San Francisco Writers Conference 2018: Self-Publishing Summit

So, as promised, I will now begin blogging about the various sessions I attend while at SFWC. The first one I went to was the self-publishing summit. (This was yesterday; sorry for delays in posting, but things move fast a furious during these conferences, and getting away is not always easy.)

This “summit” was a large panel that consisted of: Mark Coker of Smashwords; Robin Cutler of IngramSpark; Helen Sedwick; Andrew Burelson of BetaBooks; Brooke Warner of She Writes Press; Karla Olson of Book Studio; and Angela Bole of IBPA.

Karla Olson pointed out relatively early in the session that she dislikes the term “self-publishing.” She said, “We don’t call it ‘self-rock’ or ‘self-film,’ so why don’t we use ‘indie’ for writing, too?”

From there the session mainly opened to questions. One author who had published with Author House asked why he’d heard they were such a bad company, especially since he was very happy with the results? Helen Sedwick, with her legal savvy, pointed out that the contracts from Author House and Author Solutions and their subsidiaries are simply not very author friendly. Authors have difficulty getting their rights back and don’t own their ISBNs. Mark Coker said the Author House and its ilk overcharge for services and pressure authors to buy more and more expensive marketing packages.

So then the question naturally became: What sets a hybrid publisher apart from a vanity publisher?

Angela Bole noted that IBPA is working to standardize a criteria for hybrid publishers, but the key difference is that a hybrid publisher will still have a submission process and standards for what it published. Vanity presses accept any and all content regardless of how good it is. So long as the author is willing to pay, they’ll print it.

Moderator Carla King pointed out that authors should always own their own ISBNs. Buy them from Bowker, or IngramSpark will also sell you an ISBN that you will own. DON’T take the free ISBN from Amazon/CreateSpace.

If a vendor refuses to use your ISBN, that’s a red flag. Always look at the vendor and its motivations.

Mark Coker said, “Anyone can publish a book, but do they help you sell it?” In other words, their money should come from selling books, not selling services to authors.

The next question that cropped up: What is hybrid publishing?

As co-founder of hybrid press She Writes Press, Brooke Warner responded that hybrid presses usually have a mission of some kind, that they vet the content (that is, there is a submission process), and they offer distribution of some kind that sells to the market.

Not to be confused with the term “hybrid author,” which is an author who has published some books traditionally and some independently. (I’m a hybrid author.)

An author asked which path was best for those who want to control their content.

Mark Coker replied, “The most successful authors on Smashwords are control freaks.”

In truth, if you want control over your work, you probably want to self-publish. But remember that having control means also having full responsibility for marketing and every other aspect of publishing. The wonderful thing about being an author in this day and age is that you can write a book and 100% be sure that it can be published. Maybe not by the publisher you’re hoping for, but there is a path to publishing no matter what—if you want to take that path.

There came a question about BetaBooks. This is a new site that allows authors to see the progress their beta readers are making on their manuscripts, which can help pinpoint engagement. It also helps the authors compile the feedback and act on it. This ultimately allows authors to find fans and build “street teams” for their books.

How to find a publisher or know whether the publisher is any good?

Helen Sedwick said to:

  • look at the books themselves
  • ask authors that have worked with the publisher
  • look at Amazon rankings
  • do your homework and research

Then it was time to address the elephant in the room: What about Amazon?

Mark Coker noted that Amazon is the largest retailer in the world, and authors do need to be on there. However, authors shouldn’t be dependent on Amazon; it shouldn’t be their only revenue stream.

Brook Warner said not to use CreateSpace for your print books because then many bookstores won’t stock your book. (I can second this since I’ve run into this problem myself.)

“Know your endgame,” said Karla Olson. “Know what your goal is and plan accordingly. If all you want is a book on Amazon, that’s fine. But if you want your book in stores, then you have to plan differently.”

Is there still a stigma attached to self- (or indie) publishing?

Brook Warner admitted to how infuriating those notions can be. Though the overall feeling toward indie and hybrid publishing is changing, there are still many associations that will bar self-published authors from membership, many prizes that only consider traditionally published books. Karla Olson said, “Books should be evaluated on their content, not their production method.”

