Category Archives: EBook Marketing Innovations

Why Similarities Are Important In Book Marketing

We’re new to the publishing industry and so we have been, for the last year or more, eagerly devouring articles from industry notables in an attempt to “school” ourselves in the language and practice of publishing. We have, in particular, learned quite a bit from Peter McCarthy and Mike Shatzkin, founders of Logical Marketing. Their posts have not only enlightened us but have reassured us that we are heading down the right road in the development of our Audience Management Platform for Writers.

A recent presentation by McCarthy entitled The Big Ideas in Big (or Small) Marketing Data reinforced for us the critical role that “similarities” play in book marketing. The sweet spot, as McCarthy notes, is to use similarities to find the audience that is “unaware [of my book] and just might [buy)” it. These adjacent  or “look-alike” audiences are comprised of people who are similar to our own followers or to a specific profile. They share the same demographic characteristics, use the same hashtags, etc. They may, in fact, like the same books.

Set of Black and White Feather.

We have trod down the same path as McCarthy in searching for those look-alike audiences – though we may use different terms and perhaps have received different inspiration for doing so. We are inspired by the philosopher Wittgenstein’s meditations on how “language” means (through “family resemblances”) and also from the linguist de Saussure, who posited that language was comprised of similarities and differences between words or signs.

This is not a leap, of course, for most writers – or readers. Amazon, Netflix and other companies have fashioned their recommendation engines so that we are constantly reading or viewing or listening to “similar” things (fortunately we can be a fan of many genres!). And many social media users are experts at finding similar hashtags through the use of www.hashtagify.me and other tools.

So we have been, instinctively, using similarities (or analogies) all along in our search for an audience (and for meaning in general). And this makes sense – as Douglas Hofstadter writes in Surfaces and Essences, “analogy is the fuel and fire of thinking.” It also drives what we are doing at Find My Audience. We are trying to automate that process, however. Take, for example, the screen presented below.

 

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This is our Profile Screen. Here we ask writers to tell us what genre(s) their book fits into, similar books, and keywords or phrases that might describe their book. Later on, the writer will be able to provide a fuller profile, but for now, these inputs are sufficient. We use those inputs to search the social web not only for matches but for similarities to the inputs the writer entered. Below is a sample screen return from our search of Twitter.

 

fma-audience-twitter-people

 

Note that our application returns users who have been “ranked” as being potentially predisposed based on the language they are using. We then enable you to communicate directly with that user. By narrowing down the audience, we save the writer time and we provide a direct-to-consumer marketing vehicle.

There are a lot of neat feat features in our Audience Management Application and in the weeks to come we will start to share them with you. In the meantime, should you want to be on our beta list of users, send us an e-mail at mark@findmyaudience.com.

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Reading and Memory

kindleA recent piece by Alison Flood in The Guardian brought up the issue of whether comprehension is lower when reading on a Kindle e-reader. Flood cites the work of researcher Anne Mangen of Stavanger University in Norway, who recently tested 50 people on their comprehension (plot, setting, etc.) of an Elizabeth George short story. Half of those tested read the story on a Kindle and half read it on paper.

Lo and behold, those who read the piece on a Kindle came up short when they were examined on the particulars of George’s story. Does this surprise anyone? I don’t think so.

Truth be told, our memories have, through the centuries, become increasingly downsized and outsourced. It’s true that back in the age of Homer (memory’s halcyon days), traveling bards memorized long epical poems in their entirety – and some mnemonic contortionists could recite epics like the Iliad backwards.

But even those bards used various  “distributed memory sourcing” techniques. In particular they (and their followers in the centuries to come) deployed the mnemonic strategy of loci et imagines. This is a technique where one placed what one wanted to memorize in a familiar place or attached it to a familiar object. That world is far removed from our own, and indeed it must have been a magical place, one that abounded in memories – but it does underline the fact that humans have historically created or found storage devices, both for mental and physical objects.

Scholars have posited that this kind of memory, which characterizes oral cultures, was pre-analytical, pre-logical, that it was external in nature. But that changed when books started to be produced and knowledge dramatically increased; memory migrated from the world to the page. The new “print” paradigm demanded that we only know how books were categorized; of course it helped if we knew what book specific information could be found in – but it wasn’t necessary. Freed from the taxing demands of personal memorization, our minds were able to, as Walter Ong, Robert Logan, and others have argued, to become more logical, more analytical – in short, the rise of books also witnessed the rise of the rational mind.

