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This past Thursday and Friday I attended the IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) Publishing University in Chicago. It was my first time attending the event, and I’m really glad I went as I think the speakers and attendees represented the thinking—old and new—swirling around the industry. I was also happy to attend because Blank Slate Press won the organization’s 2012 Bill Fisher Award for Best First Book-Fiction for our debut title, THE SAMARITAN by Fred Venturini, and so I have a soft spot for all the great folks at IBPA.
The breakout sessions were led by a number of talented publishing professionals who were both motivating and informative, but it was the big names—people like Guy Kawasaki (author and former chief evangelist of Apple), Mark Coker (Smashwords), Brian Felsen (Bookbaby), Allen Lau (Wattpad), Matthew Cavnar (Vook), Curt Matthews (IPG), Dan Poynter (author and speaker), Kelly Gallagher (Ingram), Dominique Raccah (Sourcebooks), and David Houle (futurist)—who really set the tone.
Before I talk about what I believe were the major themes, I must clarify that I took notes like a madwoman so I apologize in advance if I make a mistake in attribution or get the particulars of a quote wrong. For others in attendance, please let me know if you can add anything or correct anything.
So what were the main takeaways? Some of these overlap, but here are the six major themes I identified at the conference.
1) “The flaws in the traditional publishing model are everywhere. It is not a viable model.” This is one of my favorite quotes from Dominique Raccah, founder of Sourcebooks and one of the people busy reinventing the industry. The telling part of the quote is in its context. Her presentation was not about the industry per se, and that quote was not taken from her presentation, but rather was a response to a question from an attendee who asked why, with all the opportunities available for authors today, she or anyone else should seek to publish traditionally. Raccah responded that she actually had no idea why anyone would want to do that if they are willing and able to take on the tasks necessary to make a book a success according to their own measures and expectations.
2) “The future is global virtual distribution.” That’s the way Kelly Gallagher of Ingram put it, but he wasn’t the only one talking global. Allen Lau of Wattpad related several anecdotes about people from around the world sending him notes about how much they love the accessibility of putting up their own stories and being able to read stories from people around the world. In a conversation over dinner, we talked about how he envisions Wattpad as a giant global campfire around which everyone is able to share stories without barriers to entry. And both Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, and Brian Felson, founder of BookBaby, talked about the stunning growth of ebooks in global markets.
From the panel with Coker and Felson, I learned that Apple distributes to 52 countries and that its distribution reach is a big growth area for Smashwords. According to Coker, Smashwords conducted research that showed the 2012 global ranking for ebook distribution is:
- 1 – Amazon
- 2 – Apple
- 3 – Kobo
He advised authors and publishers to think globally because lots of people around the world read/speak English. And both Coker and Felson said they believed that it won’t be too long before the international market will be bigger than the US market.
Coker and Felson made the point that the fundamental change in publishing is that shelf space is no longer an issue. With ebooks and print-on-demand, online bookstores want to and have the ability to stock every book available. It’s just a matter of storing the ones and zeros that make up the digital file.
3) It is no longer all about distribution (that part is easy), it is now about discoverability. I can’t remember who said that, but almost everyone echoed the sentiment, including Gallagher from Ingram, Lau from Wattpad, Cavnar from Vook, Coker from Smashwords, Felson from BookBaby, Dan Poynter, and David Houle. The only person on any of the main panels who didn’t seem to be excited about the future was the representative from IPG (Independent Publishers Group), the second largest distributor for independent publishers. (Disclaimer: BSP’s books are distributed through Small Press United, a division of IPG.) He made several very important points about the importance of metadata and point-of-sale information and he said that when IPG first started that had two IT people. Now they have twelve. And he reminded attendees that 90% of the books sold (that’s what he said, but I’m not sure that’s correct) are still print. But the most memorable thing I have in my notes from his contribution to the panel, titled Beyond the Click, was that self-publishing is very hard. That didn’t get a very big applause line from the crowd.
