Table of Contents
- When We Hunkered Down in Frankfurt
- A Keen New Development From the Frankfurt CONTEC Panel
- That “Sprint” Word and Book-Writing Projects
- Not What Traditional Publishing Advised: A Hybrid Author’s View
- Last Gas: Jumping Genres and Prancing Pen Names
Everyone seems to agree that attendance was down just a bit at Frankfurt Book Fair last week.
I didn’t miss anybody. It looked to me as if we had everybody we could possibly need and a good 100,000 or so extra to fill in if necessary.
Michael Cader reports in Attendance Slides At the Still-Giant Frankfurt Book Fair at Publishers Lunch that the three days of trade people’s attendance—Wednesday, Thursday, Friday—are reported to have seen 142,921 souls in the carpeted booths and pavilions of the huge show.
They certainly walked slowly in the aisles. Those of us covering the festivities apparently were up by 17% this year. We were the ones saying, “Excuse me,” a lot. Because getting to one’s next assignment in time to cover this presentation or that onstage interview could be challenging when so many lines seemed to dead end at the coffee counter of Café Blue or Café Red.
— ljndawson (@ljndawson) October 8, 2013
You know you’re a trade-show regular when the major publishers’ pavilions look familiar to you. I still want to get up the stairs to that round second level on the Hachette pavilion—might be a nice view.
Late on Friday, I had an engaging conversation with Dorothea Grimberg, the show’s Sales Manager English-Language World, about how these great business events are grappling with the rise of self-publishing and the new, still-evolving position of entrepreneurial authors in the industry. It can be hard, of course, for independent authors, especially our many newcomers, to take into account the fact that the major trade shows in publishing were created at a time when the industry was different: publishers’ chances to advertise their coming lists to buyers and agents’ chances to work out deals were the main engines of the realm.
London Book Fair (LBF) so far is leading the way in incorporating the authors’ corps. Having made a good start this year with its Author Lounge, the word now is that an “Author HQ” will be a key feature in 2014 (April 8-10). LBF sees authors accounting for almost 10 percent of its attendance at Earls Court, the organizers tell me.
Officials at BookExpo America (BEA) also have been in touch, and I’m impressed with how seriously they’re working to incorporate the industry’s new class of authors who function as small business people. That show, in New York, is set for May 29-31.
Granted, there are still many seasoned observers who aren’t ready to declare self-publishing the major force it’s thought by others to be.
The agent Piers Blofeld in London, for example, got into The FutureBook’s blogs on Friday with Of snake oil and self-publishing. He called attention to Publishing Perspectives Editor-in-Chief Edward Nawotka’s editorial Publishing’s Civil Wars in which Nawotka wrote:
In recent years, another frontline has developed, where the fighting has grown more intense every year: legacy publishers vs. self-publishers. Self-publishers, or if you prefer, indie publishers, are increasingly vocal about their ability to earn a better living, have a closer engagement with readers, and deliver a better publishing experience by bypassing traditional publishers altogether. The established publishers, on the other hand, may not have even known they were in a fight. But if they didn’t, they do now: this year at Frankfurt, self-publishing is becoming a greater and greater part in the discussions (see: CONTEC).
Blofeld pays some credit to the magnitude of the movement: “No doubt the change is a big one–and I do think that publishers (and agents) have not reacted to it with the urgency they might.” But he bases his skepticism of the trend on the cost to authors of self-publishing. Referring to a writers’ conference event in which £5000 was named as what self-publishing a book well might cost, he writes:
The consensus also was that what that £5000 bought you was, probably, a total of 350 sales. 200 of which you would probably have had anyway just from family, friends and the wider network.
One of the difficulties in self-publishing work at this point in its development in the industry is that it doesn’t always seem to tidy-up in nice P&L charts as standard business efforts do. Certainly, Blofeld is right that at this point many if not most of those self-publishing may not be seeing a return on their investments.
But one of the clues to what may be going on came early in our special two-hour CONTEC 2013 Conference session on self-publishing on October 8 in Frankfurt. Our purposely large panel featured Amazon’s Jon Fine; Kobo’s Michael Tamblyn; Curtis Brown’s Jonny Geller; author Hugh Howey of the Silo Saga; Nelson Literary’s Kristin Nelson; Books on Demand’s Dr. Florian Geuppert; journalist and author Matthias Matting; Leanpub’s Peter Armstrong; and Pubslush’s Amanda Barbara. We were aided by input from Sam Missingham of The FutureBook, Len Vlahos of BISG and others who joined us. I had asked Geuppert of the Hamburg-based Books on Demand to give us some of the highlights of his study of authors and their interest in self-publishing in seven countries of Europe. Here’s some of what he said, from my tape:
We have surveyed 1,800 of our 25,0000 authors in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and Scandinavia… About one-third of the authors we surveyed made a conscious choice against traditional publishing…We can identify three big groups. The first is the hobby authors. Then there are professional writers. And then there are the experts, who use self-publishing to share their expertise—being a coach, being a scientist, being a business person.
