Monday, August 19, 2013

How Good is Your Attention Capability? (It's Often Key to Good Writing)

I love positive brain games, and I've been playing them on a fabulous site for optimizing brain function called Lumosity. Go to their site to learn about the company (excellent bona fides) and sign up if you're interested (I can't put a link in this post because for some reason, every time I try, it goes to my own lumosity activity instead of the basic site--hmmm, maybe these brain science geniuses need to do a few tech tweaks!)

Anyway, within the categories of brain activity I selected that I want to focus on (problem solving, flexibility, memory, acuity, etc.) is Attention, which is consistently THE hardest category for me.

I live in my head a lot, like many other writers. I've known all my life that when I walk down a city street, I'm totally aware of the ambiance, the energy, the colors and sounds, and the light or dark feeling that surrounds me in an aura-ish, or a gestalt-ish way, and I can reproduce that feeling in words.  But if you ask me where a particular shop is that I walk past every day, I probably don't even know that it exists, much less where it is on the street. 

I've considered asking the government if I can get disability payments for this inability (along with some $$ for the no-sense-of-direction problem that also just has to be a physical, neurotransmitter glitch in my brain), but have decided to just work on it to improve it instead.

One of the reasons I want to improve my Attention Capability is that it is so important to notice physical details and retain them for authentic writing. Not just for description of place, but for context in characters' reactions and feelings. Names of shops and their physical appearance, for example, can have power and meaning in the context of a character's experience. 

Of course you can take pictures to help you remember later, but that doesn't have the emotional immediacy of noting the meaning to you in the moment, or the specific feeling that particular name or shopfront or outfit a person is wearing creates in you that is memorable. Real details can be SO powerful when it comes to conjuring experiences and feelings on the page.

This week, at the Brainpickings Weekly site, there's a wonderful article on Attention, called The Art of Looking: What 11 Experts Teach Us about Seeing Our Familiar City Block with New Eyes. Annie Dillard is quoted, beautifully lamenting how urban living can rob us of this key element in experiencing life and expressing in words how that feels, but the article also offers an endorsement of a book that can help us open our eyes to what learning to pay attention to details will do for us:

“The art of seeing has to be learned,” Marguerite Duras reverberates – and itcan be learned, as cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz invites us to believe in her breathlessly wonderful On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes (public library) – a record of her quest to walk around a city block with eleven different "experts," from an artist to a geologist to a dog, and emerge with fresh eyes mesmerized by the previously unseen fascinations of a familiar world. It is undoubtedly one of the most stimulating books of the year,

It does look like a beautiful book, on a subject that is important to any writer (especially if you live in an urban location and also mostly in your head!)

Do you notice all the details of your environment or no? Are you aware of how you use these kinds of details in your writing? What do they do for you??

Monday, August 12, 2013

Using Social Media's Marketing Data to Sell Books

"As publishers realize—or perhaps more accurately stated—embrace the fact that they must demonstrate to authors and retail partners that they are the best at connecting books with readers and driving demand, the question becomes how to do so. It is difficult for me to think of any other efforts publishers can employ that will yield the insights and long-lasting audience development of social media. Very Difficult."

Those are the concluding words of Peter McCarthy in an article (Five Reasons Social Media Will Always Sell More Books. . .) that he wrote that was published on Digital Book World's site July 31. McCarthy is a social media pro who used to work for Random House (Marketing Innovation) ad for Penguin Group, USA, Online (VP). He makes a strong case for social media as a book marketer's core. Here are the five reasons he lists:
  1. The Core Book-Buying Audience Uses Social Media (and so do all those other folks who will buy books if they hear about them…)
    This is true unless your audience falls outside of the 85% of the U.S. population that uses social media or isn’t between the ages of 18 and 65+. Check the most recent Pew stats. Perhaps even bump them against some book industry studies. The audience is there. Fish where the fish are.
  2. Real Consumer Data
    The audience data that marketers, publicists, and salespeople can gather about social media followers, fans, and general users should be invaluable to anyone marketing or selling books. Acting on an understanding of the demographics, psychographics, and behavior of an audience with regard to an author, a title, or a site will grow sales and marketing efficiency. If it doesn’t, then something else is very wrong. Gathering and acting on data certainly helped Obama whip Romney. And it can even be predictive (Holy Grail!); in 2010 a couple smart HP researchers predicted opening box office using Twitter volume and sentiment along with number of screens. They did so with 97% accuracy.
  3. Identifying Adjacent Audiences
    Once you’ve analyzed your core audience, it quite straightforward to identify key attributes of that audience and find “look-alikes.” In other words, folks with similar key attributes (hobbies, beliefs, activities, likes, dislikes, locales, marital status, education level, etc.) and place your book in front of those folks who, it happens, will behave much like your core. This is the social graph and it is major.
  4. SEO
    This could be an essay. Short, over-simplified version focusing on two key points: 1) Both the “general” engines such as Google and the more-specific engines (eg. Amazon) use social “signals” to assist them in determining the authority of everything – including authors and books. Authority=rank. So, positioning. If the title holds up (eg. garners clicks and/or more links over time), it will retain that rank or rise… and 2) As a corollary; an author or title’s presence on the major networks will nearly always enter the first page of a Google search for the author, title, and even some of the longer tail terms. Ranking higher in search sells books; ask Google or Amazon.
  5. Making the Next Campaign Easier
    We hear a lot of talk about scaling marketing efforts. Social is often seen as a hurdle to scale. Social is actually scalable using technology. But it doesn’t really matter if the “IT” hurdle is too great; scale is inherent in using social to market. A marketer’s ability to look at the performance indicators and underlying consumer data of past social campaigns will increase her understanding of what works, for what, and how well. Also, what doesn’t work. This will speed and hone her next efforts. Every time. Knowledge, process, and a better “feel for the game” is scale. Lather, rinse, learn, repeat. Scaled marketing sells more books.
This makes good sense to me, and makes me want to know more about how, exactly, to get my hands on this kind of data, or how to ask a publisher if they are doing this (and know from their answer if they are doing it well). Check out the bottom of the article—McCarthy is going to be making a presentation at DBR's upcoming conference in NYC. Could be interesting!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Online Book Buying Grows

No big surprise—buying books online continues to increase. That refers to both paper and e-books. Here are some statistics from Bowker, just published in Shelf Awareness. The lag time in reporting means things have probably changed a bit since these were current, but the trend is clear, and interesting.

Interesting that e-books account for only 11% of spending. I thought that would be higher. And the other surprise for me was the genres that sell best as e-books, particularly mysteries. Hmm. Food for thought!

From Shelf Awareness Pro, 8/7/13:

Consumer Spending: Online Sales Keep Growing
Among findings from the 2013 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Review, published by Bowker Market Research and Publishers Weekly:
  • In the year after Borders's closing, online retailers' share of the market rose to 44% in 2012 from 39% the previous year.
  • Women increased their lead over men in book buying, accounting for 58% of overall book spending in 2012, up from 55% in 2011. However, men bought more hardcovers, the only area where their buying outpaced women's.
  • The slowly improving economy is slowly improving the climate for purchasing books. By the end of 2012, 53% of consumers said the economy was having no effect on their book buying habits, up from 51% at the end of 2011.
  • E-books continued to rise in popularity, accounting for 11% of spending in 2012, compared to 7% in 2011.
  • E-books were most popular in fiction, particularly in the mystery/detective, romance and science fiction categories.
  • Traditional print book output grew 3% in 2012, to 301,642 titles.