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BookSmarts Podcast (ep. 35): Book Visibility with Mary Carlomagno

Mary Carlomagno is a publishing veteran with experience on all sides of the business including marketing positions at Barnes & Noble and Random House. She is a nationally recognized organizing expert and author whose books have appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Program, The Today Show, and CBS News.

Currently, she is the Director of Sales and Business Development for Bowker bringing their wealth of services to the traditional publisher market. She joins us on the BookSmarts Podcast to discuss how publishers can expand the visibility of their titles. Click below to listen to the episode in full! Keep on reading for the key takeaways. 

What does Bowker do for the publishing industry?

Everybody knows who the Bowker name is. Everybody knows that it begins with us. When you have that manuscript or that book, and you say, well, now what? What do I do with this? So we are the ISBN Agency, the Industry Standard Book Number Agency, for the U.S. and its territories. So it all begins with us. If you want to have your book distributed and sold and brought to its readers, it needs the ISBN, and we are the place to start for that. We’re a very well established and trusted brand in that business. We are the only game in town in the country and we sell to Self Publishers, large publishers, university publishers, anybody who has a book that wants to distribute it here in the United States, and its territories.

What is your responsibility as the Director of Sales and Business Development?

Well, I’ve been around for a long time, too, so Bowker and I have a lot in common. The way that Bowker is structured is, of course, we’re the ISBN Agency. But in recent years, they’ve really developed this amazing set of products and services for all aspects of publishing a book. The self-publishing author can come to us and say, “I have this manuscript, I’m going to get the ISBN, and I’ll need a UPC code so I can carry it in a Barnes and Noble store. But what else can you do for me?” Can we market it? Is it a book that maybe needed editing, or proofreading. We offer those kinds of services. We offer a service that is a platform that can get books to screen. We offer the author homepage, which is a really important thing for an author to have. Even independent of a large trade publisher, it’s very important to have an author homepage which is a website for your work. So we offer just an amazing array of services for that self-publishing world. In the recent months, we, as a company, have decided to go and try to look at some of those services, and see where and what of those services make sense for a traditional publisher. So we would say a publisher that’s publishing over 10 titles a year, up to your big five favorites, as well, there might be some services there that we could offer to those publishers that they could use as well.

How do you make a book more visible? 

I think it really begins online. You know, I’m a former Barnes and Noble bookseller. One might say, once you’re a Barnes and Noble bookseller, you’re always a Barnes and Noble bookseller. The key for the Barnes and Noble stores, which I learned really early, was you wanted to get the book into the readers hands, right? So if you think of the web as a gigantic bookstore, how do you differentiate your title from the hundreds and thousands of titles that are out there? Well, you want someone to engage with it, you want them to see it, you want them to sample a few pages, you want them to look at the cover. So I think online, it’s imperative that we recreate that kind of independent bookstore feeling by making the books more discoverable. And that can mean looking at a cover, having it on an author homepage, engaging with interviews and things that will really bring the book alive and bring it into the readers hands. So discoverability online can often be an easier thing to do, because of the tools that are now available.

If a publisher is wanting to expand their visibility, how does Bowker help? 

Well, we created that some hundreds of years ago. I think R.R.Bowker’s, you know, thinking he’s walking around talking to Thoreau with his little books and grant because that was his contemporary. But yeah, that being the authoritative site for that, that is not a hardcopy book, that is actually online and that is where it all begins. That’s where we draw from. That’s where the bookstores draw from, as well. So we have a inherent checks and balance system that we have the authoritative knowledge of books in print. We can always go back and check to that as our true north so having that kind of knowledge behind us, and that kind of clean data behind us, I think, can bring us to so many other places, because we start there.

Would you recommend publishers send you ONIX data on a regular basis and ensure that data is always up to date? 

Absolutely. And that information can be updated and shared easily. I think that that’s the most important thing and I think you probably see that publishers, big and small, are relying more on professionals to help them with their their data. I sat on many sides of the table and it’s an area of the business that’s newer to me, but I’m coming into a place that really has established just a trusted brand on that data that you know it’s safe with us. We’ve been doing this for years. You can trust us with it. There’s an expertise level here that has existed for many years.

What are some of Bowker’s marketing tools you think publishers might be able to benefit from?

The thing that I’m working on and really focusing on mostly is a Look Inside technology called Book2Look. We partnered with bookshop.org on this program to offer it for free for the entire calendar year 2023, so we’re encouraging publishers of all sizes to take us up on that offer and add what we’re calling a “Biblet”, which is Look Inside technology that’s, I think, going to become an essential way that that every book should have as an industry standard. Just as you would have an ISBN, you would have a Biblet. So we’re trying to really increase adoption of the Biblet, make it more of a natural thing that you automatically would have, adding discoverability, again, putting the book in the customers hands, recreating that independent bookstore feeling online.

Bookshop.org has been instrumental in really helping the independent bookstores have tools that maybe some of the other chains or larger online retailers have had as a natural thing. This creates an additional tool for bookshop.org, it helps the independents sell digitally. There’s many aspects of it that can be created to create an independent bookstore community page where they might do a reading group with several books. There’s a lot of ways that these publisher dashboards can really help a publisher put out their books to their readers directly and give them the opportunity to Look Inside online. So I’m really excited about that, and we’re seeing a lot of adoption from University Presses and small presses, and we’ve talked to the larger companies, too, because it’s existing now on bookshop.org. But we will look to roll it out to other retailers and we will look to make it an industry standard. Right now, since it’s free, with no strings attached, we’re hoping that we can get a lot of publishers on board with it.

As an author yourself, what has been your most successful marketing tool? 

I would probably say that anytime I’ve written in a publication magazine or newspaper that has gotten pick up, you know, you mentioned at the top of the show. Sure, I’ve been on a lot of national TV, but anytime I’ve written and given actual content about how to do something, whether it’s a magazine article in Better Homes and Gardens or been quoted in Real Simple, those kinds of outreach to that very specific audience has really sold books for me. And I think that that’s something that can be done. Certainly with Book2Look, you can add reviews, you can add clips, you can do all those kinds of things. I think anything you can do across the web where you can kind of put your own DNA on it, it makes it have more of a customized feel for the reader. 

What are some marketing trends that you’ve been seeing recently? 

Well, I believe in this trend, and I’ve been waiting a long time for it. I think the bookstore is back. I think the rise of the independent bookstores is really important. I think that things tend to be very generational, especially in things like literature, because I think there are a lot of readers that are younger that we might not think about, and I think that those readers think about things that are important, like the independent stores. I think that they might want to choose to go to a local bookstore, but they also want the ability to choose online.

So it’ll be interesting to see what Barnes and Noble does next. I feel like they’re in maybe a bit of a full circle moment and reinvention at the same time to see, you know, how their bookstores do. They’re starting to build stores again, which is interesting. But I really, you know, in my heart of hearts, this is personal. I really want to see the independent bookstores thrive and become a place to shop. And I think that the data and the ability to reach more people online will hopefully rejuvenate that business as well.

Follow Mary Carlomagno on LinkedIn to learn more about her work.