4) The Era of Artisanal Publishing. Industry veteran Dan Poynter used his own success as a guidepost for independent publishers and authors. He, along with Guy Kawasaki and futurist David Houle, drove home the point that it is up to each author to define themselves and carve out their area of expertise. They all three admonished attendees not to be defined by terms from the past. Kawasaki compared authors self-publishing to people who choose to make artisanal cheese or craft beer. No one says to them: Oh, you couldn’t get a job at a real cheesemaker, so your making your own cheese. If you approach your business like an professional and an entrepreneur, your choice to be a small press publisher or independent author are no less valid than any other craftsman putting out a hand-crafted artisanal product.
5) The Myth of Big 5 Marketing Support. So, this may sound strange coming from a publisher, but I’ve been on the other side as well and I know that, for many (most?) the idea that just because you got a nice advance and you’ve got a publicity team assigned to you, doesn’t mean you’re actually going to get real, sustained—or intelligent!—pr/marketing support. Dori Jones Yang, a successful historical fiction author, told the story about her agent’s response to all the marketing she was doing. The agent was thrilled at her success and said, “As soon as you hit it big, your publisher’s publicist is going to leap into action.”
Yang also said that from her point of view POD and ebook distribution is the future…and the future is now.
It has always been hard for an author—even an author published with a sought-after New York agent and a big-time New York publisher—to get shelf space in bookstores. And that shelf space is expensive. And if your book doesn’t sell, it is returned and pulped or remaindered. And the hit to your royalty statement is serious. So why would anyone want to go that route? With POD and online distribution, your books are always available and they never go out of print.
6) The jawbone of an ass. In what I thought was a brilliant comparison, Tom Doherty, president of Cardinal Publishers Group, a distributor of non-fiction titles out of Indianapolis, said that sometimes it is best for a sales person to just shut up. If a customer isn’t excited about a book, the sales person should quit pushing and try to present the book at the next appointment. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here) because just like in the Bible when Samson killed a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass, a salesperson can kill a thousand sales by flapping his jawbone like an ass. My big takeaway here is that this relates not just to sales people on a distributor’s payroll, but to every independent author who won’t shut up about his or her book on Twitter or Facebook.
And finally, back to distribution, Ingram took the opportunity to formally announce Ingram Spark—a “new and improved” service designed for small publishers that will roll out later this year. I learned that very small publishers (those with under 1 million in sales…uh, yeah, I fit in that group), makes up 20% of the publishing industry, and Ingram is perfectly positioned to serve that 20%.
As the largest wholesaler in the industry, Ingram serves over 200 ebook retailers in over 150 countries. They have 2500 partners, they handle 11 million titles through 3800 channels, and can output a different book every six seconds. But still they see room for significant growth catering to that 20%–as well as working with many of the major publishers who use their services (including O’Reily Media who just closed their last warehouse). Ingram Spark will be much easier (according to the Ingram folks) to use than Lightning Source today. It will be “easy, quick, and free” and will provide one interface for POD and ebooks.
I’m looking forward to it.
I went to my first writer’s conference this weekend! It was really low-key and casual, but still informative, and I definitely met some great people. I’d like to hearken back briefly to my post about the life of a young writer because the gif I put in about being “At A Writing Conference” held remarkably true to form: I was hungry pretty much the whole time. But that aside, I had some really interesting and fulfilling experiences that made the conference on the whole a very positive experience for me. I’d like to share them with my writerly friends because, You can do it too! It was fun! I’m also going to share them in list form, because, well, lists are great.
Tales From The Missouri Writer’s Guild Conference, Told As Anecdotes With Morals About Why You, Too, Should Attend Conferences:
1) You can make new friends! I met people who were awesome, who were as invested in writing as a career as I am, who were devoted, thoughtful, and fun. I even exchanged phone numbers and email addresses with some of these people! (No, it wasn’t a dating conference.) I had a great time networking with people, despite my initial shyness (I always sort of have to be drawn out of my shell) and it was really fulfilling to meet other people with similar interests and passions. Conferences are primarily about networking, and it’s really important to constantly reach out to new people and build a rapport with people who you support and will support you in turn.
