Social Media Book Giveaways & You: Why Giveaway Culture Matters

Online book giveaways are becoming pretty standard in the publishing industry’s marketing toolbox—so much so that readers have come to expect them. Giveaways familiarize readers with book covers and copy, increase the number of reviews they receive, generate pre-publication social media presence, and build loyalty around both the author and the publisher.

Certain publishers, of course, have the distinct advantage of resources that allow them to go all-out for their giveaways. (Penguin, I’m looking at you. Penguin Random House recently held giveaways for 25 bestsellers of 2016, a 50-book library in the genre of the reader’s choice, and a collection of 75 Little Golden Books. They don’t do these things halfway.)

Regardless of the size of the company, publishers’ social media accounts are constantly promoting their most recent giveaways. Giveaway posts on social media can also serve as a reminder to readers that they’re an actual business. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the publisher you follow on Instagram actually sells books and doesn’t just take pretty pictures. I mean, when I take pictures of books with a latte and post it on Instagram, it looks pretty much the same as the social media content of even the biggest publishers. Jumping in once in awhile to say that readers can enter win a free book also works as a reminder to buy books.

Publishers use a variety of methods to market their giveaways. They may offer book-themed goodies like a tote bag, or a book for both you and a friend you tag in comment to spread the word, or an entry if you follow them, or an entry if you share a post, or an entry if you join a mailing list, or all of the above. The same basic principle always holds true; giveaways are driven by numbers. How many people can you get onto your mailing lists or to follow you on social media for each book you give away? Small publishers are generally unable to hold these massive book giveaways to generate readership, social media buzz, and mailing lists. And from this strictly-numbers view, it seems as though there is no value for small publishers here at all—it’s just too costly for such little influence.

But I’d argue that there is a value to participating in book giveaway culture that doesn’t initially come from generating numbers: showing a willingness to engage and give and create a tangible connection with readers, an excitement that only getting a book gift in the mail can offer. Perhaps a smaller publisher’s goal is not lengthy additions to their email list, dozens of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, or their cover shared far and wide across social media platforms, but simply strengthening the relationship between a publishing house and its readers.

Small publishers don’t need to give away fifty free copies of their books (as in a current giveaway of All the Light We Cannot See from Scribner). Book giveaway culture allows for offering just a single prize from a small publisher to have an effect. While mailing lists and Goodreads reviews won’t skyrocket as a result, giving just one book away creates the same possibility for that tangible connection with a publisher, the same pre-publication hype, and the same magic of getting a fresh new book in the mail.

Interview with Logan Balestrino, Digital Publishing Coordinator at Del Rey Spectra

Logan Balestrino graduated from the publishing program in 2009. In her time at Ooligan Press, she was the Acquisitions Editor/Manager and worked on Brew to Bikes, Do Angels Cry?, and Dot-To-Dot, Oregon, among other titles. She now resides in New York City and works for Random House and its science fiction/fantasy imprint Del Rey Spectra as the Digital Publishing Coordinator. She was kind enough to chat with me over Skype on a Saturday afternoon, giving an honest account of her time at Ooligan and her path to becoming a New York publishing professional.

What did you hope to specialize in when you started in the program? Did that change?

I had big dreams of being an editor, and that’s what I wanted to do, or what I thought I wanted to do. I definitely wanted to do editorial—I liked working with the authors, I liked having that sort of creative outlet, I liked having my fingers in the story and helping develop it. But that’s just not where my life went once I got to New York.

How did it change once you got to New York?

