Doris Booth, founder and agent with the Authorlink Literary Group and Authorlink.com, presented a workshop at the DFW Writers Conference, May 2, 2009 entitled:
Navigating the Changing Book Industry
— an insider’s view of what writers should know
Doris Booth has been an agent for over 13 years. She actively follows the changes occurring in the publishing industry as new technology and marketing methods change the traditional business model. Below are my highlights from her presentation (with occasional editorial comment). It is by no means a transcript of the presentation. I tried to capture the most salient points she made and those that I thought of interest to other writers. I will say I went expecting little and left enormously impressed by Booth’s savvy understanding of the significant shifts taking place in the industry and the impact on authors.
Today’s Publishing Trends
- Lower or no advances. Few writers are making a living from it (I believe she meant novel and non-fiction book writing).
- Contracts now include all digital rights
- Look for publisher/author partnerships with 50/50 deals on profits
- Ebook royalties are now 25% of net, resulting in payments to authers the same as 6-8% of hardcover
- Few titles are being published by fewer publishers in the traditional model, thus increasing competition in the traditional publishing market
Booth sees opportunities in the “Net Cloud” as she calls it. She wasn’t certain of where and how these opportunities will come but was certain that the shift is toward the internet. She pointed out that Barnes & Noble has bought Fictionwise (an ebook publisher and distributor). She also noted that Amazon, Google and Barnes & Noble are duking it out for dominance.
[editorial note: Booth seemed to think Google was trying to get into book publishing. Google has always stated that their purpose was to make knowledge and information readily available with a simple search and their business model has consistenly been advertising revenues. I believe Booth is seeing Google as the bogey man when the real threat to authors is Amazon with is rapidly moving to a complete vertical integration of book production and distribution. But more on that when I report on Maya Reynold’s excellent workshop.]
Booth believes authors should want an agent with broader perspectives; that agents are going to become managers and you should want an agent who looks at the full picture, to go beyond just pitching a manuscript to a traditional publisher.
Booth believes that “the cream is going to rise to the top.”
Booth Recommends Writers Wanting to Sell a Manuscript Should:
- write energetic titles with broad appeal and ask ‘How can I appeal to young people?’ (keeping in mind the growth of the 18-24 year old market)
- think in terms of a niche markets
[editorial note: Booth understand the basic concept of the niche or Long Tail market. She is unfamiliar with fan fiction and the entire fan culture with its long tradition of word-of-mouth networking]
- mostly speak to today’s issues
- write in short snippets
Booth noted that James Patterson is now doing this as his model
- think in self-contained scenes and chapters
- ask yourself ‘how likable is your subject matter?’
Book Marketing Trends Today
- Frequent updating, even in some fiction
- Competitive pricing and positioning
Google average is $4.99 for ebooks
- Maintain excellent writing and production values
- Compel the reader to immerse him or herself in your story and world
- Know your audience in-depth
Book Publishers Today
Traditional publishers have redefined themselves; the book is merely the core of the packaging. New models are being tried. Corporates sponsors and product placement is growing. Ford sponsored a series of micro-thrillers last year. [editorial note: it’s like corporate sponsors for early TV shows].
The primary issues for authors are finding the audience and distribution. Authors need to be cognizant of their market. Do you want to use the internet as marketing tool, publishing tool or combination of both? Authors must have a marketing plan.
Ask yourself what can you offer for free to get to selling a product! [editorial note: this is the question of current marketing no matter what the product] What can you give away to engage your audience? Several thriller authors offer snippets, others are looking at related short stories.
Authors Must Build An Audience
Locate and engage your audience. Engage your audience in thoughtful conversation. Get positive votes for your work through social media. You need lots of eyeballs reading your work. The size of a potential audience will interest and agent or publisher. [editorial note: Later I’ll write a report on a session where a young man explained how he got a book contract before he had even completed the manuscript, let alone submitted it, due to the number of Twitter followers he acquired in a 9 month period] Authors need to network, share and connect to build a platform for those eyeballs. You must be known for something (to be successful). [editorial note: I discuss this a lot in my entrepreneur and small business presentations. It is called “establishing authority” and doesn’t have to be traditional authority. Jennifer Crusie has established authority as a screwball romantic comedy writer. I’m planning to move my writing site to a new home and focus on marketing for writers. Keep an eye out for the announcement later this summer.]
Collaborate with other writers. For example, participating in the Creative Writers Network. [editorial note: For those in the Seattle area, check out Hugo House and no matter where you are, there’s a NaNoWriMo group nearby] Authorlink is a membership site where authors share information and support. Authorlink has an average 40,000 unique visitors per month with guest interviews such as Christopher Moore.
Promote your listing and track your work and web presence in news stories with PR and news sites like Yahoo! News and PRWire ($195/year membership fee).
Compartmentalize and schedule time for social media marketing and other online marketing.
Look at Storyplace and Amazon’s Kindle to see the future — downloadable and accessible. Check out eBookmall which allows non-traditionally published writers to publish and take a commission. [editorial note: Booth apparently didn’t know about e-junkie which has done the same thing for years and is very popular with non-fiction ebook authors. e-junkie also offers affiliate sales and programs which is a great way for authors to get their fans to help promote them.]
Google, btw, reads and indexes Booksurge (print-on-demand publishers now owned by Amazon) and Createspace (also now owned by Amazon; anyone starting to see the problem here?) will handle distribution of creative work. Other self-publishing options include lulu, Rodale and Chronicle Books. Production quality is key in self-publishing. The end product needs to look good and professional.
Booth recommends working on-screena and getting very comfortable communicating via the net, particularly with smartphones. She anticipates writers will need to start working online, including using online software for writing.
I was very impressed by Doris Booth, both her knoweldge of the industry and her awareness of the changing environment for writers. I was somewhat concerned that the majority of the audience was older and definitely resistant to change.