Crain’s New York: Blogs and Book Marketing Are, Like, BFFs

Crain’s New York Business (Sarah’s tagline: a newspaper I love about a subject I know nothing about) has an article this week about blogs and podcasts driving sales of books. The headline blasts that the Web has become the “vehicle to create best-sellers,” noting that we bloggers (lest you forget, the sock puppets of evil) are “replacing traditional marketing.”

My first question: do we bloggers know that? I have said in my presentations to RWA chapters and groups that successfully building a blog rests partially on two elements that draw an audience: consistency and credibility. If your blog is consistent in content and style, and your credibility is based on that consistency, audiences will react favorably. But any deviation in one will damage the other. Credibility, at least, in my opinion for my site, is damaged if I’m shilling for a particular publisher or promoting a particular author without revealing my reasons for doing so. Most of the time, I write about X because I like X, or I have something to say about X, or because X has buxom, buttery man-titty. Exceptions so far include when someone wins a contest or a donated auction item, and there’s an interview or a guest review included as part of that prize – and I like to think I’m up-front about that.

I’m not saying that I’m a bastion of consistency – I’m also really damn forgetful. But I do value any credibility our site has earned, and I try to stay conscious of my own set of codes, as Jane called them in an email exchange we had about this article, because as bloggers we’re basically really loud words-of-mouth. Or words-of-screen. Recommendations that are based on some form of compensation, speaking solely from my own experience, are better received (by me at least!) when I know the scope of the compensation that goes on behind the scenes, if there is any. It’s weird to look at my site from the perspective of a blogger and a reader of blogs, but this article creates an opportunity for me to do so, because it discusses how bloggers are a new marketing tool for publishers.

Of course, I can’t LINK to the article because Crains’ content is for subscribers only. So let me summarize a bit and explain. According to writer Matthew Flamm, “the Internet* is gaining ground as a marketing vehicle just as traditional outlets are pulling back.” He cites the demise of newspaper book review sections and the long-ago disappearance of the Today Show and GMA‘s book segments – to say nothing of Reading with Ripa, which has been gone since 2005, much to the disappointment of a few authors (two of whom set up a blog called “Stalking Kelly Ripa” that hasn’t seen a new entry since 2005, but was still a funny concept). Oprah chooses fewer books each year for her Book Club Of Massive Sales OMG HOLY SHIT Fire Up the Printing Press, and bookstores are charging publishers more for prime locations within the store. The market, it is shrinky-dinking.

*MUST we capitalize Internet?! STILL?! For fuck’s sake. And “Web page”?! PAH!

So publishers are looking right here on the saucy wench-wide web for “targeted sites, and pitching bloggers to review and discuss titles that jibe with their concerns and sensibilities.”

I have concerns and sensibilities? Y’all. I want something good to read that’s a romance. I don’t know if that’s a concern so much as a minimum daily requirement for general blissful Sarahtude.

M.J. Rose, founder of AuthorBuzz, calls the blog world “a million little Oprahs.” And we bloggers are efficient because we are inexpensive and damn near everywhere. Everyone who is everyone has a blog, and their blog probably has its own blog at this point. And a Facebook.

Fauzia Burke, president of another online book promotional firm, FSB Associates, agrees that the relative inexpensive ad prices online, coupled with the allure of a few million eyeballs, is a powerful draw for writer and publishers alike.

But one unnamed consultant says that “publishers haven’t made the seismic shift” to appreciating and fully understanding the Internet’s use and capacity for growth in terms of book sales: “You still have publicists…trying to get an author on Today.” Flamm’s article does say, though, that Web-savvy publicists and marketers are the most sought-after niew hires at publishing houses (so if you’re looking for a job, heads up, yo) and every publishing house is trying out new methods of web marketing.

The most obvious: the free ebook giveaway. The article cites Gaiman’s book American Gods as an example – sales reportedly rose 250% after HarperCollins made the book available online for free for a limited time.

Book CoverFlamm also mentions podcast-to-book phenom The Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing as a web-promotional idea, because the publisher built a Web site around the book before the book was released. I’m not sure that’s a solid example of web marketing aside from the fact that her book was originally a frequently-downloaded podcast, except that now I want to read that book because it sounds cool.

