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Findings from 2011 Writer’s Market: the economy sucks.

I’ve been deeply entrenched in the process of moving, and had an adventure on moving day that is definitely short story-worthy, but slightly before that I received the 2011 edition of the Writer’s Market for my birthday. I have only perused it a couple of times since I took it out of the Amazon box, but two things in particular struck me about what I have seen:

  1. There were a lot more markets last year. Sure, there are a few new ones, but it’s pretty obvious that the shitty economy has hit publications hard, even the ones who don’t pay, which is almost all of them. Which brings me to two…
  2. Some of the markets that were paying last year (as indicated by the $ icon) are not paying this year. The interesting question to ask here is – are they not paying because they can’t afford to, or are they not paying because they don’t have to?

Let’s face it, the editors of these publications know they are not going to be financing anyone’s lifestyle by paying for their work. Sure, your New Yorkers and Atlantic Monthlies are going to keep paying writers because they want the gourmet stuff and because they have the readership and subscriptions to pay for it. But your Northern Oregon Literary Reviews know that writers have options. They can post their stuff for free anywhere. It’s the prestige of being an author published in an actual literary journal that writers are really seeking, not the money. So why pay for it? Here’s a short list of jobs at which you could make more money than poet submitting to literary magazines:

  • Lemonade stand attendant
  • NFL cheerleader
  • 10-year old receiving allowance
  • Street beggar

But the ways writers get noticed and make money is changing fast, and these journals are starting to pay attention, which means some of them are running scared, while others are rising to the challenge. Anyone want to take bets on whether there will be a Writer’s Market in 2021?

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Smashwormazonapple

Lately my RSS feed has been completely overwhelming with information about how the world of publishing is changing for new authors and how the world of traditional publishing and book printing is slowly going the way of the buffalo. So much so, in fact, that I am befuddled by what road I should take in the publishing of my book.

I read about Smashwords some time ago and thought it was the most innovative thing to happen to publishing since the online submission manager. As a geek in my day job and a fan of open source software, I liked Smashwords’ willingness to use open file formats and shun DRM. In a different way, I also respected their position that they would let anyone (yes, anyone) publish using their services, because they believed that good writing has a way of standing on its own and rising to the top. As writers, we always want to let our work speak for itself on the basis of its merit, but end up having to market ourselves as a circle that fits into a square peg. I even liked the founders’ story of how they tried and tried, and failed and failed, to get published the traditional way. And the best thing, Smashwords is free. Pretty cool, huh?

But then the more I looked around, the more I realized it’s not the only service of its kind out there.  There are loads. Now more than ever, authors have a chance to call their own shots instead of hoping for a deal, any deal, even a shitty one, from a traditional publisher. Amazon has its own service for self-publishing, and just last week, even Apple (yes, THE Apple) announced they would be offering similar services. Granted, you have to have a new Mac, an iTunes account, some spare cash laying around for an ISBN, and be okay with having your work laced with DRM; but hey, it’s a service for authors, and you’ve got the giant that is iTunes out there pimping your stuff.

The more I learn about all the different options available to me, the less sure I am of which direction I want to go next:

  1. Do I keep stuffing envelopes and spending a small fortune on postage trying to get a traditional book deal?
  2. Do I give the middle finger to the traditional publishing industry and jump on the new self-e-publishing wave?
  3. Do I strike some kind of middle ground?
  4. Do I follow another direction I haven’t even looked into yet?

I don’t really know. Awhile back when I was writing the post about SASEs, I came across this blog ran by a midlist horror author who has seen a great deal of success being at the forefront of ebook publishing, both through traditional and nontraditional means. His insight has astounded me, and made me wish I had more time to keep up with the changing face of the industry, although with the rate at which things are changing my guess is not even the absence of a full-time job could help me do that (plus, I kind of need my full-time job).

About the only things I know for sure – One, I should probably get an agent. I really need someone whose full time job DOES entail keeping up with industry trends. Two, when hell freezes over and I finally do get someone willing to take a chance on my book, they’ll have to pry my digital rights from my dead fingers. Three, I should write a marketing plan for my book. More and more, authors have the onus of marketing and promotion, and I should probably know how to answer when someone asks me how I plan to help market my work. Besides, I haven’t written a marketing plan since college and the practice couldn’t hurt. I also happen to be friends with the Kansas City area marketer of the year who I can probably rope into helping me. Four, I need to keep editing. My book is never as ready as I think it is.

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Confatigue hits me at SXSW

After an insanely full day, we were more than happy yesterday that the alarm didn’t go off when it was supposed to. Honestly, we were glad it didn’t go off at all. It gave us a chance to recharge in the morning and get some extra, much needed sleep. We finally willed ourselves out of the hotel room and into the rain in time to hit up the 2 pm session. It saw us in the Spotify CEO’s keynote address, which was really cool.

After that for me, it was How to Save Journalism. Citizen journalism is apparently the new hotness. Getting people on the street to share what they’re already doing via blogs and such instead of paying a journalist a salary to write cover stories. The idea of having a model in the US like the UK has with the publicly funded BBC went over with mixed reviews. Let’s face it, everyone wants news and no one wants to pay for it, especially through a pay wall on the newspaper’s website.

