Publishing’s early blockchain adopters

Blockchain is on the rise in publishing and in the wider world, but it’s not yet clear exactly how it will be used to streamline the book publishing process or whose workflow it will most affect.

If you need a refresher on blockchain, read our recent introduction to blockchain to get a better sense of what blockchain is, plus some overall trends and predictions for how it might be used in the publishing industry. Some of the terms we use to describe these projects (like Ethereum, smart contracts, and blockchain itself) are explained in that introduction.

Below, check out some of the companies and collaborations who are already experimenting with using blockchain to make the publishing process smoother and more accessible.

Blockchain for Peer Review

Academic Peer Review

While academic publishing might not have a reputation as the most technologically-inclined part of an already-traditional industry, they have already gotten into the blockchain game. In 2018, Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis Group, and Cambridge University Press teamed up with this pilot project. With Blockchain for Peer Review, they hope to find ways of making the peer review process more transparent and streamlined, ultimately leading to more high-quality and trustworthy published research. The project uses an Ethereum-compatible blockchain to execute smart contracts. In September 2018, they released their proof of concept.

Publica

Author Advances and Digital Distribution

Winner of Digital Book World’s award for “Best Use of Blockchain in Publishing Technology” in 2018, Publica uses blockchain to fund and distribute books. Specifically, authors can raise funds to publish their book using an Initial Coin Offering, or an ICO. Learn more about ICO’s here. These are like pre-orders which end up also being the advance for the author. Once the author has finished the book, the investors will immediately be able to access to the title through a smart contract. In August 2018, Publica announced a partnership with publisher Morgan James.

Scenarex

Security, Traceability, Attribution, and Distribution

Scenerex’s Bookchain project allows authors and publishers to publish and distribute ebooks using blockchain and smart contracts. They call it a Digital Book Enabler. Like Publica, publishers and authors upload their titles to Bookchain. Then, publishers and authors can use smart contracts to configure the exact security settings for their file, as well as coordinate buying, reselling, and lending the title, all while keeping every file traceable. As of October 2018, Bookchain was launched in beta to publishers and authors.

Po.et

Creative License

Po.et uses the the ledgers that are fundamental to blockchain to give creators and media organizations an overview of where content is and where it has been. The goal is to use the ledger to keep track of creative works to create a decentralized and trustworthy source for media. All pieces of content uploaded to Po.et would be time-stamped so that it’s clear how content is moving. For example, stock photos uploaded to Po.et would be traceable – everyone that uses them would be entered on the ledger, so the original creator could see where their photo ended up. Po.et is currently in the process of finding bugs, onboarding new users, and doing security checks. Keep up with their progress here.  

Authorship

Professional collaborations

Authorship seeks to provide authors, publishers, translators, and readers a single platform to offer and avail each other’s services, while ensuring better compensation margins than the traditional publishing industry. Authorship uses site-specific tokens to conduct these transactions, which can then be converted to Ethereum and used off-site. Authors can upload their books to Authorship, at which point publishers can bid to publish the book either in print or in digital form. Translators can choose works on the site to translate, and then build their professional portfolio and earn money when their translations are bought and read. The project launched officially in June 2018, and as of Dec. 2018, 25,000 authors have signed up to use the service.

wespr

Incentivizing collaboration and engagement

wespr is an Ethereum-based platform that seeks to help content creators collaborate and then equitably distribute the profits from their work. Then, it will incentivize engagement with that content with an in-site cryptocurrency token. Each work on wespr (for example, a book) is considered a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO), which makes it easier for creators to collaborate. Different creators (for example, multiple authors, a translator, and an illustrator) working together on a single project. Every time a reader shares, comments on, or likes the content, both the reader and the creators are paid in on-site cryptocurrency called an Echo Token. These tokens are parceled out to creators according to the percentage of the content that they own, per the rules of their DAO. Their Twitter notes that their website is under construction, but if they do re-emerge, we’ll be watching!

