Saturday, February 13, 2010

The San Francisco Writers' Conference

I attended the San Francisco Writers' Conference on Friday, which continues through Sunday at the Mark Hopkins Hotel.

            With more than 300 registrants, it must be the largest writing conference in the Bay Area. Unlike others I have attended, the SFWC places a large emphasis on the business side of publishing – how to build a platform, how to use social media to extend your brand, how to set up your own book tour and create events, how self-publishing can be a viable option. Then there are workshops on finding an agent. (Packed, of course.)

            The result, in a certain sense, is that everybody is looking to someone else for something. Unpublished writers want tips on how to get an agent from published writers; a chance to pitch to agents; and have numerous questions for editors on what they are looking for. Agents at the conference are interested in meeting acquisitions editors they don’t know, and I bet the editors are looking to know more agents so they get more submissions. 

There future of publishing was on everyone’s mind. Alan Rinzler, the executive editor of Jossey-Bass, gave a talk on why now is the best time ever to publish a book. Believe me, the room was packed. Rinzler spun off a few statistics about how business is looking up: stock prices for publishing companies went up an average of 18.8% in 2009; more debut novels were published last year than ever before; young kids are reading more.

            But the bottom line came to this traditional answer: editors are always looking for good books. When Rinzler reads a great proposal, it is akin to falling in love. His heart pitter patters. His breath grows short. Excitement mounts. (He didn’t really say that, but he meant that)

A few other tidbits I gleaned:

Content rules. As an author, you must build your brand by writing well, and not just on the page but on Twitter, Facebook, on your blog (and yes, you must have one) and on all those nice hand-written thank you notes you must send out to everyone you meet. The idea is to distinguish yourself and stand out from the crowd. If everyone is writing thank you notes, though, what happens?

Even though everyone is talking about e-books, a writer must publish a real book to be taken seriously.

Even huge authors had to start somewhere. At the keynote at Friday’s lunch, Steve Berry, who has sold 10 million books, (and to think I had never heard of him before) had to send out a manuscript 86 times before a publisher bought it. His message was important: have faith in yourself as a writer and don’t give up.

At the cocktail party at the end of the day, the self-publishing company Author Solutions unveiled a new book marketing program for authors. It is called AuthorHive, and it is a one-stop shop where authors can put together a tailored publicity plan. AuthorHive can be hired to send out just a press release (about $300), set up radio interviews, do a blog tour, create a book trailer or website, etc. AuthorHive promises to end the piecemeal approach to book marketing by giving authors a central place to coordinate their book marketing efforts. Since this company is a subsidiary of a self-publishing company, it may be more geared to that group rather than writers who have books coming out with publishing companies.

While a central place to coordinate marketing sounds like a great idea, I was immediately struck by the company’s name. AuthorHive sounds suspiciously like AuthorBuzz, the publicity company run by MJ Rose, an author and consultant. AuthorBuzz puts ads on Shelf Awareness or other blogs. It seems that the creators of AuthorHive want to capitalize on Rose’s success by choosing a similar name. The tag line for AuthorHive is “create some buzz for your book.”

I twittered about this last night and immediately heard back from MJ Rose. “May be but I do advertising with a background of being CD if 150 mil dollar ad agency and am author myself. Live &die by my rep.”

In English, Rose says she brings her background of being the creative director of a huge ad agency plus her experience as an author.

Still, one more example of how the transformation of the publishing business is having an impact on authors and their role in selling books.


onceuponasunflower said...

I imagine that place was crazy. So many people aspire to be authors, but only one in a million actually have the gift to move people with their words. It's a shame more people can't be published. Think of all the excellent literature that we could be missing out on!

Great post. It's always good to know that there are conventions out there like this one and all the steps most people must take to get their writing in book form.

Happy Valentine's Day!

MJRose said...

Thanks for the shout out.

I’d like to say more. So I did a blog post here

Dianne Jacob said...

Steve Berry (likewise I had never heard of him) has the right idea.

Looking to others only goes so far. You've got to have persistence and determination. I think they are the main reasons why people get published. It's not about just the quality of the work. If that was true, only quality writers would be published, and we know that is not true!

Meghan Ward said...

Frances, thank so much for this summary of the conference. I thought about going and decided against it. I love Berry's advice, and I'm glad Rinzler is so optimistic about the publishing industry. I was talking to someone at the Grotto about how soon there will be all kinds of marketing consultants for authors who intend to self-publish. Sounds like AuthorHive has jumped on that bandwagon (for both self-published and traditionally published authors, I imagine.) Great post.