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Report: Novelists Inc. Conference 2012: Social Media, Agents, Self-Publishing Success

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Thanks to the threat of Sandy, I came back from the Novelists Inc. Conference in New York two days earlier than originally planned. Thankfully, this still gave me the chance to see many friends and make a number of new ones. I also was able to attend the first two days of panels and roundtables.

The theme this year was “Partnering.” Ninc is an evolving group that not all that long ago was not supportive of self-publishing, but, my, how that has changed. Now authors can qualify for membership based solely on self-publishing income. However, there are still many Ninc members who have not stepped into the indie publishing wave and are still traditionally published only. Trying to fill the needs of both groups makes for a challenging conference.

I’m actually doing reports on two of the roundtables for the Ninc Link and will post those here after they have run there. Today I’ll just give an overview of things I heard and my opinions.

Social Media. There was a lot of talk of social media, the importance of it and being “authentic.” Now I am a big user of social media. I enjoy it and I see results from it, but honestly, I’m a bit over listening to “experts,” many of whom want to sell authors products, tell us that we should dedicate our lives to it. Social media is a tool. If you have time, you should use it. If it takes time away from writing books, you shouldn’t. That simple. I am really afraid authors are letting all the chatter about social media get into their heads. It is so easy to listen to people tell you what you should be doing and feel guilty for not doing it.

So here’s my take on social media. Do what you enjoy and what allows the “real” you to shine. If you have the inclination and money, pay someone (like a virtual assistant) to help you manage your social media presence, but keep both the money you allocate to social media and the time in perspective. Unless you are really making big bucks, don’t spend thousands on this. It won’t pay off. And don’t spend hours a day on it either unless you are a crazy fast writer who can crank out what your readers really want – more books- in very little time.

And most of all do NOT feel guilty for not being on Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and whatever new site some “expert” tells you that you should be on.

Let me repeat. Do NOT feel guilty for this. If you want to feel guilty, feel guilty for not writing or not playing Monopoly with your kids or not throwing the ball for your dog.

Social media is a tool, but it isn’t a key. It will not unlock unbound success for your books. Writing more books will.

Men Fighting behind LaptopAgents. This makes my list of things that came up at Ninc mainly because of one little roundtable titled Agents in a Changing Marketplace. Until this point, the Ninc conference had been a little dull. Because of some fireworks the year before no questions were allowed during any of the panels. (For the record I think this was a major mistake.) But at this roundtable it is probably best that there were no comments or questions from the audience because it might have turned into an all out brawl.

As it was, it was… lively? passionate? heated? AND adversarial. That is probably the word I walked away with, plus disconnect. As in neither group, agents or authors, expected the other group to say what they said. It was like “Wow! You think that?” shocking.

One of these disconnects was on subsidiary rights. Many indie pubbed authors don’t want to sign with a literary agent to sell erights. Many don’t even want to sell print rights. (Mainly because until the recent Bella Andre deal none thought it was a real possibility.) But they would like to sell foreign, audio, etc. and they would like an agent to help them with that.

The answer from the agents varied from “we only do that for a few select clients” to something close to “you are beneath us.” Okay that last is not what was said, but I know a number of authors who walked away with that message, and they were not feeling warm and fuzzy about it. What was REALLY said was that in order for an agent to feel it was worth his or her while to take on just a subsidiary representation the author would have to be having major success in indie publishing. And I mean Amanda Hocking success.

I really think many authors, myself included, walked into the room thinking these agents were there because they might be interested in working with us in some capacity. That, however, was not the message we received. While a number of them have opened epublishing arms and are willing to take on authors who want to pay a 15% cut plus expenses for doing what, in my opinion, authors can do on their own or by hiring out on their own, they were not interested in your average indie author who is “making a living.”

This “making a living” comment was bandied around a bit – in a loving way by the authors, many of whom are for the first time truly making a living off their writing and in a “good for you” unimpressed way from some of the agents. (Not all. For the record Jim McCarthy of Dystel and Goderich was a major outlier who really did seem to get what authors felt and appreciate it. And others on the panel seemed to be just as shocked at how the conversation was going as the audience, but they didn’t speak up to disagree either so I can’t say if they “get” where authors are coming from or not.)

One of the agents even asked if “making a living” was more important than reaching as many readers as possible. This “all streams” thing is something I had heard at other panels from agents/publishers so I think it may be part of their internal dialogues, along the line of “they still need us because without us they can’t reach all streams and that is what is really important.”

Well, shockingly (not, at least to any author in the room), the authors in the panel pretty much across the board said, Uh yeah. We want to make a living. They also listed that the empowerment they feel from self-publishing is a major factor too. And that while they know they can’t reach the numbers indie publishing (for the most part) that they could publishing traditionally, they reach “their” market, the core readers who want their books and not the books someone in publishing thinks they should write.

Yeah, major disconnect. And I have to say this is the part that ticked me off more than any other part of the conversation. I am fine with someone saying I am not worth their time financially. That is business. But to act as if authors should be writing for some higher purpose and not value making a living over those “higher” purpose things grinds on me. Perhaps that is unfair. Perhaps if someone had asked that agent if he would rather “help many authors find their markets” or “make a living” off a few he would have said he’d serve the many, but I REALLY don’t think so.

So, yeah, if you heard about the roundtable, it was a bit ugly and if left a few ugly feelings behind.

¬†Self-Publishing Success. Now to happier times. One particular indie author and her self-publishing success. For the record I am sure this author (who I am not going to name because the roundtables were to some degree supposed to be private and I haven’t received her permission to name her) is in the class of authors who these agents were talking about who would be worth their time to represent in subsidiary deals. However, this author made those deals without them. She did use an agent or agents, but she went directly to the foreign rights agents that the other literary agents deal with. So she cut that first tier out completely. This seemed very smart to me, not only because it must have lowered her fee, but also because we know there are foreign rights deals being made by indie published authors and if a regular literary agency is unwilling to broker those deals, why not skip those agents?

She also did another thing that every publishing professional that I heard speak said could not be done – a print only deal. Now, to be fair, again with her sales we are talking about a much bigger carrot than the majority of authors have to offer, but she did it, it has been done and there is no getting away from that.

Then there were the audio books. This author was majorly upbeat about audio books and the money she has made there. She uses ACX and pays upfront for all costs. Both she and another author said they made back that money quickly and highly recommend going that route rather than the continual commission split.

So, in case you missed it, pretty much all those things publishing professionals told us we needed them for, but probably couldn’t get from them until we had sold millions of copies, or that we couldn’t get no matter what, the above mentioned author has done on her own. (She did have representation on the print deal.)

With all of this said, I left the conference feeling very upbeat. Agents may not want you. They didn’t want many of us before, but now we have options and we can make a living from our writing. That may be quaint to some, but to me it totally kicks ass.

Go forth and write!

 

  1. Great article! Thanks so much for sharing your experience at Ninc this year.

  2. You are welcome!

  3. Thanks, Lori, for a thorough report. It still seems the agents and editors have their heads buried in the sand. They’ll wake one day and find themselves out of a job. Why would they need 1000 agents/editors when there aren’t enough authors to keep 150 of them earning a salary to keep them in the style “they’re used to.”

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