Booknet Canada’s Tech Forum: Data, diversity, and collaboration

Each year, Booknet Canada hosts Tech Forum, the largest tech-focused professional development event in the Canadian publishing industry. Like the other conferences and industry events we’ve been attending, panelists were thinking about diversity, inclusion, data, and collaboration. Here are some of our takeaways from Tech Forum 2019’s speakers discussing top-of-mind challenges and trends.

Moving from Diversity to Inclusion

The Canadian publishing industry is no stranger to the conversation around diversity and inclusion in the book world. Tech Forum’s keynote speaker Ritu Bhasin of bhasin consulting inc., addressed this in her presentation, “Disrupting Bias: Overcoming our Discomfort with Differences.”

Diversity, she said, is only one step toward inclusion. Despite best intentions, diversity is a numbers game – counting how many different “kinds” of people are in an institution. Diversity doesn’t ensure that individuals who have been marginalized in the publishing industry and elsewhere are encouraged to be their authentic selves or given the same opportunities as others. For example, diversity means advertising that a certain percentage of a publisher’s list is written by women or POC authors. Inclusion means ensuring that a publisher spends equal resources (or greater resources) to market its diverse list to give those books a better shot in the market.

Bhasin also mentioned that in 15 years Canada’s population is projected to be 35-40% POC and 6% indigenous. So, not only is it an ethical and social imperative to make a more inclusive industry, it is also best business practices.

We also saw questions of inclusion and diversity addressed at London Book Fair. Read our recap here.

Tools for Data-Driven Decisions

Jordyn Martinez, sales representative at Simon & Schuster Canada, explained how to use data to encourage more book sales in her talk, “Finding the Kernel: Data Driven Sales Tactics to Really Sell Your Book.”

She suggested that publishers use Google Trends, which analyzes the top search queries across customizable topics or categories. This useful tool can be used to discover data that can have a major impact on the marketing of your book, especially when it comes to advertising.

Take, for example, regional trends. If you’re hoping to sell your summer beach read, you can use Google Trends to discover which state or province is most likely to be searching for this term. This can help you hone in on how to spend your advertising dollars and get the most bang for your buck. With Google Trends, you can learn that Floridians are much more likely to be searching for beach reads than people living in Alaska, making it a far more sensible decision to start a beach-focused ad campaign in Florida.

Google Trends can also help you pick the optimal publication date for a title, as well. If you’re wondering when you should publish a steamy romance, Google Trends can tell you that the week after Valentine’s Day is the most popular for these types of searches.

Building Bridges Between Publishers and Booksellers

While publishers and booksellers are aligned in goal, we learned during “Building Bridges, Not Walls: Successful Publishing & Retailing Collaborations,” that they do run into issues executing their shared goal of helping books find their audiences.

Laura Ash from Another Story Bookshop told us that as a bookseller, she sometimes has a hard time restocking bestsellers, causing a critical gap between when the book is at its most popular and when they actually have it in stock. If books are out of stock, today’s readers aren’t willing to wait until the bookstore has it again. Instead, they’ll turn to Amazon or a convenient big box store.

Chris Hall of McNally Robinson said that he’s finding it more and more difficult to spot best sellers. But, he noted that for him, a bookseller’s job to generate their own bestsellers. He suggested using engaging displays, interesting newsletters, and targeting the local demographic to set a book up for success. For example, at his own branch in The Forks in Winnipeg, which has a rich history as an early Aboriginal settlement, they’ve worked extra hard to devote shelf space and hand-sell titles by local indigenous authors.


For more of our conference season coverage, check out our recap of London Book Fair and Livre Paris, as well as recent events from BIGNY and the Future of Media. And, keep up with NetGalley Insights conference coverage by signing up for our weekly newsletter!

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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!

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Book Publishing from Concept to Consumer with BISG

On November 15, we braved snow flurries in Chicago to attend BISG’s day conference: Book Publishing, from Concept to Consumer.

The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) works to create a more informed, empowered and efficient book industry. Their membership includes trade, education, professional and scholarly publishers, as well as distributors, wholesalers, retailers, manufacturers, service providers and libraries.

