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The BookSmarts Podcast, with Joshua Tallent

The BookSmarts Podcast, with Joshua Tallent

By Joshua Tallent
Get smarter about your books! The BookSmarts podcast features discussions about publishing data and technologies and interviews with industry experts, deep thinkers, and doers, bringing you insights that will help you sell more books.

Joshua Tallent is an acclaimed teacher and guide on the role of data in publishing, and a vocal advocate for high quality book metadata. In his spare time, Joshua enjoys playing complex board games, playing Minecraft, and fiddling with his 3D printer.
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Episode 21: Thad McIlroy on Metadata Quality, the Backlist, and more
In this episode I am joined by Thad McIlroy, an electronic publishing analyst and author based in San Francisco. Thad writes in-depth articles on publishing topics for his own website, The Future of Publishing, as well as for Publishers Weekly. We started off the conversation talking about the need to understand metadata from a strategic perspective, not just from a clerical or practical perspective, even as far up the food chain as the publisher or CEO. With that strategic understanding in place, the next step for any publishing company is to experiment with your metadata and find what works for your books. Every company is different, and every list is different, so it is important to put in the time and effort to see what will be most effective for you. Thad also provided his thoughts on the value of addressing metadata on backlist titles, choosing BISAC subject codes, creating keywords, and the differences between discoverability, findability, and conversion. I highly recommend you check out Thad's website, The Future of Publishing, and read his article, "We Need to Talk About the Backlist".
January 24, 2022
Episode 20: Todd Sattersten on The Magic Number
In the first episode of 2022, Todd Sattersten, Publisher at Bard Press, discusses his research on The Magic Number: the number of units a title has to sell in the first year in order to go on to be a greater success. This conversation was inspired by Todd's insightful blog post from April 2021 on this topic, which I highly recommend you read. Todd's research into self-help and business books shows that if a title does not sell 10,000 copies in the first year after publication, there is only 11% chance that that title will ever sell more than 10,000 copies. However, if a title does sell 10,000 copies, it has a 40%-50% probability of selling enough copies to move into the next lifetime sales target of 25,000. This research sheds some light on a particularly important topic that publishers should be aware of, and Todd and I were able to dig into some of the strategies that he uses at Bard Press to ensure that every title gets the support it needs in the first year, and beyond. You can follow Todd's thoughts on publishing at the Bard Press Blog, and on LinkedIn.
January 12, 2022
Episode 19: Scott Miller on Publishing at FranklinCovey
In our last episode for 2021, we are joined by Scott Miller, Former CMO and EVP of Business Development at the FranklinCovey Company, and now their senior advisor on thought leadership and publishing strategy. In addition to running the publishing program at FranklinCovey, Scott is a best-selling author in his own right, as well as the host of the "On Leadership" podcast (, which has between 6 and 7 million listeners every week. Scott talks with me about the publishing process at FranklinCovey, including how authors are chosen, how book topics are refined, and the general development schedule for new titles. He discusses the company's focus on social media platforms, and some of the strategies they engage when launching a new title. The topic of backlist sales comes up (it seems to be a pretty common topic on the podcast!), and Scott discusses how aggressive his team is about selling subrights, continuing the marketing of other titles, and connecting to businesses for B2B sales. Scott's latest book, Master Mentors: 30 Transformative Insights from Our Greatest Minds (, is a great read, with engaging thoughts and insights condensed from interviews with some of his podcast guests. I was able to listen to the audiobook over the last few weeks, and found the content to be quite inspiring. Please take a look! The Magic Number: [The first episode in January will actually be an interview of Todd Sattersten on this topic!]
