EBook Marketing Innovations

Reading and Memory

kindleA recent piece by Alison Flood in The Guardian brought up the issue of whether comprehension is lower when reading on a Kindle e-reader. Flood cites the work of researcher Anne Mangen of Stavanger University in Norway, who recently tested 50 people on their comprehension (plot, setting, etc.) of an Elizabeth George short story. Half of those tested read the story on a Kindle and half read it on paper.

Lo and behold, those who read the piece on a Kindle came up short when they were examined on the particulars of George’s story. Does this surprise anyone? I don’t think so.

Truth be told, our memories have, through the centuries, become increasingly downsized and outsourced. It’s true that back in the age of Homer (memory’s halcyon days), traveling bards memorized long epical poems in their entirety – and some mnemonic contortionists could recite epics like the Iliad backwards.

But even those bards used various  “distributed memory sourcing” techniques. In particular they (and their followers in the centuries to come) deployed the mnemonic strategy of loci et imagines. This is a technique where one placed what one wanted to memorize in a familiar place or attached it to a familiar object. That world is far removed from our own, and indeed it must have been a magical place, one that abounded in memories – but it does underline the fact that humans have historically created or found storage devices, both for mental and physical objects.

Scholars have posited that this kind of memory, which characterizes oral cultures, was pre-analytical, pre-logical, that it was external in nature. But that changed when books started to be produced and knowledge dramatically increased; memory migrated from the world to the page. The new “print” paradigm demanded that we only know how books were categorized; of course it helped if we knew what book specific information could be found in – but it wasn’t necessary. Freed from the taxing demands of personal memorization, our minds were able to, as Walter Ong, Robert Logan, and others have argued, to become more logical, more analytical – in short, the rise of books also witnessed the rise of the rational mind.

 

sleep_of_reason Goya, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

Of course this is all dialectical in the sense that one paradigm – oral, print, digital – doesn’t replace an earlier one but rather subsumes it in itself and resolves the tensions and weaknesses of the previous paradigm. Having a good memory is still important – indeed, just a generation ago reciting long poems by memory was still a staple of high-school English. And recently I heard Peter O’Toole in a Fresh Air interview reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets by memory. A magnificent performance!

So, back to the Kindle and the digital age. I wonder if the Kindle doesn’t suffer from the same cognitive ailments that plague computers: namely, automation complacency and automation bias. The former refers to those moments when a computer lulls us into believing that it has everything “handled” (including memory). The latter refers to the tendency to place too much faith in believing what the computer says or does is accurate. In an article in The Atlantic entitled “All Can Be Lost: The Risk Of Putting Our Knowledge In The Hands Of Machines” Nicholas Carr chillingly points out what can happen when we let the computer do too much for us – quite simply, we forget how to do things. And when it comes to navigation (airlines, trains, ships, cars, etc.) or the operation of large equipment that can have tragic consequences.

But what does this mean for reading – specifically for reading on devices such as the Kindle or the iPad? Do readers subconsciously change their reading habits when reading on a device? Do they not concern themselves with the details per se (since the device supposedly is) but rather with a holistic or even lateral view? Could reading on a device such as the Kindle increase empathy for characters, for the human condition? Could reading on the Kindle be, in fact, a radical act, one that challenges the “dominant” mode of thinking and remembering? Certainly changes are afoot – and in the same manner that the environment worked on and reshaped our genetic map through time, our increasing reliance on devices (and not just the Kindle and iPad but all of the devices that make up the Internet of Things) may well do the same thing to our cognitive capacities.

Of course some people will be upset. Paradigm change always has its naysayers. Think of how many people were burned at the stake or in a barrel by the Church for having a copy of the Bible (or even quoting from it). Learning and thinking for oneself have always threatened those in power – but, as Nietzsche reminded us, now more than ever it’s time to live dangerously!

At Find My Audience, we understand that not all authors are marketers. That being said, growing your social audience can expand your readership and book sales. You don’t have to be a book marketer to find new readers online. We are here to simplify this process for you. Sign up today and connect with potential readers across the globe.

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By |September 5th, 2014|EBook Marketing Innovations, FindMyAudience|0 Comments

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.

