Ideas are Not Soap: The Failure of Corporate Marketing for Communicating Science

26 01 2016

by Dennis Meredith, Science Communication Consultant

(Reprinted from ScienceWriters, the National Association of Science Writers magazine, Winter 2015-16 issue)

Over recent years, more and more research institutions seem to be adopting a corporate marketing approach to their communications. You can recognize these marketers by their use of such Aisle drop shadowbuzz-words as branding, messaging, market penetration and cost-benefit analysis. It’s an approach that risks compromising research communications, and more broadly a research institution’s missions to create and disseminate knowledge.

Administrators become enamored of a corporate marketing approach because they’re managers; and managers like to manage stuff. Corporate marketing offers them a chance to manage—a seemingly strategic way to “sell” the institution to key customers, such as prospective students, patients and donors. True, the marketing approach does have some utility, in that it can help academic institutions think more strategically about communicating core messages about the institution.

But corporate marketing is by definition shallow marketing. By aiming to sell the institution as a branded product, it fails to serve the intellectually rich marketplace of ideas in which researchers operate.

For example, corporate marketers too often abandon significant coverage of their institutions’ research—particularly basic research. They don’t see such coverage as serving their narrow marketing strategy. In fact, I’ve heard of communicators at some marketing-oriented research universities explicitly stating that they don’t do news releases on basic research advances.

Rather, marketers prefer the “sales rep PIO” approach to media relations. For example, they will expend considerable effort to get their researchers quoted in reaction to news of the day. But these mentions are basically trivial—the equivalent of corporate product placements. They don’t really advance the researchers’ ideas, but only give the institution’s visibility—or as marketers put it, “increase media impressions.”

Another hallmark of the marketing mentality is pitching stories to individual reporters to generate media “placements.” While pitching seems like a good tactic—generating documentable media “hits”—it’s a poor long-term communication strategy. For one thing, it relegates the institution’s news to a commodity to be sold like soap, reducing the institution’s credibility. Also problematic, pitching could be considered ethically questionable, since it constitutes a publicly funded institution preferentially offering a story idea to one reporter. Certainly other reporters not privy to that information wouldn’t be happy with such preferential treatment.

Ideas should be broadcast, not pitched. Good ideas, well communicated, will find their audiences, both reporters and the public.

A more credible and productive alternative model to sales rep PIOs is the “PIO journalist.” The PIO journalist doesn’t pitch stories, or produce releases that are essentially advertisements—peppered with such subjective terms as “breakthrough,” “revolutionary” and “major discovery.” (To see sales rep PIOs at work, search for these terms on EurekAlert! or Newswise.)

Rather, the PIO journalist produces a steady flow of newsworthy releases, compelling feature stories and videos. Like any media reporter, the PIO journalist seeks to vividly communicate research by creating stories with clear explanations, pithy quotes and memorable metaphors. The stories explain the implications of discoveries in a way that scientific papers do not. And importantly, the PIO journalist includes the caveats and cautions that any good journalist would feature, which makes the release more credible.

Over the long term, such compelling content obviates the need for pitches. Reporters come to understand that the institution’s track record of solid news and features mean that they are obliged to pay close attention to its communications.

Administrators may not resonate as much with PIO journalism as with corporate marketing, because there’s much less for them to “manage.” Their duties consist of hiring talented research communicators and giving them the resources they need to do their jobs.

Administrators need to appreciate that the resulting “products,” will be news releases and other content that better serve the institution’s interests by portraying it as a dynamic, creative source of new discoveries. Such releases effectively transmit those discoveries to the idea marketplace, where they will be seen by such important audiences as fellow researchers, prospective graduate students and corporate partners.

PIO journalists tell the institution’s research story the way that the researchers and the institution want it told, and not through the filter of the media. For example, news releases posted on such services as EurekAlert! and Newswise automatically appear on such news syndicators as Google News, right along with media stories. And content posted on the institution’s web sites and social media directly reaches audiences.

PIO journalists also recognize that media may sometimes be secondary targets of news releases—that releases have a multitude of uses beyond media alerts. For example, they serve as internal communications, as statements of record, as alerts to other researchers and as content to inform and engage prospective students and faculty, corporate partners and donors.

So, the next time you find yourself in the soap aisle of the supermarket, ask yourself whether research discoveries should really be considered the equivalent of the gaudy packages of detergents festooned with their punchy slogans.





