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The State of Romance Post RWA Nationals 2009: It’s Rocky Out...

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It seems romance has evolved to the point where we either get positive press by way of showing off the Ph.D’s writing romance or we get smarmy coverage about how romance authors are all smelling of yeast but still bringing home the bacon. A better article on the RWA Conference and its reflection of the romance genre would be thus: Romance is in a state of flux and represents both the good and the bad of the state of publishing. It shows that reading and publishing is on the brink of a change and no one really knows where it is going.

The RWA National Convention happens once a year when over 2000 registrants   converge on one unsuspecting hotel. The registrants are there to revive old friendships, cement new ones, and generally get their spirit revived. Writing is a solitary business with few rewards.   Under all the conviviality, however, is a discordant note of stress. Nationals is about business too.

Contracted authors meet with their agents and publishers. Some will be told that they no longer have contracts or will have to change their name to continue writing for the publishing house. Some authors will break up with their agents or told by their agents that representation will no longer continue. Others will have news of their great new deal.

This year’s RWA was no different. It’s hard to say whether there were more authors who are suffering the ax than in previous years but the signs of economic stress showed in at least one house who nixed its annual author dinner and opted for a more casual cocktail party.

I heard from more than one editor that they are tiring from the sameness of submissions and are looking for something, ANYTHING different. As a reader, I rejoiced. From authors, though, I got a real sense of unease. Not about writing something different but how the market isn’t stable anymore.

It used to be that there were some markers of reliability about what will sell and what will not sell in the romance market. This year, that sense of inevitability is gone. Some authors are in denial. I heard a few of them state that they didn’t really believe that publishing was in as dire straits as the news made it out to seem. Many believe that digital books are the future but are uncertain how far out into the future that was. Further, these authors didn’t really know how to be part of that digital future.   Their agents and editors didn’t know and no one is telling them the “need to know” things.

We readers laugh at how ridiculous plot settings are from Pamela Palmer’s Feral Warrior series with the hero named Lyon nicknamed Roar to Ally Blue’s Eight Arms to Hold You (yes, the eight arms refers to a were shifting beastie), but authors are looking for any kind of hook. There seems to be a greater need for authors to make it in two or three books and not the eight or ten that they may have been allotted in the past. Even editors are unsure why certain authors, covers, hooks, themes didn’t work.

Conferences like Nationals offer up one or two hour seminars about how to create that good hook with the high concept, how to sell yourself online like a champ or how not to do anything but write. It was mildly ironic that Steve Axelrod, agent to the stars (Brockmann, Quinn, Krentz, Feehan, SEP, and so on), told attendees that online promotion does not work and that authors should just write while his author, Julia Quinn was on another panel describing her facebook ads and interactive quizzes (what kind of Julia Quinn heroine would you be). I suppose as an author or aspiring author, you take away what fits you best.

Like the rest of publishing, RWA is unsure what to do with digital publishing. While Angela James (Samhain) and Treva Harte (Loose Id) were invited to participate in an exclusive publisher meeting along with print publishers and given special RWA commissioned data about readers, Diane Pershing made it clear during the AGM that those authors that get $1,000 advances get first shot at RITA slots. The tension between digital and print publishing is still being navigated. In five years, we may look back at this time period and laugh, but right now, I do feel sympathy for organizations and businesses that during this tumultuous publishing time.

One thing that is clear to me is that there is no shortage of readers who are hungry for romances.   Romance is the bright spot in publishing. It is making money (even if the sales are flat) when other areas of publishing are faltering.   Going forward, though, publishers and authors need to work together to make sure that the content, the story, is available to every reader willing and able to buy the content in whatever format the reader so desires.   Readers are becoming more impatient. One new RWA attendee observed that books are the only form of entertainment that isn’t fully digital.   We want to be entertained and we want in now.   We need to have more conversations,  even if they are contentious ones, about the future of this industry, our industry.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

54 Comments

  1. SarahT
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 04:31:54

    Great post, Jane.

    I do hope there is some follow-through with regard to unusual settings. It seems we hear about this every year after the RWA conference, but somehow publishers continue to churn out the same tried-and-tested formulae.

    I’m astounded that Steve Axelrod doesn’t think online promotion works. If he said it in the context that authors shouldn’t concentrate on online publicity to the detriment of their writing time, then OK. Otherwise, it’s an odd belief to hold in the present day.

  2. library addict
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 04:53:38

    I am all for reading something different, but as SarahT says, I’ll believe it when I see it.

    I like Regencies, but not every historical needs to be set in England. I don't read vampires, so the paranormal craze has basically passed me by. And sadly there seems to be no end to the P&P knock-offs.