At Find My Audience, we understand that not all authors are marketers. That being said, growing your social audience can expand your readership and book sales. You don’t have to be a book marketer to find new readers online. We are here to simplify this process for you. Sign up today and connect with potential readers across the globe.

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Wittgenstein & Book Marketing

wittgenstein3Ludwig Wittgenstein

My propositions serve as elucidations in this way: he who understands me eventually recognises them as nonsensical, when he has used them – as steps – to climb up over them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.) He must overcome these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Writers, perhaps this should be our writerly goal for 2014: to use our words as if they were hammers, chisels, pitching tools, as well as primary material (clay, wood, marble, etc.), to build temporary verbal edifices that lead our readers to new perspectives, new insights, to a glimpse of the nature, and importance of, silence itself. That, of course, was Wittgenstein’s last injunction, Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

Silence. To have your reader end in that state. That would be something.

* * *

reader2

Of course to lead our readers to silence (a stunned silence at that!) we must first find them. And that is no easy feat to do in the social media echo chamber.

At first glance, one would think that the larger one’s following (on Twitter, Facebook, etc.) the better positioned one is to find the elusive reader. The presumption is that someone out there must surely be paying attention to my verbal blitzkreigs and, impressed by my pithy tweets, scintillating quotes, and bargain price (99 cents), buy my book. If only it were so easy.

Dan Blank, founder of  We Grow Media, notes that “…most people, whether it’s a brand or an individual, do very little research to really understand their audience. They like it to be as broad as possible instead of narrowing it down. So I always ask authors, “who’s your audience?” and I get these vague answers back…And it really illustrates to me that they haven’t done the research to find out who specifically their audience is.”

magaphone

The problem, of course, is one of intention – more precisely, how can you measure someone’s intention to read a work based solely on their use of language (and a multi-faceted, multi-intended language at that)? Think of the difference between the intention (and reception) of a tweet and  a Facebook post. The former encourages a a carney-like atmosphere where everyone is a literary barker; the latter, on the other hand, discourages overt commercialization, a delicious irony of sorts.

* * *

For those of you unfamiliar with Ludwig Wittgenstein, he was, I believe, the only philosopher who was ever responsible for creating, or at least shaping, two different schools of philosophical thought: the Logical-Positivist and the Language School of Philosophy.

language2

Wittgenstein’s life is the stuff of legend: born into a rich, turn-of-the-century Vienese family; three brothers committed suicide; one brother, Paul, lost his arm in World War I and went on to become famous for his one-arm compositions for piano; stints at Cambridge where he shocked the English with his genius, his teutonic disposition, and his depression; bisexuality; self-imposed exiles to Norway and Ireland where he pondered epistemological problems while walking the coasts; and early death from prostate cancer. Many novels have been written about Wittgenstein and Derek Jarman has done a film. The novelist Frank Tallis does a fine job of depicting the heady atmosphere of early twentieth-century Vienna, should you want  a fictional account of the time.

maze

Wittgenstein’s later work, his work on the nature of language, consists of a series of questions, experiments, sorties that often ended up in a linguistic maze — without a thread to rescue him. What, he asked, are the rules of language? How can we mean what we mean? How does someone understand our intended meaning? Is language similar to a game? Are there many “games” within the language game?

* * *

What we find interesting for our purposes, which is to help writers find their readers, is his concept of family resemblances. This is the idea that “things” thought to be connected by one idea (“one essence”) are, rather, connected by similarities and traits, such as one might find in a family (you and your sister have similar noses and chins, but different eyes).

In his Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein analyzes games in a number of very famous propositions. Here is a sampling:

And we can go through the many, many other groups of games in the same way; we can see how similarities crop up and disappear.

…And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities. I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than “family resemblances“; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way. – And I shall say: “games” form a family.

