Those Who Can’t – Self-Publish. Really?

A lot of people put ‘write a book’ on their bucket list. Thanks to Amazon, Smashwords, and fee-based publishing companies, having a book with your name on the spine is easier than ever. There’s never been a better time to be an author, never been more options, but simply being published means very little now.

When everyone is special, then no one is.

The Author Is Now In Control
Authors are entrepreneurs. Gone are the days of the solitary writer holed up in a writing cave never interacting with readers. There’s no longer a stigma attached to self-publishing, the stigma is attached to books that do poorly. Your book must earn respect now with sales and Amazon rankings determining value, not the name of the publisher on the spine. Indie and self-publishing avenues (digital especially) have leveled the playing field. But with privilege comes responsibility. For the first time writers have choices – you can traditionally publish or self publish or both, but either way the burden of responsibility for success rests with the author.

A Leveled Playing Field
Traditional publishers have always offered distribution, something authors couldn’t get anywhere else. The cover art, editing, interior design are all services that many publishers are outsourcing anyway, but with digital there’s no longer any need for distribution. Barry Eisler made publishing news a few months ago when he turned down a BIG (I mean, never have to write again big) deal from St. Martin’s Press. He was then approached by Amazon to publish with them first digitally and then in paper at a much higher royalty rate. He didn’t need either St. Martin’s or Amazon for distribution – he already has a substantial platform, but Amazon offered direct to consumer marketing he could tap into. At the Writer’s Digest Conference (WDC) in New York, Eisler claimed he’s made more on the book published with Amazon, than on any of his traditionally published books. Self-publishing was the smart business decision for him.

Writing Is A Business
Traditional publishers typically offer 17.5% royalty rates, but with self-publishing authors keep upwards of 75% royalties. Writing is a business and the business is connecting with readers. Traditional or self-published doesn’t matter because the self-published or indie author can hire an editor and the same cover designer as the big publishers, and put out a comparably packaged product. But not all books are created equal – and whether you’re self-published or traditionally published, failing to connect with readers will be reflected in customer reviews and sales numbers. Just putting a book out there doesn’t mean anyone will buy it – or find it in this crowded marketplace.

Read more about The Business of Writing with this exclusive GWP interview with author and writing teacher James Scott Bell.

A New Business Model
A new business model is emerging. Previously, a traditionally published author would put out 1 new title a year (or less than that), and then build a speaking and teaching career beneath the writing career. Indie publishers are telling new writers to publish 3-5 books a year to keep readers coming back. Writers must be entrepreneurs. Many of the successful independent authors have a team of writers writing for them – their name has become a brand – almost like a fashion label. But this also opens up markets where previously there were none – like short stories and poetry.

In Summary
If you don’t have a top-notch product (book), don’t have great packaging (interior design, cover art, binding, cover copy), and a social network who will share and recommend your work – you’re playing the author lotto (and the odds aren’t in your favor).

The average self-published title sells 80 copies. You can’t live off that. But the good news is that those are all things you can control through hard work. It’s a lot of trial and error, learning from what didn’t work as much as what did. These authors spoke of testing titles with Facebook ads, and monopolizing a word through Google ads. It’s a serious, purposeful business model being planned up to two years in advance.

Being traditionally published gives you instant credibility with retailers and to a certain extent readers, but that’s overcome with reader reviews, blogger reviews, Amazon rankings, etc. This is a really exciting time to be a writer. Authors no longer need the brick&mortar bookstore, the agent or New York publisher to be a success (whether publishing digitally or not) and that’s changed a lot of things.

Read more about self-publishing from these successful authors:

Debora Geary – paranormal author
LT Kodzo – YA author – Christian market
KC May – sci-fi/fantasy author

Lisa

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Results From Writers Digest Conference 2012

Many people have asked us to tell them about our experience at the 2012 Writer’s Digest Conference. (WDC12) Here are a few observations and of course, the results of our trip.

First, keep in mind that there are different kinds of writer’s conferences. Some conferences focus on learning craft, others are geared more to the business aspect of writing, still others are geared for fans of writers or the hobbyist. Some conferences work hard to foster networking and relationship building and provide lots of opportunities for attendees to mingle with faculty, others don’t worry so much about that.

We went to Times Square to rework our pitch the night before

I’ve been to several different kinds of conferences geared to both the Christian and general market, and have found value in all of these experiences. Know what kind of conference you want, and what that conference offers so you aren’t disappointed.

My impressions:

A Conference For Professionals

This conference is meant for professionals, not beginning writers. I met more than a few people completely overwhelmed because they had just begun to start writing – which is OK if you knew what you were getting into. This conference was planned with the professional in mind, and focused a lot of the sessions on the business of writing, the career behind the writing. Loved that.

What became very clear was how much this industry is changing. Barry Eisler was a keynote speaker this weekend, and if you follow publishing news you might recognize his name because he recently turned down a 2.5million dollar two book deal from St. Martin’s Press to self-publish – and then accepted an offer from Amazon. He claims the book published electronically with Amazon has done better than any of his other books by a large margin. That’s astounding. I’ll be blogging more about that in the weeks ahead.

