As an author, are you having some difficulty with discoverability? Your strategy should include iAuthor, an interactive advertising platform that is free for authors. The image-centric site is packed with innovative book discovery features, with an eye toward global reach. As you build the profile for each of your books, the form allows you to link your book to many of the retailers that have it for sale, print or eBook, worldwide. (If it seems during the Q&A like I’m gushing, it’s because I have a profile on iAuthor and I love it.) I asked iAuthor founder Adam Kolczynski to tell us more about the service.
01 How did iAuthor get its start?
We’ve been fortunate to work at both ends of the publishing spectrum: first as authors, then as publishers. In the process, we’ve forged links with industry advisors, focus groups and other bodies straddling the publishing-tech interface. Ask them to identify the publishing industry’s Gordian Knot, and they’ll reply in unison: book discovery.
For emerging authors, the digital revolution is a mixed blessing. The Web may have democratised the act of publishing, but it hasn’t democratised the outcome. Authors of equal talent do not have equal access to readers. This trend is replicated across the whole publishing industry. Freelance editors, book app developers and book cover designers all struggle for exposure. As the sea of content deepens, the gap between talent and opportunity widens. Being swamped by this digital “noise” represents an existential threat.
At iAuthor, we believe current attempts to solve book discoverability have missed the mark:
1) At one end, you have “set and forget” advertising platforms. These are largely devoid of interactive features, preventing regular and worthy engagement. Browsing these in the hope of discovering a new author or service-provider is about as interesting as perusing a telephone directory.
2) At the other end, you have social media networks. No shortage of real-time engagement, but for self-publishing authors, the outcome is often unsatisfying. Posts are short-lived, so valuable writing time is spent “topping up” live feeds. More insidious, perhaps, is the way generalized social networks fail to target actual book buyers. Can you imagine a near future in which all tech-savvy authors are connected to one another, each talking up the virtues of their latest release, while sweetening the deal with feline photos? Unless the cat is the author, serious book sales are rare.
3) By their very nature, reader-centric social networks like Goodreads are skewed towards traditionally published authors. Self-published authors appear several clicks away from the Homepage ― far too far ― and are often rendered anonymous by a bloated interface. Moreover, comment boards aren’t deactivatable at the author’s end, so abusive reviews are a growing issue.
4) Then you have “incentivized discovery” platforms. The process of rewarding book advocates with free or discounted copies may seem enticing, but its artificiality makes it self-limiting. Are readers really going to invest time in recruiting friends to buy a $4.99 book in return for a special offer? If so, would they do it again? And will their interest―and their subsequent book reviews―be truly sincere?
Positioned at the post-publication end of the market, iAuthor was launched to fill this void. Our interactive platform aims to give the publishing world something unique: a global hub for serendipitous discovery.
02 The site offers an author all these brilliant options for linkables―for me as an author and for my book. How did iAuthor come up with this model?
On story-sharing platforms like Wattpad, avid reading is seldom matched by avid buying, except in isolated cases. Unproven writers are effectively relegated to the level of hobbyists ― showcasing vast swathes of their writing for free, while dis-incentivizing hard sales. Teen writers of fan fiction may not mind this; agented writers of literary fiction certainly will.
With iAuthor, the “BSB” funnel (Browse-Sample-Buy) is hard-wired into the platform. Prominent retail links mean that a promising voyage of discovery has a clear destination: the impulse buy. Real-time “Special Offers” focus the buyer’s mind. “Latest News” fields are fully customizable. As such, they are ideally suited to the fast-changing parameters of a book promotion campaign.
03 Some of what I love about the site seems so simple once you see it―how come nobody else did this before?
Perhaps the most valuable input came from our community itself. During iAuthor’s 6-month beta phase (starting in December 2012), we worked with a pool of primary testers from across the publishing spectrum: authors, micro-publishers, bloggers, reviewers, freelancers, librarians. Their feedback was instrumental in helping iAuthor test-drive site features that could be genuine game-changers for authors and book service-providers. Features that would empower them to build their brand in a saturated global market. Features that redefined book discovery.
Since iAuthor’s public launch in July 2013, the site has gained excellent traction. Word-of-mouth recommendations―advocacy marketing, if you like―are fueling iAuthor’s growth, as primary testers share us with their trusted contacts.
