Thursday, August 16, 2018
Interview With Marshall Poe, New Books Network
1. Marshall, what is the New Books Network? The NBN is a non-profit consortium of 81 subject-specific author-interview podcasts. Its mission is public education--we want to tell people about what's in books so that they will know and, perhaps, buy and read the books. Podcast author interviews are a good way to do that. All the podcasts are hosted by volunteers, most of whom are professors, journalists, or writers. Almost all the books we do are non-fiction, but we do a little fiction and poetry as well. We publish 5 new interviews every week day and have published over 5,000 interviews to date. We serve--that is, our listeners download--about a million episodes a month, and rising.
2. How do you feel it helps today’s reader? The truth is people don't have a lot of time to read. That means they have to be careful about what they choose to read. I don't know about you, but I'm often terrified about picking up a book. Is it the right one? Will I get half way through it and want to throw it across the room? I don't know. NBN interviews tell readers what books are about before they make a commitment to them. Want to know what a book is about before you buy it or read it? Listen to an NBN interview.
3. What genre of books is typically featured on New Books Network? Almost all the books we do are "serious non-fiction," as I like to call it, but we do a little fiction and poetry as well. The concentration this sort of book is largely a result of the way the NBN is organized, that is, by specific subjects: history, psychology, philosophy, art, African American studies, communications, technology, religion, etc. NBN hosts are experts in these subjects, so they are best suited to interview authors who write about them. And that's something that makes NBN interviews especially rewarding: it's people who "know their stuff" (hosts) talking to other people who "know their stuff" (authors).
4. What is necessary today for a book to truly succeed in the marketplace? If I knew that I'd be a publisher! What I've learned running the NBN, however, is this: if you publish a book--no matter how good or timely or relevant it is--no one will read it (or even know about it) unless someone publicizes it. There is just too much "content" competing for too little attention. The former is seemingly infinite; the latter is finite. Essentially, things like book--and our podcasts--are competing for that finite attention. The most important person at the NBN is our publicist, Leann Wilson. She get's the interviews noticed by listeners and that attention-getting drives audience growth. Indirectly, of course, it also drives books sales because our audience buys books and the larger it is the more books they buy. Of course a book has to be good; readers know. But it also has to be publicized. My admiration for publicists has really grown over the years. They do vital work.
5. How did you get involved in the book world? I start as an academic and wrote books. I thought they were pretty good. My colleagues wrote even better ones. But I quickly learned that very few people were reading them. I thought this was a shame: there's a lot to learn in books professors and serious non-fiction authors write, but almost no one was learning it. The problem, I soon realized, was, well, publicity: potential readers just didn't know about books that they might be interested in. The NBN is essentially a response to this problem. As I said, all we do is tell people about books and what's in them so that they might read them. I think we can all agree that reading books--or at least good books--is a good thing.
6. What trends are you seeing today in the book publishing industry? I don't really follow the book publishing industry closely, so I'm hesitant to say anything. I can tell you what I'd like to see, and that's a decline in the cost of non-trade books. I think there is a larger audience for serious non-fiction books than most presses--UPs and others--realize. I think the growth of the NBN's listenership suggests this is so. We've gone from a few thousand downloads a years to millions in just a short period. And the numbers keep rising. People are interested in serious non-fiction books. The trouble is they cost too much. Now I understand why; they don't sell very well, at least the ones produced by most UPs. But I think--and this is just a guess--that if the price per unit were lowered the number of units sold might rise to the point that these titles become more profitable for the presses. I really want to see these presses succeed; they are essentially our partners. If they dropped the prices, I think a lot of NBN listeners would buy more books. We'd tell them to!
7. What advice do you have for struggling writers? Talk to a publicist early in your project. The publicists know what will be picked up by the press and what won't. This isn't to say writers should sell their souls to the market. But if you plan to write for money, you have to make smart decisions about what to write and how. Talking to a publicist will help you make those good decisions, and will help you support yourself as a writer.
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