Tag Archives: Books

The Martian: how the audiobook hit rocketed to film glory

In 2011, after a long search for an agent, Andy Weir gave up on big publishing. He had a small and dedicated following as a longtime writer and webcomics artist. So he just posted a book he’d been writing, called The Martian, to his personal website. His readers wanted to be able to read it on their e-readers, so then he added it to Amazon.

The next thing he knew, the thing was climbing the charts. And now, his book is the basis of an Oscar-nominated film with Matt Damon. Weir, in short, is living the dream of many self-published authors.

He acknowledges that his path was unusual, of course. “Everything went backwards from the normal way books get made,” Weir told the Guardian. “I didn’t think anyone would be interested in giving me a print deal. Obviously I misjudged that. Heh.”

In fact, one of the strangest items in the Martian origin story is who first approached Weir for a proper deal. It wasn’t print publishers or film producers. It was a small Canadian audiobook company called Podium Publishing. Run by a pair of friends, James Tonn and Greg Lawrence, the company produces what it calls “award-winning quality” audiobooks “for indie-minded” authors.

Tonn and Lawrence had once hoped to run a music label together, but the advent of Napster and iTunes quashed that dream. They were both attracted to artists who wanted to work outside of the mainstream channels to success – and they wanted to run something that served that community.

When, as an audio engineer, Lawrence began working in audiobooks, the fit seemed natural. “Audiobooks were an auxiliary business,” Lawrence told the Guardian.


“They were tacked on to the end of a publishing deal. Publishers would really only do an audiobook if [the print book] was so big that they were looking for ways to make money.” Lawrence and Tonn thought they could change that, by working with the sort of writer who was interested in publishing their audiobook independently.

Image result for The Martian

Lawrence was the one who actually found Weir’s book, on Amazon. He is a big science fiction fan and says he was attracted to the story, of course, but also simply felt that the way the book was written helped its audiobook prospects. The book is structured such that the narrator, Mark Watney, is recording logs of his time on Mars. “That’s a dream for audio,” Lawrence said on the phone.

The company initially bought both print and audio rights, although they promised Weir they’d return the print rights if he got a deal with a big publisher. (They kept that promise.) They enlisted RC Bray, a popular audiobook narrator, to record it. It was the first fiction project they chose. The product became a top-seller on Audible, and promptly began winning industry awards, including a 2015 Audie. While no one releases audiobook sales figures, some measure of the audiobook’s popularity might be gauged by the fact that it now enjoys over 100,000 reviews on Amazon. “A great book,” reads one. “Out of hundreds of books in my library this is one of the best.”

Part of The Martian’s success as an audiobook is undoubtedly timing. Originally conceived as a narrow industry serving the blind, the audiobook business has exploded in the past few years. In 2015, the Audio Producers Association reported that more than 25,000 audiobooks were published in 2014, compared with about 6,700 in 2010. Podium itself plans to double its production of audiobooks – it has done about 200 so far – within the next year.

Some of the increased interest is undoubtedly about the ease of buying and listening to audiobooks in the age of easily accessible digital audio. But, like podcast producers, audiobook producers also trace some of the success of their products to the way they can be listened to while engaged in some other activity – like cleaning the house, or knitting, or driving home from work. “It’s not so much what you’re doing, but that you’re trying to work reading into your life, whatever you’re doing,” Tonn said.

It remains to be seen whether “independent” audiobooks can follow The Martian’s path. Self-publishing has been a dubious challenge to traditional publishers, at best. And although the Amazon book sales rankings often see self-published books cracking the bestseller lists, audiobooks from the self-published don’t usually seem to crack the Audible Top 10.

But Lawrence sees a real future for such writers. Podium doesn’t contract with large publishers to produce audiobooks; it will remain strictly indie for now. They say they work best with authors like Weir. “He had to have his hopes and his dreams dashed against the rocks,” Lawrence said. “He spent a lot of time trying to get an agent, and he just couldn’t do that. That experience made him think differently about writing, and about getting his work out to people.”

