Preparing Authors for Digital Readings

Reading is often a solitary experience, but it becomes a social experience when we attend an event where we get to see authors read their work live. One of the most common ways that publishers and authors promote their books is by holding readings. These events can take place digitally or in person, but are becoming increasingly popular as digital occurrences. In light of the global pandemic of 2020, we learned just how valuable it can be to have a strong digital reading event.

Although digital readings are great opportunities for publicity, it can be daunting when a digital event is one of the only events that will occur, as was the case for many events for debut authors in early 2020. With all of that pressure, how can publishers get their authors ready for these events? What is the best way for an author to prepare for an online reading?

First, the basics. What will they read? The author probably has a good idea of what selections may read well. In general, the passage should be engaging, and involve some kind of mini plot or character arc. It should sound beautiful and read naturally out loud, without dragging on and on. Dialogue is a great thing to include, but too much can be confusing to the audience, as the “he said, she said” can be hard to follow.

Next, how will they read it? They’ll need to practice. While it might not be poetry, a reading is still a performance of sorts. The author will need to take time to run through the reading aloud, noting where to place special emphasis, change pacing, use a different voice, or make minor changes to the text in order to ensure audiences will be able to follow along, as they may not have a copy in front of them. This can also help sharpen their focus and aid in creating smooth transitions. This practice is also a time to make decisions about what kind of background would be fitting for the reading, what they will choose to wear, and how they will handle possible distractions like children, sirens, or pets (if the reading is occurring in their home).

And finally, where will they read it? Authors and publishers should spend time getting to know the platform they’ll be using. Whether it’s Instagram Live, a large Zoom call, or a recorded reading, time must be spent familiarizing oneself with the ins and outs of the technical aspects of the software. Several tests should be run prior to the real deal, and everyone should have a contingency plan for troubleshooting technical issues. What if the audio cuts out? What if the dog barks? What if there is a disruptive audience member? Things can and will go wrong, and having a plan for how to deal with it can both save everyone from embarrassment as well as give everyone involved a sense of confidence.

Nailing down the what, where, and how of the reading will prepare the author to have the most successful, stress-free online event possible. This will be especially necessary as book marketing moves online. As debut author Kevin Nguyen said in a New York Times interview on the way book publicity is shifting to an online presence, “…there’s an opportunity here, if we can all figure it out…I’m hoping these hurdles can encourage us to think about how book promotion can be reinvented.”

Best Practices: A Social Media Guide for Authors

For authors, social media is a wonderful place to share with friends, family, the writing community, and the world at large how fun and stressful the publishing journey can be. But if you’ve never used social media to promote yourself or your book, it can be hard to know how to get started. This blog post won’t teach you how to use different social media platforms (as there are plenty of tutorials online), but Ooligan Press is currently working on ways to help our authors start their social media journey—or at least help them start looking forward to it. While social media isn’t a prerequisite for authors, it’s helpful for those marketing your book to know that you have a following.

The Importance of Platform
There are so many social media platforms that you could explore. You don’t have to be great at all of them. Just like writing, social media is an extension of storytelling, and where you tell that story has a lot to do with how people will interact with it. If you are an author who loves to talk about books, consider creating BookTube videos or podcasts. If you are more visual, try Pinterest or Instagram. If you like to make people laugh, TikTok is quite popular these days. If you just like to write, blogging and platforms like Facebook and Twitter are solid. Spend some time experimenting with each platform.

Engagement and Relationship over Promotion
While social media is used as an extension of marketing, no one likes to be marketed to. See social media as an extension of your story, whether that story is your personal brand or your book. The truth about social media is that it is not too different from actual relationships. The sheer amount of followers isn’t everything: it’s your level of dedication and interaction that produces hits. Get creative with it and don’t be afraid to be yourself. Be authentic. Readers love hearing anything about their favorite—for example, how many cups of coffee or tea it took for you to finish rewriting a particular section. More often than not, I will check out an author’s book if I’ve gotten to interact with them on social media over something unrelated to the book that is simply relatable. Author recognition and book-title awareness are just as effective as targeted marketing, if not more so.

