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?