The queen of content talks trends, technology, and Twitter
Kat Meyer is a professional eavesdropper—among other talents. With 20-plus years in the publishing industry in roles spanning community management, event curation, editorial, marketing, and social media, Meyer has made it her business to stay on top of emerging trends at the intersection of storytelling and technology. Here, the former director of events and community engagement for Publishers Weekly parent company PWxyz and incoming director of content development for the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) shares her biggest takeaways of an industry in flux.
After working in traditional publishing for several years in positions such as marketing associate at the University of Arizona Press, marketing director at Rio Nuevo Publishers, and manager of book sales and marketing at Wheatmark, Inc., Meyer admits to becoming a bit burnt out by the status quo. Enter Twitter. “I was in traditional publishing until 2005–06. That’s around the time that Twitter became more well-known, but it was still in the early stages,” Meyer recalls. “It was a wonderful time and place to be able to interact with people who were on the cutting edge, and I found that they were very accessible.” Through this new network, Meyer landed at O’Reilly Media where she chaired the popular and groundbreaking Tools of Change for Publishing conference, and was ushered into the tumultuous, shifting, and exciting publishing technology space. Surrounded by so many innovators and fresh ideas, she began to rethink what publishing was all about and what it could be. “It was much more exciting to be around innovators than it was to just do things the traditional way,” she says. Since then, Meyer has curated tech-related events for the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany, coproduced Books in Browsers in San Francisco, California, and consulted with a number of technology-related publishing endeavors. “I’ve been very interested in what content-related start-ups and innovators in the space are doing. I stay involved in that world as well as trying to get traditional/legacy people to think more open-mindedly about the technology around publishing and access to readers and authors,” she adds.
Indie Publishing Is a Force
Throughout her multifaceted career, Meyer has seen the climate of publishing transform. The most notable change she’s witnessed is the accessibility and affordability of self-and independent publishing. “The dynamics in the industry have changed, and people have sort of accepted that—both veterans and newcomers,” she says. In fact, over the past couple of years, Meyer says traditional publishers have really wised up to the power and promise of these once-dismissed competitors. “Ten years ago, it was still very much vanity publishing. It was a stigma. Five years ago, it started to become less and less of a stigma, but it still wasn’t considered legitimate in the way that it was a competitive industry,” Meyer says. Things have definitely changed. “Legacy publishers are finally acknowledging the legitimacy of indie publishing—to the point where they see it as almost a threat, as a viable industry in and of itself.”
An Experimental Mindset Is the Future
Trend-wise, publishers have embraced social media and all kinds of digital platforms in terms of marketing and interacting with readers directly, Meyer says. And she sees that trend continuing to grow in the future. “Many publishers haven’t quite figured it out, but it’s necessary. You can’t do your marketing—you can’t reach readers—without digital technologies and platforms,” she says. But the most exciting trend Meyer sees is the emergence of all things experimental in the realm of independent publishing. For example, she points to the explosive popularity surrounding WattPad—an online social community for writers that has struck a chord with teenagers and younger readers—based out of Toronto, Canada. Looking at children’s publishing in particular, Meyer gives a nod to a London-based company called Lostmy.name. “It was started by a few guys mostly from a software background, not from book publishing. They came up with a really clever idea of personalized children’s books built around the letters of a child’s name,” she explains. “The books are gorgeous—really entertaining. It’s a regular printed book sold directly over the Internet and all of the advertising is done via Facebook.” One of the founders spoke at the Publishers Weekly inaugural event for children’s book publishing, Global Kids Connect, and basically said: “Why do you keep letting other people disrupt your industry? You guys should be working on this thing.” And Meyer says she couldn’t agree more. There are plenty of opportunities with some of these smaller start-ups that traditional publishers could take advantage of if they work with them and not try to shut them down or run away from them. People on the technology side of publishing have been saying this for years. If you don’t start investing in the future, it’s going to eat your lunch and dinner,” she says.