The IDEA of payment isn’t the question. I think people are coming around to the idea that the news isn’t free, but the METHOD of payment is what publications are still trying to figure out. There was also great talk about long form news being treated as more of a public service, funded by philanthropists, instead of a conglomerate.

The idea that being small a big asset, and that big papers are trying to find out how to create smaller models was mirrored in the second session I attended, Web-First Publishing: How Alt Weeklies Can Survive. They also spoke about the blending of job duties in today’s environment. Citizens are becoming the journalists, the journalists are becoming the editors, and editors are becoming the web developers. I guess it’s a good thing I can do some basic HTML and CSS.

This was the end of the interactive conference, and if there were three things I would say were impressed on me in every panel I attended, it is this:

  • You have to find a way to involve your community (whether it’s your readers or an actual physical community) in the development of your work. The idea of creating something, pushing it out, and then hoping someone picks it up is over.
  • Technology may be getting bigger, but the models are getting smaller. No one wants to read a 500-word cover story, escpecially on an iPhone.
  • Keep working, and don’t give up. Whether it’s getting that novel published, developing that complex application, and finding that perfect job, keep at it, and your persistence will pay off. But you’ve gotta do the work.

I am coming away from the interactive with lots of great ideas for the future, so stay tuned to be part of it! Music fest starts today.

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An incredibly full day at SXSW

Yesterday, I finally made it to a 9:30 session, and the lack of energy and sparse crowd in the room at the Digitally Rebranding the Republican Party session. Still, I love politics and even though I am not a republican, I do know they need to get with the program, technologically speaking, so it was still good to see.

I then hit up a session called Making Content Relevant To Me, Here And Now. It spoke mostly to making searching for information better, and improving suggestion engines. I learned about a site called Hunch that helps people make decisions based on interesting questions. To keep the political trend, I learned Republicans prefer iceberg lettuce and Democrats like arugula. I’m too poor for arugula, and find iceberg bland, which might give more insight into my political views than I think.

The panel I really came here to see was A Brave New Future for Book Publishing, and it did not disappoint, except that it left a taste in my mouth that publishers are relying heavily on the advent of the iPad and winning the ebook pricing war to solve a lot of their problems. They reiterated some of the problems publishers (especially big ones) are having, since 80% of books that get published never make back the money invested in them.

But I was challenged to think of the book in a different way, by separating the stuff in the book from the book itself, separating the content from the container. Anymore, the book is no longer the mothership for readers; it’s the content. And even the representatives from the big publishers (Macmillan, HarperCollins) admitted they are built for a world that does not exist anymore.

Instead, the publisher is becoming more of a service-oriented model instead of a dry goods manufacturer. This allows the authors to have the connection with the audience (since they are the ones the readers want to hear from). For instance, HarperStudio, the digital wing of HarperCollins, is profit-sharing with its authors.

They asked the question of what the new players in the book publishing game look like compared to the hardback world:

  • The author of the future: engages its audiences and makes the readers part of the writing process, and gets a following and a community in place before engaging the publisher.
  • The publisher of the future: uses multimedia to reach new audiences, like vook.com who includes video books with author interviews and much more, competes with individual writers, and sees themselves as providing a service instead of owning writers and their works.
  • The editor of the future: looks more like a movie director or producer, who does the line-by-line editing second and decides the best vessel and medium for the delivering the work first.
  • The book of the future: may be delivered in any format, for example, the same novel could be delivered as a $1.99 ebook, a $5.99 paperback, and a $23.00 hardcover, each of which offers something a little different.

I could say more about it, but I would just be reiterating things I’ve already said in some way. You can see my tweets from the session at #futurebook also. The thing that I will say bothered me was that the session seemed to be suggesting writers to write to the market instead of writing what they are passionate about. Even the screenwriting panel I was in advised against that, and they’re Hollywood.

I finished the day watching a podcast recorded with writers from the Onion, College Humor and the Obama Girl, about cashing in on humor, and began the night with some kick-ass parties, most notably with the creators of Found Footage Festival, which was freaking awesome.

This morning, I’ve got a Texas-sized headache and have yet to leave the hotel. And I have no idea how these girls are walking all over Austin in heels.

A Brave New Future for Book Publishing
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Another day at SXSW

Well, today started out kind of rough with the advent of Daylight Savings Time, which I had completely forgotten about, and mistakenly thought my BlackBerry had as well. So I thought I was late, but I wasn’t late after all. Either way, I missed the 9:30 session.

I later saw a session about writing (and adapting) a successful screenplay. Granted, I have not tried my hand at screenwriting, but I figured it would plenty applicable. It did not disappoint. The panel featured screenwriting professors, as well as the writers of Watchmen and A History of Violence. They talked about writing adaptations of novels and classics, in which you have to really be objective about the spirit of the material. They also mentioned that young adult novels make great screen adaptations.

