How to Succeed in Today's Publishing Industry (Takeaways from Conference)

By noon on Saturday, attendees were commenting that they’d already gotten their money’s worth. I consider that a big win!

If you missed the event, you can still get some valuable takeaways:

And most remarkably, Meryl Evans sent me a note to help attendees make sense of what to do next! See below. My big thanks to her generosity.

So You Went to the Writer’s Digest Conference. What Are You Going to Do Now?
by Meryl Evans

In the Writer’s Digest Conference blog, Robert Lee Brewer reported on something he overheard:

So, earlier today, in the hallway, I overheard one writer speaking to another. She said, “I don’t have the time to handle all this.”

I was not surprised to hear this kind of statement at a conference on publishing and marketing and communicating and podcasting and basically everything we’ve been going over since Friday. But, of course, I started thinking about how successful writers should be, at least, trying.

Well, after a long pause, she continued speaking to the other (very good listener) writer, “But I have to make the time if I’m serious about making this work.”

The writer caught on. Not all of us think about how we’re going to make the most of a conference. Or we feel overwhelmed that it paralyzes us preventing us from taking action. We bring home all the notes we took filing them away only to never see them again. Then the least we can hope for is that our brains remembered a few key points while we wrote or typed them and apply them.

Review Your Notes

Take five or ten minutes to look over your notes. You can handle that, right? As you review your notes, pick one to three things you want to use. Post them in your to do list or whatever you use on a regular basis so you can remember and practice. Give yourself a deadline—you’re a writer, you can handle it. Check off each item as you do them.

Got ’em all done? Great. Now, go back to your notes to cross them off. Pick one to three more things to try. Repeat.

That wasn’t so bad, was it? Turning loads of notes into a couple of doable tasks makes a difference.

Write One Article
You probably walked away from the conference with a few article ideas. Rather than trying to do it all, I pick one topic and write the article within a couple of days after returning home. You can make it a blog entry, an article for your publication, whatever. In writing the article, those ideas will stick with you. Plus, you gain a bonus of sharing that with others.

When you finish the article, revisit the other article ideas and what you can do with them. Rather than feeling spread thin with all your article ideas, you focus on one article at a time while putting the rest away for later. You’ve captured the ideas on paper or on your laptop. They won’t disappear. Well, unless you delete them, lose them or trash them.

Key Points from WD Conference
You can find great tweets from the conference by searching Twitter for WDC09. Here are some highlights worth remembering, captured from tweets and the blog so you don’t have to read it all:

  • Christina Katz: Platform is everything you do with your expertise. So many tools are available; must prioritize, maximize your time. Do you see yourself as the producer of your writing career and take 100% responsibility for your success?
  • Jane Friedman: Platform comes first! Book second. Without a strong platform and topic—creating demand—your book will have a difficult time finding its place in the market. Any changes publishers want to make to the book is what they believe will help increase book sales. They basically want what’s economically best for your book—and that’s ultimately a good thing.
  • Scott Sigler and Seth Harwood: Once you show you can move (sell) books, publishers will take notice. That’s why giving away your first book online for free and building up an audience is essential to getting publishers—who have ignored you for years—to wake up and realize your talent and value. “You are the best person to sell your book,” says Hardwood.
  • Alice Rosengard: Sees organization as a common problem with nonfiction proposals.
  • David Mathison (Be the Media) keys: Have a direct relationship with your audience. Control your rights. Repurpose your content.
  • Chris Brogan: The best way to get a book published is to not try to get a book published. The whole trick about promoting is to not talk about yourself. Learn to talk about other people. Twitter is not about talking; it’s about listening.
  • Agent Miriam Kriss: A lot of “overnight successes” are 10 years in the making.
  • Agent Panel (Jessica Sinsheimer, Regina Brooks and Michelle Humphrey): Difference between freelanced editing and traditional editor is the latter cares, has a vested interest in the book. Professionally edited, professionally typeset, professionally designed are critical for success via POD.

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0 thoughts on “How to Succeed in Today's Publishing Industry (Takeaways from Conference)

  1. Meryl K Evans

    April, thanks for sharing your experience and perspective. You’re right that the publishers aren’t the audience — but the readers are. However, with so many "marketers" selling ebooks — there’s a certain look for their covers that reeks of spam and yet another internet marketing tactic. So that style would be the one I recommend staying away from. It doesn’t take much to find them to see what they look like.

  2. Jane Friedman

    April: Very interesting response to the agent panel! I remember Tweeting about that point in particular (that they wanted to see a professional layout and design). In some respects, I hope this will become a moot point because design/layout templates will be provided and standard for anyone who wants to use a "traditional" layout in a book (similar to the templates provided by Blurb for illustrated works).

    When looking at the e-publishing and overall digital publishing future, layout/design will take a big backseat to professionally designed layouts, since e-readers currently require that you "unformat" your work as much as possible.

    Definitely agree that most readers (non-professionals) aren’t going to be put off by a design that doesn’t conform to industry standards.

  3. Jane Friedman

    June: Thanks so much for letting us know how the event was valuable to you. We are now in the process of determining our event plan for 2010 and will definitely take into account your suggestion on the Editor Intensives! Hope we see you and connect again.

  4. june goodwin

    I was pleasantly surprised that this was Writers Digests’ first conference. It was very informative. I learned a lot to start me on a good foundation toward building a platform and understanding social networking and how to use them as an writer. Maybe you can consider bringing the Editor Intensives to NYC as well, at some point in the future. I know they would be a big hit! Looking forward to your next event!

  5. April L. Hamilton

    I enjoyed the conference a great deal, but wanted to chime in here to respectfully disagree with the agents’ panel regarding the criticality of professional layout, design, and typesetting for a POD book.

    I began each of my two sessions by passing around copies of my self-published, POD novel "Snow Ball" to allow attendees to see for themselves what level of quality they could expect to get going totally DIY with a POD print service. The book was ‘laid out’ in MS Word 2003, I used a non-standard font (Tahoma), and I even designed my own book cover in a consumer-level graphics and photo editor program. Some people reading this may be cringing, but many attendees sought me out after the sessions to say how impressed and surprised they were at the quality of the book, and how indistinguishable it was from a mainstream book to their eyes. Several specifically mentioned how much I’d improved over the readability of a typical mainstream book by setting my line spacing and gutters wider than ‘industry standard’ and using a larger font size than standard.

    In each session, I stated that a publishing professional could tell at a glance that my books weren’t professionally typeset, designed or laid out, but that it doesn’t really matter because publishing pros are not my intended audience: regular readers are. The average reader doesn’t know, nor care, what industry standards are for layout, design and typography. All they care about is that the book looks more or less the same as a mainstream book to them inside and out, has a quality binding, and is easy to read. Similarly, if a publisher takes an interest in your book it will be on the basis of sales figures, buzz, reader reactions or content, *not* the book’s layout, typography or design—unless it’s a book about layout, typography or design.

    So in my opinion, it’s generally a waste of money to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for pro layout, design and typography for most books. Doing so means you must sell many more copies of your book to recoup your upfront investment in pro services, and it will probably force you to price your book higher than a comparable mainstream book. This makes your book harder to sell and makes it that much less likely you will *ever* recoup your upfront investment.

    As with most things, there are exceptions. If your book’s intended audience includes professional typesetters or layout/design artists, or if your book is heavily peppered with charts, illustrations, tables, or other graphic elements which aren’t easy to manage on your own, then it’s worth seeking out a professional. However, if the cost of hiring such a pro forces you to price your book significantly higher than a comparable mainstream book, it may not make financial sense to self-publish the book at all since it will be so difficult to sell.