Brilliant Writing Industries Conference at Martin Hall, Loughborough University on Saturday – I really enjoyed it.
The conference theme was how publishing is changing and ‘new media’ was the buzz phrase. I had never attended a conference quite like this one. I’m used to a lot of ‘how to’ workshops but this conference was aimed at understanding and analysing the publishing industry and where to find a place within it.
I chaired a panel from the Romantic Novelists’ Association – myself, Lynne Connolly and Mary Nichols. Mary is a prolific Mills & Boon historical romance writer and also writes mainstream women’s fiction, presently for Allison & Busby. Her books are released in print all over the world and now, of course, also in ebook format.
Lynne writes historical romance and paranormal erotic romance for Ellora’s Cave, Samhain and other epublishers. Although her books are available in print, too, the main of her sales comes from ebooks. The publishers are American and, as Lynne makes money from her work, ebooks are probably more widely accepted, there. In our audience, only two people said that they read ebooks.
With panellists from two such different areas of romantic fiction, the discussion was wide ranging. Although Mary writes in a traditional area, Lynne at the cutting edge and me, with romantic fiction, kind of in the middle with novels from Choc Lit and ‘how to’ from Accent Press, we had a surprising number of things in common. We write for a living. We all have more than one publisher. We work hard. We place the majority, if not all, our work without help from an agent.
I think we took the audience a little by surprise with our emphasis on getting published for money – bless our commercial little hearts. And, yes, we would still write if we weren’t paid for it. But we’d be submitting for paid publication all the time. Art for art’s sake is lovely as a hobby but doesn’t pay the bills.
I would hate to have to get a proper job and only be able to write evenings and weekends.
Each of the panel members, John Coster, Al Needham, James Walker and Susi O’Neill, are involved in community news collectives in Nottinghamshire or Leicestershire – the Leftlion, Citizen’s Eye, Soar Magazine and Creative Nottingham, in print and online.
It was an entertaining panel and I chose to attend because I didn’t know what community journalism is. I was impressed by the energy and vision each panellist brought to their work but the question that had been burning through me as I listened was voiced by the guy in front of me – a journalist. ‘How do you make money?’ Ah, well. Money didn’t really come into it. They covered their costs. They had grants. They didn’t actually take much out in the way of wages – each of them earns money through day jobs, such as journalism.
I admire their community spirit and altruism.
I fell in love with Lorella for stating stoutly that the end of the print era is not upon us. It’s still the mainstream popular choice of the reader. The book is the starting point, ebooks are ‘just another format’ and have a number of formatting issues to perfect and she can’t see ebooks taking over from paper. Phew! I was beginning to think I was astride a dinosaur. In fact, she said that her agency had a fabulous year last year – although this was partly due to work selling well into translation markets as high street sales in fiction have dropped 7-10% for fiction, more for non-fiction, and serial rights to magazines by as much as 50%. The market for travel writing and coffee table books has slumped.
If you’re sending work to Lorella, you will probably have to try harder than ever before as publishers are concentrating on fewer writers but giving more support. Check out what she represents before sending it to her, do all your research, be market aware and professional. If you’re sending non-fiction your proposal will need to be more comprehensive than previously. She agreed that we do need to adapt to current trends but publishing is by no means all doom.
Alan said that small publishers were finding advantages to the current economic downturn – picking up good writers that larger houses had dropped! Good on you, Alan. He’s a fan of Waterstones and the 3 for 2 deals but mourns the declining number of independent bookshops. Tindal Street publishes literary fiction, a division of general fiction and, emphatically, still gives writers editorial support. Prize listings are important to Tindal Street, as are reviews. Alan suggests that anybody who wants to write for Tindal write the very best book that’s within them, without accommodating market trends, which will have changed by the time that the book is published, anyway.
With so many examples of writers still writing and editors and agents still doing their thing, too, I’m wondering where all the people who predict doom and gloom get their information from … From the dropped writers and the redundant editors, I suppose.
My favourite part of the day was a keynote speech from Graham Joyce. It wasn’t unduly optimistic but Graham is a great speaker and he made me laugh, especially when he pretended to be his dad. Maybe I was meant to take more away from a great speech delivered with individualism but that’s what stuck in my mind.
Oh yes, and that writers, to make a living, should be prepared to not only embrace new media but draw their income streams from many different sources.
So I’m doing something right!