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 [...]
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 [...]
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?
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 [...]
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.”
PLEASE VOTE for the one SLANT OF LIGHT cover concept you like best. From the very abstract to the photographic to the historical, we’ve got very different design ideas to consider. Please feel free to share your comments–we’ll take all votes and comments into consideration. And if you vote and leave a comment (tell us [...]
PLEASE VOTE for the one SLANT OF LIGHT cover concept you like best. From the very abstract to the photographic to the historical, we’ve got very different design ideas to consider. Please feel free to share your comments–we’ll take all votes and comments into consideration. And if you vote and leave a comment (tell us in the comments which cover you voted for and why), you’ll be automatically entered to win a copy of the book when it’s released.
First, here’s the summary of the novel:
With the nation moving toward Civil War, James Turner, a charming, impulsive writer and lecturer, Charlotte, his down-to-earth bride, and Henry Cabot, an idealistic Harvard-educated abolitionist are drawn together in a social experiment deep in the Missouri Ozarks.
Inspired by utopian dreams of building a new society, Turner is given a tract of land to found the community of Daybreak. But not everyone involved in the project is a willing partner and being the leader of a farming community out in the middle of nowhere isn’t exactly the life Turner envisioned.
Charlotte, confronted with the hardships of rural life, must mature in a hurry to deal with the challenges of building the community while facing her husband’s betrayals and her growing attraction to Cabot. In turn, Cabot struggles to reconcile his need to leave Daybreak to join the fight against slavery and his desire to stay near the woman he loves.
As the war draws ever closer, the utopians try to remain neutral and friendly to all, but soon find neutrality is not an option. When war finally breaks out, Missouri descends into its uniquely savage brand of conflict in which guerrilla bands terrorize the countryside while Federal troops control the cities, and in which neither side offers or expects quarter. Ultimately, each member of Daybreak must take a stand—both in their political and personal lives.
Remember, these are concepts–not finished covers. Let us know what you like and why, what would make you pick the book up, turn it over and read the back cover or thumb through the pages, and what would make you pass it by.
To see a larger version of the covers, click the cover.
And…now you can pre-order your copy of SLANT OF LIGHT and have it delivered to you as soon as the books are available:
The idea of developing a cooperative relationship among a group of writers and artists/designers and then publishing the group’s work (ala Hogarth Press) has intrigued me for a long time. (See earlier posts or check out our musings on the TWC page.) As the ebook phenomenon continues to develop and more [...]
The idea of developing a cooperative relationship among a group of writers and artists/designers and then publishing the group’s work (ala Hogarth Press) has intrigued me for a long time. (See earlier posts or check out our musings on the TWC page.) As the ebook phenomenon continues to develop and more publishers, agents, and editors jump into the self-publishing fray to try to get a piece of the self-publishing dollars, my thinking on the cooperative idea has continued to evolve. What we’re focused on now is the idea of an imprint that forges a middle road between traditional and self-publishing. In other words, an imprint that would publish authors who, like traditionally-published authors understand the importance of professional editors, designers, and marketers working as a team on their behalf, but who also want the advantages of self-publishing by having a yes/no say in the title and cover design, by getting a larger piece of the revenue pie, and by getting their book to market faster.
The Treehouse model, so named because a treehouse is emblematic as a refuge for the imagination, is, as I envision it, a middle way that will make sense to a lot of authors. (At least, it makes sense to me.) First, let’s consider the advantages for an author:
- A professional editor will work with you to make sure your book is as good as it can be while at the same time giving you final say over editorial decisions.
- A professional designer will work with you to create a cover that is both arresting and true to your vision and over which you have final yes/no control.
- Your book is “curated,” that is it is vetted and ushered through the publication process by professionals. Not all books are ready for prime time and the Treehouse crew will make sure each Treehouse author’s work is at its best before it goes “to print.”
- Your work will be published under an independent imprint.
- You have the Treehouse team on your side when it comes to advocating for and promoting your book.
- You do not have to wait a year to 18 months for your book to be published.
- You split the revenue 50-50 from each book sold–from the first book sold.
Now, let’s look at the disadvantages:
- You do not get an advance.
- But the truth is advances, even at the big houses, are getting smaller and many small publishers are paying very small advances, if any, on the front end while not raising royalty rates on the back end.
- Not only do you not get an advance, but you have to pay to invest in the upfront time/costs of editorial review, layout, design and e-book conversion.
- But the bottom line is that you pay either way.
- If you pay an editor to get your manuscript in shape so you can attract an agent, he or she will then shop it to an editor at a publishing house which then takes the cost of their own editorial/design/marketing, etc. out of the post-publication revenue stream. So in that case, you’ve paid twice. Remember, publishers are not in the business to publish your book for free–we have to make money (ideally) or at least cover our costs.
- Or, if you are doing self-publishing right, you will hire a professional editor and designer anyway, and you will have to spend the time converting your book or pay someone else to do it for you. Why not have a team work with you through the whole path-to-publication process and then keep that team engaged as your partners on your promotional/marketing efforts as well?
Treehouse Publishing, as I see it, gives authors the best of both worlds. How do you see it? What are the advantages and disadvantages of our proposed Treehouse curated publishing model? If you’re an author querying your manuscript now or considering self-publishing, I’d especially like to know what you think. Climb up into the Treehouse with us and let us know what you see for the future of publishing.
