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Readers are using Content Curation to Discover Books

Readers are using Content Curation to Discover Books

Indie publishing has created a revolution. Hugh Howey became one of the top selling science fiction authors via self-publishing. Author Earnings reports that indie published titles are approaching 45% of all ebook unit sales on Amazon! But with that revolution has come a flood. Indie authors are creating new works at a staggering pace. Authors are facing new challenges in addition to the actual writing! Foremost comes the task of marketing. Authors are bombarded with advice: do blogging, twitter, Instagram, giveaways, book tours, virtual book tours, book trailers, interviews, reading events, and other activities. It’s almost more work than writing the book!


In order to focus marketing efforts, it’s necessary to know how books are discovered. Formerly, major media publications wrote reviews and people read what they were told to read. The economic collapse of the news industry (print especially) has lead to a dearth of professional book reviews at a time when the number of books being published has exploded. The Yelp-style “ratings and reviews” model for discovery is equally broken. Divergent by Veronica Roth has almost 100 000 reviews on Goodreads. How can I tell if it’s for me? Should I read all those reviews to find out? Some would argue that there’s too much noise, not enough signal.


Increasingly, readers are turning to curators – people who find and sharing great books. Curators come in many varieties. The classical curator is an individual with a specific focus area (say, Ryan Holiday for philosophically-oriented books, or Maria Popova at Brain Pickings for intellectual culture). Sometimes authors become curators. George R.R. Martin and Joseph Finlay (indie author of Enoch’s Device) regularly surface wonderful science fiction and historical fiction. More broadly, the entire book blogger culture is curation writ large.

Organisations can be curators, for example your local bookstore’s blog, or the New York Public Library’s family of fascinating book blogs. Discount email newsletters like Bookbub are curators of sorts. And of course the remaining major media forces: The Guardian, The New York Times, Washington Post and others continue to offer high quality book coverage, albeit less than they did in former years.

While curators help reduce the flood of information, the universe of curators can be daunting. If you are a romance reader, Ryan Holiday and Maria Popova aren’t going to help you much. Finding curators who share your tastes and interests, and then keeping up with them, is a challenge on its own. That led me to create The Hawaii Project, a book discovery engine. Created primarily to serve readers, it aggregates what the curators are writing about, then personalises these recommendations to your reading tastes, alerting you to relevant books, content and curators. It’s like a personalised Google News for books.


If readers are increasingly turning to curators to discover new books, how can you make the most of this revolution as an author?

1. Get in front of the right curators.

Pick books like yours and see who is writing about them. You can do that with simple Google searches, or The Hawaii Project will do it for you (under Recent Mentions you can see who is writing about a book). Directly approach those curators. There’s little more flattering than an author approaching you!

Become a curator. Write about the books you love, the writers that inspire you, the way you do your research.

Blog tours are another way to get in front of the right curators; a blog tour host can help you identify good places to start.

Pay attention to your local bookstores and libraries. They love local authors!

Don’t disregard smaller sites. PR used to work top down – first you’d be in The Guardian, then everyone else covered you. PR now works bottom up – authors build presence on smaller sites, then the larger outlets begin to notice.

2. Become a curator.

People hunger for authentic voices and content. As an author you are advised to be “active on social media” but endlessly tweeting about your book can be actively harmful. Readers want to have a relationship with you. Write about things you know and care about, online; if I share those interests then I will listen. Become a curator. Write about the books you love, the writers that inspire you, the way you do your research. If you want your blog included in our curator list, you can sign up via our site for free.

3. Use your own curation to build an email list.

Your email list is your secret weapon. With it, you can communicate with people when they’re not actively seeking you out. But people need a reason to give you their email; intriguing content is the answer. NB: subscribers will need to ‘opt in’ to any emails you send, so make sure you ask permission before adding anyone to your list. Ryan Holiday is a great example. He uses his monthly book recommendations post as a way to gather emails; he has over 40 000 subscribers. Because his content is so good, readers are open to hearing about his books when they come out — it’s an authentic continuation of readers’ relationships with him and his content.

Curation is one of the most powerful ways people can deal with the digital flood. Harness the engine of curation to drive awareness of yourself and your work.

Connect with Mark on Twitter: @viking2917

Mark Watkins, the Founder of the Hawaii Project

Mark Watkins, the Founder of the Hawaii Project

About The Author

Mark is the founder of The Hawaii Project, a personalised book discovery engine. Mark was previously CEO & co-founder of goby, a mobile recommendation engine for finding fun things to do, and VP of Engineering at Endeca, a search platform, since acquired by Oracle. He is a member of the Board of Directors for Firecracker, an innovative medical education technology company, and together with Stuart Coleman created the innovative Books & Spirits literary event series in Hawaii.

Video Update!

From the editor…

As of the end of May, my time as the editor of the Self-Publishing Magazine is coming to an end. Thank you all for getting in touch over the last year. I’ve loved hearing from so many of you and it’s been fantastic to be able to share such high quality submissions from indie authors and other industry professionals.

I’m very excited to announce my replacement, Jasmin Elliott. She has a sound background in book marketing (having worked with both local and national media, marketing Matador books for over three years). As well as this, she has already contributed articles for the site and devised some of our editorial concepts, including our first ever ‘Author Life’ feature, which proved very popular.


Jasmin has so many exciting ideas lined up for the site in the coming months; we wish her all the very best with this. Keep checking in to see all of the changes, and join us on social media to wish her luck!

Wishing you luck with your self-publishing projects.


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