Category Archives: EBooks and Advertising

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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Writers And Self-Marketing

paul_2Literary Promotion Has A Long History!

One of the things we’ve been looking at here at Find My Audience is the evolution of literary promotion: how writers “traditionally” get the word out about their work, how that process is changing, and how writers can best adapt. I put the word “traditional” in quotes since there is really no set of canonical best practices that have held over the last few decades (let alone centuries) for a writer to connect with their audience.

But there have always been ways to get the word out, many of them inventive and outrageous (and hardly in keeping with the image of the writer as a housebound field mouse). Almost three years ago, the journalist and writer Tony Perrottet published a great piece in the N.Y. Times on “How Writers Build the Brand”. He put the modern writer’s need for proactive online self-promotion in the context of great literary marketing campaigns throughout history.

paul_1George Simenon Would Do Sit-ups For A Sale!

It’s quite a tale! In the short article, he traces literary self-promotion back to 440 B.C. when Herodotus stood up in the Temple of Zeus during the Olympic Games to plug his Histories; through Walt Whitman, who “notoriously wrote his own anonymous reviews, which would not be out of place today on Amazon;” up to Simenon, Hemingway, and Nabokov.  It’s a great, often hilarious piece, and every working writer should read it. As Tony puts it, “It’s always comforting to be reminded that literary whoring — I mean, self-marketing — has been practiced by the greats.”

In the three years since that article, online outlets and social media have proliferated even more, creating new, highly specialized, channels for authors to engage with. But it is not always clear how best to do so. Writers sense that their ideal readers are out there, but they don’t want to hang themselves above the street in a glass cage (as Simenon did), go on a reality TV show, or subject themselves to breathless play-by-play. And they justifiably don’t want to spam people.

We believe the immediacy of communication through these channels, and their effectiveness when used wisely, will start to overcome the writer’s natural resistance to self-marketing. When messages are targeted to likely readers, an author can be more confident that they are speaking to someone who may have an interest. They will speak more authentically and with greater confidence, and in turn their work will have a better chance of getting a reading.

fma-audienceFind My Audience’s Audience Page

Writers have feelings, ideas, and stories to impart, and we intend for Find My Audience to help them reach those people who will hear them as signal, not noise…. and not as a brazen attention-grab. That may work for something with superficial or titillating effect (throw an ad up in front of as many people as possible and appeal to the lowest common denominator), but it won’t work for a written work, where ideas and expression have been honed to present the authors’ unique voice or message, and need engaged attention.

For many decades, large enterprises and brands have used sophisticated demographic and market analysis to “find their audience.” The connection between a reader and a book is very different from that between a “consumer” and a product. But it does not mean that writers can’t take advantage of tools that help them assess interest.

Are you a writer looking for your readership? What do you think?

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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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Interview with Paul Agostinelli, CEO of FindMyAudience

paul_1Paul Agostinelli, CEO of FindMyAudience

Your professional career has been in technology but you also won a Mellon Fellowship in Literature to the University of Chicago. How do you juggle those two interests?
Well, I studied Physics as an undergraduate before doing the Master’s in Literature so in a sense I have been living in both worlds for a long time. Twenty years ago, there was a bigger separation between the technology world and the arts world. If you were in front of a computer screen — which I hated at first! — you definitely were not reading Dostoyevsky, or appreciating great painting or probably listening to anything other than very early electronica. So at that time I just had to make sure I spent enough time away from the screen, reading, writing, nourishing myself. Today, that’s all changed, and I can be working on a spreadsheet and have a stray line of poetry wander through my head, and in two seconds be re-reading a Wordsworth sonnet. Of course, to do any meaningful work, I need to focus on the task at hand, often for hours at a time, without being distracted. That just takes the discipline to give time to each piece of work that calls to me, whether it is a spreadsheet or a blog post or a poem, and that’s sometimes hard to do.

Is there a particular period/genre of literature that you are most attracted to?
Like most people, I’ve been drawn to different voices over the course of my life. As a teenager I loved science fiction — Asimov, the Dune series, Ursula Le Guin. Through my twenties I really got into visionary writers like William Blake, D. H. Lawrence, Walt Whitman, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Those writers, along with a few I met later, like Rumi, Hafiz and Rilke, are still my spiritual touchstones, and are by the bedside for the occasional 3:00am dark night of the soul. I went through long phases with Pynchon and Faulkner from which in many respects I have not recovered. These days I enjoy psychologically astute novelists, who can tell a great story while paying attention to all dimensions of their craft: word, sentence, paragraph, chapter: Alan Furst, Zadie Smith, Carol Shields, Michel Houellebecq, and Jess Walters are some favorites.

Are you currently doing any writing yourself?
I’m doing a blog with some writings on Buddhist dharma, literature and technology (zenteknica.com). That may turn into something more cohesive like a book, or not. I don’t have any specific end product in mind, but it feels good to write.

You ordained as a Buddhist priest. How did that come about and how does your spiritual path influence your work?
That’s a good question. My path progressed from an early love of science to a love of literature then to a love of the wisdom tradition of Buddhism. I’ve been practicing Zen for 25 years, and am now teaching, so in that sense my spiritual path is my work. But at the same time, I have been operating as a tech entrepreneur, which has its own unique culture and dynamics, which is very different from the world of the meditation center. At the most practical level, Zen encourages us to pay attention to whatever is going on in the present moment, especially if it is difficult or uncomfortable. That mindset really helps when I find myself getting antsy, say I am meeting with a potential funder who I feel is missing my point, or when I am talking with an engineer who I think is over-engineering the system. Zen practice is about cultivating what we call “Don’t Know Mind”, and when I bring that to bear in those meetings, I can see that maybe that potential funder is onto something, or maybe that engineer has uncovered some deep issues in our design that I was not aware of. Any spiritual path should help you cultivate patience, humility, sensitivity and curiosity, and I find all these things essential in my professional work.

