Publish it Forward: Q&A with Libboo
Chris Howard first came to Grub Street in the fall of 2010 to ask us to participate in "The Great Libboo Experiment" aimed at "getting the entire world" to write a book together. We were intrigued of course and did our part to try to motivate the world, but - as you may be able to guess - we didn't succeed. Since then, it's been impressive to watch Chris and his team hone their ideas, experiment more, and launch Libboo as it is today. It's still in beta but is well worth watching.
My name is Chris Howard and I am a former music producer from the UK turned MIT computational psychologist. I have enormous passion for empowering talented people to be successful without the requirement of a gatekeeper. I am a huge believer that in today's day and age, the primary limiting factor on someone's success is their ability to demonstrate their talent.
Tell us about Libboo.
Libboo is on a mission to help talented authors have the careers they choose in the digital age. We believe that by empowering authors (and by association, agents and publishers too) with knowledge about their most engaged fans and readers, they can empower those readers to be their greatest marketers. We call these readers & fans, "Buzzers"). We do this by running millions of calculations per hour to determine which members of an author's community have the greatest effect on spreading word of mouth, and then using social psychology algorithms to understand *why* that community member is motivated to be a vocal advocate. Using these data, authors can motivate their best advocate/Buzzers to create a successful campaign.
Social psychology algorithms? How does that work?
The social psychology algorithms monitor behavior on the Libboo site. Patterns emerge, which offer insight into the "why" behind user behavior. Over millions of calculations per hour, this data gets better and more precise. About 8-9 specific motivations have crystallized, and we think that there may be as many as 30 motivations that we can track with assurance.
Half of this is patent pending, and half of it is a trade secret.
Frankly, most other marketing platforms are helping the author 'shout' as loud as possible to be heard above the noise. These platforms employ similar techniques to act as—or supplant—a traditional advertiser. The trouble with these models is that if everyone starts shouting, the discovery issue starts all over again. Libboo focuses much more on making connections as opposed to shouting. We use our algorithms to understand the 'who and why' about an author's community and bring people closer to the author so the author/buzzer do not need to 'shout.'
How can our writers plug in?
Libboo is currently still in beta. This means that writers and authors need to apply at www.libboo.com/submit. Each author is carefully reviewed to ensure that they are a good match for Libboo. We want to focus on those authors whom we can help best right now. However, in the coming few months, we are due to release a more "public" version of Libboo to any and all talented authors. More news to come on this one! In true Libboo fashion, we are trying something no one else has ever tried.
It's evolved so much since I first met you. Can you give a brief history of the evolution of your thinking?
Whoa! It has changed a ton. Libboo initially started as a hobby—a project in 2007 with my co-founder Richard Hawthorn to help us learn to code websites. With my music industry background, and Richard's tech industry experience, we initially attempted to create a 'Myspace for Books' for our friends. Working every other Thursday evening in a pub in London, UK called 'The Tup' for a whole 2 years, we created our own version of Myspace for Books and called it Libboo.com. In 2009, I moved to the U.S. to work on a research project at MIT helping kids gain an interest in science by pairing them with influential scientists. At that point, Richard and I decided to change Libboo into 'The Great Libboo Experiment' (as covered by the BBC). We soon added our third co-founder—Fernando Albertorio, a Harvard data scientist and experimenter and Libboo.com evolved into a platform to help authors find a team of talented editors to create the best work possible.
When Libboo first met Grub Street, it was not a business, but still a 'project.' Libboo became a business when the three of us entered into a local startup competition—MassChallenge—and advanced to the finals. We realized what we were building had some real potential to help authors be successful, but changed our approach. Our realization was that connecting with your readers was central to succeeding as an author. This is a weakness of the current publishing industry—many great books never get their "fair shot" at success. So, after earning a place in Techstars—the world's most successful business accelerator—in January 2012, we decided to merge all of our expertise and grow a team of incredibly creative and talented people to create what is now Libboo.com.
You're moving to a bookstore. Cool. Why did you make that choice?
We have spent the last year working from a house in Inman square. This was very deliberate. It was important to me that the team did not act in a way believing we have all the answers. Traditional offices evolved from the industrial era where people would pass items from desk to desk like a production line. This invites the psychology of *reproducing* a solution—but we knew we didn't fully have the solution crafted. So, working out of a house let everyone in the team act and behave creatively, and not industriously, and boy did it work! But now that we have a proposed solution to helping authors be successful, we need to move into an environment where we can learn everything we can about the people we're trying to help. That includes authors *and* their reader-customers. It seemed like a no-brainer to move into a bookstore to see how we can mold and fit our proposed solution directly into the world of those we care about.
Thanks for chatting, Chris. Keep us posted.
Eve Bridburg founded Grub Street in 1997 with the goal of creating a supportive yet rigorous place to study writing beyond the halls of academia. The experiment was a success from the beginning, convincing Eve that there was a great desire in Boston for a literary arts center where emerging and established writers could inspire and teach students at all levels of development. In 2005, hungry for a new adventure, Eve joined the Boston office of The Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary and Entertainment Agency as literary agent. Eve developed, edited, and sold a wide variety of books to major publishers including Random House, HarperCollins, Penguin, Grand Central, Abrams, and St. Martins. Her titles include Donovan Campbell’s New York Times Best Seller Joker One, Blogger Matt Logelin’s New York Times Best seller Two Kisses for Maddy, Kirsten Menger-Anderson’s critically acclaimed short story collection Doctor Olaf Van Schuler's Brain, and Len Rosen’s Edgar-nominated thriller All Cry Chaos. Eve also developed a list of expert-driven parenting, health, and spiritual titles by working closely with experts and collaborative writers in an effort to bring cutting edge thinking and research to trade audiences. Returning to Grub Street as Executive Director in April 2010, Eve’s mission has been to expand Grub Street’s offerings to better educate and equip writers to take full advantage of the new opportunities ushered in by the digital age. She wants to make Grub Street the most dynamic ecosystem for writers in the country. Under her leadership, Grub Street has doubled in size, relocated to a beautiful new space, launched new, innovative programming, and expanded scholarship opportunities and outreach. Eve’s work leading Grub Street has recently been recognized by the National Arts Strategies when they selected her to join their Chief Executive Program, a two-year initiative designed to unleash the collective power of 100 of the top executive leaders in the cultural sector to re-imagine the potential of cultural institutions and to figure out how they can contribute to civil society in the 21st century. Eve was also named one of Boston’s 50 most powerful women by Boston Magazine in 2010. Eve has presented on publishing, the future of publishing, and on what it takes to build a literary arts center at numerous conferences, including AWP, O’Reilly’s Tools of Change, Grub Street’s own The Muse and the Marketplace, Whidbey Island Writers Conference, The Sanibel Island Writers Conference, and Writers at Work. Before starting Grub Street, Eve attended Boston University’s Writing program on a teaching fellowship, farmed in Oregon, ran an international bookstore in Prague and graduated Phi Beta Kappa with awards for academic excellence in Philosophy and Religion from Colgate University.See other articles by Eve Bridburg