As for Weir, when asked if he was surprised by the way things turned out, he said he was. “Yes I was. But it worked out really well. The audiobook proceeds have been far more than I ever anticipated.”




George Lucas

George Walton Lucas Jr. (born May 14, 1944) is an American filmmaker and entrepreneur.

Lucas is best known as the creator of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, as well as the founder of Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic. He was the chairman and CEO of Lucasfilm, before selling it to The Walt Disney Company in 2012.

Upon graduating from the University of Southern California in 1967, Lucas co-founded American Zoetrope with fellow filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. Lucas wrote and directed THX 1138 (1971), based on his earlier student short Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, which was a critical success but a financial failure. His next work as a writer-director was the film, American Graffiti (1973), inspired by his teen years in early 1960s Modesto, California, and produced through the newly founded Lucasfilm. The film was critically and commercially successful, and received five Academy Awardnominations including Best Picture.

Lucas’s next film, an epic space opera titled Star Wars (1977), went through a troubled production process; however, it was a surprise hit, becoming the highest-grossing film at the time, as well as a winner of six Academy Awards and a cultural phenomenon. Following the first Star Wars film, Lucas produced and co-wrote the following installments in the trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). Along with Steven Spielberg, Lucas co-created and wrote the Indiana Jones films Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Temple of Doom (1984), and The Last Crusade (1989). Lucas also produced and wrote a variety of films through Lucasfilm in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1997, Lucas re-released the original Star Wars trilogy as part of a Special Edition, where he made several alterations to the films; home media releases with further changes were released in 2004 and 2011. Lucas also returned to directing with the Star Wars prequel trilogy, consisting of The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005). He later collaborated on the story for the Indiana Jones sequel Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), and served as the story writer and executive producer for the war film, Red Tails (2012).

Five of Lucas’s seven features are among the 100 highest-grossing movies at the North American box office, adjusted for ticket-price inflation.

Lucas is one of the American film industry’s most financially successful filmmakers, and has been personally nominated for four Academy Awards. Lucas is considered a significant figure in the New Hollywood era.

  • Kaminski, Michael (2008). The Secret History of Star Wars. Legacy Books Press;. ISBN 978-0978465230.
  • Rinzler, J.W. (2007). The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film. LucasBooks. ISBN 978-0345494764.

Further reading

Norway has opened a doomsday vault to house the world’s most precious books

At this moment, there is a collection of every known crop on the planet embedded nearly 1,000 feet underground, shrouded in the icy arms of Norway’s Svalbard mountain.

This stockpile is known as the Global Seed Vault, and it just got a new neighbor.

A Norwegian company called Piql (pronounced “pickle”) recently announced it’s building the World Arctic Archive. The collection is like the Global Seed Vault, only it preserves digital data — primarily historical and cultural documents — instead of food.

Millions of pages of records, books, letters, and manuscripts will find their way into the doomsday library archives, which officially opened on March 27.

Piql founder Rune Bjerkestrand says the company is storing all that data on special film reels, which effectively turn the letters into ones and zeroes that can be represented in gigantic QR codes. These codes are invulnerable to hacking, as they’re effectively “carved in stone,” Bjerkestrand told LiveScience.

The entrance to the international gene bank Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV) is pictured outside Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen, Norway

Clients who wish to use the archives can put in a request to Piql to store their documents. Once the data gets housed, the client can only retrieve it by asking Piql staff to manually unearth it, before uploading it online.

Piql believes its technology can preserve film for at least 1,000 years — although, technically the idea is it can last forever. The archive will live in a mineshaft inside Svalbard, where permafrost keeps the temperatures right around freezing. 

Bjerkestrand says a cold and dry climate is ideal for preserving film.

One other perk: The mountain is located on a demilitarized zone. Even if the apocalypse happens and global war threatens the future of humanity, at least Piql’s reels (and the neighboring food stores) will be safe.

Not that anyone would be around to read (or eat) them.



