So I've been asked to give a talk on blogs. Some really nice people who are running a seminar called 'Reaching Readers Online' have very sweetly said that the Snowblog is quite good, and the other online things we do are quite good too, and so have invited me to talk at it.
It being a talk on blogging, and me having a blog, I thought I'd get a bit fancy. I'm using this blog entry as a way to present the things I'd like to get across. What can possibly go wrong with that, writing (or at least, posting - I'm not typing this live, or that really would be a very dull talk) a blog post in front of an audience of 40-odd, in a hotel where the internet connection is bound to not work when I need it to, when I am completely unable to multitask so can only write or speak at one time - not both? Well, we'll see, won't we?
//update - yup, the internet connection kept failing! Ah, the modern world. Hotels haven't joined it yet.// Those people who read this blog know what the usual fare is. Rob (who's Snowbooks' chairman) and I ramble on about things that we think. In the last month we've had Rob's theory of linguistic divergence, Leila's home videos, Snowcases, reviews, why I'm learning Java through the OU, my tips on duotones, thoughts on why publishers still have imprints, an interlude when I used the blog to tell someone their emails were bouncing, book reviews of sorts, reports from day trips, the launch of Snowvon, a tutorial for getting Word 2007 to process XML, repeated posts about Naomi Klein's new book, blog reviews, the launch of our Christmas range, notices about Steve Aylett's next gig, and I've just looked and that's only two weeks in September and I'm bored of listing all these so just go to the archives and see for yourself.
What does it all add up to? A conversation? Sort of - if it is, it's a conversation that we're dominating. It's more of an informal speech. Rob and I say things that we want to, and then take a few points and questions from the floor (via comments). Given the number of people who say to me 'ooh, I read your blog' who have never commented, it shows it's a very one-sided conversation. We're not using the blog as a forum to replace real life conversation: it doesn't allow for a balanced chat with our readers. We're using it as a real time, unfiltered, authentic description of what's happening at Snowbooks.
Ah! Authentic, you say? Yes - the snowblog can be authentic because, frankly, there are three of us in the company, with very similar views on things, and so the voice we speak with is our own. No great trick to it. But it's a problem for large companies - blogging is really at the level of the individual and it's pretty difficult for one person to speak authentically on behalf of thousands. Even smaller companies get it wrong, though. Updating only weekly, speaking in that stifling, airbrushed corporatespeak - cardinal sins. Who wants to read what amounts to an out of date press release?
Speaking of readers, who exactly are the readers of the SnowBlog? Hello? You out there? Who are you? Are you fans of the business? Members of the publishing industry, eager for insight? Spies? Book lovers? Indie publisher supporters? Journalists? I bet the vast majority of you work in or around publishing - and I bet a minority have actually bought our books. (Yes, this is a guilt trip. Yes, you should immediately go to the Snowshop and stock up.) So this blog isn't a particularly good way of 'reaching readers' - because who cares which publisher published your favourite book? Publisher brands only matter within the industry. You don't go into store and ask for the latest Transworld, you ask for the latest Dan Brown.
OK, now we're getting somewhere. If it's author brands that readers are interested in then blogging by authors is probably a good thing? Yes, why not. We have some particularly fine blogs run by our authors: the most inventive is actually a blog by Sally Howe, the fictional heroine of Plotting for Beginners.
So author brands can be helped by blogging. But is one blog alone powerful enough, or is the trick to integrate yourself with the wider community? One of our finest online successes came from the community itself. We publish a book called The Crafter's Companion - a collection of pieces from some of the leading crafting bloggers in which they describe their inspiration, passions, workspaces and provide a little pattern of one of the projects they've created. It's a beautiful, inspiring book - but more importantly it's a collection by the people, for the people. The online crafting community is astoundingly buoyant - heaps of crafters post about their creations and get wonderful feedback and support from their fellow bloggers. And sure enough, when this book came out almost every crafting blog mentioned it. There is such unbridled, genuine enthusiasm for this book and it's a source of great pride that we've created it - but there's a commercial element to this, too. When it was published this time last year, its editor created a little paypal button for pre-orders, and popped it on her own crafting blog. She made it available to anyone else who wanted to put it on their blog. Then we went away to Frankfurt for 5 days. When we got back, we had $5000 of pre-orders - just from a little button!
To bring talk of communities back to the SnowBlog, we blog because we enjoy it. We have things to say, things we want to share, we have a company that we're insanely in love with and proud of and blogging is an outlet for that passion. And if people enjoy reading about what we do, then that's smashing. But we're not blogging as a clever, clearly-thought-through way of selling books. We also didn't sit down and think, right, must do online things so as to be clever and modern. I like computers, and I like spending most of my working day in front of one, and I like words, so it's no wonder, really, that I like blogging. But we never started it to boost sales or get rich.
But you never know how these things work out. Hey, I'm standing in front of an audience right now, talking about this, because we've built up a degree of credibility through our commitment to blogging. In a minute I'm going to mention that Snowbooks does cover and layout design for other publishers, and they're bloody good and excellent value, and we can also advise and build online stuff for other companies, so who knows, someone in the audience might get in touch later, cheque book in hand. Blogging has an effect a little bit like Frankfurt - the real reason we go is for the serendipity, the chance meetings, the conversations that lead to tremendous insights and new ventures (and boy, did we have some of those).
So, in summary: you won't get rich quick, but blogging is a way to establish a voice, to break through the airbrushed corporatespeak of brochures and press releases. And, done well, blogs that are part of a community are a trustworthy way for people to find books they are interested in.
And that is the end of my speech. (Rapturous applause, roses thrown at feet, calls of 'more! more!', young men rushing to airkiss their congratulations, etc) No, please. You're too kind. Thank you, thank you.