2) You can pitch to agents! It was my first time ever pitching or querying, and I was pretty nervous. I told this to the first agent, and she was super nice about it. “Great, welcome to the club,” she said. “Don’t be nervous.” I got through my whole pitch without reading off my sheet of paper, and she asked me some good questions. And then she requested a sample of my manuscript! Wow! I walked out on cloud nine. Of course, I know this is just the beginning, and she has to like the writing, and blah blah, blah blah, but … it was an awesome feeling. Pitching in person is a great opportunity. After all, the agent-author relationship is all about, well, relationships, and there’s no better way to sell your story than by looking someone in the eye, chin up, a ring in your voice, and telling them how deeply you believe in your manuscript. Go get it!
3) You get to meet really influential people! The agents I met and talked to are people who are movers and shakers in the industry, people who are well-informed and who know what’s coming down the pipes. There were a few speakers as well who had lots to say about the future of publishing in the changing industry, and I felt like I learned a lot and made some good connections. And that’s just at the small-town MO conference. My mom was at a conference in Chicago this weekend and got to have dinner with the founder of Wattpad – a website that has garnered hundreds of millions of users, all people who are actively engaged in the reading community. Conferences are a great opportunity to meet people who are changing the world of reading and writing.
4) You can learn what NOT to do! One of the great things about the conference was hearing people talk about what they didn’t like. For example, it’s really important to not taking pitching too seriously. There were people who were clearly distraught and upset after their pitches, and that was a turn-off for the agents. It’s also important to make sure you’re pitching to the right type of agent. It’s also important to have your manuscript formatted properly. It’s also important to … etc. My point is, agents, editors, and industry professionals are at these events to teach you how to get published. They’re not there to bash your work, or hurt your feelings, or anything else – they’re there to educate and promote. But in order for them to do that, you have to meet them halfway, and those are big things that are easy to learn at writing conferences.
Have you ever been to a writing conference? Did you have any memorable experiences – positive or negative? Would you go again, or not?
Blank Slate Press is pleased to announce the upcoming publication of COUNTERFEIT, the second in Scott L. Miller’s Dr. Mitch Adams crime series set in St. Louis, MO.
In THE INTERROGATION CHAIR, the first in the series, Mitch Adams, a social worker in private practice, is framed for his girlfriend’s murder. COUNTERFEIT picks up the story when Mitch gets a late night phone call for help from St. Louis Homicide Detective JoJo Baker, the same detective who dutifully followed the planted evidence that almost landed Mitch in prison. Blank Slate Press will also be republishing THE INTERROGATION CHAIR, the first in the series which Miller self-published, as well as the third in the series which is due out in 2014.
With every one of our books, we’ve asked readers to help us select the direction for our cover. COUNTERFEIT is proving particularly difficult to nail down a concept, so we’re turning to your wisdom once again. Please read the short synopsis and then vote on your favorite cover based on the synopsis and on which cover you’d pick up if you saw it on a shelf.
If you leave us a comment telling us why you voted the way you did, you’ll be automatically entered for a copy of COUNTERFEIT once it comes out.
Here’s the synopsis:
Mitchell Adams, a social worker in private practice in St. Louis, is still reeling from the murder of his girlfriend when the detective who tried to imprison him for the crime surprises him with a late-night call for help. Lonnie Washington, an African American from North St. Louis sits in a jail cell accused of armed robbery and counterfeiting millions. The evidence suggests an open and shut case, but the detective insists there’s more to the story.
Reluctantly, Mitch agrees, but Lonnie refuses to cooperate. Is it to protect his partners, the subject of an intense manhunt by the city’s chief prosecutor and the Secret Service, or has he done the impossible–create perfect, undetectable copies of hundred dollar bills? To learn the truth no one wants exposed, Mitch must take to the streets and risk his life as the case polarizes the city along racial lines. Mitch comes to realize that none of the major players are what they appear and becomes the next target of the brilliant prosecutor, a candidate for U.S. Senate who also happens to be the son of a former president. What Adams discovers changes his perspective on who the real counterfeiter is and turns a routine case into a life or death drama where nothing is ever just black or white.
