No one is coming back to check a publisher’s Web site,” said Rachel Fershleiser, who works in literary strategic outreach at Tumblr, calling to mind a dull Web site that offers a catalogue and not much else. Incentive to come back, Fershleiser said, is the key to building a presence online, something more and more publishers are accomplishing through imaginative ways on Tumblr.
Two recent examples of publishers doing just that: W.W. Norton linking to a Los Angeles Review of Books podcast with Maggie Nelson, author of its 2011 title The Art of Cruelty, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux launching a design contest based on Etgar Keret’s new story collection, posting every entry on the Something Out of Something blog, and selecting a winner to receive $500 and an appearance in a Keret story or film.
“Tumblr is a distribution channel in a way that no other blog is,” Fershleiser said. It’s a platform for publishers to get creative and give personality and voice to their company and imprints. “Branding is an online capability; you can give readers a real sense of what sets your books apart. Tumblr provides an opportunity to speak directly to readers and, more importantly, to hear directly back from them.” For publishers, using Tumblr puts them in a vast network of (mostly) younger voices: the platform has 45 million blogs, and more than half of its users are under 34, with an even split between men and women. Said Fershleiser, “These are people that may not read the Times or frequent bookstores, but clearly they read and they write, and they get most of their information online.”
In addition to helping publishers to develop a personal brand, Tumblr also allows for blogs for individual books and authors. Publishers like Little, Brown and Penguin created, respectively, blogs specifically for Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral. Fershleiser said this is already frequently done for YA titles, and that it’s getting more popular for adults.
Although publishers have been signing bloggers to book deals for years, Tumblr blogs have turned into more substantial titles for publishers. Last year, Villard published My Parents Were Awesome, edited by Eliot Glazer, a book that added essays to old photographs of contributors’ parents submitted to the Tumblr blog. OR Books will publish the novel Ivyland by Miles Klee, the author behind the popular blog hate the future. And at auction earlier this year, Free Press bought world rights to Jen Adams’s The Books They Gave Me, based on the Tumblr of the same name, in which people write about books given to them by loved ones.
Fershleiser’s job is a newly created one, and she’s excited for the future of publishing and Tumblr. “I would like to get all the major and minor book imprints,” she said. “That’s going to bring in their authors. That’s going to bring in authors’ fans. And it’s just a waterfall effect from there. The more people see these success stories, the more people will get on board.”