This college senior’s app connects young readers of color to books they can relate to

In high school, Kaya Thomas was a self-proclaimed “nerdy black girl.” She loved books, but she often felt like the literary world didn’t love her back.

“As a teen, I was feeling erased by the books I was reading at my libraries and at school,” Thomas says. “The characters were never anything like myself.”

Libraries were filled with pages upon pages of white characters going on adventures dreamed up by white authors. Thomas, however, was looking for books that made her feel seen — and she knew others were, too. 

So when she grew from a nerdy black girl into a black woman studying computer science at Dartmouth, she knew she could help close this literary gap. Now, she’s the creator of a free app called We Read Too, which allows young readers to browse more than 600 books featuring black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, and other non-white characters. All of the featured books are written by people of color, with readers of color in mind.

The simple app specifically targets children and young adults of color, cataloging books in a searchable database by author and title. Each book’s profile features a plot description, a photo of the cover, and links to share the book on social media or buy it online. There’s also a “discover” feature, which randomly matches users to a book by genre.

Thomas is currently fundraising on Indiegogo to expand the app, hoping to feature more than 1,000 books. The campaign has already raised more than $12,000, surpassing its original goal of $10,000.

With the money, Thomas plans to launch an Android version of the app this year, and redesign the iOS version with new features. 



Indie Bookstores Collaborate to Lure Touring Authors to Colorado

Five Colorado independent bookstores are collaborating to lure more touring authors to the state.

The stores—Denver’s Tattered Cover Book Store, BookBar (also in Denver), Boulder Book Store, the Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins and the Bookworm of Edwards—will each host the authors on a single trip. “Make your next author tour a vacation,” announced a press release. The five stores are all within driving distance of Denver and authors will be hosted at BookBed (the AirBnB owned by the BookBar) free of charge and will be used as a “home base.” The cost of flights to Denver will not be covered.

The Bookworm, which is 100 miles west of Denver and near Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts, promises authors the opportunity to take advantage of guided hikes and even skiing.

“We are so fortunate to get many wonderful authors to Colorado,” Nicole Sullivan, owner of BookBar, told PW. “We do often see, however, that some top authors’ tours focus on the east and west coasts. And, if they come to Colorado, they may not make it out of Denver. We will be sending proposals to primarily front list authors who we are very excited about do not have a Colorado visit on their schedule. Authors can contact any one of the five stores and we will then work together to coordinate a schedule. But most collaborative events will be bookstore driven via proposals.”

The partnership between the stores, Sullivan explained, allows the booksellers to “share all that Colorado has to offer and help make it even more of a literary destination. If this program proves to be successful for all involved, we don’t see why we wouldn’t continue to do this indefinitely.” She then added: “It’s a great things when indies come together for a common purpose. We all like each other, so it has been fun to work together on this.”



What’s next for books?

I like Digital Reader editor Nate Hoffelder. He is one of the few bloggers about publishing who doesn’t suck up to the industry, nor does he particularly gild the lily. He basically believes that books are great, publishing is probably doomed and that writing is really important.

That’s why I was happy that he surfaced and debunked the claims of Chip McGregor, an agent who believes we’ll be seeing more books launching directly to mobile and a move away from indie publishing as mainstream publishers finally get their acts together. While McGregor is right sometimes — e-books will be read on mobile phones more often — he’s also pretty wrong.

His first mistake? He believes that Barnes & Noble will create mini bestseller stores. He writes:

Barnes and Noble will open some mini-stores that only stock bestsellers. I don’t have any insider knowledge about this, but with Amazon opening brick-and-mortar stores, B&N has to do something to try and grab a bit more market share.

B&N is, for want of a better word, dead. Their strategy of opening massive stores with large footprints and stocking everything from board games to stuffed animals (and some books) has failed, and there is no reason to visit a B&N unless you want to get a coffee and read magazines for free. That said, the e-book backlash has given independent bookstores new legs, and it has gutted big-box retailers, but I could definitely see a chain of small bookstore cafes that could stock new and used titles, plenty of kids books for parents to peruse for their little ones and some coffee. I just don’t see B&N leading that charge.