    Just out of curiosity when does Diane Pershing's term end and is the new RWA president-elect and board any more open to bridging the gap between digital and print publishing?

  3. Adriana Kraft
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 05:19:08

    Great coverage, thanks. There’s a group of digitally published member authors working to bring about change, including education for members about the e-pub industry and more recognition for digital books. You can bet we’ll be back next year: http://romancewritersforchange.com/site/.

  4. Michele
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 05:25:14

    This conflict between digital and print publishing has been going on since the late 90′s with no signs of letting up. Personally I think it’s a changing of the guard that seems to be going in not only within RWA but within the romance community of both readers and writers. I see a shift in terms of pushng the limits and embracing new technology and ideas versus just focusing on the writing like writers have always been told to do.

    Yet I believe that you do have to think about the publishing side of the business including marketing and promotion. And I think that there are people who are uncomfortable with that and are grumbling because of it. I remember years ago how some writers would wrinkle their noses at the thought of having to do any promotion or having any knowledge of marketing. And let’s not mention career-planning- that used to be the domain of the published but unpubs (like myself) think of it too.

    The most important thing for me is not thinking about the next big thing or big trend because that’s already out the door but instead, focusing on the best story possible.

  5. Kat
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 06:04:54

    books are the only form of entertainment that isn't fully digital.

    There are plenty of forms of entertainment that aren’t fully digital — e.g. most sports, the performing arts, most visual arts.

    Even editors are unsure why certain authors, covers, hooks, themes didn't work.

    I can only speak of my personal reading preferences, but I’m sick of gimmicks. I just want good, if not great, writing and characters that move me. Whether the author does it through vampires or restrictive social rules or six-way orgies, I don’t care. And don’t make your gimmick so distracting I can’t find the characters in the story.

  6. ASable
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 07:03:19

    I heard from more than one editor that they are tiring from the sameness of submissions and are looking for something, ANYTHING different.

    I always find it interesting when ediitors complain that they’re not getting anything “new” to read. Publishing is a notoriously risk-averse business–the known commodity is usually the safest bet because (a) there’s an existing market to tap into (b) there is a level of predictability associated with that market and (c) predictability of profit makes the most sense to the bottom line. So, sure, everyone wants to read something “new”, but how many publishers will actually take a risk on something really “new”? In all fairness, I do think the smaller publishers do seem more inclined to take risks (even if quality is, at times, sacrificed).

    I think what the editors are really saying is that they want better writing. If the story is well written and the characters strike a chord with the reader, then it doesn’t really matter whether the hero has eight arms or he’s just another Duke or vampire. It will seem new and feel fresh because great writing will always rise above the dregs.

  7. Jane
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 07:10:09

    @ASable – sometimes I wonder if it is agents who are trying to make sales and thus encouraging authors not to write outside the box. I don’t know but I heard editors are looking for new, shiny, different, and just not seeing it.

  8. Elise Logan
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 07:22:20

    Nice summary, Jane. Thanks.

    E

  9. RStewie
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 07:24:15

    I don’t understand this:

    Diane Pershing made it clear during the AGM that those authors that get $1,000 advances get first shot at RITA slots.

    Are you saying that the books they look at first for the award have to have paid out a $1,000 advance to the author?

    Obviously I am working in the apparently naive assumption that RITA awards are judged by content only…that’s not the case?

  10. Anon, Obviously
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 07:26:18

    I just parted ways with my agent because I couldn’t write the same stuff as all her other authors. Everytime I sent her something she suggested I revise it so it fit into the exact same box. So yeah. It happens.

  11. ASable
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 07:33:30

    @Jane: I think it’s the same issue–agents have a record of what has sold for them in the past and probably don’t want their authors straying too far out. I don’t know the answer to this conundrum, but I’d like to see some “new shiny different” stuff too. :)

  12. Jayne
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 07:37:18

    If the story is well written and the characters strike a chord with the reader, then it doesn't really matter whether the hero has eight arms or he's just another Duke or vampire.

    I’ve got it! A hero who’s a vampire Duke with eight arms!

  13. NKKingston
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 07:41:52

    @RStewie

    As I understand it, they look at books that received a $1000 advance first, and if there aren’t enough of those to fill the slots then they’ll consider other books. It’s two steps back disguised as a step forward, in terms of the ePubs.

  14. Angela James
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 07:45:13

    As I understand it, they look at books that received a $1000 advance first, and if there aren't enough of those to fill the slots then they'll consider other books. It's two steps back disguised as a step forward, in terms of the ePubs.

    I disagree. It’s a nod to the publishers who use the business model RWA supports, while at the same time opening the RITAs to everyone else (non-vanity/non-subsidy). I think it’s a positive move.