After graduating from Portland State, I still wanted to do the editorial thing. I knew I wanted to move out to New York, so I did that. And I actually worked at Borders for a year, trying to find a job, and got an internship at a literary agency, and then eventually got hired as an editorial assistant, working on business and nonfiction books. I was there for almost two years—I think it was almost my two-year anniversary when I switched jobs—and I think about six months in I started to realize I didn’t want to be an editor working in the business, and doing editorial things made me realize that…it just wasn’t for me. I wasn’t happy. So much of it you have to take home, you’re always working, you’re not compensated very well as an editor, and you have the worst hours. And I just wasn’t working on books that were my passion, either. I always wondered, if I had jumped into a fiction imprint first off, if I would’ve felt the same way. If I had been editing sci-fi and fantasy, would it have been as defeating? But I’ll never know, because at that point I was just so disenchanted with the whole idea of being an editor that I started looking at other avenues, and it was kind of scary because I had wanted to be an editor since undergrad so I didn’t know what to do. It was very stressful. But I was lucky enough that a job opened up where I would be working on sci-fi/fantasy books—which I love—but in the capacity of publishing assistant. I had this unique opportunity to shift to editorial if I wanted to but also explore marketing and digital strategy, which I ended up liking a lot. So that’s how I veered off from editorial to marketing and digital strategy; it was just a fluke that I had a boss who headed up two completely different departments.

Which titles did you pitch and acquire while Acquisitions Manager at Ooligan?

I think the only thing I pitched while I was working Acquisitions was Brew to Bikes. I don’t think we had anything else come in that we thought was ready to be acquired or was appropriate for the Ooligan list at the time. The only title I have in my memory as pitching was Brew to Bikes . . . there’s so much that goes on.

Brew to Bikes seems to be pretty popular still.

That’s good to hear. We really liked it. I wasn’t around much longer after we acquired it so I didn’t really get to see it go out into the world. I occasionally hop onto the Ooligan website on a lunch break just to see what’s going on and everything, just because I do live so far away.

What are some of the specifics of your role as Digital Publishing Coordinator?

I’m in this nebulous position where I was hired as the Assistant of Digital Publishing at Del Rey. They promoted me to Coordinator, but my duties didn’t really change, I just took on more responsibilities. So I’m still doing assistant-role things on the publishing side for the Associate Publisher of Del Rey: [I] pull all of the tip sheets for launches, I put together the agendas for launches, I help [the assistant publisher] keep track of the list and what’s moving from spring to fall . . . a lot of unglamorous administrative [tasks], setting up meetings, setting up conferences, scheduling travel. But then I also get to do fun administrative things, which is helping to plan for comic cons, and I get to do a lot of really fun stuff with that—I put together presentations, I get to work the booth, and set up the booth schedule. On the digital publishing and strategy side, I am in charge of sales reporting and data scraping, not just for Del Rey titles but for all of the Random House Group titles—all of our titles that we run promotions on, specifically low-price promotions on ebooks. I get to analyze that data and put it together in reports and figure out what works and what doesn’t. It’s a really fun learning experience. I like it a lot. It turns out I love spending my day in an Excel grid, and it’s at the forefront of the industry so much now. Occasionally, I will read submissions that people have in that they need more reads on.

Besides being in publishing, what tends to occupy your time?

Watching a lot of anime, ’cause I write season previews for Suvudu—the Del Rey website—every season. I’m always watching ten shows. It’s an addiction, it’s terrible but it’s great, and I love it. I take aerial classes so I do lyra, which is aerial hoop, usually once a week. I read a lot. I play video games. Hang out with friends. Go out in the city. It really depends.

If you could, what would you change—if anything—about your path to becoming a publishing professional?

I had such a great experience at Portland State and at Ooligan and I learned so much and it’s a great program, but I think if there had been a way for me to get an internship in New York while I was doing that—I wonder if I would have been able to get hired quicker, because so much of the industry here is having that experience [in New York City] and just having someone in the hiring circles know your name. Most of my interviews didn’t happen until after I was interning at the literary agency. It’s so hard. The change probably would’ve had to have been going to a school in New York, but I’m happy with the school that I chose.

Anything else you’d like to share with current or future Ooligan students?

Learn as much as you can. Make as many contacts as you can. And get an internship. Even in Portland, especially if that’s where you want to stay—get an internship. Ooligan gives you that great hands-on experience and is like an internship in and of itself, but the dynamic of a separate, established publisher is so different, because you don’t have so many staff to work on everything like you do at Ooligan. Other than that, don’t give up!