Throughout the day, seven different presenters described their jobs – their workflow, the challenges they face, and where their work fits into a book’s lifecycle.

Most of us only see books during a relatively small part of their lives. The details and strategy that consume our workdays are only a fraction of the work that goes in to bringing a book to the public. Acquisition editors see books when they are just manuscripts and ideas. Printers shepard books into the physical world and then pass them along. Library marketers are thinking about how books will live in communities years after their pub date, when the pages are soft and earmarked. This overview of what our colleagues are doing across the industry was a welcome reminder that we all depend on each other’s work to bring the best books to the readers who will love them.

For those who weren’t able to attend, here is a bit of what was covered:

Publishing is beyond personal taste

Contrary to popular conception, Todd Stocke described his role as SVP and Editorial Director at Sourcebooks as less about his own inimitable tastes and more about analyzing data and looking for spaces in the market to tell new stories. For him to be successful at his job, he needs to be able to think outside of his personal preferences and the demographic details that have given rise to his interests and tastes. He has to have an idea of what people of different backgrounds are interested in, and to have access to the writers telling those stories. He described the necessity of having a pipeline that is both broad and deep. A broad pipeline means getting manuscripts from a variety of sources and a deep pipeline means developing relationships with the people providing those manuscripts so that, for example, an agent will know immediately if the manuscript in their hand is the perfect book for the Sourcebooks nonfiction editor.

All stages of book publishing are about the audience

This was the overarching theme of the day. It was not a shock to hear audience as the focus for acquisitions, bookstores, or libraries. These are the parts of the industry that we know need to be responsive to what readers are looking for. But we were surprised to hear how much audience fits into how other players in the industry do their jobs. As Judine O’Shea described the design process for a book, she made the point that a big driver for her is audience-appropriateness. If she’s designing the title and page layout for a children’s book, how many colors will be too busy for young eyes? Will the font be easily legible for early readers? Michael Shea from LSC Communications pointed out that audience use determines the physical form of a book, too. Different binding styles are better for the different ways books live in our lives. For example, an art book that is meant to lay flat on a coffee table will be bound differently than a trade paperback meant to be read on the subway. The glue used on a technical textbook that will be out of date in a few years will be different from the glue used on a book that might be passed down from generation to generation.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown illustrates Judine O’Shea’s audience-centric design principles – Plenty of visual interest for many rereads with simple font for early readers.

Know your local, professional community

Suzy Takacs chalked up some of her success at the Book Cellar to her close relationships with local players of the book industry. She described her warm relationships with other booksellers, and how she has called upon stores like Women & Children First to help her stock titles in advance of events. She even described visiting IPG’s warehouse for a last-minute pickup. She is able to quickly respond to inventory needs and meet consumer demand because she has positive relationships with other booksellers and with distributors. Stephen Sposato of the Chicago Public Library expressed a desire to work more closely with booksellers. He suggested sharing data about which titles have long hold lists, so that bookstores will know what readers are asking for and can make sure to adjust their inventory to align with demand.

Speakers:

  • Concepting/Acquisition: Todd Stocke, SVP & Editorial Director, Sourcebooks
  • Editorial Development: Annie Nybo, Editor, Albert Whitman
  • Design & Production: Judine O’Shea, Marketing, Publishing, and Grants at HPC
  • Manufacturing/Warehousing: Michael Shea, SVP LSC Communications
  • Distribution: Richard T. Williams, VP Development IPG
  • Retail: Suzy Takacs, owner Book Cellar
  • Libraries: Stephen Sposato, Manager of Collection Development & Readers Advisory, Chicago Public Library

 

For more cross-industry knowledge and events, follow BISG on their website, where you can see all upcoming events.

And, stay up to date with industry news by subscribing to the NetGalley Insights newsletter.

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Lessons from ECPA PubU

Last week, NetGalley joined 230 other attendees from 90 companies in Nashville to attend ECPA PubU. It’s a chance for members of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association to learn from one another, to think creatively about how to market their titles, and to brainstorm ways to expand their audiences. Many publishers and authors who use NetGalley are also members of the ECPA, so we at NetGalley Insights were grateful for the opportunity to hear more about the attendees’ unique needs, goals, and challenges.