What’s Missing From the Chimp Rights Case: Chimp “Testimony”

22 04 2015

A new ruling by a judge in the New York Supreme Court has opened the way for legal arguments about whether chimpanzees should have “legal personhood.” To be clear, legal personhood doesn’t mean that chimps would be voting or having coffee at the local Starbuck’s, but that they would have the right to a fulfilling life in a humane environment, just as do people. (See this essay by Natalie Prosin for an excellent discussion of the issue.)

Nonhuman Rights Project logoAnd the ruling only ordered a hearing “to show cause,” not that the court was addressing the issue of whether the chimps had a right to a writ of habeas corpus.

The case brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project will be argued on both legal and scientific grounds. But I’m sure the hearing will not include “testimony” from the very creatures at the center of the controversy.

Obviously, I do not mean testimony in the sense of a chimp taking the stand, swearing on the Bible, and giving evidence. Rather, I believe that the case could be greatly informed by chimpanzees’ own spontaneous behavior—first-hand observations that go to the very heart of the case for legal personhood. I would argue that such behavior constitutes “testimony,” in that it portrays truths regarding chimpanzees that should be relevant in a court of law.

As examples, I offer my observations of chimp behavior during research for my novel Solomon’s Freedom, a fictional account of a court case seeking legal personhood for a chimpanzee. (Note: Steven Wise, president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, advised on the book.)

To research the novel, my wife Joni and I spent several weeks in The Ohio State University Chimpanzee Center, watching the chimps involved in numerical cognition research by psychologist Sally Boysen.

Negotiating a paycheck

In a typical research session, a chimp would take his (or her) place on a platform on the other side of a Plexiglas boysen5window from Sally or another researcher. In front of the chimp would be a touch screen, and Sally would present number problems requiring the chimp to pick the right answer by touching the screen. For a correct answer, the chimp would get a candy that Sally inserted through a small hole in the window.

Working for a reward is not unusual in such studies. But what I thought was most telling was the “negotiation” that followed the research session.

At the end of the session would come a “payday,” in which Sally would take a paper bag over to a cabinet in sight of the chimp and proceed to put more goodies into the bag for the chimp. But the chimp was no chump. Sally would drop a few treats into the bag, and if the chimp didn’t think the pay was sufficient, he would give a decided negative shake of the head. So, Sally would add a few more goodies. Only when the chimp decided the “pay” was sufficient would he deem it acceptable with a nod of the head.

Browsing a magazine

Then there was the “magazine incident.” One day, I was standing near one of the chimps’ outdoor cages, and he emerged carrying a magazine. He proceeded to lie on his back, prop up one foot on his knee and leaf through the magazine, uttering appreciative grunts. Was he actually looking at a magazine, or only mimicking something he’d seen humans do?

Sally said that chimps did, indeed, like to look at the pictures in magazines, and did seem to recognize them as images of real objects.

In fact, Sally’s experiments demonstrated more rigorously that chimps can grasp abstractions. In one study, the researchers hid a toy Coke can in a model of the chimps’ playroom. They then released the chimp into the real playroom, and the chimp was, in many cases, able to immediately retrieve the Coke from its hiding place.

While most portrayals of chimps show them as violently screaming or passively munching food or lounging, we did see instances of the same kind of curiosity that humans display.

For example, one day Joni was planting flowers outside one of the outdoor cages, when a chimp approached, sat down and proceeded to quietly watch her at her work. She explained to the chimp what she was doing, and the chimp would periodically amble off and return to resume watching. After a while, Joni became intent on her gardening, no longer talking to the chimp. The chimp went away and shortly returned.

He then launched a mouthful of water across a distance of several feet into Joni’s face. Whether it was a demand for attention, a joke, or an aggressive act, it was clearly a strategic act of communication by a deliberative creature.

Getting darted

However, perhaps the most telling bit of “testimony” about chimp behavior relevant to legal personhood was the episode I witnessed of the chimp Bobby being tranquilized. Bobby had developed a cough, and the researchers wanted to make sure it wasn’t pneumonia. So, he had to be anesthetized with a tranquilizer dart gun, to be given a chest x-ray and health exam.

When Sally approached the cages with the dart gun, an enormous uproar rose among the chimps. According to Sally, it was the standard panicked response, because the chimps knew that one of them was about to be darted.

She approached a nervous Bobby and said, “Now, I’m going to have to dart you, so show me your rump.” It was important for Bobby to present his rump, so the dart would safely hit a fleshy part of his body.

