Notes from Thrillerfest Part 1

Actually, Thrillerfest just kicked off tonight with a reception. But Craftfest has been running for the past two days. I’ve just observed, listened and tried to feel the vibe. It feels a bit different, more subdued than in years past, but the hotel is also undergoing a renovation so people are scattering in the evening. But just shooting from the hip and from what I’ve heard and seen: no one really knows what’s going to happen in publishing.

There is definitely a sense that the digital revolution was terribly under-estimated, which I already knew half a year ago. Frankly most people still under-estimate it.

More than, though, is my feeling that few people see the big picture. Most people are concerned with their niche and how their niche can either survive or prosper or what they might be able to do in order to adapt. Or are scared of the very real possibility their niche is being obliterated by the new publishing paradigm.

Traditional publishers seem to have two major problems: one is that they are large organizations and you can’t turn something like that on a dime. They have a business model in place that has to keep running for quite a while longer in order to generate revenue in order to survive now, yet they have to change in order to survive in the future. The other problem is that people always prefer the known to the unknown. That’s normal. If I’ve done something the same way for the past however many decades, it’s very hard on an emotional and subconscious level to let go of continuing to do it that way.

Another thing I’m sensing overall is that the ‘indie’ book movement is also morphing. Those who are finding success with it are finding they can’t keep it up on their own. Even outsourcing a lot of the work on one-time fees doesn’t really work because writing and publishing is an ongoing and evolving thing to be a career author now and make a living at it. Sure you can pay someone to do cover art, editing, formatting and uploading, but that’s only the foundation of the business. Doing promoting, marketing, trying new things, foreign rights, audio, etc. etc. while still doing the most essential thing which is producing more books is almost impossible for an individual to accomplish alone. We recognized that early on and formed Who Dares Wins Publishing 18 months ago. Some of the authors who have indie success are now banding either with agents, publishers or other entities to take the heavy lifting on with those things so the writers can focus on the writing. That’s simply a reality.

I’ll post more about this, but what I see is a lot of morphing of roles in publishing and lines that were considered black and white, are now turning gray. While we can argue about things, it’s a reality. Which brings me to the last point as my brain turns to mush—I see too many people arguing the emotions of the business rather than the reality of the business. What I ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ matters little in the business. To thrive as an author and publisher I have to absorb all the information out there, regardless of how it makes me feel. I see way too many publishing ‘gurus’ who believe they have the answers, when they only have some answers and don’t know other things that are reality. When I look on Twitter and some expert has 10,000 followers but only follow a chosen handful (mostly who agree with them), I question their view. When these gurus go to a conference and do their presentations and never bother to sit in on other presenters’ workshops or presentations, I think that’s very shortsighted. And I’m very leery of considering their advice as the answer. It’s part of the answer.

Because tomorrow’s reality is going to be different and the only way to truly prepare for it is to be open to all information, regardless of whether we agree with it or not.

About Bob Mayer

Bob Mayer is a NY Times Bestselling author, graduate of West Point, former Green Beret (including commanding an A-Team) and the feeder of two Yellow Labs, most famously Cool Gus. He's had over 60 books published including the #1 series Area 51, Atlantis and The Green Berets. Born in the Bronx, having traveled the world (usually not tourist spots), he now lives peacefully with his wife, and said labs, at Write on the River, TN.

Posted on July 7, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. I agree with you, Bob. As much as I enjoyed doing the interior layout and cover design for the physical books my indie publishing company does, I have all but let go of that side of the business. The eBook evolution/revolution is on, and to deny it by concentrating on physical books first or pricing too high is to deny the movement. You are one of the first big names that has made the jump to release your own material, and we’re all anxious to see where it take you. You’re already doing quite well – keep up the good work!

  2. “To stand still on the summit of perfection is impossible, in the natural course of things, what cannot go forward slips back.”

  3. Thanks for taking the time to keep us informed.

  4. The mood sounds similar to how a friend described the RWA National Conference last week. One thing she noted was the change in attitude of the agents/publishers. Instead of “here’s the subgenres we’re accepting submissions on”, they were very keen on proving “we’re relevant and here’s the added value we bring to the table.”

    Are you hearing similar things at Thrillerfest?

  5. Suzan is right-on. Every workshop I went to with traditional publishers and/or agents were saying the same thing. One day “they” may be trolling for “us” instead of the other way around. It’s about time the writers get a leg up in the business – but “we” writers have to have all the information about the changes in that business. Thanks to blogs like Bob’s we’re getting it.

  6. People tend to make their greatest business errors when they think and move from emotion rather than rational well-informed thought. While our most noble (and dreadful) achievements often come from an emotional motivation, in business this is often a detriment, and one that many are making right now.

    Thanks for the great information Bob. I look forward to seeing what else you learn while at Thrillerfest.

  7. It occurred to me a few days ago, now that I’m being more active about promotion, that I can understand how you could simply not have time to write if you’re really doing the promoting side properly. It’s so expensive in terms of time! For now I have no choice, but I can hope I won’t always have to do everything myself.

