Why Publishers Should Blog

June 23rd, 2008 · 32 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Let us begin with synopses and cover copy: both are fine bits of information that only begin to convey the character of a book (although cover copy sometimes lies!). These snapshots of information are nice, but, well, not prime examples of great writing about books.

Publishers are bizarrely hands-off when it comes to talking about their products.

If there’s one thing we know about today’s online market, it is that, collectively, they do not respond well to packaged marketing pitches or the absurdly inauthentic public relations voice. So many publishers treat the copy on their websites like it exists in a sterile environment…where is the enthusiasm about books?

Just as authors need to better market themselves and their books, so do publishers. While the audience for a publisher website is diverse — authors, booksellers, journalists, agents, readers, and more — talking about books on your website the same way you talk about books in your catalog simply isn’t cutting it. In printed material, you have various constraints. On the web, you have the ability to do something special: tell the world what excites you, the publisher, about a particular book.

I was partially joking when I titled this post, but realize that while blogging isn’t a necessity, the type of writing that makes good blogs so enticing is exactly the type of writing publishers can use to convey excitement and information about their books to potential customers. If “blogging” can help you throw off the corporate chains and lead to a more natural, casual, exciting discussion about your books, then call it blogging.

All I’m asking is that publishers join the conversation — because, you know, the only thing more fun than reading books is talking about them.

By way of example, I bring you the St. Martin’s Press page for Janet Evanovich’s Fearless Fourteen (as is typical, I chose the first publisher to pop into my head and the first book I saw). Clicking through brought me to a rather soulless page, a corporate approach to book information. I realize that publishers don’t want to compete with retailers, but c’mon, you all have invested tons of money in search engine optimization. Your website is a top result for many books and authors; why not make the experience about the book and why it should be read?

I don’t want to be hard on St. Martin’s — they’ve done a good job with their website. It’s fast with a nice layout. Book pages have links to fun stuff like excerpts and audio and previews. I like that related titles are connected and the use of categories. It’s just that the entire package feels sterile at a time when the intended audience (or one of the intended audiences) crave authentic voices.

Contrast comes when you look at Simon & Schuster’s page for Judy Blume’s Forever. While, again the publisher’s voice is absent, there is thread of reader comments about this title. Granted, it’s a book geared toward teenage girls — and when teenage girls are excited by a book, they like to talk about it — but there’s a sense of excitement about this story. And there’s a bit of disappointment as well (because the book doesn’t end in a way some readers would want).

Publishers, for reasons known only to them, are bizarrely hands-off when it comes to talking about their products. Sure, you get the occasional enthusiastic comment at a conference or during an interview, but the approach is more “we love all our children equally”…so we won’t talk about any of them. In the greater conversation about books, the publisher’s voice — the enthusiasm that propelled the acquisition of a book and the subsequent investment in getting it to readers — is so very much on message that it might as well be silent.

While there is no way for publishers to control the message about their books — the discussion is happening in too many places on too many levels — publishers can participate in more proactive ways. Rather than worrying about the future of reading, why not use today’s technology to entice readers and remind yourselves why you joined this business in the first place?

File Under: Perennials · The Future of Publishing

32 responses so far ↓

  • David Thayer // Jun 23, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    Great post. I jumped from St. Martin’s over to Henry Holt ( I love Holt and Picador’s list as a rule and their very gentle marketing.) I’m reading Catherine O’Flynn’s WHAT WAS LOST. The sheer grayness of the web page reminded me that reading is not fun, it’s serious in a gray brown fuzzy sort of way. That’s more descriptive of a ferret who probably are fun in a gray brown fuzzy sort of way.

  • Carolina Vigna-Maru » vida de editor // Jun 24, 2008 at 3:01 am

    [...] Why Publishers Should Blog [...]

  • Morning Brief — Tuesday, June 24 « The Book Publicity Blog // Jun 24, 2008 at 5:26 am

    [...] Krozser of Booksquare posts about why publishers should blog.  She brings up a couple examples, bad and good: St. Martin’s page for Janet Evanovich and [...]

  • Jennette Fulda // Jun 24, 2008 at 6:28 am

    My publisher, Seal Press, does blog about their books which is one of the reasons I’m happy to be published by them: http://www.sealpress.com/blog.php

  • Cláudia Belhassof » Blog Archive » Artigo interessante // Jun 24, 2008 at 8:14 am

    [...] http://booksquare.com/why-publishers-should-blog/ [...]