Gilgamesh Platform

Shared site governance

Gilgamesh hoped to be a social information-sharing platform, where creators and users were incentivized with an in-site cryptocurrency token, powered by Ethereum smart contracts. Information on Gilgamesh would be protected by the blockchain, which its founders hoped would make for a more open spread of information on the site. We’re perhaps most interested, though, in the ways that users would have been able to use the cryptocurrency tokens they accrued within the site. One of the ways that tokens were set up to be spent is by casting votes on questions of site governance. The most active members would have a more active say in the ways that Gilgamesh functions. In March 2018, Gilgamesh didn’t meet its ICO target and the original funders were refunded. But, the site notes that Gilgamesh is currently under development. We’re certainly keeping an eye out for their next move.

smoogs

New payment model

smoogs uses Bitcoin to facilitate consumers paying for the content the are consuming as they are consuming it. So, instead of a model whereby a monthly subscription offers unlimited access, or a book costs a particular price, a reader on smoogs would only pay for the pages they read or the minutes they watch. The goal is to compensate creators for their work while not relying on ad revenue or gatekeepers like publishers. smoogs currently has two texts in beta testing, including Revenge by Xavier Robinson.

INK

Global Content Ecosystem

INK hopes to create a decentralized community of global creators, including authors. Authors can upload content, claim ownership of it through the blockchain, and distribute it to readers without going through a publisher, while retaining the profits. Investors can fund authors through in-site tokens, giving authors access to funding at an earlier stage than in traditional publishing. Based in Singapore, INK’s focus is truly global. With money from venture capital firms like Fenbushi Capital, Node Capital, and SAIF Partners, INK looks to be a major Asian-based blockchain power.

Pando Network

Crowdsourcing content and infrastructure

Pando Network is trying to rethink, in the broadest terms, how to restructure our relationships to texts. Pando wants to decentralize literature – they want to take the major decisions that determine what gets published and what gets press out of the hands of the few tastemakers at the top (editors, awards committees, etc.) and bring it to the masses. Much of their work is still speculative, but according to their Medium post, “Decentralized Autonomous Literary Organization: a decentralization of literature,” they are interested in building new relationships between readers, writers, and the infrastructure (the publishing industry) that connects them. While most blockchain companies tackling publishing are looking to solve particular issues within publishing, Pando is looking at how to build a new, and more equitable infrastructure that’s different from the vertical structure of traditional publishing (author → agent → editor → marketing team → booksellers/librarians/media → reader) and the mind-bogglingly  open field of Amazon. Right now, their only website presence outside of Medium & Twitter is Github, the software development platform.

Divider

Making the Most Out of Conference Season

With London Book Fair around the corner, here at NetGalley we’re gearing up for weeks of plane travel, convention centers, and branded pens. Conference season is a crucial time for us to see our clients across the country, to check in about their needs, and to continue building the kinds of rich personal relationships that make this industry vibrant.

In order to make the most out of any conference, it’s best to arrive with a plan. Here’s how we’re planning on getting the most out of conference season.

View from London Book Fair 2018
Photo credit: LondonBookFair.co.uk

Identify your goals

What is it that you want to get out of a conference? Make your goals clear before you arrive, whether just to yourself or with your team. Then, with that in mind, you can plan how to best spend your time. Are you hoping to get an overall sense of industry trends at one of the big trade shows? Make sure to spend some time wandering through the booths to see what patterns you notice. Are you hoping to forge new connections? Make sure to take advantage of sponsored networking opportunities. If you are more junior at your company, use an event to demonstrate your value to your colleagues and learn more about the industry by offering to take notes in client meetings or by writing a conference recap for your team. Conferences can be overwhelming, but if you go in clear about what you are hoping to get out of the experience, you’ll be able to create some structure for yourself.  

Set realistic expectations

It’s unlikely for an indie author to land a whirlwind movie deal for their debut novel at London Book Fair (although it does sound like a meet-cute in a book we’d probably read). London Book Fair has around 25,000 attendees every year, which is quite a crowd. If you hope to land  your big break at a professional conference, you will likely end up disappointed. Instead, focus on smaller and more attainable goals, while remaining flexible enough for surprises. Consider each conference as a chance to grow your professional network by meeting new people who you will keep in touch with over the coming months and deepening your relationships with colleagues across the industry. Remember to do your research ahead of time, too–understanding the audience attending or exhibiting at each conference, and what the main focus of the event is goes a long way toward setting your own expectations and goals.