How does an author find readers?

Angela Bole pointed out that marketing is publishing. You can’t just make content available and hope for the best. (Well, you can, but don’t expect to sell any books that way.)

A good publisher will create a plan with you. Distribution is also something you want to look for in a publisher. With 1.5 million books being published every year, discoverability is incredibly difficult.

So there it is, you’re first correspondence course in this year’s writing conference. Questions? Comments? Let’s hear ’em!

Coming Soon: SFWC Coverage

I’ll be attending the San Francisco Writers Conference this coming weekend, and you know what that means: I’ll be posting summaries of the various sessions I attend so that YOU can do a kind of vicarious “correspondence course” of the conference. Tune in and get the latest on the writing and publishing world!

The conference starts on Thursday, and I’ll update whenever I can grab the time. Keep checking back!

InD’Scribe Wrap-Up

On Saturday—the last full day of InD’Scribe—I went and had breakfast with a bunch of amazing authors. I still can’t believe they let me sit with them, and then they even talked to me! The breakfast was hosted by Kathryn Le Veque, and I sat across from Anna Markland and next to Rebecca Forster, and Susan Tisdale was one over on my right . . . There were a lot of others, too, and it was great fun.

Still not a ton of traffic from readers in the author room, but I was very excited when a school librarian, on the search for YA titles for her library, stopped and bought a copy of Manifesting Destiny. I hope her students love it! I also had a chance to chat a little with the amazing Anne Perry and get a book signed by her.

I did my second panel, too, with Debra Holland and Elizabeth Essex. That one was about building character and how important well-rounded characters are in books. Someone working for the conference came and took pictures of that panel, but I haven’t been able to find them online yet. Wish I could post one!

Saturday evening were the RONE awards. Two of my new friends—D.B. Sieders and Caroline Warfield—won in their categories! I was so happy for them! Made me think I was living in The K-Pro and bringing a little good luck to people. 😉

Afterwards we ate and danced, but I turned in a bit early because the weekend had exhausted me. I had to say goodbye to many of my new friends who were leaving the next morning, but thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and the like we’ll be able to stay in touch. And hopefully all be back at InD’Scribe next year!

Authors, I can’t say enough good things about this conference. If you can make it there next year (October 12-15), go! It’s such a supportive and welcoming group. These ladies gave me a chance and a voice when no one else would. They didn’t look at me and see a nobody. They saw me as somebody with worth, someone to be encouraged and guided. I found my tribe! The InD’Scribe Tribe!

InD’Scribe So Far…

Having a lovely time in Burbank at the InD’Scribe Author and Reader Conference! Of course, it’s mostly been authors, but we’re hoping now it’s the weekend we’ll see some more readers.

I arrived Thursday afternoon, knowing no one, but have found (like with so many other writers’ conferences) the people to be very friendly and welcoming. Still, there are a lot of us, and one sometimes feels lost in the shuffle. But the first night was the Enchanted Dreamweaver’s Ball, and it was like they’d brought Livian to life! He stood near the entrance, and yes, I tried to kiss him.

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I was all dolled up thanks to Period Images who did my hair and makeup and from whom I rented my Regency gown.

They also had book cover models on hand so that we could take pictures with them. When he said, “Trust me on this one,” and dipped me, I think my swoon was a little too real:

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He has a lot of practice, I guess.

Yesterday I set up my author table, but then they moved me, so I don’t have a picture yet of my “real” setup. Will post later! I also sat on a panel about villains:

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From left: Andy Peloquin, Kathryn Le Veque, Beth Carter, Yours Truly, Arial Burnz

I’m on another panel today and then there’s more time in the author room where I’ve been making great friends. Check out Caroline Warfield, with whom I’ve had some great chats, and if you like Manifesting Destiny give D.B. Sieders a try with her mermaid books. (Though, to be clear, her books are not YA.)

And don’t forget! Two of my Sherlock Holmes stories are free this weekend, and The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller is only 99 cents on Amazon! Click here to go to my Amazon page and grab some goodies!