(Note: Neither Crain’s New York, Grammar Girl, Holt, or any large sword-wielding figures coerced me into making that statement. I is a grammar nerd like woot and like whoa.)

What interests me is the end of the article where Bantam’s director of marketing, Betsy Hulsebosch, mentions that the more creative campaigns take more time than money, and cites a successful campaign on YouTube for Dean Koontz’s latest book (Does Dean Koontz need a YouTube campaign to sell his books?). Flamm continues:

The expensive efforts tend to involve brand-name authors, but executives say that eventually those tenchiques will also be used for lesser-known writers. Their hope lies with blogs for now, however.

Honest to biscuits, that sentence makes me say, eloquently, ‘Huh?’ Not that I have the least bit of experience with marketing, or consider myself an expert on building any kind of buzz or even a light flatulent noise, but… Huh? Expensive efforts will be used on the big-names, but blogs are ok for now for the rest of the author pack? I’m sure that there’s all kinds of mathematical marketing data to back up that opinion, but if the cost is time and not so much money, why not make a splash on a little-known author using a big online campaign? Why not try a four-episode 3:00 minute trivia game show Flash series linked to a book’s plot for one new release, while using a different method, such as a avatar-creating module with a selection of silly names and images for another book, both for new authors? Wouldn’t it be easier to quantify the results on a new product using new marketing techniques? Why save the big splash effort for the more likely sales? (Yes, yes, I know I sound really naive. I’m well aware.) If new web marketing techniques are indeed more about creativity (and, in my opinion, sincerity) than dollars and glitz, why not seize some of that creative power and use it to build the next big thing?

Note to self: there is a reason you are not in marketing. That paragraph right there is probably it.


Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    ev says:

    I tend to already know about the big name authors I like to read and will get their books, big splashy web production or not. I like looking for new authors though and those things do catch my eye. Wouldn’t that be the point of doing such a marketing production?

  2. 2
    cecilia says:

    Just to be perverse, I’m going to focus on a tangent and not your main point…
    If you think the Grammar Girl book sounds interesting, check out The Deluxe Transitive Vampire – it’s a grammar book and heeelarious.

  3. 3
    Jessica says:

    I was just having this discussion with my husband yesterday, who wanted to know why, on my own new (very modest) review blog, I listed online sources only on the sidebar, and plan to blog about other online reviews of romance novels (as opposed to adding discussion of reviews from Romantic Times or Publisher’s Weekly).

    I explained that I, personally, rely ONLY on blogs such as SB or DA, or similar online sources, when choosing what to buy in romance. He countered that, because I am a professor, I am unusually net savvy, and the average consumer wouldn’t do that.

    I disagree.  I was in Time Warner’s office getting a new cable box a few weeks ago, and a couple walked in, maybe in their early seventies, asking for the faster Road Runner service.  The net is no longer, if it ever was, the domain of technophiles, people with disposable income, and business types.

    I do worry sometimes about the neutrality of romance bloggers who are industry connected. Do you get hooked on the rush of freebies and contact with authors you love? If, like many romance bloggers, one is an aspiring author, too, then the chance to meet established authors, editors and others who can further your career must make it tempting to serve the master in some way or another. There are a number of review sites which I do not trust.

    Can one serve the industry (as a marketing tool) and average consumers at the same time? I think the potential for conflicts of interest is definitely there.

    Thanks for bringing this up!

  4. 4
    Lori says:

    I’m just a little ol’ consumer but I have bought books on the recommendations of reviews here and DA. To me you’re not just the cool kids, but the cool, smart kids. So I do think there’s veracity in the idea that poplar blogs can drive the market a little. But how much? Probably not as much as they’re suggesting.

  5. 5
    KellyMaher says:

    Penguin Group’s looking for a Director of Online Marketing right now:

    About Us – Job Opportunities – Penguin Group (USA) – Director of Online Marketing

  6. 6
    ksquard says:

    I too rely on SB and DA for choosing what to buy as I have precious little moolah to spend on books and want to make sure I’m getting really good bangs for my bucks. And I’m hungry for new authors and titles. So far so good as you’ve led me to Sherry Thomas and Joanna Bourne and other wonderful authors of that ilk.

