Part 2 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. Part 1 is here.
That was Then, This is Now
Two years ago, there were no official RWA workshops on self-publishing. Amazon was present, but in an explanatory, defensive mode. There were, however, stealth workshops. By which I mean, writers agreed to meet at the bar at a certain time and talk about this self-publishing thing some people were doing. Last year, there might have been a couple official workshops. This year, there was a self-publishing track. I went to as many of them as I could.
There’s been a lot of grumbling about RWA with respect to policies about self-publishing (SP), and some of those grumblers had a point. My feeling is that RWA can’t react too quickly–they need at least SOME time to make sure their policies are in the best interest of a writer seeking a career as a professional. Vanity publishing (where authors pay to publish) have been more or less the opposite of being in the best interests of a writer. There’s a lot about SP that can look just like Vanity Publishing.
By 2012, the evidence that SP can be in an author’s professional career interest was overwhelming. And RWA DID allow SP authors to join PAN (the Published Author’s Network). I’m not totally on board with the income thresholds they set, but at least it’s permitted now. SP authors have not been permitted in the RITAs and they’ve also been excluded from the Golden Heart contest. An unfair double whammy. As of 2014 (next year’s contest) SP published works can be entered in the RITAs. This is beyond right.
So, RWA is adapting to the new world. If you’re a member, continue to make your voice heard.
The Long Arm Of the Law and the IRS
I did attend a few workshops that were not self-publishing related. I was shocked there weren’t more writers in attendance at the workshop about legal matters for writers. One of the speakers is a lawyer who does this work.
Are you a professional writer? Do you know how the provisions of the Copyright Act affect you and what steps you need to take to make sure your intellectual property is fully and legally protected? Do you have a CPA? Do you know the rules about what you can and can’t deduct? Should you be a corporation?
I see far too many writers asking legal and tax questions on email loops and I always wonder if they really think it’s wise to take legal and tax advice from writers instead of legal and tax professionals. While other authors can certainly share what they do, there’s just no way for someone to know if that person is right and, if so, if that’s also right for them.
One of the workshops I attended was the middle portion of a talk given by a man who’d been in Special Forces for many, many years. He had equipment there for us to look at and examine. For the record, body armor is thick and freaking heavy. So glad I went!
The Librarian workshop was informative. I was taken aback (but in hindsight should not have been) to see how excited they were that Smashwords is going to be working with Overdrive. They were giddy. I’m not kidding. Giddy. This tells you a lot about how badly publishers have been treating libraries.
Fortunately, I have another avenue to Overdrive and I won’t be stuck with libraries getting the Smashwords version of my files. I’ll be able to get a much better file to them. But at least now it’s possible.
A Dangerous State of Denial
I went to a workshop panel about using free digital content to support print sales. I saw that some of the speakers were editors from traditional publishers. The others were that publisher’s publicist, and two authors. I was quite interested to hear what they had to say since it’s well known that free sells books. Even publishers know this, though they’ll often deny it.
Publishers are in a dangerous state of denial with respect to how to support authors. They’re business as usual in a business that’s being disintermediated.
Let me see if I can capture my reaction to what I heard:
I came away from this panel appalled by either of the possibilities;
- They actually believed what they were saying or
- They knew it was BS and were saying it anyway.
Here’s some of the highlights — some paraphrasing.
I have never given away free content. (an author)
Blog posts, tweets, and facebook posts are free digital content. (author)
Countdown widgets are really effective, but we only do them for big releases because if all the books have these widgets, the effect is diluted. (publicist)
Writing about anything (that isn’t the book) is free digital content. You can draw in readers that way. (author)
We want to be careful that your message to readers fits your brand and matches the message we’re establishing for you, so check with us. (publisher and publicist in response to a question about writing a novella featuring a gay secondary character from the writer’s novel.)
Links! If you have links to, say, recipes, put them on your website! (author)
This last was followed up by a question about whether to put the links on the home page or somewhere else on the author’s website. The answer? Don’t put them in a sidebar. No one looks at a sidebar.
Did anyone mention that a home page is almost NEVER a visitor’s entry point to a website?
Did anyone mention populating the website metadata tags to make your page-O-links findable by search engines?
Did anyone mention giving away free books ever?
Other than the author who has never given away free digital books, No.
Did any of the editors say anything about what THEY can do with free content to support an author’s book?
Are you effing kidding me?