IWSG: Ready or Not…

InsecureWritersSupportGroupTomorrow I fly off for my first ever conference as a guest author rather than a mere attendee. (Not to slam being an attendee. I’ve been one many times over and love that, too.) I’m excited and nervous and… Yeah, insecure. Not so much about the panels because I think those will be fun. But about being alone, hanging out. Sort of like the first day at a new school. What if everyone ignores me and I have no one to talk to? And then there’s anxiety about the author table. What if no one buys any of my books and I’m just sitting there with a rictus smile on my face the whole time? But ready or not, I’m going in. Sign up for my newsletter (on the sidebar) to find out how it goes!

IWSG Question of the Month: How do you know when your story is ready?

I just know.

Sure, first I get feedback and make revisions. Nothing springs forth perfectly formed. If you think your writing is perfect the moment you put it on the page, then I’m sorry, but you’re probably not a very good writer. In fact, I’d say nothing is perfect even once published. There’s always room for improvement. So you have to look at the returns and decide when the amount of effort in revising is no longer less than or equal to the gains to be made. That is to say, the gains should always be more than or equal to the effort.

But even with this equation in the back of my mind, the truth is, I just know when it’s done. Ready. Or, perhaps more accurately, I know when there’s still something not quite right. I may not know what the problem is, but I’ll set the piece aside and work on something else while my subconscious runs a subroutine to figure it out. Sometimes my critique and beta readers can help me zero in, sometimes not. I rely to an extent on my gut instinct here. That’s part of being a writer, too, I think. Instinct. Knowing when to take someone’s advice and when not to, knowing when keep tinkering and when not. Don’t strive for perfection. You’ll make yourself crazy if you do and may never finish anything. Only aim to tell the best story you can, the best you know how. And remember that the more you do it, the better you’ll know how for the next story.

Read other IWSG posts and join by adding yourself to the list here.

Reminder

AmandaLanglinaisPepperAdBase You’ll be able to see me—in person—this coming weekend at InD’Scribe Conference in Burbank. I’ll be on panels talking about villains and character-themed stories (just as soon as I figure out what that means, I can tell you what I think of them). I’ll also be at the Dreamweaver’s Ball and the RONE Awards as well as some author-reader luncheons and brunches and such. And if all else fails, come find me in the signing room! You may be lucky enough to meet the boys, too:

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They’re semi-retired but will be traveling with me. Come say hello!

Pre-Conference Jitters

I’m now just over a month away from InD’Scribe. I’ve printed out a personal agenda for the conference, which runs Thursday through Sunday. I’ve rented my gown for the Enchanted Dreamweaver’s Ball:

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And made my hair and make-up appointments for said ball as well. Yes, I do feel a bit like Cinderella! This is my first conference as a guest author. I’ll be on two panels and also have an author table in the signing room. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking and has been giving me stress dreams!

I’m learning a lot just from the pre-planning. I have one book in print to bring, and Evernight Teen has assured me I’ll have print copies of Manifesting Destiny in time too. Phew! I’m also very grateful that the conference organizers have found a bookseller to handle the sales end for the authors. This means I won’t need to bring a cash box and change, etc. It takes a load of work off.

But there’s still a lot to do! Besides being pretty for the ball (and the readers), I must be sure I have everything I need for my author table. So in addition to my agenda I’ve created a checklist. Some of it I can happily mark as done. Bookmarks and business cards? Check. Clipboard with sign-up sheet for my newsletter? Check. Still need to go pick up a table covering, and I need to create some tabletop signage. I’ve also been advised to have a water bottle handy. And I’m still trying to figure out what else, if anything, I might need. Don’t want the table to be too bare, right? A bowl of candy has been suggested. What else? Is there anything that would draw you to a particular table in a room full of authors?

Turns out attending a conference is expensive as either an attendee or a guest author. It’s just expensive in different ways. I promise to share everything I learn after the fact as well—what worked, what didn’t. Now if I can just get a better night’s sleep . . .

WDC16 #13

Lucky number 13 is also the last post in this conference series. And 13 corresponds to the Death card in Tarot. Coincidence?