Mindful Sharing
The editing process in itself can be an emotionally and mentally challenging experience. Editors may seem like an enemy whose sole goal is to destroy the work—or “book baby,” as we like to say here at Ooligan—that you’ve put so much time, heart, and energy into. But the truth is that editors are just trying to make sure that your book is the best it can be so that it will sell, which is mutually beneficial.

Be open about your successes and struggles, but know that any rude or derogatory comments toward your editor and publisher may unintentionally backfire on you. Readers may not buy your book if they feel you are not satisfied with how the book turned out. It also sends a negative message to future agents, editors, or publishers you may work with. You should always stop and think before venting your frustrations online.

While we have plenty of helpful and insightful posts on the Ooligan blog, here are a few to help you start thinking about your social media journey:

Blazing the Ooligan Trail(er)

The book trailer: that rare and infamous chimera that prowls the lush, creeping undergrowth at the peripheries of the literary world, surfacing without warning from social media and blog feeds to pounce upon unwary readers. Like many emergent trends and technologies in reading, the appearance of book trailers on the scene has provoked a great fury of speculation and chatter about the future—or lack thereof!—of boring old books. Are choice excerpts, attractive covers, and glowing reviews from respected literati no longer enough to capture the attention of potential readers? Can it be that a day is coming when books will be primarily announced and discovered (alongside triple-decker cheeseburgers and dandruff shampoos) via formulaic, built-to-go-viral televisual commercials?

However much stock you put in the idea that book trailers are cheapening traditional literature, it’s hard to deny that, in the abstract, they’re really pretty interesting. For one thing, nobody’s really sure whether they actually have a positive effect on book sales or public awareness of upcoming titles. This is mainly because, as a new and experimental publicity strategy, video trailers are deployed alongside a whole arsenal of more conventional marketing tools. Even more interesting is the radical diversity of the types of trailers to be encountered. Unlike movie trailers, which these days tend to look and sound virtually identical to one another, no single style or structure has yet established itself as the norm for book trailers, so one still never knows quite what to expect.

Ooligan has produced trailers for several of our own titles over the past few years, and it’s refreshing to see that stylistic and strategic diversity on display even in such a small sample:

  • We promoted 42 (M. Thomas Cooper, 2008) with a classic example of a teaser trailer. This twenty-four-second bricolage of enigmatic imagery and stirring blurb excerpts is designed to leave the viewer intrigued and hungry to learn more.
  • The Oregon Book Award–winning Blue Thread (Ruth Tenzer Feldman, 2012) was treated to a slightly more elaborate affair we might call a synopsis trailer. In order to avoid the sort of monotonous overexplanation that leaves some trailers feeling more like PowerPoint presentations, Blue Thread‘s trailer makes clever use of silent-movie title cards and period footage to keep things light and lively.
  • Probably our most impressive trailer yet, this bit for Close is Fine (Eliot Treichel, 2012) is complete with genuine actors, an epic soundtrack, enthusiastic blurbs, and wanton destruction!

As you can see, we’ve come progressively nearer to the fuzzy line between straightforward promotional material and the kind of cross-platform translation of ideas that can sometimes produce genuinely original content. Mixed feelings about the effects and value of book trailers continue to swirl among Ooligan’s ranks, and it seems unlikely that they’ll become a major element of our standard practices anytime soon—but they sure can be a lot of fun.

Educational bonus: Did you know book trailers have actually been around since the 1980s? Check out this priceless trailer for Gothic horror paperback Wildwood (John Farris, 1986)—”guaranteed to turn the blood to gelatin!”

Marketing to Libraries: Why It’s a Good Idea

Libraries seem to be one of the most underrated marketing opportunities that many publishers tend to pay less attention to than they should. Something about libraries gives the impression that marketing to libraries is more of a by-product of publishing books rather than a highly profitable use of marketing manpower. The reality is that libraries are a $5 billion market that is totally worth putting time and effort into.

Many publishers buy into the diverse myths about libraries and even librarians that, when we actually look at the facts, are completely unwarranted, and keep these companies from really taking advantage of a great source of revenue and even advertisement.

One of the misconceptions of marketing to libraries is that libraries only buy one copy of a book at time. Publishers decided that the sale of one book is not worth the effort it takes to get the library to buy the book. However, the truth is a different story. Libraries most often buy multiple copies of a book. Indeed, the more popular they believe a title will be, the more copies they will buy. This also goes for reference material; it is a common practice for libraries to buy at least two copies: one for their reference section and one a general circulation copy.