  15. Allison Brennan
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 07:51:21

    re: writing something new and different. I think (and I may be wrong) what is meant by new and different is not just good writing (which is a given no matter what you’re writing) but a story that is just as well-written and edited but also twists things around a bit. Does something unexpected. It’s very hard to surprise editors because they read so much material, so when you do surprise them they tend to be very happy. I was on a panel with Gena Showalter and she said something that stuck with me. She wrote a series based on Pandora’s Box but instead of a female being responsible for all the ills of the world, she made it men. A twist on something known. I think paranormal is still thriving because it IS unexpected. As Gena said, you are limited only by your imagination and the rules you (and your imagination) set up for that world.

    I’ve heard from many, many unpublished authors that they “can’t” break rules because they need to sell, and I inevitably tell them they need to push the envelop to stand out. They get conflicting advice–from authors, unpublished writers, editors, and agents. You can have two top editors completely disagree on a manuscript. Most of us who submitted to multiple publishers with our first book were rejected as well. I was–most other authors I know were rejected multiple times before they sold.

    So if the agents and editors don’t agree or give conflicting advice, then the only thing an author can really do is trust her own instincts. And that’s hard. I know too many people who have edited the life out of their books because they listened to too many people. “Cooks” and “broth” come to mind . . .

  16. Aileen Harkwood
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 08:18:15

    Amen, Jane! Wonderful, straight-talking post.

  17. Jane O
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 08:23:01

    Back to Mr. Axelrod and online promotion, I’d like to suggest that he may have a point. I spend a fair amount of time at my computer -’ okay, I spend my LIFE at my computer -’ but I know a great many people who rarely go online. When they do, and I am speaking now of people in their 20s and 30s, they are catching up with friends on Facebook or playing Nertz (however that is supposed to be spelled) or doing vacation planning. They aren’t checking out books and authors. I suspect that the people who frequent this and similar sites are decidedly atypical. I wonder if the people who frequent authors’ websites are not already those authors’ readers.

  18. Chicklet
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 08:34:49

    Even editors are unsure why certain authors, covers, hooks, themes didn't work.

    I wonder if this ties in to last week’s poll about whether there are too many romances published each month. With 400 titles per month (I assume that’s print and digital combined?), and many books being pulled from bookstore shelves three months after publication, it’s no wonder readers can’t glom on to more books. I mean, I work full-time, and I enjoy watching a little TV or a movie now and then, and I also knit. If I were to give up everything and do nothing but read romances, I could maybe tackle all of the new titles I’d like to read for a particular month, but I’d also be homeless, starving, and batshit crazy from having no variety in my hobbies.

    In other words, the sheer number of new titles per month makes it nearly impossible for even a dedicated reader to find all of the books they might like. Authors and books are going to get missed. This is why I answered “We need less” in the poll last week.

  19. Joanna D'Angelo
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 08:39:15

    Dear Author – excellent article – I agree with you – digital publishing is not going away – and should be discussed. And the road to success is different for all of us – great insights.

  20. Leslie Dicken
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 08:45:50

    Fabulous summary of the enigma that is the yearly RWA Conference. Thanks, Jane!

  21. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 08:47:47

    Regarding the 3-week waiting period for the RITAs, I understand that they need to ensure there are enough PAN-eligible judges. Overall, I think this is a step forward. However, why not put a cap on entries based on how many judges they have and then open it up to everyone simultaneously? There are ebook authors in PAN since the entry criteria apply to either an advance or royalties, so it’s not like judges can’t be garnered from that pool of authors. The new rule is really confusing to me for this reason.

  22. Melissa
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 09:13:58

    @Jane: I can speak from experience on this. For NY, there are only so many risks they will take, and all calculated. And when they do find something different, they have to jump through hoops to get there. It has to be approved by marketing and I think the marketing folks, especially in this economy, are afraid to try anything new. So, while editors want something new and exciting, their hands are sometimes tied.

  23. Melissa
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 09:17:09

    @Angela James: They can change the rules in the middle of the contest, just like this year. They have left it open for the next board, who takes control in the three week span, to change the rules. They did it last year, I doubt they would refrain this year.

  24. Joyce D
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 09:19:05

    Back to Mr. Axelrod and online promotion, I'd like to suggest that he may have a point. I spend a fair amount of time at my computer -’ okay, I spend my LIFE at my computer -’ but I know a great many people who rarely go online. When they do, and I am speaking now of people in their 20s and 30s, they are catching up with friends on Facebook or playing Nertz (however that is supposed to be spelled) or doing vacation planning. They aren't checking out books and authors. I suspect that the people who frequent this and similar sites are decidedly atypical. I wonder if the people who frequent authors' websites are not already those authors' readers.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Jane O.