    I think both you SBs and the DA posse serve they own desires – y’all write reviews about books that you like or dislike regardless of industry influence, which works to court readers like me and as well as industry wanks b/c they see the traffic and want that for their titles. There is no bad publicity, after all.

    What saves you guys is that you’re up front in saying that your review can’t be bought (though your ad space can) and that makes you and your sites even more attractive. I think that in this, you’re serving average consumers (like moi) AND the industry by being an honest place for discourse on romance and publishing and a place where a forthright, honest review can be expected. You raise the bar and force others to reach for it.

    Plus man titty.

  7. 7
    RfP says:

    if the cost is time and not so much money

    I question that equation anyway.  Time IS money, just money that’s harder to account for and may not all produce concrete results.

    successfully building a blog rests partially on two elements that draw an audience: consistency and credibility.

    Being inconsistent day-to-day is one thing—and it’s not necessarily a failure; it’s a different style of blog—but even the more consistent blogs change over time, both in focus and in style.

  8. 8
    Marta Acosta says:

    I started a blog, Vampire Wire,  to h,elp raise my presence on the web as an author to the paranormal crowd, since my novels have paranormal theme.  I list links to reviews and news, and mostly I do it for fun.  My policy is not to review novels because, frankly, I’d rather not be put in the position of saying something negative about another writer’s work.  (Hey, spoofing a writer doesn’t count!)

    I’ve been approached several times to have some sort of advertising or paid promotions.  I can see how tempting it would be to gear one’s writing for profit.  One of my very favorite blogs, which was hilarious, became successful and now it seems like endless advertising and shilling for their advertisers.  I find that I don’t go there much anymore.

  9. 9
    Debra Date says:

    Big splashy adverts are great, and will usually serve to remind you when the next “Big Time Author’s New Book” is available, but those are authors that are already in the big time, they are already paying back on the publishers investment very handily.

    Web development and flash sites can be extremely expensive when they are done right. It’s not going to be in the publishers best interest to launch no-name authors in that way when they can send out a few ARC’s and let the blogs do the marketing for them by word-of-mouth.
    Romance readers especially are going to squueee over a great book and tell all their friends. You can’t buy publicity like that.

    Also quite frankly, I find that I get a more well-rounded review from you guys or Dear Author. You will take the time to explain why a book did not resonate with you, whereas those print authors ? They will put not liking it down to it being a romance.

  10. 10
    Marta Acosta says:

    Note:  If publishers or publicists offer me books, I will take them for contests, because why turn down free books when I can give them away to readers?  That would be crazy.

  11. 11
    Debra Date says:

    Meant to say “those print Reviewers”..

  12. 12
    Kimberly Van Meter says:

    What a timely discussion. I was just talking with a few other Superromance authors about the value of online advertising. For series romance authors, advertising in the print medium doesn’t have much of a payoff in the end because, frankly, our books aren’t on the shelf long enough to allow that kind of advertising to make an impact. BUT, online advertising, which is immediate and hits more eyeballs than perhaps a magazine or two, is worth the $20 or so that it requires for a banner ad or such. Now, to be honest, I’ve yet to venture into this particular type of advertising but I know of other series authors who have and I can see how they’ve been successful. Of course, the argument against spending our hard-earned $$$ on such ventures is that if you write a good book, word will travel, but sometimes, series books are overlooked and a great book, as evidenced by Supers making such a good showing at the RITAS are missed (anyone who hasn’t read Helen Brenna’s TREASURE is missing out.).

    So, I find myself seriously eyeing more opportunity for a web presence rather than a print one.


  13. 13
    Emmy says:

    Huh. That’s a hard one. Reviews, contrary to what may be popular belief, are entirely subjective opinions of a book that was read. Your genre preferences may not be someone else’s; you can completely enjoy a book that someone else thinks sux hairy donkey ballz.

    I don’t use any one source to compile my TBR list. About 85% of my decision to purchase any given book is whether I like the genre, the blurb, the author, and the cover. The rest is surfing the many blogs I read to see if anyone else liked it or absolutely hated it.

    I can’t do that with an ARC, but hey, it’s free. If I don’t like it, I lost nada but my time.

