Companion Audio Strategy for The Unwinding of the Miracle (Penguin Random House)

Julie Yip Williams, author of The Unwinding of the Miracle, knew she would never see whether readers liked her book. The Unwinding of the Miracle shares Yip Williams’s experiences and thoughts as she approached her death from colon cancer. Through the book she wonders about what the lives of her husband and daughters will look like, and finds the miraculous in the most universal human experience — death. Published posthumously on Feb. 5 by Random House, The Unwinding of the Miracle is a New York Times bestseller.

The team at Random House helped raise the memoir’s profile through a unique audio strategy. Beyond typical plans to advertise on podcasts, they decided to take it a step further for the release of The Unwinding of the Miracle. In collaboration with Pineapple Street Media, Random House created a 4-episode companion podcast, Julie: The Unwinding of the Miracle.

The podcast featured audio interviews with Yip Williams as well as audio from some of the last visits her family had with her before her death. Listeners could hear Yip Williams talking about how she decorated her bedroom so that she’d have somewhere beautiful to die and making plans to haunt her family members. In the final episode, the surviving family members and friends talk about the ways that they feel Yip Williams’s presence after her death.

As of February 27, 2 weeks after the final episode was released, the podcast ranks number 51 for all Health podcasts on iTunes, with over 600 reviews and an average of 4.5 stars. The podcast was featured on Call Yr Girlfriend through a sponsorship from Pineapple Street Media and on All Things Considered.

Investing in a collaboration with expert podcasters resulted in a well-paced and compelling narrative with high production values. Pineapple Street Media is a well-established podcasting company. They produce, among other shows, Still Processing from the New York Times and were behind the chart-topping Missing Richard Simmons. Julie: The Unwinding of the Miracle’s producer Eleanor Kagan comes from a well-established audio background, having worked previously for both NPR and Buzzfeed.

We chatted with Leigh Marchant, Director of Marketing & Business Development at Random House about Julie: The Unwinding of the Miracle and their companion audio strategy.

How did you decide to create a podcast for The Unwinding of the Miracle?

Our Random House Editor-in-Chief, Andy Ward, and I had been talking about doing a podcast with our mutual contact, Max Linsky, from Pineapple Street Media. As all great projects start, we pitched him a few ideas over lunch and decided that Julie’s story would make for an incredibly compelling podcast. We thought having Julie’s story told in both book form and via podcast would be a really interesting project—that instead of being restricted by only telling this story in one format, we could have them complement and inform each other.

What kinds of audiences were you hoping to access with the podcast?

We think that podcast listeners are readers, and readers are podcast listeners. We have seen some consumer insights reports that show media affinities for some of our authors and titles, and podcasts are definitely included in there. Of course, certain podcasts appear more frequently in our data than others but we do think there is listener/reader overlap.

So we were hoping to draw attention to the book through the podcast audience – and vice versa. The two projects – the podcast and the book – are meant to be complementary. In other words, if you read the book, you will want to hear more from Julie and her family and friends through the podcast. And if you listen to the podcast, you’ll want more in the book. Both the podcast and the reading experience deliver in such a strong way. The content of the two projects is actually different but together provides an incredible understanding of what Julie and those who are terminally ill are grappling with.

Both the podcast and the reading experience deliver in such a strong way. The content of the two projects is actually different but together provides an incredible understanding of what Julie and those who are terminally ill are grappling with.

How is that audience different from — or the same as — the audience you were connecting with through other parts of the campaign?

We are always looking to reach readers through our campaigns and one of the ways we do that is actually via podcast advertising! So creating the podcast was a great way to reach some of our target audience. We were hoping to reach readers of books like When Breath Becomes Air, The Middle Place and The Bright Hour. Also we targeted readers of medical memoirs, followers of Julie’s blog, as well as parents.

But of course the goal for any book is to reach the right readers and we knew that if we could capture an expanded audience via the podcast, they would likely be interested in the book as well.

How did you balance creating a rich and emotionally resonant podcast with leaving enough unanswered for the listener so that they would want to read the memoir?

That was a main concern at the start of the project. We didn’t want to cannibalize either project so we were careful to keep the content different enough, yet complementary. In the podcast, you hear from Julie’s family and friends. The book is just Julie’s words and thoughts. The two forms work so well together though. Each project is so powerful, so moving, so compelling. But together they offer such a complete portrait of Julie’s incredible life and, later, her battle with cancer.

How does companion audio fit into your strategies for other titles?

We are always looking for new ways to reach readers – on whatever platform they are consuming content. Podcasts are a great way to do that and we will continue to explore opportunities in that space – when it makes sense. We have a number of other podcasts through our corporate group coming. But we’re also exploring other multi-media platforms, as well. We also just launched an Alexa Skill called Good Vibes. Our goal is to connect readers (and listeners) to great books via the platforms where they are already consuming content.


Be sure to subscribe to NetGalley Insights for more strategies from successful marketing campaigns, audio coverage, and more!

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London Book Fair: Making a more inclusive book industry

The London Book Fair is one of the largest annual gatherings for the book industry, particularly for agents and publishers looking to trade in international rights. Between March 12 – March 14, attendees who were not sitting in the Rights Hall or dashing to meetings sat in on seminars, strolled the booths, and met colleagues from around the globe who also made the trip to Olympia London.

