publishing / writers resources / writing

Self-Pub or Not? What SCWC Writers Conference Said–I

This latest iteration of So. California Writers Conference again exceeded my expectations. It was run by knowledgeable people, taught by caring presenters and peopled with energetic writers. In short, it was three days of a positive, motivating

scwc

a good, personal, well-rounded experience

environment that rekindled my writing fires.

I attended many seminars, met with agents and editors to assist me in my writing, met a few i**** I’ll be happy to forget (one particular person: you know who you are), and learned a lot on topics like queries, characterization, marketing my books, managing my time, and more. Here are some of my take-aways:

  • self-pub is no longer a dirty word. There were many examples of writers who have dumped their traditional publisher in favor of going it themselves. Why? Control over their material. Ability to get it to market faster. Stability in their lives (not at the whim of an editor/publisher, a trend). Money, too, but not the primary motivator. This extends well beyond JA Konrath and Amanda Hocking
  • self-pub is still a dirty word with agents. Konrath and Hocking are not the tip of the iceberg as self-pub authors home but the entire thing. Agents are ‘gatekeepers’, tasked with protecting readers from lousy books (they said this, I swear. I just took notes).
  • publishing for traditional publishers is a business decision, not personal. (Hunh? And they think it isn’t for the writer? BTW, doesn’t this prove that if a self-pub author is successful, publishers will chase them?)
  • share your self-pub creds, ie., reads on Scribd, in query letters (this surprised me, but I love it because I have huge reader numbers on Scribd)
  • Mixed opinion on whether writers should be electronically active (Cheri–weigh in on this. Your Writers Digest conference said writers should do as much blogging, etc as possible). Some adamantly felt we should. Others were ambivalent. Is this reflective of the speaker’s comfort level with the digital world?
  • Writing trumps creds (absolutely)

  • Midlist writing is dead. Agents/publishers want the next blockbuster, not a book that does fine, but doesn’t break out.
  • self-pub authors: don’t be afraid to give everything away for free. It spreads the word (the speaker–Scott Seigler–meant dole it out in bite-size pieces. Patient readers will get it all for free. Eager readers will be hooked and buy your book so they don’t have to wait. It works for him.)

Let me pause here to say that most agents and publishers missed the big point of why writers want to be published. It’s not to ‘hit it big’ although we’ll take that. It’s often to make a living doing what we love. We don’t need to get rich at it; we just need to get by.

OK. That was from Friday. Check my next post for more


Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman.  She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.comEditorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersIMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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9 thoughts on “Self-Pub or Not? What SCWC Writers Conference Said–I

    • Thanks so much for sharing all of this information, Cheri. I know lots of writers are wondering about the debate between traditional and self-publishing. You’ve provided valuable information.

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  1. Hi, Jacqui! I’m so glad to hear that you had another valuable experience at the latest Southern California Writer’s Conference (SCWC)! Over time, as we attend a boatload of such gatherings, I think we end up finding the one(s) that best suit us and leave us feeling as if our money has been well-spent. My favorite has turned out to be the Writer’s Digest Conference WDC), and my take-aways have been very similar to yours: lots of immediately useful tools for both writing and promotion; plenty of exposure to the latest trends and news in the publishing world; and, of course, as much feedback on our work as we’re willing to accept.

    Two points of interest light up from your post today centering on your initial day at the conference:

    First is the subject of agents and their attitudes toward self-published work. At the WDC this past January, our pitch slam sessions were populated with a large percentage of agents who were at least willing to listen to pitches from writers who’d self-published. Generally, their openness to such books was included in their blurbs in the program (although one agent who said she was open to the idea turned out not to be)–and most of those agents I pitched to did request either a copy of my latest novel or the first three chapters of the Word version. Prior to those requests, however, they all wanted to know how many copies had been sold to-date, as well as information about my promotional activities and plans. The premise of the book and the quality of writing and editing seemed to be universally less important than how much effort was being expended to get the book into the hands of readers–very telling in terms of what motivates agents these days.