  14. 14
    Molly says:

    I read this site because it is consistently interesting and damn funny. Have I bought books because of things I’ve read? Yes. Intelligent writing and reviewing about a subject will cause me to dip my toes in: romance, wine, and history to name a few recent ventures. Have they clicked? Not so far on romance but I will keep reading because this site is consistently interesting and damn funny.

    That said, direct to DVD or the web offer the creators a conduit and they are leaping on it. Baen (Bujold’s original publisher) has had a free library for several years, essentially one or two books by each of their authors. I’ve read and bought a bunch o’ stuff because of it and Eric Flint argues that it HAS enhanced sales whatever the nay-sayers claim.

  15. 15
    Soccer Mom says:

    I never look to print for reviews.  Why bother when I can find what I want to know for free on the Internet.  I love blogs like SB and DA because I can learn so much about what is out there.  I’m not so much interested in the grade as in the description of the book. 

    All the information about the industry and the cover snark add up to WIN!

    Come for the reviews; stay for the man-titty.

  16. 16
    MS Jones says:

    So now that business recognizes the power of the blog, are we going to be seeing sock-blogs? Like those youtube productions ostensibly of some angst-ridden teenager who was really a professional actress

    I hope not! I like the honest feedback and discussion. You get not just the reviewer’s take on a book, but multiple opinions supplied by the readers. When a lot of people write in to say “yes, I thought it sucked too,” as was the case recently when Jane reviewed Stephenie Meyer’s latest book, that’s pretty convincing.

  17. 17
    SonomaLass says:

    Hey Molly, thanks for the Baen link!  I had forgotten them in my ongoing collection of FREEEEBooks (and that one’s mine, and that one, and that one…).  I

    <3 Eric Flint SO much.

    I encourage anyone interested in the free books issue to read Eric’s introduction to the

    Baen Free Library.

  18. 18
    Jessa Slade says:

    NPR had a great cast about how marketers have been trying to make use of the internet and viral messages. They found that the online audience loves to be in on buzz & loves to be part of building buzz, but they hate thinking they’ve been made fools if they find out a campaign is traditional marketing disguised as buzz. They discovered that online consumers most like the sense that their source (youtube, SB, what have you) is a club with its own secrets and in-jokes. Once that club is infiltrated by outside influences, the attraction fades and they move on. Which is basically what you said about credibility.

  19. 19
    Chanel19 says:

    I am a reader, not a writer, not a reviewer.

    I lurk and read here because the snarky bookreviews are priceless.  I can laugh and be glad I saved $9 or so per book.  The mullet tributes, the odes to Fabio, that’s what I come here for.

    I read anything and know what I like.  I have dipped into paranormals and just shook my head (sorry to those who love them).

    I pick books up by the coverart and if I like the book then I will track down more by the same author.

    Yes, I have clicked links and gone to various sites and considered their works.  But I can honestly say that I have never left the site and rushed to Chapters to buy a book.  I have compiled a list of who to look for but that’s it.

    country84:  I’m not a country bumpkin when it comes to picking out my 84+ books to read per year.

  20. 20
    JenB says:

    The most offensive, barf-inducing thing I’ve read all day:

    “a million little Oprahs.”

  21. 21
    Chrissy says:

    I don’t rely on reviews as much as I do simple information.  And until I became a FICTIONISTA, I will admit to being only marginally aware of how much traffic a blog with some chops gets.  We don’t even have big chops yet, and I’ve been a little surprised at how much contact and solicitation we got pretty soon after launching.

    But reading here, at Dear Author, and even reading reviews or interviews my fellow blog-mates have written has opened up a lot of new doors. 

    It’s not that I read a good or bad review and run out to buy, or walk past the title.  I discover a new author quite often just because I read and interview and think “that sounds interesting.”  I had only heard of two of this year’s YA RITA finalists, just as an example.  Now I know the names of all 5 and the interviews did prompt me to purchase 4 books I would not have.

    In fact, I was at BN yesterday.  They had a “If You Liked Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Series” table.  I struck up a conversation with the young woman in charge of the display.  She didn’t know what a RITA was… but she does now.  And she also knows why Melissa Marr sold out this week.

