Publicizing Books Online
Edited by Robert Lang
My origami book shelf
There’s no doubt about it - I love origami books. The best way of exemplifying that is probably to mention that I own 95 origami books, plus some magazines and booklets. To put that into context, I’ve been into origami for 67 months now - which gives me an average of acquiring over one book a month.
I love origami books, because they can be so beautiful. For me it is about the diagrams, but also about supporting the creators, and having something to hold on to. At the same time I know that there are other media of sharing emerging. I must know. After all, I produce instructional videos myself, and have also posted some free diagrams online.
I do want designers to keep publishing books, though. Some might say the internet is the biggest risk, and that origami books might disappear because of it. I believe differently. Indeed, the internet can be a great place to promote your book and increase sales - rather than choking them. This article is all about some ideas on how you can promote origami books online. Most of the tips will be targeted at authors, but some of them can also be put into practice by origami enthusiasts who want to help with promoting their favorite creators.
I don’t know about you, but I personally often buy a book because I am interested in one particular model. For example, in License To Fold it was all about the Eagle designed by Hung Cuong Nguyen. The book obviously also includes many other great models, but very often there’s that one model that makes me really want to buy the book. And when talking to other origami enthusiasts, I found out I’m not the only one for whom it’s like that.
But what is there to learn from this? If you are a designer and thinking of publishing a book, selecting the right models for the book is key. And the community can help you decide which models people are most excited about.
How to get that information? I’ll mention two ideas to get you started.
First of all, are you posting pictures online, e.g. on Flickr? If so, check which models get lots of complimentary comments, or are favorited often. These are great indicators that you should consider including the designs in your book. The same holds if you get queries for diagrams for a model. It’s probably the clearest signal for increased interest in a model - and thus it's a potential seller for your book.
Second, there’s no harm in asking the community directly for advice. For example, you could write an email to a mailing list, or post a question in a forum or on a social networking site. It’s been done before, too. For example, in an origami forum Nicolas Terry asked about models for his upcoming book around Vietnamese designers, and Brian Chan used Facebook.
It's also worth mentioning that by including the community while you are working on the book, you are getting them excited about it. Discussions start, and this in itself already promotes your book. So it's not just a tool for deciding which models to include, but also a great way of raising the community's pleasant anticipation of your upcoming work.
By the way, different people will probably have different models that really make them want to buy a book. And of course having several such models is a plus. Indeed, the more models I am really excited about, the likelier it is that I am going to recommend it to others. For example, if I'm asked about which origami book is my favorite - three books immediately pop into my mind: Origami Design Secrets by Robert J. Lang, because it exquisitely explains techniques and exemplifies them through models; Origami Essence by Roman Diaz, because I've fallen in love with so many models in the book; and Origami Tessellations by Eric Gjerde, because it got me started with tessellations.
Table of Contents
Some sites selling books allow you to have a sneak peek of the book. Left: origami-shop.com; Right: Amazon
Obviously the models included in a book are a big selling argument. Still, often it’s not clear what is actually in the book. So while it’s very basic, this is also a very important tip: inform others what to expect in the book.
Here are some ideas:
- Ensure that the sites that are selling your book online include a table of contents, or at the very least the number of models included. I am guessing that publishers will have a say in what the description used by book sellers will be. Thus you should be able to influence what they send. Some book selling sites also support the functionality of giving a sneak peek of the book, displaying some of its pages. Commonly these include the table of contents of the book. For example, origami-shop.com has this functionality, as well as more general sellers such as Amazon.
- Orgami House do a great job at this, including photos or drawings of all models included, as well as the designers’ names.
- Origami Database (ODB). By doing this, people searching for specific models may become more aware of your book.
- Finally, if you post a picture of a model included in a book, do add a reference to it. This can be as simple as adding the book’s title and author, or - if you want to be extra nice - a link to a site where you can also buy it.
Truly, the table of contents aren’t always enough. For example, people may feel uncertain about whether their skill level is sufficient enough. Or if the diagramming style suits them. So adding extra information and reassuring a potential buyer can help lots.
My experience with complexity ratings has been that everyone has a slightly different sense of what’s simple, intermediate, or complex. So while these indicators are nice, having a real example is much more powerful.
One option is to specify which difficulty the models have, and give one example diagram. In this way, people can get to know your diagramming style, as well as a sense of what difficulty to expect in the book.
While I personally don’t worry too much about complexity, I do get contacted regularly with the question which book is suitable for someone's specific skill level. These queries are in some ways a cry for help in deciding which book to buy. And often when you are not certain about that, you'll simply not buy any book at all. Hence I do believe giving extra clarity helps a lot with selling books.
Reviews and Community Recommendations
Closely tied to the previous section, getting reviews for a book is also extremely valuable. In some ways, this is the online equivalent to word of mouth. And there are many flavors to it.
One of the best known people doing reviews is Gilad Aharoni, who has done many reviews. They usually include a short paragraph of the overall impression Gilad had, followed by a full table of contents for the book, and pictures where available. Also crucially important are the rankings he gives, e.g. which skill level it requires, whether the diagrams are clear, and what kind of diagramming style is used. He also gives some sources on where to buy the book.
Indeed, he does such a good job at this that before I buy I a book, I often first check whether he has reviewed it. I’d also thought about writing reviews myself, but lacking time I’ve decided to go the somewhat faster route of only linking to other sources. So on my website, I do have a list of books I own. And for each book I list the following:
- general data, such as ISBN, title, author, language, pages, models included,
- links to reviews, e.g. by Gilad Aharoni,
- links to table of contents, e.g. in the origami database,
- and links to shops where you can buy the book (surely often not a complete list)
To give a third example, Ancella Simoes chose a route between what Gilad and myself are doing: She gives her overall impression of the book, as well as a source of where to buy that book. This is somewhat similar to what I did before I moved to the new format.
