News for Authors

Q&A with New CEO of Penguin Random House U.S.

by The Author Newsletter Team|May, 2018

Our newly announced CEO of Penguin Random House U.S., Madeline McIntosh, comes from a book-loving background. She has worked at PRH for more than twenty years in a variety of capacities, from editorial to digital and from sales to audio, from serving as chief operating officer to, most recently, overseeing the Penguin Publishing Group. Like few others, Madeline has experienced the making and selling of books from all possible angles. It comes as no surprise that she has always been a passionate reader—and to round things off, it so happens that she is also married to house author and onetime editor Chris Pavone. We sat down with Madeline to ask about her vision for the company, her goals for our authors, and the book publishing landscape as a whole.

 

What are your priorities for your first few months in this role?

I’m often envious of new employees, since the freshness of their perspectives provides a kind of clarity that can be hard to get once you’re settled in. Despite being a veteran, I’m trying as hard as I can to bring “day one” eyes to my new experience in the company. That means doing more listening and learning than anything else for a few months. I’m working with the publishing division leaders to reacquaint myself with their lists and their teams. And I very much hope to use this time to listen to our various external partners, especially our authors, to gain their perspectives on how we can work even better together going forward.

 

Do you think the value that books provide has changed in today’s world?

Many have said that ours is an industry in love with its own demise, and that we’ve been that way since Gutenberg’s first printing. Books have been around a very long time and have weathered more than their fair share of challenges, but, one way or another, they’ve evolved to survive and even thrive.

Today, I think of the challenges as relating primarily to consumer attention span. With the combined effects of addictive technology and a rapidly-more-addictive news cycle, there are days when it feels impossible to get media or consumers to pause long enough to consider a book. And even once they’ve bought a book, it may be taking people longer to make their way to the next one.

Having said that, I know from personal experience, and from paying attention to how real consumers talk about books, that the value we readers place on books hasn’t diminished at all. We all crave the restorative experience of “long-form” reading. We all appreciate the opportunity to escape into a great story. And many of us are looking for answers to the big questions: How did we get to this particular moment? How can we improve ourselves and our culture? Our great opportunity as publishers is to insert books as the answer to many of the questions or problems consumers are trying to solve.

 

What are some top challenges you’ve noticed that authors face, and how do you think PRH can help with those issues?

It’s safe to say that what would make most authors happier would be to sell more books, and of course that’s always our goal, too. The question I hear from many authors is: What’s the best way for me to help make that happen? What can I do—online, in person, or otherwise—to help grow my audience? I know it can be very frustrating at times that, no matter how much we improve as data scientists, there is rarely a single answer for how best to influence sales. Sometimes it’s a clever marketing campaign or a publicity booking, or a retailer promotion or the author’s own social media platform, that does the trick. Sometimes none of those things seems to work. Sometimes it’s the jacket; sometimes it’s not the jacket. For an author, this can be confusing at best, frustrating at worst. Our responsibilities as the publisher are to continually experiment with new approaches, to communicate what we’re doing, to be respectful of the author’s time, and to be transparent about what’s working or not working. And of course to celebrate jubilantly when the stars align in a book’s favor!

 

What is your vision for PRH U.S. as CEO?

Despite all the market challenges, I know we will continue to succeed in the world as long as we continue to be the very best partner for our authors, and that means simultaneously acting at a very small and a very large scale. We need our editors, publicists, marketers, and designers to have the bandwidth to bring individualized care and attention to each new book. We need salespeople to have a chance to read (at least in part!) as many of those books as possible so they can persuade the network of booksellers and librarians to provide their support. At the very same time, we need sales and marketing and operations teams who stay resolutely focused on reaching readers at scale. Not many kinds of companies have to manage that degree of tension between big and small, and it’s no wonder that it often feels challenging.

Part of our company’s strength is that we allow and encourage a diversity of opinions—what and how to publish, which problems to focus on and how to solve them, which new ideas to test and which to shelve. At our best, we provide a fertile environment that allows success to emerge from any corner, and then we take that success—be it an individual book’s sales or a marketing capability or a service for a partner—and scale it more aggressively than anyone else can.

 

What are your favorite kinds of books to read?

I mainly read fiction. I do like to jump between categories to avoid getting in a rut, but I’m a particular fan of crime novels. I’m especially happy, for some reason, when the dead body shows up in Ireland.

I also love memoirs; historical fiction; thrillers; books that teach me how to think about a situation in a new way; books that inspire me to be a better leader; and cookbooks, whether I cook from them or not. I also listen to books, and the Harry Potter audios are still my all-time favorites. A high point from many years ago was visiting the studio while Jim Dale was recording book six. Wow.

 

What are you reading currently? What have you most enjoyed recently?