    It’s great to know what people are saying in the wider world about all this. As Suzan says, if your business isn’t expanding, it’s shrinking, and none of us wants that, but fear will make people do daft things, like stick their heads in the sand and wait for the storm to pass. Seems like a lot of people have more questions than answers, and a lot of others are only sticking firmly to one set of answers, which isn’t necessarily the best idea.

  8. Jenni Holbrook-Talty

    Thrillerfest Panels start this morning at 9am and I’m headed to “What’s first, the chicken or the egg? Alternatives to Traditional publishing”. This is the only panel I see for the entire 2 days of Thrillerfest that even mentions alternatives to traditional publishing. I am interested to hear what they have to say.

  9. Wonderful post!,
    “I see too many people arguing the emotions of the business rather than the reality of the business. What I ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ matters little in the business.”
    I love this! These people are spending so much time concerned over the business, they forget to write or to put more work out there. I sit back, listen, and then do! I don’t complain or try to resist change. Digital age of reading is here and every conference, CLUB, or business model (including agents, editors, formatting, etc) can’t sit back and wait. Waiting is going to kill them, they have to embrace the change.

  10. Fascinating! Thank you for the education. I am nowhere near fluent in the business side of writing, so I appreciate your sharing.

  11. Thank you for these excellent observations. I joined in the social media swim almost a year ago, and I have yet to dive into publishing waters. However, that challenge is coming up soon. I’ve been reading the information and planning my course of action. In all of the angst, whining, and gnashing that I’m hearing out there, I appreciate being able to come to your blog for the objective, cool-headed analysis. Thank you for sucking up your “druthers” and giving us the straight skinny on the evolution of the industry.

  12. Thanks for this~ it is important to hear-

  13. Strange you would be writing this as I was just thinking as I did dishes at my kitchen window how happy I am that I chose to go it alone. Last year, I was accepting the Zola Award and first place at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association 2010 Literary Contest awards dinner for my novel, “Seeing Julia”. This year, I’m not even going to the conference because I’m way past querying agents and publishers and pitching.

    I self-published two novels in May and I’m slowly garnering 5-star reviews from strangers for both my novels and as J.A. Konrath says, “forever is a long time”.

    At this point, I’m not willing to give up any of the control of my work. I like choosing my own book covers. I like planning my own deadlines. I like setting up a print version that is exceptionally beautiful with grey drop cap and lovely fonts. I accept the marketing that I have to do. I’m a little amazed by Twitter and Facebook right now. I just had a 15-year-old girl, a writer, ask me for tips about writing and the publishing world. I’m taking my time in answering her, but the first question I feel I must ask her is: what do you want?

    Your name on a list in the NYT? Or, the self satisfaction that comes with just believing in the work (your work) and not seeking endorsements from a publishing world that is so out of touch that it’s become unbelievable and more laughable by the day.

    It can be done, on your own. I did enough querying of agents (got enough of the “I just don’t feel it” or “change this and I’ll take a look” and then no response for the revised manuscript, or worse, “no response at all”). I came pretty close to accepting an offer of representation, but realized I just couldn’t endorse the dismissive behavior and began to question the expertise as I watched the self-publishing side gain momentum by the day! I just don’t see the value in agents that everyone so sweepingly gives them credit for. I’ve never been fond of people that just “don’t get it” and that is where we are today.

    Katherine Owen
    Author of Not To Us and Seeing Julia

  14. “Because tomorrow’s reality is going to be different and the only way to truly prepare for it is to be open to all information, regardless of whether we agree with it or not.”

    I so agree with you! No one knows exactly the shape that publishing will take in the future, but there’s no doubt it’s changing quickly in some rather extreme ways. It can’t possibly work to stick one’s head in the sand and cling to the old ways. Better to take in as much information as possible and adapt in ways that are beneficial throughout these radically changing times.

  15. Marie St Juste

    Thanks for keeping us updated. And as Piper said, for the cool-headed analysis.
    It’s so true that emotions shouldn’t be guiding us, that we should stay informed, and integrate all the information into our “reality” not just some of it. [Someone who thinks like I do, oh my!!]

  16. I’m jealous that you are at Thriller Fest!
    I just returned from the RWA conference and Suzan reported the mood correctly. Traditonal publishers brought some of their authors to panels that were published in both arenas to show how it was “better” to be with a publishing company. Times are indeed changing and education will be the ticket to a successful movement led by the authors.

  17. Hmmm… Good observation, Bob. This is the reason why there’s no “trad v. self-pub”. Both ways of publishing serve as author’s vehicles to bring their work to other people. Both had pros and cons but one thing is for sure. Only those who are dedicated to both selling and their craft survives. That means we need to educate and practice both the selling and writing aspect of it.

  18. “I see too many people arguing the emotions of the business rather than the reality of the business.”

    In this industry it seems too many people are stuck still furiously rubbing sticks together – and trying to keep it that way – instead of picking up a lighter and getting on with it.

    I like what a friend of mine, who is former Army RECON, always says: “When faced with a challenge, or change in plans – just go with it and Improvise, Adapt and Overcome”

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