And, we might add, books form a family — as do readers. Some are close, like a brother, sister, mother, father; some are distant relatives. Our job is to ferret out the “overlapping” and “criss-crossing” between the language used to describe “a work” and that used by one’s potential readers. This enables us to construct a “proximal-distal” model, one that measures resemblance to a specific work from closest to most distant. In the process, we are able to make some educated guesses about whether someone is “predisposed” or has a higher degree of probability of reading your work.

resemblance

This is fundamentally different from what Amazon, for example, does with its recommendation engine. Amazon recommends books based on the buying patterns of its customers. This is a great service, one we use all the time, but what we are interested in doing is finding, not books, but readers — your readers. And the way we are doing it is by looking at the language they use on the social web. Game on!

duck

 

At Find My Audience, we understand that not all authors are marketers. That being said, growing your social audience can expand your readership and book sales. You don’t have to be a book marketer to find new readers online. We are here to simplify this process for you. Sign up today and connect with potential readers across the globe.

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The Writer’s DashBoard: What We Are Working On Today

social_network_2

 

Our “problem” of the day has to do with Social Network Interfaces

The Challenge:  Find the most effective entry-points into the social web for our purposes.

Our Focus: We continue to investigate various means to interact with social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, “the blogosphere,” and other social channels.

social_network_1

Programmatic interfaces (known as APIs) provide visibility into the public content available on many of these networks and several third-party systems aggregate feeds across multiple channels.  Our engineers have been weighing the pros of cons of various approaches.  Many of the third party tools do an excellent job of normalizing information coming from different sources and supplementing the raw content with their own analytic overlays.  Alternately, building our own adapters into the social networks puts us in more direct control of the data flow, which may yield benefits down the line when we start applying our relevance algorithms.

Within the broader tech community, there’s a tremendous amount of activity going on in this area, much of it by companies focused on social media monitoring tools for businesses.  While we are not squarely in that space, the rapid advance of tools to support business intelligence applications around social data is working to our advantage, providing us with many viable options to tap into the social web and, ultimately, to help our users distinguish the signal within the noise.

It’s an exciting arena to be working in right now!

At Find My Audience, we understand that not all authors are marketers. That being said, growing your social audience can expand your readership and book sales. You don’t have to be a book marketer to find new readers online. We are here to simplify this process for you. Sign up today and connect with potential readers across the globe.

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Do We Need A Groupon For Writers?

Hi Writers,

Ok, full disclosure: I’m new to the game. I’ve spent the last fifteen years working as an entrepreneur and as an academic. Just recently, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and bring to fruition the many partially completed manuscripts that I have been working on during my “water cooler breaks.” I know many of you join me in this endeavor. Bit scary, eh? And exhilarating, too.

But the entrepreneurial mindset is one that is hard to shake, and as I navigate my way through the social web, I keep asking myself: how can we writers do a better job at marketing ourselves? That is to say, once we “locate” our readers, and I think a tool can be built to help do a better job at that, what do we do with them then? How do we get our “potential readers” to make a transaction?

My last company was in the travel space and I worked with many of the well-known travel brands. I recall that the big three OTAs—Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity–averaged in the 4-6% range for transactions, with seasonal variations, of course. If Expedia averages 25MM users a month, then that means 1-1.5MM users actually “buy” something each month. As you can imagine, that’s no small chunk of change.

I’m not sure that we writers can expect a 4-6% transaction rate, but one possible way (amongst many) would be to use a Groupon-like tool. Groupon, of course, is not interested in most of us–the margins aren’t there. But it is interesting to note that they did an experiment with Tony Hsieh, the former CEO of Zappos, and helped him sell 1642 books in three days. Of course you don’t want to use Groupon. After they take their cut, and assuming some other entity (such as Amazon) takes a cut, that leaves very little for you.

But what if there was a tool–elegant yet simply designed–that let you run group-buying campaigns yourselves? One that let you design the offer and then distributed the offer to your “located” audience?

As I said, I’m new to the game; sometimes that is a good thing. Sometimes it makes you look like, well, new to the game. Perhaps there is already a tool out there that does what I’m suggesting. If so, let me know. I could use it. If not, I would welcome hearing your ideas and input.

Thanks!

At Find My Audience, we understand that not all authors are marketers. That being said, growing your social audience can expand your readership and book sales. You don’t have to be a book marketer to find new readers online. We are here to simplify this process for you. Sign up today and connect with potential readers across the globe.
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By |November 23rd, 2011|EBook Marketing Innovations, Uncategorized|0 Comments

How Much Would You Spend To Market Your Book?