Go to the seminars and lectures

Take advantage of all the experts giving advice and talking about industry trends. Take a look at the schedule before you arrive at the conference to see which talks you’ll definitely want to attend, and schedule your other meetings around them. Seminars and lectures are perfect opportunities to get inspired by how other folks in publishing are handling the challenges of the industry in new and creative ways. Then, once you’re in the room with colleagues in your field, introduce yourself to the lecturers who you’d like to connect with and say hello to audience members who asked questions relevant to your work. Targeted seminars are great places to forge connections with people who might be working on similar projects. Last year at London Book Fair, there were over 220 programs to attend. This year looks to be just as jam-packed. There’s sure to be something tailored to your specific needs at any of the larger industry gatherings.

Meetings at BookExpo 2018
Photo credit: Bookweb.org

Put faces to names

One of the most important benefits of conferences, especially the huge ones, is that everyone will be there. Use these opportunities to meet people who you only communicate with via email or phone in person. A few weeks before the conference, start asking your colleagues and clients if they’ll be attending, and find the time to get together either for a formal meeting or a casual catch-up. And, even if they won’t be attending, they’ll certainly appreciate being asked. In-person meetings are one of the most important ways to strengthen your professional relationships.

Follow up

You’ll likely leave any professional conference with a stack of business cards. Rather than letting them wither in a filing cabinet, send a quick email introduction after the conference. That way, you’ll still be fresh in each other’s memory, and now you’ve established some digital communication.

Record your impressions

When you’re on the conference floor or talking with colleagues, your mind is likely to be buzzing with new ideas or busy making connections between different aspects of the industry. We recommend writing down these thoughts while you’re still at the conference, or very quickly thereafter. When you return to your regular daily activities, you’ll be able to refer to the inspiration you felt or the trends you saw when you need to zoom out and look at the big picture of your work. It’s worthwhile to revisit these notes throughout the year, too! You may have learned something new since then that casts those earlier experiences in a new light.

Plan your 2020 budgets

After you return from your conferences, keep track of which events were the best fits for your previously-established goals. Which ones were most worth your while and which ones did you go to purely out of habit? Then, when you are planning how best to allocate your budget for next year, you’ll have documentation to refer back to when deciding whether to budget in those same conferences next year.

We’re packing our bags for the next few weeks on the road. Stay tuned for our recaps from some of the conferences we’ll be attending. See you at the convention centers!

Divider

7 Tips on Polishing Your Query from a Senior Literary Agent

As a Senior Agent at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency, I’ve read and reviewed thousands of queries. Yes, thousands, and possibly tens of thousands! Since my query inbox first opened, I’ve had the opportunity read some amazing queries, and some that could have benefitted from the following these tips on polishing and personalizing your query.

1. Send individualized queries

It will take more time, but this is an important relationship. You are hopefully going to be partnered with an agent for years, so just like with any other long term relationship you want to build strong foundations. This means at the very least addressing the agent by their name with the correct spelling and with the correct title if you choose to [address them by their] surname.

Additionally, if you happen to typo, that’s okay, it happens! Feel free to follow up with a quick correction after you hit send. Or if you’re querying via a portal, you should have the ability to withdraw your submission and then re-submit with the corrected form of address.

I promise you it will be worth it.

2. Read lots of query letters

To the Google!! Authors writing in all kinds of genres have shared their query letters, and agents have also shared sample query letters. Find them. Read them. The more you read the more you’ll be able to sort out what format would work best for your book and your genre.

Also note that while their are similarities between fiction and nonfiction queries, they are different.

3. Query letters are like the writer’s version of the middle school five-paragraph essay Here’s a quick cheat sheet of what each of those five paragraphs can contain. Remember, you can shorten as you see fit and [be sure] to personalize it.

Introductory Paragraph: This should introduce yourself and your work. Be sure to include genre and word count.

Three Body Paragraphs: You don’t have to have three, but I find it’s a solid set of paragraphs for you to talk about your book. Try to hone this “about section” think of it as similar to the text you can find on the back of a book’s cover or on the flap of a dust jacket.

Conclusion Paragraph: This closing paragraph is where you can share a bit about yourself. Think of it as your bio. Feel free to include any accolades for your writing that you might have, any professional writing organizations, or fun facts. Also include how you can be contacted if you haven’t included that info in a signature block, or some submission form.

