I just spent 4 incredible days having my head filled with tips at the San Francisco Writers Conference. Amongst all the great advice from generous speakers were some nuggets and takeaways which surprised me. Here are my top seven:
- Many authors are completely unprepared to tell you about their book in 30 seconds. They either shy away from discussing it at all, or they give you the entire synopsis. I admit, my elevator pitch could use some polish, too… I can give a nice 5-second overview, but the next 25 are a little awkward 😉
- Traditional publishers are really spooked by Amazon. One New York editor barely needed prompting to snarl “Six of my friends got fired (because of Amazon). None of us are getting raises.” Meanwhile, Mark Coker of Smashwords is understandably no fan of Amazon’s exclusive KDP Select program, pointing out that when Amazon is the last retailer standing, the 70% royalty which authors currently enjoy will shrink fast. As a first-time author who would be nowhere without the Amazon ‘also-bought’ algorithm, I already know I’m contributing to a dangerous trend, but I can’t deny the boost which KDP Select has brought me.
- People still assume self-publishing is what you do when you can’t get a book deal. Maybe I was naive to attend a conference heavily geared towards pitching to agents and not expect this. But, at this 500+ gathering, most writers were still hoping for a traditional book deal. I’m sad they weren’t more aware of the potential benefits of self-publishing, especially at a conference so close to innovation-rich Silicon Valley.
- Apparently, many self-published books bring dismal financial returns, and speakers from the world of traditional publishing seem almost to relish this. Quotes included “Most self-published books make less than $250 in their lifetime.” Statistically, that might be true, but it still surprised me. And I’m living proof: write a decent book, work a little at promotion, and you’ll far exceed that. Truly.
- There is a middle-ground. Yes, I’m self-published and proud of it. But having chosen that path willingly, it’s natural to wonder what would have happened if I had sought a relationship with a publisher. During a conversation with Lisa O’Hara (Omnific Publishing), who was incredibly gracious with her time and answers, I learned that an unagented relationship with a smaller publisher can provide a nice balance of time-to-market and author involvement in the book’s final form. Omnific specialises in fiction with a strong romantic element (rather than the traditional, narrow definition of romance) and if your novel is nearing completion, I’d suggest you check out their guidelines as a third potential path to publication.
- It may not be worth doing a print edition of your book if you’re an indie author. While my work isn’t pure romance, I can tell from my own sales that readers prefer this type of book in electronic form. And with some avid readers getting through a romance book a day, it’s easy to understand why a lower price point and no bookshelf clutter would appeal.
- And, just for fun: did you know that agents see a huge surge in submissions in December? Some eager writers finish their NaNoWriMo effort on November 30th and submit it immediately after. I think we can all see why that’s a bad idea. But suffice to say, if you’ve laboured for years on your debut novel, you might want to avoid December for sending it to an agent for consideration.
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