My final Writer’s Digest session was How to Build an Audience and a Business With Your Writing with poet Robert Lee Brewer as the presenter. Of all the sessions I attended, it was probably not the best one to go out on. I think everyone was tired and yet also keyed up in that way that comes with feeling desperate to have your questions answered before it’s too late. And so I think Mr. Brewer made a mistake when he said people could ask questions as he went along. Because what quickly happened was the questions hijacked the session. And so I feel I missed out on a lot of information that Brewer never had time to present.

Here, then, is the little bit I did manage to glean.

Hearing the same advice over and over is a good thing, said Brewer, because it means that thing—whatever advice it is—is working for more than one person. Which means it’s more likely to also work for you. (Makes me think of the coupon codes online and how they’ll tell you how many people successfully used the code. Right?)

Brewer also noted we shouldn’t be worried about how fast we build our audience. Instead, it’s important to do it right. Like building something brick by brick. You want a solid foundation, not shoddy workmanship.

He encouraged us to set both short- and long-term goals, and to evaluate every couple months where we are in the process. Make plans, he said. Don’t just sit and hope it happens.

In advance of a release, try to increase your visibility by publishing shorter pieces on various sites. People are more likely to click through to buy a book if they already recognize your name from somewhere else. Plus, publishing in new places means you’re hitting new eyes and reaching new readers.

And yes, you need a website, whether you have a book out or not. At the very least, said Brewer, buy your domain name. (Meanwhile, I tried to link to his sites for this piece but they haven’t been updated since 2014 so…)

Someone asked about naming their site after their book title. Brewer said it’s fine to want a separate site for just the book (if you can keep up with more than one site), but you want to build your author brand, not just a readership for one book. So it’s best to have things under your author name. (So why is this site PepperWords instead of MPepperLanglinais? Because no one can spell Langlinais. I wanted something people could spell and find easily.)

That was about the extent of things. People were asking about which web hosts to use and how to get business cards and so on. I’m sure it’s all valuable information, but I had mentally checked out at that point. When you begin to hear the same voices asking the same questions each session . . . One woman asked in almost every session I attended, “What if you don’t have Twitter or Facebook and don’t want to get them?” I don’t know if she was looking for different answers or a consensus or just the answer she wanted to hear, but sigh. (The answer seemed to be, btw, to only do the things you think you’ll keep up with. Don’t have social media accounts just to have them or else you’ll look lackluster to potential agents and publishers.)

After that, I went back to my room, gathered my things, and checked out of the hotel. I caught a cab to JFK—and my cab driver got pulled over for being on his cell phone! But the police were very nice to me and we were on our way again before long. And when I got to the airport I had the good fortune to be flagged as TSA Pre-check, which meant I got through security quickly and didn’t have to remove my shoes.

Overall, this conference seemed to emphasize getting a publicist (if only!) and not being that jerk on Twitter who only ever tweets “buy my book!” over and over again without truly engaging with others. It also seems that, to make yourself more marketable, you should publish over other sites. Agents and publishers are looking for people with a track record, or at least a footprint—a good one, not trolls or people who badmouth other authors, agents, etc. If they can’t find you online it’s not the end of the world, but they’re more excited by people who have some kind of presence, something they can work with and build on rather than having to start from scratch.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this summary of info from the Writer’s Digest Conference 2016. I like to be able to bring the conference to you. In this day and age, you may think you can get all the info you need about publishing from the web and various marketing books, but if you’re a writer I encourage you to attend conferences when you can. Good ones, that is. Conferences offer a chance to meet other writers, and often agents and editors as well, and they enliven the spirit. So many times I’ve felt alone as a writer, I’ve lost morale or just motivation, and a conference is like a booster shot. It gets me excited again about the work. I make new friends. I get to immerse myself in the industry, and the art, for a couple days. I love it. And I hope one day to see you at one with me!

WDC16 #12

I didn’t take notes during David Baldacci’s keynote. It was lively and fun, mostly a collection of anecdotes designed to remind us to persevere when rejected and do write for the love of it, and from a place of passion rather than because we’re going to be millionaires if we just hit the trends right. Then there was a cocktail reception, and I and a couple other ladies I’d met went out for Japanese ramen at just the best place.