Tip: Take the stodgiest, oldest, slowest moving industry you can find. And build amazing software for it. — Aaron Levie (@levie) October 9, 2013
Listen to what Geuppert found when he asked his authors about their motivations for self-publishing. They may not be what Blofeld assumes is the goal for most writers.
All of them across the groups said their reasons for self-publishing are first, creative freedom and control over their rights and content; second, it’s the ease of the process; third, it’s basically fun…and the desire to self-publish is even higher among professional writers.
Not money. While Blofeld is searching, as he writes, for ways of making money for my authors—and this is correct for an agent, this is his job—the authors looking at self-publishing may not be driven by the same impetus.
And while Blofeld and many folks I’ve heard recently on the topic seem to want to play down the sheer breadth of what’s occurring in self-publishing, Michael Cader in another write based on Bowker’s new numbers (see Writing on the Ether (+Bowker): Turning Corners on Self-Publishing and Amazon?), notes what I’ve said so many times that others can recite it with me:
The Bowker counts do not include the vast pool — an unspecified hundreds of thousands of titles — that do not carry ISBNs at all: KDP and Nook Press titles that have no print companions, for starters, and others.
In short, particularly when major retailers decline to share numbers with us and when tracking identifiers aren’t applied to a great many works, it’s unwise to underestimate the scope of this apparent groundswell of interest in self-publishing. Not that I think Blofeld means to underestimate it. I just wonder if he may, with all good intentions, be doing so.
— Suzanne Kavanagh (@sashers) October 14, 2013
This is one vital, rambunctious worldwide conversation right now.
One of the more troublesome elements for self-publishers so far has been the difficulty of print vs. ebook distribution. True to the “digital disruption’s” name, it’s been far easier to get out an ebook than a print book, even with POD (print on demand) services such as the very advanced ones provided by Geuppert’s Books on Demand.
And among the many good comments that Amazon’s Jon Fine brought to the panel in Frankfurt, his thoughts on this aspect of where self-publishers are going were apt.
Hopefully the service providers—and I include everybody in that—will make it as easy as possible for people to get both print and digital. And, frankly, audio. And translations. That’s really what you want to drive for. To me, it’s exciting and intelligent on the part of authors to want to go both routes [print and digital].
So, have read a few articles post-Frankfurt. Do we really think subscription models were the big talking point? #fbm13
— Sam Missingham (@samatlounge) October 14, 2013
Fine went on to lay out a fundamental element of the challenge for self-publishing authors that even many of them might not yet see. For that matter, their traditionally published brothers and sisters may not be clear on this yet. But I believe he has put his finger on the actual struggle to come. And it’s not self- vs. traditional publishing. Fine said:
In a world where you have so much competing for your attention—movies, music, video games, the whole nine yards—to make it as easy as possible for people to get to books, both buying them and then accessing them after they buy them, is huge. It’s absolutely essential as we move forward.
I’m going to be bringing you more of the Frankfurt CONTEC session later this week and in other articles. It was a rich, rewarding discussion written up for VQR, in case you didn’t see it, by Jane Friedman in Is Self-Publishing the Most Important Transformation in the Publishing Industry?
But for now, note that Fine has just called a truce, of sorts.
The battle is not between self- and traditional publishers. It’s between books and the rest of the entertainment array, most of it digitally powered long before books were.
It may be time we all got back on one team and started facing outward—at the real competition.
— Grober Unfug (@GroberComics) October 14, 2013
Matthias Matting, journalist and author in Munich, who joined us on October 8 in our town-hall style panel on self-publishing has just let me know that he is putting out a book very shortly, something that may signal a new move in the international movement toward self-publishing. Matting has provided me with an early look at How To Publish in Germany.
His book is devised expressly for non-German authors interested in producing material in one of the fastest-growing ebook markets in Europe and the world.
The book includes a discussion of the market with some helpful facts and figures. (“Two-thirds of German women have bought at least one book in the last year while 52 percent of men have.”) It also has a list of ebook stores and distributors, a discussion of cover art and what might fly in Germany that might not, say, in the States. I found this edifying:
On German covers, the author’s name is usually much smaller than the book’s title. Do you need a new cover? In most cases your old one will do, maybe with some minor changes to the text. If your book was a success in your home market, you can definitely say that on the cover. If you are a successful author in your home country, talk about your success.