And what better place to mention all the book reviews published with The Fold! Giving you all these examples is simply to show you that reviews can be done quite differently. But all of them have one great value: they give you an idea of what someone else thinks of the book.
Finally, there are many examples of where people mention which book a model is diagrammed in. Even though it may not be a full review, it is already a recommendation for the book. After all, you folded this beautiful model from the book mentioned! Now, if you are adding such data to your pictures already, great! You are helping to promote origami books, and ensure they will continue to be produced. If you’re not doing this so far, consider starting now. It’s a win-win for everyone, really. It’s little work for you, and helps you remember where to find the diagrams if you want to fold the model again. People who admire your picture will gain the sema benefit if they want to fold the model, too. And the designers will be happy about the extra sales you are encouraging.
Where to Buy
Did you notice how Gilad, Ancella and myself all mentioned in the reviews where to buy the book? It’s actually very important. One of the great things about the internet is that products get much more available throughout the world. While shipping costs may vary and sometimes can be quite restrictive, it is a great improvement over previously not being able to acquire some books at all in most countries.
Now if you want to promote the sales of a book, it’s good to help people out with where to buy that book. It’s one fewer web search they have to do, and thus removing one hurdle on the way to buying your book. So adding a link helps a lot. This is especially true if you are announcing your new book.
Of course, you will want to announce your new book, and to the right audience.
This already hints at the first way of announcing a book: sending an email to an origami mailing list. There are various lists out there, often one or more for each country with an active origami community. However, I believe one of the largest origami lists is the o-list, so if you don’t know which list to join, this might be a good starting point.
Of course, you can - or indeed should - also announce your book if you have your own website. Share it on a social networking site, if you like. Or make people aware of the book on pages where you post pictures of your folds. For example, Flickr is surely one of the more used photo sharing sites with a strong origami community. And authors are definitely announcing - or perhaps simply sharing their excitement about - their newly published books. For example, Eric Gjerde posted a picture of him holding the first copy of his book Origami Tessellations, and many others simply posted a picture of the cover (e.g. Anna Kastlunger, Juan S. Landeta, Joshua Goutam).
And consider this: it's not just the author that may want to announce a book. If you helped with a book, or have just acquired a copy of a recently published book, why not share that? For example, you could send a quick review to your favorite mailing list, post a picture of your first fold, or record a quick video on how excited you are about the book.
Of course, this article cannot miss a reference to origami videos. After all, as I am told, I am known as the video person. I’ll give you three examples of how videos can be used to publicize a book and promote its sales.
First, let’s start with what I do. I make instructional videos, introducing how to fold a model. If the diagrams are found in a book, I add a reference to it in the video. I've also started showing that book in the video. Showing the book is somewhat different than mentioning it, I believe. For one, it shows I actually have the book. :) And second, it’s nice to see the book, not just a name or picture of it. In some ways, seeing the book in a video can make it more real.
From 2:35 to 3:45 I give a quick glimpse of Meenakshi Mukerji's book "Origami Inspirations"
I will also mention that very often after I introduce a model from a book I will get queries to demonstrate further models from that book. This is a good sign. It means people are excited about the book, and they want to fold further models from it. At the same time I know I have a responsibility. I do not want to compete with book sales, but rather promote them. Therefore I very clearly communicate that I won’t be demonstrating further models from the book - at least not until the book has been out for a bit longer. I give this answer without asking the author or designer what they think; it’s simply what I feel is the right way to go forward. Surprisingly, I’ve never had anyone question my decision or comment negatively on that agenda I’ve set myself. I believe they see sense in this constraint I set, or perhaps they know how stubborn I can be!
The second example I want to give was actually done by the publisher, and is the first example I’ve seen of such a promotion. For Paul Jackson’s new book “Folding Techniques for Designers" the publisher posted a series of short videos giving a teaser for the different chapters of the book. What better way to give a sense of what the book is about, and the high-quality content to expect in the book and adjoining DVD!
Finally, the third example is from Peter Engel, who shot a promotional video for his new book Origami Odyssey with the help of his son. Nowadays most of us have some device that can record videos, so grasping that opportunity for extra promotion is something I totally recommend. And as you can see with Peter Engel’s video, you can also have fun with it!
Peter Engel's promotional video for his book "Origami Odyssey"
Making It Happen
I am aware that some of the tips I gave do not only depend on the author or designer of a book. I also have to admit I’ve never published a book myself. But I do believe that authors and designers can help getting these things to happen - even if only by talking to people.
This may require talking to the publisher, to the origami community, or to other designers with experience in making books more successful. Sometimes, it may also help to engage key personalities.
I don’t want this to be taken the wrong way, but suggesting someone write a review can help lots. For example, when you publish a book, you will probably be asked whom to send some complimentary copies to. While you probably want to send some to people that you appreciate and that helped you complete the book, you may also want to include people that would write a review for you, or to people who post pictures of your folds regularly. Or, yes, I’ll say it, someone who might promote the book with a video. Indeed, I felt very honored when Peter Engel contacted me asking whether I wanted to demonstrate a model from his new book to promote it. I was all for it, and felt so enthusiastic that I simply had to write a post on it. I was very glad to see that Peter appreciated the value of how I try to contribute and promote origami and the work done by designers out there.
And I’ll feel bad if I don’t mention here that Eric Gjerde was the first to give me a complimentary copy of an origami book, and he did mention that my pictures and videos (see some examples here) boosted the sales of his book Origami Tessellations.
My final words in this article do have to be a great thanks to all the designers and authors, who have published books, or are planning to. I do hope that this article will help you promote your existing and future books better. And I hope your devoted followers can also take a chunk out of it, so that they too can help promote the awesome work you are doing.