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NINC Conference

I am attending the Novelists Inc. conference in St. Pete’s Beach, Florida this week. I will be blogging about sessions as soon as I have the time to write stuff up. I will continue to do write ups until everything is posted, so keep checking back even after conference is over.

If you want to follow me on Twitter, I am tweeting each new article release.

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Thanks for reading!

Jana

NINC: Session 2 – Finding Your Readers Using Professionals

The Major Players:

Thubten Comerford, CEO of WePost Media.
David Wilk, Creative Management Partners
Tracee Gleichner, Founder and CEO of Literal Exposure
Joan Schulhafer, Publishing & Media Consultant

Joan: An author, at minimum, needs a website. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but it needs to look professional. A website is a landing zone for readers.

Tracy: Talks about the value of doing a blog tour.

Thubten: Amused everyone by saying he “takes shiny things away from authors so that they can write.”

Q: What are your thoughts on author branding?

David: Brand is the connection of your work to you by the reader. He acknowledges that the more money you spend, the bigger the branding you can achieve because you can afford to keep the push up over time. He thinks it is more important to get people’s attention initially than their money. If you create that connection with the consumer, you create the brand.

Thubten: Thinks the most important aspect of building brand is authenticity. If your characters move people emotionally, the readers will want to connect with you on a personal level. If you create a relationship with your readers, they will be passionate about your work. They will buy everything you write and recommend your work to others.

Q: If you write in different genres, do you need a brand for each genre?

Thubten: Have a LinkedIn profile that talks about all of your writing in one place. Have a Facebook author page about everything and a Facebook page for each genre.

David: If you cross a lot of different territory, your website is your social hub. You have to start there. Most readers do not cross over. Take this into account when creating your branding efforts. Publishers and bookstores do not connect author’s books in different genres. You must create this connection yourself.

Tracy: Does not think you need different pen names or brands for different genres.

Q: How do we get out the message that we are “real” authors versus the drek?

Thubten: If you have a bad book but good marketing, it won’t sell. The more present you are, the more discoverable you will be. If you’re not engaging, you’re not discoverable.

My Comment: I don’t agree that a bad book with good marketing won’t sell. Too many of us have bought one.

Jana

NINC: The New Publishing Landscape (the fray)

At the end of the first session, an important question came up that’s on the mind of every traditionally published author and those aspiring traditionally published authosr. Mark Coker really pushed to get to the bottom of the issue and the exchange was fabulous and just a bit tense.

The Major Players:

Mark Coker, Founder and CEO of Smashwords
Don Weisberg, President of Penguin Young Readers Group
Carolyn Pittis, Senior Vice President of Global Author Services, Harpercollins Publishers Worldwide
Linda Quinton, Associate Publisher and VP of Marketing for Tor-Forge, Starscape
Lou Aronica – Publisher at The Story Plant and Founder of The Fiction Studio

Q: As authors, we see a shift of power in publishing houses where marketing has more control over what is bought than editors. Please speak to that.

Don: Does not have an acquisition team and does make the decisions to acquire his own authors, but he cannot speak for the rest of the Penguin umbrella.

Linda: Thinks that marketing presents data on challenges for pushing a book, but does not limit an editor’s power to acquire.

Lou: Says it’s not the marketing department but the sales department (which is often referred to as Sales and Marketing) that is driving choice. It is a distribution-driven response, which will diminish as ebook sales increase. He thinks the old acquisition model is not relevant in the online market, and it will begin to shift away as ebooks sales increase.

Mark: States that publishers are not in the business of publishing books. They’re in the business of selling books. He hears from authors that books now have to make it through committees of editors, sales, marketing and finance. Thinks the fallacy in this is that you really can’t know what will sell well (especially on new authors) until it is published.

Don: States all publishers are in the business to make money. He defends publishers for not buying books that they don’t think can make money. He thinks all editors get into the business because they love books and want to work with authors. He accuses Mark of selling them short and points out that they still have a responsibility to make money for the parent company.

Mark: So should the value of books be judged solely on commercial potential?

