Monday, October 19, 2009

Independent Author Tweets His Way to a Publishing Contract



Independent author Michael J. Gyulai received a two-year publishing contract for a reprint of his 2008 memoir Midnight in Rome after he used social media to drive a spike in online sales. The memoir, based on Gyulai's real-life experience working behind the bar of a top nightclub in the Italian capital, was re-released in August.

Gyulai based his sales model on the direct-to-fan marketing tactics currently sprouting in the music industry, which is still searching for footing after digital distribution via mp3 sent the entire music sales model into disarray at the turn of the millennium. With digital readers like the Amazon Kindle and numerous e-book applications for the iPhone gaining market traction -- even companies like Sony, Google, and Apple are developing their own stand-alone electronic book devices -- Gyulai's social media model could prove to be the future of the publishing world.

Gyulai, a native of San Francisco, originally self-published Midnight in Rome in January 2008 at the tip of an historic economic slouch and into the long tail self-publishing marketplace. He had one skill, however, that his literary counterparts did not: fluency in web design.

Gyulai created a full Flash website for the book and designed a MySpace profile, Facebook Group and, more recently, Twitter account in an identical theme. He then spent four to six hours a day posting links to the webring on relevant Rome and Italian message boards, Yahoo! Groups, Facebook Groups, travel websites, and language chat rooms. Traffic driven to his book's website garnered enough of a spike in online sales that he was offered a two-year publishing contract with iUniverse Star, who re-released the book in August.

"In early 2008," says Gyulai, "the required webring for online visibility was your website, MySpace profile, and Facebook Group. Now it's your blog, Twitter account, and Facebook Page."

According to Gyulai, success on Twitter and other social networking sites requires establishing oneself as an authority figure on a specific subject: "You need to establish yourself as an authority figure to gain followers on Twitter in a certain subject," says Gyulai, "and that is exactly what you need to do to sell a book."

He elaborates: "Midnight in Rome is about my experience working in the modern, urban nightlife sector of Rome. So I tweet and post about urban Italian lifestyle. I know DJs, club owners, and artists in Rome, and I tweet the best of what I hear coming from them—whether it is a party, exhibition, or commentary on local events. The tweets are in theme with my book and of value to the audience I want my readership to be comprised of."

Gyulai had also tried conventional approaches to getting is book seen: hitting the pavement and pitching to Bay Area book buyers himself. He succeeded in having Midnight in Rome stocked in over 25 bookstores in San Francisco, Berkeley, Rome, and Los Angeles. He also took out multiple print ads in local weeklies costing him over $500 each. But the return on investment was minimal.

"I have Google Analytics setup on the book's website and would track the impact of my efforts both online and via traditional media," says Gyulai. "A link posted on an appropriate message board would drive 50 to 100 target visitors to the website and convert 10 to 20 percent of those visits into sales on Amazon.com or bn.com. The print ads--in respected local newspapers with significant readership—harvested maybe a dozen visitors and less than 1 percent of them converted to a sale."

More information on Midnight in Rome can be found at: http://www.midnightinrome.com/

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