4. Less is more

I know it may be tempting to share as much as possible about your work, but I always say that if an author could share everything they wanted in a pitch about their book then why would they then write an 80,000 word novel? So, know that we want to get to your book and your pages. Don’t keep us hostage in your query letter! Instead, use your query letter as a springboard for us to dive into your book and/or submission materials. Your pitch should pique interest and lead the reader (agent or editor) to you pages! Ultimately your book, your work, your story is what’s most important.

5. Have a friend, family member, or colleague read your query

Be open to editorial feedback. It is helpful to have someone familiar with the querying process to proofread your query letter. But, no matter what, another set of eyes will help catch the small things like the typos that our brains like to gloss over. And then, thoughtfully consider their feedback. Ultimately, you have to make the final decision on what you are going to send out, but most of the people you ask for help aren’t making suggestions just for the sake of it. Really consider their edits, and be sure to appreciate and value the time they’ve taken out of their day to spend on reviewing your query letter.

6. Ask a critique partner to help you draft a query letter

Oftentimes it’s difficult for an author to synthesize their work into a one-page pitch. If you have a trusted critique partner, they can sometimes help draft a few paragraphs to get you started. Of course, you might then owe them chocolate or whatever delicious treat they might desire. But this is an option I’ve had several of my authors mention they used when querying me! Seeing how others frame your work after reading and working on it with you might be helpful. You should never pressure or guilt critique partners or beta readers into helping you draft your query. Ask. And if they decline, that’s okay!

There are also freelance editors out in the world that might also offer these services, and you can totally pursue those options as well. But when money is involved and exchanging hands that’s a personal choice. And always make sure you vet any freelancers you might choose to work with. Do your research, folks!

7. Make sure that when you’re submitting to an agent that they do indeed work with the type of projects that you’re sending

While an agent might seem really cool in interviews or on social media, you’ll be wasting their time and your time by querying them with a project that they do not work on. Save yourself!

Good luck!

Sarah E. Younger, Senior Agent, at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency began her career in publishing at Press53 in Winston Salem, N.C. after receiving her undergraduate degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. She later attended the University of Denver’s graduate publishing program where upon completion she moved to New York City.  Sarah joined the Nancy Yost Literary Agency in the fall of 2011 and has since cultivated a diverse and talented list of authors including a variety of commercial fiction and select non-fiction titles. She is specifically interested in representing all varieties of romance, women’s fiction including chicklit and romantic comedies, adult science fiction and fantasy, and very select non-fiction. You can find her on her personal Twitter @seyitsme. Learn more about the Nancy Yost Literary Agency including how to query Sarah by visiting the NYLA website.

Divider

Case Study: Pisces Hooks Taurus by Anyta Sunday

How Anyta Sunday incorporated NetGalley into her post-pub strategy to give her astrological romance a longer tail

On NetGalley Insights, we highlight the successes of NetGalley publishers and authors, and share some of their strategies. Today, we’re talking with Anyta Sunday about her 2018 MM romance Pisces Hooks Taurus, currently available on NetGalley.

Learn why Anyta Sunday lists her titles on NetGalley after they publish, how she generates keywords for her books, and why it’s important to tell romance readers exactly what kinds of tropes they can expect in one of her books.

Our audience of publishers and authors is always eager to learn more about how others are planning their publicity and marketing efforts on NetGalley. Your current title listed on NetGalley, Pisces Hooks Taurus, began its lifecycle on NetGalley at its pub date. Tell us how you came to use NetGalley as a post-pub strategy and why it works for you.

I work with a PR agency to organize blog tours around the release of my books, also handling distribution of ARC copies to interested bloggers and reviewers. These bloggers typically already know me from previous books, while NetGalley allows me reach new audiences.

Using NetGalley starting with the pub date helps me to spread reviews and buzz over a longer time period. [Here are] two reviews [that came in] in over a month after release: Reviews for Those Who Love a Good Book and Amy’s MM Romance Reviews.

Which segments of the NetGalley community have been most important to you and why? How do you go about reaching them?

Most requests for my books come from Reviewers. I post about new titles available on NetGalley via social media and in my newsletter. [You can see an example of this] for my older release, Scorpio Hates Virgo and on my website.

