Home Features The Winchester Writers' festival (Part 1)

The Winchester Writers' festival (Part 1)

by Louisa Klein

So, I went to the Winchester’s Writers festival and it was a real tour de force, I tell you!
I took in so much in one day, That I have to write two posts to share it with you. So… let’s start!
I woke up at 5 (UGH!) to get there by 9,30 and I was very punctual. My idea was to do a bit of networking before my first talk about indie and traditional publishing, held by the amazing agent Lorella Belli.
Well, I was very disappointed about the networking part since, well, the WWC is mostly crowded by er … Let’s say mature ladies (mostly grandma mature) who consider writing as a hobby. And 99% of them are completely clueless, who- is- Hugh Howey- clueless, in spite of the fact that they want to selfpublish. You know when you tell your parents’ best friend that you’re writing/have written a novel/story and they tell you: “Oh, how nice! When I retire I also soo want to write a book!” Well, it’s not just small talk they’re doing. They mean it. So, after like, 50 years without writing a single word, all of a sudden retire and tadaa! They magical turn into writers. Which is, of course, impossible. And any story teller who’s reading this can confirm my statement since, if you’re a real writer, you just have to write and tell stories. You simply have to, you cannot help it. J.K wrote a ton of unpublished books before Harry Potter. No one ever read them, let alone publish them. But she wrote them because SHE HAD TO.
So, to cut a long story short, no valuable networking can be done. Also, agents and editors are not to be seen around (maybe they show up only for their appointments?) and definitely do no eat in the canteen with everyone else.
Anyone, my first talk was with agent Lorella Belli who talked about pros and cons of indie publishing versus traditional publishing and also added a few very useful info.
According to Ms Belli, the pros of indie publishing are those we all know already: complete creative control (for the good and for the bad), freedom sell our books at a low price, ability to publish as many books as we want without waiting.
The downsides of indie publishing are of course that you must be your own marketing department, you will be able to sell only Ebooks because, let’s face it, what bookshop will ever store physical books of an indie? Also, you’re in charge of the quality of your book so, if you choose a bad cover or bad editor and then the book doesn’t sell, you cannot blame anyone.
As for the upsides of traditional publishing: if you get the right agent for you he/she will be your best advocate before and during publication. also, a professional agent will help a writer throughout his/her carrier and not only with the first book. I absolutely agree with that.
As for the upsides of traditional pub, they’re not so straightforward, depending on many factors. Ms Belli pointed out that in the last 20 years selling books has become partiularly tough, therefore publishing houses have cut a lot of costs, which means:
1) Lower advances (generally speaking, of course there are still plenty of happy exceptions)
2) Much, MUCH less investments into promoting writers and their books;
3) The almost total disappearance of midlist authors.
Let’s go into details:
1) Books (especially particular fiction genres) are selling less and less, therefore publishers are getting more and more cautious and advances are getting lower and lower, even when we’re talking of rather established authors.
2) Lower advances are usually connected to LESS promotion.
Ms Belli told us that, in the good old days, a detailed marketing plan was attached to the publishing contract so, if the book didn’t sell as expected, the agent could go through the marketing plan and actually check if the publisher had done everything that was promised to promote the book. Nowadays, JUST FORGET IT! Today, publishing contracts just contain a general marketing clause with no specification of neither a budget or the actions that will be taken to promote the title. Actually, since sales have consistently decreased, to save money publishers made  very important cuts in their marketing departments (it’s true, I was one of those cuts 🙁 ). It’s crazy, if you think about it: you are not selling enough books, so you’re actually sacking the people who were helping you … selling books? Seriously?
All the above doesn’t count if you got a high advance: the more money a publisher spends to acquire your book, the more said publisher will invest into its promotion. In fact, 2 years ago Amanda Hocking declared on her blog that she had chosen to go with Saint Martin not out of greediness (although I say 2 millions are 2 millions … 😉 ) but because, having paid that much, she was sure that company would promote her books in the best way ever.
Be careful, though, since more money = more pressure and if your book doesn’t pay its advance you might:
a) get a much lower advance for your next book or
b) get NO ADVANCE at all.
On the other hand, let’s not forget that the advance is money upfront you get, no matter what you do and that publishers truly take a risk when they acquire a new book (especially from a debt author). Remember: this business is so very subjective and no one, no matter how experienced, can know for sure how things will turn out (for the good and for the bad).
3) Midlist authors are practically on the verge of extinction, especially lower midlist. No one is interested in them anymore, especially if they write certain genres, such as crime novels. Unless it’s a very small publisher we are talking about, no publisher is interested in a book averaging sales of 2000 – 3000 copies. Those who are established and have been in the business for a while, very often self publish their backlist.
Last but no least, we asked Ms Belli how many copies an indie book is supposed to sell to attract a publisher’s attention. Her answer surprised us all: she said AT LEAST 40000. Everyone’s jaw dropped, including mine. The talk had ended and there wasn’t any time to ask any details, but we all thought the same thing: if a writer already sells 40000 copies on her own of one title, she gets an average annual income of at least $80000 net of tax ( if she sells the book at, say, $3,99). It’s of course much more if she has multiple titles. So, why would someone who already earns that kind of money, need an agent and a publisher?  Even more interesting is what agent Ian Drury told me on the matter, because his answer was practically the opposite but I’ll tell you about it tomorrow!

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