Bobby complied, turning his rump toward Sally. She fired. The dart bounced off Bobby’s thick hide.

“Bring me the dart,” she instructed.

Bobby brought her the dart and once again turned his rump to her. She reloaded and fired again. This dart embedded itself into Bobby’s thigh.

“Now pull out the dart and bring it to me,” Sally instructed. Bobby obeyed.

“Now you’re going to go to sleep, so lay down,” she said. This command was important so that Bobby wouldn’t climb to a place where falling would injure him, Bobby laid down and was soon unconscious.

Such “testimony” revealing such evocative behaviors will not likely find its way into court proceedings to decide whether chimpanzees deserve legal personhood.

But it should.

(Notes: See this list of resources for further background on chimpanzee research and the case for legal personhood. Dr. Boysen’s laboratory was closed by the university in 2006.)





New Sci-Fi Novel Asks “What if There Was a Blue Cat?”

2 02 2015

What if there was a blue cat? That oddball question first popped into my head some thirty years ago, while I was the news office director at Caltech. The result, decades later, is my newly published science fiction novel, The Cerulean’s Secret (Glyphus LLC).

The eccentric notion continued to nag at me, as I witnessed first-handLight Cerulean cover 3D web the advance of the genetic engineering revolution through the decades that followed—from its beginning at Caltech with the invention of the first DNA sequencing machine.

As the technology evolved, so did the story of my imaginary blue cat; and I began crafting the novel some two decades ago, as genomic science fiction became science fact.

Set in 2050, The Cerulean’s Secret envisions the rise of a lucrative industry of genomically engineered pets. In particular, the high-flying company Animata reaps massive profits creating and selling a marvelous menagerie of animals—including exotic crosses like cogs, dats, snurtles, alliphants, hamakeets, and feather boas. Its ultra-rich clients, however, clamor for the really spectacular specimens—dragons, unicorns. . . and the newest, the Cerulean cat with its mesmerizing iridescent blue fur. The stunning cat had promised to bring billions of dollars from a private collector, corporation, or exhibitor.

But the cat, dubbed the most beautiful in history, is stolen!

Swept up in the catnapping is naïve young Timothy Boatright, a wanna-be writer who’s driving a cab in New York. He inadvertently picks up the thief and the nabbed Cerulean. The cops suspect him of complicity in the crime, and to prove his innocence and save the cat, he tracks it down and steals it back. He ends up accused not only of catnapping but murder—fleeing the police, Animata thugs, a greedy drug lord. . . and Big Nasties! Somebody has programmed these 300-pound genetically engineered assassin-animals—with their three-inch fangs, razor claws, night vision, and sonar—not only to kill Tim, but shred him.

Amidst this mayhem, Tim realizes that the Cerulean was stolen and marked for death because its genes hold some explosive mystery he must solve to survive. He must also save his friends held for ransom—the middle-aged, cat-loving former spy Callie Lawrence and her headstrong daughter Lulu, with whom Tim has fallen madly in love.

I sought to make The Cerulean’s Secret a fast-paced thriller that projects today’s amazing genomic technology into a future of incredible biological manipulation. And, although I wanted to tell an exciting story, I also wanted to explore the critical moral and ethical issues raised by our growing ability to genetically engineer life.

Being a science writer, I aim in my novels to extrapolate my stories from real science, which is sometimes even wilder than any science fiction. The Cerulean’s Secret was just such a novel, because as I wrote it over many years, many of the devices I envisioned for 2050—from robot snakes, to virtual-reality glasses, to quantum computers—kept showing up as real-life technology.” In fact, I post lists of resources for my novels; and those for The Cerulean’s Secret can be found here.

Web The Cerulean's Secret YAE coverIn a unique publishing practice, we are also publishing a Kindle young adult edition of The Cerulean’s Secret, along with the adult edition. The young adult edition has been edited to eliminate adult language and situations.

I’m also author of science fiction novels The Rainbow Virus, The Rainbow Virus Young Adult Edition, Wormholes: a Novel, Wormholes Young Adult Edition, and Solomon’s Freedom. And, I’m author of the nonfiction Explaining Research: How to Reach Key Audiences to Advance Your Work (Oxford 2010).

I’m also collaborating with my daughter, pediatrician Dr. Wendy Hunter on a non-fiction book, Why Baby, with his daughter, pediatrician Dr. Wendy Hunter. The book covers the science behind parents’ most urgent questions about their babies’ health.