Where the Book World Comes to Meet

Each year, the London Book Fair focuses on a particular market from around the world. This year the spotlight was on Indonesia. Made up of thousands of islands and religiously diverse, Indonesia was able to showcase their books and culture to a global audience. The Indonesian book market is as diverse as its many thousands of islands, titles are produced in many different languages, and few are translated into English. Theirs is a growing market, with an increasing international presence. Fiction – short stories, in particular – are popular in Indonesia. Indonesian readers read across a broad number of topics, but myths, spirituality and beliefs seem to be at the forefront of Indonesian publishing.

Throughout the Fair, we found that the most prevalent theme was inclusivity. Genres and formats that are growing in the industry are the ones best able to connect with a diverse audience. By making the publishing industry more diverse, it takes steps to become more inclusive.

Diversity refers to the different kinds of people who are involved in an industry, or the different kinds of stories that are told. Inclusion refers to an overall atmosphere that is welcoming to different kinds of people, including those who have been traditionally marginalized within the industry.

Diversity

One of the biggest aims of the publishing industry over the last few years has been that of creating books with more diverse characters, written by more diverse authors. Whilst the industry is heading towards having greater diversity, there is more that needs to be done. Actor, author, and TV presenter Cerrie Burnell highlighted, during the Diversity: Where’s the Issue panel, that diversity within books, children’s books in particular, needs to be more normalized. She said it should be as “normal as observing it when living and walking around London.” Author and illustrator Rose Robins took a similar stance, suggesting that neurodiverse characters should be included more in literature, rather than treated as plot devices. (That’s one of the reasons we loved The Kiss Quotient – check out our recent case study here!)

To connect with audiences from different backgrounds, the publishing industry needs to become more diverse as a profession, in addition to publishing more books with more diverse characters. Speakers from HarperCollins, SAGE Publishing, and EW Group touched on this in their panel on building a more diverse and inclusive industry. Efforts to make publishing houses more diverse need to start from the recruitment stage to keep the industry vibrant.

Poetry

At LBF19, we saw that poetry is on the rise. Poetry sales in January 2019 were at an all-time high, growing by 12% according to Nielsen Bookscan. The recent success of poetry has been attributed to its being more inclusive and diverse than other book genres, with more young people than ever buying and engaging with poetry. The success of Rupi Kaur, writing about her experience as a woman and as a daughter of immigrants, as well as Charly Cox, indicates that there is a huge audience eager to see themselves reflected in the books that they read. And with platforms like Instagram, poets have new ways of reaching younger, digitally engaged audiences. More traditional forms have also found a new audience, with Robin Robertson’s The Long Take the first work of poetry to be nominated for the Man Booker Prize. Sales of poetry have been building for the past few years, and it looks like 2019 will continue to see an upsurge of interest  in the popularity of poetry.

Audiobooks

Unsurprisingly, of all the formats discussed at the London Book Fair audiobooks continues  to be on everyone’s radar. According to Nielsen figures the sales of audiobooks have increased by 87% in the UK since 2014. The popularity of audiobooks has been linked to the trend of podcasts and engaging young men in particular with a different format of reading. But audiobooks have seen a rise overall and the boom seems set to continue for 2019 and onwards. (Check out some of our podcast coverage here.)

Nonfiction

Nonfiction is also a hot topic, as both adult and children’s nonfiction sales have increased in the last year. For adult nonfiction, a large proportion of the success comes down to feminist titles and inspiring books such as Slay in Your Lane by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebenene, Bloody Brilliant Women by Cathy Newman and Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love. As nonfiction has become more diverse in its scope, it has drawn in new audiences.

We were encouraged to see the book industry slowly moving towards being more inclusive, with publishers and authors having great successes on more diverse books. Different formats and genres are reaching new audiences and encouraging a whole new generation of readers.Keep up with the rest of our conference season coverage by subscribing to NetGalley Insights!

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Future of Publishing Panel Takeaways

Data-driven discovery and trend predictions, plus what success looks like for books in 2019

On Thursday, March 7, NetGalley attended Centennial College’s Future of Media panel in Toronto. This mini conference features a larger discussion about the media landscape, with a specific panel to focus on publishing. With moderator Manu Vishwanath of Harlequin, the Future of Publishing panelists talked about how to incorporate data into decision-making and how to think about gaining the attention of an audience with limited time and budgets in an oversaturated media landscape. Here are some of the takeaways that we’re bringing with us into the future.

Panelists

  • Cory Beatty, Senior Director of Marketing and Publicity at HarperCollins Canada
  • Noah Genner, Director of BookNet Canada
  • Nathan Maharaj, Senior Director of Merchandising at Kobo
  • Kristina Radke, VP of Business Growth and Development at NetGalley
  • Léonicka Valcius, Assistant Agent at the Transatlantic Agency

The Future of Discovery

At NetGalley, discovery is one of our favorite words. Connecting readers with new books and new authors is the name of our game, and the panelists were just as passionate about this topic as we are.