Further, he believes that indie authors will return to big-name publishers. They won’t. As McGregor writes in his own post, the Pareto rule assumes that 80 percent of the revenue comes from 20 percent of the writers. Given the imperfect information upon which most publishers make their decisions, trusting them to spot that 20 percent is silly at best.

Instead you’ll see more long-tail authors picking and staying in the indie realm. Eliot Peper comes to mind as someone who is finding more indie success than he would at a mainstream publisher, and there are more. He also suspects that ultra-low, 99-cent pricing will go away in indie titles, something that is also a bit far-fetched; 99-cent pricing is still a clever way to drive up sales and Amazon rankings, and giving up on that odd tweak could be the death of most indie writers.

In short, we agree on a few things — mobile-only could become more popular and Christian fiction and other niches are going away (“There are only a handful of houses still acquiring Christian fiction these days, and some of them are shifting to doing high-quality literary or women’s stories for a broader people of faith, or a slim list of suspense novels, rather than clearly religious stories aimed only at the faithful,” he writes.) I disagree with his bullishness on B&N and his assumption that the indies will turn around and ask publishers for a check. Things are tooling along quite nicely outside the traditional publishing industry, and, as long as you’re willing to try new things, you can make it without having an under-marketed book plop down into the black hole of modern publishing practices.


What’s next for books?

Coloring books not just for children; they reduce stress in adults, too

SPEARFISH | Among the latest fads, adult coloring books have found a place of prominence in bookstores nationwide and online sites such as Amazon. So, what’s the allure?


Ask Aris Karagiorgakis, an assistant professor of psychology at Black Hills State University, about the subject and he’ll get nearly as animated as the artwork that students have produced as the result of his research into whether coloring can truly reduce the stress of everyday living.


“Even our store on campus has a stand with adult coloring books,” Karagiorgakis said last week. “It’s a big deal. Amazon has its own section for adult coloring books. Some of the adult books are really adult, even allowing curse words, but there really is some science behind the claim that it does reduce stress. It calms people and it’s fun.”


Karagiorgakis set out nearly three years ago to determine whether the creativity involved in coloring and drawing can reduce psychological and physiological stress. To date, his study groups have involved about 200 BHSU students.


“It’s developed into a monster project that could keep me busy for the next 10 years,” he said. “It’s a type of research where the more questions you answer, the more you have to answer down the line, and the more you learn.”


Subjects involved in the experiments have not been told what researchers are seeking. Tested individually, the students complete a psychological survey, allowing them to report their levels of stress, Karagiorgakis explained. Researchers also drew blood to measure participants’ stress via blood-sugar levels, he said.


Participants in the study were then subjected to six minutes of exposure to “arousing images,” including spiders and snakes, blood and crime scenes, and corpses and body parts, Karagiorgakis noted.


“We wanted to stress them out, and through subsequent testing, we found we did,” the professor said with a laugh. “Statistically, the stress levels were very high.”


Half the sample group was then directed to perform a relatively easy 15-minute copying exercise, transposing newspaper articles from the 1920s. Meanwhile, the other half of the group was given colored pencils and directed to draw anything they wanted.


“We asked them to draw whatever they felt comfortable drawing, such as figures, patterns, abstract works, anything,” Karagiorgakis said. “We really wanted them to use some creativity because we suspected that it was not just coloring or drawing, but it was the creativity factor involved.”


Following further testing, the research found that the stress levels of the sample group assigned to copying duties had returned to the same levels as when they had walked into the room. But the test group assigned to color and draw had stress levels “significantly lower than when they arrived,” the professor said.


“The ones who copied an article were brought back to baseline levels, exactly as we would have expected,” Karagiorgakis said. “The arts people, the people who drew or colored, dropped so low in their stress levels that they were even below the levels when they walked in. It was statistically significant, not a fluke. They were way more relaxed. It was really incredible stuff.”