Mr. Wolverine, meet Citizen Kane: On the Origins of Corporate Book-to-Film Adaptations

As Ooligan Press gears up to launch its first academic journal, C47: A Film Journal, with the help of the PSU English department, some of us here at the press are thinking more thoroughly about the connection between publishing and cinema—and one of the first things that comes to mind is that elusive cash cow, the book-to-film adaptation.

Today’s film adaptation landscape is dominated by jumbo-budget serial productions from Big Five publishers—Random House et al—and other media juggernauts, especially comics publishers like Marvel Entertainment. But it’s worth noting that nearly 100 years before today’s novel- and comics-fueled blockbusters, one publisher tried to create successful films from those very same genres.

As founder and chair of the mega-media conglomerate Hearst Corporation, William Randolph Hearst was one of the first publishers to launch a film production company. In 1915, following on his previous year’s successful newsreel syndicate, International Picture Service, Hearst founded the International Film Service (IFS), an animation studio intended to transform various Hearst Corporation funnies into “living comic strips”—animated films generally less than five minutes long.

The public perceived Hearst as a king of sensational journalism, so it seems like a natural move for him to found an animation company and further contribute to the sensationalism and spectacle that made him a tycoon. However, after high costs incurred while producing numerous episodes for eleven titles—including one adaptation of comics’ most famous non-lasagna-obsessed cat, Krazy Kat—the studio was effectively doomed when Hearst fired its entire staff in 1918 to recoup revenue lost from his indirect support of the German World War I effort.

Imploding IFS seemed to buoy Hearst’s pockets, and later that same year, Hearst founded Cosmopolitan Productions with the righteously named Adolph Zukor, founder and then-president of Paramount Pictures. Similar to his plans for IFS, Hearst wanted Cosmopolitan Productions to adapt source material from his sizable media holdings, including the most popular stories from Cosmopolitan magazine, Good Housekeeping, and Harper’s Bazaar. Although Hearst parted ways with Paramount in 1923, Cosmopolitan Productions went on to produce a total of eighty-seven films before folding in 1939—the same year that two larger-than-life book-to-film adaptations, Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, swept through American cinemas hotter than a trans–Georgia-Kansas wildfire. At that point, Hearst was effectively finished with film, with a minor coda coming two years later, when he waged vicious legal and journalistic smear campaigns to unsuccessfully stop the release of a film based on his life story, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane.

Barring technical limitations on film and animation production in the early twentieth century, perhaps Hearst’s film companies didn’t find towering success with comics and popular fiction—success like today’s Marvel- and Random House-sourced adaptations enjoy—because his adaptations focused on material with short-term appeal. Although Hearst was smart to capitalize on serializable material, the limitations of early animation technology kept International Film Service from transforming Krazy Kat into a long-length, high-quality animated series. Likewise, perhaps Hearst would’ve achieved greater films if Cosmopolitan Productions had focused on adapting serial novels instead of serialized sources.

Although Ooligan Press has yet to wade into the adaptation biz, one of our reprints, Ricochet River, was adapted into a 1998 film starring a young Kate Hudson and that kid from the Free Willy movies. However, with dynamic contemporary stories like The Wax Bullet War and Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before coming out regularly, it won’t be long before you’ll see “Original novel available from Ooligan Press” somewhere in the credits of a Hollywood-produced flick.

And then there were five

The Penguin/Random House Merger – 6 Months Later

Most headlines about the recent Penguin Random House merger have been positive. Some, however, like the aforementioned “And Then There Were Five,” have a slightly morbid ring to them. This particular headline describes the number of “big” book publishers left after the merger occurred. There are always questions about whether a merger like this is caused by financial necessity and questions about the ongoing viability of the company once it is merged. Six months have passed since the merger between these two companies, and things are looking bright so far. Here, I’ll look at a few aspects of the ongoing changes of the new Penguin Random House.

Penguin and Random House didn’t just come together in the United States; they also merged in Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, China, South Africa, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, and Chile. Penguin Random House continues to merge sections of the company and buy out portions that were previously owned by other publishers. In November, Random House Mondadori was renamed Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial. The new name represents its position and identity as the Spanish-language publishing company of the newly formed Penguin Random House. In India, Penguin Random House has now taken 100 percent ownership of Penguin India over the 55 percent they owned previously. In December, Penguin Random House announced its purchase of Times Media Group’s majority stake in South Africa-based Random House Struik. In the UK, Penguin and Random House publishers have decided to merge their children’s divisions into one entity.