New Novel “Solomon’s Freedom” Dramatizes Chimp Rights Controversy

2 07 2014

Should the life of a chimpanzee — particularly one taught to use language — be sacrificed to save a man’s life? That’s the provocative moral question posed by the new novel Solomon’s Freedom by Dennis Meredith.

In Solomon’s Freedom, flamboyant defense attorney Bobby Colter finds himself arguing for the life of a client Solomon's Freedom coverquite different from his usual string of miscreants. Solomon is a chimpanzee, and a unique ambassador for his species. He has been taught from infancy to express himself using a touch-screen computer. His educator and champion is Dr. Abigail Philips, a dedicated scientist who took over research on chimp intelligence after her primatologist father died.

But her laboratory is in financial peril, and billionaire media tycoon Walter Drake seems the ideal rescuer. He donates $10 million to the laboratory, in return for a seemingly innocuous stipulation. He asks for legal control of Solomon, promising to house the aging chimp comfortably in a spacious facility on his property, allowing Abby to continue her research.

That is, until Solomon’s life will be sacrificed to save Drake’s. He had an ulterior motive. Research that Drake funded on tissue engineering will enable his scientists to “harvest” Solomon’s heart to use its extracellular scaffolding to grow a new heart for the ailing mogul, from his own cells.

The success of the transplant would set a stunning precedent, encouraging the sacrifice of a thousand chimpanzees in sanctuaries for transplant donors. What’s more, Drake pledges to support preservation of wild chimpanzees and the breeding and “sustainable harvesting” of countless more for their organs.

The lawyer Colter, hired by animal rights advocate Sarah Huntington — a foe of Drake, but also his estranged mother — finds himself embroiled in the most controversial and challenging case of his career.

“Of course, I wanted to write a novel with engaging characters, surprising plot twists, and a dramatic climax,” says Meredith. “But I also wanted to write a book that explored the complex and emotional moral issues we face in deciding the fate of our closest living primate relatives.”

In researching Solomon’s Freedom, Meredith drew on chimpanzee studies by Jane Goodall, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, and other researchers, and on the legal writings and advocacy by Steven M. Wise, a leading animal rights attorney. Wise and his group The Nonhuman Rights Project are currently engaged in court battles to attain “legal personhood” for chimpanzees. (Here is  a list of sources that inspired the novel.)

But the greatest influence on the novel arose from the time Meredith spent with the chimpanzees at Ohio State University’s Animal Care Center. Led by psychologist Sally Boysen, the research center was exploring the ability of chimpanzees to learn mathematical concepts.

“The experience profoundly inspired me,” says Meredith. “I’d done all this literature research on chimps, but that didn’t prepare me for the personal experience of hanging out with them — pun intended. Chimps display extraordinary intelligence in the wild, but more revelatory for me was seeing them deftly solve arithmetical problems and show other intelligent behaviors that could only be termed human-like.

“I remember sitting beside one of their outdoor cages and seeing a chimp emerge with a magazine. He proceeded to lie on his back, prop up his feet and flip through its pages, uttering contented grunts. Sally told me the chimps like to look at the pictures. Of course, he was still a chimp, so he later shredded the magazine for his bedding — a sensible step, I thought.”

Meredith also drew on the results of behavioral studies by Boysen and her colleagues that revealed the depths, and limits, of chimp intelligence. In one telling experiment, Boysen and her colleagues tested whether chimps who witnessed a miniature soda can being hidden in a model of a room could find the real soda can hidden in the actual room. Some of the chimps did find the hidden cans, showing that they possessed conceptual abilities related to language.

Unfortunately for Boysen’s research, fiction turned out to follow a sad reality. The university subsequently shut down her laboratory for financial reasons and sent the animals to sanctuaries. In honor of Boysen’s chimps, Meredith named the main human characters in his novel after them.

While the fictional Solomon is adept at using language, a major question that the novel raises is whether real chimps could possibly master language. There have been studies indicating that chimps can understand and use language concepts. One such chimpanzee was Washoe, who was taught American Sign Language by researchers Allen and Beatrix Gardner. In other prominent experiments, primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and colleagues taught the bonobo Kanzi and others to learn some language using keyboard lexigrams.