While discovering the “next big thing” has always been a publisher’s dream, the reality of this actually happening seems to be getting slimmer every year. Not only are there more publishers who are publishing more books, there are hundreds of thousands of books being self published, and the global marketplace seems to promise that anyone with a talent for writing can make big on their own under the right circumstances. But publishers and authors need to work extra hard to retain a reader’s attention. The panelists discussed the pressing question: How?

Director of BookNet Canada Noah Genner opened up this conversation with data. He noted that leisure spending has not gone up and neither has the rate of leisure reading. This means that readers are struggling to prioritize enormous amounts of content without the time or money to spend on it.

To combat this, Genner told the audience that it’s more important than ever for publishers to have a voice and a brand that stands above the rest. Whether this means developing a niche, like Second Story Press, whose books with strong female leads and themes of social justice sets them apart, or running a smart and snappy Twitter account like Coach House Books, it’s your brand–not necessarily the next blockbuster book–that keeps readers returning for more.

Kristina Radke, VP of Business Growth and Development here at NetGalley, added that in order to make your book succeed, it’s crucial to not just look at a variety of KPI’s and early data, but to actually make time to understand it. There will always be multiple points of data that can be collected pre-publication–like the information on NetGalley’s Title Feedback Activity Page–but without taking the time to understand that data and change your plans based on what you learned, it’s never going to make an impact on the success of your book.

Focusing on the end users, Senior Director of Merchandising at Kobo Nathan Maharaj said that publishers should focus more clearly on appealing to readers who don’t have time to sit down for focused reading, through audio. Audiobooks can help rope in customers that don’t necessarily have the leisure time, but are still interested in the story format and do have the leisure money to spend on books.

The Future of Book Trends

On a panel predicting the future of publishing, it’s only natural that the conversation steered toward predicting future trends. Léonicka Valcius, Assistant Agent at the Transatlantic Agency, said that books are a cultural artifact that reflects society as a whole, and by reflecting on the events of today we can predict what trends will pop up in the next few years.

Take, for example, the dystopias of yesterday which became popular as the world experienced great political and economic upheaval. Now, we’re seeing a surge of “up-lit”, which emphasizes kindness, empathy, and happy endings. As consumers, we’re now looking for books that show us the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

Valcius also praised the data when trying to hone in on the trends of tomorrow. With all of the data that’s available to us digitally, finding what works is the challenge–but also the opportunity. While we may have a book that will only sell 200 copies throughout its lifecycle, with that data we can now predict what type of reader will buy those 200 copies and market accordingly.

The Future of Success

It is, of course, every publisher’s and author’s goal to see their books succeed. However, as Noah Genner was quick to point out, there are different  kinds of success, and it’s important for anyone in the publishing industry to evaluate their standard for what success means.

Senior Director of Marketing and Publicity at HarperCollins Canada Cory Beatty said that he regularly needs to set expectations with the authors he works with. Sometimes authors may be frustrated that their books aren’t immediately being buzzed about in major newspapers, and yet the marketing team for said book has been celebrating for weeks at the successes it has seen, whether hitting modest sales goals or generating consumer interest on Goodreads.

Kristina Radke returned to the data conversation, piggy-backing on the ideas about anticipating trends. Modern capabilities are making it easier for new players to join the game. For instance, Wattpad Books is launching a new imprint that will use machine learning to help predict the next hit story and further develop content from their site.


Keep up with the rest NetGalley Insights coverage of industry events, plus publishing trends and interviews, by subscribing to our weekly newsletter!

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Ask a Librarian: Charmaine Atrooshi

Putting your titles in the hands of librarians is an important part of any book’s success story. Librarians build collections for their library branch, pick titles for their own reading groups, and were the original comp-title recommendation engines before the age of algorithms. Librarians are book advocates in their community and beyond!

In our Ask A Librarian series, we ask librarians on NetGalley about what makes their community special, what they read, and how they stay up to date with the best new titles for their patrons.

Ottawa Public Librarian Charmaine Atrooshi describes her community of patrons who visit North America’s largest English/French bilingual library and use its Homebound Services program. She also gives us an inside look at how she uses NetGalley, and which resources she uses to keep up with new titles that she can recommend to her patrons.

What resources do you use to find new books to recommend, or to add to your library’s collection?

I use NetGalley and BNC Catalist to find new books to recommend to customers, as well as the Loan Stars lists! I love that library staff all over Canada can vote for their favorite upcoming titles, and that these lists are released monthly!  I also like to browse our catalogue (BiblioCommons) for items on order, and I try to browse some of the staff lists within for ideas.

In addition, NoveList and Books & Authors [formerly What Do I Read Next?] are great databases to use when looking for read-alikes, reviews, and recommendations.

*BNC Catalist is a NetGalley Partner. If a book is in both systems, the NetGalley link automatically appears in Catalist.

What’s your strategy for finding new books on NetGalley?

I have some favorite publishers and auto approvals so that is often a first place I check when quickly searching for new books.  Depending on what mood I am in, or what area of readers’ advisory I am looking to strengthen, I will search by categories for a specific genre and browse the options available.  

What catches your eye when you are on the hunt for new books?

The cover and title are certainly something that draw my initial interest. I admit, I am guilty of judging a book by its cover! If looks good I will read the description to see if it is something that would appeal to me or to library customers.  The cover of The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox was one that really appealed to me, as well as The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. I read and really enjoyed both of those and can see why both have such strong appeal!

