Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book Publicity's Digital Decade

Today’s interview with Ms. Hajni Blasko, creator of Substance Books, was conducted by Samantha Rideout, Assistant Editor at Reader's Digest.

Hajni Blasko started the world's first online book publicity network, Substance Books, in February 2001. Ten years later, she remains a pioneer in this emerging field.

What exactly is online book publicity? What does it involve?

HB: Online book publicity is an umbrella term for various forms of book publicity that take place over the Internet, including social networking, search engine pay-per-click advertising, branded web sites, and link exchanges with other web sites and online press releases. I do a little bit of all these things, but what I am mostly about these days is marketing through search engine optimization and online exposure, because I believe it's the most cost-productive publicity technique when it comes to book sales.

For those of us who haven't heard of it, what does search engine marketing mean?

HB: It means making sure that your title appears within the top search results on Google and other major search engines. This way, your title shows up in the “organic” search results, not just the area where the paid advertising goes. After all, 93% of all web traffic passes through a search engine, so if you want people who don't already know about your book to discover it; this is the way to go. The key to good search engine marketing is finding the appropriate key phrases that allow book buyers searching for their favorite genres to find our titles.

The web and its users have evolved a lot over the past ten years. How has online book publicity changed?

HB: When I first started Substance Books, online book publicity was unheard of, so I didn't have any similar companies to model myself on. In fact, I didn't even know what professional title to give myself — I thought of “online book publicist” one day in the bath. I learned by trying different things and seeing what worked. I started off by featuring the authors together in one website, to give them more publicity power than they would each have individually. Over time, this website got a lot of visits, which made it crawl up higher on search engine results. Eventually, I figured out how to get even better search engine results using SEO techniques. There are a few more online book publicists out there now, but I think I'm the only one who offers search engine marketing along with other services.

How will you be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Substance Books?

HB: I'm offering a $20 listing fee discount to any new clients who are members of our Facebook page.

Social networking is very “in.” How can authors and publishers use it to their advantage? 

HB: Authors can use Twitter and Facebook to brand themselves, meet other authors and disseminate information about book signings and the like. But I need to emphasize that it's one tool among many for gaining online exposure for your title. It might be fun to spend 20 hours a week on Facebook, but if you want a return in the form of book sales you must spend your time intelligently. Facebook is working hard on improving its own search-engine usability and capabilities, so it is extremely important to know how to manage your Facebook collateral. For this very reason we are offering free customized Facebook pages to our authors, designed to bring the right book to the right audience.

What should a book's website or Facebook page look like?
HB: I believe that all authors and publishers should have a website which is search engine optimized and up to industry standards. Amateurish websites and bare-bones Facebook pages are no longer good enough; the online competition is too stiff. Applets, RSS feeds and iphrames are basic components of a professional Facebook page. This is why Substance Books has also been offering website design and makeover services for the past five years. If you have a mystery thriller, your website should be as good as Dan Brown's, because that's your online competition.

How does online book publicity fit in with more traditional kinds of book publicity? Do you see it replacing book fairs and so on?

HB: No; I think there will always be a place for traditional exposure to readers and the press, even though online publicity is becoming more and more important. Ideally, the two forms of publicity would create a synergy together. That's why I participate in BookExpo America every year and look forward to the London Book Fair next year.

Do you have any final advice for authors and publishers who are interested in online publicity? 

HB: Just that they should focus on their main objectives. For example, if your objective is sales, then targeting the readers who love the book's genre is probably going to sell more books than scattering ads for your book all over the Internet. And a few loyal readers are worth more than a whole lot of one-time visitors to your website or your distributor. It's not so much about the quantity of exposure you get; it's about the substance of the exposure.

For more information contact: Hajni Blasko at:


  1. Very interesting! I do think social networking does help to publicise one's books but above all social networking is about creating relationships with others. I guess trying to convert one's followers into buying your book (actual sales) takes this into a different level so all help in using one's social networking time intelligently as Hajni says here is all good.

    Take care

  2. This was so informative. One day soon I'm going to have to think about how I'll market my book. Perhaps I'll have someone else help me with it. Sounds like a smart way to get it done. :-)

  3. Hi Jennifer,
    Me too. That's why I have Twitter and Facebook to link it to my blog and my writing. If you look at your published followers like Talli Roland and Maria Zannini they, too, use social network to promote their books. Hope you publish yours soon. ;)

    Hi Misha,
    A lot of the authors nowadays do their own legwork. In the old days, agents and publishers helped you out promoting your work. Nowadays, they suggest that you do it.

  4. Hi Claudia.. hope you're doing well! Very informative and helpful post, as usual :)

  5. Fantastic tips and ideas (and thank you for the mention above!). As you know, social media has been so important for me when it comes to marketing my novels. With a small budget, I can still do a lot to spread the word.

  6. Hi WritingNut,
    I'm doing well, thanks! Glad you found these tips useful ;)

    Hi Talli,
    Yes, thank goodness for social media! Not everyone has the means to market their books and through social media we can do it in an easy and cost effective way ;)
    Good luck promoting "Watching Willow Watts"!

  7. Hi and thanks for the help lately. For someone like me this is almost TMI and very intimidating. I guess I'll have to start paying attention. Good article.

  8. Hi Dan,
    We've all been there. Even at this point in my writing career, I get intimidated once in a while. It's part of the writing process. ;)

  9. Really interesting - and well out of my comfort zone :)

  10. Hi Mike,
    Well, at least it was a good read, right? :)

  11. Such a great post! Love visiting your blog!

    Lola x

  12. Hi Lola,
    Thank you for stopping by. Happy to hear you liked this post :)

  13. That's a super informative post. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Hi Claudia!
    I'm still making my way through the Pay it Forward festival--wow, what an informative post! Nice to meet you!

  15. Hi Dawn,
    Thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked the post.

    Hi Kristen,
    Nice to meet you, too! Thank you for joining my blog. The Pay it Forward blogfest was fun indeed. I'm coming over to your blog. ;-)