March 29, 2012

The business of being found: Previously published books


More than half a million books were published in 2011. In the United States and beyond, the book industry is growing increasingly crowded. The bad news for publishers is fierce competition and a saturated marketplace. The good news is that public consumption has grown exponentially, making a surge in content production a veritable race to the mountaintop.

It’s easy to see why smaller publishers might look at these numbers and feel overwhelmed, maybe even depressed. But my guess is that people reading this post pretty much agree that a healthy portion of these half million books are rubbish. I can say that without any real data-driven proof because Melville House has specific ideas on what constitues quality, and it only makes sense that most of our readers agree. It is through this like-minded community that we are able to make headway up the mountain.

Last week we talked about some basic search principles that can help publishers rank well on Google. But anyone who’s spent any time online knows that metadata, back links and the like aren’t enough to solve the problem of discoverability. More and more, true discoverability, the kind worth cultivating, comes from “inbound marketing.”

Now, before you throw your hands in the air, understand that inbound marketing is just a fancy term designed to make common business sense sound obscure and overly complicated.

Common sense or not, however, inbound marketing takes persistance and pluck. In order for it to work, publishers must offer valuable content, provided through various outlets, all while reaching readers eager to engage and share. Let’s break it down by example.

As part of the Melville International Crime series, we recently released The Buenos Aires Quintet, by legendary Spanish author Manuel Vazquez Montalban. This title was previously published and Montalban is an extremely popular author.

This is good news because the work stands the test of time and has an established audience; the author’s name is recognizable, even outside his native country.

The bad news is that the depth of information about Montalban online — whether it’s concerning his books, travels or death — can work against us, in terms of having our version of The Buenos Aires Quintet found.

When someone or something is popular, the established resources of information are tricky to surpass.

Fortunately, Google was quick to realize that current information is as important as archived information. That, taken with the perceived value of the place putting out the new information, now carries significant weight.

The inbound marketing we’ll need to employ in order for readers to discover Montalban as a Melville House author comprises traditional indie marketing efforts that cover as much ground as possible, while also taking advantage of social media, our own website, word of mouth, a beautifully designed book, and more.

Common sense, right? Inbound marketing is simply the process of providing readers multiple reasons to look at your site and books, and then sharing that content with others. Through this process, back links increase, positive word of mouth circulates, and perceived value strengthens. Add this to the search practices we discussed last week and marketing efforts have much more reach and influence.

Obviously this approach doesn’t immediately catapult a publisher to the top. It takes time, creativity, and a little bit of luck. But by truly getting behind a book, higher rankings and better discoverability can be seen within weeks.

All the better. Because when you’re as excited about a book as we are about The Buenos Aires Quintet, the labor seems easy and fluid. Things begin to click, and that’s when the hard work starts to feel less like marketing and more like magic.



Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.