Even if I don’t end up requesting a title, reading blurbs and looking at covers helps to keep me abreast of trends in publishing, read-alikes, and new releases, which is always helpful!

Even if I don’t end up requesting a title, reading blurbs and looking at covers helps to keep me abreast of trends in publishing, read-alikes, and new releases, which is always helpful!

Tell us about your library’s community, and the patrons who use your services:

My permanent position is in the Homebound Services department of the Ottawa Public Library.  We select and deliver library materials to customers who have difficulty accessing a library branch on a regular basis.  Our customer base consists primarily of older adults, and customers with disabilities.

Currently, I am working temporarily as the adult librarian at the Nepean Centrepointe (NC) branch.  NC is the second largest branch of the Ottawa Public Library, and it is located in the Ben Franklin Complex, which is also home to Centrepointe Theatre, and a City of Ottawa Client Service Centre. It is also just down the street from Algonquin College.   

On average, NC sees between 900 and 1,300 customers a day; a mixture of children, teens, adults, and older adults. Nepean Centrepointe offers a large range of programs from book clubs, to storytimes to Dungeons and Dragons evenings!  It also houses materials in Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Hindi – in addition to –English and French, which is reflective of the languages of the community (world language collections are based upon census data).

What resources or programs make your library unique?

Homebound Services is unique in the sense that it literally brings the library into your home and provides a team of staff who are well-versed in readers’ advisory and spend the majority of their time in the realm of readers’ advisory and materials selection.  One more unique fact is that we talk with the majority of our customers via telephone!

Nepean Centrepointe houses OPL’s Imagine Space where customers can come to create and collaborate using 3D printers, laser cutters, photo/video editing stations, green screens/video gear, as well as various hand and electronic tools.  NC also houses the Sunlife Financial Musical Lending Library, along with our main branch.  Customers can borrow instruments such as keyboards, guitars, banjos, mandolins, bongos, ukuleles, violins etc.

Fun fact about the Ottawa Public Library– it is the largest bilingual (English/French) library in North America!

Based on what they’re checking out, what kinds of books are your readers most interested in?

Popular areas of interest for Homebound customers are family sagas and mysteries, as well as biographies of ‘the average person’. We get many requests for Danielle Steel, James Patterson, Kristin Hannah, P.D. James and Anne Perry to name a few.

At the NC branch, nonfiction materials circulate the most (more than double general fiction and mysteries put together!).  Staff have really great displays in the nonfiction section which make it hard to walk by without grabbing one (or two). Currently, my favorite displays are “Vintage Hollywood,” “Dropping Names,” “faerie tales are Grimm” and the new cookbook display that offers a quick pick option.

What percentage of your patrons check out digital books versus print?

In terms of Homebound customers, the majority are print material users. There is an increase, however, in questions about downloadable materials, with tablet devices such as iPads becoming more popular and customers starting to explore the possibilities within these devices.  We have had an increase in requests for assistance in setting up their devices in order to borrow library e-materials.

The Ottawa Public Library offers various online resources for customer use such as Overdrive (e-books and audiobooks), CloudLibrary (express e-books) and RB Digital (magazines and audiobooks). We also offers appointments for customers looking for assistance with downloading library materials.

Based upon a snapshot from this past June at Nepean Centrepointe, approximately 20% of NC customers borrowed digital materials, 70% borrowed print, and 10% borrowed both.


Read the rest of our Ask a Librarian series, plus learn more about librarians’ use of social media with The Librarian Twitterverse.

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Ask a Podcaster: Books & Boba

Podcasts are an important part of the cultural criticism and influencer ecosystem for books, and beyond. And because audio is such an intimate medium, with hosts speaking directly into the ears of their audience, podcasts develop particularly dedicated fan bases and engaged communities. In Ask a Podcaster, we hear directly from different book-related podcast hosts to help you learn more about their community, what they are interested in featuring on their podcasts, and how they find their next book picks.

Name: Reera Yoo & Marvin Yuen

Show: Books & Boba

Books & Boba is a book club and podcast dedicated to spotlighting books written by authors of Asian descent. Every month, hosts Marvin Yueh and Reera Yoo pick a book by an Asian or Asian American author to read and discuss on the podcast. In addition to book discussions, they also interview authors and cover publishing news, including book deals and new releases.

What should book publishers know about your audience?

Marvin: They are a diverse group of readers, and not necessarily all Asian-American. Our listeners range from Asians from across the diaspora (including the UK, Oceana, and expats) and non-Asian readers who are interested in different perspectives in the books they read. Those that follow us are generally interested in our focus on Asian authors, representation in media, and own-voices narratives.

How do you pick books and authors to feature on your podcast?

Reera: We have a Goodreads list of books that our audience recommend us. We try our best to alternate genres and feature different representatives of the Asian diaspora experience.

Marvin: We make it pretty clear in our podcast opening that we focus on books written by Asian and Asian diaspora writers. We have been more flexible in terms of the genres we cover and have read both fiction and non-fiction novels, and everything from contemporary thrillers to regent-era historical fantasy.

What do you love best about your audience?

