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Book Editors Alliance

Internet: Authors' Friend or Foe?

by Sandi Gelles-Cole 

All of us in the writing and publishing communities know that the book business is going through major technological change.  Perhaps most difficult to accept are the changing of editorial, marketing, and distribution traditions.


But change is good, and after thirty-five years as an editor in trade publishing, I have stopped resisting the influence of the Internet, epublishing, website marketing, and website literary agents.  Instead, I am finding ways to work creatively with all these innovations for the benefit of authors.


Case in point: a client of mine is beginning to research a book pertaining to the Baby Boomers and their transition through middle age.   While organizing her ideas, she got stuck on how to structure the book so that it would not be just another book on mid-life.  She had plenty of ideas in her head, including her personal story of mid-life change, but she couldn’t articulate them.   How would she engage the readers she wanted to reach?  Who and where were they?  What questions did they have concerning their future?  Where would the answers comes from?


She and I decided it was time for her to use the Internet—not just as the largest research library in the world, but also as a source of inspiration and insight for her book concept.  She set about to visit every single site that related to the core concept of her book.  Suppose her central idea had been “Grandparenting.”  She would have started with that one word and begun tracking down all the sites that touched on the idea.  The blogs on these sites would help her start understanding the dialogue around grandparenting among her perspective audience.  Based on those discoveries, she would add new search words: for example, “Resisting grandparenting,” or “What is new in modern grandparenting.”


Starting with this simple search, she could gradually discover everything she needs to help her develop a large, inclusive concept, transforming what might have been a mediocre book into a fascinating one by drawing upon the views and experiences of the whole world—not just cutting and pasting web-based contents, of course, but enriching them with her unique interpretations, experiences, and style.


The Internet is playing an equally important role at the other end of the publishing process—the selling and marketing of books.


Historically the province of publishers, book marketing is in complete transition because of the web.  When I began my career as an editor, in-house staff would cringe when an author was granted the contractual right to review his or her own ads.  How dare an author presume to know anything about publicity! 


How far we have come. Now authors are deeply engaged in the marketing process, whether they are self-publishers or work with traditional publishing houses.  And the Internet is where the action is, starting even before a book idea is in development.  Literary agents now have assigned staff to go through the web to find new authors, searching for web sites that might make good book ideas, just as they used to cruise magazines.


Author websites are an invaluable tool for developing, marketing, and promoting book ideas.  Beyond building up readership by accumulating steady visitors, one can prove the popularity of an idea by using the sophisticated tracking processes offered through the Internet to quantify and define the market. Self-published authors can use the web to go directly to their audience and reach them where they habitually gravitate.  Radio blogs can be created through services like TalkRadio, where authors can host shows and invite guests to talk about the topic, thereby generating more readers, who can listen live or download the shows to enjoy at their convenience.


Some wonder whether the next generation will give up reading books and simply turn to the web for all their information and entertainment.  But for me, the argument over whether the net will eclipse the written word has been resolved.  Books and the Internet have begun to complement each other, and smart authors, editors, and publishers are recognizing that fact and using it to their advantage.


Sandi Gelles-Cole, a member emeritus of the Book Editors Alliance, founded Gelles-Cole Literary Enterprises in 1983, after eleven years as an acquisitions editor for major New York publishers.  Authors she has worked with include Danielle Steel, Alan Dershowitz, Victoria Gotti, Christiane Northrup, Rita (Mrs. Patrick) Ewing and Chris Gilson, whose first novel, Crazy for Cornelia, was sold in an overnight preemptive sale as a major hardcover and became a Los Angeles Times bestseller.  She can be reached at sandigc@gmail.

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