“However, there has never been a research project like the one described in Solomon’s Freedom, in which a chimpanzee has been intensively taught from infancy over decades to communicate using the rich medium of the touch screen,” says Meredith.

“And there is some evidence that chimpanzees, like humans, have a ‘critical period’ in infancy in which they could readily absorb language,” he says.

“So, I believe it entirely possible that if language-learning were begun early enough and with the right tool and enough time, chimps could exhibit substantial language abilities. However, given the cost and time involved, I doubt there ever will be such a study — which is a shame because of the scientific insights it would yield,” says Meredith.

Dennis Meredith brings to his novels an expertise in science from his career as a science communicator at leading research universities, including MIT, Caltech, Cornell, Duke, and the University of Wisconsin. His nonfiction books include Explaining Research (Oxford 2010), and his previous novels are The Rainbow Virus (Glyphus, 2013) and Wormholes (Glyphus, 2013).





“Wormholes” Author is a Liar and Thief. . . But Says It’s O.K.

27 09 2013

As the author of the new sci-fi adventure novel Wormholes, I’m a liar and a thief. I’ll explain why, and the reasons I think it’s O.K.

Some background: The idea for the novel had its beginning years ago in a simpleWormholes cover question “What if holes were to suddenly open up into other universes?” As is perhaps the case with most novelists, from that seed of an idea, I began to build a story. And in the process, I invented all kinds of physics. That’s when I became a liar.

I had to invent a scientific-sounding explanation of why, in its travels through the galaxy, our solar system enters a region of lurking wrinkles in spacetime. These wrinkles, I fabricated, constitute weaknesses in the spacetime fabric that cause holes to seemingly arbitrarily open up from our universe into other universes. So on Earth and on other planets, holes suddenly appear that might intrude into other universes’ interstellar space, into the fiery centers of stars, or onto the surfaces of alien planets. To drive my fictional story, I also invented some exotic physical properties for these “transdimensional apertures” that enabled me to plunge my characters into all kinds of perilous adventures. (I won’t reveal details, because that would give away the plot, and I’d like readers to be surprised.)

I was a bald-faced liar because my physics was all scientific poppycock.

Then I became a thief. I misappropriated the term wormholes to name these apertures, because it was popular and would attract readers. Again, it was poppycock, because scientifically, my “wormholes” are nothing like the theoretical wormholes of real astrophysics.

So, why should I care that I was propagating poppycock? After all, other sci-fi authors devise scientifically ridiculous stuff all the time, from Star Trek to Dr. Who. And sci-fi fans are perfectly willing—like the Queen in Through the Looking Glass—to believe six impossible things before breakfast.

However, I felt guilty because in my profession  as a science communicator, for decades I tried to write accurately about real astronomy and astrophysics, working at three of the country’s top universities in the field—Caltech, MIT, and Cornell. Was I betraying my own principles, and incurring the scorn of scientists whom I greatly respect?

Fortunately, I’ve been able to bury that nagging guilt beneath some pretty substantive—and I think interesting—rationales.

Wormholes sources 2 (300x276)For one thing, I wanted to grab readers and lure them into exploring real science, just as I was captivated as a boy by the imaginative writings of legendary science fiction writers Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke. Their books, which launched flights of fictional fancy from real science, inspired me to want to know more about science, and ultimately to write about it. To give readers a path to that science, I even added a this list of sources of real science and engineering that inspired the book to the Wormholes web site.

My lying and thievery was also justified because I sought in the novel to reveal some greater truths about science and scientists.

For one thing, they’re an incredibly courageous and indefatigable lot. Few lay people realize that the vast majority of scientific experiments are failures. Scientists only advertise their successes, in scientific journal articles and news releases. But despite failure after failure, scientists persist, laboring away until they achieve success. And so, in Wormholes, my characters—including intrepid geologist Dacey Livingstone and iconoclastic physicist Gerald Meier—suffer failures that are sometimes deadly, resolutely learning from each failure and trying again.

The novel also portrays another greater truth—that scientists have been censured and censored for their theories, even in the face of good evidence. Among the most notorious modern examples is the censorship of climatologist James Hansen for his assertions that global warming is caused by human activities like burning fossil fuels.

