have been together for 10 years this year, but of course, like his grandfather he likes to joke that you shouldn’t count your chickens until they’re hatched.

We also drove around some friends from Vancouver and Victoria yesterday who were visiting Winnipeg on business. We talked about the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Louis Riel’s grandparents in the West, the Red River Settlement, the historic exchange district—the core of Winnipeg, the financial district, grain exchange, Portage and Main, the strike of 1919—all the things people learn about in school. The unfortunate thing is that this history is buried. As a tourist there is little reason to venture to downtown Winnipeg, the buildings are in a constant cycle of renewal and decay, there’s no plaque or announcement of what’s going on or what interesting things went on.

It was definitely a day of personal and regional history. One I was happy to take part in, and I certainly hope that at 80 I am as bright and witty and mobile as Bob and Joan.