December 07, 2021
Episode 18: Robin Whitten on Audiobook Demographics and Quality
In this episode, Robin Whitten, editor & founder of AudioFile Magazine, joins us to discuss audiobook listener demographics and performance quality. Audiobook sales have grown significantly in a short amount of time. With that growth, we have also seen an increase in the number of available audiobooks and a revolution in audiobook production. Robin expounds on some of the major advances in the audiobook world, how the demographics of audiobook listeners are changing, and the genres that are the most popular. She also talks about how important the sound design and narration are to the success of an audiobook, and explains how AudioFile Magazine does its reviews. Be sure to Check out part two of the NetGalley Listener Survey, which focuses on audiobook reviewers and their listening habits: Getting started (from the APA): AudioFile Magazine: Audiobook Break Podcast: Behind the Mic Podcast:
November 23, 2021
Episode 17: Fran Toolan on Cybersecurity
Fran Toolan, CEO of Firebrand Technologies, joins me to continue the conversation about cybersecurity in the publishing industry. Fran pulls back the covers a bit on this topic, revealing that Firebrand has had four security incidents in the last two years, including two ransomware attacks. And Firebrand is not alone; there have been a number of other breaches in the industry, too, so Fran is not the only executive losing sleep over this issue. We discuss phishing attacks, environment and server checks, the NIST framework, monitoring, two factor authentication, and more, and offer some advice for individual publishers, for publishing services companies, and for the industry as a whole about how we can work together to address this problem. If you missed the first episode on this topic, please listen to Episode 16, where I interviewed Nick Espinosa from Security Fanatics. If you have not filled out the listener survey, please do that at Also, be sure to tell your colleagues about this podcast!
November 10, 2021
Episode 16: Nick Espinosa on Cybersecurity
The month of October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and this week's podcast features Nick Espinosa, an expert in cybersecurity and network infrastructure. Nick has consulted with clients ranging from small businesses up to the fortune 500 level for decades, and he's the Chief Security Fanatic at Security Fanatics, a cybersecurity and cyber warfare firm that's dedicated to designing custom cyber defense strategies for medium to large enterprise corporations. Nick is also a TEDx speaker, a regular columnist for Forbes, an award winning co-author of the best selling book Easy Prey, and he's also the host of The Deep Dive, a nationally syndicated radio show. Nick and Joshua talk about cybersecurity in the publishing industry, including the value of doing an assessment of your threat tolerance, the threat of ransomware to publishers, two-factor authentication, and other related topics. Nick gives his recommendations to publishers for securing their data, talking with their team about security, and more. Follow Nick online at: LinkedIn: Twitter: YouTube: The Deep Dive:
October 27, 2021
Episode 15: Updates on Keywords and Reviews
There are some changes happening around keywords and reviews at Amazon, so we take a few minutes this week to talk about them. Amazon recently changed their keyword requirements again. It is unclear how broad this change is, and whether it will even stay in place, but Amazon started restricting the Keywords field to 350 characters a few weeks ago for some titles at some publishers. Because this is such a new change, I recommend publishers who send ONIX to Amazon take a look at recently updated titles and make sure the changes they sent were not suppressed.  Amazon has also recently changed how it handles review quotes and endorsements, again at least for some publishers. Their system now apparently only shows the last quote or endorsement provided in the ONIX record, instead of showing all of them. This is problematic for many reasons, but it mainly means that ONIX files sent to Amazon now have to have these elements combined into one field, instead of in separate fields.  Hopefully we will see some more consistency on these issues, and better compliance with the ONIX standard, in the future, but as always I recommend every publisher check their titles on Amazon and watch out for issues. If you don't have a title performance monitoring tool in place, you should really take a look at Eloquence on Alert. It makes watching for changes on your titles much easier, and provides a unique mechanism that can help you quickly review your Amazon (and other) product pages. Take a look at
October 15, 2021
Episode 14: Mary McAveney on Book Discovery
Mary McAveney, Chief Marketing Officer at Open Road Integrated Media joins us this week on the BookSmarts Podcast. Mary has extensive expertise in marketing, strategy, and branding in the publishing industry, and now helps the Open Road team tackle marketing and discovery with data-driven tactics and a comprehensive understanding of direct-to-consumer marketing. In this episode, Mary and Joshua discuss the opportunities and challenges around book discovery. As sales have moved online, publishers have increasingly become more responsible for their own book discovery, and that can be a real challenge for publishers who have not tackled book discovery before. While the focus is often on the big titles that will make a splash, it is the debut authors and lesser-known titles that can suffer the most from discovery problems. As publishers take on that challenge, there are many opportunities available to them, but in essence book discovery comes down to building solid SEO on your website and creating and cultivating connections with your consumers. Mary shares some wonderful insights and suggestions to help publishers build their discovery platforms and cultivate those connections to increase visibility of their titles. BookNet Canada study: Aged like a fine wine: What's the ideal age for a backlist title?
