What is Micro-Marketing and How Will it Work for Authors?

Here at Find My Audience, we spent most of 2015 developing a full-featured Audience Relationship Management platform for writers. We let authors define their books, then we found potential readers across social channels. Writers could promote leads, create different profiles for their work (to establish segmented audiences), and even engage via their social media accounts.

Our beta users loved the promise of the platform. These included Big and small Publishers, as well as traditionally and self-published authors.

But while we were riding a wave of positive feedback, we felt that we needed to simplify the platform and make it easier to use. Our power users were creating multiple profiles, saving leads, engaging with and growing their audiences. But the average user was finding it hard to manage all the features we provided.

We realized that the problem was endemic to the challenge we had set for ourselves. Book Marketing has always been at least as much art as science, and now in the rapidly-evolving world of digital/social media, what works and what doesn’t has become even more mysterious.

Lessons have been learned and best practices are being developed. Facebook works for some things, but not for others. The same goes for Twitter, Pinterest, and the Blogosphere.

There are many success stories. Peter McCarthy, who has inspired us in the design of our system, is perhaps the smartest person in the industry at digital marketing, and he has brilliant case studies. But the successes are always hard won. The challenge — growing an audience of potential readers who can be addressed when they are ready to buy — does not lend itself to an easy technological solution.

In March of this year, we decided to simplify: to make our system much easier to use, and support our authors in playing small ball to build an audience. With one e-mail a day (or week), we’ll give authors the most highly qualified people, sites and messages they should pay attention to right now. With 10-15 minutes of attention each day, they can incrementally build their audience, as well as their awareness of different sites, channels and events that will most fruitfully increase their exposure to readers.

That’s what we mean by micro-marketing. We hope every author will give us a spin for a while, and let us know if the system provides value.

As much as we all want the “silver bullet” marketing approach that will work every time, with little cost or effort, no such thing exists for most commodities, even less so for a book, where subjective appeal is paramount.

With a micro-marketing approach, we hope to make audience-building easy, rewarding and, dare I say it, fun.

— Paul Agostinelli

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Readers Are Not Consumers!

Spring has finally come to the Front Range of Colorado, where we are enjoying the warm days (along with the occasional snow shower!)

Here in Boulder, we like to think of ourselves as positioned not just geographically, but also culturally, between the traditional publishing world of the East Coast and the tech world of the West Coast.

“Big Data” is not a dirty word for us, but it is not an end in itself. Quant culture can be put in the service of the Human Creative.

A few weeks ago, I talked about the first of two principles that drive our vision:

  • Audience Discovery is a critical complement to Content Discovery.

Today, I’d like to talk about the second principle (a family of principles!):

  • An Audience is a special kind of market, a reader is a special type of consumer, a writer is not a merchandiser, and writing is not a commodity (or mere “content”).

One of the fascinating dimensions of the conflict between Hachette and Amazon last year (a conflict that played out again with Harper-Collins last month) is the clash of two visions of the cultural economy. On one side stand the technocrats of Amazon, ruthlessly rationalizing supply chains and profit margins in order to increase shareholder value; on the other stand the old-school book publishers, bravely championing a commercial structure that adequately compensates the Curatorial/Editorial Guild for their essential value.

Of course, both positions were immediately deconstructed by pointed counterarguments: 1) Amazon has served a great many authors — self-published and traditionally published, e-books and print — with their ubiquitous commerce and distribution infrastructure; and 2) Hachette is owned by a multinational conglomerate as committed to the bottom line as anyone else, and is run accordingly.

Who’s in the right? Well, both and neither, of course. To the extent that both institutions serve readers and writers, they are good. To the extent they serve a corporate bottom line divorced from social value, they are off base. That’s our view, at least.

The internal dynamics of commodity capitalism tend to diminish the unquantifiable allure of a creative work. In his classic essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” the German cultural critic Walter Benjamin famously declared that mechanical reproduction destroys a work’s “aura.”

Indeed, the allure of aura is different from demand for a product.

Commodity capitalism does not know what to do with “aura.” What it does know is “branding” — a rich process of creative self-definition — and its moronic stepchildren: “hype” and “buzz.”

When we think of books as “commodities” and readers as “consumers,” we subject ourselves, indeed our entire society, to a world devoid of aura. If we follow the tried-and-true logics of consumer capitalism, where supply and demand, labor costs, profit margins, and supply chain dynamics are the governing parameters, we lose the very thing that makes literature and art valuable: the expression of an individual vision, voice, heart and mind as they percolate within a collective consciousness.