So that was Saturday. On Sunday I was flying home, but I still had time for a couple more sessions before I needed to check out of the hotel and grab a cab to JFK. The first session I attended was Creating Book Buzz on a Shoestring Budget by Kristen Harnisch. She is a hybrid author, the term in this instance being used to say she is published by She Writes in the U.S. but by traditional publishers overseas.

Harnisch’s first rule: Before you publish, be sure your book is well written, edited, and has a fabulous cover. Seems pretty straight forward, doesn’t it? But I get the sense a lot of people rush to publish after finishing just a draft. They want to be done. It’s a marathon, writing, not a sprint. The draft is just the first leg.¬†Getting feedback, revising, and editing are all part of the race.

And we all know covers sell books. We say not to judge a book by its cover, but we all do. Remember what the Princeton study said? One-tenth of a second. We form our first impressions that fast, at that first impression comes from the cover of a book, not the flap or the first line.

Harnisch then said you need to consider (and do) a few things:

  • What’s unique about your book? You should know what makes it different from the rest of the genre.
  • Set goals for your book, have a budget and a timeframe for publicizing.
  • Decide whether you want and/or can afford a publicist.
  • Create a tip sheet, press kit, and press release.
  • Leverage your contacts. All of them, no matter how seemingly small.
  • Grow opportunities with libraries, book clubs, schools and colleges.
  • Pitch ideas to blogs, magazines, newspapers, conferences.
  • Market authentically to connect with readers in a lasting way.
  • Use social media to reach more readers.

So what’s unique about your book? What characters, settings, or themes does it use? Did you do any special research? Are you drawing from life experience? Use this information to develop presentations and blog posts.

As for goals, of course you need to be realistic. How many books do you want to sell in a year? (My goal is to sell 2 books per day, or about 700 in a year. I’m staying modest for now.) Keep in mind that 90% of traditionally published authors do not earn out their advances.

Have a budget for your marketing. Set some money aside and remember there are costs for mailing things, traveling to events, and professional author photos. After the big push, you may still want to allot a monthly sum to ongoing promo efforts.

Harnisch says to start promotions 4-6 months before your publication date.

Now, do you need a publicist? I felt like at this conference everyone was basically telling me the answer to that question is “yes,” but alas, I can’t afford it! Guess I’m fated to languish. Harnisch noted that publicists can develop your press kit, send out galleys and ARCs, arrange blog tours and online coverage, set up events, pitch to media outlets so you get more attention, and consult for social media—basically take a bunch of stuff off the author’s plate. But she also noted it can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 (or more!) for a 6-month campaign.

If you’re setting up a signing or event, Harnisch recommends asking the bookstore or venue for suggestions on where to send the press release. And she also encourages you to create a one-sheet for promotion as well.

What about leveraging your contacts? Harnisch notes people are usually excited to be able to say they know a real-life author. (I feel like this is less impressive now that pretty much anyone can publish a book, but okay.) She says to:

  • Be specific about what you need from your friends, family, and support group
  • Seek opportunities where you shop, worship, eat, work out, get your hair done, etc.
  • Look for themed clubs that might be related to your book
  • Rotary clubs might have speaking opportunities
  • Tap fellow authors for interviews and guest posts (blog swaps)
  • Join the mailing lists for various organizations and get involved—you may get ideas for events and venues this way, too
  • Cross market with another person or organization—Harnisch’s book is about vintners so she cross marketed with a winery

Where can you find opportunities?

  • Libraries—you won’t get sales but you will get word of mouth
  • Book clubs—remember you can Skype or FaceTime with clubs that are farther away
  • Your schools and alma maters, or your kids’ schools if appropriate
  • Have friends host events
  • Set up a booth at fairs and festivals, and donate for silent auctions

Harnisch went on to suggest you enter writing contests and do Goodreads giveaways (before the book is released). She reminded us that it’s a slow and steady process, that you see results over time not all at once (usually). Which goes back to the marathon metaphor. Even once the book is out, you’re not done running. And on top of launching one book, we’re told to keep producing. So now you’re running two races at once! Bottom line: writing is hard work. Gone are the days of being only a writer. We must be marketers too now. No sense fighting or bemoaning it, however. Deep breaths. Pace yourself.