Because circulation copies of books are often destroyed after a period of time (some shorter than others) libraries have to constantly restock their supply of books as they come back damaged from patrons. As a result there is long term revenue coming from these libraries as they continue to replace damaged books. As a bonus, libraries are not subject to the return policy that is often so devastating for publishers.

Many publishers worry that selling to libraries will reduce their sales in bookstores and direct sales, but past experience shows different. Often, when a book does well in the libraries, this will drive bookstores to buy more copies. Let us not forget those book buyers who like to, in a way, test drive books before buying them from a store. If they like the book, or the first book in a series, they are more likely to go buy it from a bookstore so they can have their own copy.

Libraries also provide a great advertising service to publishers who reach to this market. While some believe that the only books that get reviewed in library publications are those printed by large publishers, many librarians work to find books from small publishers as well. They see even-handed reviewing between big trade publishers and small presses to be beneficial, not just for the industry, but for the library as well. The more information and knowledge they can have of the current state of publishing the better, and reviewing books is one way of doing this.

Not to mention the sheer amount of books that libraries often put on display. The best part about it is that they are not all books from large publishers, nor are they always brand new books. Often, libraries will display books that go with whatever holiday is coming up, old favorites, and sometimes their own personal favorites.

In the end, it’s a pretty solid marketing plan to make sure that libraries are included in a publishers efforts in selling and promoting their books. Especially with the unfortunate decline of bookstore sales, publishers will find the libraries have now become one of their greatest assets for the success of their press as long as they are willing to put in a little extra effort to reach out to them.

Replacing The Myths About Marketing to Libraries on the Combined Book Exhibit website is a great source for those worried about going into this area of marketing and debunks many of the myths that surrounds this lucrative market.

Authors Lend a Helping Hand

It is common knowledge that independent bookstores have been struggling to stay in business. Studies have shown that fewer and fewer people are actually finding books in bookstores. With the rise of e-books and bookselling websites, readers are finding it more convenient to order books from the comfort of their own homes than to browse a bookstore’s shelves. However, some major names in the writing world are taking action and attempting to increase sales in these independent bookstores.
In the beginning of September, Sherman Alexie sent a letter to some of his fellow authors, asking them to take part in what he calls Indies First by working at one of their local bookstores on Small Business Saturday. Authors such as Richard Russo and James Patterson will be taking part in Indies First come November. On top of these efforts, Stephen King published his new novel solely in a print format with no current plans of making it into a digital format. In his blog, Neil Gaiman asked his fans to order presigned books from their local bookstore.
All of these efforts by well-known authors have helped these bookstores’ sales, and have made these stores more popular amongst local readers. While this attention obviously helps small independent bookstores, they are not the only ones that can benefit from author attention—this growing interest in small bookstores could also help independent publishers. Since publishers produce the books that bookstores sell, it follows that the success of one will lead to the success of the other.
With the rise of bookselling sites like Amazon, some small publishers have begun to suffer along with independent bookstores. The profits they once made selling their books in stores has gone down with the decrease in bookstore patronship, and e-books are not always as profitable for publishers as print versions. On top of the cut that sellers like Amazon take out of an e-book sale, plus the cut that goes to the author, there is much to be desired in terms of profit. Add the fact that in order for people shopping on Amazon to come across a small publisher’s book, the publisher has to pay the site for advertising and recommendation space, web sales get expensive for small publishers fast.
With all of these obstacles in place, anything that can boost the business of independent bookstores is a major help for small publishers. An increase in customers may lead to more advertising opportunities in local bookstores. Small publishers would be able to work with these bookstores to increase sales, perhaps by building a “recommended reads” section when an author comes to a store. That way customers who are drawn to the bookstore because of an author will see more books similar to the ones they like, and be more likely to buy them.
Thanks to the interest of major authors in the independent bookstore business, small publishers may be able to see an increase in profits due to the rising popularity of bookstores over online shopping. Providing customers with the personal experience they long to have with their favorite authors allows bookstores to offer a service that online bookstores cannot, which in the end will help the independent bookstore business stay alive, as well as help the small publisher.