    Yes, there are people online like crazy. Especially women. But they aren’t necessarily looking for book information. They’re playing games, messing around with Facebook, and doing other things.

    And aside of that, Julia Quinn’s name is already a well-known brand. Do you think the people doing her quizzes, etc., are people who just found her because they were looking for information, or are they dedicated readers–that she’s already acquired over the years?

    I spoke to a well-known author who confirmed what I’d suspected. She told me that when she does events (signings, wahtever) she always asks for a show of hands of who has seen her website. Less than half, significantly less than half, raise their hands. They seem surprised that she has a website. The audience, she pointed out to me, usually includes teens–most of whom aren’t raising their hand.

    The idea of looking for information about her books online doesn’t seem to have occurred to many of her fans.

    I find that interesting and thought-provoking.

  25. Vivienne Westlake
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 09:36:36

    Thank you, Jane.

    I do think the new Rita rules are a step forward. I’ve been saying it since the RWA Annual Meeting, but we have to take things in baby steps. There are many authors now who have the opportunity to enter the Rita awards who did not in years past. It will take some time, but RWA is starting to move in a better direction.

    As far as online promotion, I think it works for some authors and not for others. I admit that it is only in the last year or so that I’ve done more hunting online in terms of authors and books. Previously, I determined what I would buy based on the cover art and back blurb and whether I’d ever heard of the author before. Sometimes, I was just looking for something specific like historical erotic or medieval romance, or paranormal romance with demons or vampires or whatever.

    I will say, though, that since I’ve bought my ebook reader, it has exposed me to authors I might not have tried who have PRINT books. I read Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld series entirely in ebook format. I’ve also been wanting to pick up some of Mary Higgins Clark’s books which I’ve seen on ebookwise & fictionwise. In some cases, I’m more willing to take a chance on a new book or author because of the ease of purchasing in e-format. Other times, I’m in the bookstore and I pick up a book because I just love the cover art. I feel that I HAVE to have that book because the cover is so great.

    Overall, I think the RWA board needs to understand that the epublishing market is not going away. Many traditional NY publishers now offer books in digital formats and as Jane, Angela James, and Sarah from Smart Bitches discussed at the Rogue Digital Conference, print authors need to know about digital rights and what they are signing away when they accept a contract. Because now it’s not just first North American or World rights. You have to factor in digital rights and understand where your book is going to be sold, when, and how your royalties for those books will be broken down.

    Look at what happened with screenwriters and the Writer’s Guild. So much content was being made available online by the studios and the writers were being paid crap for work that they created because the royalty rates for online content and newer media applications were negotiated at a time when no one expected the internet to become the primary source of entertainment for many families.

    I’m off the soapbox. But, I am glad that you and many others are keeping these discussions active. Writers need to be educated before they sign away their livelihoods.

  26. RStewie
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 09:43:26

    @ NKKingston and Angela James,

    I understand they are trying to promote a pricing/compensation package they prefer (in the interests of the writers, and that’s great) but it just rained on my whole parade to think that the compensation package that was offered to a writer has any impact on what I thought was an award for the book itself.

    I agree, though, that it’s a step back. If you judge based on compensation packages before you are actually looking at the book, it limits and narrows the progression of digital media as a whole, and also of writers in general.

    If your chances of winning a RITA hinges even the least bit on your compensation package, instead of entirely on your writing, then what is the award actually FOR? For “Best Romance that also made the Writer Money UpFront”? I can see how advances are a positive thing for writers and publishing, and I’m certainly not saying they shouldn’t be a topic of discussion, but I don’t think they have a place in a book competition.

    That being said, I also think it’s a way for the publishing industry to get out of changing the way they compensate authors, and this in particular is relevant to the digital publishing phenomenon–in that there is a lot of money to be made in e-publishing for a good author, BUT the old compensation structures might not be as relevant or applicable. HOWEVER, as long as they are maintained as the end-all-be-all of compensation packages, change will not happen, and the industry as a whole will not move forward.

  27. Barnes & Noble to Join the eBook Fray « Kindling Romance
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 09:48:45

    [...] it’s possible, even likely, that a third, as yet unforeseen scenario develops. However, as Jane at Dear Author remarked today in a thought provoking mini-essay about the state of the romance industry, [...]

  28. Kristina Cook
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 10:59:42

    I interpreted Steve Axelrod’s message differently–and I didn’t think that he was singling out ‘online’ promotion vs. any sort of general promotion. Just that promotion in general could become a time-sucking and creativity-sucking distraction from what’s the *best* sort of national promotion–which is having a terrific book nationally distributed. It was more of a ‘do what you enjoy and what you can do without taking away from your writing,’ because, in general, any promotion you do personally (vs. what your publisher can do–co-op, etc.) doesn’t have that big of an impact on your sales. Which is what I always suspected, really. And JQ is already an established name-brand who only started doing all this ‘fun’ online publicity after she made it big-time, so I don’t see that it takes away from Long/Axelrod’s message.

