2012: Best of Times for Writers, or the Worst?

One thing that happens when you go to a writing conference is you end up spending a lot of time with writers. Many kinds of writers. And that can be very instructive.

There were several hundred writers in attendance at the San Francisco Writers Conference, which ended yesterday. Throughout the four days there were writing workshops, keynote addresses, “ask the pro” sessions and a lot of panels and presentations about options in self-publishing.

Although most of the sessions were on writing topics, the incredible popularity and explosive growth of self-publishing, both with new and already-established writers is the obvious rationale for presenting this material. And there were some people who were clearly interested in pursuing the self-publishing option.

Slogan of the Day

In almost every presentation, somewhere along the line I heard, “It’s the best time to be a writer.”

And why not? Armed with only a laptop and an imagination, a writer today can create her own publishing story, gather fans, learn to market her books, and start to make real money though book sales if she keeps at it and has good skills.

In many of these self-publishing presentations there were stories told of authors who had followed this same path and arrived at the promised land, where agents and editors are calling you with six- and seven-figure offers.

Just before the big panel I was part of on Saturday morning, I read in Publishers Weekly about the latest, Brittany Geragotelis, who used the reader community Wattpad to accumulate over 16 million reads of her work, attracting a six-figure contract from Simon & Schuster.

The Dark Side: Still There

It was also interesting that many writers had never considered self-publishing. On the last day of the conference there was a big, two-hour panel discussion on “The Great Adventure: Joining the Self-Publishing Revolution,” moderated by Carla King (Self-Publishing Bootcamp) and including Mark Coker (Smashwords), Brian Felsen (Bookbaby), Jan Johnson, (Turning Stone) and Jesse Potash, (PubSlush). And me. Pretty good panel, wouldn’t you say?

The room was reduced to half its usual size by dividers, and it was still only about half-full.

Where were all the writers?

They were upstairs, standing in a long, long line that snaked from a room at one end of the hotel, through the lobby and in front of the front desk. Each grasped a sheaf of papers and many looked nervous.

This was the core of their visit to the conference, and maybe the reason a lot of them paid to come to San Francisco: “Speed Dating With Agents.” A chance to sit down and talk face to face to a literary agent is a powerful draw for an unpublished writer.

I thought about some of the writers I know. Many are quite technophobic. Just learning Word is a major accomplishment. I know people who can write prose that will melt your heart, but they never figured out how to attach something to an email.

These writers will never join my training course. They might read the blog because you can get it in your email. The whole thought of “formatting” makes them nervous. They just want to write, and let other people take care of the rest.

I’m not so sure it’s the best of times for these writers. It could be coming into the worst of times. As popular fiction moves to ebooks, publishers try to find an economic model that will survive digitization, and marketing becomes a necessity for the average author, what are non-technical writers to do?

Most of the new self-publishers who are in the news get there through using social media for marketing. Many are bloggers or do blog tours. This is a community in which uploading to Kindle Direct Publishing is about as easy as booking a flight online.

But even in 2012, many writers aren’t there yet, and the dream of landing that contract lives on.

Do you think there will be writers who are pushed aside by the technical requirements of the new era in publishing? Or will there always be publishers to take care of the business end of things for writers who want no part of it?

 

This is a reprint from Joel Friedlander‘s The Book Designer.

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