Google Books will now make better suggestions on what to read next

Google today is launching a new feature for Google Books which aims to offer a better challenge to Amazon’s Kindle app when it comes to helping you find new things to read. Called “Discover,” this new section in the Google Books application will help point users to new content, including both personalized suggestions as well as other recommendations based on what’s currently popular with the wider community.

Amazon, of course, has historically offered personalized recommendations in Kindle’s software as well as across its website. In its Kindle app, Amazon highlights books you may want to read based on your prior shopping history.

Google Books’ recommendations will work much in the same way. The company says it will offer up new stories based on what you read on Google Books. However, it will also automatically suggest books that are mentioned in an article or mentioned in a video you watch, elsewhere in the app – like in the new “Weekly Highlights” section.

This section within Discover will round up the most important news, reviews and videos of the week, says Google, while another new section called “Google Play Editorial” will point readers to other original content beyond books, including interviews with authorsessays from writers, other book selections from book reviewers and critics.

For comparison’s sake, Amazon’s “Book Browser” is the primary way Kindle mobile app users would find new content, but it’s more of a categorical listing of books. For example, beyond the suggestions powered by your shopping history, the app may showcase things like “Books with Narration,” or “Trending Now” selections, but not much more. Other book categories are found at the bottom of the screen, but only as standard navigation.

Meanwhile, Amazon has largely failed to capitalize on its Goodreads acquisition as a means of adding a more social experience when it comes to discovery and recommendations. In fact, the Kindle app’s latest update just oddly crammed a tiny “Goodreads” button on top of the “All Items” screen, so you can tap to see updates from that network.


Google Books will now make better suggestions on what to read next

The Potential of Virtual Communities in the Publishing Ecosystem

The Internet, and the platforms now available to create various online gatherings, have changed our world and continue to do so. New ways to combine the power of assembled individuals—financially, socially, creatively—are being introduced all the time.

Whenever individuals motivated by common interests come together through an online platform, they create a virtual community. Virtual communities are now pervasive and can be found in many disciplines and professions.

The Abrams Community

Let’s start with a virtual community success story, one that comes directly out of the publishing world. The Abrams community is an example of how connections made between people with a powerful shared interest can positively affect personal lives and business. Abrams Learning Trends (ALT), a publisher of supplementary materials for pre-K through fifth grade, launched DIG, a new pre-K program in schools. The program consisted of print books, teacher guides, flip charts, audio recordings, and e-books. ALT was looking to differentiate the program and their digital reader solution to make them stand out in the marketplace.

ALT implemented MyDIGPreK.com, a secure, user-friendly social networking environment for the program’s users. This engagement community was designed for interaction among classroom teachers, students, and their parents, as well as between teachers within the same school systems. Note that the shared interest holding together this community was the desire to provide an optimum educational experience for these young children.

Since the users of the online learning system are all in pre-K, the modules are very basic and easy to use. While the focus of the learning platform is the young students, it is the publisher, parents, and teachers who are actively monitoring the system. There is plenty of opportunity for parents and teachers to comment on their impressions of how the system is working and what is needed going forward. It was ALT’s intent from the start to encourage feedback and recommendations in order to continue enhancing their program and to drive more user adoption. This interaction worked even better than expected.

ALT ensured the platform tracks and measures usage of all the modules. The usage stats, meant originally to be for ALT’s own analysis, attracted the attention of the parents and teachers. Consequently, ALT began getting extremely valuable marketing intelligence from its customers. Feedback provided not only direction for the refinement and development of the site, but also recommendations for new content: parents and teachers began seeing where there was a need for additional titles in vocabulary or math, in addition to those already provided as part of the package. As a result, ALT was able to introduce multiple new titles to the community.

Here is a fine example of a win-win arrangement. ALT succeeds with its business model and receives ongoing feedback for enhancing it. The parents and teachers are given an active role in shaping the curriculum for their children. And the children, we can expect, receive an optimized educational experience. This is what a virtual community does at its best.