I also experienced censorship in my career as a public information officer, which is a particular reason I wanted to portray it in the novel. At Caltech for example, in 1983 the administration killed a news release I’d written about economist Roger Noll. He had analyzed the organizational structure of large government R&D programs, including the then-new Space Shuttle. He declared the Shuttle program a “catastrophe,” because it rushed headlong into a massive construction program without carefully evolving the technology over multiple generations. Roger Noll’s criticisms were borne out by the Shuttle’s massive cost overruns, under-performance, and of course the subsequent, tragic Challenger and Columbia disasters. When my release was killed, I suspected it had to do with Caltech’s ties with NASA, via its Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But I thought maybe the administration knew something I didn’t about Noll or the Shuttle program.

Another egregious example: At Caltech, I’d written a news release about a paper by geochemist Clair Patterson on the health hazards of global lead pollution. The head of his Caltech division killed that release, even though Patterson’s evidence was solid and widely accepted. At the time, I believed that the censorship was due to some scientific issue I wasn’t aware of. Today I believe it might well have been fear of offending the powerful oil industry. Patterson’s advocacy ultimately led to a removal of lead from gasoline and other products.

So, perhaps I am a liar and a thief. But I can live with it, because not only have I tried to spin an entertaining sci-fi adventure tale. I’ve also tried to inspire readers to explore real science, and given them some real insight into scientists and their quests for discovery.





Self-Publishing Series: V. Key Steps to Marketing Your Book

24 07 2013

(Last of a five-part series)

Marketing your book effectively will be every bit as challenging as writing it, and you should plan on spending a comparable amount of energy and effort.

For one thing, you face the daunting reality that the rise of self-publishing has brought masses of dreck to the marketplace. Your marketing challenge is to distinguish your quality book from that dreck.

The good news is that the most effective marketing techniques are free or very inexpensive; and conversely those that are expensive, such as paid advertising, aren’t all that effective.

A strong online presence is critical to your book’s success. According to this article in The Atlantic Monthly, a Codex Group survey has found that readers are relying more and more on online media, as well as personal recommendations, to find reading material. With that in mind, here’s a sample of what I’ve found to be the easiest and most productive marketing initiatives:

Take maximum advantage of the free marketing platform that is Amazon. Write a amazon logocompelling description of your book. Here’s an article on how to do that. List your book under all the possible categories and keywords, so search results on those terms will include it. Since good reviews are critical, ask anybody who says they like your book to post an Amazon review. Get your book reviewed by Amazon’s top reviewers and other major reviewers. Here’s an article on how to solicit reviews. Activate the Look Inside feature by uploading a pdf of your book. Create an author page, with a photo, and keep it updated. For further information, here’s my article Marketing on Amazon.

Create a web site for your book. It should include full information about you and your book and where to buy it, including

  • Contact information
  • Bio
  • Sample chapters
  • Tables of contents
  • Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
  • A feedback form and message board for comments, advice, etc.
  • A signup form for audio and/or Skype visits with book clubs. For example, see this signup page.
  • Photos of your book covers
  • Media kit, including news releases and photos
  • Video or audio of talks and interviews
  • Links to articles and reviews both about your book and what you’ve written about other topics
  • News and updates on your topic
  • Links to other useful sites
  • Reading guide to suggested books (Make money from this guide by joining the Amazon Associates program and earning a fee for books sold through your site.)
  • A link to purchase your book
  • A description of other products and services you offer

Your book site can be part of your general author web site, but it needs to be a dedicated page. You can make one web site do multiple duties by redirecting a book’s URLs to its specific page. For example, ExplainingResearch.com goes to the page on my web site about that book, TheRainbowVirus.com goes to my novel, while DennisMeredith.com goes to my home page, which changes as new books are published.

Distribute news releases on your book, and send them to appropriate media. You can produce multiple news releases, including one announcing the book, ones pegged to special dates or events relevant to your book, and ones that pitch feature angles on your book topic that might attract coverage. Post the news releases on your web site, on both the book description page and the media page.

Goodreads logoRegister as an author on the reader sites GoodReads and LibraryThing and offer copies of your book in their giveaway programs.

Post your book on the online galley site NetGalley. It’s not free, but it can be a worthwhile step to get your book noticed by reviewers, bloggers, journalists, booksellers, educators, and the media. If you’ve joined the Independent Book Publishers Association, you can take advantage of their discount listing fee of $350 for six months.

Use Facebook, Twitter, a blog and other social media to highlight your book.Social Networking for Authors  You can post periodic updates on your book’s sales and other events, and articles on your book’s subject, in which you mention your book. The book Social Networking for Authors by Michael Volkin contains a wealth of good ideas. Also, here’s  an article with some good tips on using social media and here are ten social media tips from Guy Kawasaki, author of APE (Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur) How to Publish a Book.