Authors are on board with this. They know aura. They are looking for readers, not “consumers.” They are looking for an Audience to engage with, not a “demographic” to sell merchandise to. Merchandise is entirely subject to the dynamics of supply chains and distribution channels. Creative works are not (ideally).

Cultural currency in an attention marketplace is not the same as dollars in the bazaar. 

Of course, all writers want lots of readers. But they don’t want to find them using the de-personalized techniques of modern commodity marketing, putting up billboards on the attention superhighways, or bullhorning slogans across the town square. They want to gain fans through engagement, listening, entertainment, and the sharing of interests and affinities.

Much of the advice being given to authors these days is spot-on. I’m thinking of Guy Kawasaki’s thoughts on Authorpreneurship, and everybody-and-their-sister’s advice on “building an Author Platform.” That’s what authors need to do nowadays, and that’s a good thing. It keeps writers engaged with their audience and with their own voice.

The missing piece to the empowerment of Authors is to put them directly in touch with their potential audience, and not trust to the “shelf space” dynamics of merchandisers (and search engines) to be “discovered.”

By now, if you are still reading, you may be wondering what I’ve been smoking (I do live in Colorado after all), or whether I am serious. Are these principles too out of touch with reality to apply to the daily lives and challenges of writers in America today?

I think not. Old structures are breaking down, and Creatives are taking it into their own hands to work out how to reach the most people who might have an affinity to their work. To a certain extent, audience-building is always, at least partially, a numbers game. And it always involves some level of inspired, efficient promotion. That’s where the Quant techniques can help. Any author who truly wants to appeal to a readership of any size, must put the numbers to work for them, and commit to reader engagement and promotion.

At Find My Audience, we want to help writers do just that.

–Paul Agostinelli

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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First Principles

From the first day at Find My Audience (FMA) — an Indian lunch amongst our four co-founders in downtown Boulder — our driving purpose has been to put data, technology and social networks to work helping writers find readers. Although we quickly saw the potential of an “audience search engine” for other Creatives, and even small businesses, our focus has remained on writers, because that is who we are, and what we love.

As I watch the rapid evolution of all aspects of the publishing and blogging worlds, two principles continue to drive our vision:

  • Audience Discovery is a critical complement to Content Discovery.
  • An Audience is not the same as a market, a reader is not the same as a consumer, a writer is not a merchandiser, and writing is not best treated as a commodity.

I’d like to say a little more about these principles, because they are not self-evident.

Audience Discovery is a Critical Complement to Content Discovery

Right now, most of the really smart thinking about digital marketing of writing is being applied to “content discovery.” That means creating a digital profile of your work (using metatags, etc.) that causes it to appear in search results, recommendation engines, relevant social conversations, and potentially paid advertising channels.

As I read various online conversations about book marketing, I see advice on enhancing discoverability crop up EVERY DAY. It appears in self-publishing discussion groups, publishing industry trade articles, and in the services of professional book marketers. (That last link goes to Peter McCarthy and Mike Shatzkin’s Logical Marketing Agency, which does much more than SEO optimization.)

As a writer, improving your content discoverability is essential. However, two things make it a less than ideal way for writers to find readers:

  1. It requires a writer to think like a search engine. When you are improving your discoverability, you are prettying yourself up for a machine.
  2. It is passive. Once you metatag your work, you sit back and hope readers find you via the aforementioned algorithm-driven systems.

Audience Discovery is a critical complement to Content Discoverability because it turns the tables on these two factors. With Find My Audience, writers talk about their work in terms of specific interests and similar works, that is, in terms of what a potential reader (not a search engine) is interested in. And when an Audience is returned, the author can reach out and engage directly with people, communities, groups and conversations, extending the voice they have created in their work.

Some may contend that writers are not marketers and don’t want to do “active promotion,” but I disagree. Not only is it the way of the world these days, but writers are temperamentally disposed to talk about their writing; it is their passion!

The problem is when marketing tools are too difficult to use or appear to create spam. A writer never wants to come across as a shrill self-promoter.

We feel we are building a platform that puts the power of active engagement into the hands of writers, and based on responses so far, many writers agree.

I’ll talk about our second principle in a future blog post. As I just mentioned, I do believe that writers are actually well-positioned to be self-marketers, when the tools and context of their outreach are consistent with the usual skills and attributes of a writer. I DON’T believe that writers are well-positioned to be merchandisers, who are typically focused on engineering various environments to maximize sales for a commodity product.

Sorry…a book (or blog, or magazine, or newspaper) is not JUST a commodity, and writers don’t ONLY want sales.