Over and over, we heard attendees talking about how publishers and authors can put their readers first: By making it easier for readers to find the books they are looking for in a keyword search, by being experimental and responsive with the implementation of new platforms, by curating content for them in an overstuffed marketplace, and by making sure that marketing emails provide information of real interest and value.

Here are some of the ideas and lessons we’re taking away with us from ECPA PubU:

Better cross-departmental communication is key to making the most out of your metadata

During his talk about metadata, Firebrand Director of Sales & Marketing Joshua Tallent made the case that marketing and data departments should be working together much more closely. He suggested not only that there should be cross-training, but that in an ideal world, these departments would share staff. Metadata is fundamentally a marketing tool, helping with algorithmic discovery. As you might expect, titles with basic metadata (author, title, ISBN) have 75% higher sales than titles without that information. It only stands to reason that data and marketing should be more closely linked at an institutional level. For example, data teams can use keywords to see how audiences are searching for your books and then marketing departments can include that in their copy and as keywords in the metadata feeds that they are sending out to retailers. This way, data insights are made actionable during a book’s lifecycle. Publishers across the industry know that they need to incorporate data into their decision-making process, and creating better cross-departmental collaboration is a great place to start.

Experiment as you implement new channels and platforms

When the Rabbit Room began in 2007, it was a blog for Christian writers, pastors, musicians, and fans to gather together. Now, in 2018 it is a conference, a publishing house, a live music series, and a podcasting network. In his talk, “Building a Community of Readers,” Pete Peterson, Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press, described how Rabbit Room experimented with different ways to connect with their community as it grew and changed. One of those ways was podcasting. At first, they just had The Rabbit Room Podcast, but realized that they were better served by hosting multiple podcasts that could better target the specific interests of their community. They are currently in the process of building the Rabbit Room podcast network with multiple programs geared towards specific interests. This lesson reminded us that when publishers and authors are finding new ways to engage their audience, it’s ok to experiment and pivot to best suit your needs.

Curation is crucial for publishers and retailers of all sizes

In her opening remarks about the future of faith and the future of retail, NPD’s Kristen McLean suggested that the future of retail is a mix of high-touch and convenience. Brands (including publishers and retailers) will have to be both personable and easily accessible if they are going to succeed. Several panelists during the conference described their successes with curation as a strategy for becoming high-touch, but without coming across as overtly sales-y. Stacy Kennedy of Red Bird Social noted the success of Patsy Clairmont’s Patsy Box as a way to connect authentically with fans. David Barker of Readerlink highlighted how Amazon is getting into the curation game as well. Amazon is now offering a podcast full of personalized picks from the Amazon staff, to put a warm human face behind the convenience and the algorithm. Curation is something that can be implemented at an author level (what would your protagonist put on a Spotify playlist?) or at a company level (here’s what our team is reading).

Encourage authors to create around their book topic

Authors need to get the word out about their titles around pub date, but it isn’t effective to just blast out “pre-order/buy my book” emails or social posts. Instead, authors should create content that’s related to their book or to the writing process to build excitement. This should all be done in order to provide something of real value to the audience. For example, author of the Left Behind series Jerry Jenkins described the Facebook group he runs for aspiring writers. He is able to connect authentically with an audience by providing value in the form of writing advice. Then, when he has a book coming out, he has an audience that’s actively engaged with him both as a person and as a writer. He also noted that, as a writer, he’s not inclined towards self-promotion, but this writing group on Facebook feels authentic rather than gimmicky. Additionally, outside of the ECPA ecosystem, Ling Ma did a terrific job with this strategy by writing about crying at work for Buzzfeed News before her novel Severance pubbed.

NetGalley is proud to partner with and support the ECPA and its members. Reach out at insights@netgalley.com for more information about how we work with ECPA publishers.

Don’t forget to subscribe to NetGalley Insights to stay up to date with industry news and conference coverage.

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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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