Legal requirements, translation, marketing strategies, they’re part of the discussion here, too. We’ll have more as Matting’s book is released. For now, this is an interesting move: a self-publishing author in one country is creating a guide for other countries’ self-publishing authors to enter his nation’s market. If you have not believed that a global community of authors is forming, you might want to reconsider soon. Back to Table of Contents
My report from the Frankfurt Book Fair floor for Publishing Perspectives and the Friday edition of our Show Daily, While You Were in Frankfurt: Sprint Beyond the Book, is well worth returning to here for several reasons.
Most important, they did it. In 72 hours, the Arizona State University-based team prototyping a new Intel publishing platform created an anthology of essays on a series of questions about the future of books, reading, publishing, editing, authors, the works… all within the three days of Buchmesse.
The project is being spearheaded by Ed Finn, who heads ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination. As I told him, it would have been nice to have The Book pop out of a huge pneumatic tube at the end. They never ask me about the special effects, you notice that?
In fact, I think they were all pretty glad to see what they did deliver come together as well as it did, and congratulations to all of them, next time the pneumatics. You now can see their series of writings on their Sprint Beyond the Book project page.
The aforementioned Jane Friedman was a member of the blue-ribbon group hand-picked by Finn to travel to Frankfurt and contribute to the book.
I’m hoping to have a look at the work produced by this interesting mix of folks later in the week.
Meawhile, there’s a special distinction I need to draw for you here between this project and another, long-running program (six years and counting) relative to books and “sprinting.” Had I not been surrounded by those 142,921 slow-walking visitors on the three trade days on which the #beyondthebook project was sprinting, I’d have thought to clarify this for you in the first article.
Book Sprints, led by Berlin’s Adam Hyde, is an intriguing “methodology for rapid collaborative book production.” To date, more than 70 book-generating sessions have been conducted by the operation. I’ve been aware of this program since Hyde presented it very well at last year’s Books in Browsers Conference.
The good news is that he’s coming back this year to the conference (October 24-26, see our mighty Conferences listings below), and will give a talk titled — ready? — “The Death of the Reader.”
Hyde is referring to the fact that the more readers influence the narrative of books, the more they are “actively blurring the distinction between author and reader.” I’m looking forward to his paper on the subject, and I’ll be hashing live coverage of it and the rest of the conference at #BiB13. Hyde’s talk is set for 12:30 p.m. PST / 9:30 a.m. ET / 1330 GMT on October 24.
The normal time-span for a Book Spring in Hyde’s formulation is three to five days and it involves a facilitator leading a group through the process from start to finish. Hyde reminds me this week, in fact, that there’s a second project, Book Sprints for ICT Research funded by the European Commission and looking at how the Book Sprint process might be applied to the production of academic articles. A report is due in mid-2014 on this arm of the project, and I hope Hyde will share it with us.
Day 2 of being held hostage without Frankfurt luggage. I’m looking at you, AirFrance
— Don Linn (@DonLinn) October 14, 2013
All this bookish sprinting is made possible by Booktype, a software Hyde created for Book Sprint, in something like the way the Intel prototype supported the ASU-based project at Book Fair.
As it happens, the first iteration of the Book Sprints for ICT project in Mata Pequena, Portugal, overlapped by a day or two with the brief duration of the Sprint Beyond the Book project at Frankfurt Book Fair?
So how different can two fast-development collaborative writing projects look?
It it’s Sunday and 6 AM and I’m awake, it must be jetlag….
— Ginger Clark (@Ginger_Clark) October 13, 2013
The effect self-publishing had in revitalizing the later (traditionally published) books in the series was absolutely amazing, the best thing I’ve done in years.
That’s British author Zoë Sharp, whose popular series of books include those featuring an investigator named Charlie Fox. In a video podcast with author-coach Joanna Penn (Penn advises and teaches other authors), Sharp talks about a genre-agnostic quality to self-publishing that means a lot to writers who, like her, have been told in legacy publishing that variety is not the spice of success.
It’s enabled me to looking at going into other genres, which I was unable to do in the past because I was discouraged from doing it. I was told, ‘You’re a crime author, therefore you must write crime.’
Particularly by using short works—Kindle Singles, for example—Sharp says she’s seeing benefits from self-publishing that she couldn’t achieve in strictly traditional publishing. “I put together a short-story ‘e-thology'” about the Charlie Fox character, Sharp tells Penn, to drive traffic to her main series.