Don: No. Are you saying they are?

Mark: He points out the overhead cost associated with large publishers. States that he understands the bottom line, but the legacy infrastructure makes it difficult for editors who are passionate about books to acquire all the books they’d like to.

Don: That’s not the way it works at my house.

Mark: There’s a room full of authors who have a different story to tell.

My Comments: Absolutely fantastic exchange! I hope traditional publishing is taking notes. Mark is 100% correct and it’s something I’ve been saying since the ebook boom.

Traditional publishing has got to change their methods of production to be more immediate. They have got to lower overhead costs in order to price competitively in the marketplace. IMHO, they can start by moving out of the multi-million dollar high rises in NY and send everyone home to work. There is absolutely no reason in the technology age, why authors should be subsidizing the cost of expensive office buildings, utilities and even the toilet paper. ESPECIALLY when we’re now being asked to pull the weight and cost of marketing our own books for around 10% of the profit.

The business is changing. Big publishers need to change with it or they will get left behind. Their legacy operation is not sustainable in the new or emerging marketplace.

Jana

NINC: The New Publishing Landscape (part 2)

This is the Q&A part of session 1, covered in the previous blog. All the major players are the same. Please refer to the previous blog for that information.

Q: Is the mid-list dead?

Carolyn: No. She points out that when you look at the top selling lists, it is using comprised of a cluster of higher-priced books and the heavily discounted books. She thinks there’s a missed opportunity for mid list pricing to hit the bestseller lists. She thinks basic economics are pushing cheaper books onto the top 100 lists.
The implication being, that because fewer midlist priced books are being offered, they are less likely to appear on lists and features.

Lou: States that midlist is back with a vengeance. Admits that a lot of the books that NY turned down for not having a market did, indeed, have a market. States he started his second imprint because he couldn’t sell his own book that was multi-genre. He says this is the best time since the 50s to write what you want and let the market decide.

Deb Werksman, Editorial Director for Sourcebooks comments on the amount of shoddy work being self-published and the importance of having work vetted by professional editors. I think she’s preaching to the choir since this is a room of professional authors who already know that. IMHO Traditionally published authors who are now self-publishing and professional indie authors are not contributing to the quality control problem in ebook releases.

Don: States that they are looking to build authors long-term and not just to buy a book. While I am sure that is the case for his division, I don’t think the sentiment extends to all branches of the company. I wonder if Penguin management is aware that among the writing community “being Berkleyed” is a term for having your book release with little to no support and then being summarily dropped when it doesn’t sell through well. Whether they contend it’s true or not, that is the perception among authors. Once a company name has been used an an industry descriptor, it may be time to ask yourself why.

Liz: The most interesting thing is who leads book discovery. Editors are only one end of the process.

Mark: Thinks that craft and editing are far more important than marketing. Says to allocate resources for editing.

Q Why do some books take off at bn versus amazon and vice versa?

Liz – The largest demographic of mass market fiction buyers is women age 25-55 coming specifically to the bn site for buying books, unlike amazon, where people will access the site for all sorts of purchases that are unrelated to books. BN pushes books that are selling well, that are selected by editorial for promo, or that have had a sharp uptick in sales.

No one else had an answer. I think the long and short of it is that no one really knows. There’s not enough quality data to make assumptions.

Q What are your thoughts on piracy?

Carolyn: States that it’s a major problem in the education book arena due to the cost of the books. Says if you have a name or character that has international awareness (ie. Justin Bieber, Harry Potter), you should worry about this, but unless you are a huge author, you are more at risk of being undiscovered than losing significant sales from piracy. She does go on to state that education on copyright law is seriously lacking and unless that is addressed, book piracy can eventually become an issue like the music industry faced.

My Note: I wholeheartedly agree with this and have said it often before. Writers – please educate your children, your friends and your family on copyright law and why lifting it from the Internet is NO different than walking into the author’s house and removing money from their wallet.

Liz: States that BN uses a scrapper to automatically remove pirate spam ads from their website and forums.

