F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say." These days, it seems like everyone has something to say: the average Joe, celebrities and fantasy enthusiasts with imaginations that put Roald Dahl's witches and candy men to shame. Everyone believes they are bringing something new and exciting to the bookstore shelf, and maybe they are. But the way that value is recognized has morphed. It has moved off the page and into the online space.
Can you picture Virginia Woolf logging in to her Twitter account to see how many followers she currently has or to calculate her number of Facebook "likes?" Miss Woolf oftentimes wrote manuscripts in beautiful cursive on parchment paper, and then went for long walks on the banks of the river near her home to clear her head amidst chapters. Her life was simple and offline. I wonder how that compares to the average writer in Manhattan, obsessively pressing refresh and thinking up marketing tactics to get his various social media channels more "buzz." I wonder if Miss Woolf could have even identified the word "buzz" the way contemporary society defines it.
This is one of many edited facts on the newly paved path of the digital landscape in the world of book publishing. Even though the presentation of publishing has changed drastically in the past decade, publishing conglomerates are still powerful, and once popular book genres have gone through their changes as well. Three years ago celebrity memoirs were groundbreaking, and nowadays it seems like nearly every celebrity has a memoir. A publisher wonders, “Is this considered non-fiction in the way that John Krakauer writes of his tales climbing Mt. Everest or researching Mormon clans via award-winning journalism tactics? Would the same fans of John Krakauer pick up a book that Jennifer Lopez wrote?" Probably not, but that means one thing: diversified audiences. Publishers have to speak to a larger, more diverse audience. So what is the best way to do that? With cohesive, digital, corporate platforms.
New genre preferences were the precursors to the digital life of publishing. Digital capabilities must be creative in nature, which can be challenging to remain unique and fresh to the constantly “refreshing” consumer's eyes. The average reader is now more eager to learn about Jon Bon Jovi's young life or how to lose ten pounds in three days by strolling through the Self-Help section at Barnes & Noble than they are in picking up Pride & Prejudice for the first time since grade school and finding a whole new meaning to Mr. Darcy.
I admit to sometimes making the same mistake. The minute I saw that David Nichols' novel, One Day, was being made into a movie I deemed the book worthy enough to read on a summer vacation. If I were an acquisitions editor, I might be more caught up with Nichols' online fanbase or how many New Yorker excerpts he has under his belt. It is almost as if entertainment tells readers what to be interested in by virtue of its theatrical existence. For example, the Charlaine Harris books successfully created the HBO show, True Blood. The Accidental Billionaires, by Ben Mezrich, gave birth to the Oscar-winning film, The Social Network, in 2010.
Books are no longer just books, they are branding empires. Book publishing now has to accommodate everyone's interest levels, which have arguably grown due to the Internet. Knowledge equals inherent curiosity and new developments in the digital space. Missed your favorite show on television? You can watch it online. Even cable television is slowly becoming irrelevant. We are all constantly informed and thirsting for more. As we have seen, several popular books are being adapted for the big and small screens, and more than ever before sagas like Twilight, Harry Potter and Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy have an almost cult-like following. People are becoming diehard saga fanatics, which is neither good nor bad for the future of publishing. However, it is certainly different from how things were fifteen years ago, and should be treated as such.
As recently as three to five years ago book publicists barely had to keep up blogger relations and getting print coverage was easier, as less "review" coverage existed online and fewer newspapers and magazines had popular online editions. Authors know that publishing conglomerates have made budget cuts in the ongoing recession America has faced. Authors now wonder how the publicity part of their book's debut will shake out. My best advice to new or old authors is to sign with a publishing house that has innate and internal digital capabilities. In this day and age, it is too risky to outsource for digital publicity. An author can no longer “do it themselves,” as social media has become too vast.
In 2009, publishers were faced with an undeniable challenge: what kind of platform might individualize itself from all the other publishing conglomerates and help them stay relevant as computers edged their screens into book publishing? Simon & Schuster released a deals newsletter that is solely based on price slashing; you can purchase books for up to fifty percent off if you buy direct. However, price slashing is not the larger digital marketing draw. The idea is to keep consumers constantly connected to the brand and, in turn, they feel like they are getting some piece of brand exclusivity which is more likely to promote brand loyalty. If any “perks” are included, the program will soar. Another development recently started to affect consumers’ deals. In a time where publishing has taken a downturn, nothing is more important than consumer loyalty and subsequent awareness. What is the one necessity that all of contemporary society shares? Internet access.
In December 2010, HarperCollins launched Bookperk.com. Bookperk is a website that pairs exclusive author experiences and merchandise with bestselling and newly released books. On any given "Perk of the Day," consumers are given the opportunity to enter an interactive Patti Smith signed audiobook raffle, or purchase an exclusive tote bag designed by Karl Lagerfeld paired with Justine Picardie's new Coco Chanel biography. Fans of Laura Lippman were able to enjoy a pizza party with her just before the release of The Most Dangerous Thing. Just this week, an author was able to create her own creative marketing platform, by contacting Bookperk herself, with specialized merchandise from Israel that pertains directly to her novel, Jerusalem Maiden.
I have recently heard stories where authors sadly have to take digital publicity into their own hands. They must outsource, even at the large publishing houses. These authors’ publishers cannot carry the burden of media channels changing. There needs to be a balance present that is both traditional and non-traditional publishing, which inherently provides authors with the freedom to influence how they want their personalities and books positioned in the marketplace. There are now more ways to share and sell literary information and more platforms to get noticed on, while simultaneously taking part in furthering the author-reader connection in book publishing via use of the Internet.
About Jessica Barraco
Jessica Barraco is a writer and public relations professional. She has worked at agencies such as Hill & Knowlton, Fleishman-Hillard and Ketchum. A graduate of the University of Colorado, Boulder's School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Barraco has freelanced for publications such as 944 magazine and The Denver Post. Ms. Barraco currently resides in New York City and manages digital PR for Bookperk at HarperCollins Publishers.
About Bookperk at HarperCollins Publishers
Referred to as, "the Living Social of books," by Forbes, HarperCollins Publishers’ digital platform offers genres that span across the literary map. Bookperk offers price breaks, pre-orders, autographed books and exclusive merchandise to the consumer. Bookperk's goal is to bring an exclusive forum together of people online who love books. Bookperk is where traditional and non-traditional literary minds meet up on the Internet.