    And I know I’m starting to get a bit testy over this, but I’m feeling like everyone is assuming that print-only authors are woefully ignorant about their digital rights, when this isn’t necessarily the case. I’ve been very careful with my digital rights (as has my agent), making sure that we negotiated much higher electronic royalty rates with my most recent contract, and I’m now making an excellent royalty rate with my Kindle (an other electronic) versions. I think most informed, savvy agents and authors are perfectly aware of the growing importance of digital awareness, and adjusting accordingly–and yet everyone’s telling me, left and right, how I need to be ‘educated.’ It’s kind of puzzling to me that everyone assumes that I’m not.

  29. Jane
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 11:01:10

    @kristinacook if being educated doesn’t apply to you then worry not. Not everything in a blog post is directed toward one author.

  30. Kristina Cook
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 11:05:56

    Oh, I know…and as I said, I’m getting testy about it, so I probably should have just shut up. But it isn’t just one blog post–it’s everywhere, every loop I’m on. People telling me, specifically, how I’m being ripped off on my Kindle sales, since I’m making the same royalty rate on those versions as my print versions. Except…I’m not. And when I say exactly that, they don’t seem to hear it. It’s positively maddening!

  31. Jane
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 11:08:11

    @kristinacook maybe you can provide advice on how to negotiate for a better deal on your ebook royalties. why not be part of the educating?

  32. Sherry Thomas
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 11:18:16

    I think Kassia Krozser said it best when she said that she is looking for something “New, but NOT different.”

    I’d like to interpret what she meant as something fresh and exciting, but still instantly recognizable. To use fashion as an example, fashion houses produce thousands of variations on the Little Black Dress every year. And from time to time, a spectacular new one arrives on the scene, yes it is absolutely a Little Black Dress, but the cut, the design, the material, the whole package, just so gorgeous and mouthwatering. Even if, like me, you never otherwise buy little black dresses, you open your wallet.

    Publishers are looking for new and different, no doubt. Everybody wants to sign the new J.R.R. Tolkien or Kathleen Woodiwiss or Anne Rice, who will create a whole new genre or subgenre. But they are just as thrilled to find a Stephenie Meyer, who packages all the old tropes in a new way, and sells like ipods.

  33. ASable
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 11:32:43

    @Jayne:

    I've got it! A hero who's a vampire Duke with eight arms!

    Wait! I think I’ve got an old manuscript somewhere around here with just that guy! (Thanks for the laugh!)

  34. Kristina Cook
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 11:33:17

    maybe you can provide advice on how to negotiate for a better deal on your ebook royalties. why not be part of the educating?

    Is it really such a secret? Maybe this is why I’m puzzled. I certainly don’t think I’m special. A lot of the educating gets done on the publisher loops–most of which you can join as soon as you accept a deal, before your contract is ironed out and signed, and long before you’re accepted into PAN. I know when I made my first sale, I was on my publisher’s loop immediately, where seasoned pros were telling me what to look out for in the contract. And you can bet as soon as the first round of authors were able to negotiate their electronic royalty rates up to the 40-50% range, people were talking about it on the loop, which then spurred everyone else to make sure they were getting that, too. The wonderful thing about the romance industry is how willing authors are to share information like this with one another, hard numbers and all. It’s difficult to imagine someone being left in the dark! I feel like I’m giving exactly this sort of advice all the time, just not necessarily in a public forum.

  35. Kristina Cook
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 11:40:51

    I think Kassia Krozser said it best when she said that she is looking for something “New, but NOT different.”

    I'd like to interpret what she meant as something fresh and exciting, but still instantly recognizable.

    I agree with that interpretation! As a reader, I hate really gimmicky ‘different’–where it’s obvious that the author was purposely trying to write something “New! Different! Exciting!” That breed of book has an almost boring ‘sameness’ to it and it’s so self-conscious in its ‘differentness’ (if that mess of contradictions make any sense). I read a lot of paranormals, and this past year there seemed to be a lot of them that were totally similar in their differentness. I’d much prefer a new take on something familiar.

  36. Jane
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 11:44:18

    @kristinacook I would argue that there are many more authors getting 25% off net in ebook royalties and lower than there are getting 30-40% digital royalties from print publishers. And yes, there are a lot of authors who are unsure where the digital market is moving; how to get their publishers to utilize the digital rights the pubs have bought; the tension between world digital rights in English; the issue of monetization of chunking & affiliate ad payments (i.e., is Avon paying its authors for the google ad revenue it earns off the author content on its website); how to get their book into an iPhone App; whether existing book content is SEO optimized; and so forth. I’m glad you are out there helping others who aren’t so technologically aware how to navigate this digital future.

