Well, here I went again. After swearing off writers’ conferences, I’m at another one, the Southern California Writers conference in Newport Beach. This is quite different from the Writers League of Texas (WLOT) Agents Conference I attended this summer in Austin, as the focus here is a wealth of workshops about writing, not about literary agents. This conference has some strong presenters, both from the sales side (agents), the editorial side (editors) and the self-published and published authors’ side, although not all presenters were as strong as others.
The main message I got from the WLOT conference was you need an editor, and a good one, not just someone who checks for typos. You need the kind of editor you would have if a big-six publishing house decided to publish your book. This is because editors at publishing houses do not have the time they once did to edit your novel. Even a famous editor for Viking Press at the WLOT conference said writers should have their books edited by developmental editors and copy editors prior to submitting.
This same theme continues at the LA Writers’ Conference. In fact, one workshop was titled, “Premature E-Publishing,” a play on words for the absolute glut of fiction that is being posted on Amazon. Bad fiction or, rather, fiction that should have had a strong editor, is glutting the market to the point buyers are becoming wary. So if you are going to DIY and self-publish, you need a stronger editor than you think to cut through the clutter.
All that is fine and dandy if you want to spend $1,500 to $4,000 or so, but it begs the question, “Will publishing now be the privilege of the well-off?”
“There are more people making money off writers today than writers making money,” is the lament here in L.A. Then again, I attended a workshop led by romance author Laura Taylor, who professed to know nothing about social media until 14 months ago when she re-published her romance novels under her own name on Amazon. Since then, there have been 450,000 downloads of her work. So, somebody’s making money, and I think I should look into writing romance novels!
Hey, Writer, How Much $$$ Do You Have to Spend?
There are many different services to DYI authors, from book cover design to e-book formatting, and what are called “micro-presses” that do everything for you. You give them your manuscript, they do everything that’s needed, and bingo, you are a published author but with a publishers’ imprint. This differs from self-publishing or “vanity presses” only if the books are distributed by authorized book distributors like Ingram. This enables you to get your books into libraries and bookstores (what bookstores?)
My friend Cindy Stone, author of Mason’s Daughter, and her partner Laura Chavez are forming a micropress called Violet Crown Publishers, although it is my understanding they will not print and distribute books but offer services for DIY writers. More to come on that. One of the stigmas of being an “indie” writer is that you are self-published, so having a publishers’ imprint gives writers a leg up in being reviewed in the media.
Things Are “Still Shaking Out”
Sally Van Haitsma, a literary agent who sells books to traditional publishing (legacy) houses, says the industry continues in major flux and things are “still shaking out” and will do so over the next few years. Sally said that major houses are now looking at e-books in the same way they used to think of mass paperback versions of their hardcover novels.
Sally says that the sheer quantity of e-books out there is the major hurdle for any “indie” author. She mentioned that the New York Times now lists best-selling e-books, and the largest percentage are published by major houses, not by independents. Again, the sheer glut of e-books makes it difficult for authors to sell their work.
Sally encourages all writers to understand that e-book readers no longer turn pages and lanquish over the prose. They want books that are quick and easy to read on a variety of devices, from computers to Kindles to smart phones. This doesn’t bode well for my novel To Leave A Memory, because (sigh) it’s literary fiction, a genre that lies in the vast black-hole of about 80,000 novels on Amazon.
Author Bridget Hoida presented a workshop on Straddling the Line — Micro-presses. After bailing out of a major publishing-house deal in disputes over the book cover, she used a micro-press to print 500 copies of her debut novel So L.A.. She has spent the last year of her life hustling books to media, reviewers, bookstores, book clubs and online. In spite of rave reviews in California media, she has made a whopping $4,000 for all her effort, but money doesn’t seem her object, since her husband is an attorney.
Again, this begs the question, “Will only the financially secure be able to be published authors?”
Who Buys Books?
In a Women’s Fiction workshop we talked about what we already knew. Most of the books, in fact 62% of books in this country are bought by women. Women’s fiction is a very broad term for fiction either about women or about issues of interest to women. The presenter was Janis Thomas, author of Something New, a debut novel published by Berkley Books. Her workshop focus was on the trials and tribulations of the female protagonist, and my next novel is going to have one. Writing for women is where the market lies.
Between workshops, I’m editing To Leave a Memory. It’s off to another agent this week. Wish me luck.