The key is scalability. On a purely practical level, iAuthor must ensure that our server capacity is always sufficient to deliver the ultra-fast loading times that are integral to user-experience. On a deeper level, scalability is about maintaining the start-up culture―creative autonomy, the maverick edge, agility―through all phases of growth. Creative autonomy is particularly precious, and could well be described as a Cinderella asset: you don’t know it’s there until it’s lost. Any partnerships or investment rounds involving iAuthor would need to maintain the “fierce urgency of now”, and be aligned fully with our community’s interests. One cannot allow growth to dilute vision.
04 The site is free for authors to use. How does iAuthor make its money?
iAuthor will always be free for book authors and app authors. To finance the site’s rapid expansion, iAuthor generates affiliate revenue from selected online book retailers, as well as from handpicked DIY website-building tools, positioned discreetly in the body of the site.
Book service adverts (larger, and specifically tailored to freelance publishing professionals), are charged a fixed monthly fee in the advertiser’s currency of choice. “Silver” adverts are charged $10/month, while “Gold” adverts are charged $15/month.
05 As of this writing, there are already many different retailers in the system―I can link to my eBook or my print book with booksellers in more than one country. Are there plans to add more retailers?
At present, our database includes 20 retailers to which authors can link books. In the coming months, we plan to expand this range even further. iAuthor strives to cater to all platforms and devices. In this sense, retailer diversity provides readers with choice and convenience. It also provides much-needed competition to the corporates. Independent retailers may not always offer favorable affiliate programs for referrers like iAuthor, but they do cater to vital niche markets. We owe it to our authors and readers to include smaller retailers in our database too.
06 Once an author tries your site―and, I am certain, loves how his or her books look on there―what are the best ways for an author to promote your site and/or their books on your site?
iAuthor is founded on a powerful premise: that there is no one more committed to promoting creative content than the content’s creators. With this in mind, all content on iAuthor is user-generated. Our software provides the “clay”, while users do the “molding”. In short? Self-service brand-building.
Here’s a tentative list of best practices for promoting your books and apps on iAuthor:
1) Showcase your entire booklist, frontlist and backlist alike. iAuthor lets you create unlimited adverts for FREE, neatly linked to one account. Published a book series? Upload multiple instalments in minutes.
2) Make a great first impression ― use iAuthor’s Preview function to beautify your adverts before they go live. Missed something? Spotted a dead-link? Blank video iFrame? No problem. You can edit your adverts as often as you like.
3) Create Themes (book-themed collections) that are relevant to other books, not just your own. Users are unlikely to add books to your Theme if it’s too narrow, too broad, or a vehicle for gratuitous self-promotion. Imaginative Themes like “Books that lay bare the human condition” or “Novels with a deeply flawed protagonist” are very conducive to sharing. “Books written by me since 2011” or “Books with more than 200 pages” are not!
4) Listen to your analytics dashboard. In the words of data journalist Stijn Debrouwere, “metrics are for doing, not for staring.” By monitoring your adverts’ performance through real-time stats (total clicks, unique clicks, demographic data), you can tweak your advert to optimize performance. With your dashboard, you’ll never need to resort to guesswork.
5) Stumbled upon compelling content on iAuthor? Share it with your trusted social media contacts. iAuthor’s integrated share and bookmarking buttons are included as standard on every theme, book advert and app advert. Want to drive followers to your own books? Share your iAuthor adverts with your social network.
6) Be proactive in using iAuthor’s engagement features: rate buttons, comment boards, crowdsourced themes, then follow function. The more meaningful engagement you initiate, the more you’ll attract. Prospective readers are unlikely to share a dormant profile, let alone hit the “Buy” button.
07) You’ve mentioned that the team is continuing to develop new features. Anything you can tell us about?
The latest upgrades at a glance:
✔ Super-smart search box. Navigate a sea of content in a heartbeat.
✔ Improved comment and review boards. Intuitive to use; easy to deactivate.
✔ Accelerated loading times across all platforms: PC/Mac, tablet and mobile.
✔ “Themes” more closely linked to “Adverts”.
✔ Ultra-responsive hover boxes, tailored for left-handers and right-handers alike.
✔ Every touchpoint covered by your activity feed. Optional notifications when a user follows you, rates your book, posts a comment, adds your book to a Theme, and more.