In his Forbes article on the new era of publishing, David Vinjamuri quotes author Robert Bidinotto, on the power of social media for authors:

Social media has been the great equalizer of advertising, promotion and marketing.  This is essentially asymmetrical warfare.  No customer going to Amazon knows what is traditionally published or independently published–and they don’t care.  They’re interested in an experience that will educate or entertain them. Social Media allow the individual author to become a personality and establish real emotional bonds with his readers. I happen to really like my readers and I deal with them online all the time. By using social media to become a personality to my readers, I have not spent one nickel in paid advertising—and I haven’t had to.

There are, of course, many more steps you can take to market your book. As outlined in part II of this series, you should read the many books, web sites, and discussion groups on self-publishing, some of which are listed in Jacqueline Simonds’ list of books on her Self-Publishers FAQ, to help you decide which steps are best for you.

Here are some other useful sources of marketing advice:

This concludes the self-publishing series. I hope it has been helpful and that my experiences help make your self-publishing adventure a rousing success!

Here are links to other articles in this series:





Self-Publishing Series: IV. Operating the Publishing Machinery

17 07 2013

(Part IV of a five-part series)

The next major step in your self-publishing adventure is to master the machinery by which a finished manuscript becomes an officially published book. Successfully taking this step means that your book will be recognized by the publishing world as a professional work.

As a novice self-publisher, I chose Createspace to produce my print and ebook novel The Rainbow Virus, for its ease of use and ready availability of its books on Amazon, which owns the service. It has also received generally favorable reviews elsewhere. When I checked discussion group commentary on Createspace, I found only rare negative comments, and many positive ones. Also, self-publishing expert Aaron Shepard recommends Createspace for self-publishers just starting out. Although I found Createspace’s instructions easy to follow, for authors looking for more guidance, Chris McMullen’s A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers appears to be the best resource.

Another self-publishing platform worth considering IngramSpark. It’s operated by the book distributor Ingram, which owns LightningSource, and aims to make the LightningSource service more accessible to self-publishers.

I found the Createspace interface to be clear and intuitive, and the service Amazon Createspace logoresponsive. For example, files were processed and proof copies shipped quickly. Edits to data such as book descriptions were also quickly processed. And publication on Amazon was fast. Also, the interface features a smooth pathway to publication of a Kindle ebook.

A caution, however: Createspace is heavily automated, so you should watch for glitches. For one thing, the service may adjust the layout to meet its requirements without telling you, so always order a proof copy to check. For example, when our designer made the gutter margin on The Rainbow Virus a bit too narrow, Createspace overcompensated and shifted the text too far the other way, producing off-center text on the page. Only when my wife Joni noticed this glitch in the proof copy could we correct it with a new layout.

As discussed in the previous post, proofreading at all levels is critical. Even at a final proof level, you will detect typos and higher-level errors in dialog, continuity, and fact that weren’t apparent at earlier stages. Not until the proof stage of my novels did I realize that a character holstered his pistol twice in one scene; that he took off his jacket one moment, only to have it on the next; that Neptune didn’t have a hydrogen ocean; and that I had misnamed an area of San Diego where scenes were set.

BowkerLinkborderA critical step in making the publishing world aware of your book is registering your book with Bowker—the publishing industry’s central provider for bibliographic information, ISBNs and other services. Fortunately, Bowker has created a web site for self-published authors that will guide you through this critical process. Three major pieces of advice:

  • Purchase your own ISBNs from Bowker, rather than using those supplied by a publisher. Owning the ISBNs means you are the publisher of record and retain all rights to your book. Some unscrupulous POD publishers will restrict those rights if you use their ISBN.
  • Enter every bit of metadata possible into Bowker. These are the data about your book that are fed to search engines, libraries, and bookstores—both bricks-and-mortar and online. Besides the expected data, such as title, format, price, etc., you can also enter detailed descriptions of your book and upload the entire manuscript for keywording.
  • Be sure to upload a cover image. Your listing will look amateurish without one.

Finally, if you publish a print book, you’ll want to register your book with the Library of Congress and send them copies.

Now that you’re published, your marketing effort—which you should have begun planning when you began writing—will shift into high gear. The final post in this series will cover some key marketing steps.

Here are links to the other articles in this series:








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