Part 1 of my impression of the state of publishing after attending the RWA National Conference.
RWA is the Romance Writers of America and they have an annual conference for members. This year, it was in Atlanta, Georgia, which is a lovely city. The weather is bad-ass for someone from Northern California. There were at least 3 flash flood warnings. I was happy to get back to Nor Cal and feel the fog. Ahhhh…
About Me Impressions
On a personal level, I LOVE RWA Nationals. It’s one of the rare times I get to hang with people who share my mental quirks. I get to see writers who are on-line friends and I make new friends, too. There’s gossip and rumor and dancing, a trifecta of WIN. I’m pretty sure I saw Jim Hines dancing at the Samhain party after the RITAs. That Samhain party is AWESOME and I want to issue a huge thank you to them for the wonderful entertainment open to everyone.
The Marriott Marquis hotel staff were wonderful, all of them so charming and helpful and just plain friendly. When my luggage did not arrive on the plane with me, the woman at the registration desk got me a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some mouthwash. MUCH appreciated.
Conference Mood: Trouble in Publishing on the Horizon?
In a word: Revolution.
My impression is admittedly only that, an impression. I didn’t see and do everything or see and talk to everyone. I didn’t do as much hanging out in the bar because I was coming down with a cold and, yuck. I needed the rest. That said:
Revolution is not too strong a word for what’s going on in the publishing world. Harlequin authors in particular seemed frustrated and upset. Their current contract terms materially screw them over in this new environment. Many of these authors have deep backlists that earn them very little. More to the point, that backlist is not earning them what they could earn if they were self-publishing it. So many of the authors I talked to or overheard said things along the line of: “I have x number of books to deliver and then I’m done.”
Apparently, 141 Harlequin editor appointments went unfilled. My understanding is that there were other publishers also with unfilled appointments. (At RWA, you can sign up to pitch your book(s) to an agent or editor. In the past, these pitch appointments have been hard to get. They fill up fast and well before the conference.) I know last year (or maybe the year before) when my RITA status gave me a preferred sign up status, I went ahead and took an appointment with a Harlequin editor because I had an idea… Between the sign-up and my appointment time, news hit about certain HQN contract terms that made me decide there was no way I’d ever sign with them (assuming my agent would even be on board with such a project). I kept the appointment because I didn’t want to be rude, but yeah.
Sign On or Don’t Publish?
It used to be that authors had more or less no choice but to accept some flavor of unfavorable contract terms because there was no viable alternative. How badly you were affected by those terms depended on how good your agent was and how well your last book did. But now?
There IS an alternative and it’s better than what publishers are offering. This bears repeating. The alternative is BETTER than what publishers are currently offering. Authors know this. Even if they’re not sure they want to publish on their own, they are aware.
The mid-list is walking. I’m not sure it matters, though. Yet. There are still enough writers looking to break in that I don’t think publishers are in any danger of not being able to find books to publish. Yet. Publishers increasingly look to self-publishers as the new slush pile. The issue here is that the indies who are getting offers from traditional publishers understand how they’re currently making money and they can compare it to how they will make money if they go traditional. For many of them, those terms do not compare favorably.
This really can’t be stressed too much. The typical debut author had no data to compare to what was offered them. All she could do was spend time Googling, talking to other authors and learning as much as possible about the business without being in the business. Now? Indie authors are in the business and they have sales data that’s far more detailed than any traditionally published author has available to them. When a publisher says, “we’ll give you X dollars as an advance and a royalty rate of 25% of net” that author can look at her track record and do some math.
Why say yes when your data says you’ll make more money staying on your own?
Like I said. Revolution.