Click to enlarge.
1. The domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, desire, image, etc.
What was the last thing you were obsessed with? Something so gripping that you just couldn’t get it out of your mind, that your waking and dreaming moments were defined almost exclusively by that one thing? Maybe it was a book, or a business project you were working on. Picking out a new car? A home-improvement project? Maybe a TV show?
The paragraph above is from the beginning of a blog post written by one of my co-authors about how obsessed we are with our work in progress. It is so well written I decided to give it some “airtime” here. Please take a moment to visit her blog and read the rest of it. You’ll be glad you did.
(Originally posted on Kevin Killeen’s blog: http://kevinkilleen.com)
With 80 percent of all books in America purchased by women, this vital demographic is weighing in on a novel featuring grade school boys in trouble.
One female reviewer objected to the tale of boys constantly peeing on bushes and running amok while they’re moms are home baking cookies.
Another reviewer, “Simply Stacie,” reports the story stirred her to root for the main character “like I was his mother.” She also says she “couldn’t put it down,” anxious to find out how it would end for her young hero.
Meanwhile, parish moms in the vicinity where the book takes place have pulled the author aside with their heads shaking to ask, “Did you really do all this stuff?”
It was the 1960s, after all, and there were fewer rules, no cell phones, and boys were only expected to “be home for dinner.
OBSERVATIONS ON KEVIN’S DEC. 8th BOOK SIGNING
They filed past the book signing table like well-wishers filing past the casket.
Hundreds of friends, relatives and sympathetic strangers turned out for a series of events marking the release of Never Hug a Nun.
Kind people, many of whom left dishes in the sink, ventured out to get a copy of the novel at Charlie Brennan’s Fontbonne Book of the Month Club taping Nov 27, at the KMOX Holiday Radio Show Dec 3, and at the Webster Groves Book Shop Dec 8.
Many of the men whispered confessions of their own delinquent past as they purchased the book, then hid it under arm and hurried to their car. Most touching was the procession of parish mothers, some of whom remember the author as a “troubled student,” purchasing two or three copies to impress upon their grand children the dangers of going the wrong way.
At the Webster Groves Book Shop, owner Ann Foy put out a small dish of lightly-salted peanuts for customers to enjoy during this cough and flu season. Foy awarded the prize to a couple who had driven the farthest — all the way from Belleville, Illinois — a free pencil marked “Webster Groves Book Shop.”
When the day was done, almost a hundred copies of the book had been sold.
“That’s pretty good,” Foy said.
Killeen thanked the management, then walked home in a cold, overcast mist. Feeling a little queezey from all the attention, and the expired Gatorade he drank, Killeen watched with interest as a red fire engine with sirens blaring rifled down Main Street.
His first thought was that if life were a novel, he would arrive home to find his own house had burned down from the Christmas tree he left on. But it turned out to be some distant, unknown calamity affecting someone else.
At home he found his family was all gone, except his 15-year old son Jack playing a soldier video game. The last video game the author played was an Atari space invaders game in the 1970s. The space invaders always won.
He sat down in a chair listening to the machine gun fire from the TV in the next room, and wondered what all the people who bought the book would think about it after they read it.
Killeen is scheduled to do a reading from the book and sign more copies at the newly-rennovated Central Library on Olive Street in Downtown St. Louis on Tuesday, Dec 11 at 6:30 p.m..
The book is available at the Webster Groves Book Shop, Left Bank Books, Subterranean Books, Amazon.com, and soon at St. Louis area Barnes & Noble locations.
Check out the links and the head over to your local independent bookstore and pick up your copy of NEVER HUG A NUN. (The book will be available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble soon. In the meantime, you can also order it from us directly: http://blankslatepress.com/how-to-buy/.