Defining Virtual Communities

While Abrams is a great example, the publishing industry overall has been slow to adopt virtual communities. Publishing is certainly not lacking for appropriate groups to engage; we have authors, contributors, vendors, and of course, our customers. Yet, any publisher investigating the introduction of a virtual community into its business will reasonably want the answers to several important questions,

  • How would it work in my business?
  • What would we hope to achieve with such a community?

Before exploring the possible uses of the virtual community in publishing, we need to clearly understand its essential aspects.

As a starting point, let’s look at a definition offered by Constance Elise Porter in “A Typology of Virtual Communities”: “A virtual community is defined as an aggregation of individuals or business partners who interact around a shared interest, where the interaction is at least partially supported or mediated by technology and guided by some protocols or rules.”

Note the members of the community are named as “individuals or business partners.” The fact is that the virtual community can encompass personal or business endeavors. Particularly successful communities can combine both.

The notion of a shared interest is key. Having a common goal, or even a common passion, is what helps form a community, keep members motivated, and provide the glue or “stickiness” that holds that community together. Without that common motivator, there is no community, merely an aggregation of individuals.

Community interactions are “supported or mediated by technology.” This is where the role of a shared platform comes in. Each community will require a platform architecture that specifically supports its purpose, as the Kickstarter platform enables interested investors and entrepreneurs to find each other and pool investment funding.

Ultimately, the virtual community gives us many of the virtues we would expect from an actual community. Note this portion of Wikipedia’s definition: “Virtual communities resemble real life communities in the sense that they both provide support, information, friendship and acceptance between strangers.”

The Potential of Virtual Communities Within the Publishing Ecosystem

Initially, appreciating the power of the virtual community in publishing may require some modest changes to the way we now view our customers, authors, and even vendors. In the pressures of day-to-day business, it is easy to look at customers as sales targets, with authors and vendors as contractors. In a community, however, all members are working together with a common cause. In that context, we are partners.

Most publishers have used the power of the Internet to send email marketing blasts to all their customers. Using it to create a community platform for customers around a common interest can positively change the way they regard the publisher. That platform may not always be an immediate path to increased sales, but it can certainly be an immediate boon to customer relations. If built with their interest in mind, a community platform can do more to promote customer loyalty than any marketing campaign could.

Engagement communities provide their members with a platform for ongoing interaction dedicated specifically to their common interest. As publishers, we are looking to bring together our customers and perhaps our authors into an engagement community based on an interest they share.

It is often subject matter from the trade sector—particularly for hobbies and crafts—that lends itself naturally to an engagement community. On a publisher-sponsored site, hobbyists can be encouraged to ask questions of their favorite authors or comment freely on what works best for them. The publisher can release advance articles or chapters to the community and invite reader response. Authors might use reader feedback to guide their writing going forward. The publisher might facilitate open discussions about particular hobbies or crafts, with the authors as moderators. There can even be contests to encourage readers to recommend new subject areas for exploration. The most avid fans will not only have definite ideas of what they want to see published next, they will also be buyers and enthusiastic promoters of the new publications.

Outside of the trade sector, publishers may not as easily find readers who bring such enthusiasm to particular subject areas, and those readers might not necessarily be the best source for new content development. As one STEM executive has noted, “New scientific discovery is hardly appropriate for crowdsourcing.” There are, however, still appropriate engagement communities to target for more academic or scholarly areas.

In the STEM world, for example, there are a number of expert authors who might be brought together around specific topics. Publishers might partner with existing scientific associations already dedicated to specific areas of inquiry, such as cancer research for medical content or nanotechnology for engineering content.

Once again, it would be the publisher’s role to encourage interactions and feedback. There might be sponsored forums targeting subjects in which new research is changing ideas. The discussions could be the seeds of new content. Authors could be encouraged to produce papers on new sample chapters to circulate back into the community and generate more feedback.

The “shared interest” here can extend beyond the intellectual enthusiasm for an academic topic. In scholarly research communities, funding for grants is often tied not only to publication of new material but also metrics indicating how often a particular paper has been cited. Engagement communities can provide researchers the opportunity to pick up new papers and cite one another.

