It’s a week after the Writer’s Digest Conference and our heads are still spinning. Amy and I stepped off the plane last Thursday night in Los Angeles and knew the next few days would be exhilarating and exhausting. We were right.
This year, Writer’s Digest had two conferences. The first happened in spring and was in Manhattan. This one was in the heart of downtown L.A. Wise Ink, was a sponsor, exhibitor, and on a panel discussing the future of publishing.
Friday, the first official day of the conference, was the day dedicated to self-publishing and also the day of our panel discussion. The panel included Amanda Barbara, Vice President of Pubslush (a crowdfunding site just for authors); Gordon Warnock Founding Partner of Foreword Literary; Keith Ogorek, Senior V.P. of Marketing at Author Solutions; Dan Dillion, Director of Marketing at Lulu; and Ashleigh Gardner, Head of Content at Wattpad.
Saturday and Sunday were filled with talks on writing, pitching, marketing, and the publishing landscape. The conference attracted more than five hundred writers, but also in attendance were several agents, a couple New York Times bestselling authors (Dan Simmons and Phillip Athans), and a few small presses.
There was a generous swirl of romanticism, cynicism, excitement about innovation, and anxiety about the unknowns from authors, writers, agents, publishers, and yes, Amazon. We’ll let you draw your own conclusions about which sentiments belonged to whom.
We were surprised by some of the nuggets learned, in disagreement with a few things, and intrigued by the rest. So…
Best nuggets about self-publishing
1. It’s not publishers resisting the indie author movement, it’s agents
For the most part, we witnessed a shift in the attitude about self-publishing. We wouldn’t go as far to say that publishers were “excited” about indie publishing. But it was clear that the Big Six have conceded that self-publishing isn’t going away. They’re recognizing that 25% of the top 100 books on Amazon are self-published. Traditional publishers are figuring out how to work with indie authors and are tracking innovative ways to discover them.
Agents on the other hand “aren’t adapting” according to an executive at a large publishing conglomerate.
2. Self-publishers are creating consistent followers and fans through blogging and fan fiction sites
There was lots of talk about the “reader problem,” meaning more books are being produced than there are readers to consume them. However, self-publishers/indie authors are the exception. Indie authors are connecting directly with readers and cultivating a fanbase.
Best advice about writing
3. Understand the elements of a story by answering the following questions
How will I make my readers care about the answers to my characters’ questions?
What is my reader rooting for?
What is my ‘hero’ responding to and moving toward?
What is at stake in my story?
Are my scenes mission-driven?
4. The key to writing excellence is covering your bases.
Best nuggets about publishing in general
5. The majority of traditionally-published authors are married to staying traditionally published
Apparently 90% of authors who have only experienced a traditional publisher-royalty relationship remain fixed to the traditional model and will never consider self-publishing as a viable option.
6. Traditionally-published authors who DO self-publish make more money
According to Phil Sexton, publisher at Writer’s Digest, traditionally-published authors who take the self-publishing leap, earn 37% more revenue.
7. Authors are the stars, we’re (consultants, agents, publishers, publicists, editors) your entourage
The movement in publishing has shifted you, dear author, even more to center stage. Once readers establish a connection to your work, they move with you, whether you self-publish or get a book deal. Readers could care less how you publish if the content is good. Publishers, agents, etc. are invisible.
8. Romance is the top-selling genre on Amazon
Doesn’t probably come as a huge surprise, but romance is killing it (take that to mean whatever you wish).
Best advice for authors working with a publisher
9. Don’t wait for a publisher to stack the deck in your favor
This advice comes from Phil Sexton’s “Dirty Little Secrets: Learn How the Publishing Industry Really Works to Become a More Successful Author” session. Writer’s Digest is of course a publisher of writing and publishing reference books. Sexton gave a few jaw-dropping examples of how WD with the best of intentions has flubbed title choices, cover design decisions, and other key sales-altering verdicts.
The lesson: publishers make mistakes AND in Sexton’s words, “don’t always learn from their mistakes.” It’s your job as the author to speak up, know the standards for your genre, and listen to your own intuition.
Best advice for authors in the publishing process
10. Select the category for your book carefully
Remember that readers often discover books through searching. Once your book is assigned a category and placed on the shelf in its chosen section, it’s almost impossible to change it.
11. Don’t forget that your cover is your primary sales tool
Some designers don’t think about sales when they’re designing your cover. A book’s spine is often the most undervalued and undersold real estate on a book.
12. Metadata is vital for discoverability
Most authors don’t consider that metadata is the difference between a book being found on Amazon and through other retailers and fading into obscurity. Make sure your Amazon’s book’s page is thorough (i.e. uses “Look Inside” feature, includes keywords in description). You can control much of your presence on Amazon by creating an Amazon Author Central account.
And a bonus tip we picked up:
13. Forget rankings
Once your book is published, you might feel a compulsion to check your rankings on Amazon as a measure of how well your book is doing. Don’t do it. Rankings only measure the rate of change on Amazon and not sales. So, if you were steadily selling, let’s say, 1,500 copies in the first few weeks of your launch, you probably wouldn’t notice any escalation in your Amazon ranking. However, if you sporadically had an increase in sales and jumped suddenly to selling 3,000 copies, you would see an increase.
Bottomline: it’s a waste of time to see your Amazon ranking as an indication for how well your book is selling.
So there it is. We’d highly recommend going to a Writer’s Digest Conference in the future. Word on the street is that the next conference is likely in Spring 2014 and back on the East Coast. We’ll keep you posted.