  • Jane Friedman // Jun 24, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Definitely agree, but I have to wonder if the lack of enthusiastic comments direct from publishers is primarily due to lack of time (and energy, sadly). If an editor (or whomever) is juggling dozens of projects in a given year, accomplishing just the basics can be enormously demanding. (Lean staffs!) The “friendly” online marketing or buzz building has often been left to the authors, rightly or wrongly.

  • meander // Jun 24, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    I totally agree with the comment above. In my limited experience the publishers seem to insist upon having writers who are media savvy. It isn’t enough to write, you must also be able to market your writing.

  • Kassia Krozser // Jun 24, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    Jane (Jane?) — I would love to let the publishers off the hook. Really. But it’s 2008. Almost 2009. And that approach would have worked ten years ago. The Cluetrain Manifesto, which largely focused on the authenticity thing, was first written in 1999. I think we’re long past the time when online activities are an additional burden — they’re part of the job.

    Part of whose job becomes the next question. Roles in publishing houses are changing and evolving, but one fact remains: treating your website like a catalog (though I like catalogue as well) is 1998 thinking. If it’s a resource issue, then the time has come for publishers to take a hard look at how they do business and really consider how to reach a diverse and, frankly, eager for information and story audience.

    I personally find it appalling that the industry depends on unaffiliated third parties (reviewers and fans) and authors (who, though possessing a vested interest, also get to do the hard work of writing the book) while the actual entity with the largest financial and professional interest (authors, okay, yes, I’ll concede you that argument) remain on the sidelines. Makes no sense at all.

    Why in the world wouldn’t you want to be part of the conversation?

  • Kassia Krozser // Jun 24, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    Jennette — A few publishers do the blog thing very well and a few are trying to find their voices. Softskull (and I’m not just saying this because Richard Nash really gets it) is great. Unbridled is great. Will check out Seal. It’s so important that a connection is made with people who read and love books — whatever type of book it might be.

    Reading is solitary but books are social. Or something like that.

  • Lori Cates Hand // Jun 25, 2008 at 9:45 am

    Well said, Kassia! You’re preaching to the choir, though. It’s the people who don’t read blogs who need to be convinced how important they can be for marketing books. I met all sorts of discouragement and obstacles when I proposed starting a blog for our new flagship business title, The PITA Principle (http://pitaprinciple.blogspot.com). People said that as the acquisitions/development editor, it wasn’t my job to do, and that I didn’t have time. But who else knows and loves the book as well as I do (besides the authors, who have also joined the blogging team)?

  • Ann // Jun 25, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    Lori, your experience is one big reason why we decided to make Books on the Nightstand an independent project, rather than trying to navigate the murky waters of having it “authorized” as an “official” blog of our employer.

    The question of whose job it is looms large, as Kassia said. The internet is blurring boundaries all the time, and I think we are going to see that same blurring happen internally. Traditionally, editorial talked to marketing, sales and publicity; publicity spoke to the media, sales spoke to retailers, and retailers spoke to the end customer. Historically, my role as sales rep has been to talk to my retail customers, period. That has been evolving over the past few years to also include talking to my customers’ customers … but now with our blog and podcast, we are talking to anyone who wants to read and listen.

    It’s an exciting time for many of us, but I can also see how it’s a nerve-wracking time for for others. I do hope that we hear more individual voices speaking to the world at large.

  • why publishers should blog « Locus // Jun 25, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    [...] by locusbooks on June 26, 2008 As said by Booksquare. f there’s one thing we know about today’s online market, it is that, collectively, they do not [...]

  • Kassia Krozser // Jun 25, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    Ann — thanks for weighing in. You said it better than I could (and, everyone, click on Ann’s name to discover a living, breathing example of what I’m talking about!). Roles are changing, it’s hard (as a veteran of re-engineering wars, I know from experience), but, man, if it’s talking about something you love, maybe hard can also be fun.

  • Jillian // Jun 26, 2008 at 9:18 am

    Great post. It gives me both inspiration and hope that someday in the near future my publishing house will have a blog. It’s not an option anymore, it’s a must.

  • Mark Long // Jun 26, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Okay, so I’ll play devil’s advocate here in that when Kassia describes “the publisher’s voice” as needing to reflect “the enthusiasm that propelled the acquisition of a book and the subsequent investment in getting it to readers” I would ask, who says that it is enthusiasm that leads to books being published? In the end, doesn’t it all come down to dollars and cents: particular manuscripts for particular markets that published at particular times that will generate–more or less–a certain return on investment. Whether you love your present/forthcoming list, hate it, or–most likely–fall somewhere in between, you’ll continue to publish those titles because there is an expectation they’ll make money.

