Book^2 Camp: the Ultimate “Un-Conference”

I experienced my first ever Book Camp today, a freeform “un-conference” whose topics of conversation, structure and “panelists” are all determined on the spot. Basically I was stoked just to see Ami Greko in action … little did I know the likes of Margaret freaking Atwood would grace us with her presence.

(Guys, I literally heard Margaret Atwood un-ironically mumble the words “smart bitches, trashy books…” Life. Made.)

As for the “sessions” I attended…

  • Building Buzz with Book Blogs (with Margaret Atwood!): There are SO. MANY. BLOGS. out there… so I was trying to learn how to get my authors noticed, not only as authors with books to review, but also as authors who are content providers for bloggers. What’s most important? Honestly, a great pitch (whose content reflect that content that YOU have to offer). Knowing the right blogs to pitch to for reviews is essential (trying READING a blog before you pitch to it), and also understanding the importance of building a relationship with review bloggers, even if they tell you no after your first pitch. Also, of course, there is the age-old importance of building a brand and making sure that brand is reflected through all outlets of an author’s presence, be that online, in the book or in person.
  • Community Building with Guy Charles: One of the most compelling topics of conversation throughout the discussion was the idea of “publisher branding.” Readers know books, they know authors, they know series — readers don’t know about particular publishing houses because publishers don’t listen to the readers. If an author is at a book signing, Guy argued, then the editor and the publisher should be standing right beside that author, talking to the fans waiting in line for a signature. This is how publishers differentiate themselves from the imprints within their own company and from separate publishing houses. Publishers can also learn a lot through real time monitoring of certain terms, which may arguably overtake actual search engines. One ratio from which I think a lot of publishers can benefit was thrown out during this session: for every communication (e-mail, tweet, Facebook update) that you’re sending out about yourself, you need one to match that with a communication about something or something else. Give your audience what is important and interesting to them — even if that’s not always you.
  • Digital Workflow: In a platform of work that is no longer linear, it’s important to understand not only who is involved in the process of ideamaking, but to also understand the shift in workflow and to adjust business practices accordingly. Kaplan Publishing offered some really great workflow solutions, which included the idea of building highly communicative teams that meet weekly to effectively communicate product initiatives, progress and mishaps. By instilling in colleagues a sense of ownership over a product, the end result is more accuracy, passion and effectively targeted marketing.
  • Your Book is the Website, Your Website is the Book: Despite the cramped and sweltering hot room in which this discussion took place, there were some great ideas thrown around. A website, of course, should be built in tangent with the book and with the same level of branding, knowledge and professionalism. One big concept that was debated throughout the group was that of (what else?) free content: how much of it should be offered on an author’s website? Additionally, why types of extraneous content drives fans to the point of wanting to pay for such content?  Other topics of conversation: blogs to books (you can’t just copy blog posts into a book and think it’s something special; if you do so, readers will get mad, says Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches Trashy Books) and a publisher’s role in creating an online identity for authors (should an author have a site independent of the one its publisher creates? If so, in what ways should it be different? Mostly, it was agreed, through personal marketing and branding.).
  • Book^2 Camp Dictionary: Bong hit required before entry to this one (kidding, hah, but there was definitely some, “woah, dude” moments happening). We discussed the way the future will redefine words whose definitions we take for granted: book, page, chapter, paragraph, sentence. We discussed how the design element of future apps and eReaders will drastically alter these things as we know them. Most interesting to me was the idea that a book could one day be so customizable based on particular readers’ wants and needs, that it may get to the point that an author would be uncomfortable calling it their piece of work anymore. How much artistic integrity is given to the design/structure/font of a book? Is the author really just associating their name with the words, or is it with entire package of a “book”? While this route of digital books may be questionable/scary, some ideas I can totally get in on are the inclusion of videos in eBooks to take the place of author bios, book blurbs, review quotes, etc. Personally, I would so much really see and hear my author than just read a little blurb about them.

You can make fun of me all you want for going to “work” on a Sunday, but not only did I get a free t-shirt… I also met and intimately discussed this industry with some of the most passionate people in modern day publishing. Huge kudos to those who put on this event; I can’t wait for the next one!


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