Mark: Thinks publishers and authors are probably wasting millions of dollars and enormous time fighting piracy. He sees piracy as an issue of supply and demand. If books were more widely available internationally, he thinks the problems with piracy would decrease.

Q: Are publishers going to start putting more money and effort into marketing books or will they just continue to throw them on the wall like spaghetti and then blame the author when the book tanks?

Don: States that the marketing division is always working to market their books, both before, during and after release.

My Comment: Don is in the children’s division, not mass market. See my comment above on “being Berkleyed.”

Carolyn: Marketing boils down to how many impressions a marketing event created and how many sales it generated. Traditionally, co-op creates the most impressions due to the sheer volume of people who walk into bookstores each day. BUT impressions are useless if there is no conversion to sales. For example, even if a Facebook ad gets a million impressions, it’s wasted money if you do not get conversion to sales.

Q: At what point will publishers and indie authors have the ability to pay for co-op in the digital marketplaces (ie. at amazon and bn)?

Liz: Yes. (everyone laughs)

Q: Why do traditional publishers keep pricing ebooks the same as print copies when it causes resentment among buyers?

Lou: Agrees that pricing makes an enormous difference. He has a $3.99 book that has vastly outsold a NYTimes bestseller. He believes it’s all due to pricing.

Mark: Agrees that publishers are overpricing books.

Carolyn: Thinks much of what is happening digitally is not growing the market. It’s cannibalization. The question is what does that do for the future of books given that 1/3 of books are discovered in bookstores. The key components are the balancing of the publishers and the reader’s needs and how quickly it can happen.

Next up: The fray over an editor’s ability to acquire books. You don’t want to miss it!

NINC: The New Publishing Landscape (part 1)

The Major Players:

Don Weisberg, President of Penguin Young Readers Group
Linda Quinton, Associate Publisher and VP of Marketing for Tor-Forge, Starscape
Mark Coker – Founder and CEO of Smashwords
Carolyn Pittis – Senior Vice President of Global Author Services, Harpercollins Publishers Worldwide
Lou Aronica – Publisher at The Story Plant, and Founder of The Fiction Studio
Liz Scheier – Editorial Director of Digital Content for Barnes and Noble.com

The session started with opening remarks from each of the panelists, who talked about the changes in publishing.

Don: Opens by saying if he’d been giving this talk a couple of years ago, he would be talking about factions within traditional publishing and how they operated. Today, he will be talking about what traditional publishing can offer versus other options. He is interested to hear what the other avenues of publishing are offering writers and thinks he will learn as much by being on the panel as those listening to the panel. He thinks options for writers are greater now than ever before but that also leads to more confusion. The goal of the panelists is to provide the necessary information for writers to make good choices for their careers and succeed.

Linda: Talks a bit about Tor’s publishing model, which is referred to as vertical publishing. The description was rather sketchy, but my take is that they consider publishing a straight-line model from concept to the readers hands and individually analyze each step along the way, including extensive readers surveys and contact.

Lou: Thinks that publishing will eventually evolve into three tiers: big publishers (large resources – ie. money and people), vertical publishers and small publishers (focused on niche markets). He thinks the advantage to going with a small publisher is that it’s home. The attention to you and your work will be more focused. He says that ebook sales now represent 21% of total sales, second only to hardback sales for special releases.

Carolyn: Opens by mentioning the book THE PARADOX OF CHOICE by Barry Schwartz. The book centers around the principal that too much choice can lead to paralysis or regret. It is more important than ever for authors to be educated on the business of publishing and the market. The digital transformation is not only about ebooks, although genre fiction sales in ebooks may be trending as high as 50%. A big concern for her is that 1/3 of new book discovery is still in bookstores, which are closing everywhere. She does not think Internet marketing has developed to support the loss of bookstore marketing space but it will.