  37. Julia Quinn
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 11:44:34

    I didn’t hear Steve’s talk at RWA, but I’ve heard him speak on the subject of promotion (online or otherwise) before, and after working with him for ten years, we’ve had countless discussions on the topic. So although I don’t know precisely what he said, I think I can still say with some certainty that his message and mine were not at all contradictory.

    The big thing about promotion is that you have to think about the return on your investment. And investment should be considered in terms of both money and time. What I suspect Steve meant was that going crazy with online promotion isn’t going to get you anywhere if it is pulling time away from writing your books. Not to mention that without the backing of your publisher, it is REALLY hard to make a dent.

    I don’t blog. To me, the time involved + the brainpower to come up with original content just isn’t worth the return. I don’t think it would attract very many new readers, nor would it be something that might make my current readers feel any more invested in me as an author. Plus, it would make me miserable.

    I do spend a fair bit of money to make sure that I have a well-designed, well-organized, comprehensive website. This is an investment of my money although not so much of my time, since I hire it out.

    The facebook quiz I did cost me nothing but three hours of my time, and I had fun setting it up. It was something that my readers really loved, and it put my bookcovers into the feeds of probably over 50,000 people. So this one seems like a no-brainer, and I suspect Steve would agree.

    I have tried out different promotional ideas at different stages of my career. There is stuff I did when I was starting out that I would never do now. Someone mentioned that I used to go to many many bookstores, introduce myself to the managers, and sign and sticker books. This is true and I think it was hugely helpful when I was starting out. I still do this occasionally now, but not as a part of a concerted effort. It’s very time-intensive, and I don’t think it would make an appreciable difference in my sales. (Whereas when I was beginning and my print run was much smaller, I –could– make a difference.)

    My advice (and I think Steve’s, too) wouldn’t be to forget about promotion but rather to think carefully about it. With each initiative, think about the time and money involved. Think about what you may get in return (happiness and fun are perfectly valid returns on investment, IMO). Then decide. It may be that it –doesn’t– make any sense for you to blog. The big bucks you spent on a book trailer might be better used elsewhere, like in a great website, or on your kid’s orthodonture. At the same time, if you love and adore twitter, then keep on tweeting! You’ll gain a few readers (or maybe a lot of them) and have a lot of fun.

    And now I have to take my own advice and get the heck off the internet and use my time to write…

    JQ

  38. Nikki
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 12:36:25

    Great article, Jane.

    I’m just a lowly reader but I do have some definite opinions on a few points that were made.

    About online promotions….I think that online promotions are not really helpful or necessary. By promotions, I’m thinking blogging, facebook(ing) or twitting. But having a good informative website is a must, in my opinion. When I am reading a new author that I like, I put my book down and go check out the authors website–to find out about old books, future books and characters. Also, if the author is an old favorite and I wonder when the authors next book is coming out I go to the authors own website before amazon or B&N. If a reader doesn’t normally do this or has never thought about it, I think it just takes one visit and they will come back for more.

    I think having a bad website that isn’t updated is detrimental. For example Brockmann’s website is not user friendly at all. It’s just bad. To me she should just take it down ala Linda Howard. In other words a bad website can hurt more than help. BTW I love SB! She’s a favorite of mine. I think she has a new book coming out but I don’t know when or who it’s about…….guess I’ll check amazon.

    My last thought is that digital is the future. I resisted this idea for a long time. I thought that if you couldn’t get published in print you went digital. Boy, was I wrong. There are great digital (only) books out there. I have an ebookwise, a sony reader and an iphone. I read probably half my books digitally now and I’m sure that will increase. Future ereaders just need to be really user friendly and truly universal. Once that is worked out the sky is the limit. It’s great to save (bookshelf) space and paper! I can carry 100s of books with me in my little purse! What can be better!?! I hope all the bumps don’t take another 10-20 years to figure out.

  39. Angela James
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 12:59:55

    @ Melissa:

    They can change the rules in the middle of the contest, just like this year. They have left it open for the next board, who takes control in the three week span, to change the rules. They did it last year, I doubt they would refrain this year.

    They didn’t change the rules in the middle last year. They were changed at the board meeting in July, just as they were this year.

    @RStewie:

    I understand they are trying to promote a pricing/compensation package they prefer (in the interests of the writers, and that's great) but it just rained on my whole parade to think that the compensation package that was offered to a writer has any impact on what I thought was an award for the book itself.