    At the very least, with the ongoing consolidation of publishing houses by media conglomerates– where the idea of a “book” is more and more synonymous with “widget” or “product”–it seems that this overarching kind of attitude might become only more prevalent, instead of less.

    Anyway, just a thought . . .

  • Blogs About Publishing: Why Should Publishers Blog? « TSTC Publishing’s Book Business Blog // Jun 26, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    [...] and skepticism.” Exactly along those lines is a recent post by Kassia Kroszer called “Why Publishers Should Blog.” In it she talks about the general lack of personality in general and even greater lack of [...]

  • Kassia Krozser // Jun 26, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    Mark — thanks for your comments and I hope people read your further thoughts (here).

    But let’s play with this another way. As a sort of finance person, I get the dollars and cents approach. Publishers aren’t, generally, running charities. They have to pay bills. So okay, bill paying. It seems to me that making your product attractive is a good way to increase sales. Because while I get the whole hit-based notion of profitability, it’s dependent on the hit. Those are hard to predict.

    So you need to consider a more steady sort of revenue stream (also known as the Long Tail). That’s another topic.

    However, the customer/producer dynamic has changed dramatically, and, as noted, publishers of all levels get the notion of SEO. Those that do it well are getting top results for author and title searches. And the average person doesn’t necessarily distinguish between various types of sites — my theory is that the reason most people don’t say they’re reading blogs is because they don’t know that the site they frequent is a “blog”.

    Sorry, long-winded tonight. But my point is that as a top arrival destination for readers, it is incumbent upon the publisher to deliver the goods. I mean, it makes no sense at all if someone makes the effort to seek, find, and click through…only to find information about the book that is off-putting. Dollars and cents based businesses know that the way you sell to online audiences is not business as usual. They’re investing heavily (and sometimes badly) in social media strategies, but the fact that they get it to that degree is instructive.

    So where are the publishers, a dollars and cents business, in this mix? I get back to the Cluetrain Manifesto. This sort of “make it worth my time” thinking didn’t start yesterday or last year.

  • Quillblog » A call to blog // Jun 27, 2008 at 9:47 am

    [...] instinct seems to have a blog these days, but how many editors and publishers do? According to Booksquare blogger Kassia Kroszer, the whole publishing industry needs to step up in this department if they truly [...]

  • Austin // Jun 27, 2008 at 10:17 am

    Love the post, but check out Abbeville Press’s blog at http://www.abbeville.wordpress.com – I think you’ll find it an exception to the trends you mentioned. (We’re definitely neither sterile nor shy about our books…)

  • The Publisher's Post: Vol I Ed. XLIII | The Publisher's Post // Jun 28, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    [...] The entire article can be read here. [...]

  • simpletruth // Jul 1, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    The author of this article has pointed out some wonderful points. Blogs are great, they are fun to read, as long as they can be found and there is an interest in the subject, but what I got from this post is like everyone wants change, but what kind of change? What is to be done post catalog era??? Or are we really in post catalog era? Nice try, but I don’t think so. Everyone is still doing online catalogs, not just the publishing industry, computer online stores, bike online stores, jewelry online stores, whatever e-commerence site you can think of is still in the catalog format! In fact, one of the most popular and most profitabile online store, Amazon.com, still does this, and depends greatly on customer review ratings as well as the information the PUBLISHER PROVIDES THEM.

    How do you write a blog about a book that is fiction? What will the subject of the blog be about? Is the blog going to give away the entire content of the book? There are alot of holes in your suggestion on “Why Publishers Should Blog.”

    To write a blog about every single book a publishing house releases every single season is simply insane. Only a person not in the trenches and outside the publishing industry loop would suggest it.

    Think about it, you would need someone to read every single book, then second, you need that same person to blog about the said book. A publishing house like Random would need thousands of dedicated readers and bloggers to do just that, it’s simply not economical (especially these days), since there is no science behind marketing books. There is a science for marketing blogs though, but most bloggers do it from the heart, they don’t get paid to market the things they talk about. Companies trying to use blogs to market their products will fail, even Googles corporate blog and Amazon’s are dogs.