She believes changes in scale in large versus small operations will be significant, and anticipates that the pace of changes in the market will continue. She see two basic markets in ebooks: digital premium (major bestseller fiction) and value market (discounted books or dollar books). There has not been a fill-in yet of enough mid-list priced books. She warns authors to avoid black and white statements that include words like “always” and “never” and advocates arming yourself with information to make the best decision for your career. She does NOT recommend decreasing writing production to see where everything settles. In fact, she recommends just the opposite – that you increase production to take advantage of early placement in an evolving market. When asked about marketing for digital books, she states that social media is not driving sales. (I look forward to hearing more about this in her solo session)

NOTE FROM ME: Carolyn is a number’s person and I would absolutely KILL to see her metrics. She is doing a session herself today and I will be there front and center. I think the data is vital to authors making good decisions (although a lot will be speculation) about the future of publishing.

Mark: Opens by saying he and his wife wrote a book years ago and gained representation by a NY agent, who couldn’t sell the book. The feedback consistently stated there was not a big enough commercial market for his work. With limited options (then) in self-publishing, he started thinking about the options for writers who didn’t fit the model of broad appeal. That’s when he decided to start Smashwords, to give authors the ability to distribute their work to the big retailers.

He says that professional writers are the fuel that’s fired traditional publishing for decades, but that’s because writers had no other options. As technology collided with publishing, it created new options for writers. He does not believe traditional publishing will go away, but thinks with all the change, power has shifted to the authors which is where it should be. He encourages authors to embrace the change and take advantage of all the opportunities available to the professional author.

Liz: She started her career in traditional publishing with Penguin and now works for bn. She is not allowed to state the exact amount, but says Pubit now has over 150k books for sale. She states that the advantage to working for an etailer versus a publisher is the access to buying patterns for customers. This allows trending, which allows for more focused marketing campaigns. She thinks the decision of traditional versus self-publishing for authors should boil down to the amount of time and effort you want to put into publishing versus the amount of return you want to make. (I would add that you also need to consider your ability to competently handle self-publishing). She thinks that shorter content is a terrific way for authors to push their larger works – both traditional and self-published authors.

NOTE FROM ME: Liz is very engaging and hilarious. I will be attending her solo session tomorrow and will report back.

Next blog will be on the Q&A portion of this session.

Jana

NINC: Coker Takes on the Kiana Davenport Issue

In a panel today at NINC conference, panelists were addressing ebook publishing by authors outside of traditional contracts and the potential impact on both traditional and ebook sales.

The main players:
Mark Coker, Founder and CEO of Smashwords
Don Weisberg, President, Penguin Young Readers Group
Kiana Davenport, Author who reported being dumped by Penguin after self-publishing a collection of short stories.

Note to readers: Before you read this, I want to say that Don has been great at conference and very forthright and informative. He does NOT work in the mass market division and is not responsible for (or necessarily aware of) the actions of Penguin.

Mark shared his opinion that offering short stories, novellas and collections as ebooks while waiting for longer works to release were a great way for authors to keep their name out with the readers and keep interest high for the coming works. He then goes on to say that he doesn’t understand why the situation with Penguin author, Kiana Davenport, was a problem. He says he is aware we’re only getting one side of the story, but he would like to hear the other side from the publisher.

(There’s a collective intake of breath in the room. I am delighted as now I won’t have to ask this question myself in the single session later on.)

Don states that he does not know all of the facts of the case. He states that if you are in a contract with the publisher and wish to do you own thing, that they have no grounds to stop you (unless it’s contractual), but that the preference for any editor would be that you tell them your plans up front so that they can help plan a successful strategy around what you intend to do. He encourages authors to ask themselves if the self-publishing they’ve planned will add value to or detract from their traditional works, both currently published and future contracted.

So still no concrete answer on the entire issue from the publisher side, but it’s clear that publishers would prefer, at minimum, to be notified and preferably involved in, an author’s solo pursuits.

From a business perspective, I totally understand their sentiment. If a publisher is planning a big release for an author, they’ve invested a lot of money. An ill-advised or informed author could potentially damage the success of their traditionally published book before it is even released.

The author side of me, however, says that no single business has the right to restrict the trade of an independent contractor. Unless, of course, you were foolish enough to sign a contract that allowed them to. If that’s the case, then I got nuthin’ for you.

Jana

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