In terms of e-books, Penguin Random House comes out as number two in the ranking in 2013, although if one adds up their numbers from the first half of the year (before the merger), they come out far ahead of the number one company. Here’s a look at the rankings:

Rank Publisher Appearances
1 Hachette 258
2 Penguin Random House 230
3 Random House 146
4 Penguin 102
5 Self-published 99
6 HarperCollins 91
7 Simon & Schuster 72
8 Macmillan 68
9 Amazon 46
10 Scholastic 27

Since the merger, Penguin Random House has been expanding their presence online in various ways—and not just by being one of the top e-book sellers. Firstly, the company is taking part in a business competition that challenges small companies to analyze how their digital content is consumed. The contest invites entrants to find creative solutions for digital strategies across three themes: retail, events, and analytics. Another way Penguin Random House is becoming more visible online is by partnering with Pinterest to help readers connect with books digitally. Through the partnership, Random House is adding a Pinterest API to its website and will feature the social network’s current popular pins related to books on the front page of The idea is to help site visitors discover new books and to increase the number of readers pinning books.

What does Penguin Random House have to say about the weeks since the merger? In a January 19 interview with the Economic Times magazine, John Makinson answered questions about how the company is doing since the merger. According to Makinson, the months since the merger have been “fairly quiet. We were very deliberate in the way we brought these companies together. We wanted to ensure it was not disruptive to authors, agents, and booksellers.” In response to whether this merger was a question of survival he said, “No, not at all. Penguin and Random House were the biggest and most profitable publishers in the world…The pace of change in our industry is very rapid and we need to think of the impact of companies like Google, Apple, and Amazon and how they disintermediate publishers.”

So there you have it, from the chairman himself, as well as from various other sources. Penguin Random House is thriving in the months since the merger. They are taking global control of all aspects of their business, their presence online is expanding, and they are at the top of the e-book charts. It will be interesting to see if this success affects the other four “big” publishing companies. Will we see other “big” mergers happening in the future?

Ooligan Press at the PNBA Tradeshow

This Monday Ooligan Press was lucky enough to snag a table at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association (PNBA) Fall Tradeshow. And while the tradeshow closely followed Wordstock, the two events were entirely different. For one thing, the conference was only open to book industry professionals. For another, the goal was to promote books, not sell them. Publishers, distribution services, and writers’ groups all had tables handing out leaflets, collateral, and advance review copies of their newest publications. As I walked around looking at the booths, the first thing I learned was that although the organization is called the Pacific Northwest Book Association, the publishers present spanned the entire country. Ooligan’s table was directly in front of Random House, for example, and mere feet away from Penguin’s. It was exciting to see Ooligan Press’s representatives talking to booksellers alongside the heaviest hitters in the publishing game.
The Ooligan Table at PNBA 2013
For our part, we used the opportunity to tell the bookselling public about Ruth Tenzer Feldman’s The Ninth Day, our newest title. This soon-to-be-released companion novel to the OBA-winning Blue Thread (2012) was front and center on our table, and the first thing we told visitors about.  We received a fair amount of interest, and gave away a few copies to reviewers, booksellers, and librarians in the know. It didn’t hurt, of course, that Ruth would be signing books at the tradeshow the next day.
Not just publishers had tables. Ooligan’s table was next to Seattle7Writers, an organization of Pacific Northwest authors supporting each other and the written word. In between pitches to booksellers, our close proximity allowed us to discuss ways we can support each other. For example, they were happy to hear and spread the word about our call for submissions for our anthology More than Marriage. It’s these sorts of connections that help bolster Ooligan Press’s reach in the publishing world.
Along with making connections with other publishing professionals, the PNBA trade show was also a great place to eavesdrop. As I surveyed the different booths and books, I overheard one publisher tell another, “This year, it’s all about cookbooks.” Judging from the amount of glossy pictures of fennel salads adorning the shelves, I couldn’t help but agree. However, the trade show wasn’t just about cookbooks—it was also about chocolate. Just about all of the booths had at least one bowl of sweets peppering their table, a great tactic to lure in potential business. I asked Ingram Publisher Services’s representative, Gary Lothian, about the approach, and he assured me it was par for the course. “Yeah, it’s all about chocolate in the publishing world,” he told me. “Chocolate and caffeine.” That was all the affirmation I needed to know I was in the right business.