Reera: I love their passion and enthusiasm for Asian and Asian American literature. Many of our listeners are avid readers who have felt frustrated by the lack of diverse representation in publishing. Some are from countries where it is particularly difficult to find books by authors of color. So, it’s always wonderful to see their excitement in learning about upcoming and undiscovered books by Asian and Asian American authors.

Marvin: It’s always great to see new listeners who discover new books through our podcast, but I’m especially excited when our members engage with us on our Goodreads forums. Part of what we want to build at Books & Boba is a community of readers who are excited about the breadth of narratives coming from Asian authors.

What do you think is unique about podcasting as a medium for book lovers and for cultural commentary?

Reera: Reading is often a solitary activity. When you finish a book and feel your outlook on the world shift, it can be disappointing when you don’t have anyone to share your experience with. I think literature podcasts make the reading experience more intimate and less lonely. It’s like being in a book club with your friends, only you don’t have to go through the hassle of scheduling.

Marvin: I think podcasts in general are a great medium because listening can be a passive activity, so our listeners can listen to us discuss books while driving or working on something else, so you can be productive and learn stuff. Podcasts maximize efficiency!

If you use NetGalley, what strategies do you use to find books to request?

Reera: We often look through our list of forthcoming books by authors of Asian descent and search on NetGalley if they are available. We also consult [NetGalley newsletters] to see if there are any new books we might be interested in reading for our book club.

What trends in the book industry are you most excited by?

Reera: We’re very excited by the surge of sci-fi and fantasy novels by marginalized authors. It’s fascinating to see how these authors are injecting their heritage and changing how we see race, gender, and sexuality in sci-fi and fantasy.

Marvin: Like Reera, I’m excited in the emergence of speculative fiction from Asian and other authors from traditionally marginalized communities. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the classics and family dramas about intergenerational issues and immigrant struggles, but seeing fantasy inspired by the Three Kingdoms era and science fiction that uses Eastern concepts as more than just window dressing will always bring a tear to my eye.

What podcasts are you listening to?

Reera: Since we are a part of the Potuck Podcast Collective, we listen to a lot of our fellow members’ podcasts, which include Good Muslims, Bad Muslims, They Call Us Bruce, Korean Drama Podcast, and KollabCast.

Some book-related podcasts we like to listen to are First Draft, Book Riot, Minorities in Publishing, and 88 Cups of Tea.

Marvin: In addition to producing several podcasts (including Books & Boba), I also listen to a lot of (too many really) podcasts! Speaking of book clubs, I follow the granddaddy of book club podcasts Sword & Laser, I also listen to pop culture discussion podcasts like Pop Rocket and Pop Culture Happy Hour, comedy podcasts like Hello from the Magic Tavern, and anything from the McElroy family, and of course our fellow podcasts from the Potluck Podcast Collective!

Follow Books & Boba on their website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Goodreads.

And be sure to check out our whole Ask a Podcaster series!

*Interviews have been edited for clarity and length

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The Importance of Publisher Podcasting with Candlewick Press Presents

For Candlewick Press’s 25th anniversary, they decided to make a podcast that gave listeners a peek behind the curtain of the house that gave them Judy Moody, Because of Winn-Dixie, Where’s Waldo? and more. Candlewick Press Presents gained thousands of listeners during its limited run in 2017, and it’s still getting plays from industry hopefuls as well as book lovers.

In this guest post, Ally Russell from Candlewick Press describes how a traditional publisher got into the podcasting game and how it benefited from connecting with its audience in a new way.

A Learning Experience

Publishing is a fairly small and exclusive community, and many people want to know how others broke into the industry. Some readers just want an answer to a simpler but equally complicated question: How are books made? Giving people insight into the journeys of successful book creators and providing them with details on the publication of particular books gives them tools to use on their own publishing paths and a deeper appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes.

One of the most exciting pieces of information we’ve come across since the release of Candlewick Press Presents is that our podcast has been used in college classrooms as a teaching tool. At least two college instructors have required their students to listen to episodes of the show to gain a better understanding of the book publication process. We’ve always aimed to help educators use our books in the classroom, so having the podcast used as a supplementary teaching material was a huge measure of success for Candlewick.

We use the Candlewick podcast to give our readers insight and entertainment. We tell new stories — stories that wouldn’t work in a traditional book format. It’s true that the Internet has forced publishers to adapt and find new ways of putting books into the hands of readers, but it has also allowed us to broadcast stories into the heads and hearts of millions of listeners.

We’re still book people, but now we’re also in the business of oral storytelling.

Initially, we weren’t sure if our readers would be receptive to a different kind of storytelling from Candlewick Press. However, the publishing industry has had to adapt to the digital age, and reaching readers beyond bookstores is something that we feel passionately about. So we dipped our metaphorical toes into the world of podcasting. We could only hope that our listeners would enjoy the stories from behind the scenes as much as they enjoy reading the stories printed on the pages.

We’re book people. We spend our days looking closely at text and illustrations, but we had to learn to listen closely to audio recordings to eliminate extraneous noises (which were almost always children from the daycare next door pattering their tiny hands on our windows during their afternoon walks). We know how to produce and market beautiful books, but we had to learn how to present and promote the creators of those books. We know how to tell stories on paper, but we had to figure out how to tell them in a podcast.