On your Title Details page for Pisces Hooks Taurus, you list the tropes (friends-to-lovers, slow burn, will-they-or-won’t-they) and genres (new adult, light-hearted contemporary gay romance). It’s a great way to give prospective readers a quick snapshot into what the can expect from the book. Describe your strategies for your Title Details page to drive requests and reviews.

I try to optimize the NetGalley Title Details page in the same way as the sales page for my book on retail channels like Amazon; a snappy blurb in the same style and voice as the book, followed by a clear description of what the reader will get. This is particularly important in the romance genre where readers are often looking for specific tropes (and trying to avoid others). Romance is a big genre with many new publications, so communicating clearly what readers can expect helps a book to stand out. Also, if the book is part of a series, I mention whether you need to know the previous books or if it can be read as a standalone.

How did you engage with members who requested access? Did you follow up with them via email?

I make use of the Approval Email feature on NetGalley to engage with members who requested access. In this mail, I thank the reader and encourage them to crosspost their reviews. If the book is part of a series, I also offer the other books for review.

Tell us more about how you leverage your NetGalley listing outside the site.

I mention the availability of the NetGalley listing in my release publicity, and feature it on the book’s detail page on my website.

Your Signs of Love series, of which Pisces Hooks Taurus, is the fourth installment, taps into the current spike in public fascination with astrology. How do you use this to your advantage when finding new audiences?

I use astrology-related keywords in the advertising around the Signs of Love series to reach new audiences. I focus on Facebook and Amazon ads at the moment, and for both the targeting is key. Besides reaching fans of gay and MM romance by using related keywords, I do the same for astrology-related keywords.

What is your top tip for authors listing an individual title on NetGalley?

I find that customizing the approval email is a powerful way of following up with members requesting a book, so I would encourage using this to maximum effect: trying to connect with the reader, thanking them for requesting your book, and potentially offering other ARCs. For Pisces Hooks Taurus, I let readers that request the ARC know that there are three more books in the series and have received multiple requests for these older books as well.

Anyta Sunday is a BIG fan of slow-burn romances. She reads and writes characters who slowly fall in love. Some of her favorite tropes to read and write are: Enemies to Lovers, Friends to Lovers, Clueless Guys, Bisexual, Pansexual, Demisexual, Oblivious MCs, Everyone (Else) Can See It, Slow Burn, Love Has No Boundaries. She writes a variety of stories: Contemporary MM romances with a good dollop of angst, contemporary lighthearted MM romances, and even a splash of fantasy. Her books have been translated into German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Thai.

Follow Anyta Sunday on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

See all of her titles on her website, including purchase links.

Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

Read the rest of our case studies, featuring authors, trade publishers, and academic publishers here.

Divider

View from the UK

Two months into 2019 and the year’s trends and patterns are slowly emerging – with some early indicators of the books that will be big over the next 12 months.

Last year was largely dominated by two fiction titles, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Sally Rooney’s Normal People – and the success of both authors has certainly informed the shape of fiction in 2019.

We saw the first stirrings of what has become known as ‘up lit’ in 2017, but it feels that 2019 will determine whether this is a genre that is here to stay. Certainly the positive reaction to books such as Needlemouse, The Truth and Triumphs of Grace Atherton, and The Other Half of Augusta Hope suggests that readers are still charmed by stories that provide a seam of comfort in an ever more confusing world.

Sally Rooney’s phenomenal success has given a major flip to literary fiction, reminding the public of the joys of the smart contemporary novel that examines the way we live now. In the likes of Candice Carty William’s Queenie, What Red Was by Rosie Price and Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor, we’re already seeing a new generation of writers take on important subjects in innovative and different ways.

While selecting our Books of the Month and looking at nominations for Roundups and Featured Titles promotions, we’ve been struck by the breadth of the titles being published. Publishing is often accused of being risk-averse, but there seems to be a much more varied choice in stories than even eighteen months before. Certainly, it has become even more difficult to select the books we feature!

This broadening of horizons is replicated by readers’ tastes, which we’ve seen become more varied. More nonfiction titles have been added to NetGalley than ever before, with publishers recognising that members are attracted to interesting stories whether they are invented or not. It’s great to be able to showcase such titles to our members, and to help them find titles they might not ordinarily have requested.