But what really was impressed upon me was when one of the panelists, Alex Tse, said that the most important thing to do is to write what you are passionate about, even if it never sells, because your passion or your subject will always come through in an organic way and stand out from something written to make money. They also stressed the importance of not writing something with the intent of selling it, and to stop trying to chase the market. If you’re a good writer and you get your foot in the door, the market will chase you. The good writers keep their day jobs until they don’t have to, and stick it out no matter how discouraging it is. Quality and awareness of the market are not mututally exclusive.

Okay, maybe there was one more thing that stayed with me more than that. The writer of A History of Violence said he doesn’t get upset when he sees a horribly written movie succeed; instead, he uses it as personal encouragement that he knows he can do better than that. I know I struggle with that as a writer. I know I’m nothing uber-spectacular, but I think I’m good and I have a unique voice with something to say. So when I pick up a book off the shelves and read it and hear a mediocre voice with nothing new or interesting to say, I sometimes find myself thinking “Wtf? How did this piece of elephant dung get the green light from a major publishing house, meanwhile I’m still stuffing envelopes?” I like his idea better, but I also like Ze Frank’s idea of making angrigami out of my rejection letters.

I hit up a session right after that, which turned out to be nothing at all what I expected. The title of the session was Editing Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Everything in Between. Sounds pretty exact in its description, don’t you think? Wrong. It was not at all about editing fiction, or works of non-fiction. It was about post-production video editing. I guess I should have read the fine print about the session.

I bailed pretty soon with the intention of sneaking in late to the writing web content session, but a hot pretzel and nonexistent line for Camp Victory piqued my interest more. It was a really great film, and I’m not really a movie person. After being turned away for three different film events here at SXSW because of long lines and overhype, this was a breath of fresh air.

I did my duty and shmoozed with the people I needed to schmooz with, including an independent web magazine that will be getting my submissions (hooray for online) very soon and one of the panelists from the New Publishing session I attended yesterday. Other than that, I saw a not-so-great film laden with opposing subtitle fonts and inconsistent quote use after getting turned away for a more popular film, after rushing 2 miles on foot to get there.

And now, I’m exhausted. Stay tuned; tomorrow’s another full day!

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Learning a shit-ton at SXSW

So, it’s day two of the South by Southwest festival in Austin – which is a freaking awesome city if you’ve never been. It’s been an absolutely amazing time, and I’m learning how to talk about my writing, including what I like writing about, what I’ve written so far, and what I will be working on next.

And as far as that goes, I went to some panels today that really helped me figure out what I want to do next. I started the day with a panel called iPad: New Opportunities for Content Creators, which was a panel centered around how the iPad is going to change the way different industries do business. The businesses represented included a rep from the Village Voice (a free weekly newspaper in major cities), an HTML guy, a game developer, and of course, a publisher from Hyperion books.

The panelist from Hyperion confirmed some of the things I’ve been talking about on the blog – that the industry as a whole has had the same business model for the last 500 years (literally, she even said so), and have only really had the need to innovate in the past couple of years. No one has quite figured out how to do it right yet, but they are moving in the right direction, albeit slowly and with some degree of reticence.

In the afternoon, I got to watch Ze Frank speak, and it was incredible. He was inspirational, funny, touching, engaging – everything you would want in a speaker. He spoke a lot about the creative process in general, and about the importance of getting feedback and killing bad ideas, and figuring out the best way to form an emotional connection with your audience. I’m not gonna lie, I was fighting back tears of laughter and emotion at various points throughout his presentation. And it also reminded me I need to kill more of my bad ideas.

After a snoozefest mistake in a CSS panel, the coup de grace came at the end of the day, when I attended a session called New Publishing and Web Content. The panelists included book publishing industry execs, magazine editors, and some other folks who’ve had their hands in content publishing for a long time. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time as they talked about how the publishing industry in changing, and these are some of the things I took away from the session:

  • This is the BEST time to do something new and innovative as an author in regard to online presence. Why? Because the model is so new that no one has gotten it quite right yet (not Amazon/Kindle even), so even if you fuck up, no one will know.
  • The idea that you no longer need a publisher is still bullshit, as much as many of us would like it not to be. I got up and asked the question regarding which school of thought about publishing one’s work is better (since I already know neither is right), and I got some great feedback.
  • Collaborative storytelling is here to stay. I’m not sure it will exist in the same form in which it is using today, which is one of the things that will be coming to the site soon.
  • Print publications and online publications are not the same – so we writers need to not try to simply replicate our print work online.
  • While the publishing industry is being shaken up by open standards and new formats, the way readers access the content is still proprietary, which is still a major roadblock.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, content is not free. Someone has to pay for it. And people need to get used to paying for good content if they actually want good content. And it’s true. If I weren’t lucky enough to have my technical writing day job, you betcha I’d be asking people to pay to read my stuff. As it is, I’m just happy anyone is reading my stuff at all, so it’s not a big deal.

It’s been a whirlwind of information, but suffice it to say it’s been beyond belief, and it will lead to some great things to come on the site. Stay tuned for all the goodness. More to come tomorrow, when I will actually be tweeting from the sessions, unlike today.

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