September 29, 2021
Episode 13: Alessandra Torre on Indie Author Strategies that Publishers Can Use
Alessandra Torre, CEO of Authors A.I. and BingeBooks and a NY Times bestselling Psychological Thriller and Romance author, joins Joshua to talk about various strategies independent authors utilize when marketing and selling their books, and how publishers can take advantage of these strategies. Alessandra's suggestions cover a wide range of topics. Being flexible in pricing, testing new prices periodically, and setting affordable ebook prices can be a great way to see what price the market will bear for specific products. Cover reveals can be a great opportunity to get the word out about a new title, and sometimes the author can be a herald for that reveal event. Authors can also be helpful in getting upcoming books into the hands of blogger, influencers, and reviewers (for example, by using the widgets available in NetGalley). Also, an update to a backlist title's cover image has the potential to give older titles new life and keep them relevant to readers for many years to come. While some publishers have a dedicated team working on their backlist, no single publisher is able to completely manage every title. ------------------ Are you lacking access to the full picture when it comes to monitoring your titles? Are you feeling defeated, knowing that you are missing things, not catching the issues that impact your sales and can make or break your success? I understand how frustrating it can be to lack crucial information at the moment you need it the most. That’s why Firebrand, the most trusted name in publishing data, created Eloquence on Alert, the most powerful title performance monitoring tool available. Gain unique insights about your titles, take more control over what happens on retail sites with timely warnings and alerts about issues and opportunities you would otherwise miss, and the gain peace of mind that only comes from having a solid solution behind you. Schedule a demo today, or visit the Eloquence on Alert website to learn more.
September 15, 2021
Episode 12: Michael Cader on Challenges and Opportunities in Publishing
In this episode, Michael Cader, Founder of Publisher's Lunch and, joins me to talk about some of the challenges and opportunities publishers are encountering. Publishers are doing great right now, with record sales and profit margins, and larger year-over-year growth than anyone could have expected. Meanwhile, the people who work in publishing, including booksellers, authors, and many others, are feeling stressed and are not necessarily seeing the personal benefits that come from this extraordinary growth. Michael talks about what he sees as a reset: a reassessment of what publishing does and how it does it, and an opportunity to address some longstanding limitations that the industry as a whole has been unable or unwilling to address, from diversity to the locations of publishing offices, to the types of content being published. I would love to learn more about this podcast's audience, and make sure that I'm creating content that you like and talking about topics that you want to hear. So, I've created a short, four-question survey that will help me learn more about you and get some ideas for what you want me to cover more in this podcast. You can access the survey by going to, or just visiting the podcast website and clicking on the link in the navigation bar. Please take a few minutes and help me understand you better!