We’re fond of saying that NetGalley is like a sandbox for books – a place where you can see how a title performs before it goes out into the wild – and we’re delighted to see so many titles, in so many different genres, picking up great reviews from our members.

NetGalley UK will be back in April to look back on the year so far and share our insights with you!

Divider

Pre-Publication Tips for Authors: Sending Out Review Copies

Getting people talking about your book before it goes on sale is crucial to a book’s success. But, without a professional publicity team, it can be hard to know where to begin. Galleys are a perfect place to start to get your book into the hands of people who will build its pre-publication buzz.

Publishers can always attach PDFs to emails, but this tends to look less polished than sending along a digital galley or a printed galley Plus, PDFs are not trackable or secure, which means that they can be shared widely without your knowledge. The industry standards for sending review copies are to send either printed galleys or digital galleys through a secure site, like NetGalley.

Digital Galleys via NetGalley

Listing your title on NetGalley lets you make your title available for request to our community of hundreds of thousands of  book influencers (including librarians, educators, and media). You can also use tools like the widget to include pre-approved links to your title via NetGalley. With NetGalley, you have control over who has access to your title, and reports available to you within your account to title activity and history. Digital galleys tend to be quite cost-effective once you have committed to them. They can be sent to as many people as you like, meaning that you can send your title to a wider pool of reviewers and influencers than you could with just printed galleys. Plus, they are environmentally conscious!

Physical Galleys

Sending out printed copies of your book is a classic and effective way to build pre-publication buzz. Reviewers or media professionals might prefer printed galleys if they work in an office that is more traditional, where an editor may be assigning the book to the final reviewer, or if they just prefer reading printed books rather than digital ones. Printed galleys are particularly helpful when submitting to literary awards. However, printing costs, packaging materials, and shipping costs are important factors to take into consideration when thinking about how you will incorporate printed galleys into your marketing strategy. They can be quite expensive, so it’s important to be strategic when thinking about who should receive a printed galley. For the budget-conscious, printed galleys should only go to readers or awards who have specifically requested printed galleys, and who are likely to review your title.

Most review sites and reviewers have specifications for how they would prefer to receive galleys, which we advise you to consult before submitting your titles to them for consideration.

However you choose to get the word out about your book pre-publication, make sure that you are giving your book the best possible chance to succeed by providing advanced copies to reviewers and influencers.

Divider

Connecting with Bookstore Book Clubs

One of the most powerful ways that a bookstore can compete with digital retailers is by providing something that the algorithm can’t – community. Bookstores host author talks, children’s storytime, and more. Many bookstores also host book clubs as a way to bring in new customers and to cultivate a vibrant atmosphere.  

Some publishers are already working with bookstore-based book clubs and learning about their needs, but we hope that more will take the time to cultivate relationships with indie bookstores through their book clubs.

These bookstore book clubs draw in new readers who become regular customers and active members of the community. Book clubs help readers find out about new genres and new authors that they may not have been previously exposed to, with picks curated by experienced readers. For example, Bella De Soriano joined City Lit’s Graphic Content book club in Chicago because she saw a flier while she was shopping. She wasn’t a big graphic novel or comic reader before but saw it as an opportunity to expand her reading horizons and get connected to some of her neighbors.

When indie bookstores have to compete with the ease and convenience of online retailers, being able to create in-person points of connection is crucial. According to City Lit owner Teresa Kirschbraun, the bookstore’s book club programming has resulted in not only friendships outside of the clubs, but an engagement!

In addition to fostering community, these book clubs help stores gain more loyal customers and build a more dynamic events calendar. Some of the other book clubs at City Lit include the Wilde Readers Book Club for LGBTQ lit, Found in Translation, Women Write Books, Weird and Wonderful Book Club for speculative fiction and fantasy, the Subject to Change Book Club featuring coming-of-age stories, and more. City Lit encourages book club members to purchase through their store by providing a discount to members who have an account with the store.

While many privately-run book clubs function as social gatherings as well as literary ones, book clubs that operate in bookstores are a different beast. Often, they have clear leaders and facilitators who are, in most cases, booksellers themselves. Since joining the Graphic Content book club, De Soriano has taken over some of the organizing of the club. This includes purchasing copies for the book club members and working with City Lit to schedule meeting dates.

