Changing How Readers and Writers Connect

Took some time to look at my own blog last night and realized I hadn’t made a post in a couple of months. Between new house, new job, swimming, writing, helping RunWiki, and my own little project, my poor blog has been neglected.

Let me show you what I’ve been up to.

To lay a little groundwork, most of my regular readers know I’ve dabbled over the last few years in making comic books, iPhone Apps, and the occasional web design work. During this time I’ve been exposed to a great deal of the digital publishing business. I’ve created, edited, packaged and published both my own stuff and that of others. I’ve built websites, twitter backgrounds, and facebook pages. And I’ve come to a single realization: When it comes to being a writer, the biggest effort isn’t the writing — it’s the marketing.

And that got me thinking…

My Secret Project Revealed

If you go to an author’s Facebook page, chances are you won’t find any links to buy that author’s books. Nor will you find any type of forum or wiki to allow you to explore that book in detail. In all likelihood, the most you’ll ever find about an author’s books on their facebook page is a profile pic or a link in the stream. Twitter is even worse — at best, you’ll find a link to the author’s website or Kindle listing in a post somewhere. And that author website, more often than not, is a generic or site which is also not really designed to sell or promote a book.

The tools available are better than nothing, but they aren’t that great. It’s hard enough to connect with fans online, most opting for either short tweets or Facebook pages. But, now a lot more people are shying away from Facebook, not wanting to blend friends and family with fans. And then there’s the whole “promoted posts” thing and the endless encroachment of sponsored posts and blocks of ads. And if you think it’s just limited to Facebook, realize that Twitter is quickly becoming the same.

So, I decided I would make a platform to help fans connect with authors, help authors sell books, improve the digital publishing landscape, and generally make things easier for everybody. It’s called ThirdScribe.

What Is ThirdScribe?

Most book centric “social” networks (and I use that term loosely), are catalogs of books with discussion forums. Shelfari, LibraryThing, even GoodReads all follow a similar template: Members find a book they already own, put it in their library, maybe write a review, and then talk about other topics in a separate discussion forum. Sometimes authors participate, but largely they don’t, other than setting up a page and linking their blog’s RSS feed. The experience ends up being very detached. Much of the activity on these sites goes on without the Author’s knowledge or interaction and so the community takes its own path — usually far from the authors and books that drew them there in the first place. There is very little “Social” activity between authors and readers in any of these networks.

ThirdScribe is not like that. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of that. Instead of a book catalog with discussion forums, its an actual full service social network centered around books. I also chucked the whole bland, busy and ugly layout idea (yeah, I’m looking at you GoodReads!) and went high end with a distinct, human-centered design. I just wanted to take the whole concept to another level and put the focus on connecting rather than collecting, know what I mean?

Key Features

Aside from the stunningly elegant design — and more on that below — what makes ThirdScribe better than the other networks?

First, it is laser focused on creating lasting, intimate connections between author, reader, and book. To do that, we use a social interface with a lot of tools, including book reviews, book specific forums, message, chat, event calendars, and blogs. Think of a ThirdScribe Book Page as a Facebook Page hyped up on Vonnegut and double espresso lattes.

Second, it’s fully integrated with the major social networks in a two way feed. That means when you post on Twitter, it shows up on ThirdScribe — and vice versa. Same with Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, RSS feeds, and Youtube, with more coming. If people are talking about books on ThirdScribe, we want the world to know about it.

Third, there are no ads. You read that right, no ads. Just books. Period. By focusing on members instead of advertisers, we can put a lot more emphasis on helping readers discover new books and authors, and helping authors grow their audience.

Now, here’s some more about that elegant design I was talking about…

Informative Home Page

I wanted a Home Page that actually drew members in and engaged them. To do that, we employed a fairly minimal design with more accent through color than arrows and text. To navigate around the site, there’s a clear, unobstrusive navigation menu along the side panel. User statistics are subtly placed at the top of the page. New books are displayed in a very visual style, emphasizing the cover art with three graphical links underneath for engagement (author’s pic, like, and go-to). A panel showing a continuous site activity stream reinforces that this is a free flowing social network, and the newest members are depicted along the bottom. The intent with the Home Page design was to be informative without being “in your face” about it. The goal here, and it’s echoed throughout the site, is to utilize elegant design techniques that rely on color and placement to draw the eye.