We spent months completing logistical work: Choosing a podcast name, purchasing a domain name, designing a logo, and testing recording equipment in our “studio” (which is really just a small conference room named after one of our most beloved book characters, Maisy).

Creating and Launching Candlewick Press Presents

For the launch of the podcast, we had to curate a list of locals from our roster of brilliant talent who would be willing to help us on our journey into the world of nonfiction audio storytelling. The task was particularly difficult because we wanted to choose authors and illustrators who represent the broad spectrum of books we publish. We brought in picture book illustrators Ekua Holmes and Scott Magoon and wordless picture book storytellers Aaron Becker and Ethan and Vita Murrow. We included board book and interactive activity book creator Jannie Ho and middle-grade fiction author Teresa Flavin. We also invited nonfiction storyteller Martin W. Sandler as well as two creators who are skilled at spinning tales of both fiction and nonfiction for various ages, author/illustrator Annette LeBlanc Cate and author/poet Lesléa Newman. Annie Cardi and anthology editors Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant covered YA books. Finally, we rounded out the list with picture book creator Matt Tavares and YA author M. T. Anderson, who have been publishing with Candlewick Press for almost as long as our doors have been open.

In May 2017, after months of research, interviewing, and editing, Candlewick Press Presents launched! The podcast aired weekly between June 8 and August 31. The show was available on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play. During its first week, the podcast picked up almost 500  downloads. Within its first month, almost 2,000 downloads. As the weeks went on and with each new episode, the program gained steam.

Within six months of airing, our podcast was picked up by Spotify. At the time, Spotify was relatively selective about their podcast content, so it was an honor to be included in their offering of shows. Red Tricycle’s website — which has 1 million unique visitors per month — named Candlewick Press Presents one of 5 Cool Podcasts to Try on Your Next Road Trip. In addition to other media outlets taking notice of our show, we learned that our podcast was being listened to all over the world, including in Australia, Canada, the U.K., Singapore, Japan, and Argentina.

The biggest hurdle for any podcast is acquiring ratings and reviews, and we haven’t been able to gauge the success of the show based on those. However, we know it has been a success because we’ve managed to hit 10k downloads in just over one year, even with an irregular, somewhat unpredictable schedule in 2018.

Value of Candlewick Press Presents

Here’s why we think readers will continue to seek out and listen to Candlewick Press Presents:

Behind-the-Scenes Peeks at Candlewick Press:

Isn’t it every reader’s dream to see where and how their favorite books were created? We’ve had local readers stop by our office and ask for a tour. There’s a reason that some of our most popular social media posts are photos that feature our office and staff: readers want to know! Candlewick Press Presents throws back the curtain and gives readers a glimpse into the world of publishing. The show is recorded right in our office in Somerville, MA, and it invites readers to join the experience that Candlewick employees and book creators are part of every day.

Background Information on Celebrated Authors and Illustrators:

Many of the guests on Candlewick Press Presents have been interviewed by other media outlets, but what makes the Candlewick podcast so engaging is the wealth of background information that we’re able to collect about our authors and illustrators and the publishing process of each book. We thread each discussion with funny anecdotes about the guests and interesting facts about the publication of certain books — information that only our staff could provide. Without background information from editors, book designers, and publicists, our listeners wouldn’t know about Scott Magoon’s impeccable singing voice or the story behind M. T. Anderson’s first manuscript.

Ally Russell is the consumer outreach specialist at Candlewick Press. She works to develop long-lasting, impactful relationships with organizations, and connect with consumers. She is the host of Candlewick Press Presents.

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Ask a Podcaster: Not Now, I’m Reading

Podcasts are an important part of the cultural criticism and influencer ecosystem for books, and beyond. And because audio is such an intimate medium, with hosts speaking directly into the ears of their audience, podcasts develop particularly dedicated fanbases and engaged communities. In Ask a Podcaster, we hear directly from different book-related podcast hosts to help you learn more about their community, what they are interested in featuring on their podcasts, and how they find their next book picks.

Name: Chelsea Outlaw and Kay Taylor Rea

Show: Not Now, I’m Reading

Now Now, I’m Reading is a bi-weekly podcast where hosts Chelsea & Kay discuss what they’re reading and loving. Their guiding principle is that they want to read things that make them happy. From comics to romance, through science-fiction, young adult, crime, or fantasy. If it can be classed as genre fiction, it’s something they’ll gush about.

Chelsea & Kay aim to be critical media consumers, but strive to make Not Now, I’m Reading a space for positivity and celebration of media that gets it right.

Chelsea, co-host of Not Now I’m Reading

Kay, co-host of Not Now, I’m Reading

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you love best about your audience?

Kay: Personally, I love how excited they are to hear about what we’re reading and that they’re just as happy to share their current media favorites with us. Our listeners tend to be heavy social media users and we interact with quite a few of them through Twitter and our Patreon.

Chelsea: Similar to Kay, I love the fact that our audience feels so much like family. Whenever they reach out over Twitter to discuss an episode, give their feelings about a rec we gave, or to recommend us something in return, it feels like such an equal exchange for love for a thing!

What should book publishers know about your audience?