Of course, they are, and they do…just not exclusively.

All right, it’s back to getting our alpha ready…keep writing, and I’ll talk back at you soon!

–Paul Agostinelli

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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What 2015 Has In Store For Find My Audience

The new year has begun with a lot of excitement at Find My Audience. We are less than two months away from the beta launch of our audience discovery platform, and expectations are high!

Over the holidays I was reflecting on what a crazy time this is for writers. It has long been the case that writers have to promote themselves to find readers, but the signal-to-noise ratio of people talking about their work has reached epic proportions.

The traditional curatorial platforms of established booksellers and book reviewers are still relevant (and arguably even more important), but writers are no longer best served by fighting, cajoling or buying their way into those overloaded channels.

Likewise, the evolving discovery engines for books, while getting smarter, will always be a passive form of promotion for writers: we are being instructed how to metatag our works and our blogs, and how to talk in a way that search-recommendation engines will find us. These methods will become increasingly effective, but they are not satisfying ways to find readers.

We are excited to offer a new way…. social media can now give writers direct access to their audience. The combination of Social Networks and Big Data (what I call Big Social) is the new enabling technology for writers and other Creators to find people, places, communities and conversations who are likely to respond to their work.

At FMA, we are both Quants and Quals. We’ve been crunching data, writing code, and developing our algorithms for a year, building a platform that puts the power of Big Social into the hands of writers.

Social media concept in tag cloud

Writers’ gift to the world is their voice, and in a noisy world, we need to work with whatever diligence, grace and eloquence we can muster to put ourselves in a position to be heard. That’s always been our challenge.

What has changed is the transformation of the institutions and mechanisms by which art is created, distributed, promoted and sold. Desktop publishing, followed by WordPress, and now the self-publishing platforms, have revolutionized what we create when we write.

Digital publishing, ebook subscription services such as Oyster and Scribd, direct-to-consumer movements of traditional publishers, native commerce platforms like Gumroad, and of course the ubiquitous presence of Amazon, have opened up vibrant new channels for distributing and selling books.

Finally, the content marketing, social search and adtech sectors are rapidly changing the way marketing and “content” (in the form of writing, images, and sound) are intermingling and supporting each other.

At FMA we have always considered ourselves the advocate first and foremost of writers and readers. We don’t have a dog in the ongoing, and sometimes acrimonious, struggles between traditional publishers, indie publishers, emerging self-publishing platforms, online sales channels, and traditional indie and national retailers. They are all good … when they put authors and readers first, and when they are not driven by greed. (By the way we don’t feel that “giving consumers the lowest price” is the same as “giving readers a great service”.)

Writers want to find an audience and be paid fairly, readers want to find great work and pay affordable prices; and both want to do so WITHOUT being bombarded by the cacophonous online advertising bazaar.

The FMA Audience Discovery platform aims to make that possible. If you are a writer and would like to sign up for our Private Beta program (March 2015), check out our explainer video, and sign up.

In the meantime, we are furiously and happily getting the platform market-ready….. Jamie and Ray have been in the tech half of the garage, building out our system, while Mark is reaching out to colleagues in the writing and publishing communities to let them know what’s coming.

In their downtime, Ray’s finishing up his “Also Rans” manuscript and Mark is sherpherding his award-winning “Trainhoppers” telescript up the production ladder. These guys blow me away with their creativity. I love working next to them every day.

I hope you are all looking ahead to a great new year. Keep writing, check out our beta in March, and look for us at Book Expo America in May!

Paul Agostinelli
People & Numbers

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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Interview with Paul Agostinelli, CEO of FindMyAudience

paul_1Paul Agostinelli, CEO of FindMyAudience

Your professional career has been in technology but you also won a Mellon Fellowship in Literature to the University of Chicago. How do you juggle those two interests?
Well, I studied Physics as an undergraduate before doing the Master’s in Literature so in a sense I have been living in both worlds for a long time. Twenty years ago, there was a bigger separation between the technology world and the arts world. If you were in front of a computer screen — which I hated at first! — you definitely were not reading Dostoyevsky, or appreciating great painting or probably listening to anything other than very early electronica. So at that time I just had to make sure I spent enough time away from the screen, reading, writing, nourishing myself. Today, that’s all changed, and I can be working on a spreadsheet and have a stray line of poetry wander through my head, and in two seconds be re-reading a Wordsworth sonnet. Of course, to do any meaningful work, I need to focus on the task at hand, often for hours at a time, without being distracted. That just takes the discipline to give time to each piece of work that calls to me, whether it is a spreadsheet or a blog post or a poem, and that’s sometimes hard to do.