I’m an entrepreneur and an aspiring writer. When I’m writing, I’m often thinking of the next business I want to start. When I’m working on a new business, I’m often thinking of the next book I want to write. It’s a heady dialectic, to be sure, and generates a lot of angst and guilt that I’m not doing the other activity. My cross to bear, I guess.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about marketing. You see, I’m almost ready to release my first book, and as I mentioned in a previous post, I am putting into practice all the great advice from Konrath, Locke, et al. It hasn’t taken me long to notice that I’m not the only one out there engaged in doing this. Several questions have popped up for me during the process: how do I find my “niche” audience? Are there any unique ways of getting my message in front of them? Will I have to pay to do so?

The last question is especially relevant–and I’m not the only who has asked it, as a quick troll through a variety of blogs reveals. Author Brad Swift, for example, has asked the question: “If you had a budget of $1,500 to promote and market your book(s) that are available as Kindle books and POD hard copies, how would you use it? If that budget was $3,000 what else would you do? Is there anything else you’d include if your marketing budget was $5,000?”

Jane Friedman responded to Swift’s query by saying that one should first determine the “primary target audience.”  She suggests that you shouldn’t “spend a dime until you know who you’re trying to sell to. You should thoroughly research your target readers’ habits, discover where they spend their time online, and how they decide to purchase books.”

So my question of the day is: assuming you can find that “primary target audience,” how much would you spend to reach them? I’ll start off by saying that I would spend in the $250-500 range. Let me know what you would spend. I’ll share the results in another post. Thanks!

At Find My Audience, we understand that not all authors are marketers. That being said, growing your social audience can expand your readership and book sales. You don’t have to be a book marketer to find new readers online. We are here to simplify this process for you. Sign up today and connect with potential readers across the globe.
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Talking ‘Bout A Revolution: This Ain’t It

I’ve always loved Penguin, more specifically, the Penguin Classics. When I was an undergraduate, I set myself the task of reading every single Penguin Classic that had been published. I can’t say I reached that goal, but my book shelves still contain quite a few of those works, and I remember my time with them with feelings of joy and, yes, nostalgia.

So it was with great interest that I read about Book Country, a service that the Penguin Group offers to writers of genre fiction. David Shanks, CEO of Penguin Group, told the WSJ that the company had invested a “substantial amount of money” in the new technology.

And there’s the rub. I’m just not seeing any innovative technology. Yes, there are community and networking elements, and while helpful, these are not new innovations. Indeed, it makes it look like Penguin was a little late to the game, and cobbled together a variety of functional (read: social) elements to cloak their true intent: that is, to sell high-priced services and to take a distribution fee.

The wonderful Joe Konrath said that he “threw up in his mouth” when he looked at what Book Country was offering. Perhaps he realized that the lamb he was eating was really mutton?

Konrath has done a great job at detailing what Book Country is all about: high-priced formatting services and a stake in your revenues. Makes sense: for lack of better ideas, services are where the lowest-hanging financial fruit swings.

But what bothers me is simply the lack of innovation. I’ve worked with many publishers in my professional career, and we share the same abiding interest: a love of books. But with the exception of a few publishing houses (O’Reilly comes to mind), most publishers do not attract the best and brightest “technology” minds. They can’t–there simply isn’t the upside (or environment) that the small start-up down the street offers. Instead, publishing houses tend to hire folks who have graduate degrees in English. Great people (trust me, I used to be one of them) but they aren’t thinking of algorithms in their spare time.

A suggestion to the publishing houses: if you really want to be of help, take a look at what’s happening in Silicon Valley. There are quite a few companies that provide models for what aspiring writers need to market themselves.

At Find My Audience, we understand that not all authors are marketers. That being said, growing your social audience can expand your readership and book sales. You don’t have to be a book marketer to find new readers online. We are here to simplify this process for you. Sign up today and connect with potential readers across the globe.
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By |November 18th, 2011|EBook Marketing Innovations|0 Comments