August 31, 2021
Episode 11: Recent Kindle Changes: A+ Pages and the Death of the MOBI Format
Amazon has recently made two big changes to their publishing systems, and both of these changes will have an impact on publishers of all sizes. The first change is that Amazon now allows publishers using the Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP) platform to set up A+ Content for their book product pages. The A+ program has historically only been available to companies who are signed up for the Brand Registry, so this change opens the door for many more A+ pages to be made. Joshua discusses the impact this change will have on discoverability and sales, as well as some of the limitations and gotchas that publishers should watch out for. The second change is that Amazon no longer accepts ebooks in the Mobipocket format. The MOBI file type has been a fixture in Amazon's ebook program since the Kindle was released in 2007. It is a compiled file format that acted as a container for the HTML and other code behind the scenes. Amazon will no longer accept MOBI files from any publishers, either for new books or for books that are being re-uploaded, and they are recommending that publishers send EPUB, Word documents, or KPF (Kindle Create) files. Joshua discusses these changes, including offering some practical suggestions for publishers who are trying to figure out what to do next. I would love to learn more about this podcast's audience, and make sure that I'm creating content that you like and talking about topics that you want to hear. So, I've created a short, four-question survey that I hope will help me learn more about you and get some ideas for what you want me to cover more in this podcast. You can access the survey by going to, or just visiting the podcast website and clicking on the link in the navigation bar. Please take a few minutes and help me understand you better!
August 18, 2021
Episode 10: The Need for Standards
Standards are an important driving force in every civilization. Standards help us all agree on how we define things, and provide opportunities for us to more effectively engage with each other in trade and in other ways. There is an interesting article in Science Magazine about how traders in the ancient Near East and Europe, during the Bronze Age, developed standardized weights and measures over time that allowed them to more easily trade goods with people from other parts of the world. The process of creating these standardized weights took place over a long period of time, but the weights are surprisingly consistent despite the time and distance. Standardization is much more complex today, and we now have international standards for weights like the kilogram. The Kilogram standard was developed in 1799, and a single cylinder of platinum-iridium that resides in Paris, France, has been used since 1889 as the internationally-recognized standard for a kilogram of mass. That changed in 2019, when scientists and governments around the world defined the Kilogram instead based on a newly defined value of Planck's Constant, in a process that took many years and many scientific experiments to define. Veritasium has an interesting video about this process.  All of this really leads to the point of this episode: standards are important. There is a lot of work being done in the publishing industry to define and update standards for things like BISAC subject codes, EPUB, ISBN, and ISNI. There are committees and working groups (especially at BISG) that discuss these standards, discuss best practices, and help the publishing industry advance. I highly encourage you to get involved with these organizations and join the committees that are developing and discussing these standards. More voices are always welcomed, and your unique input is needed.
July 21, 2021
Episode 9: Erik Nelson on Branding and Marketing
In this episode, Joshua talks with Erik Nelson, a friend and marketing consultant, about how publishers can approach rethinking their own branding, and develop a more powerful approach to marketing based on their passion and mission. Publishers, like other businesses, will fit broadly into three categories: 1) Those who are starting from scratch, have no major direct-to-consumer approach or marketing to speak of; 2) those who have a customer-facing brand, but know some things are broken and they don't know where to start on the repairs; and 3) those who already have some momentum on branding and direct-to-consumer, but want to throw some rocket fuel on that area. This podcast will be helpful for publishers in all three of those situations. Before you jump headlong into marketing and advertising, though, you have to start with the "Why". Where does the passion behind your company infuse your work? What's the deeper, more aspirational thing that got you in this business? What gets you jazzed and excited? You want to bottle that up and show it to your customers. After you know the Why, think about how you want to express it. That is where branding comes into the picture. Branding is like a mental shortcut for consumers. You want them to think of your brand when they think about the topic of passion behind it. Branding comes out in two areas: in the aesthetics or design, and in the messaging. Only after you have defined the Why, and developed the branding around that Why, can you start approaching the question of how to implement the sales and marketing aspects of your direct-to-consumer strategy. And that strategy will need to take on different forms in the pre-purchase, purchase, and post-purchase stages. Joshua and Erik get into all of this, and more, with direct connections to the publishing business and suggestions for helping you get more out of your branding. Erik has agreed to offer a free 30-minute call with anyone who wants to talk to him more about these topics, and about ways that he might be able to help you. Please visit his website at
July 07, 2021
Episode 8: Everything You Wanted to Know About Keywords
Keywords are a popular topic among book metadata experts and book marketers, and publishers reach out to me all the time to ask for clarification and advice on how to effectively deal with them. So, in this episode of the podcast, we are going to break down the topic of keywords for you in depth. Why do keywords matter? What are the best sources of keywords? How does Amazon's search engine use them, and how does it use other metadata you provide? How many keywords should you send out and how many are you allowed to send? What are some sources for keyword creation? All of these questions, and more, will be answered for you in this episode. if you have any thoughts about this topic, feel free to connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn. There's always more to learn, and I love hearing from publishers who are working on these issues in the trenches.