 

sleep_of_reason Goya, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

Of course this is all dialectical in the sense that one paradigm – oral, print, digital – doesn’t replace an earlier one but rather subsumes it in itself and resolves the tensions and weaknesses of the previous paradigm. Having a good memory is still important – indeed, just a generation ago reciting long poems by memory was still a staple of high-school English. And recently I heard Peter O’Toole in a Fresh Air interview reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets by memory. A magnificent performance!

So, back to the Kindle and the digital age. I wonder if the Kindle doesn’t suffer from the same cognitive ailments that plague computers: namely, automation complacency and automation bias. The former refers to those moments when a computer lulls us into believing that it has everything “handled” (including memory). The latter refers to the tendency to place too much faith in believing what the computer says or does is accurate. In an article in The Atlantic entitled “All Can Be Lost: The Risk Of Putting Our Knowledge In The Hands Of Machines” Nicholas Carr chillingly points out what can happen when we let the computer do too much for us – quite simply, we forget how to do things. And when it comes to navigation (airlines, trains, ships, cars, etc.) or the operation of large equipment that can have tragic consequences.

But what does this mean for reading – specifically for reading on devices such as the Kindle or the iPad? Do readers subconsciously change their reading habits when reading on a device? Do they not concern themselves with the details per se (since the device supposedly is) but rather with a holistic or even lateral view? Could reading on a device such as the Kindle increase empathy for characters, for the human condition? Could reading on the Kindle be, in fact, a radical act, one that challenges the “dominant” mode of thinking and remembering? Certainly changes are afoot – and in the same manner that the environment worked on and reshaped our genetic map through time, our increasing reliance on devices (and not just the Kindle and iPad but all of the devices that make up the Internet of Things) may well do the same thing to our cognitive capacities.

Of course some people will be upset. Paradigm change always has its naysayers. Think of how many people were burned at the stake or in a barrel by the Church for having a copy of the Bible (or even quoting from it). Learning and thinking for oneself have always threatened those in power – but, as Nietzsche reminded us, now more than ever it’s time to live dangerously!

 

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Writers, Here’s What’s Coming!

Rock concert

It’s hard to believe, but the team at Find My Audience is only three to four weeks away from completing the Alpha stage of our Audience Management Platform for writers.

Okay, what is an Audience Management Platform? Quite simply, it is a software platform that will enable writers to search the social web for potential readers – in just seconds – and then communicate with those  readers in a more sophisticated fashion than is currently available. Really.

Our software was borne out of our own frustration at trying to market our writing on the social web. We discovered that the noise-to-signal ratio was daunting — we never knew whether our tweets and posts were getting read by the right people. We figured there had to be a better way.

And there is.

Logical Marketing (founded by publishing industry veterans Peter McCarthy and Mike Shatzkin), for example, offers a wonderful service to help writers get discovered on the web. Their “foundational” approach focuses on the upfront metatagging and SEO so that an author’s work  can be “discovered” by someone searching for a particular type of title. This is an enormously valuable service.

Our approach, while complementary, is different: an analogy for our software would be the Bloomberg Terminal, a computer system that enables financiers to monitor and analyze real-time market data. Our Audience Management platform is constantly searching the web for people who may be interested in your title. It is a direct-to-consumer strategy. It works while you sleep.

 

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Now of course we are only arriving at Alpha – which means we are still at the crawling phase. There will be bugs. The algorithm will need improvement. The user interface will need adjusting. But the early results are promising. If you would like to get a sneak preview of what we are doing, we would be happy to do a virtual demo for you. Give us a  shout!

 

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Expression and Intention

 

Big Ben & Houses of Parliament, black and white photo

Years ago I read Jacques Barzun’s Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers. Barzun was one of those elegant and lofty minds of a certain generation; think Lionel Trilling, Edmund Wilson, Mary McCarthy, the Chicago School, and maybe a little later, M.H. Abrams, Northrup Frye. You know the type: fluent in a handful of languages, many of them no longer spoken (at least by the “man on the street”); played the piano beautifully; did a stint at Oxbridge; maybe served in WW II at Bletchley Park; took a post at one of the Ivies after the war. Always dressed professionally, maybe smoked a pipe, thought that teaching and mentoring the next generation was critically important (yes, it was a long time ago!).