Focus on What You Want to Accomplish—Not On Trends
Despite the plethora of new technologies, Meyer advises selectivity. “Start with whatever your goals are. Some authors and publishing professionals have no interest whatsoever in social media. If they don’t have any interest, they shouldn’t be there. Instead, find someone in your company or hire a social media expert who is community-oriented and eager to interact with readers on your behalf. It’s definitely the kind of platform where people can sense your authenticity,” Meyer says. She stresses the need to identify goals, then go out and research, research, research. “There are so many resources out there, including IBPA. There are a lot of self-publishing communities where people offer advice to one another, especially in regards to digital/production needs.” Meyer suggests checking out Reedsy, a fairly new company that offers a curated networking platform for designers, editors, marketing people, social media specialists, and other publishing services providers to work directly with authors. “It’s kind of a selective clearinghouse to find people to put together your book,” she explains. Discerning which trends are passing fads and which are lasting is almost impossible. “Hindsight is 20-20,” Meyer says. “Years ago, everyone was investing in apps with all kinds of bells and whistles. But it turns out that most readers are not really interested in them—at least not to the extent that it justifies the amount of money that was being poured into these apps. So I guess there has to be a certain amount of R&D that companies are willing to do. There’s no way to know for sure which trends are lasting.” From an individual author or publisher perspective, the trends worth pursuing are those that mirror your unique needs. “If you know what you are trying to achieve, look at that goal, and go after whatever is going to make that goal happen quickest or the way you need it to happen,” Meyer says. “Really knowing what it is you are trying to accomplish is the most important thing to do.”
Face-to-Face Relationships Still Matter
In the age of social media, it’s easy to overlook the importance of old-fashioned face-to-face networking. But that would be a mistake, says Kat Meyer, who has attended and contributed to countless publishing conferences throughout her career for the purpose of cultivating these crucial relationships. “While the programming and exhibits take up most of the time and effort for trade show and conference organizers, it’s the hallway conversation and in-person networking opportunities that publishing professionals simply cannot live without,” Meyer says. When it comes down to the business side of things, the success of an individual project or even that of a company itself often boils down to the strength of your professional network, and really knowing who in the business is best suited for a particular situation, and who you can really trust. “Sitting down with a distant colleague over coffee once or twice a year, chatting about their hopes for the Fall catalog, or the bugs in the latest upgrade to a digital marketing platform, may seem like a trivial and antiquated formality. But it’s these face-to-face moments that allow us to connect in meaningful and very human ways around our shared love for publishing, books, and reading,” she says. “It’s very hard to replicate that connection online.”
How to Stay on Top of Trends
by Kat Meyer, Director, Content Development, BISG
- Be active on Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn. There are certainly people on these networks that you can follow, and just listening in on chats and reading posts can give you a really good idea of what the latest buzz is in all facets of the publishing world. Check out my buddy Jennifer Tribe’s site, Book Trade Directory (booktradedirectory.com) where you can find lists of Twitter accounts, websites, and more online resources for trend spotting and hot topics of industry conversation in the book world.
- Attend industry events. Attending events can tip you off to the most cutting-edge trends. Event curators scour the world working tirelessly to find the latest and greatest speakers—trust me, I know! And, even if you can’t make it in person, many of the events include virtual components. My new work digs, BISG (bisg.org/taxonomy/term/23), has a handy list of some really fantastic publishing events, but don’t forget to think outside the box when choosing what events to attend. You often learn the most useful things by attending sessions and conferences that feel a bit unfamiliar.
- Follow trade news and join associations. If you can wade past the alphabet soup of acronyms, there’s a bonanza of bookish-techy info to be found at such esteemed organizations as: PW, BISG, IDPF, W3C, BEA, ABA, CBC, IBPA, and ALA, just to name (or abbreviate the names of) a few! And the Bookseller and Publishers Marketplace, while not acronymized, are also good resources.
- Sign up for Google notification alerts. It’s as simple as setting up Google searches and having relevant information sent directly to your inbox under the terms “book publishing,” “technology,” or “e-book.” It’s so easy to miss things if you don’t have some kind of system worked out. There’s always something happening.