Perhaps one of the most exciting and effective digital technologies available to authors and their marketing people will soon be widespread, here’s hoping because it is really fantastic. A company called Idolvine has created an application where authors can meet their fans and sign their e-books, all without ever having to leave their respective homes. These signings can be organized as an online real-time event, which is very effective in reducing costs and time constraints associated with a physical book tour, while still offering a personal and intimate experience for the fans. Idolvine was on hand at this year’s Book Expo America, along with some well-known authors that included Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaimen, to demonstrate the new technology. This is a revolutionary tool; one that can emulate a highlight for the fans attending a reading with an author, the meet and greet that ends with a signed copy of the author’s latest book. It is very advantageous and easy to use for authors as well, it is virtually cost-free and the convenience factor is very high. “The ability to reach out to more readers personally while expanding the traditional tour is very appealing to most of the authors I know,” said Atwood, giving this technology the stamp of approval from an author’s perspective.

This is the kind of technological innovation that gets me really excited, and gives me hope that all these new digital applications will actually prove to be more beneficial than they are harmful to the publishing world. This is something I see that can be readily embraced by fans, authors, and publishers because it doesn’t change much about the experience of a reading, except the high costs that are associated with them. One of the biggest complaints from authors (in my opinion) surrounding these new digital platforms for promoting themselves and their books, is the learning curve associated with them.  This is actually a tool that has the opposite effect, it is much less time consuming and work heavy than it’s old-fashioned predecessor. This certainly has the potential to do marvelous things for the publishing industry, and I was happy to see the names of some Canadian houses on the list of participants at BEA, including Radom House Canada and Harlequin. Perhaps this fall we will see Idolvine’s technology being implemented into author’s promotiona strategies. I for one, will most definitely be on the lookout for an opportunity to receive my first e-autograph.

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In this article, Boog discusses writer Paul Malmont’s appearance on the Morning Media Menu podcast, where the author was promoting his new book and discussing an upcoming writing contest he is hosting for his fans. The winner will have the opportunity to be published in the paperback takeover of his novel The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown. The contest is relatively simple, the readers are presented with the first and last partial sentences and must fill in the middle with up to 2000 words. The winner’s work will be selected to appear in the upcoming book. One of the most interesting aspects to this contest is that Malmont used an application originally designed for Facebook to easily put it all together. Malmont is clearly an author who is onboard with using social media and other online digital technologies to help promote his work, “You’ve got to look around at the other tools that are out there,” he says. This application is automatically broadcast to a participant’s social network every time they vote, write or submit, and this “will hopefully bring in people that hadn’t heard of the novel before.”

Malmont cites the cutting back of publisher’s marketing tools, particularly those that put writers in the most direct contact with readers, as the catalyst for his online self-promotion strategies; “(Publishers) aren’t sending people on tours, they found that people don’t really go to readings anymore … the cost/benefits of a tour don’t pay off the way they used to.” Malmont also contacts booksellers directly to set up digital events like streaming videos and live chats to make up for the lack of author/reader interaction. It is a very smart decision on Malmont’s part to recognize these new marketing patterns, and actively seek out alternate ways to get his novel and his profile noticed.

Social media and other online technologies are used by so many- myself included- because they are a convenient “one stop shop” source of information. It is easy, it is current and it is fast. Rather than mourn the good old days (and they do still carry a romantic appeal) of book launch parties and elbow-rubbing with famous authors over glasses of free red wine; it is imperative for authors let go and get with the times, so to speak. Malmont is correct to point out that the cost/benefit of this kind of promotion simply doesn’t add up anymore; it is almost unfair of authors to expect their publishing houses to adhere to these old traditions, especially the smaller ones who just don’t have the budget. Digital forms of promotion not only save money, they can reach more people at one time, and if done correctly can garner positive results for authors and their work. With so many tools and platforms available, there is something to suit the comfort level of most any author who is open to changing their views on the marketing of their book.

