Post RWA Post – The State of Publishing

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.

Walking Away

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.


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9 Responses to “Post RWA Post – The State of Publishing”

  1. Pamela Aares says:

    Carolyn, you rock! Thanks for putting this together for those of us who couldn’t attend RWA. Welcome home!

  2. Sue London says:

    Thanks for the update. Hopefully I can go to next year’s RWA. Who knows what will have changed by then.

    When I decided to go the self-publishing route I had the hardest time convincing my husband that if you do the homework it’s pretty obvious that there are a lot of advantages over the traditional route.

    Viva la revolucion!

  3. Great blog, Carolyn, especially since I didn’t make it this year. I just walked away from New York (and a six figure contract) after 24 years to start my own publishing house. We launched with four titles last month and it’s been a real joy so far!

    • Oh my GOSH! Teresa Medeiros!! ::fan girl moment::

      You did a very smart, savvy thing. Authors like you are extremely well positioned for this brave new world. Thank you for stopping by to comment!

  4. Deb Maher says:

    Thanks and a huge “ditto” to your insightful post, Carolyn. I attended NYC in 2011 and Atlanta this year. The difference between the two conferences was staggering. I went to NYC hoping to learn more about indie publishing but only heard whisperings in halls and restrooms. Good talks with friends, and some decent craft workshops, but that was about it.

    Two years later, Atlanta had a whole track of workshops on self-publishing, and those workshops were packed. Standing room only in some, and little of that. Self-pubbed authors Courtney Milan, Barbara Freethy, Liliana Hart, and others were there to freely share their advice and encouragement. The mood was electric.

    Revolution? Yeah, that pretty much covers it. To repeat Sue London’s words above – Viva la revolucion!

  5. Thanks so much for the posts Carolyn!
    Revolution is a very apt word for this year’s conference. As a new writer, my first RWA conference was last year (thanks in part to it being in my back yard, LA) and I committed to going again this year.

    I’m so glad I did, because last year I gathered from workshops and publisher comments that I NEEDED to sign with traditional publishers- or at the least with a small press. I nearly signed with a small press in the fall but got cold feet and took the leap to self publish, based on some of what I had learned at RWA12.

    With RWA13, my choice in self pubbing was reinforced thanks to the major increase in Self Publishing workshops, and even an Indie Book signing (Had I known about that I would have brought my books and signed up early!). The Self pub workshops were amazing- and the energy in the room- Power to the Author! is all I can say!

    But the general feeling I got was that Self published was no longer the ugly redheaded step-child. I met (and fangirled over) Mark Coker, I talked with self pubbed authors who were happy and writing because they COULD- not because of a dire commitment to a contract- and even more telling- the Spotlights I went to had editors asking EAGERLY for submissions.

    Just last year the Spotlight vibe had been “This is what we’re looking for and if you fit the bill, we’ll consider you.” This year it was “We want you. We really want you. We need X,Y.Z. Hit us up. Here’s my email. I want this!”
    Where did I find the least enthusiasm about submissions? Harlequin and Avon sessions. Perhaps only in this new New Adult category did everyone seem ravenous, but it was clear this year (especially with the buzz over Self pubs now eligible for RITAs for next year) Self Publishing is continuing to grow and flourish.

    I still went to my appointments with editor/agent. Regardless of self pubbing my first novel in June of this year, I still wish to be represented by an agent for perhaps other works that could make the traditional route. But the feeling this year was so so different from last year- for me personally as well as in the folks pitching in general.

    Last year there was a frenzy to jump on any open appointment- this year there were several openings and I almost felt bad when they moderators practically begged to fill an appointment while I waited. Someone finally said, “What the hell, I’ll go.”
    I, myself, felt differently pitching. I went in with more of an “What can you do for me” rather than the “Oh please please say you’ll ask for the first three chapters!” This wasn’t vanity on my part, but an honest question I asked across the table. I want to offer this story, what can you do with it. And I was not alone.

    It’ll be interesting to see what next year brings.