“That did remarkably well in drawing new interest.”
So she then put out each of the short stories in that collection separately for readers who want the shorter-form read over the anthology. And is all this activity in self-publishing more difficult than it’s worth? Hardly, says Sharp:
It’s tough, but then publishing is tough. Somebody told me years ago you think when you get your book accepted that it’s like winning the lottery. Instead, all you’ve won is a ticket to another lottery.
— Jonny Geller (@JonnyGeller) October 14, 2013
If you have a publishing conference in the offing, let me know about it via my contact page, and I’ll be happy to consider including it in my site’s listing and in columns as I have the chance. Here’s a look at conferences coming in the near term. Please note that a listing here is not my endorsement of a conference or other event, but an informational inclusion. As a service, I also list any discount codes that might be of use to readers.
October 24-26, San Francisco: Books in Browsers: Produced by the Frankfurt Academy and Hypothes.is, this is among the most advanced of conferences dedicated to bringing designer and code savvy into contact with editorial and content leaders, Books in Browsers is produced for a fourth time by Peter Brantley in generous association with the Internet Archive and Swissnex San Francisco, produced and sponsored by Hypothes.is and Frankfurt Book Fair. Speakers include Kate Pullinger, Baldur Bjarnason, Bill McCoy, Justo Hidalgo, Richard Nash, and more. (Hashtag: #bib13) General registration now is open.
October 25-27, Surrey, British Columbia: Surrey International Writers Conference: “The Surrey International Writers’ Conference, held every October in British Columbia, is the most comprehensive conference of its kind in Canada. SiWC offers writers in all genres — from beginners to experts — the opportunity both to hone their craft and to expose their work to the international literary marketplace. Now open for registration.
November 4, London: The Writing Platform Mini-Fair and Conference: The Writing Platform returns to London’s Rich Mix for a daylong second annual event featuring discussion, practical workshops, a short story competition and a chance to win a Kobo Aura thanks to the involvement of sponsor Kobo Writing Life. Led by author and Bath Spa University professor Kate Pullinger, the day’s full program of panels and seminars is here (PDF) and features speakers including Polly Courtney, Philip Hensher, Anna Lewis, Suw Charman-Anderson, and many more. For tickets, use the Rich Mix box office site.
November 13-14, Online: Get Read – Marketing Strategies for Writers: Dan Blank’s We Grow Media presents this two-day Internet conference for authors, “focused on helping you ensure your books get read.” Speakers are to include Jason Ashlock, Claire Cook, Elizabeth S. Craig, Jane Friedman, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Ami Greko, Rachel Fershleiser, Richard Nash, MJ Rose, Therese Walsh, Chuck Wendig, and more. (Hashtag: #GetRead)
November 21, London: The Bookseller FutureBook Conference: Once again at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, the conference is industry-focused and usually includes both plenary and breakout sessions during the course of the day. Details as they bec ome available. (Hashtag: #fbook13) Now open for bookings.
February 13-16, 2014: San Francisco Writers Conference: “Attendees have access to more than fifty “how to” sessions, panels, and workshops. An Independent Editor consultation and Ask a Pro are included in the registration fee. Our famously popular Speed Dating for Agents is still only $50 to pitch to a room full of agents. And you will find there are plenty of one-on-one opportunities to pitch your work to well-known publishing professionals during the weekend. The Conference features large and small traditional publishing houses, but also gives attendees the latest e-publishing, social media, and self-publishing information.” Back to Table of Contents
— holger volland (@holgervolland) October 13, 2013
Psst: Want to drive Frankfurt wild? Just keep mixing those genres. Among the many things the traditional industry isn’t easily ready for is border skirmishes around those hard frontiers it has worked so many decades to codify as sales categories.
Blurring the lines isn’t even that recent a trend, of course. After all, James Scott Bell writes not only instructional how-to’s for other writers but also suspense, historical romance, and, under the pen name K. Bennett, zombie legal thrillers.
Maybe it’s the level of disruption on so many sides of the industry! the industry! now that seems to weigh down the fun of Everett Jones’ Customizing Genre at Publishers Weekly’s (PW) PWxyz blog series. Jones, PW’s assistant reviews editor, writes:
Lately authors and publishers have been mixing together seemingly incompatible genres -Amish vampires in space, anyone? – with an accelerating degree of exuberance and abandon.
His examples include Livia J. Washburn’s Killer on a Hot Tin Roof, one of Kensington Books’ “Literary Tour mystery series” in which “tour guide/sleuth Delilah Dickinson” somehow gets herself repeatedly near “crimes that occur during tours of places associated with famous American Southern writers.”