Collaborative communities, unlike engagement communities, are often project-oriented. A group collaborates together toward the completion of a particular goal or goals. In publishing, we are well suited for collaborative communities structured around our own production processes. The creation of books and journals is a team effort involving authors/contributors, members of both the editorial and production departments, and of course vendors. Traditionally, the effort is held together by a project manager at the publisher or the vendor (for full service) or a shared responsibility of both.

As publishers have moved more work into the full service model, there has been a subsequent loss of centralized production control. Authors and contributors often complain about being shuffled about from one person to the next, without being quite certain exactly what is happening with their creation at any particular time in the process. Scheduling seems to be getting reduced down to manuscript delivery date and final file delivery date, with little publisher/author knowledge of what is happening in between.

Consider a platform designed specifically for the various interactions that occur in production. Such platforms already exist commercially and might even be provided by the vendor doing full service work. The first benefit is that the collaborative platform provides a communication system dedicated specifically to the project. All members of the production team know where to look for updates and special instructions. Team members can be assigned roles within the platform that provide them access to documents and processes they need or restrict that access as appropriate. The platform itself tracks all versions of pages. Every member of the team can see where the project stands, and there should be no complaints about publications going into “black holes.”

Looking back at the way ALT assembled publisher, parents, teachers, and children, we see a small but powerful indication of the virtual community’s potential in publishing. There are existing platforms that can meet our functional needs, and there are plenty of opportunities for creating communities. Now it is time to start connecting the dots between them.



7 Email Marketing Secrets Every Fiction Writer Should Know

Strictly speaking, building an email list is optional. Except if you’re a self-publishing fiction author, it really isn’t.

Whether you’re looking to get more readers, garner more support, or generate more sales, email marketing will help accelerate your progress. Activities such as launching your next book or encouraging positive word-of-mouth for your latest project will see better results too.

While you’ll want to use a list management service such as AWeber or MailChimp, that’s just the first step. Email marketing takes skill, but it’s also useful to understand how the practice works within the context of being a fiction writer.

That’s the purpose of this article. Here are seven insights to improve your email marketing if you’re a storyteller by trade:

  1. There’s only one kind of person you want subscribing

    Everyone talks about the importance of making your email list bigger. The problem with this common view is that the emphasis is on getting more people, not what kind of people you’re drawing in.

    Who do you want signing up? Readers who already care about your fiction writing.

    Not newcomers to your work. Not folks only lukewarm on your books. You’re seeking fans, those who already have experienced your storytelling and want more. They are the most likely to subscribe to your list and the most motivated to respond to your messages. These are the folks you need to be in contact with.

    Growing your email list is about attracting and retaining your most loyal readers. The better your marketing tactics are organized around this understanding, the better you’ll do.

    When your subscriber numbers finally do go up, that will actually mean you’re getting the right people.

  2. The best email sign-up incentives are free stories

    If you want to increase your chances for getting an email subscription, highlight the compelling benefits for being a subscriber.

    Fiction authors will often mention contests, discounts, and insider extras to encourage an email sign-up. These are excellent choices, because they revolve around your work.

    But the greatest sweetener of all? Receiving more of your storytelling.

    Because if that doesn’t help motivate someone to subscribe, then that person really isn’t really a fan. The whole point of your email list is to connect with loyal readers.

    Now, giving free fiction to your subscribers doesn’t mean you have to go over the top. One story can work, and it can even be a novella or short story.

    Consider the following examples of a free offering:

    • A story for email subscribers only, not available anywhere else
    • The first book of a series, which has the additional benefit of boosting sales for the rest of the books in the series
    • A book you currently offer for sale in a digital format

    A free story is both an incentive and a thank-you for signing up, and an excellent way to enhance the relationship with your best supporters.

  3. Have a dedicated landing page asking for a subscription

    The typical email sign-up boxes have very little to them. One to two sentences summarizing an offer, a few fields to enter a name and email address, and an assurance of no spam.

