Books, Blogs, and Literary Mags, Oh My!

Students in the M.S. in Publishing program not only spend a great deal of time on media websites and reading blogs, but they also create them! We recently asked our students to tell us about their publishing-related online hobbies and businesses. Below, we have selected three examples to spotlight:

The BookSmugglers.com, a blog co-created by Thea James, Digital Sales and Promotions Manager at Workman Publishing.

The Book Smugglers blogger Thea James

When and why did you start your blog?
My friend Ana Grilo and I first came up with the idea of starting a book review blog back in 2007. This grew from our mutual love (obsession, really) for books and a desire to share our passion for genre fiction with other like-minded bibliophiles. With The Book Smugglers, we wanted to create a blog where we could write in a conversational and reader-friendly voice and include more than the short reviews on Amazon; we also wanted to be more flexible than genre-specific blogs or staunchly traditional review outlets. With these goals in mind, Ana and I began The Book Smugglers on January 7, 2008, and have never looked back.

How did you decide on the format, platform and design, as well as tone and voice?
When we started the blog, we viewed it purely as a hobby; as such, we went with the free blogging platform Blogger (from Google) and used a generic two-column template from the Blogger design package. I’m the resident “techie” (HTML/Photoshopper/Webmaster) of the duo, but back in 2008, I had no HTML or design experience. I knew that we needed to find a way to brand ourselves and make our blog stand out, so (very painfully!) I learned how to manipulate CSS and HTML, and worked on improving our very first site design.

In 2009, after a year of blogging, we unveiled our first major site overhaul. In addition to hiring a professional designer to help us with the art for our blog, we also took the big step of moving from a free platform to purchasing our own domain name and web hosting. Migrating all of our posts, comments, and media assets from Blogger to WordPress—while maintaining permalinks, feeds, Google page rank, and with NO site downtime, mind you—remains to this day one of my most painful experiences. As for our style, both Ana and I are rather verbose, so our reviews are something of an anomaly in the review blogosphere—but it’s worked for us these past three years!

How often do you post?
When we started The Book Smugglers, our first policy to our readers stated that we would review at least once a week. Looking back at that cracks Ana and me up—we’ve never been that scarce with content. Now, we post at least once a day.

How do you market your blog and get traffic?
In order to get readers, we made contacts with other bloggers, commented on other sites, and started to build a community of “blogging buddies” to help get our name out there. We’ve also been incredibly active on the social media front, having set up a Twitter account way back in 2008, an active Goodreads profile, and a Facebook page. From our meager beginnings, this sort of word-of-mouth marketing and content integrity has given us a steadily growing audience that has reached 90,000 page views and 50,000 unique visitors per month.

Tell us about your challenges and rewards.
My biggest challenge with The Book Smugglers is time management. Being an M.S. in Publishing candidate, taking class three nights a week, as well as working full-time is a big load to carry. Trying to squeeze in time to read and review three books a week as well as dealing with site maintenance and upkeep—well, let’s just say it’s a juggling act!

How did your education in the M.S. in Publishing program help you with the blog?
In terms of brand building and monetization, the program has been an invaluable source of knowledge and has sparked ideas for how to grow the blog even further. Since starting the program, I’ve set up a Book Smugglers web-app for mobile devices on iOS and Android systems. We’ve also enabled advertising on our site—something we’d previously never entertained—through a controlled network, thanks to advice received in my Digital Financials class. While we aren’t raking in the big bucks, as our costs grow proportionally with our increased readership, this monetization has helped us cover the costs of hosting—which makes us very happy.

FictionBrigade.com, an online literary magazine created by Bethany Habinek, Editorial Assistant in Journals at Oxford University Press, and Sabrina Ricci, an eBook developer at Simon & Schuster.

Sabrina Ricci and Bethany Habinek working on FictionBrigade

When and why did you start your online literary magazine?
It began over burgers. We were getting dinner, talking about our summer plans, and the idea came up to start an online literary magazine. The idea really took off from there. Both of us are obsessed with fiction, and flash fiction fits well into people’s fast-paced lifestyle.

How would you describe flash fiction?
It’s basically a very short story, but we decided to give our own parameters for FictionBrigade. We see flash fiction as a complete online short story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. In written form, flash fiction is 50-1500 words. Flash fiction can also be art or video. That is trickier to define, but we see flash fiction videos as under two minutes long.

Is this a hobby or a business?
Our intention is to turn FictionBrigade into a business, and it’s been challenging to do so. Right now FictionBrigade is a quarterly magazine, but we have plans to publish content more regularly. We’ve also developed a Twitter project where people can collaboratively write a flash fiction story and connect it with specific hashtags. Our website has helpful links to articles about flash fiction, a regularly updated events page featuring literary events in the New York City area, and a blog written by people in the field who can give aspiring storytellers advice.