It was a packed house last night for the KMOX-Fontbonne Book Club hosted by Charlie Brennan featuring Kevin Killeen and musician John Pizzarelli, author of World on a String: a musical memoir. Both Kevin and John were entertaining speakers and happily stayed after to meet readers and sign books. And Kevin graciously gave a shout-out to Jean Ellen Whatley and her book, OFF THE LEASH, and a gave a great plug for Blank Slate Press and our mission.
And I want to extend a HUGE thank you to Left Bank Books for doing such a great job on handling the book sales.
I would also like to say a word about best laid plans and the perils of proofreading in a hurry.
The best laid plans are that every project we undertake is completed without a hitch. Well…we worked like frenzied people to get NEVER HUG A NUN ready for all the holiday events and book promotional activities, and, as it often turns out when people work in a hurry, we let a few typos slip through uncorrected. I feel absolutely horrible and awful and terrible (etc.!) about it, and, as Kevin so elegantly puts it, we feel like we’ve shown up to a fancy dinner party with mustard on our shirts.
So what? Everyone makes mistakes, right? I can rationalize it away and say that I can’t pick up any book, even by a Bix Six publisher, without finding typos. But that’s just lazy thinking. And one thing a small press publisher cannot be (and survive through the day) is lazy.
We’ve submitted corrected files to the printer and the next print run will have the problems fixed. But, in the meantime, we’d like to make it right with our readers. If you’ve purchased a copy with errors in it, please send me an e-mail (kbmakansi @ blankslatepress.com) and I will send you a COMPLIMENTARY PDF OF THE BLANK SLATE PRESS BOOK OF YOUR CHOICE: Dancing with Gravity, Slant of Light, Off the Leash, Never Hug a Nun, or the novella Driving Alone.
As always Mike Shatzkin’s blog makes for fascinating and illuminating reading–especially for a relative newcomer to publishing trying to build a business in such a rapidly changing field. I just got around to reading his post from 11/26 (Peering into the future and seeing more value in the Random Penguin merger) and found, at the end, a concise articulation of one of the observations I had on the recent presidential election.
Prior to the election, many of my conservative friends went on and on about Romney’s business and managerial experience while I contended that running a business is not the same as governing. But they were not convinced. Several predicted a landslide Romney win based on the their candidate’s superior management abilities and his campaign’s high-tech GOTV program.
But…they were wrong. The community organizer and law school professor beat the private equity millionaire–precisely because the Obama team managed the campaign better and leveraged their data better. The Obama team won precisely because they did the things Romney said he could do and they did them better.
So, you’ll have to read Shatzkin’s post to understand how it relates to the future of publishing, but I want to quote from his political observation on the role of management and data here:
“Among the many reasons that President Obama convincingly defeated Governor Romney was the superior execution of the Obama campaign around data and operations. They were simply better analysts and managers and they executed better than the Romney campaign.
So can we please put to rest the notion that “getting rich” or “running a business” is a proxy for “management skill”? The most frequently-offered argument from Romney was “I’m a successful businessman so therefore I can run things better than this guy who is community-organizer-turned-public-official.” Actually, Governor, you couldn’t. You didn’t.
The last presidents we had with business experience were (working backwards) George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, and Warren Harding. There is no historical evidence in there that shows that business success correlates with the ability to run the United States government. Or even, as we’ve just been shown, an effective national campaign.”
~ The rescue dog who inspired OFF THE LEASH comes home ~
BOOK SIGNING BY JEAN ELLEN WHATLEY TO BENEFIT HUMANE SOCIETY OF MISSOURI
Sunday, November 18th, 1:00 P.M.