    Second is the question about the importance of a writer’s social media/electronic presence to the success of that writer’s work. Your conference presented mixed opinions on this. My WDC was pretty consistent in saying that this is hugely important. I’ve been following that path, which takes a long time to build. Establishing a blog that actually adds value to both the author and the blog’s followers takes a great deal of time and effort (as you know so well too). Building a presence on sites like Facebook and Twitter doesn’t happen overnight either. In addition to the link I’ve included below from the WDC session on social media, the point needs to be emphasized that writers need to start building their electronic presence well before they finish writing their books. I’d been resisting involvement in the whole social media thing until I attended my first WDC in the fall of 2009. Prior to that, I didn’t think I had the time, and I didn’t see the value. Now I’m still trying to catch up.

    And whenever I begin to doubt the importance again, a story about someone like John Locke comes along–the first self-published author to sell more than a million copies of his novels on Kindle. And he writes that carefully mapping a plan that utilized Twitter was a key element underlying that accomplishment!

    –Post on WDC social media/electronic presence presentation: http://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/writers-digest-conference-day-3-session-1/.
    –Link to my post about the John Locke story: http://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/1st-self-published-author-to-sell-1-million-books-on-kindle/.
    –Link to information about the 2012 Writer’s Digest Conference–January 20-22 in New York City.

    Hope there’s something helpful in this comment, Jacqui. Once again, I’m thrilled that you found so much value in your conference. I’m waiting for the day when we’ll both be able to attend something together!

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  2. “Self-pub authors: don’t be afraid to give everything away for free…”

    I’ve done that. Literary agents didn’t have much interest in my novel about the inside world of nuclear power — I work at a reactor. (This has been true even after Fukushima, though my story features a similar event.) So I put “Rad Decision: A Novel of Nuclear Power” online free – just Google it. I’ve since gotten a lot of nice reviews and encouraging emails from ordinary folks who want this kind of realistic techo-thriller fiction. That beats another form letter rejection, though having a publisher would still be nifty. I enjoyed the writing process and think I could tackle other subjects well – not getting rich, but just getting by, as the article says. But that foot in the door is a real trick…….

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    • It’s good to hear you validate that idea. I was skeptical when I heard it. How does it translate into making a living? Has it worked for you? I read your novel about six months (??) ago and thought it was great. I would think there would be renewed interest in it with Japan’s problems.

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      • Thanks for the nice comment on Rad Decision: A Novel of Nuclear Power. I’m afraid the “official” fiction world has it’s own logic on what’s worth publishing, and I gather my effort doesn’t fit into it. (Perhpas I should have had that affair with Snooki when I had the chance. ) Many fiction agents when being interviewed also discuss having to “fall in love” with a book prior to taking it on, which means the target audience for any novel isn’t the public at large, but a few select individuals with literary or mass media backgrounds and interests. I’m not sure what then happens when they plug a chosen work to publishers. An interesting business model. (My take anyway.)

        My own experience in POD is a little unique, as I can’t quite flog the book as actively in public as some self-pub authors might. (It would take a long explanation to cover why – we’ll skip that.) I can easily see a pathway to reasonable sales for a quality self-published book using local media coverage that leads to somewhat larger media coverage for a writer who could take that route. Word of mouth has to be “word of media” to garner any sales volume. And from what I’ve seen the only way to get media coverage is to be personally aggressive in seeking it out – they are too busy to look for things themselves or even read things handed to them. One newspaper article picked up on the wire services or an article at a really major blog is worth a huge amount. I have one acquaintance whose wife markets POD romance novels to libraries in the area, and I think a little income is generated. If you’ve already got a nest egg or a spouse/SO with a steady job, I can see trying the independent writer route as a fulfilling second income. I don’t think I’d want to try to live off it though. And one should be prepared to spend more than half their workday on promotion, not writing. (That’s the benefit of having an agent/publisher.) There’s a fuller account of my experiences at http://www.lablit.com/article/83 .

        To echo my initial comment, though, one thing putting your work out there for free can do is validate the quality of it. I’ve come to understand that mainstream publication and quality aren’t that closely related. (And if you can parlay that into attention and sales, then you can charge for the next one.)

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    • You have a couple of great lines in your comment–‘word of media’. So true. That’s what it is anymore. And the all time favorite of agents–‘fall in love’. If I hear that one more time…. Well, nothing actually. They all must have gotten the same talking points.

      The idea of giving my stuff away I got from Scott Sigler. He’s an agented published author who’s also self-published and swears by it.

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  3. It’s wonderful how popular self publishing has become in recent years. I think you really hit the nail on the head in your closing statement too – most people just want their hard work to be out there! They don’t necessarily want to be known for the latest NY Times Bestseller!

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