Thus Barzun, who died two years ago at the age of 104 and who taught at Columbia University for over 50 years. A recent discussion by the Find My Audience team about the relationship between tweets and hashtags reminded me of one of Barzun’s memorable sentences, to wit:

The mind tends to run along the groove of one’s intention and overlook the actual expression.

Barzun’s sentence reminds us of the need to always have an editor at our side, but it also has application, if of a tenuous nature, to social discourse – and in particular to the relationship between what one says, for example, in a tweet and what one intends to say (or the audience the tweet is intended for), which is often signified by the use of a hashtag.

Now of course the hashtag has multiple purposes: it inserts one into an ongoing conversation; it serves as a bit of intentional signposting for one’s tweet (“my tweet is relevant to people speaking about X”); it can even signal the start of a new conversation.

But what is actually said in a Tweet and the hashtag used in a tweet are not the same thing. The hashtag indicates, I believe, a higher-order, even meta-intention; indeed, the expression may not have anything to do, at least on the surface, with the hashtag used.

For example, take the following tweet:

Just had a great meal at The Kitchen in #Boulder. #organics #kimkardashian

The Kitchen is a well-known “farm-to-table” restaurant in Boulder, so #Boulder and #organics make sense as hashtags, but how did #kimkardashian get in there? Did I see her while eating? Do I want her to see my tweet so she will eat at The Kitchen? Am I using that hashtag to amplify my reach? It’s hard to know.

This is one of the issues we are wrangling with at Find My Audience. Do we pay more attention to the actual expression, to the hashtag(s) used, or both? What is the most important element to focus on as we try to “find your audience.” We are experimenting with different approaches. In the next few weeks we will unveil what we have discovered. Drop me an email at mark@findmyaudience.com if you would like a sneak preview.

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Wittgenstein & Book Marketing

wittgenstein3Ludwig Wittgenstein

My propositions serve as elucidations in this way: he who understands me eventually recognises them as nonsensical, when he has used them – as steps – to climb up over them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.) He must overcome these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Writers, perhaps this should be our writerly goal for 2014: to use our words as if they were hammers, chisels, pitching tools, as well as primary material (clay, wood, marble, etc.), to build temporary verbal edifices that lead our readers to new perspectives, new insights, to a glimpse of the nature, and importance of, silence itself. That, of course, was Wittgenstein’s last injunction, Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

Silence. To have your reader end in that state. That would be something.

* * *

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Of course to lead our readers to silence (a stunned silence at that!) we must first find them. And that is no easy feat to do in the social media echo chamber.

At first glance, one would think that the larger one’s following (on Twitter, Facebook, etc.) the better positioned one is to find the elusive reader. The presumption is that someone out there must surely be paying attention to my verbal blitzkreigs and, impressed by my pithy tweets, scintillating quotes, and bargain price (99 cents), buy my book. If only it were so easy.

Dan Blank, founder of  We Grow Media, notes that “…most people, whether it’s a brand or an individual, do very little research to really understand their audience. They like it to be as broad as possible instead of narrowing it down. So I always ask authors, “who’s your audience?” and I get these vague answers back…And it really illustrates to me that they haven’t done the research to find out who specifically their audience is.”

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The problem, of course, is one of intention — more precisely, how can you measure someone’s intention to read a work based solely on their use of language (and a multi-faceted, multi-intended language at that)? Think of the difference between the intention (and reception) of a tweet and  a Facebook post. The former encourages a a carney-like atmosphere where everyone is a literary barker; the latter, on the other hand, discourages overt commercialization, a delicious irony of sorts.

* * *

For those of you unfamiliar with Ludwig Wittgenstein, he was, I believe, the only philosopher who was ever responsible for creating, or at least shaping, two different schools of philosophical thought: the Logical-Positivist and the Language School of Philosophy.

