Saturday, May 11, 2013

Romantic Times 2013 Observations, Eavesdropping and Overall Impression


Romantic Times organizers found themselves – probably for the first time ever – inundated with participants from the NY Times bestseller list (the “List”), and they were in a tailspin tending to that List.  Directions to workshops and events were mixed up, many of them had the wrong names on the wrong rooms, event organizers were hard to find and support staff seemed non-existent.  The most common response was “just go look at the tags on the doors or read the schedule that came in your bags” (many of which were wrong).  Mass confusion!

Of course, it was inevitable that certain participants would need to be pushed aside in order for the organizers to respond to all the members of the List who showed up this year.  Those participants were, unfortunately, readers, aspiring authors, small press authors and other members of the “smaller community”.  On the day of the big book sale, I understand some of those authors got together and rented a room over at the Marriott and then passed out postcards to their fans telling them where they could be found.  My partner, Jamie Hill, and I were grateful that we didn’t bring any books and were spared that experience.   

Jamie Hill

As Books We Love, we focused on what would be most beneficial to our authors.  We attended workshops related to changes in the industry, marketing using social media and (here’s where the eavesdropping came in, a few workshops geared towards larger publishers and agents and how they were faring), which, interestingly enough, was fairly consistent across the board.  A large number of List authors were freaking out about the fact that with ebooks dominating the industry their NY publishers are pricing their ebooks out of the competitive marketplace.  That’s not to say their books aren’t selling, hey, I myself bought a JD Robb ebook for $14.99 and got severely scolded by my partner: -), but I had a long airline flight, and if the new release by Books We Love’s Joan Hall Hovey ("... Joan Hall Hovey has penned as good a thriller as I have ever read...a superb tale of terror and suspense that puts her right up there with the likes of Sandford and Patterson..."Ingrid Taylor for Small Press Review”) whose novella is priced at only $2.99 had been released before I left, then I’d have foregone the JD Robb and been reading Joan’s Defective which is now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords and coming soon to all your favorite online retailers.

Fortunately, Jamie and I made good choices.  The workshop focusing on Apple and their major move to counteract the Amazon machine was fascinating, and gave us lots of new material for charting our own course in 2014 and beyond.  One of the List authors gave a particularly interesting presentation on the use of Facebook fan pages and groups and as a result of what we learned in that workshop we’ve started our book club, which in three days has gained 350 members.  Those of you who follow our Blogs and Facebook will already know about this but if you don’t already follow us, we’d love to have you, please do come by and join our Facebook Book Club (or like our Facebook Fan page) where you’ll see that we’ve already implemented many of the suggestions we got from those workshops.   

In summary, Romantic Times is not a conference that I would recommend for small press publishers or authors.  They’ve already decided to jump on the List train, and maybe, for them, this is the right choice. 

As a small press publisher, Jamie and I will be looking at regional conferences – the ones that are very happy to have small press publishers and authors in attendance and who make a lot of effort to provide opportunities for authors and readers to connect and interact, and to provide Workshops that focus on advice from experts in the small press segment of the publishing industry – relevant content to all of us, and of course, Readers! Readers! Readers!

In my opinion the Romantic Times organizers made a huge mistake when they shunted the small press authors and their publishers off to an “overflow motel” to sign their books, and Jamie and I were very glad to have opted not to participate in either the eBook Fair or the print book fiasco.  We’ve heard there were many complaints from small press publishers and authors who stated that they “definitely won’t be back to Romantic Times”.  Unquestionably they did not appreciate being treated like the proverbial unwanted step-children. 

Jude Pittman

Putting on my author hat, Romantic Times had very little to offer me individually and if I’d paid that large conference fee as well as airfare and accommodation to attend a conference that was focused on an entirely different segment of the industry I’d have been mad.  As a publisher, we benefited from the marketing workshops, the social media workshops, conversations about industry changes and fluctuation and of course, from watching some of the scrambling.  It was like being an outside—insider to observe these “industry leaders” reacting to this new world.  One of the agents joked that an awful lot of his contemporaries were out there selling cars instead of books. 


In addition to the workshops we interviewed some very promising aspiring authors, and we’re excited about adding a couple of new faces to our team.  A lot of those authors liked the focus of Books We Love and what we have to offer our authors, and they definitely loved the fact that ours is one of the highest paying contracts in the industry – if not the highest.  

We met our expectations and we learned a lot about the current state of NY publishing and where they are going.  More than one List author was heard to lament the fact that he/she was stuck in a contract that tied her books up for decades and was never going to get the rights back to either take them to a small press publisher or self-publish the books themselves.  Almost unanimously these List authors agreed that if you’re going to go the self-publishing route, you need to hire a manager and a promotion team to take care of all the details required in publishing.  You need someone to format, someone to design, someone to arrange for your cover, someone to take care of the actual publishing and definitely you need someone to do the marketing, announce your book, promote your website and fan sites and all the millions of other details that either your Small Press Publisher or your combination business and promotion manager needs to take care of so that you can take care of your number one job – writing.

The next most common refrain we heard from the List authors giving workshops is that if you want to be a known author then the most important thing for you to do is write your books.  You cannot write one book and expect that you’re going to become a name author.  Most of these List authors are writing anywhere from four to ten books a year.  They know that writing is a business and being on the List requires an equal combination of talent, luck, determination, good marketing and downright hard work. You can’t have a best seller if you don’t first write one.

Overall, it was a positive experience for us.  We went with realistic expectations, and of course we had a lot of our own business to take care of.  We also met with Michelle our cover artist and were able to exchange ideas and suggestions.  Look for Jamie Hill’s release of two favorites in one volume, Playing for Keeps coming soon to Books We Love.

Look for a future “Insider” post where I’ll explore the various conferences available to authors and what those conferences have to offer Small Press.  Happy Writing! and Reading, of course!  Jude Pittman, author of the Kelly McWinter mysteries.