by Jane Friedman
1. An author’s online presence is more critical than ever to long-term marketing strategy.
Industry analyst Mike Shatzkin opened the conference by discussing what he thinks is the greatest challenge right now in the publishing industry. He said that authors have long been recognized as the consumer-facing brand that most matters (to publishers and readers), and that today every author can build some kind of digital presence. However, he said, while a few authors do that very well, most do it badly.
Shatzkin said the biggest failure of traditional publishers to date is the lack of programmatic help for authors in building their digital footprint.
At the very least, he said every house should do a digital audit for every author they contract, which includes concrete suggestions for improving online engagement. To his knowledge, no publisher does, but he thinks it should be every house’s top marketing priority.
Later on, Rand Fishkin of Moz offered some of the most actionable content of the entire event, focused on how authors (or publishers) could improve that digital footprint. (Review his full presentation here.) Two of the big highlights of his talk and Q&A session:
- Make sure your website is accessible, mobile-friendly and optimized for search. Fishkin said that using WordPress is a great shortcut to ensure your site is following best practices related to SEO. He encouraged authors and publishers to consistently link to a book landing page (on the author website) rather than to Amazon, to help ensure the author website and book landing page owned by the author will turn up as the first search result. Fishkin believes it’s better to control the message and capture that visitor/reader before sending them onto Amazon.
- Do not split up your content website and promotional websites. For authors, this means don’t split up your author website and your author blog (don’t house them separately) or create separate websites that serve only to promote or sell your books. Authors should integrate all content, whether promotional or not, under a single online umbrella, usually a website built on author name. If you want, buy a domain that closely matches your book title, and have it redirect to your main author site (or possibly create a microsite). Fishkin says it increases the probability of your site ranking number one for important search terms, such as your name, book titles, and keywords related to your work.
2. Be reluctant to trust mainstream media headlines when it comes to publishing sales and trends.
Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch, arguably the foremost expert in reading the tea leaves of publishing industry data, offered an overview of what we know and how we know it when it comes to print and ebook sales.
He listed the biggest misleading conclusions appearing in news headlines—conclusions that consistently misinterpret the sales data.
- Print is back!
- E-books are dead!
- Bookstores are back!
- Amazon’s publishing division failed!
- If only we could count self-publishing, ebooks are booming!
What every author should know about the current industry data:
- The flattening of ebook sales started happening back in 2013. Plus, some of the ebook decline we’re seeing may be attributable to rapidly falling Nook sales.
- Adult ebook sales have been relatively stable; the big decline is in children’s/YA ebook sales due to the lack of a big franchise hit in 2015.
- A big question is whether customers may be transitioning from ebook purchases to audiobook purchases—some of the most dramatic industry growth is happening in digital audio.
- Recent print sales gains can be accounted for by coloring books.
To understand the full picture of industry sales requires triangulation of multiple data sources and an understanding of what sales those sources account for (and how the accounting has changed over the years). No single source offers a complete picture, and historical comparisons are difficult. One thing is for sure, however: most mainstream outlets, such as the New York Times, misunderstand the data and apply misleading headlines.
3. Learn to find your readers, go where they go, and speak their language.
Industry marketing expert Peter McCarthy and Rand Fishkin both discussed how to find your readers online and reach them directly. McCarthy described it as picking up “the lingua franca of the customer” with a variety of tools and techniques. He demonstrated how he rapidly tests out phrases to learn and access “adjacencies”—the key concepts, active people, and communities whose interests are aligned with themes, topics, or points from your work. (View or download McCarthy’s 109 slides, featuring step-by-step information.)