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Wittgenstein’s life is the stuff of legend: born into a rich, turn-of-the-century Vienese family; three brothers committed suicide; one brother, Paul, lost his arm in World War I and went on to become famous for his one-arm compositions for piano; stints at Cambridge where he shocked the English with his genius, his teutonic disposition, and his depression; bisexuality; self-imposed exiles to Norway and Ireland where he pondered epistemological problems while walking the coasts; and early death from prostate cancer. Many novels have been written about Wittgenstein and Derek Jarman has done a film. The novelist Frank Tallis does a fine job of depicting the heady atmosphere of early twentieth-century Vienna, should you want  a fictional account of the time.

maze

Wittgenstein’s later work, his work on the nature of language, consists of a series of questions, experiments, sorties that often ended up in a linguistic maze — without a thread to rescue him. What, he asked, are the rules of language? How can we mean what we mean? How does someone understand our intended meaning? Is language similar to a game? Are there many “games” within the language game?

* * *

What we find interesting for our purposes, which is to help writers find their readers, is his concept of family resemblances. This is the idea that “things” thought to be connected by one idea (“one essence”) are, rather, connected by similarities and traits, such as one might find in a family (you and your sister have similar noses and chins, but different eyes).

In his Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein analyzes games in a number of very famous propositions. Here is a sampling:

And we can go through the many, many other groups of games in the same way; we can see how similarities crop up and disappear.

…And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities. I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than “family resemblances“; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way. – And I shall say: “games” form a family.

And, we might add, books form a family — as do readers. Some are close, like a brother, sister, mother, father; some are distant relatives. Our job is to ferret out the “overlapping” and “criss-crossing” between the language used to describe “a work” and that used by one’s potential readers. This enables us to construct a “proximal-distal” model, one that measures resemblance to a specific work from closest to most distant. In the process, we are able to make some educated guesses about whether someone is “predisposed” or has a higher degree of probability of reading your work.

resemblance

This is fundamentally different from what Amazon, for example, does with its recommendation engine. Amazon recommends books based on the buying patterns of its customers. This is a great service, one we use all the time, but what we are interested in doing is finding, not books, but readers — your readers. And the way we are doing it is by looking at the language they use on the social web. Game on!

duck

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What Are We Working On? The User Experience

birds4The User Experience is everything…

Our Challenge: Design a user interface that balances ease-of-use with features that deliver high value very quickly.

Our Focus: The design team is developing a user interface to support the beta system functionality coming this spring.  The beta system will locate potential audience members based on a few simple inputs by FindMyAudience users.

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In our design work, we are striving for ease-of-use throughout, offering intelligent suggestions during the book profile process and allowing multiple visualizations of the audience using dynamic filters and sorting tools.  We are big fans of iterative design, and even bigger fans of simple interfaces, and we have found that the more times we cycle through a set of design concepts we inevitably find more things we can leave out or de-emphasize, at least for the first version of the tool.  (As writers ourselves, we apparently can’t seem to forget the old saw about “killing our darlings” — advice from Faulkner, of course, with due credit to Arthur Quiller-Couch, who originally expressed the sentiment using the term “murder your darlings.”)  In any case, our designers are hard at work, guided by a spirit of economy and simplicity that we trust will result in an immediately rewarding user experience.

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The Writer’s DashBoard: Perfecting The Algorithm

algorithm2

Great software is powered by intelligent algorithms…

Our Challenge:  Perfect the algorithm that locates a writer’s potential audience.

Our Focus:  When we refer to our “algorithm” we are really talking about a set of rules that determines relevance between existing social content and the creative works that writers are hoping to build awareness around.  We’ve been working on this set of rules for quite a while and we’ll continue to improve it over time.   We have learned a few important lessons so far.  Not surprisingly, defining strong family resemblances between a new work and existing works will be key in qualifying a potential audience.

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But that’s not enough…

We will need to supplement those reference points with intelligent inferences about the intentionality and interests being expressed by users of social networks, as well as the context in which those conversations are occurring.  The great diversity of the social web presents something of a challenge in this regard.  A tweet is very different from a Facebook page which is different from a threaded conversation on a book club site which is different from a book reviewer’s blog posts.   We are refining the ways that we are looking at those very different social spaces and learning how to zero in on the conversations that will matter to our users.

 

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In the end, we’ll end up with a set of rules that subtly balances many factors — resemblance, semantic similarity, context, geography, timeliness, and more.  The algorithm will be doing some heavy lifting, figuratively speaking, which directly translates to savings in time and effort for writers.

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