    I agree, though, that it's a step back. If you judge based on compensation packages before you are actually looking at the book, it limits and narrows the progression of digital media as a whole, and also of writers in general.

    I’m not sure what you mean by judging on compensation? The books aren’t judged by that, it’s only a difference in when the book is entered.

    I guess I’m just surprised by all the continued “they suck” statements/negativity. I would have thought that the authors who wanted to enter would be happy with this change because now they can, but I’m starting to get the sense that the person who said to me that people are just eager to find any fault possible with RWA was right. And of everything discussed about the RITAs and RWA, I think THAT is the most discouraging and the most negative thing, not any changes made.

  40. Moriah Jovan
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 13:17:23

    how to get their book into an iPhone App

    This is extraordinarily difficult, and I doubt that a full-on press by a collaborating publishing industry would make it any easier.

    It took 7 months to get mine approved. I was denied based on the F-bomb, but now that it’s up and available for sale, there is no content warning it. Very bizarre. App developers everywhere are having issues, not just for ebooks applications.

  41. RStewie
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 13:27:15

    @Angela James

    I don’t agree that the compensation package isn’t a part of what’s being judged, or that it doesn’t have any impact, if (and this is my understanding of what people are telling me) the only books that are initially even considered for the judging have to meet a certain compensation package standard.

    In all, I’m glad for the RITAs and I’m glad there is an RWA; for such a huge piece of the publishing pie, I think it’s crappy that Romance is still so begrudged it’s rightful place as authentic literature. I don’t think you can necessarily take all the comments here as being negative, per se, or think that they reflect negatively on RWA or the RITAs. BUT–they DO reflect a general discord between what people want and what they are being given.

    If I think something is important and it isn’t addressed, my comments about that shouldn’t be construed as negative to the whole, but merely negative to the lack of whatever I was looking for–in this case that lack is the industry’s inability to embrace e-publishing as legitimate and relevant.

  42. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 13:47:26

    in this case that lack is the industry's inability to embrace e-publishing as legitimate and relevant.

    I my experience, RWA IS trying to figure out how to address ePublishing . . . it's just not doing so fast enough for everyone, nor is it doing it the way everyone might want (but you can't please everyone; so they are-’legitimately IMO-’concentrating on their core membership: published authors).

    Finding a way to embrace and reward the good, legitimate, trustworthy ePublishers (and their authors) while not embracing the Triskillions (sp?) of the world isn’t an easy assignment (and let me tell you, when formerly “recognized” ePubs failed, there was howling in the streets and calls for blood over the fact that RWA hadn't “done their job” and protected its members from getting burned; it's hard to fault them for pulling back and retrenching).

    You can put me in the camp who's currently dissatisfied with the “solution”, but I'm also in agreement with Angela James when she says it's a positive move.

  43. Allison Brennan
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 14:57:06

    @JuliaQuinn: exactly what you said. I don’t do tons of online promo because I have to spend my writing time writing. I’m here right now because I’m having a very late lunch and catching up on email between bites. (chomp chomp). What I do, I do because it’s fun, doesn’t take too much time, and primarily to keep my current readers in the loop between books.

    re: websites. I don’t have a website to gain new readers as the primary goal. I have a website so that my current readers can go there to find out more about me, read excerpts (or to link to excerpts or covers), and find out when I have new book out so that (hopefully) they’ll get it that important first week or two. However, other than the main index page, the “books” page is my second most hit page. Meaning, people generally come to my website and then click the “books” link to find out about my books, followed by two of my books, followed by the “about” page which is my bio and personal info. I have received email from readers who heard about my books then went to my website to read an excerpt, but most of the email I get through my website is from fans who wanted to tell me they enjoyed a book or had a question about upcoming releases or a character.

    A website should be about the author and the books–at least that’s what I’m seeing through my stats. And it gives a vehicle for fans to contact the author, which creates a personal connection and hopefully the reader likes the answer and contact and is more likely to spread the word about a book they really like.

  44. Chrissy
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 15:03:59

    Change doesn’t come slowly because it MUST. And I think people tend to forget or ignore how long epubs really have been around. It’s not precisely “brand new.”

    I have no horse in this race. I do, however, think anyone who can’t participate in the dialogue respectfully should just stay out of it.

    I’ve done that because I don’t want to lose my temper and say something people will remember for a looong time. I’ve also withdrawn from RWA, but not in a power-flounce. I left years ago when it seemed, to me, a waste of money. I don’t mind paying the NWA in stead. I donate something to RD yearly. I pay attention to RWA, and attended the New England Conference.

    Right now I’m watching, hoping, and not wasting precious energy.