    Maybe it’s a great suggestion to the Movie industry, who spend millions on marketing for that first weekend, but like you have mentioned, publishers don’t put much behind books, it’s simple get it out there, and see if it’s a brick or hit.

    There are many ways to market and promote a book to readers, and booksellers, and yes, blogging could be part of it, and could help greatly for a few titles, but to suggest a blog for every book, that’s just stirring up BS…

  • A woman with brains… and other notable things - The Cata Network Readers’ Lounge // Jul 1, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    [...] has an interesting post up on why they think publishers should get more involved online. You can read our thoughts on the [...]

  • The Teich Group » What K-12 Publishers Can Learn from Trade Publishers // Jul 10, 2008 at 4:55 am

    [...] about the book industry, Kassua Krozser has this to say on one our favorite topics – why publishers should add blogs to their websites: While there is no way for publishers to control the message about their books — the discussion is [...]

  • Caryn // Jul 17, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    In my position at a small scholarly press, I write copy for our catalog, back covers, ads, and Website. Maybe I can shed some light from a publishing/marketing side–points I didn’t see mentioned previously. First, think about any familiar book. You probably know the author, but do you know the publisher? Generally, publishers wisely focus on promoting authors. Second, there is the issue of credibility. Would you really believe a publisher gushing over their own book? Thus, publishers seek third-party reviews (with hopefully, lots of gushing). Third, publishers’ direct customers are generally book distributors, resellers, and libraries, rather than individuals. Publishers provide resources for them–often behind-the-scenes. All that being said, I do find your comments interesting. Maybe I underestimated the importance of publishers’ Websites in the lives of readers. Maybe I’ll start a blog after all.

  • Sophie Holmes // Sep 25, 2008 at 10:28 am

    Some publishers do blog and here’s a great example:

    http://www.between-the-lines.co.uk

  • Collaboration and community « Brambletye Publishing Blog // Jun 9, 2009 at 5:03 am

    [...] Krozser, Kassia. “Why Publishers Should Blog.” 23 June 2008. Booksquare blog. http://booksquare.com/why-publishers-should-blog/ [...]

  • Publishers Should Blog « Chazz Writes // Aug 18, 2010 at 10:49 am

    [...] by Chazz on 08/18/2010 For a great post on how publishers often lose marketing opportunities, read Booksquare on why publishers should blog. It seems fairly obvious, and yet, so many do not. That’s something they don’t make [...]

  • Alex Cruz // Sep 19, 2010 at 12:53 am

    Mega-publisher Simon & Schuster have recently relaunched their website. It has loads of interesting things for authors and readers, but what is particularly of note to me is the Author Resources section.

    Under the sub-section of Online Tips and Tools, they promote the use of blogs, social media, book sites and video for authors who want to market themselves and their books. This is essentially the Author 2.0 Model where you have a central hub site with lots of ’spokes’ linking to it and bringing you people, traffic and sales from around the net.

    The need for an author platform has been talked about for a few years now, but it seems the mainstream publishers are now actively encouraging it, even for established authors. I don’t think the tools S&S list are well researched or easy to use, so here are some other resources you can use to get started.

  • To Blog or Not to Blog, is That Still a Question? | Colleen Callery's blog // Oct 8, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    [...] in talking about them. Kassia Krozer, from Booksquare, emphasizes this point in her article Why Publishers Should Blog. Instead of being intimidated or reluctant to embrace corporate blogging, the publishing industry [...]

  • Ronaldo // Oct 11, 2010 at 6:38 am

    To write a blog about every single book a publishing house releases every single season is simply insane. Only a person not in the trenches and outside the publishing industry loop would suggest it.

    Think about it, you would need someone to read every single book, then second, you need that same person to blog about the said book. A publishing house like Random would need thousands of dedicated readers and bloggers to do just that, it’s simply not economical (especially these days), since there is no science behind marketing books

  • Publisher Membership | PlumSocial.com Clients // Oct 19, 2011 at 2:31 am

    [...] tp="4" tt="W" ra="49.99" rp="1" rt="M" rr="1" rrt="" rra="1" image="default" output="button" /]Publisher Membership excerpt [s2Member-PayPal-Button level="4" ccaps="" desc="Publisher Membership" ps="paypal" lc="" cc="USD" [...]

  • What K-12 Publishers Can Learn from Trade Publishers | The Teich Group // Nov 5, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    [...] In a  recent post at Booksquare, a blog about the book industry, Kassua Krozser has this to say on one our favorite topics – why publishers should add blogs to their websites: [...]