Summer Reading List Part 2: Books You’ve Probably Heard Of!

By Rebekah Hunt
In my last blog, I recommended a bunch of books for your summer reading list that will keep your brain in tip-top shape while you enjoy the warm weather and work on your tan, or whatever normal people do (I happen to guard my pallor like a Victorian lady and have fainting spells whenever the temperature gets above 65 degrees Fahrenheit, but that is neither here nor there). It has come to my attention that to regular, nice, well-adjusted, sun-loving humans, the books I recommended may be a tad inaccessible and even, though I cannot comprehend the thought, boring. So, though I stand by my previous recommendations wholeheartedly, I have created an addendum to my recommended summer reading list, most of which you have probably heard of, and all of which were written (gasp!) in the 20th century.
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
Reza Aslan (Random House July 16, 2013)
On July 24th of this year, Reza Aslan’s controversial book Zealot already sat comfortably at number three on the New York Times bestseller list. That day, however, he did an interview with Fox News about the book, which went viral and immediately pushed the book to number one. The interview, which most sources are calling “the most embarrassing interview Fox has ever done,” begins with the Fox News interviewer introducing Aslan as a Muslim, not as a historian and scholar, a fact which he is forced to remind her of many times. She then ignores his impressive credentials and the content of the book and reads him quotes from people criticizing it, then continues to attack his “right” to write a book about Jesus of Nazareth when he’s a Muslim. She even goes so far as to accuse him of hiding the fact that he’s Muslim, though he discusses his Muslim background on the first page of the book. As Aslan tries and tries to get her to understand, this book is not an attack on Christianity, but a hugely well-researched historical study of Jesus the actual man whose life and death changed the entire world. I’ve read the book since, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is engaging, dramatic, beautiful, horrifying, intelligent, vivid, funny, tragic, and one of the best books I have read in years. Read this book!
The Demon Under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor’s Heroic Search for the World’s First Miracle Drug
Thomas Hager (Broadway Books August 28, 2007)
The Demon Under the Microscope, to put it simply, is the story of how we stopped dying from simple infections. The book is an absolutely fascinating and revealing account of how simple infections killed with absolute impunity, from soldiers who suffered seemingly minor wounds, only to die in pain weeks later, to mothers who had normal pregnancies and then succumbed to torturous death by child-bed fever after giving birth in hospitals, to men who died of massive septic infection after a routine shaving cut. It follows the (often dramatic) stories of the people involved in the discovery, manufacture, and eventual widespread use of antibiotic  “miracle” drugs; which have saved millions and millions of lives, transforming simple infection from a death sentence to the easily treatable nonissue that is today. Read this book immediately (just don’t read it while you’re having lunch).
The Selfish Gene
Richard Dawkins (Oxford University Press, USA; 30th Anniversary edition May 25, 2006)
In brilliant, lucid, entertaining language, Richard Dawkins explains why we (humans) are the way we are. Less polemic than The God Delusion, and scientifically deeper than The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins’ (now 30-year-old) book is an accessible but extremely informative history of the driving force behind all living creatures: the genes. If you get the audio version (available at, Dawkins reads the book himself, accompanied by his wife (actress, author, and former Dr. Who companion) Lalla Ward, whose posh, British voice makes the book worth a listen all by itself. If you want to add an extra layer of summer fun to your reading, listen with a friend and a bottle of tequila, and take a drink every time Dawkins quotes himself. You’ll be facedown on the floor by chapter two. Whether you have a background in evolutionary biology, or you have never heard the word “Darwin,” you’ll get something useful and enlightening from this book. It should be required reading for every educated person on earth.