Is there a particular period/genre of literature that you are most attracted to?
Like most people, I’ve been drawn to different voices over the course of my life. As a teenager I loved science fiction — Asimov, the Dune series, Ursula Le Guin. Through my twenties I really got into visionary writers like William Blake, D. H. Lawrence, Walt Whitman, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Those writers, along with a few I met later, like Rumi, Hafiz and Rilke, are still my spiritual touchstones, and are by the bedside for the occasional 3:00am dark night of the soul. I went through long phases with Pynchon and Faulkner from which in many respects I have not recovered. These days I enjoy psychologically astute novelists, who can tell a great story while paying attention to all dimensions of their craft: word, sentence, paragraph, chapter: Alan Furst, Zadie Smith, Carol Shields, Michel Houellebecq, and Jess Walters are some favorites.

Are you currently doing any writing yourself?
I’m doing a blog with some writings on Buddhist dharma, literature and technology (zenteknica.com). That may turn into something more cohesive like a book, or not. I don’t have any specific end product in mind, but it feels good to write.

You ordained as a Buddhist priest. How did that come about and how does your spiritual path influence your work?
That’s a good question. My path progressed from an early love of science to a love of literature then to a love of the wisdom tradition of Buddhism. I’ve been practicing Zen for 25 years, and am now teaching, so in that sense my spiritual path is my work. But at the same time, I have been operating as a tech entrepreneur, which has its own unique culture and dynamics, which is very different from the world of the meditation center. At the most practical level, Zen encourages us to pay attention to whatever is going on in the present moment, especially if it is difficult or uncomfortable. That mindset really helps when I find myself getting antsy, say I am meeting with a potential funder who I feel is missing my point, or when I am talking with an engineer who I think is over-engineering the system. Zen practice is about cultivating what we call “Don’t Know Mind”, and when I bring that to bear in those meetings, I can see that maybe that potential funder is onto something, or maybe that engineer has uncovered some deep issues in our design that I was not aware of. Any spiritual path should help you cultivate patience, humility, sensitivity and curiosity, and I find all these things essential in my professional work.

Let me put in a quick plug here for a book I just finished, The Three Marriages: Re-imagining Work, Self and Relationship, by David Whyte. Whyte’s a poet with a wonderful, lyrical voice who has reflected deeply on these three human relationships we all negotiate. A friend quoted him on Facebook and I ran to get his book. He’s awesome.

Can you talk to us a little about FindMyAudience. What is it and what do you hope to achieve with this service?
FMA is a web service that helps Creatives (writers, musicians, filmmakers, artisans) find and engage with individuals and communities across the Social Web who are likely to appreciate their work. It’s a “market intelligence” platform for the Creative class. These days, large commercial enterprise marketing departments are doing a lot of smart social media analytics and engagement; we are building out a slice of those features, intuitively designed for Creative individuals who by their nature are typically not marketers, and may even be averse to marketing themselves.

Right now there is an ongoing revolution in how books, music, films and artisanal crafts are made, distributed and marketed. The Internet, e-books, self-publishing, and DIY digital platforms have dramatically increased the number of available works. The Social Web allows Creatives to build fan bases via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, Soundcloud, Etsy, etc. — but the Social Web is a mixed blessing because the signal-to-noise ratio is diminishing. By helping Creatives find those people who are more likely to appreciate their work — we do this via analysis and matching of individual and community interests, styles and themes — we improve that signal strength and raise their chances of finding their audience.

In tech lingo, we are the complement to what’s known as “discoverability,” where distribution outlets like Netflix or Amazon help a consumer find works they might like based on what they have already liked. We help the works find the audience. Another cheeky way we talk about FMA is that we are like internet dating for art. We help writers and readers hook up.

When is FindMyAudience slated to be released to the public?
We’ll launch a beta to a selected group of writers and publishing industry personnel in Spring 2014. We’ll take feedback from the beta group of 5,000-10,000, and then open it up to everyone at some point after that. How soon will depend on how close we come with our initial design, but we are feeling pretty good about things right now!

Can writers help in any way?
We would love to hear from you on the FMA blog. Comment on what you’ve heard so far, weigh in on the surveys we will be putting out over the next few months, and sign up for the beta if you are interested. Writing is such a solitary activity, but all the hard work comes to fruition when your work finds a sympathetic reader. We think we have some experience, skills and tools to help make that happen. We’d love to hear what you think.

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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