    But the “change comes slow” thing kind of bugs me. There’s slow, and there’s glacially ridiculous. And it’s been longer than you might think if you weren’t counting.

    *shrug*

  45. Deb Kinnard
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 15:10:39

    @Kalen: make that PRINT published authors and I’d agree completely. Trouble is, they’ve been dancing around what they ought to do for more years that I can recall. At least since ’02, when I sold a first e-book and discovered it wasn’t really a sale…kind of. You’d think 10+ years might be enough for them to figure out how to handle it?

    @Chrissy: “glacially ridiculous” just about sums it up IMO.

  46. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 16:31:40

    I’m curious to hear what you all think the correct answer is (I know what I think it should be, and it’s not the status quo)? I've yet to see RWA come up with anything that really works . . .

  47. Julie
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 01:40:41

    Okay, here’s a thought, and please pardon the tangent.

    It would be nice if the Golden Heart and RITA were electronic entries. It would save everyone money, as well as offering the opportunity for RITA voters to vote on the writing, not who wrote it.

    Of course, this is IMHO, YMMV.

  48. Evangeline
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 03:46:21

    Judging by the rumors of not one, but two, print publishers hovering beneath that $1000 advance mark and the Board’s fears that every time they lower their advance mark publishers will lower to match them, I wonder if the RWA will ever reach a consensus about e-publishing.

    But regarding online marketing, after thinking about this issue, I have to vote in the direction of Steve Axelrod. The authors who have exploded in popularity over the past year or two (Joanna Bourne, Nalini Singh, Kristin Higgans, etc) have done so due to online word of mouth, but all they did were to write great books. They may or may not have a blog, and use twitter, myspace or facebook, but actually, the leg-work–so to speak–in marketing, was done by all the readers congregating online to talk about their work.

    I can point to Jennifer Ashley’s The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie for example: Kristie J (I think) loved the book and slowly but surely her excitement convinced other readers to buy it. Ashley didn’t set up a blog or a twitter account or any other online marketing to promote her book nor did she pop up on all the popular blogs and leave comments to draw readers to her site. Yes, commenting on blogs, twittering, et al is great for getting your name out there, but I’m realizing that it is only worthwhile after you have a book or two on the shelves. And even then, word of mouth buzz is an uncontrollable thing–the only thing a writer can do is to write a great book and continue to do so.

  49. Sherry
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 10:08:43

    “I don't agree that the compensation package isn't a part of what's being judged, or that it doesn't have any impact, if (and this is my understanding of what people are telling me) the only books that are initially even considered for the judging have to meet a certain compensation package standard.”

    If RWA allows works entered in the RITAs by authors who are being woefully undercompensated by their publishers, then they are indicating approval of authors being woefully undercompensated by their publishers. This is completely against every part of RWA’s mission statement as an organization.

    The current debate about how “undercompensated” is defined notwithstanding – the intent to support authors being paid for their work is what RWA stands for.

  50. Ruth
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 12:03:31

    I was one of those readers that never used the internet for books up until about a year ago. I spend most of my time on a computer at work and never thought about looking for books on the internet. Surprisingly, it was Amazon (looking for older books of an author not carried at the bookstore) that helped me find this community.

    I now look once a day at various blogs, author sites etc. I have purchased more books from new authors because of this community and now I have a digital reader to top it off.

    I think there will be more people like me who find the online community but it will take some time.

  51. olivia
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 18:20:57

    I doubt the Marriott Wardman Park was an “unsuspecting” hotel as that location has previously hosted RWA National (no “s”–it’s not a cheerleading competition!)

    Any enthusiasm for online book/author promotion perplexes me, and not only because I am entirely immune to it. I’ve been online since sometime in the early 90′s. Even if I were so inclined, checking out blogs and bulletin boards and author FB pages would take away time from reading books. It’s probably a nice community-building enterprise for established authors but for newbies the return on the investment of time can’t be too much.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Quinn that farming out web presence (if you can afford it, which most authors can) is more sensible. She’s correct that the most useful promotion is publisher generated. Point-of-purchase visibility is hands-down the most effective. I’ve heard agents and editors and publishing marketing departments say so for years, and presumably they’ve got the numbers to back up their assertions.

    I also tend agree even more with Mr. Axelrod if he did indeed say that online promotion doesn’t “work.” But I acknowledge that it’s not likely to be a credible message for readers on any online forum!

  52. Pam Rosenthal
    Jul 24, 2009 @ 08:52:14

    What a sound, sharp article, Jane. Thanks.

    The only thing that I’d add — from a state-of-the-industry p.o.v. — is that I got a lot out of the workshop on the Google Books settlement. Which was sparsely attended, but which, I believe, will be available from the RWA website.

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