On Saturday I attended the Society of Authors in Scotland Conference (http://www.societyofauthors.org/) on the brave new world of e-books, social media, self promotion and the road ahead in publishing – billed as Information and Inspiration: everything a writer needs. Phew!
It was a wham-bam action-packed day with a host of good speakers and panels, specialist group options in the afternoon and plenty of coffee breaks to keep us wired up. Held in a modern annex of the superb Palladian Royal College of Surgeons (just down from Clerk Street where I lived as a student – how was it possible that I hardly gave it a glance for 4 years? Perhaps because it didn’t serve pints of Belhaven…)
At lunchtime there was an option of a quick guided tour by charming Prof Dugald Gardner, who introduced us to the work of surgeon-artist Charles Bell. Fascinating portraits of gunshot wounds from the Napoleonic Wars and specimens in jars that made me wish I’d woolfed down fewer sandwiches ten minutes earlier.
I went because I have girded my digital loins and entered the arena of ebook publishing. I think I’m what Keith Charters of Strident Publishing is what you’d call ‘an early adopter’ on the bell curve of e-publishing – my Jarrow Trilogy are numbers 1,2 and 3 on the Kindle Family Saga bestsellers. So what did I learn?
From Sara Sheridan’s (http://www.sarasheridan.com/) talk on Harnessing Traditional Media:
TV and radio opportunities are on the rise – you can get hold of any BBC producer etc by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Reviews from traditional print media are still valuable to quote on covers even if they don’t drive sales; many will now take digital copies to review and this also saves print copies being nicked in the mail room!
Have different pitches for your new book – there may be an interesting sub plot as well as the main subject, a special place or area of expertise (in her novel about a 19th century adventurer in China and India, she discovered readers were also interested in the sub plot about tea).
You are selling yourself as well as your book – so have ‘branding wheels’ for both. (No these are not instruments taken out of the Surgeon’s Hall museum, but marketing tools). To be enlightened go to Sara’s article on Turning the Next Page, at http://www.nawe.co.uk/
Allan Guthrie’s (http://www.allanguthrie.co.uk/) talk on Embracing Digital:
Both an author and agent, Allan experimented last year with putting out a new crime novella as an ebook, as his publisher wasn’t going to launch the paperback for another 3 years! He put it out on Amazon and via Smashwords and sat back and waited. First 2 months – no sales. Next month – count them on one hand. So he decided to do some promotion by joining online forums. From the single sales in December he went to a peak (on Amazon.co.uk) of 9000 in Feb! Then things started happening on the Amazon.com – sales of 4000 in March, peaking at 8000 in May. He then brought out a backlist title with no promotion, but it has sold 10,000 so far on the back of the novella. As he points out, these are outselling all of his print copies ‘by miles.’
If you are doing it yourself, Allan recommends Open Office rather than Microsoft, as the latter can produce formatting problems when being converted into epubs etc., and says that a good cover designer can be hired for about $100 (mostly in the US)
Nicola Morgan’s (http://www.nicolamorgan.com/) talk on Publicity; building an online platform:
Children’s author Nicola is an enthusiastic user of blogging and twitter (she has self-published a book called Twitter Right, which she was promoting) and has boundless energy! Her advice:
Blog 3 times a week (ouch I’m such a laggard), keep your voice consistent, link to other blogs and leave comments on other sites. Blog about your area of expertise, publishing advice, hobby or skill, of an aspect of your life (eg Wife in the North). If you can’t keep up a personal blog then join a collaborative one with like-minded authors (eg The History Girls).
Use varied media on your blog – she was trying out Audioboo for the first time. You make short audio recordings, load them up to Audioboo and add them to your blog. http://www.audioboo.com/
Google loves links that include ‘big names’ such as the Beeb or a big corporation. She started blogging when angry with Sainsbury’s for their so-called book promotion which she couldn’t find in her local store. Now she’s helping them with their strategy!
And above all TWITTER says Nicola. Through Twitter you can drive followers to other aspects of your work, your blog or website – and it can be fun!
Other tips of the day:
Colin Fraser of Anon Poetry (http://www.anonpoetry.co.uk/) and social media consultant – advocates Twitter to amass a following prior to a book festival or launch, eg join in ElevensesTime on Twitter because people who like coffee and chat often like books!
Keith Charters (http://www.stridentpublishing.co.uk/) predicted that marketing would become even more important – increased marketing would have to be done when the ebook world becomes more crowded. It might be possible to upsell paperbacks by bundling them with ebook versions at a discounted price.
Look at http://www.distrify.com/ as a possible add on – it’s largely for film promotion at the moment.
Agent Jenny Brown (http://www.jennybrownassociates.com/) said this was a scary yet exciting time for authors with new possible routes to publication opening up. On dealing with contracts she advised clauses that limit publishers’ rights on ebooks – eg have a scale for royalties that increases after x number of sales, or limit the licence period to 18-24 months. (The industry norm at the moment appears to be 25% royalty for digital.)
She is delighted that her 18 year-old son has finally taken up reading since being given a Kindle for his brithday – one signed on the back by Jo Nesbo!
Marion Sinclair of Publishing Scotland (http://www.publishingscotland.co.uk/) predicted that niche books and publishers will survive and were doing well in Scotland.
Vanessa Roberston of Fidra Books and the Edinburgh Bookshop (http://www.edinburghbookshop.com/) – she likes to hand-sell ‘something different’ and prefers that authors patronise her shop if they are asking for their new book to be read and stocked! Be friendly but not too pushy – she’s a busy woman – and remember that booksellers tell each other recommendations but also pass on warnings about the awkward authors.
Katrine from The Scottish Book Trust (http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/) encouraged authors to contact them if they wished to go on their list of people prepared to do events – and make yourselves known at festivals etc so that the Trust know you exist!
Andrew Dixon from Creative Scotland (http://www.creativescotland.com/) – formerly working in Newcastle/Gateshead with projects such as The Sage and The Baltic – waxed enthusiastic about the special quality of the arts in Scotland – there are 40 literature festivals alone – and felt Scots should shout about their talent more (that’s a gobby former Geordie for you!). He wanted writers to get involved in their project on Arts and older people, and said the Wigtown Book Festival had attracted great publicity by having a ‘hermit in residence’ this year. (http://www.wigtownbookfestival.com/)
Summing up … well unfortunately I had to rush for a bus to Berwick and then train back to Morpeth so had to miss the final summing up – and the drinks reception in the prestigeous Playfair Hall (curses to rail engineering works!)
But I went away with head buzzing with new strategies and having made new friends – Pam, Vee, Maggie, Bob, Jacqueline. It was well worth it.
And it appears that Chair of SOAiS and historian, Angus Konstam (http://www.anguskonstam.com/) has been inspired by the conference to take up tweeting – @Anguskonstam – no pirate will now be safe on the cyber-seas …