Over the years I’ve worked in publishing, I’ve bounced around a lot. I started out at a print magazine, and later was hired by AOL to launch their Books channel. Like many others, I was eventually laid off, and I moved on to blogging for Publishers Weekly. I I spent time at BN.com and left when the message board I hosted was heading for extinction. WETA-PBS and I tried an internet series, and while it got some great guests, it never got a great audience.
You get the picture. These days–the 21st century–publishing is like Whack-a-Mole. Sometimes you hit, sometimes you miss, and you never really know exactly why or how.
Last Friday, when people who hadn’t been aware that I accept money from publishers to promote books via the #fridayreads hashtag on Twitter (and Facebook, and tumblr) learned that I do, some were disheartened. I understand why. It sometimes seems as if everything good in this world has some sort of business angle attached to it, and nothing is “free.”
Here is why I call #fridayreads “a hashtag and a business.” If you participate in the meme, there is no collecting of your information. Yes, we archive tweets–but your Twitter name can lead everywhere (as mine does) or nowhere (spambots, anyone?). We’re not trying to find you when you participate in the meme. We’re just growing a community and sharing our love of reading. At times while I’ve worked on this–before and after turning it into a small business–I’ve tweeted too much about it, and when I’ve become aware of that fact, I’ve tried to change the amount of tweeting that I do.
Publishers realize the value of having access to the #fridayreads community, as well as to my large group of Twitter followers. They want to be sure avid readers know about certain titles they are releasing. The original #fridayreads giveaways were done with books from my shelves (not even galleys or ARCs I received, but books I’d bought and paid for myself). After a few months, publishers and authors and agents began approaching me and asking to get their books promoted. My then-business team (read: my agent and my husband) encouraged me to ask for a fee to do so.
The main thought behind asking for a fee was not so that I could become rich or so that I could manipulate unknowing readers. It was because if I didn’t start asking for a fee, I was opening myself to a different kind of blame, the “Why isn’t my book good enough for YOU?” game. At the time I began accepting fees for #fridayreads promotions (in March 2011), the hashtag had already grown to more than 5,000 regular participants.
I spent nearly two years building #fridayreads for free, counting each week’s participants by hand, and loving every second of it.
I was so excited earlier this year when publishers responded positively when my agent (acting as my sales lead) and I approached them with #fridayreads packages. I thought that the regular offer of interesting books sent directly to readers (many of you know that I am not particularly good about getting things into the mail) would be welcomed. This expanded to the other services Fridayreads offers: Twitter Book Tours (those live chats I host from time to time with authors), Twitter Book Clubs (which are mostly for fiction), and last week, the first (hopefully not the only) FridayReads Live event, in which a book titled Enjoy Every Sandwich: How to Live Each Day as if It Were Your Last was discussed around a table at Housing Works Bookstore as well as online at the #everysandwich hashtag.
When the money started coming in, I realized I needed to disclose this somewhere, and began working on a web site that would have a fully loaded FAQ (many thanks, Intern Leslie!) so that anyone–tweeters, bloggers, publishers, authors–could understand how my small business operated.
Here’s the thing: I have some decisions to make about how #fridayreads is perceived, labeled, and promoted–and I welcome your input,. The #fridayreads book-loving community will decide whether and how to participate. I may have made some mistakes–but there’s no mistaking the real passion about reading that we share.