Writers come to this conference to pitch their work, and agents come expecting you to have something worth their time. Agents were not paid to come, they are there only to find new talent. It’s your chance to skip the cold query process that can last from 3-6 months, and the inevitable agency slush-pile jockey. It’s a chance to meet the person face-to-face, which is such a valuable opportunity in this digital age.

There are no meals really to socialize over. There are no editors or publishers, all the agents were from New York and just arrived for the 3hour Pitch Slam on Saturday afternoon and left again. Everyone is there to sell their book – get out of their way.

The Pitch Slam

You all want to know how the pitch slam works. As we waited in line for the doors to open, people clutched their pitch sheets, recited their pitches to themselves, forced the people around them to listen to their pitches. Not many people laughed or joked, and they defended their place in line with quiet ferocity. Many people dressed in business casual – others wore suits, a few came in jeans and t-shirts. The agents were all dressed in business casual.

The agents sat behind a table with one chair in front of them, and a small pile of much-coveted business cards at their elbow. You had 3 minutes to interest them enough to get their business card. That’s what it’s all about. That’s the goal – to get a business card. You’re not going to get signed in 3 minutes, no one’s going to jump out of the chair and declare, “I want to represent you.” It felt a bit like being lowered into a shark tank – only our intent was to look interesting enough to get snagged by a shark or two out of the hundreds swimming (or floundering) around us.

Generally the agents were intent, focused, and very business-like. They weren’t interested in small talk or chit chat – just your pitch.

Chuck Sambuchino gave a fabulous run-down of how to master the 3minute pitch. It’s different than writing a query letter, there’s just not enough time. You have to boil down your whole novel to a 90 second pitch, 3-10 sentences. It’s like Survivor Elevator Pitch. Marcy will be blogging about this process next week.

Line-ups became very long very fast. Even though we had 3 hours, I was only able to speak with 5 agents, Marcy reached 6. You can estimate how long the line is – 10 people in front of you that’s a 30 minute wait. It adds up fast. I waited in line for more than an hour for just one agent (and yes – she liked us. She asked for a full manuscript.)

Bring a notebook and a pen in case the agent has run out of cards, and to write down what the agent has asked for. We were asked for material from 7 agents, and every one asked for something slightly different.

I was very thankful for my iPod. Playing Bejeweled Blitz while waiting in line helped calm my nerves – my scores were embarrassing though.

How to Prepare

We read every agent’s bio weeks ahead of time and continued to check the website right up until the day before the conference to select those agents who were interested in acquiring our genre – this was a rather broad list. We stalked each agent on social media – what kind of person were they – was this someone we could see ourselves working with? We looked up their recent deals on publisher’s weekly, and checked the absolutewrite watercooler site to see what other writers said about them. This further cut down our list. Then we took that list and prioritized them, and there were a few last-minute cancellations. We found some of the bios were a little outdated,  vague, or conflicted with what their agency website said so we had a couple of agents tell us they don’t represent what we were writing which was disappointing.

What Surprised Us

Not one agent asked us about prior writing experience or publishing credits. There wasn’t time. The questions from the agents who were interested were more intense than we’d expected. We were asked about character arcs, the history behind the story, what aspects were fantasy, how we started working together, is there a mythological tie. I was surprised by how tiring the whole experience was. All we wanted to do afterwards was leave the hotel for a bit and not talk about our book at all – just revel in our success for an evening.

Results

The majority of the people we spoke to only received one business card. I saw at least 3 people out in the hallway crying afterwards, and they didn’t look like happy tears. Marcy spoke with one lady who got requests from all 5 agents she spoke with. Results seemed to vary. We split up to pitch twice as many agents. So, we spoke with 11 agents, and got requests for more material from 7 of them. We are very pleased with this result.

We micro-blogged our way through the conference on the GWP Facebook page. If you missed it, it’s easy enough to scroll down the wall on the page and see all the updates from the sessions. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing more of the information we gleaned from the sessions and the experience in general. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, leave it in the comments.

Are you planning to go to any conferences this year? What investments are you making in your writing career?

Lisa

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Girls With Pens in the Big Apple

Marcy and Lisa are heading to New York City for the annual Writer’s Digest Conference this weekend. We’re off on another whirlwind adventure – and you’re welcome to tag along. As we have access to a wifi hotspot, we’ll post photos and video blog about our weekend in the Big Apple.

We’ll give you the inside scoop into one of the largest writers conferences in North America – but here’s the catch. You won’t find those updates here. We’ll be microblogging on Facebook so make sure you head on over to the GWP Facebook page for all updates.

If you’re on Twitter, Porter Anderson will be tweeting behind the scenes all weekend (so we’ve heard) and you can follow the action with the hashtag #wdc12

Lisa’s on deck on Monday here at GWP with a summary post.

Happy Writing!