Dreams Coming True is a new Thursday feature on my blog, a way to highlight those whose goal is to create community. The dream might be a blog, a published book, a small business, volunteering, or even fundraising for a charity. Something that makes the world a better place . . . for others.
Welcome Evan Jacobs, creator of Authorgraph! Tell us a little about yourself:
I’m a software developer and entrepreneur currently living in Seattle, WA. When I’m not working, I enjoy reading, rowing in the Puget Sound, and spending time with my wife and three children.
When did this creative dream begin?
I first came up with the idea for Authorgraph while at an author event in Seattle during the summer of 2010. When the author finished reading a passage from his book, he invited everyone to come up and have their books signed. I happened to have the author’s book on my Kindle and felt left out of the ceremony of meeting the author and leaving with a memento from the event.
How did this project/idea get started?
I built the first version of Authorgraph (nee Kindlegraph) during a weekend long coding contest (“hackathon”) in May of 2011. There were a few bloggers covering the event and a small handful of authors signed up for the service. Over the next few months, these authors told other authors and before the summer was over there were more than 1,000 authors on board.
What makes your project stand out from the crowd?
The mission for Authorgraph is “to make e-books a little more personal” and I hope that both readers and authors see Authorgraph as friendly, approachable, and “non-corporate”. Many readers have told me that the inability to get their books signed is the only reason they haven’t made the leap to reading everything digitally. Hopefully, once more readers discover Authorgraph they will feel more comfortable with switching to a digital platform.
What are the goals and intentions of this project?
Authorgraph was created to enable readers and authors to connect no matter where in the world they happen to be and no matter which reading platform they prefer to use.
How does your project create community?
Although authors may have followings on other social media services, I’ve discovered that an author’s most passionate fans find them on Authorgraph. Once authors and readers have connected through the service, they can easily stay in touch going forward (e.g. when new works become available). I’m also considering several new features that would enable authors to share knowledge with each other in order to help the whole community become more successful.
Many have creative ideas but trouble following through with them. What advice would you give to creative types who start projects eagerly . . . but then enthusiasm drizzles off?
I don’t think there should be any stigma around “abandoning” projects. It should be o.k. to experiment with new ideas to see if they resonate with others. If nothing else comes from these experiments, they are useful for discovering the best process for generating new ideas and testing them out. I think most people will know when a project will endure since they’ll find themselves thinking about it all the time.
Describe the behind-the-scenes effort of your project. Where do the ideas come from? How many are involved in the process? Does each contributer have a specific role?
Authorgraph has always been a one-man show, but I hope to be able to grow in the near future. Specifically, I would love to hire someone to manage the growing community of authors and I would love to get more help with writing code. There is so much more that I’d love to do if I had the time!
What’s been the hardest part about getting it off the ground?
Getting it off the ground wasn’t so difficult, but sustaining it has been challenging. Often times there are so many customer support requests that answering them all takes time away from developing new features and improving the existing service.
What have you learned?
Although I’ve run other (small) businesses, this time I’m devoting myself to learning as much as possible about all aspects of the business including mundane things like accounting. I still find myself making silly mistakes but I hope that I only make each kind of mistake once.
Have there been any unexpected surprises?
Authorgraph now has almost 10,000 authors including many notable ones but I’m still always surprised when an author I’ve read and admired joins the service. I’m also always amazed when I meet authors and they tell me how much they appreciate Authorgraph.
What are the biggest misconceptions people have about starting your project?
Many people think that Authorgraph is a bigger company and/or that Authorgraph has received some sort of venture capital investment. In fact, it is a one-person operation and always has been completely bootstrapped. In addition, Authorgraph isn’t my full-time job as I still take on consulting projects as a way to supplement my income.
What are some ways you promote your project?
I’ve been fortunate that authors have been so vocal about Authorgraph and have helped spread the word for me. I also try to be active on social media (especially Twitter) and write blog posts about various topics that are relevant to today’s authors.
Creating something is one skill. Marketing and promoting it is an entirely different skill set. How has that gone for you? Shocked by the amount of work marketing takes? Or pleasantly surprised?
Marketing is one of those things that I actually enjoy but I’m not very good at yet. It always feels like I should always be doing more in that area but I try to strike a balance between marketing too much and not marketing enough. I also don’t blast generic marketing messages to a large audience but rather I try to specifically target my marketing to specific audiences (and individuals) so that it feels more personal and relevant.
Any marketing mistakes you would avoid?
I tell authors that they shouldn’t view social media as an channel to sell their books. Instead, they should simply make themselves available and let their readers identify themselves by following and sending messages. Once they’ve connected in that way, then the author can use other avenues (especially email) to let their readers know about new works.
What social network has worked best for you?
I’m a big fan of Twitter and I’ve used it since the very early days of Authorgraph in order to verify an author’s identity (i.e. so that another person can’t claim an author’s books). I appreciate the constraints that it places on the length of messages and I personally use it as my primary tool for staying informed about current events and developments.
What advice would you give someone else who has a creative dream like yours?
Start today! If you want to grow a giant forest then you need to plant the seeds early. I’m so glad that I started Authorgraph when I did because I’ve learned so much over the past three years and I feel like I’m well-positioned to take advantage of the continually growing interest in e-books and digital publishing.
Where do you see this project in five years?
I hope that Authorgraph will be recognized as the premier service for authors to engage with their readers. In addition, I’ve recently built a few tools for authors to visualize the performance of their books and provide insight into what they can improve and so I’m hopeful that those tools will become much more powerful and useful to authors.
What question do you wish that someone would ask about your creative dream, but nobody has? Write it out here, then answer it.
“How do you define success for your dream and have you achieved it yet?”
I really, really enjoy working on Authorgraph and I hope to be able to do it for a long time to come. It hasn’t yet reached the point where I want it to be but when I am able to provide for my family by doing something I love and which provides (I hope) a valuable service to authors and readers then I will have achieved success.
How can we find your creative dream come true?
[Tweet “Start now! If you want to grow a forest then you need to plant the seeds early @evanjacobs”]
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Evan–This is such an interesting interview! I’ve appreciated the service you provide for authors and readers–so easy to use, so customized. Wishing you much success! And thanks for sharing your back story and words of wisdom with my readers–loved your comment about a giant forest starting by planting seeds. So true! Seed by seed. Warmly, Suzanne