I added our presenter’s notes to the slideshow Jason Makansi used at the recent St. Louis Publishers’ Association meeting. The meeting’s focus was public speaking and how authors can use events to promote their work. Let us know if you have comments/ideas/suggestions on the presentation or gives us your ideas for ways authors can use [...]
I added our presenter’s notes to the slideshow Jason Makansi used at the recent St. Louis Publishers’ Association meeting. The meeting’s focus was public speaking and how authors can use events to promote their work. Let us know if you have comments/ideas/suggestions on the presentation or gives us your ideas for ways authors can use events to engage their readers.
I recently received an invitation to speak about public speaking and book promotions at the St. Louis Publishers Association monthly meeting. Since I’m in Florida helping to get ready for my niece’s wedding, one of my partners (Jason Makansi, my hubby) is doing the presentation for me. As a former magazine editor, [...]
I recently received an invitation to speak about public speaking and book promotions at the St. Louis Publishers Association monthly meeting. Since I’m in Florida helping to get ready for my niece’s wedding, one of my partners (Jason Makansi, my hubby) is doing the presentation for me. As a former magazine editor, journalist, and consultant, he has spoken to thousands of people in hundreds of venues over the years. I put together the ppt slides and he’s putting his own spin on the talk. After the event is over, we’ll post a link to the slides here.
In the meantime, the whole process got me thinking about what it takes to be an effective speaker. And, while I was thinking about that, I was reminded of some of the most effective presentations I’ve seen. So, I tooled on over to TED talks and spent way too much of my time this morning re-watching a couple of my favorites. If you haven’t watched any of these dynamic presentations, I highly recommend it. You will learn something new and fascinating about an idea “worth spreading” and you will see top notch presenters in action.
So…one thing I’m not is a web guru. Even though I’ve been designing and hosting websites for about 10 years now, I continually amaze myself at how many dumb mistakes I can make…like accidentally taking down our old site before our new one was live.
I hope you’ll have patience and visit our new [...]
So…one thing I’m not is a web guru. Even though I’ve been designing and hosting websites for about 10 years now, I continually amaze myself at how many dumb mistakes I can make…like accidentally taking down our old site before our new one was live.
I hope you’ll have patience and visit our new site as soon as it is ready. In the meantime, we’ll use our blog for updates and communications.
See ya soon.
So…lately I’ve been thinking about publishing. About the business of publishing. We’ve put out two wonderful (and very different) debut novels and we’re getting ready to sign one more. But we have a very restrictive form of publishing with Blank Slate Press and I think we’re limited in what we can do with BSP’s regional [...]
So…lately I’ve been thinking about publishing. About the business of publishing. We’ve put out two wonderful (and very different) debut novels and we’re getting ready to sign one more. But we have a very restrictive form of publishing with Blank Slate Press and I think we’re limited in what we can do with BSP’s regional focus.
In the NYTimes a couple of weeks ago, there was a piece about artists and the studio model where assistants do all the art….where pieces can sell for a gazillion dollars even when the “artist” didn’t even touch them. This is the same model that James Patterson uses…he has an idea for a book and puts his minions to work writing the actual book. The infamous James Frey is doing a similar type of thing with his studio.
I think that is inherently disingenuous…but, if no one really cares and the books and the art is still selling, then obviously the people buying the work don’t really care. The brand name is all that matters and it connotes a certain style or art or a certain style of writing.
Also, in the visual art world, there is the artists’ cooperative. Where artists band together to rent space together and show together but whose work is very different.
And in the film world, there is (was) United Artists which was founded by four film stars. Granted, I (and nobody I know) am not a film or a literary star, but the concept is the same. And because technology is breaking down barriers to publishing, the only thing that remains in the way of getting a well-written book out there is the system of gate-keepers called agents. Some agents are already responding to changes in publishing by starting their own e-imprints. But this is beside the point because you still have to jump through all the hoops to get the agent in the first place.
In the professional world, doctors, dentists, and lawyers get together to form limited liability partnerships (basically cooperatives) where partners own the company and split profits according to ownership percentages.
So, back to publishing. On the one hand there are the thousands of people who are taking advantage of Kindle/Nook/Smashwords to self-publish. Some of these writers are putting out high quality work and are having great success – including the now famous Amanda Hocking and John Locke, who were never traditionally published before they self-published. On the other hand, established authors (J.A.Konrath stands out) have turned to self-publishing (often starting with their backlist of books that never got published) after success with a traditional publisher. Now, Amazon has started its own publishing house with imprints for literary fiction, romance, mystery…all the established rules are in flux.
What I’m interested in is the idea of an author’s cooperative like an artist’s cooperative/professional limited liability partnership. I’m interested in charting a middle course between a publishing house and self-publishing. Where a group of authors gets together to curate each other’s work. Where an author can come to the group with a manuscript, have the group vet the writing and decide whether or not the author “fits” into the sensibility of the group, and then have two or three other authors help edit the work and get it in shape for publishing and then put it out there under the moniker of the single publishing house brand. When an author joins he or she invests a certain amount of money and then when the author has a title that is ready to go, so to speak, funds will be allocated to cover the cost of the book production (proofreading, cover art, printing/mailing ARCS, etc.) and then an agreed upon split of the proceeds will return to the author and to the cooperative/publishing house to support marketing efforts to promote the brand/house. There must be a consensus between the author and the author/editors as to when the book is “done” and ready for release.
It’s an author-owned and controlled publishing house. While there are/would be still lots of kinks to be thought through, I think it is an intriguing idea. What do you think?