In his article, author Garth Risk Hallberg discusses the process of creating and releasing his “exuberantly book-y book…replete with color photography and typographic mayhem”, a mere two weeks before Amazon released the first generation Kindle, then promptly sold out of them within a day’s time.  Unfortunately for Hallberg, the book he and his publisher had spent time and money producing was not at all compatible with this new and popular device. Hallberg, with the help of his therapist and to the chagrin of his accountant, was able to see the silver lining of his otherwise disappointing situation. With a self-declared nostalgia for print he has, albeit unintentionally, avoided the growing pressure on publishers and authors alike to go the route of e-publishing. He adds to his personal experience with a short list of clever and amusing ways in which fellow writers can avoid having their work turn digital. The suggestions range from the practical- play with type, add colour and illustrations, to the more avant-garde- designing the book to be read nonlinear, having the reader take scissors to the pages to create a “Mobius Strip.”

Hallberg’s suggestions are quite clever, but I have to wonder how likely it is that a publisher could be convinced to intentionally go ahead and produce a book in a format that has no chance of becoming an e-pub (at least for the present, who knows what the future of this technology will be able to do?).  It is appealing to imagine some old-school writers and their publishers taking a stance against newfangled technologies, defending the physical book with a charming, literary martyrdom. However, if this already difficult industry is to survive, it is crucial for authors and their publishers to ride the technology tide instead of fight against it; if the music industry has taught us anything, it’s that technology is the likely winner in this situation.

When I first heard of e-books and e-readers, I was pretty skeptical. Who doesn’t love curling up with a good book? The way it looks, feels, and even smells is something that is both familiar and exciting, and is a big part of the experience for me. I’ve since realized something though; I firmly believe that there is a place for both the physical and the e-book. Just because a reader uses a Kobo or a Kindle does not mean that they will abandon their physical book collection, I think the more likely result is using both to fulfill different roles. When I am on my busy commute to and from school, I would much rather have my light as air and totally portable device; but at the end of the day as I crawl into bed, I will still reach for my beautifully designed, familiar smelling print book.

Author Susan Landis-Steward has written an article for Novel Publishing Group advising fellow writers on how to improve upon their online social networking skills. It is exciting to see a writer who understands not only the importance of developing these skills, but also sees the opportunity to raise awareness and increase sales of their work- free of charge. Social media does indeed present a golden opportunity within the publishing industry, and though it is still too early to accurately understand how effective these platforms are at marketing an author and their work; the risk of missing the boat on this opportunity has far greater repercussions. It is especially important for writers and publishers who are more niche driven, or who don’t have a large marketing budget, such as Landis-Steward who writes lesbian mysteries. Landis-Steward herself has been selling books through Amazon, and has successfully sold 50 books in two weeks, not an astounding number “but not bad for a beginner and newbie to social marketing.”

Landis-Stewart’s advice is also quite good, realistic and uncomplicated. She lists various platforms that offer different services, from forums where other writers can critique and review your work, to tools such as twitter, goodreads, and blogs that make plugging your book and interacting with fans an easy and free endeavor. She presents the reasons for social marketing positively, and advocates a certain quaintness when interacting with fans and colleagues, “It’s about building relationships, not just selling your books. Make new friends. Engage in discussions. Crack a joke. Relate. Trust me. It’s fun.”

In my opinion, this is one of the most promising ways in which social media can benefit writers and help in the marketing of their books. Social media creates a platform where people from all over the world can come together, discuss and share opinions on a multitude of topics. It can help fans relate to an author, to form a relationship with them and help to foster a loyalty that lasts. I remember emailing an author a few years back, and receiving a detailed reply that absolutely solidified my love of her book. I plugged it to numerous friends and family members, and to this day I still buy and give the book as a gift. I feel a connection and a loyalty, and it didn’t cost the author or her publisher any money to get that from me. Social media is clearly a wonderful way for authors to self-promote and promote their books for no cost, and even though it can seem daunting, it can be as simple as Landis-Steward’s 12-step program.