What’s more interesting to me is how people who already have published books - authors and publishing companies - can use blogging to help them sell more books.
When people ask where the money is in blogging, we point not to ad sales or one-off bloggers like Andrew Sullivan who can attract subscribers who will pay to read their bonus material, but to companies who are already in business and how they can use blogging to boost their bottom line. Without the huge promotional budgets that can be spent on trying to deliver a company’s messages in other peoples’ media, businesses can use their own medium - their blog - to have a conversation with potential customers, existing customers, and industry peers.
Case in point: Seraphic Press.
Just seven months ago, Hollywood screenwriter Robert J Avrech started blogging about his son Ariel, who died in 2003 at age 22 of pulmonary fibrosis, after a lengthy struggle with cancer. Ariel, a scholarly rabbinic student, loved literature. Several months before he died, he told his father, “Dad, you should start a publishing company.” Seraphic Press, as it was so named by Robert’s wife Karen, was to produce books of the highest quality, which were also suitable for observant Jews. Niche audience? You bet.
So that’s what Seraphic Press does. When Robert started blogging about Ariel, the company had not yet published its first book, The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden. Robert, who has won awards for his film scripts, wrote that first novel himself. He would occasionally blog about the book, but the emphasis was on he who was the inspiration behind the company: Ariel. In beautiful language, Robert captured the raw pain of losing a child and how, as he put it, “time grinds away...doing its terrible work”. At other times, the posts were darkly funny - at all times, though, they were searing and real.
Of course, by writing these stories on his blog, Robert was deeply affecting those who were reading him. (Full disclosure: I was one of those people. That is another story for another time, though.) His readers left comments, exchanged emails with Robert, and in some cases spoke to him on the phone and came to his home to visit. They also asked him when and where they would be able to buy this book he had mentioned. Without actually setting out to do it, Robert was creating a market for Seraphic Press’s offerings.
Fast forward to last month, six months after Robert created his blog. In that time, Jason Maoz, editor-in-chief of The Jewish Press - America’s largest circulation Jewish publication, with about 250,000 readers - had become a fan of Robert’s blog. He featured excerpts from his blog posts on the front page of The Jewish Press, noted Robert’s blog as one of their most recommended websites, and ran another front page story about Robert in December. Other publications had turned their attention to the blog, too. When Ithaca Journal writer Bryna Fireside, a faithful blog reader, gave the first book from Seraphic Press a rave review, suddenly the large bookstore chain that had refused to stock the title changed their tune. They decided to carry and feature the book, after only a few weeks earlier rejecting it as “too small, with not enough of a publicity budget to back it up.”
It didn’t matter that Seraphic Press was a small, niche publisher without megabucks to spend on marketing. With Robert’s blog, Seraphic Secret, which tBBC gave a makeover and moved from Blogger to Movable Type and its own host, he could communicate with potential customers, garner press attention (both online and offline), and build a distribution network that would have otherwise been unattainable to an operation of Seraphic Press’s size and budget.
Offering value-for-value works. Robert Avrech certainly understands that. After healthy sales of The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden since its release in November, he is offering the book for free to all visitors of his blog, in PDF format. Unsurprisingly, he has noticed downloads followed by orders of multiple copies, in some cases.
With Robert now developing the book as a motion picture, it has been suggested to me that it will be interesting to see where the story of Seraphic Press ends. Of course, the story of Seraphic Press will never end, not as long as the blog is available and the connections - on the blog and off - are being made, and all of the stories - on the blog and off - are being told. And what’s the ROI on that, metrics fetishists? (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)