Recently Tim forwarded a document to me entitled ‘Overview of CBF-Recipient websites’ with a one-word message: ‘Thoughts?’
The document is exactly what it sounds like. ‘CBF’ stands for Canada Book Fund, formerly known as the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (or ‘bippydip’). The Canada Book Fund is the primary source of support for my internship, and it also has a lot of other programs and opportunities for independent Canadian book publishers. Currently the Canada Book Fund – like nearly every other book-related organization out there – is concerned with the way the internet and web-savvy customers are affecting sales and profits for book publishers.
Hence, the overview! Which attempts to summarize (as much as one can) all of the CBF recipients’ websites and online initiatives, and in some places also tries to give an idea of how different site content and initiatives may have affected sales.
I won’t summarize their findings here, but I’ll tell you what I’ve taken away from reading the document – and that way you can learn more about CBF recipients and about the PQ!*
1) Use social media more!
I know, I know, I keep saying this, but when you work for a small press it’s hard to fit in social media when there are so many other, (seemingly) more important things to be done. But social media can’t be overstated and I promise myself that before I leave PQ in March (but after the Fall 2011 tip sheets are done – don’t worry, Tim!), I’ll dedicate a couple afternoons to at least establishing PQ and our titles on every platform I can think of: GoodReads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, and then link all of those back to what we already have. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that it’s been extremely difficult for me to fit in these endless little tasks – endless if you let them become endless, that is – into my regular days, but I have high hopes for the future intern that she’ll be able to manage it with wit and elegance. The least I could do is set up a foundation for her.
On a related note, it would also be extremely handy to have a little ‘share’ bar on every book web page. But that’s a project for our web developer someday. Even CBF has one on their website!
2) Better organization for our website.
At PQ we actually have many of the features that the overview recommends – author biographies, photographs and illustrations, excerpts, descriptions, reviews and endorsements, etc. But one problem I have noticed about our book pages is that this information isn’t very easy to find. When you first land on a book page, there is no indication whether that page includes an excerpt, author comments, etc. – a visitor just has to scroll down and assume that the information might be there. If the information isn’t there, then the visitor is just out of luck. That’s a needlessly frustrating experience for someone who is interested about our books!
So what I would love to someday see on PQ’s book pages is a quick and immediately visible guide to what is further down the book page – what you’ll need to scroll to see. A table of contents, if you will. 😉 This table of contents will only include hyperlinks to the most popular and common information: BUY THE BOOK (!), description, excerpt, buzz/hype/reviews, author comments/preface/introduction (pick one or two), illustrations (if applicable) and author biography. That way a visitor can see at a glance what they have to look forward to on the page, and can also click directly on what they’re interested in to be brought to that section. I think this makes a ton of sense, particularly with our books that have enormous amounts of information available (e.g. a lot of reviews or an extremely long introduction) – but the information is displayed in an overwhelming and haphazard way. Our website needs to be a pleasant and efficient resource for visitors, not a frustration.
3) Every book should include an excerpt.
And every illustrated book should include sample illustrations.
I don’t think these require much explanation. I hate buying clothes without trying them on first (although I will if there’s a good return policy!). With books, this problem is so easily fixed — just include an excerpt on the site! This is a no-brainer and fortunately not so difficult to accomplish (you just have to retype a chapter, if you don’t have the soft copy) – although this will be a time-consuming project. Ergonomic keyboards are a must.
4) Authors should have online presences and their own individual page on our site.
Right now our website doesn’t feature individual author pages. Many of our authors are not technologically inclined or have moved on to other projects, and so up until now it hasn’t made sense. But as PQ picks up new authors – particularly more tech-savvy ones – I envision each of these authors having their own page on the site to act as a ‘hub’ connecting all of these authors’ various online personae: their Twitter handle, Facebook page/profile, Flickr account, personal website/blog, etc., etc. A worthwhile project for a willing intern would be to create an easy, non-threatening guide to self-promotion on the internet for new authors at PQ: how to write and maintain a blog, how to use Twitter, how to find like-minded communities, and (most importantly) why all of this is important.
5) Passive filtering would be neat.
I didn’t know what ‘passive filtering’ meant before reading this overview. According to CBF, passive filtering is “A listing of similar/associated works alongside the displayed title…. Listings of works displayed simply by the fact that they were by the author did not count for this category.”
This would be neat because a lot of PQ’s books share similarities beyond just the author. On our home page I list our ongoing series and upcoming books, but it would be even better to include similar books on each individual book page – so, for example, if you look at Eric Ormsby’s Fine Incisions (a collection of literary criticism), you’ll see links to Philip Marchand’s Ripostes or Carmine Starnino’s A Lover’s Quarrel, which are also collections of literary criticism.
On the same note, every mention of another book or author published with PQ should actually be hyperlinks to that book or author’s page. Hyperlinks are the lifeblood of the web, and we should be using those.
The tricky part is, of course, implementation. Right now, at least, I’m not a web developer and I don’t have the skill to make most of these changes, and neither do I have the time to teach myself how. (This may change in the future!) Changes like this also take money, and it can be hard to justify spending on things like sharing buttons without some serious evidence that this will increase our sales in any way. The good news is that these ideas don’t need to be accomplished right away – if, indeed, they ever are accomplished – and there are plenty of free ways to improve PQ’s online presence (aka social media!) before we need to start reorganizing the website.
But a girl can always dream, right?
* What with our new branding and all, I find myself struggling to settle on one solid acronym for the Porcupine’s Quill. We used to be PQL (the L is just as mysterious to me as it is to you), but now the new logo is only ‘pq’. So are we the PQ? Or just PQ? Or do we go the crazy route and pronounce PQ with an invisible vowel in the middle, like ‘piq’ or ‘poq’? What do you think, dear readers?