Make it Personal, Online

PubTech Connect – Book Lovers on the Internet: Connecting with Readers in Digital Ways

In partnership with Publishers Weekly, NYU’s Center for Publishing hosted a night of discussion about online book communities and communications as part of their PubTech Connect series. These diverse panelists all agreed on one thing: When talking about books, they are all far more interested in personal, affective responses to books rather than in sweeping generalizations about whether a book is Good or Bad.

Panelists

Even though the panelists all represent different ways of engaging with online book discussions and different reading communities. They – and their audiences – are each looking for stories about how books influence us, how books help us relate to their own lives or to current events, and how books can foster a sense of interpersonal connection. As Jess Zimmerman of Electric Lit put it, they are all moving from focusing on whether a book is good or bad to how a book is functioning and with whom it is resonating.

NYU PubTech Connect Publishing Emma Straub Jess Zimmerman
Emma Straub (left) and Jess Zimmerman

They shared some of their digital content strategies with this personal touch in mind. For authors and publishers, knowing what kind of content is resonating online can help you to make stronger pitches to media outlets, and to produce the content yourselves that will help you connect directly with your audience.

Personal essays

Cristina Arreola, Senior Books Editor at Bustle told the audience that personal essays are always top performers for Bustle. Essays like “I Re-Read Big Little Lies Amid the #MeToo Movement – And It Changed the Novel Entirely for Me” and “I Grew Up in a Fundamentalist Evangelical Community. How I ‘Rewired’ My Brain with Poetry” resonate with readers because they demonstrate the emotional pull that books have, the ways that they can shape us and stay with us, and can help us understand our current cultural moments.

Jess Zimmerman also publishes personal essays. She noted Electric Lit readers respond positively to personal pronouns in headlines. For example, titles like “The Book That Defined my Teen Anxiety Turned Out To Be a Lie” or “The Book That Made Me a Feminst Was Written by an Abuser” promote identification with the author of the essay. Even if the readers don’t share these particular, unique experiences, the framing around “I” gives them a reason to click. And the personal focus of the essays resonate with readers who have also been shaped by their reading experiences, even if those experiences aren’t the same as the ones being written about.

Quizzes

We all click on quizzes more than we’d like to admit. It’s not that we really need to know what our taste in donuts says about our innermost souls, it’s that we like to see ourselves reflected. That’s why Jane K. Lee of Epic Reads gives her YA-loving audience plenty of quizzes. Some of them are about specific books, and some are about creating personalized recommendations. Lee uses quizzes to help her audience connect with themes of a book by placing them in it – by seeing which character they are most similar to or seeing how well they would fare in a dystopian future.

Bookish Executive Editor, Kelly Gallucci agrees about the importance of quizzes. She told NetGalley Insights, “Bookish quizzes all put the reader in control. In a way, our quizzes are like a choose your own adventure for book recs! With the reader at the helm, the results feel more personal and curated because their choices (whether its their Hogwarts house or favorite dessert) led them to the book in the results. It results in a recommendation process that’s surprising, fun, and engaging for both us and our readers.”

Faces (or hands!)

Emma Straub, co-owner of Brooklyn’s Books are Magic noted that the bookstore’s Instagram followers want to see people. They love seeing authors, employees, and everyday readers in their feed. Through social media, audiences have increased access to authors, celebrities, and popular store owners. By showcasing the people behind the magic, and the ones who are enjoying it, Straub and her team create a feeling of intimacy online. That way, when people walk in to Books are Magic for the first time after following them online, they can already feel at home.

Moderator M. J. Franklin jumped in to agree that showing the person behind the online persona is crucial, but that he is often loathe to take a photo with his face in it. Instead he’ll show his hands in a photo so that readers know that there’s a flesh and blood person posting, but he doesn’t have to worry about catching his face at the perfect angle.

Through meaningful personal digital content marketing, you can help your audience connect with you at a deeper level. Audiences are hungry to know the people bringing them the books they love – whether those people are authors, publishers, booksellers, influencers, or reviewers.

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