Let's talk about books

Books, books, books. The whole world is talking about books. Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram and Pinterest – my entire life is filled with people talking about books, the joy of reading and showcasing pictures of their latest purchases or publications. I socialise with publishing people and we talk about books, I attend conferences and talk about books, whilst carrying an author-branded cupcake and an ‘I Love Books’ tote bag.

In many ways, the people in the publishing industry are its best viral marketeers, with our incessant stream of book-related commentary and branded livery. But recently I’ve realised that we are pretty much talking to ourselves, over and over again, in a giant neverending echo chamber of voices. Does anyone outside the publishing industry ever hear us?

At a recent publishing event I attended the debate turned to the ability, or rather the lack of it, of publishers to market books successfully. We know that we can promote very well, whether it’s through Tube advertising or the by-now ubiquitous tote bag (I have an entire cupboard-full) but these activities are largely for authors and book brands that are already bestsellers. They already have a healthy fanbase who can act as viral marketeers for us and keep spreading the word.

But if marketing is all about expanding our audiences, should we be utilising our most passionate book-loving community...ourselves? Having recently joined Goodreads (I know – late to the party), I’ve been surprised at how little publishing people actually talk about individual books in a public forum. Even the ones we like.

I’ve been steadfastly reviewing everything I read on there, because I can’t help having an editorial opinion, but many of us only get as far as the star rating. If we don’t like a book then there is a deafening silence. We don’t want to offend anyone so we don’t say anything at all. I make a point of reviewing everything, good or bad. It’s only my opinion about a text, and surely as an editor, that’s the most important thing I have in my skillset?

We chatter endlessly on Twitter (our main public forum, one might say) about the industry – about pricing, e-books, agency models, longlists, shortlists, who’s got the next big job – but hardly ever about the individual books we’ve read. Not in any detail, anyway. We might tweet about our company’s latest promotional campaign for a particular author, but there is very little personal opinion in there. Working for a corporation kind of puts paid to that sort of thing.

Yet how powerful it could be! We leave it to book bloggers and independents like me to say what we think, but in the same way we expect and encourage authors to be authentic online – someone honest and open whom readers can connect with – should we be encouraging our people to do the same?

The downside of working within such a tight community is that it does tend to feed and feed off itself. Most of us love what we’re doing here, and maybe we should look at ways of harnessing that and showing it to the world outside.

Lisa Edwards is a consultant at Redwood Tree Publishing.