Today we have a guest post from Freddie O’Connell, web guru extraordinaire who is hard at work on a bigger, better BookPage.com version 2.0, coming to your browser in 2011. We asked Freddie to share a little bit about his experience working on literary sites with our readers.
BookPages: The Interplay of Books, Authors, and the Web
Guest post by Freddie O’Connell, Search Executive Officer (SEO) of SearchViz
I am an unabashed lover of books. My shelves at home are literally overflowing. I have, on occasion, sought professional safe haven among books, working for a time at Davis-Kidd when on temporary furlough in the aftermath of the dotcom collapse. Shortly thereafter, I went to work for NetCentral, the e-commerce subsidiary of Books-A-Million. And now, I’m excited that we’re working closely with BookPage on a variety of projects. Just as exciting has been our completely unrelated relationship with some exciting debut authors.
So, as an agency, we’ve been immersed in thinking about how readers discover books online but also how writers think about communicating about their writing to audiences online. And as an agency that focuses on our customers getting found, we must think about the way the ecosystem of sites around authors and books and book recommendation services like BookPage are engaging with their content.
In our extended collaboration with Adam Ross, author of the remarkable Mr. Peanut, we encouraged him to think about his website as a place to include a book equivalent of DVD extras, which he did naturally. So the site includes a beautiful elaboration of the Sam Sheppard case for curious readers, as well as a gallery of unused and international covers of the book. And he also took naturally to blogging and Twitter.
After launching Adam’s site, we watched in awe the rise of a writer who had written the book that everyone wanted to write about. Not all critics unconditionally loved Mr. Peanut, but they unconditionally wanted to express their thoughts. So we had a few Google Alerts configured to help us track the buzz about the book on the Web, and we quickly realized how haphazard the modern editorial process is for content sites the world over, some of whom link to Amazon as affiliates, some of whom link to the publisher page for the book, a few of whom were enterprising enough to link to Adam’s site directly, and some of whom link to nothing at all. As an agency that wants our customers to be easily discovered (whether by link or by search engine, many of the latter of which rely on the former), we think about these issues all the time. In this case, we’ve achieved good success, ensuring that Adam’s site is reliably on the first page of Google search results for people searching for [adam ross].
We were thrilled when, not long after the release of Mr. Peanut and the launch of Adam’s website, we were approached by Natasha Vargas-Cooper who loved Adam’s site (and his book) and wanted us to create a site for her book Mad Men Unbuttoned, which is a series of essays drawn from moments in the show that elaborate on the cultural indicators to which they’re clearly or likely attached in some way. Natasha reaffirmed that what was true for a fiction writer like Adam is true for nonfiction writers as well: good writers are a pleasure to work with because they’re constantly thinking about the process of communicating. It didn’t hurt that Helen Stevens, our Chief Semantic Stylist who gives visual life to our ideas, was already enamored of the show. She quickly captured a style that suited Natasha and her book delightfully.
One of our ongoing challenges with Natasha, though, is that she already had a blog, The Footnotes of Mad Men, that inspired the book. So when people are linking to referential material, should they link to the blog or the book site? This gets at one of the overall challenges of link building for multiple points of relevant content. Rich content sites, including news and reviews sites, aren’t often structured to facilitate easily managed and usable related content. We’ll be covering the topic of how there is no standard or protocol for linking readers to related information on our own blog soon.
And now we’re deeply immersed in making the BookPage experience a more rewarding experience for those who love to read. We need to ensure that our friends at BookPage can deliver a fresh and meaningful experience to those arriving at the front page while still ensuring that longtime readers can discover gems from among the deep and extensive archives of reviews and recommendations compiled over more than a decade of being online. Beyond that, we need to include ways for you to interact with this rich repository of material.
So we have a ceaseless and ceaselessly interesting flow of ideas coming from the writers we work with, those who recommend the best elements of their writing, and those who love to read the written word. This is made perpetually challenging, too, by the march of technology, which gave us first the Kindle and then the iPad, possibly upending Steve Jobs’s observation that “people don’t read anymore.” We expect that the concept of the book will evolve, and we’ll need to evolve our strategies for usable, discoverable access to books along with it.
We want you to discover the book recommendation service that will help you discover your next great book, no matter how you’ll be reading it. So by all means, keep reading!