Kay: Our listeners skew heavily female, which makes sense given how much airtime we devote to romance and fanfiction. Our listeners are also more likely to pick up ebooks and audiobooks, at least the ones who’ve reached out to us. Accessibility is important, for us and for them. We provide full transcripts for every episode of our podcast, so we actually have a fair number of ‘listeners’ who read instead of listen as their primary means of consuming Not Now, I’m Reading. We embed links in the podcast transcript and show notes, too, which makes it very easy for our listeners to click on whatever we’re talking about and snag a copy while they’re still listening to the episode!

Chelsea: Our audience is always on the look for titles that are diverse, current, challenging takes on tropes or themes they love. We are proud of the fact, and our readers respond well to the knowledge that, in the history of our podcast, we haven’t had a book by a cis straight white man as our main focus. Our selections tend to skew heavily towards newer releases, with the exception of YA and middle grade titles, for which we tend to look more towards the backlist.

What do you think is unique about podcasting as a medium for book lovers/cultural commentary?

Kay: There’s something incredibly personal about book podcasts, and not just because there’s something personal about the human voice. Is that a creepy way of putting that? I’ve always felt a sense of intimacy with radio and podcasting. Especially when you have a very informal chatty format like ours, it’s really like you’re sitting down with a couple of your friends to talk about the things you’re enjoying. And while reading is most often a solitary pursuit, I think many book people love discussing what we’re reading and what we’re thinking of reading and how all of those things compare to things we’ve read. Sometimes you don’t have people in your daily life who are big readers, and that’s okay! But it’s nice to listen to other bookish people and media geeks enthusiastically discussing stuff they love. I mean, we love it so much we record ourselves doing it and then send it out into the world for other people to listen to!

Chelsea: Perhaps this feels a bit dramatic, but in a time when it feels like the educational fabric of our country is unraveling bit by bit, we love that we are able to provide a fun, welcoming, open discussion of books and reading in a way that addresses books as they interact with so many other aspects of our lives. Like Kay said, reading can be such a solitary activity, it can feel so good to feel a connection to other people who are reading, and to the world at large through the written word. We try our hardest to be open about our mental states and lives as they relate to the books and media we’re consuming, and that honesty and the personal and cultural overlap is what I’ve always loved most about book podcasts, especially more casual ones like ours.

How do you pick books and authors to feature on your podcast?

Kay: We exclusively feature genre fiction on the podcast, and mostly tend towards romance and SFF. We feature YA, mystery, women’s fiction, and other genres, as well, but romance and SFF are our big two. We also don’t feature any books by cishet white men. There are plenty of places their work is being featured, they don’t need our airtime, too. We also try to have the books and authors featured reflective of our person reading. Both of us set pretty high goals on the numbers of women/POC/LGBTQIA+ authors and characters we want to see in the books we’re reading. We also aim to talk about new releases within a month of launch date, but we pre-record episodes because of scheduling constraints, so it’s not always guaranteed. As far as authors we interview? At this point they’ve all reached out to us first, but we have a bit of a dream list of people we’d love to have on to talk with us.

Riven by Roan Parrish, a recent interview subject on Not Now, I’m Reading

Chelsea: Kay pretty much summarized it nicely, but I will also add that we run polls as part of our Patreon, which is where we try and feature more backlist titles and books that revolve around central themes or tropes, which our patrons can then vote on. We choose these titles by the same guiding principles Kay laid out, but this avenue also allows us to interact with our audience in a more engaged way!

If you use NetGalley, what strategies do you use to find books to request?

Kay: Is it awful to say I don’t really have a strategy? It’s not very Slytherin of me, surely. I’m usually already coming to the site with abbook or an author or very rarely a rough target release date in mind, on the off-chance we have an unexpected schedule gap for a specific air date. I do less browsing and more targeted searching.

Chelsea: Whereas, being the Hufflepuff in this scenario, I go entirely by window-shopping feel! I have most of the major publishers for our two biggest genres (SFF and romance) bookmarked and once every few weeks I’ll go and just browse by cover art, author familiarity, or just things that catch my wandering eye. In and of itself it’s not really much of a strategy, but the more browsing I do the better my gut intuition becomes.

What trends in the book industry are you most excited by?

Kay: I’m terrible about keeping track of trends! I tend to find new authors and subsequently binge their backlist titles, so I’m not always great at staying on top of new releases. I hope it’s not a trend (since that implies it’ll end relatively quickly), but I do love that even self-pubbed and small press books are starting to be more readily available on audio. At least 50% of the novels I read consumed in audiobook format. I’m also a big fan of how many ‘spinoff’ series are being picked up by mainstream publishers. For instance, Alisha Rai recently sold a spinoff series of her Forbidden Hearts books, which Chelsea and I adore. The first book in the new series will focus on the sister of a heroine from the previous series.

Chelsea: Like Kay mentioned, I am thrilled by the rise in audio consumption and availability. We consume so much of our own media in an audio format, and we know a great number of our listeners do as well, that it’s really exciting to see smaller presses get that audio treatment. On a smaller scale, I’m really excited in what seem to be trends towards musicians in romance and WAY less grimdark in SFF. I’m all about both of those things, very very much so!

What podcasts are you listening to?

