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Contact: Hajni Blasko

Book publicity's digital decade: Interview with Hajni Blasko, online book publicist, on the 10th anniversary of Substance Books

Hajni Blasko started the world's first online book publicity network, Substance Books, in February 2001. Ten years later, she remains a pioneer in this emerging field.

What exactly is online book publicity? What does it involve?
HB: Online book publicity is an umbrella term for various forms of book publicity that take place over the Internet, including social networking, search engine pay-per-click advertising, branded web sites, link exchanges with other web sites and online press releases. I do a little bit of all these things, but what I am mostly about these days is marketing through search engine optimization and marketing, because I believe it's the most cost-productive publicity technique when it comes to book sales.

For those of us who haven't heard of it, what does search engine marketing mean?
HB: It means making sure that your title appears within the top search results on Google and other major search engines. This way, your title shows up in the “organic” search results, not just the area where the paid advertising goes. After all, 93% of all web traffic passes through a search engine, so if you want people who don't already know about your book to discover it, this is the way to go. The key to good search engine marketing is finding the appropriate key phrases that allow book buyers searching for their favourite genres to find our titles.

The web and its users have evolved a lot over the past ten years. How has online book publicity changed?
HB: When I first started Substance Books, online book publicity was unheard of, so I didn't have any similar companies to model myself on. In fact, I didn't even know what professional title to give myself — I thought of “online book publicist” one day in the bath. I learned by trying different things and seeing what worked. I started off by featuring the authors together in one website, to give them more publicity power than they would each have individually. Over time, this website got a lot of visits, which made it crawl up higher on search engine results. Eventually, I figured out how to get even better search engine results using SEO techniques. There are a few more online book publicists out there now, but I think I'm the only one who offers search engine marketing along with other services.

How will you be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Substance Books this month?
Our website will be getting a makeover in bright, primary colours like Google, to represent our emphasis on search-engine marketing. Also, I'll be offering a $20 listing fee discount to any new or current clients who are members of our Facebook page. (To become a member of the Facebook page if you are not one already, click this “Like” button below)

Social networking is very “in.” How can authors and publishers use it to their advantage?
HB: Authors can use Twitter and Facebook to brand themselves, meet other authors and disseminate information about book signings and the like. But I need to emphasize that it's one tool among many for gaining online exposure for your title. There's a tendency to fetishize social networking because it's the “next big thing,” but it has its limits as a medium. It might be fun to spend 20 hours a week on Facebook, but your return on your investment is going to be poor compared to spending the same amount of time on your website or other marketing efforts.

What should a book's website be like?
HB: It depends on your budget and publicity goals. I believe that all authors and publishers should have a website for branding purposes, and if their objective is book sales too then it becomes paramount that the website be search engine optimized and up to industry standards. Amateurish websites are no longer good enough; the online competition is too stiff. This is why Substance Books has also been offering website design and makeover services for the past five years. If you have a mystery thriller, your website should be as good as Dan Brown's, because that's your online competition.

How does online book publicity fit in with more traditional kinds of book publicity? Do you see it replacing book fairs and so on?
HB: No; I think there will always be a place for traditional exposure to readers and the press, even though online publicity is becoming more and more important. Ideally, the two forms of publicity would create a synergy together. That's why I participate in BookExpo America every year.

Do you have any final advice for authors and publishers who are interested in online publicity?
HB: Just that they should focus on their main objectives. For example, if your objective is sales, then targeting the readers that love the book's genre is probably going to sell more books than scattering ads for your book all over the Internet. And a few loyal readers is worth more than a whole lot of one-time visitors to your website or your distributor. It's not so much about the quantity of web traffic you get; it's about the substance of the traffic.

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Montreal Canadian Book Publicity Specialist
Online Book Publicist
Hajni has conducted workshops at BookExpo America, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009 on Search Engine Optimization and Online Book Publicity. She wrote a number of articles for various newsletters, blogs and publications.
Online articles:
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and Usability Tips for Authors Looking to Sell
How Social Networking Can Hurt your Book Sales
Book Trade Show Tips
Graphic Design Tips for your Website
Articles in print:
Webrings - Book Beyond the Bookstores
Custom-Designed Websites vs. Websites Created on Social Networking Platforms - Writer Watchdog, 2009.

If you would like to meet Hajni in person, please refer to her Event Schedule.
If you are an authors or small press publisher looking for online exposure, don't hesitate to email her or to fill out the form on the right.