Let me put in a quick plug here for a book I just finished, The Three Marriages: Re-imagining Work, Self and Relationship, by David Whyte. Whyte’s a poet with a wonderful, lyrical voice who has reflected deeply on these three human relationships we all negotiate. A friend quoted him on Facebook and I ran to get his book. He’s awesome.

Can you talk to us a little about FindMyAudience. What is it and what do you hope to achieve with this service?
FMA is a web service that helps Creatives (writers, musicians, filmmakers, artisans) find and engage with individuals and communities across the Social Web who are likely to appreciate their work. It’s a “market intelligence” platform for the Creative class. These days, large commercial enterprise marketing departments are doing a lot of smart social media analytics and engagement; we are building out a slice of those features, intuitively designed for Creative individuals who by their nature are typically not marketers, and may even be averse to marketing themselves.

Right now there is an ongoing revolution in how books, music, films and artisanal crafts are made, distributed and marketed. The Internet, e-books, self-publishing, and DIY digital platforms have dramatically increased the number of available works. The Social Web allows Creatives to build fan bases via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, Soundcloud, Etsy, etc. — but the Social Web is a mixed blessing because the signal-to-noise ratio is diminishing. By helping Creatives find those people who are more likely to appreciate their work — we do this via analysis and matching of individual and community interests, styles and themes — we improve that signal strength and raise their chances of finding their audience.

In tech lingo, we are the complement to what’s known as “discoverability,” where distribution outlets like Netflix or Amazon help a consumer find works they might like based on what they have already liked. We help the works find the audience. Another cheeky way we talk about FMA is that we are like internet dating for art. We help writers and readers hook up.

When is FindMyAudience slated to be released to the public?
We’ll launch a beta to a selected group of writers and publishing industry personnel in Spring 2014. We’ll take feedback from the beta group of 5,000-10,000, and then open it up to everyone at some point after that. How soon will depend on how close we come with our initial design, but we are feeling pretty good about things right now!

Can writers help in any way?
We would love to hear from you on the FMA blog. Comment on what you’ve heard so far, weigh in on the surveys we will be putting out over the next few months, and sign up for the beta if you are interested. Writing is such a solitary activity, but all the hard work comes to fruition when your work finds a sympathetic reader. We think we have some experience, skills and tools to help make that happen. We’d love to hear what you think.

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How Much Would You Pay for a Writer’s Dashboard?

In a number of previous posts we have discussed the idea of developing a Writer’s Dashboard. The feedback and enthusiasm for such a tool has been so great that we’ve decided to go ahead and build it. And we are deep into it:)

We are also working on what a feasible business model would look like and once again need your feedback. We are fairly confident that we are building something of value for our “creative” friends, but we also want to make sure that the application can live a long life:)

Your help in answering the poll question below is much appreciated.

The FindMyAudience Team

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It Begins With A Logo…

We have always found that creating a logo is a great first step in starting a new business. It gives the company an identity and it hopefully hints at the mission. Below are some logo concepts for FindMyAudience. Let us know which ones you like.

The FindMyAudience Team

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The Writer’s DashBoard: Moving Forward

In a previous post, written nine months ago, I lamented the fact that we writers didn’t have a Writer’s Dashboard that would enable us, through some “algorithmic magic,” to find out where our readers were on the web.  At the time I was writing my first novel, which I intended to self-publish, and thus I was reading up on the various marketing strategies. After reading several books and numerous blogs, I realized that there was really only one strategy:  get on Twitter, create a blog and/or web site, a Facebook page, and then start shouting at the top of your lungs. Let me tell you, there’s a lot of noise out there!

Frankly, I was a little surprised that there weren’t any tools that enabled one to identify web sites whose users might be “predisposed” to like one’s work.  More to the point, how could one identify said predisposition?

I let the idea swim around in my nether region for a number of months, talked to some smart folks about it, tried to move on with life, but the idea kept popping up, especially as I looked, with a fair measure of dread, at my burgeoning Twitter stream, replete with random quotes, e-book freebies, author interviews, and the like. Quite simply, I just haven’t been motivated to compete with my fellow writers to grab someone’s attention via Twitter or any other social media channel. I wanted the whole process to be easier. At least more elegant. Go figure.

So, I reached out to a number of guys I know, all incredibly bright and technically gifted, and – a rarity: they were also writers, or artists, or musicians – so they got it.

So, after a few Indian buffets, we’ve decided to build the Writer’s Dashboard. For us. And for you. But we need your help. Obviously we would like to roll out a version one that has all the bells and whistles in place, but that’s going to have to wait. Instead, we will take a scaffolding approach, building one functional element at a time.

And we need you to tell us what would work best for you.  Think of it this way: you’ve woken up to beautifully radiant morning, you grab your cup of coffee and amble over to your computer, pull up the Writer’s Dashboard to see where your readers are, and you see – what? What’s the first thing you see?

Please leave a comment and let us know. We’re moving forward.

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