By Ami Greko
“I don’t think you should tell people you don’t know what’s going to happen,” my friend advised me when I described the idea of Book Camp to her. “People are going to want to think that someone knows what’s going on.”
It was good advice, and onward we went, with over 130 folks from all areas of publishing — digital, editors, agents, sales reps, booksellers, app developers and more — gathered into the headquarters of Open Sky (an online marketing company, profiled here earlier this year) for a half day of brainstorming, talking, and thinking in new ways about books.
If you’re not familiar with the unconference format, here it is in a nutshell. Attendees know that the unconference will focus on a certain topic — in this case, it was the very broad “books.” On the day of the event, everyone at the conference gathers in a room, and people step forward and offer to host sessions on specific topics of interest. These sessions are inserted into a grid, and voila! A conference is created.
At the inaugural Book Camp NYC (held on December 4), session topics ran the gamut of publishing. Some session hosts came prepared with PowerPoint decks of the topics they wanted to discuss, and some hosted sessions that were more free-form and discussion-based.
Jim Hanas, author of the e-book original Why They Cried, shared data collected from marketing his work online. Downloads of his free e-book were tracked on a number of sites–the most by far coming from Feedbooks, with Bookglutton a distant second. He also shared the costs associated with marketing Why They Cried online. After taking out ads via Google, Facebook, Goodreads, LinkedIn and HTML Giant, he’s about $1,000 in the hole, but would recommend that other authors do the same, with the exception of Google ads: “I’m just not sure how to make them work for books.” (You can read Hanas’ case study here.)
Lou Rosenfeld, an expert in information architecture and publisher of books about user experience, discussed how user experience (UX) experts could benefit publishing, particularly in the editorial and acquisition process. Rosenfeld Media went through a lengthy process before publishing their first book, beginning by reviewing similar titles that worked well and those that didn’t. From this they developed a design checklist, which they used to create a prototype of their first book. They then tested the prototype with readers before going to print. A lengthy process, yes, but one that results in books that work well. (Rosenfeld share his data here.)
Random House rep and podcasting queen Ann Kingman and WORD Brooklyn’s events coordinator Jenn Northington led a packed session discussion on indie bookstores titled “Bookstores: who needs ’em?” The discussion covered what a bookstore should and shouldn’t be — a well-curated collection of books, rather than a giant showroom; a place that builds and supports the community, both within the store and beyond.
When the event came to a close the mood was jubilant and full of energy. Nearly everyone had an idea for the next iteration of Book Camp (which will happen in February — add yourself to the mailing list here). Nearly everyone met someone new. No one demanded their Saturday afternoon back. I’m looking forward doing it again.
A big thanks to Book Camp’s sponsors — Cursor, Kobo, Movable Type Literary Group, Open Sky, and O’Reilly — and to Book Camp Toronto for the inspiration.
Ami Greko is Kobo senior vendor relations manager, US.