Predictive Book Analytics

by Drew Lazzara
Let me start by saying that, when it comes to the application of advanced analytics to publishing, I am not the man for the job. I have just begun to stick my toe into these statistical waters, and while my hunger for knowledge is rapacious, my understanding of the topic is extremely broad and conversational at best. I’m asking for a little patience from the stat wonks and a little feedback from the rest of you.
I’m positive that, like all businesses, publishers employ all manner of data. Sales figures, cost analyses, market trends; I’m sure it’s a veritable kaleidoscope of numbers used to deftly strategize and plot the future. Yet it strikes me that all this information seems put to use largely to maximize what publishers do rather than to prescribe ways to adapt to a changed landscape.
Those changes are the well-documented scourge of publishing. Ebooks, print-on-demand, and the primacy of Amazon all undercut some of the key services that the publishing industry provides authors and readers. The industry response to this pressure has been disappointing and largely non-innovative. At this stage in the game, big publishing is not competing on its own terms. And it’s losing.
Tilting the playing field back again requires new modes of thought, and that is the purview of advanced statistical analsyis. Publishers make their acquisition decisions largely on their ability to conceptualize a manuscript’s success: its resemblence to top sellers in their catalog, their familiarity with marketing a certain type of book, the visibility of the author. But these assessments are ultimately just gut feelings, and so much of a book’s success comes down to luck.
But when it is possible to know so much exact information about the reading habits and buying patterns of the public, why rely on luck and guts? In an already low-margin industry, why take any more chances than necessary? The culling and analyzing of data might make it possible for publishers’ “gut feelings” to be guided more precisely, informing acquisitions and giving the buying public exactly what they want almost all of the time. This would guide print run decisions, eliminate overhead, and reduce returns. It would also engender brand loyalty, a concept that is pretty much non-existent in big publishing.
The problem, of course, is that it’s not as simple as I make it sound. For starters, you can’t just snap your fingers and produce comprehensive consumer data. And you really can’t even begin the project if readers aren’t largely complicit. Amazon has perhaps the most advanced consumer database in the world, but the culling of this information requires not only the constant development of data-mining tools, but also that customers shop from them in the first place. Publishers would love for every purchase to be made directly on their own website; it would yield greater margins for everyone involved. But even without advanced metrics, it is anecdotally clear that people don’t buy books that way.
So the quest for information, and thus the quest for smarter, more targeted content decisions, starts with a concerted effort to drive traffic to non-Amazon digital retail spaces. The development of publishers as their own primary retailers starts with the de-conglomeration of publishing. For the biggest publishers, that doesn’t mean untethering decades of mergers; it means allowing imprints to operate with more editorial and brand independence. Go visit the Random House website. Can you tell me anything distinguishing about any of it’s dozens of imprints? I didn’t think so. By creating distinct niches (even if–for now–those niches are still defined by gut feelings), you create a customer base that turns to you for something specific. And one that will tell you exactly what they want. It’s something that small publishers are already doing.
Another way to cull data is to incentivize visits to your publishing site. Amazon does this through its Associates Program, which allows anyone with a webpage to add an Amazon link and share in a percentage of any sales to which that link directly contributes. Such partnerships cost practically nothing to implement, add prestige to the partner site, and drive traffic to your own. These partnerships also create their own customer network, allowing publishers to better understand the kinds of sites that most interest their consumers and thus better target them in the products they offer.
As I said, my understanding of statistics and their predicitive possibilty is limited. I’ve just tried to think out loud here about some fairly broad and obvious ways to make our industry more robust. I leave it to people much smarter than myself to hatch new plans for the collection and application of data in the name of invigorating the business of books. I have faith in them.
In the meantime, I’d like to a bit of less-scientific data mining myself. In the comments section, please leave your thoughts on this piece and tell us what brought you here. Are you a regular reader? Have you ever purchased one of Ooligan’s titles?  What kinds of things do you like to read? Where do you buy books? I promise we won’t use this information for nefarious purposes. We just want to make publishing better, starting with Ooligan Press.