And Jones’ write was prompted by a PWxyz post a few days earlier from Publishers Weekly reviews editor Rose Fox: Her Triple Combo! offered little commentary (what can you say, after all?) about such offerings as Someone to Cuttle—that’s cuttlefish shape-shifting erotica, thank you—and Amish Vampires in Space by Kerry Nietz from Marcher Lord Press, which produces Christian fantasy and science fiction.
Jones, in his write, mentions both potential sides of genre-mixing:
Working within a genre almost guarantees certain limitations not in play with literary fiction: practically no mystery, for instance, can do without at least one dead body, no matter how soft-hearted the author or intended readership. And not many publishers are likely to accept a whodunit without a solution. In another way, though, working within such constraints offers the author other freedoms. Such as, the freedom to explore whatever material she or he cares to, without feeling the need to assert its universality or deeper significance.
But I’m guessing that shape-shifting cuttlefish worry less about their image, though, than genre-warping authors whose interests lie in more than one category of the traditional industry’s output. We heard earlier in this edition of the Ether from formerly traditionally published writer Zoë Sharp—now a hybrid author—telling Joanna Penn of the freedom she finds to embrace new genres in self-publishing.
Writer Toby Neal, in Does writing in different genres turn off readers? finds a serious question of salability here that some might think only traditionally published authors worried about:
As a self published author, I’ve seen no problem with writing whatever I feel like and putting it out there—and letting readers decide. However, the recent brouhaha over J.K. Rowling’s leaked identity in writing a book in a very different genre has given me pause. Would readers be better served if I were to create pen names for these other genres? Would it work better for me, too?
This turns out to be a difficult question, perhaps no more easily handled by self-publishers than by traditionally published writers. In The Business Rusch: Pen Names, it gets the kind of extensive airing it deserves, and by a big-time user of “about a dozen” pen names.
The long-experienced, many-named, and much-followed author and blogger Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes:
The question used to be really easy to answer. If you wrote in multiple genres at the same time, you needed a pen name. Now, the answer—like the answer to everything else in publishing— is it depends.
Rusch then parses the issue at length. She looks at professionals in fields that involve confidentiality (medical doctors, attorneys). She considers personal reasons to consider a pen name, such as “you don’t want them to know that you publish that kind of fiction, whatever it might be.” And she explains the complex relationships in traditional publishing between publishers and bookstore buyers, the “ordering to net” practice and genre expectations.
And then, Rusch comes to an interesting point on self-publishing:
Indie writers don’t need pen names. For a while, I thought they did because I’d been raised in traditional publishing with traditional publishing genre expectations. But indie publishing is a whole new game, and you could probably name that game Trust The Reader.
Her conclusion is that the self-publishing author needs to brand carefully so that a reader can tell one genre from another. Keep those cuttlefish in the tank, as it were, because, as she puts it:
You don’t want some ten-year-old downloading your version of Fifty Shades of Grey. So if you’re writing for kids and the most adult of adult fiction, then you will want a pen name.
— YUDU Media (@YUDU) October 7, 2013
But beyond such important considerations of adult vs. children’s material, Rusch writes that she sees readers following their interests by types of story, rather than bylines.
The readers themselves figure out what they want to read. If I were just getting started in the publishing business and I was going indie, I wouldn’t use a pen name at all—unless I personally felt I needed one.
Her bottom line leaves the decisions to the author where they belong, but with more clarity than before:
You need a pen name if you have a profession that requires a degree of confidentiality or you really, really want privacy. You will need a pen name if you decide to stay solely in traditional publishing. And you probably won’t need a pen name if you’re an indie writer. If you’re a hybrid writer—half indie half traditional—then you can maintain that name your traditional publisher wanted you to dump by publishing indie while writing new traditionally published novels under a new name.
To err is human, to typo is divine: Vatican misspells “Jesus” http://t.co/eeSuarmaPt
— Benjamin Samuel (@benasam) October 14, 2013
Porter Anderson (not a pen name) is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, a 32-year journalist with several newspapers and three networks of CNN, as well as a producer posted to the Rome headquarters of the United Nations’ World Food Programme. This column, Ether for Authors, appears here at Publishing Perspectives on Tuesdays. Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is read on Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com, and he is a regular contributor to WriterUnboxed.com. His London on the Ether for The Bookseller was inaugurated during the London Book Fair. More about him is at PorterAnderson.com. Find him at Google+
Main image – At Frankfurt Book Fair 2013, Porter Anderson