Lecture Hall of the Humane Society of Missouri
1201 Macklind, St. Louis, MO 63110.
She’s the dog who motivated a seemingly sane, mother of four to bag the day job and road trip across America.Now Libby is coming back home. St. Louis journalist and author, Jean Ellen Whatley with Libby by her side, will be giving a multi-media talk and signing copies of her memoir, Off the Leash, on Sunday, November 18th at the Macklind location of the Humane Society of Missouri; the same place where the author first set eyes on the irresistible golden-red puppy, who would become her muse, her canine traveling companion, confidant, and comic relief.
Whatley’s blog-to-book, which just last week made the St.Louis Post-Dispatch Best Seller List, chronicles the writer’s 8,600 mile journey to reconnect with every person and place she had ever loved. Along the way, she observed life lessons from her dog.
“To love with abandon, to live in the moment,” said Whatley, “not hold a grudge and go along for the ride.”
“For anyone who has ever loved a dog,” said publisher Kristina Blank Makansi, of Blank Slate Press, “this is a tale of bonding between a woman and her dog of the highest order. More than that, Off the Leash is about freedom. It’s about having the courage to listen to your gut and take action, no matter the risk.”
Subterranean Books is the official bookstore partner for the event, with 10% of sales that day going to the Humane Society’s adoption efforts. ”We are 100% behind rescue dogs, that’s all we’ve ever had,” said Kelly von Plonski, co-owner of Subterranean Books.” We’re proud to promote a local author and also help support efforts to place loving dogs in loving homes. Just look at the literary inspiration created by this match-up!”
Whatley’s book talk will include many photos and videos from her eight week, coast-to-coast odyssey. “We’re proud of our famous traveling dog, Libby,” said Jeane Jae, VP of Communications, Humane Society of Missouri. “Not every one of our pets gets to grace the cover of a book, but all of our pets are capable of inspiring such devotion.”
The book talk takes place Sunday, November 18th, 1:00 P.M. in the Lecture Hall of the Humane Society of Missouri, 1201 Macklind, St. Louis, MO 63110. For more information e-mail Kristy Makansi at Blank Slate Press at kbmakansi @ blankslatepress.com
Want to know more about Jean and her incredible journey? Check out her blog and watch her trailer here.
As mentioned before, we’re delighted to participate in the Saint Louis Literary Consortium’s 2012 Holiday Book Signing at Left Bank Books on November 9, 10, 11th. We hope everyone in STL will come out and support a great independent bookstore, wonderful literary organizations, publishers and, of course, local and regional authors.
BSP authors Steve Wiegenstein (SLANT OF LIGHT) and Jean Ellen Whatley (OFF THE LEASH) will be in store to sign their books. Jean will be signing from 6 – 8 pm Friday evening, and Steve will be signing from 12 – 2pm on Saturday. This is the perfect opportunity to buy the best gift of all–BOOKS–for everyone on your holiday list! And, even though NEVER HUG A NUN and DRIVING ALONE won’t be available for in-store purchase yet, you can pre-order your copies at the register.
Holiday Book Fair Author Schedule
Friday, November 9, 2012
2pm to 4pm
- Brenda Neubauer
- Wanita Zumbrunnen
4pm to 6pm
- Robin Tidwell
- Bruce Lucas
6pm to 8pm
- Jean Ellen Whatley
- Leigh Savage
- Denise McCormick Baich
7pm to 8pm
- Mary Ellen Havard
Saturday, November 10, 2012
- 10am to Noon
- Matt Freeman and Curtis Comer
- Marcel Toussaint
- Cole Gibsen
12pm to 2pm
- Vicki Bennington,
- Daniel Brannan, and
- Loretta Goebel
- Steve Weigenstein
1pm to 3pm
- Qui Xiaolong
2pm to 4pm
- Claire Applewhite
- Steven Schroeder
- Niki Nymark
4pm to 6pm
- Peter Green
- Pat Bubash
Sunday, November 11, 2012
11am to 1pm
- Brad R. Cook
- Mary Ruth Donnelly
1pm to 3pm
- Faye & Billy Adams
- Liz Maloney
3pm to 4pm
- Mary Ellen Havard
3pm to 5pm
- Tullia Hamilton
- Kelli Allen