I just read an ARC (Advance Reader's Copy) by Steve Weber tentatively titled "Internet Book Publicity - Book Marketing Using Blogs, Social Networks and Google." Many authors, myself included, have written about their experiences marketing books through their websites and through Amazon. This book offers a comprehensive look at Internet publicity opportunities, with a strong bias towards social networking, touching on many of the same elements as Chris Anderson's Long Tail thesis. An author who successfully implements all of these marketing strategies would almost be guaranteed a measure of success. While I differ with Steve about the relative value of some of the approaches, there's no question that they all have their place. Weber's methods even offer hope to first time authors and publishers who didn't quite do all of their homework before their first book was published.
The book starts out by describing the current book publicity landscape and how the Internet has changed the nature of word-of-mouth. Weber rightly points out that modern book promotion is more author centric than ever, with many publishers functioning as little more than printers and intellectual rights holders. Success and failure online is more dependent on the wisdom of crowds than the proclamations of self appointed gurus and critics. The online publishing environment could be described as a level playing field, but one on a mesa, a broad, flat mountain top. You have to do some climbing to get to the playing field, but once you reach it, you can compete on fairly equal terms with the biggest NYC publishers.
Just as the Amazon is at the heart of the rain forest ecosystem in South America, Amazon.com is the center of the online publishing ecosystem. In addition to functioning as a retail store, Amazon created a social network where readers and buyers influence the way Amazon displays the merchandise. Some of collaborative filters used by Amazon are strictly dependent on sales, others are open to input from readers and publishers. Weber discusses some of the approaches that work, and some that are questionable in terms both of ethics and efficacy. As an expert on running a home-based bookstore, he also offers insights into the retail side of selling books online.
Social networking is the new face of the Internet, with sites like MySpace and FaceBook regularly making the news for events both good and for bad. I'm not a social networker myself, beyond the extent to which my own website is part of a social network of publishers, but I'd have to be blind not to see that social networking may one day compete with Google in terms of routing traffic around the Internet. While there are plenty of titles out that discuss MySpace and other social networking sites from the standpoint of usability or safety, Weber's book focuses on the features most applicable to book publicity.
Book reviews are another topic recontexted in the new social networking landscape with amateur book reviews taking center stage. Book reviews are a sensitive subject for many authors who read them through the eyes of a child looking at a report card. A lack of reviews is seen by some authors as a greater insult than bad reviews, while the slightest criticism has other authors climbing a tower with a rifle. The online publishing community has yet to develop an ethical code of conduct for reviews, and some of the methods discussed may someday be seen as grey hat at best, but it's all important information for today's author to be aware of.
Another important social networking tool in the author's kit is blogging. Blogging is an effective way for authors to quickly get online and build a following without any technical prowess required. It's important to differentiate between the blogging approach advocated in the book which is blogging and the true sense of the word, and using a blog as a content management system, as I do here. Strategies for fitting into the blogosphere are examined, along with approaches for getting started and common pitfalls to avoid. Developments in the blogosphere are discussed, including tagging and blog tours, along with the pros and cons of RSS feeds and syndication.
Of course, search remains the killer application of the hypertext web, and successful search algorithms all employ community based filtering at some level or another. While most authors will never become experts at search engine optimization, it's not really necessary, and they would be well served to steer clear of quick-fix experts who may actually hurt their site with black hat optimization techniques. While the book doesn't tackle SEO in any great depth, I'm convinced writers are better off focusing their efforts on human readers than trying to please computer algorithms.
The book winds up with a survey of the newest developments in web based publishing, including the recent ebook efforts of Amazon and Google. The final topic addressed is the ethics of online marketing. Unfortunately, the Golden Rule doesn't prevail on the Internet, and all authors who pay attention to the online marketplace will sooner or later be confronted by competition using questionable, if not outright dishonest methods. The hardest decision you may have to make in your online publicity efforts is when you complain about black hat methods to peers who tell you "Get onboard, everybody is doing it." Consult your conscious. A successful book a good reason to celebrate, but a poor reason to end up in Hell.