Book club leaders think and talk about books for a living, so their relationship to book club picks looks a little different from “civilian” book clubs. They are more plugged into the wider publishing industry, with better understanding about trends that readers are enjoying and knowledge of new titles on the horizon.

Book club leaders at City Lit find titles using industry tools like book awards, as well as keeping tabs on releases from publishers whose work they already like. Kirschbraun explains, “For Found in Translation, [the leader] will review information from publishers of translated books, [like Open Letter Books and New Directions Publishing]. She also looks at other translations by favorite translators. Other booksellers rely on lists of books that have been longlisted or won awards.  Some review modern canon lists. For Women Write Books, the book club leader finds lists of diversity such as women of color or queer women authors.”

Additionally, bookseller-led book clubs tend not to use reading guides. Book club leaders at City Lit look for interviews with the author, book reviews, and find coverage from news media such as Bustle or Huffington Post.

Cosmo Bjorkenheim, who leads the NYC History Book Club at McNally Jackson’s Williambsurg location, agreed. “Mostly any outside material has been supplemental, like an exchange of letters between Robert Caro and Robert Moses right after the publication of The Power Broker, an open letter from Jane Jacobs to Michael Bloomberg from 2005, some maps, some movie clips… Bibliographical information is often useful, as are footnotes and indices. These are helpful for digging deeper into topics mentioned in a book but not elaborated upon.”

While Bjorkenheim does not currently work with any publishers directly for his book club, he hopes to do so for the next book club that he and his colleague will host, the Movie Adaptation Book Club. Interested publishers can email him at Cosmo@mcnallyjackson.com. “We plan on structuring this club a little more carefully, with screenings scheduled between meetings and some kind of thematic arc guiding the readings. There will be more of an emphasis on supplemental materials and something like a “lesson plan” for each meeting.”

Kirschbraun has made a point to tell her reps from publishers about the book clubs at City Lit so that the reps can suggest upcoming books that might suit the booksellers’ and the clubs’ interests.

Check out these other bookstores with robust bookclub programming:

We hope that more publishers will make an effort to get to know the book clubs that exist in the bookstores they work with. Talk to the leaders, learn what kinds of titles their members are most interested in and what sorts of supplemental information would make for a richer discussion.

Divider

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

Divider

Blockchain for Book Publishing

From cryptocurrency’s spectacular boom and crash of 2017-2018 to ads in the New York subway system for a regulated cryptocurrency exchange, cryptocurrency and blockchain are still overwhelming to most people. They seem to be somewhere between futurist Internet fantasies and the newest technological solutions for streamlining business and communication across many different sectors of our lives.

Blockchain is the underlying structure upon which cryptocurrency (like Bitcoin) is built. Publishing has had its eye on blockchain for several years already. But, nevertheless, it is still more than a little mysterious or confusing for the industry.

So, we’ve put together a handy primer about what blockchain is and how it might affect the publishing industry, plus some resources for more further reading.

What is blockchain?

At its most basic, blockchain refers to a way of storing information or value without relying on a centralized authority. So for cryptocurrency, information about who has what amount of a given currency (like Bitcoin) is not stored at a central authority like a bank, but is available on a ledger that is accessible to anyone on the network. Transactions are bundled together into a block and then blocks are chained together in a way that cannot be broken or altered. In systems that rely on a central authority, that central authority could cook the books. But, because the information is decentralized and accessible to anyone on the network, it’s impossible for an individual or group to conceal or alter transactions. Blockchains can then tell anyone where an item or piece of information is and where it has been before. It’s a way of decentralizing data and authority, while making transactions more transparent.

Instead of checking in with a central authority, like a publishing house or a bank to arrange a transaction, the end parties can complete the transaction themselves. So, for example, I can pay my share of rent to my roommate directly using cryptocurrency instead of talking to the bank to take money out of my account and then having my bank talk to my roommate’s bank to deposit that money into their account. Once I tell the blockchain that I have given money to my roommate, that transaction enters the blockchain ledger so that it can never be changed.

Station F has a great introduction to blockchain on Medium.

What does blockchain have to do with publishing?

