You Are What You Read: Finding People Through Booksellers

Mar 28, 2002

Look at that bookshelf behind you, or just over your desk, and tell me what non-fiction books you see. By looking at the titles of professional or technical books you keep, I may be able to guess your specialty. If I tell you that on my shelf there’s a dog-eared copy of the “Standard Handbook of Power Plant Engineering,” by Thomas C. Elliott, and that “Power Plant Engineering,” by Lawrence F. Drbal, was the last book that I read, you would most likely be able to guess that my field is nuclear power engineering, or that at least I work closely with nuclear generators. Last year around this time Scott Hagen wrote an article for the ER Daily (Out of the Box Sourcing) about a little-known type of lead generation: finding people using online bookstores. Today I will take this subject to the next level by sharing some changes and making known to you additional information about this interesting method. On sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, we can learn individuals’ purchase history and at times read their opinions and commentaries about books. By analyzing this kind of information and cross-referencing it with other competitive recruitment intelligence data we gather, it is possible to identify individuals to target for recruitment. Finding just a name or, with some luck, an email address is enough to get started. To complete the picture we can use free online lookups like Ultimate White Pages, directories like PeopleSearch Deluxe, or information from business intelligence resources like Hoover’s Online, Eliyon, OneSource and others. So, how do we find an enterprise-wide, server-side java developer in online bookstores? Let’s look at an example. Starting from select “Books” from the search box on the far left, enter the keyword “J2EE” and click the “Go” button. As I write this I get three results under “Most Popular” and 33 total. Scanning briefly over them I see: “Core J2EE Patterns…” by D. Alur, “Professional Java…” by S. Allaramaju, and “Developing Enterprise…” by K Zaman Ahmed. All three seem highly technical, though I am no Java expert. An educated guess leads us to take a closer look at “Core J2EE Patterns: Best Practices and Design Strategies.” If it doesn’t appear on the top of the list simply scroll down until you find it. Clicking on either the title or image of the book brings us to a page dedicated to information about it. Of particular interest here are customers who have written reviews. Along the left column click on the link to “Customer Reviews” and you will see the first ten. So far I see that 26 people have reviewed the book as of the February 27, 2002. Scrolling down the list you will see reviews written by Daniel Lan, Robert, Vinit Carpenter and Thomas Paul, among others. These individuals didn’t just buy the book, they most likely read it and cared enough about the content to share their opinion with us. Some of the people who write reviews here have also written them on other items at Amazon. We can see which others they have reviewed by clicking on “(see more about me)” if it appears next to their name. Clicking on a link, like Daniel Lan’s, takes us to the “Personal Profile” which is in a box to the left. From Mr. Lan’s profile we see what other items he reviewed. He’s read several books on Java, XML and C++. Scrolling down to the bottom of the page you see he wrote 23 reviews. From here you can read number 1 through 10 and click on “Next” to see the others. Mr. Lan is in Canada, he seems like a well-read and highly technical person for us to contact. In the “Profile” window, just below his picture, is an “Add” button that allows you to “Add this person to you Favorite People List.” Please don’t do that now, we don’t want 20,000 ERE subscribers simultaneously adding poor Mr. Lan and flooding his inbox. If you have created an account with Amazon, which I highly recommend you do, you can add any reviewer to your list of friends. Once you add someone you can subsequently “Upgrade this person from Favorite to Amazon Friend.” Besides notifying them that you are now friends, prompting reciprocation, this gives you an easy way to track your newfound friend on your very own Amazon “Friends & Favorites” list as they progress in their book reviewing career. Additionally, this “promotion” reveals their email address in case it was hidden. Addresses in the Profile section are not always hidden. From a personal profile we can sometimes learn the reviewers’ email address and often read a little more about them. We can see a wish list of items they would like to buy or receive as gifts, view a list of their favorite people ó most likely fellow reviewers ó and even check out a “Listmania” list of their favorite books. I like the Wish List because it provides me an opportunity to send them an unexpected gift if I found it necessary to use a little “persuasion” for some reason, or wanted to earn their favor. Also in this same Profile box there may be interesting items in the “About me:” section. Going back to Mr. Lan as an example, click on the “See More” link in his About Me: profile and you discover our friend is a: “Sr. Software developer/designer, worked with C/C++ since eight years, worked with Java since three years, experience with OO design, design pattern and UML. Experience with n-tier architecture, J2EE, Ph.D in computer science, Sun certified Programmer and Developer for Java 2 Platform, IBM certified developer for XML and related technologies.” Contact Mr. Lan if you want to talk with a real Java expert! Be sure to keep in line with the website’s conditions of use. For example, Amazon encourages personal communication and discussion with reviewers, but some things it won’t tolerate are identity falsification, infringement of privacy, commercial “spam,” or mass mailings. Here are ten suggestions on what to do when contacting a book reviewer so you won’t violate etiquette or the conditions of use:

  1. Be totally forthright about who you are, include your full contact information.
  2. Write from your real work email address.
  3. Use an intriguing, but not misleading subject line. These are the my ABCs on writing compelling subject lines:
    • Action: Can I be more interactive? What am I eliciting them to do? Can I make it catchier?
    • Benefit: Why should they bother to open it? What’s in it for them? Am I stating what they will benefit?
    • Clarity & Conviction: Can I be more clear or concise? Can I say the same in fewer words? Am I convincing? How am I removing skepticism?
  4. Don’t directly solicit a resume.
  5. Write one message at a time.
  6. Don’t try to sell anything.
  7. Ask for some sort of action on their part.
  8. Don’t harvest these addresses for a list, BCC, or email merge.
  9. Once you establish communication, and if it’s okay with them, you could add them to your contact list for the future.
  10. Offer them a way out, something like “Dan, I value your privacy. You haven’t been added to any kind of list or database, but if you would like me to contact you at another address, or never to contact you again, please let me know. I will respect your wishes.”

Here are a few ideas about openings to help you write your email message:

  • Direct approach. “Dan, I read your review of Core J2EE Patterns on Amazon and thought that it was very insightful. You are the kind of expert we like to do business with. Would you be interested in…”
  • Indirect approach. “Dan, I’m interested in knowing more about your thoughts regarding J2EE Patterns. I read your book review in Amazon and thought you may be able to help me… “
  • Brutally honest approach. “Dan, I saw your profile on and was very impressed with your background. We need someone who can develop…”
  • Flattering approach. “Dan, I was so impressed with the list of books you read and reviewed on that I added you to my Friends list. I was wondering if you could give me some guidance on…”
  • Power approach. “Dan, I am the director of recruitment for one of the best software companies in the world. We are hiring the top talent in this space and I would be honored to get your suggestions about…”
  • Vulnerable approach. “Dan, I need your counsel. I read the review you wrote on J2EE Patterns on and was wondering if you could spare a minute…”

Not all books will have reviewers, and not all reviewers reveal this much information. In fact, if you go back to the list of customer reviews you will find that clicking on a few others like “Robert” tells us practically nothing. However, on the list there’s also Vinit, a self-proclaimed “total Java geek” from Milwaukee with a listed email address. Want more? After Vinit is Thomas Paul from Plainview, NY. Thomas lists his email address and tells us: “I am one of the moderators and book reviewers for I am a technical project manager working with server-side Java. I live on Long Island…” The 27 books he has reviewed are all Java related. Going to you will find more about him in a full-length bio, including links to his home page. How many more experts can you find from this book alone? But the fun doesn’t stop here! Don’t limit yourself to Amazon. Searching for books at Barnes & Noble reveals book titles reviewed by their customers in an open forum. Try finding a different book here, like, for example, “Thinking in Java,” and glance through the 11 reviews listed. There is far less information here about the reviewers, but frequently it is enough to identify a target candidate or networking opportunity. Tie these leads together with other research you have collected by using other cyber-sleuthing resources like White Pages, Google searches, lookups and paid research to complete the picture. Don’t forget that there are other online bookstores, and many other ways to find people who publicly express their opinion about a book. For example, now that you know which books the experts read, try searching on your favorite engines for people who talk about them in settings besides bookstore customer reviews. The answers are out there. Search for them. I would love to read about your exploits using this method. If you have any comments or questions, send them to me at