June 23, 2021
Episode 7: Andy Hunter on the Role of Independent Bookstores and the Need for Innovation
In this episode, Joshua talks with Andy Hunter, Founder & CEO of Andy started BookShop out of a concern for the future of independent bookstores. As Amazon has grown and taken a larger share of the online book selling market, publishers have become more dependent on that one store. BookShop aims to give more power back to indie booksellers and to publishers, by providing a convenient platform both for bookstores and for consumers to use, and by providing access to an affiliate program that pays 10% of the sale price of a book. Andy talks about his reasons for starting BookShop, and reflects on being surprised at just how many readers are willing to forego buying books at Amazon in order to support their local bookstores. He also talks about what metadata would most help him as a bookseller to sell more books, calling out specifically the need for a higher-level categorization system that is more consumer-friendly than BISAC and the need for more options around book spreads and samples for complex books. Finally, Andy talks about where he sees hope for the future in publishing. He appreciates that he is seeing more focus on innovation and more understanding of the need for a diverse ecosystem and more consumer choice. Innovation, though, is still lacking; for example, the use of proprietary DRM makes it hard for consumers to read their ebooks wherever they want. There is a chance that the industry will be more supportive of innovators and of new ways of book selling, but there are some potential roadblocks to that hopeful future. Andy also expresses concern about the fracturing of the market with more publishers focusing on direct-to-consumer options instead of focusing support on current book selling options like indie bookstores.
June 09, 2021
Episode 6: Clay Tablets and Metadata Overwriting
This episode starts with a story about clay tablets and builds a connection all the way up to a modern metadata issue. The story is about how a team of researchers utilized cutting edge mathematics to trace the trade itineraries and sales transactions left behind by Assyrian merchants 4,000 years ago. Using this information, the team was able to determine the location of cities that were hidden to time, and were able to find corollaries between the size of those ancient cities and those same cities today. This is a fascinating look at how data can change the way you look at issues. You can read the paper here: This story is a great example of what can happen when you take a more data-centric approach to an issue. As many publishers have learned over the last decade, taking better control of your data is imperative to your success. The best way to do that is with a title performance monitoring tool. One important issue that impacts publishers every day, often without them even knowing it, is data overwriting. Joshua talks extensively about this issue, and provides listeners with five suggestions to help them more effectively deal with their book data being overwritten.
May 26, 2021
Episode 5: Ian Lamont on Advertising and Direct-to-Consumer Sales
In this episode of the BookSmarts Podcast, Joshua talks with Ian Lamont, founder of i30 Media Corporation, about advertising on Amazon and Facebook, utilizing his website to build community, and building direct to consumer sales. Amazon advertising offers some excellent opportunities to advertise your products and your brands, and has put a lot of thought into how products are discovered and displayed to consumers. However, there are some limitations that come with too much reliance on Amazon's advertising and sales, not the least of which is not being able to see more information about your customers and grow your own relationships with them. Ian ran into that problem last year when Amazon stopped taking orders from publishers in order to focus on personal protective equipment at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. This caused him to dive into the world of Facebook advertising, and to spend more time building a connection to his customers through his own websites. Facebook advertising works differently than Amazon advertising, but you get the opportunity to reach a different demographic, engage in social sharing, and build more connections with your readers through that channel. Ian connected his move to Facebook advertising with some changes to his websites, and was able to expand his personal email list and start creating a dedicated cadre of return consumers that now recognize his brand and appreciate his products. NOTE: I apologize for the intermittent background noise during the episode. The process of publishing never stops, and we recorded the episode while Ian's team was busy packing boxes.