Book Index

This is the template for the full book index, which is a listing of all of the books in the network. Like on the Home page, we went for a clean, clutter-free interface sticking to just the book cover, title, and action links. Those links will take the member to the full book page, which has all of the relevant information and more. There will be another version of this page, which we’re still constructing, which will have more specific listings for each genre (Sci-fi, mystery, young adult, etc). Those pages will be have featured books, newest additions, and most popular in each genre in clustered bands, with, of course, links to more. There isn’t anything else like it on any other book site. We actually took more inspiration from movie, video and music sites than we did other book sites. The effect is really nice, and should do a lot to highlight the books in the network.

Individual Book Pages

Each Book Page is where most of the action is, as this element is really the focus of the network. Unlike other networks where the book is just the commodity to be cataloged or rated, here it is the center of conversation. You can see it is much like a Facebook page or group, with its own social stream and tools. Authors can activate book specific forums, albums, events — the works. We did this because we wanted conversations about the book to be held right there at the book’s page, instead of in a discussion forum elsewhere on the site. And for those who have a series of books and don’t want to manage multiple book group feeds, we have the ability to organize several books under a single series banner. The area just to the right of the cover can hold the full book description blurb, and just under the book cover will be graphical sales links to any store the book is sold. The right sidebar will show the other books in that series, other books the author has written, and similar books readers might like. We’ll also eventually be tying in ratings information from Goodreads, Amazon and Nook. This page is the workhorse of the site.

Profile Pages

Just like any other social site, every member and author will have their own profile page. It will work just like a Facebook page, and functions as a personal hub on the site. The top area, just to the left of the profile pic and below the name is an area where members can write a brief bit about themselves. Just under that is their last update (so it doesn’t get lost in the stream). It will have the ability to add photo albums, store favorites, keep friends, send messages — everything you would expect from a full social network. It even keeps track of the posts you’ve made in the various forums across the site. There are lots of fields in the profile section for likes, dislikes, favorite books, favorite authors, and more. It also has complete privacy control, so members can set whichever level they prefer. And, did I mention there’s no ads on ThirdScribe? You’re info is safe and secure, never to be shared with anyone.

Author Websites

It wouldn’t be a full service system if blogs weren’t an option, and every author using the site can get one. My direction was to have an elegant blog that required as little effort by the user as possible. I think it came out pretty nice. The theme is styled like the main site to enable smooth transitions from blog to book page to activity stream to forum and back. No jarring visuals here! While the author sites are their own entity, fully under the control of the author who operates it, it’s still an integral part of the network. It is able to delve back into the network to gather up all of the author’s book information, so no need for double entry to get book cover images and links to your site — it will just work. Even though its styled to match the main site, that doesn’t mean it’s void of personality! That image just down from the top is the Header image, and can easily be swapped from the dashboard, as can the right side background. Featured images can be attached to each post to help them stand out visually. As a bonus, since everything is connected, when you publish a blog post it automatically posts across the network — and the same thing happens when someone comments on one of your posts.

Next Steps

While the site is nearly completed coding, thanks to the dedicated efforts of Tammie Lister from Logical Binary, we still have a lot of testing to do before we release it, even for the limited Beta. We’ll be doing that testing through December, as well as coding in some remaining functions and fixing the bugs we find. The plan is to go to super top secret Beta in January and, hopefully, open to the public in February. Much to do between now and then.

And did I mention I have to court a whole bunch of authors and publishers to get them onto the site? Yeah, it’s going to be a very busy couple of months. So, don’t be surprised if this blog is radio silent for a while. Wish us luck.

By the way, we’re accepting requests right now — why not go ahead and sign up? Best get your spot reserved now, the slate is probably going to fill up pretty quickly…

About Rob McClellan

Rob is the founder of ThirdScribe, a unique author services platform and social network. As a naval officer and diver, he spent a majority of his career doing a lot more than you would think with a lot less than you can imagine -- a skill that has proven extremely valuable in the start-up world. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

4 Responses to Changing How Readers and Writers Connect

  1. Sweet! Seeing everything listed out like this makes your Secret Project that much more exciting. I love the emphasis on the “book.” It’s a great idea and I can’t wait to see it implemented. Count me in.

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