Blockchain can open new possibilities for the exchange of resources, goods, and data between individuals and companies. The whole publishing industry depends on many teams working in different departments and companies working together and speaking to one another, all of which could be made much easier by using blockchain. It represents a new model for storing data across multiple parties — From authors and agents, to publishers, to warehouses and distributors, all the way to retailers and end-audiences/readers.

Which parts of the publishing industry could be affected by blockchain?

Smart contracts & the supply chain

It comes as no surprise to anybody in the publishing industry that many moving parts working at many different companies have to work together to bring a book into the world. Authors, agents, publishers, production teams, distributors, warehouses, and more. Smart contracts, which use blockchain, could make this process more seamless. Smart contracts are pieces of code that are stored on a blockchain network. The code of the contract defines the terms of the contract that all parties have agreed to. If required conditions are met, actions are automatically executed in an “if, then” structure. For example, a smart contract might program a car to drive along a certain path, automatically stop at every stop light, pause at every stop sign, and go past green lights. Traditional contracts are more similar to having a physical person driving the car, making the decisions. Or, having a person driving the car on the phone with someone confirming that they should, in fact, stop at a red light. So, if a publisher and a printer have a smart contract, printing could be automatically triggered once the printer receives final proofs, instead of someone from the publisher emailing someone from the printer who will then get the ball rolling. This video and this article provide great intros to smart contracts.

Reselling digital titles

Blockchains allow an item (whether a bitcoin or an ebook) to be tracked wherever it goes because of the decentralized ledger that holds the record of where an item went and when. Blockchain could make it easier to resell ebooks while keeping a record of whose hands the title passed through and for how long. Scenarex is already experimenting with this through Bookchain.

Peer review

For academic publishers, clear peer review process is crucial to the publishing process. In 2018, Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis Group, and Cambridge University Press teamed up with the pilot project, Blockchain for Peer Review. With this project, they are experimenting with using blockchains to make the peer review process more transparent, which they hope will ultimately lead to increased trust in the produced research.

Anti-piracy

Blockchains could allow publishers to keep tabs on all individual copies of a title, physical and digital. Blockchains keep track of all transactions, including buying, selling, and reselling. So, that means that it could be much easier to see when a copy has slipped into the wrong hands or is being distributed illegally if a publisher is keeping track of its titles using blockchain.

How much is hype?

As with any new and trendy technology, some of the interest is bound to be hype. And after the cryptocurrency crash in 2018, it might have seemed like the end of a trend.

But, rather than thinking that the blockchain fad is over, we think that we’re just past the Peak of Inflated Expectations on the hype cycle.

Heavy hitters are putting resources into developing long-term strategies for cryptocurrency and blockchain (see the Blockchain Center from the NYC Economic Development Corp.). Publishing industry groups are incorporating blockchain into scope of interest. For example, BISG has hosted multiple events about blockchain and Digital Book World has an award for Best Use of Blockchain in Publishing Technology.

So while it remains to be seen exactly how blockchain will change the publishing industry, it seems clear that enough corners of the market – publishing and beyond – are investing time and energy into thinking about how blockchain could solve some of their recurring problems.

Who is already using blockchain?

Read all about publishing’s early blockchain adopters here.

  • Publica: Publishing platform using blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to innovate in how books are funded, distributed, bought, and read. Announced partnership with Morgan James in Aug. 2018.
  • po.et: Open, universal ledger that records immutable and timestamped information about your creative content and uses open protocols designed for interoperability with current industry standards in media and publishing.
  • Authorship: Platform to provide readers, writers, translators and publishers with a single platform to offer and avail each other’s services. Uses site-specific tokens to conduct transactions, which can then be converted to Ethereum (a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin).
  • Scenarex: Bookchain project allows authors and publishers to publish and distribute ebooks using blockchain.
  • wespr: Ethereum-based platform that helps distribution of content between artists and their audience.
  • Blockchain for Peer Review: Collaboration between Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis Group, and Cambridge University Press to investigate using blockchain to make peer review more transparent and secure.

Further reading

The Promises and Perils of Blockchain Technology in Publishing

Blockchain: The Ultimate Resource Guide for Publishers

Blockchain for Books: What Indie Authors Need to Know

And, subscribe to NetGalley Insights for more coverage on how new tools & technologies are changing the publishing industry!

Divider

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.

Divider