How often do you update your site?
We have a separate blog that features different writers each week. Writers post advice and information about publishing, writing, editing, and creating stories. We’re trying to incorporate more regular contests in between the quarterly issues of our literary magazine. We also update our events page monthly, so our New York readers can see what literary events are happening locally.

How do you market your magazine and get traffic?
We market through various social media tools such as: Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg, Delicio.us, Chime.in, LinkedIn, MySpace, FourSquare, WhoHub, and Youtube. We also reach out to MFA programs via email and send out regular newsletters to our subscribers. Word-of-mouth has been another great marketing technique—we can’t stop talking about FictionBrigade and we carry business cards with us everywhere in case we meet someone who may be interested. We also monitor our site via Google Analytics.

Tell us about your challenges and rewards.
Despite all our  efforts, we’ve found we’re not the best at marketing—not for want of trying. In reality, it’s just really difficult. We’re actively marketing FictionBrigade through the Kickstarter project. Kickstarter is an online funding platform for creative projects. Our Kickstarter project page can be found at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1257267741/fiction-brigade-online-literary-magazine. Every week we make a new video—the last one involved muppets—and we try to entice new people to back us and our idea. The deadline for our project is December 2, at 7:50 a.m. Eastern time, and so far we have 25 backers. We plan to use the money we raise from Kickstarter to expand and keep our website running, help us form an LLC so we can grow as a company, and market our magazine and website to a wide audience. For more details, please visit our Kickstarter page.

How did your education in the program help you with FictionBrigade?
If not for entering this program, we would have never met. Friendship aside, we’ve learned a lot through the digital classes, such as Digital Financials, Introduction to Interactive Media, Web Analytics, Web Editing and Writing, and New Media Technology: From eBooks to Mobile. These classes have helped us shape and hone our ideas and learn hands-on how to produce a website. Coming out with our first issue was very rewarding, since this was something that was new to both of us. We both felt humbled and proud.

Pateleditorial.com, a blog created by Bintal Patel, a rotating intern at Open Road Integrated Media.

Bintal Patel at work on her blog

When and why did you start your blog?
I have always been the one who friends ask to copyedit their essays in school. Correct spelling comes naturally to me and I always nag my sister about her grammar. (You’d think she’d appreciate it… nope.) I decided to start freelance proofreading under the name pateleditorial while living in Austin in 2010. I already copyedit various documents for people, so I figured I might as well take the next step.

I decided to make my business web-based so I could reach a wider audience. Freelance copyediting was a fun, casual hobby that I am now turning into a business. My work is online-based so I can communicate with anyone around the world. I have had clients in both the US and the UK. Past projects have included fiction and children’s book manuscripts, medical essays, and resumes. I will be copyediting a screenplay in the near future. Clients usually send me their work through email and then I edit to perfection!

I started the blog on my company website as a personal way to connect with readers and potential clients. I comment on  current events and issues in the publishing industry, as well as my own experience in the industry.

How did you decide on the format, platform and design, as well as tone and voice?
I like clean-looking pages with modern design and a lot of white space. My website is still basic but I have plans to overhaul the design and add more sections. So far, the website includes my blog, an “About” page, and my Twitter feed. I am working on adding a portfolio of sample work, reviews, and the industry links that I always check out.

As for voice, I am a very casual person, so my blog reflects that. I hope that my excitement about issues and events in publishing comes through in the way I write. I actually post more on Twitter and Facebook than I do on my blog. I am constantly retweeting and sharing publishing news that I find fascinating. I post weekly on the blog, and constantly share ditties on Twitter and Facebook.

How do you market your blog and get traffic?
Twitter is great for online marketing. I follow relevant key people and publishers in the industry and then share my favorite news and blog posts from them. I believe that a basic, yet underappreciated form of marketing is the good old business card! I had some printed up in Austin and only included contact information that would stay the same if I moved. I make sure to keep a few with me at all times and I hand them out at the right opportunity, either to editors looking for freelance proofreaders, potential clients who have work they want edited, or to use in a quick exchange of general contact information.

Tell us about your challenges and rewards.
I’m more of an editor than a writer (which is why I created a freelance editing company!), so it takes me a while to perfect a new blog post. I also recently discovered how to schedule posts, so I can write a block of posts at once and publish them consistently. Blogging is rewarding for me because it helps me to connect to a subject I care deeply about. I love sharing information I’m interested in and having a conversation with people about it. You can learn a lot and be inspired with new ideas through a simple conversation.

How did your education in the program help you with the blog?
The program’s emphasis on digital publishing helped feed my curiosity about eBooks and how digital publishing will affect the industry. I obtained my current internship at Open Road Integrated Media through a listing at NYU, and I have learned a lot about the technology behind eBook publishing during my time at Open Road and through my course work.

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