    Having this simple arrangement in a website’s sidebar makes sense, where the emphasis is on brevity and easy-access. This is an ideal setup for interested readers who know they want to sign up and just need to see where.

    But it’s not so great for prospects who aren’t so sure. These people need more detail and more convincing.

    That’s where a dedicated landing page can help. It’s a designated page on your website making the best possible case of why someone would want to subscribe to your email list. The copy would include any necessary background on what kind of writing you do, the type of content in the emails, and any extra incentives you’re offering for signing up.

    Because you have a specific web page for all this, you also have a unique URL. That makes it easy for you to direct the right people to the landing page. Share your link at the end of all your stories, in social media, or anywhere online when it’s appropriate. Remember, your target audience is whoever wants more of your storytelling.

    Don’t underestimate the value of a quality landing page. This one step can dramatically increase the number of email subscriptions you get over its lifetime.

  4. Use autoresponders to build immediate goodwill

    Most email marketing services offer the feature of initiating an immediate reply message upon sign-up. You can set up one or more emails to be sent in sequence and in pre-determined time intervals, for each instance a new subscriber comes on board.

    Most authors use autoresponders to send some kind of welcome email. A nice note to say thank you, and perhaps previewing what kind of content to expect. If this is all you do, however, you’re missing out on a great opportunity.

    What if you released a story via autoresponder, but a chapter every few days?

    What if you asked your subscribers for their favorite stories and their reasons why? If you received a response, what could you learn?

    What if you shared a list of books from other authors that you’ve read, just because you think your subscribers would enjoy them?

    The moment immediately following a sign-up is a special time, because that’s when an interested reader is anticipating something good. Your storytelling is at the forefront of that person’s mind, and you can bet any email received during this limited window will be opened.

    How will you reward your subscriber’s full attention?

  5. Email subject lines can make or break your open rates

    Most of us scan the emails in our inbox.

    Not only scan who an email is from, but also the subject lines to get an idea of the content. According to Copyblogger, on average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest. You don’t want a poor email title to be the reason why a reader dismisses your message.

    Consider the following two email subject lines. Which one will more likely get someone to click, all else being equal?

    1. Enter my contest today!
    2. How to win a chance to have a character in my next book named after you!

    If we’re to assume your loyal readers are the ones receiving your emails, what kind of headline would make them curious? Excited? Just like the hooks in your storytelling, you want your readers eager to find out more.

    The few extra minutes you spend on your email subject line can yield huge dividends. After all, if your email isn’t opened, it doesn’t get read. If it doesn’t get read, then your message can’t make an impact.

  6. Being respectful is more important than ever

    You will be tempted.

    When you have someone’s email address, you have access to an exclusive communication channel. With just a click, you can tap into one of the scarcest resources anywhere: someone’s attention.

    What’s to stop you from abusing this asset?

    Nothing, really. And that, of course, is the danger. It’s too easy to add people’s email to your list even though they didn’t grant you permission. It’s too easy to use a hyped-up email subject line then fail to deliver on your promise. It’s too easy to broadcast a message that furthers your own interests but is irrelevant to your fiction writing.

    Respect is a critical component of trust. When you cross the line, you’re devaluing the relationship between you and your fans.

    The ability to email your loyal readers is a privilege, not a right. Treat that connection –and the people you’re connected to– with the utmost respect.

  7. If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong

    Email marketing serves a definite purpose. It’s an effective means to support your fiction writing.

    It’s also an additional commitment to your already packed schedule. Preparing emails worth reading takes thought and care. This can be difficult, especially when time and energy are in short supply.

    But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the process. In fact, you should. You have an opportunity to be creative through your writing, thrilling in every way weaving your fiction is. You have a chance to engage with a readership that enjoys what you do, and want to hear from you.

    So yes, email marketing is work. But it shouldn’t be painful or tortuous, like you’re trying to impress a stranger. You’re writing to a friend, someone already on your side, and staying in touch.