Today’s session was filled with talk about how the relationship between the author and the publisher and the reader has changed radically. Mathew Stadler opened the day with a talk about changing the role of the publisher, towards a small publishers who refuse to participate in the shell game that is book sales: no more returns. Instead, he looked towards a model where the publisher sells just a copy or two to a book store and the publisher gets paid upfront. He wasn’t sure if he was going to make that work, but it was his hope to try and break the old paradigm. He also quoted Epstine in saying that “a publisher’s job is to supply the necessary readings for democracy.” As such, Stadler looks to the small publisher to remove the hierarchy and control and create a more flexible and democratic publishing. In a more practical vein, he suggested that if you take an advance you should know how that will help your publisher’s plans. Avoid the shell game and, instead, make books for readers. Taking the advance just perpetuates the ambiguities between the wasteful system, and actual valid engagement with readers. While some of Stadler’s ideas are politically motivated his ideas are interesting and do suggest a different business model for the publisher – bookstore relationship, which, ultimately, will affect the writer and reader. Only time will show if Stadler’s experiments will work.
The rest of the sessions I attended were focused on how to do the marketing work yourself even if you have some sort of book contract. It is a real mix of things you have to do, everything from having and online presence (check) to determining who you want to send galleys to, what bookstores to target, and just about everything that a publicist for a publisher would have done. It is a little annoying since you should be writing, although it wasn’t something I didn’t already know.
At one moment when a freelance editor was talking and I misunderstood him when he said you need lots of dialogue in your fiction, I had a moment of complete disappointment. What is the point if you have to fit in a formula. Turns out he was not talking about literary fiction, but, still, it was one of those moments when I don’t like thinking about writing and all the silly conventions and rules people come up with when describing what will sell.
Tomorrow more of the marketing then I can return to what actually matters.
After work I headed over to the Richard Hugo House’s writer’s conference. The conference is focused on marketing and selling your work in both traditional and non traditional media. Tonight’s session was a round table discussion by Alan Rinzler, Barbara Sjoholm, and Jeff Vandermeer. Sjoholm read a history of publishing, while interesting, it was not particularly revealing. Alan Rinzler talked next and he covered the same ground he did a few months ago and you can read my review here. Rinzler is part cheerleader, part realist and his talks always leave you feeling that you can do it with a bit of luck. Vandermeer’s talk was the most interesting because he talked about mixing social media into your publishing platform. Naturally, he noted that it is the correct mix of social media and writing that makes one able to finish a book. If you are not careful you will end up doing too much social media. He is an interesting case because he talks with his readers via his blog about what he is doing and that feeds back into his writing. I don’t know if I’d ever like to do that, but it is an interesting approach. I think he is right in noting that starting authors should be careful about doing too much social media because it only becomes chatter and gets lost amongst the noise. Ultimately, though, most of what they talked about was the oddities of the publishing business (book returns, etc), and the need to make yourself stand out, both in your work and the ways you talk to your readers.
I did a little reading (2 pages to be exact) of a story called Hostages last night at the Hugo House. There was an interesting collection of readers. One woman read a poem that didn’t really seem like a poem, but what was interesting was when she sang parts of it. It was a welcome change from some of the slow talking symbolists. At the opposite spectrum was the Mexican American comedian who gave us 5 minutes of funny stand up. He had great delivery and sure knows how to wait for the laughs. The reading series actually tends to always have a couple of really interesting presenters.
According to the Hugo House’s website they will be hosting a conference focusing on how one finds readers. This is a nice change to see, because while the Hugo House is a good resource (I am a member and read there occasionally) they typically only offer classes and if you are not interested in classes their program isn’t of much use.Looking forward to see if it will be interesting.
On the weekend of May 21-23, Richard Hugo House will be hosting its first writers’ conference. The topic will be: Finding Your Readers in the 21st Century.
Our focus will be on exploring the changing literary landscape and the options available to writers for getting their work out in the world and into the hands of readers. While we will certainly look at traditional publishing models, what we’re really interested in is showcasing new possibilities that writers in our community may not be aware of, from the traditional to the off-the-wall. We’ll look at ways writers can promote themselves and their work directly to their readers, and offer hands on practical workshops on basic tools of the writing business from creating a pre-pub platform to building your own website.
Registration for Finding Your Readers in the 21st Century will open on April 5 for Hugo House members and April 12 for the general public.
I went over to the Hugo House to read part of a short story today. It went well and I got a laugh where I wanted one and I think there was some genuine interest in the story, although it is hard to tell from the bright lights.
It was a much more interesting event this month, partly because prose outweighed poetry. And the prose was actually quite good. One fellow read his Sadris influenced Christmas story about Rudolph in NY and another had a witty story about a drug dealing friend of his. All in all it was a nice change from poetry, although, five minutes is never enough time for prose.
It has been years since I’ve gotten around to reading something in public. Usually, readings are either poetry centric, which makes sense since it is a short format and you can get a lot of people cycling through the stage and you don’t have to concentrate too long on any one thing. Or the reading feels like some sort of comedy fest. Again, poetry lends it self to this. Even if you write 3000 word, 5 minutes translates to a fourth of a story. If I had fifteen minutes…well you do the math.
I did decide after reading for five minutes, getting a few laughs were they were expected, that the real role of these readings is not to air out your latest piece, which I’m not so sure really matters without feedback (this is Seattle so there’s none of that), but to practice acting out the readings. Back before TV and perhaps a little too much seriousness, even great authors like Dickens would give dramatic readings of their works. Too few do that now. But if you are not writing a novel of ideas, why not. At least it will be entertaining. We will see how that works out in practice next month.