Kay: Chelsea is much better at keeping up with podcasts than I am. I do so much audiobook reading, I’m usually racing a library-induced deadline to finish books before they’re due. I’m a longtime listener of Reading the End. We’re friends with Jenny and Jenny, the co-hosts, and I’ve done a guest appearance with them chatting about fanfiction. I also regularly listen to Overinvested, Smart Podcast Trashy Books, Ride or Die, Fangirl Happy Hour, Radio Free Fandom, and When In Romance. There are so many great ones out there that it’s tough to keep up!

Chelsea: Oh, buckle in friends! At last count, I had well over 60+ podcasts in my reader feed, and at least half of those are book are book industry-related. For general news, it’s hard to beat Book Riot as the standard. I will listen to the Jennys at Reading the End the minute their podcast comes to air, and the same goes for all of the podcasts that Kay mentioned! I also love several other genre related podcasts, including SFF Yeah!, The Wicked Wallflowers Club, Whoa!Mance, and Heaving Bosoms! I also listen to a ton of general pop-culture or, like, book-adjacent podcasts, especially: Food 4 Thot, My Brother, My Brother, and Me, Be the Serpent, Desi Geek Girls, Get Booked, The Popcast, Adventure Zone, Critical Role, Thirst Aid Kit, and Who Weekly. And while these are probably only of use to those who find themselves on the democratically liberal end of the spectrum, I would be remiss not to mention the fair amount of current event and political podcasts I listen to (like, four times as many as this time two years ago, go figure): Hellbent, Hysteria, Why is this Happening, Trends Like These, The Wilderness, Keep It, Lovett Or Leave It, and Queery. I told y’all, I have a bit of a podcast problem!

Follow Not Now, I’m Reading on Twitter or on their website.

And be sure to check out our whole Ask a Podcaster series!

*Interviews have been edited for clarity and length

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Lessons from the Firebrand Community Conference

In late September, Firebrand (NetGalley’s parent company) hosted its bi-annual community conference in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The community conference is an opportunity to bring our clients together from across the industry to swap stories and strategies. And, it’s a chance for us at Firebrand and NetGalley to learn about our clients’ needs. After an intimate conference full of long-time attendees, we’re still mulling over the conversations we had. Here’s what’s still on our mind:

Learn to fail or fail to learn

The conference opened with Firebrand President, Doug Lessing, showing SpaceX’s video of failed attempts to land orbital rocket boosters. Entertaining as it was to watch a bunch of technical fails and explosions, the message was clear; organizations that aren’t afraid to fail will ultimately be the ones to innovate. Experimenting, and learning from those experiments, will help us think ourselves into the future. The publishing landscape is always shifting, and most publishers are still trying to catch up to new audiences, new platforms, and new technologies. It’s only by being open to experimentation (which necessitates failures), that we will be able to meet these new challenges.

It’s not just about getting data, it’s about how you use it

It’s no news to the publishing industry that we need to embrace data more fully as a decision-making tool. But, sometimes it’s hard to know exactly where to get started and how to implement it into our already busy schedules. Fran Toolan, Firebrand’s Chief Igniter, introduced the DIKW framework for thinking about how to integrate data into decision-making. Conference attendees practiced the DIKW process together by examining lists of most popular books from multiple sources during a group session. By looking at different data sets – evaluating what information we can glean from it, what information is missing, and what other data points we might want to correlate – we were learning about how to structure data collection, analysis, and implementation.

New technology doesn’t replace the old

Michele Cobb, Executive Director of the Audio Publishers Association, brought up a surprising fact during her talk on growth in the audiobook market. She said that despite the popularity of digital media consumption and the rise of podcasting, audiobooks on CD don’t appear to be going anywhere. As new tech emerges, such as smartphones with streaming capabilities, old tech does not just go gentle into that good night. In the case of CDs and audiobooks, they are still useful for libraries, car travelers, parts of the world with spotty Internet infrastructure, and more. Additionally, self-published audiobooks can be printed on demand on CD, allowing for more audiobooks to come from more sources. It’s a welcome reminder that the newest and shiniest tool or technology doesn’t necessarily mean the death knell of traditional tools and tech. Ideally, it just means more choice and more access.

Collaboration across industry is key to survival

Publishers are all feeling the effects of a crowded industry. There seem to be infinite books, authors, platforms, publishers, imprints, and content delivery systems, all hoping to get the attention of what can feel like a dwindling market. But, as BISG Executive Director Brian O’Leary reminded us during his keynote, it’s by working collaboratively that we can make real improvements to the industry that will set us up for collective success in the future. By developing shared standards and workflow, we can ensure a more streamlined process throughout the life cycle of book publishing. Doug Lessing’s talk on blockchain brought this message home. He described one potential use of blockchain technology: developing an industry standard, secure platform for all aspects of the supply chain. While this would certainly require a lot of cross-industry conversation and planning, a secure standard platform for all supply chain transactions would streamline the day to day operations across the industry. And it’s only through that planning that all industry players could reap the benefits.

The Firebrand Community Conference is an opportunity for us to come together with our clients to think about how to best prepare for the future of publishing. At both Firebrand and NetGalley, client input, like the conversations we have at the conference, is a leading factor in how our services evolve. We value this opportunity to connect with our clients to better learn what their needs are, and how we can continue to help them reach their goals in a changing industry. We’ll see you all at the next Community Conference!

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