    I knew what the RITAs were before I got involved in online writing and romance communities, but I didn’t know much more.  I also relied on newspapers—which largely ignore the genres I care about—and book displays to get info on what was new.  I wonder how many readers who don’t write are aware of the subtle marketing inside their bookstores?  Or how many even know that just because a book is a brand new release doesn’t mean it’s on the NEW RELEASES shelf.

    I know I have recommended books to friends that found this out only because they had made that assumption and needed help finding the title.

  22. 22
    Ann says:

    SonomaLass, if you’re looking for free book downloads come visit me. If you like free audiobooks, Karen Marie Moning’s Darkfever is being released as a free podiocast (did I hear that here? Sorry if I did, I lose track of where I find these freebies). Anyway, it’s on

  23. 23
    Molly says:

    Baen has a widely varied collection of space opera and fantasy. It’s hard for me to think of Bujold in that category but that’s how most people classify the Miles books. If you haven’t read her, her Hugo-winning story, Mountains of Mourning, is there and a great place to start with her works.

    And if you’re looking for free: don’t forget Project Gutenberg,  Classics and stuff out of copyright.

  24. 24
    Gail Dayton says:

    *MUST we capitalize Internet?! STILL?! For fuck’s sake. And “Web page”?! PAH!

    Amen! The Stupid AP stylebook says Web page or Web site, but webcam or webmaster. At least I don’t have to do E-mail, but can do e-mail. (sticks tongue out at citydeskguy)

    As a grammar nerd, Sarah, did you read Eats, Shoots, and Leaves? I’m still debating on that one.

    As for Internet advertising/PR campaigns—I’d love to do one of those really creative things you mentioned, or even a quiz “What kind of animal are you?” thing—but I barely manage to find time to update my website (Ha!) and am not creative enough to think up things like this. (All my creativity dribbles out my ears once the books are done…) I can’t even do a blog by my characters. The brain just doesn’t seem to shift gears that well. Maybe I’ll try. Someday.

    On the other hand, some authors do NO PR of their own. None. And their books are so fantabulous, they don’t have to.

    Note to self: Write better books.

  25. 25
    ev says:

    My favorite that my daughter (an aspiring writer) got, is called the Bald Headed Hermit and the Artichoke: An Erotic Thesaurus. It has to be one of the best reference books I have ever read and laughed about.

    You should see how many different words and descriptions there are for penis alone. I can think of many a writer who should use it for a change.

    I learned not to let her read it to me while I was driving.

  26. 26
    ev says:

    Penguin Group’s looking for a Director of Online Marketing right now:

    I just recieved an off for a position with Pearson, the home company, today. I took it!!

    60% off penquin titles- they don’t even need to pay me.

    deal58- goes without saying.

  27. 27
    ev says:

    Baen (Bujold’s original publisher) has had a free library for several years, essentially one or two books by each of their authors. I’ve read and bought a bunch o’ stuff because of it and Eric Flint argues that it HAS enhanced sales whatever the nay-sayers claim.

    I always forget about the free books that they offer. pooh.

    I will be meeting Eric Flint next month though. squee.

  28. 28
    ev says:

    Baen (Bujold’s original publisher) has had a free library for several years, essentially one or two books by each of their authors. I’ve read and bought a bunch o’ stuff because of it and Eric Flint argues that it HAS enhanced sales whatever the nay-sayers claim.

    I always forget about the free books that they offer. pooh. I love free books and will miss all the ARC’s I would get at the bookstore.

    I will be meeting Eric Flint next month though. squee.

  29. 29
    Ashley Ladd says:

    Reviews are subjective. I appreciate them and the reviewer’s time and efforts.

    Usually I choose my books by their blurbs and perhaps an excerpt.

  30. 30
    Jane says:

    “a million little Oprahs.”

    That’s going to be my memoir wherein I make up stories about my dire childhood, drug addiction, subsequent imprisonment and rise to become the world’s oldest Olympian.

    In a more serious vein, though, I do know that I constantly waver back and forth about press releases and publicity information that is sent. Should I post it?  If I don’t post it, are readers missing out?  Stuff like that. 

    Also, in regards to meeting and connecting with industry folks, I think that Robin said it best that bloggers respect authors by giving them an honest opinion.

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