This is the final post in my series recapping the Life, The Universe, and Everything 2017 writer’s conference held in Provo, Utah earlier this year. Here’s Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
Jana S. Brown Presentation: Traditional vs. Self Publishing: Epic Throwdown
Another great presentation. Jana S. Brown made the point that writers aren’t in competition with each other since readers can read lots of books each year. Another important thing to keep in mind is that 85 percent of book sales (for both traditional publishers and self publishers) go through Amazon, so you have to make sure you don’t get on their bad side no matter which publishing route you take.
There are pros and cons to every type of publishing, but no matter which way you end up going, you should finish your manuscript before you try to get it published. Otherwise, you’ll be given a deadline to finish your book which results in you writing the book too quickly and it turns out not as good.
Traditional publishers – have connections, distribution channels, experience, marketing, and pay for book costs. However, they’re much slower, pay lower royalties, authors don’t have as much control, you’re judged by sales, you have no control over payment schedule, you lose the rights to your book so you can’t self-publish if it goes out of print, and you have to do a contract in which you sometimes lose rights to future works.
Self-publishing – higher royalties, author has more control, get to keep your rights, and more frequent pay schedule. However, you have to pay for production and marketing, there’s no advance, and you have to pay for cover and editing. Jana Brown mentioned a new self-publishing platform called Pronoun which she was impressed with, but said it’s still too early to tell how good they’ll end up being.
Hybrid publishing – Many authors opt to go with a traditional publisher for works that are easy to categorize and thus easier to sell, and self-publish for works which don’t quite fit into any established genre. The downside is it takes a lot of organization, plus if the traditional publisher puts first right of refusal into your contract, that can prevent you from self-publishing other works.
Small Press – have higher royalties, more flexible contracts, and they’ll pay for the book creation costs. However, they require more from the author than traditional publishers. Some small presses are actually vanity presses in disguise. (If they ask you to give them money instead of the other way around, they’re most likely a vanity press.) Another huge downside to small presses is that most of them fail within five years.
If you don’t self-publish, the most important thing to do is read the contract! It’s worth it to hire an IP lawyer for a couple hundred bucks to go over it and tell you what it says. Don’t sign the contract if you don’t like it or don’t understand it. Try to get them to change it if possible, and if they won’t change it, leave.
Keynote: Beth Meacham – Guest of Honor
Beth Meacham has been an editor for many big names in science fiction such as Jack Vance and Orson Scott Card. She spoke of how she first fell in love with Sci-Fi at her local library at a young age and then she fielded questions from the audience. She mentioned that self-publishing today is a lot like the state of affairs in the 1800s when printing presses became more available. Charles Dickens self-published some of his work.
Her advice to authors: be nice to the little people. No one will want to work with you if you treat secretaries and clerks like they’re beneath you. If you want to get noticed, make sure you have a strong unique voice with something to say to the world.
The last event I attended before I got burned out was a live taping of the Writing Excuses podcast hosted by Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Tayler. The podcast is 15 minutes long, so they actually taped several episodes while they were there.
First they spoke about gendered dialogue. In general (obviously there are numerous exceptions), women tend to seek connection and give compliments, while men tend to seek status and jokingly insult each other. When women complain about something, they just want to be heard, but men mistakenly try to fix the problem. Men tend to be more direct, women tend to be more passive aggressive (although this is also cultural). Dan Wells mentioned that early readers of one of his books didn’t think the women were self-deprecating enough. (I wonder, though, if you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, isn’t it okay to make female characters more confident than women generally are in real life?)
Next, they interviewed Courtney Alameda about horror fiction and advised writers to do something unexpected. Dan Wells said the xenomorph in Alien rapes and impregnates men, which totally subverts the trope. Another example is Hannibal being calmer than we’d expect him to be, which makes him creepier.
They also interviewed J. D. Payne who worked on Star Trek Beyond. He said screen writers who aren’t nice don’t get invited back. Screenwriting is a collaborative effort, so you can’t have an ego. When disagreeing with somebody, use “Yes and…” statements rather than “No but…” statements to reduce conflict.
Since multiple panels were going on at any given time, there were obviously lots of panels and presentations I didn’t attend, but I was definitely impressed with the conference overall. So, did going to this conference help me as a writer? Cat Rambo wrote that the most important thing about going to writing workshops and conferences like this isn’t learning how to write better since you can find that out easily enough on your own, but rather, the real value comes from making contacts. On that count, I definitely failed, because I didn’t really talk to anybody. However, I had a lot of fun and got to see how it’s done. I got to know several local writers and I picked up several of their books.
I got to admit, I felt a little depressed when I realized that all authors also have to be salespeople. Whether you’re self-published or not, you have to promote yourself and build your brand. I mean, I still feel guilty about pressuring my grandma into buying chocolate for a school fundraiser that happened decades ago. How can I be a salesperson? I guess I’ve just got to put myself out there and see if anything happens.