My colleagues have given me many recommendations over the last month, and needless to say, the bedside pile is teetering dangerously. A few of this year’s novels I’ve particularly enjoyed: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer, Tin Man by Sarah Winman, The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan, and Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison. A few recent nonfiction books I’ve loved: Educated by Tara Westover and I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell. I also highly recommend Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, an expose of Silicon Valley darling Theranos, and How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, which is a fascinating read even if you thought you had no interest in the topic of psychedelics.

Then there are two outside loves I jealously wish we’d published: Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday and Circe by Madeline Miller.

 

Apart from reading, what do you like to do when you’re not at work?

Anything my twin fourteen-year-olds will do with me—other than play Monopoly, which I can’t stand. I’ve recently migrated them to Scrabble, and I’m trying not to mind too much that I often lose. For the increasingly frequent times when these teenagers would rather be with friends, or when they and my husband, Chris, are fully absorbed by their shared baseball obsession, I console myself with yoga, gardening, baking, and hanging out with Wally, our family’s eccentric labradoodle.

Five Trends in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for Authors

by Phil Stamper-Halpin|May, 2018

We’ve covered search engine optimization (SEO) before from a marketing perspective, but in this article, we go beyond the website and dig deeper into rapidly developing trends in SEO—such as voice search, secure links, and the rise of video—and how they affect how readers discover your brand.

 

1.      Search rankings favor secure links/SSL

Search rankings favor websites with secured website certificates (SSL). You might have noticed a lock icon before the address field of some websites you visit, and that these URLs start with “https” instead of “http.” In Google Chrome, currently the most-used internet browser in the world, users are notified if they arrive at a site without an SSL.

The process of securing your website can be tricky; one benefit of simple website providers like WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace is that your website will usually have an SSL when it is published.

 

2.      More eyes are on video

According to Forbes and a study done by Cisco last year, “video will account for over 82 percent of all consumer internet traffic” by 2021. You may have already seen this in action—on social media, video posts are often prioritized over text posts, especially in ads. Facebook recently introduced its own video platform, Facebook Watch, and YouTube is now one of the top three social networks worldwide. Talk with your marketing team to see how video could fit into your marketing plan, and make sure to catch up on some of our most popular posts on digital video:

 

3.      Customized search results for every user

Have you ever searched for a product, only to see similar products advertised to you on a different site hours—or even days—later? Search engines, advertisers, and some retailers now strive to make their recommendations as personalized as possible. These entities will sometimes take context into play, such as where you live versus where you currently are or whether you’re viewing on mobile or desktop, while using keywords from your viewable browsing history.

Search for any book on Google, and note the difference between results when you type “Where can I buy Title?” versus “Who wrote Title?” You can do the same with your book and see where your website, social media, and buy links fall in each. That’s why it’s important to go beyond keywords on your website and in social media, and add this context in your website’s subheadings, FAQ pages, and in general online conversation.

 

4.      The rise of voice-activated searches

How many times a day do you ask Alexa or Siri to google something for you? While voice-activated technologies have been on the periphery for a long time, trends show that they will only increase in the coming years. According to a 2016 study, 50 percent of all searches will be activated by voice in 2020.

Compared to other “brands,” authors generally have a more conversational voice, which will raise visibility when users voice-search via phone. In a similar fashion to what we covered regarding individual customization, phrasing and context are critical. One might quickly type the title of the book in a search box on a computer, but ask more clearly, “Who’s the person who wrote Title?” or “Where can I get a copy of Title?” when asking via voice.

Note your own behavior when using a smart device—how does it differ from when you search on a computer? Keep that in mind when updating your information online.

 

5.      A renewed focus on website content and user experience

Though SEO for authors has gone well beyond author websites, that doesn’t mean your website isn’t just as important. As we covered in detail last year, a good web strategy…

  • Makes it easy to find information. User experience is a trend that goes hand in hand with SEO. If readers can’t find the information they’re looking for, and fast, they’ll give up. Make sure readers can get to your author bio, find links to contact you, and access buy links—all in a few clicks.
  • Gives your site the right content. The more consistent your brand is from the start, the better your overall SEO is. For example, if your website bio matches your Goodreads, Facebook, or Amazon bio, potential readers will have no confusion when clicking on links in search results.
  • Makes it easy for readers to find your website. By incorporating key phrases into your site (e.g., “author of historical fiction”), linking to your website often, and keeping your site updated, you’ll raise your overall SEO.

 

Search engine optimization is ever-changing, in a way that tries to give consumers exactly what they’re looking for on the first try, with the fewest hoops to jump through. With some simple research, you can learn exactly which keywords and phrases resonate in search results and use that context to build an author brand that can flourish as these new trends continue to grow.

 

Phil Stamper-Halpin is Senior Manager, Publishing Development & Author Platforms for Penguin Random House.