This was originally published as an article in the London Fair DEALER on Tuesday 20 April 2010 Page 14
The web is still a testing ground for monetizing models, and much more experimentation will come
The Author Blog Awards (the winners of which will announced today at http://twtvite.com/lbt10 ) showcase blogs as a tool increasingly used to promote books and build loyal readerships, write Anna Lewis and Jon Slack. More authors are blogging than ever before; however not everyone is convinced by the benefits championed by the digital enthusiasts, nor necessarily even agree on what an author blog should do. Some point to examples of authors that struggle to find their voice on a blog or dismiss blogging as a distraction from ‘proper’ writing. So what value does this platform offer? Is it all about generating extra sales – or are other dynamics at play?
US-based author Neil Gaiman is often regarded as a pioneer in author blogging. In 2001, as part of his American Gods book tour, he set up a blog which has since morphed into a fully fledged web portal, with over a million visitors a month. The central premise of his blog – offering insight into the writing process or general musings on the world at large – have remained part and parcel of the blog experience for most authors, with new elements and cliquey terminology coming and going. Words like ‘statusphere’ are bandied about as a catch-all for the latest trends, with blogs being recast by some as of the same ilk as the bite-sized updates dispatched these days via social networks Facebook, Twitter, et al.
Paulo Coelho is another example of a big-name author who has built up a very successful online presence through a regular blog. Coelho admits he does not know whether this has resulted in more sales, but describes his reason for blogging to primarily ‘share his soul’ – an extension of his writing, which he clearly enjoys.
Shel Israel, who writes extensively on the power of blogging and social media, is an author who involves his readership in helping to write his books. He describes it as ‘a sandbox for my books… to see what does and does not work’. By posting chapter drafts and encouraging debate and input from visitors, Israel is an example of a non-fiction author using the medium as a means of enriching the finished product.
The evidence on whether blogs have a direct impact on sales is mixed. Publishers and authors can roughly gauge popularity from traffic and comments, but when it comes to sales, there is a lack of sufficient analytical systems, or direct ‘buy’ links, in place. However, Seth Godin, a successful US blogger with plenty of Amazon links on his site, plays down the need for optimising his blog from a sales perspective. ‘It’s not the point,’ he says. ‘The main reason for blogging is to be a regular part of someone’s day… [this can] provide a good foundation for selling books.’
Chris Brogan, author of Social Media 101, agrees: ‘Publishers have a tendency to read the popularity of an author blog as an indicator of potential sales. They are not related; it just means they know how to build an audience. Some authors can sell and promote. Others are just great content-makers.’
Scott Pack, of web-to-book specialist The Friday Project, points to the success of a book by Tom Reynolds, the blogging ambulance driver turned author: ‘Within an hour of mentioning the book was out to followers of his blog, it was top of the Amazon “Movers and Shakers” chart.’
Publishing houses have come a long way in developing blogs as a branding and sales tool for themselves. Entire communities of publishers and agents are now Tweeting and showing a willingness to experiment with web tools. Julia Lampam, Associate Director of Corporate Communications for academic publisher Wiley, says social media have become an established part of activity for editors and marketers. ‘They are an ideal platform for interaction and feedback between the author, publisher and their readers. We support authors in this way, as it provides an opportunity to receive feedback, raise awareness and of course sell the product.’
Rachael Ogden of Inpress, a UK marketing agency for small publishers, sees the benefit of blogs being used in a number of variations: ‘Blog tours have been quite successful in the States but are yet to really take off in the UK. Once more publishers start putting them together, a circuit of interested bloggers will emerge and the readers will follow.’
So, with blogs offering any number of benefits for authors and publishers, there is clearly no ‘one size fits all’ method. They need to be tailored to the author’s strengths to make them successful. The web is still a testing ground for monetizing models, and much more experimentation will come. Some blogs may not have an impact on sales, some may be short-lived, but the process has great potential for richer content and exciting possibilities for a new level of partnership between author and reader.
Anna Lewis and Jon Slack are joint creators of the inaugural Author Blog Awards. Lewis is co-founder of CompletelyNovel.com and shortlisted for the British Council’s 2010 UK Young Publishing Entrepreneur Award. Slack is co-director of the South Asian Literature Festival and works on a number of projects and initiatives for the book industry.
More excellent coverage of the publishing world can be found at the BookBrunch website.