May 12, 2021
Episode 4: Drs. Rachel Noorda and Kathi Inman Berens on Book Discovery
In this episode Joshua speaks with Dr. Rachel Noorda (@rachellynchase), Director of Book Publishing and Assistant Professor in English, and Dr. Kathi Inman Berens (@kathiiberens), Associate Professor of Book Publishing and Digital Humanities, at Portland State University. Rachel and Kathi are the lead researchers on Panorama Project's Immersive Media & Reading Consumer Survey, a survey-based consumer behavior study focused on how book discovery works and how libraries fit into the book discovery ecosystem. This cross-media study included representative samples from across U.S. population demographics and regions, and provides some important insights into how book consumers discover and purchase books. Book discovery is context-agnostic. People might see a book in a bookstore and buy that book online, or find it in the library and then go buy it in a bookstore. Sales data only shows us part of the picture, and book discovery is much broader than just word of mouth. There is no one formula for discovery, either, because consumers engage many different touch points, including many different kinds of media, in the process of discovering new books. Joshua, Rachel, and Kathi also talked about some of the surprising results from the study around book pirates, who are some of the most prolific book buyers, and how publishers can engage with them. Listeners of the podcast are encouraged to read the full report, and take advantage of its insights and data as you engage future acquisitions, marketing programs, and more.
April 28, 2021
Episode 3: Guy LeCharles Gonzalez on Being Data-Informed
This week, Joshua talks with Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Chief Content Officer at LibraryPass, about how publishers can become more data-informed and avoid the pitfalls of being too data-driven. The data-driven approach to publishing can lead to myopic thinking and decision-making. When a publisher only makes decisions based on Amazon sales numbers, they are likely to miss some important data about where those consumers discovered their books. Being data-driven like that can actually lead to reduced sales if broader discovery mechanisms are ignored. As Joshua discussed in Episode 1, backlist sales are of growing importance to publishers, and the bestseller-focused model often makes the midlist much smaller. This can lead to fewer options in the backlist, and can limit a publisher's reach. How does a publisher fight the inclination to be data-driven, and where can they get more data that will help them make better decisions? Guy suggests taking a page from the magazine marketing playbook: Focus on building up direct connections with the consumers who frequent your vertical, and learn from those communities. It is also helpful to create connections with other publishers and create shared opportunities.
April 14, 2021
Episode 2: Brian O'Leary on the Future of Publishing
In this episode of the BookSmarts Podcast, Joshua interviews Brian O'Leary, Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), the US book industry's trade organization. Brian and Joshua talk about three areas where Brian sees the industry struggling now and with space for continued growth in the future. First, Book Publishing is a small industry, so it is important that we leverage our collective strengths to solve problems and become more forward-thinking, using standards and other technological investments to do so. Second, we are seeing a growing emphasis on rights sales and information sharing, but there are some large technological limitations that still need to be overcome in that area. Third, the "last mile" of publishing is shifting, both for retail and for libraries, but the industry does not yet have enough data about how books are found, evaluated, and purchased. We need to better understand our market and the path book readers and consumers take.
March 31, 2021
Episode 1: Publishers Are in a Moneyball Situation
In this episode, Joshua discusses how he sees some similarities between the state of the publishing industry and the story of the Oakland A's baseball team as told in the movie Moneyball. Competition is fierce, and solid data practices can be the key factor between success and failure. Music by Timmoor from Pixabay
March 15, 2021
Episode 0: Introduction to the BookSmarts Podcast
This short episode will give you some information on my background, why I started the BookSmarts Podcast, and what you can expect from future episodes.  Music by Timmoor from Pixabay
March 12, 2021