What divides us?

What divides us?

Of "trade" and "the Trade"

Today we're making the "programme reveal" for the inaugural FutureBook Author Day conference, which is set for Monday, 30th November. It's on the 30th at the 30th, 30 Euston Square, headquarters of the Royal College of General Practitioners, we'll all be healthier for it. Our programme should appear, if it hasn't done so already, here

The event will open FutureBook Week—which culminates in the 4th December FutureBook Conference 2015—with an examination of the issues facing authors and their industry today.

We're operating on the belief that there are enough teaching conferences in place now. There are enough "pitching" conferences designed to introduce authors to available services. There are enough self-publishing author conferences. There are enough author-only conferences. And there's nothing wrong with them. Each type of programme has its place. 

We are taking a different aim.

The Author Day plan rests on these distinctions as important to its purpose:

  • The day is for both traditionally publishing authors and for self-publishing authors.
  • It is just as much for publishing industry personnel as it is for authors. 
  • Its growing list of sponsors—and we are grateful for their support—are there to support the day's mission and to contribute their comments, as well, on the issues and challenges being encountered by our authors in this unprecedented moment in publishing's development. Their services and products may be made available to you in the common areas of our meeting space, but not from the podium. Once in-conference, we are all working together through the issues: selling nothing, debating everything.

With the support of The Writing Platform, we're devising a way for Author Day delegates to log in messages to our "comment capture desk" all day from their phones and tablets. We want to record and consider the ideas that strike you while someone is speaking but then get away from you if you don't write them down. We want your questions, your objections, your agreement, your opinions, your concerns.

And by day's end, we will be revisiting those messages as we engage in a conference-wide debate that will contribute to the Author Day statement going into the FutureBook when it sits five days later at the Mermaid Theatre. 

  • We are especially glad to have the strong support and leading presence at Author Day of both the Society of Authors (SoA, @Soc_of_Authors) and the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi, @IndieAuthorALLi). We have special pricing for members of both groups. We adamantly invite writers of all stripes. (Our Early Bird rates, good to the end of the month, save £30 off the cost of a seat.)
  • We also are eager to welcome publishing-house workers at all levels to our event. We need and want their perspective. We believe that they, too, understand the unique position of the author in the industry and perhaps have done so for much longer, as a group, than have newly enabled independent writers.

And today in #FutureChat, we want your input about what you see as the condition, the status, the stance and place of the author.

  • How has that presence evolved?
  • What has become of a writerly profession once considered so hard to join and now open to everyone?
  • What issue would you place on the center of the table at Author Day?

This story was written as the walkup to the #FutureChat of 23rd October 2015. Join us each Friday live on Twitter at:

  • 4:00 p.m. London (BST)
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  • 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT)

A house divided

One of our regular #FutureChat participants, the editor Carla Douglas (here's her #FutureBook15 manifesto "for all writers"), has commented on how the social media have changed the nature of writing as a profession. Where once the writing life was among the more isolated vocations, she points out, it quite suddenly is among the most social. Writers may have more time—or at least spend more time—talking with each other on various social channels than employees whose work allows them no discretionary conversation time. This is both cheering to those who decry writing's "loneliness" and worrisome to those who wonder if the echo-chamber effect of authors talking to authors, day in and day out, isn't producing its own kind of isolation.

If we see, as some do, a "shadow industry" of independent production develop outside of trade publishing, cultivating its own audience, operating as its own community, what does that mean to the creative core of the storytelling industry as a whole?

On the other hand, if we perceive, as some do, an "industry shrug" to be the main response to rising and serious objections to author contract standards, revenue downturns for writers, and a stupendous new level of writerly competition unprecedented in publishing history, what does it mean has become of the mainstream traditional sector in literature?

Many, including Fabrice Piault and Barbara Casassus for The Bookseller, covered the comments made at Frankfurt Book Fair last week by Hachette Livre's Arnaud Nourry (pictured by Bernd Hartung for #FBM15). Liz Bury at Publishers Weekly reported Nourry's comments on self-publishing this way:

Nourry described self-publishing as "the contrary of my business. We look at books and decide what we do and do not want to invest in. Sometimes publishers are wrong, as with 50 Shades of Grey, but even in this case E.L. James wanted a traditional publisher. When print is 85% of the market, you need it. I am not competing against self-publishing and it will not change my business."

Is independent publishing "the contrary" of the Trade?

How widespread is this perspective in trade publishing? That's something we'd like to know. And we intend to respect and support honest responses. There is no blame at Author Day. There are too many good questions to be asked for us to waste our time in acrimony.

And we hope to create an environment in which representatives of both sides of this sometimes deeply bifurcated industry can speak frankly. We don't need prayerful choruses of Kumbaya as much as we need plain speech and respectful exchange.

Because there's a bit of a formula here that needs a chance to be explicated: The digital empowerment of authors is easily the best opportunity offered to them in decades to explore their relationship to the infrastructure of publishing. But if the capabilities of self-publishing cannot be seen by that industry as providing a viable pedestal for rational, responsible, professional debate, then the industry-political promise of the independent author has failed. Whether you agree with it or not, an opinion like Nourry's—that self-publishing has no bearing on his industry—will flourish if the centricity of the author is not recognised.

In terms of the 30th of November, I want to quote some text we've carefully worked out for the Author Day site. We believe:

  • That ‘traditional’ and independent publishers and authors can come together to share their strengths and expertise
  • That it is possible to disagree without disrespect
  • That the findings we obtain from Author Day will increase understanding between publishers and authors, create a one-of-a kind dialogue and move the industry as a whole forward

To get at that, we need everybody in the room. We'd like you there with us. 

And today in #FutureChat, let's take the question of independent vs. trade publishing as a starting point for this pre-event discussion:

How substantially do you think the advent of digital self-publishing has affected the publishing establishment in its regard and relations with authors?

See you in #FutureChat.

Join us each Friday live on Twitter at 4:00 p.m. London (BST), 3:00 p.m. GMT, 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11:00 a.m. New York (ET), 10:00 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9:00 a.m. Denver (MT), 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5:00 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).

As we add more "Five-Minute Manifestos on the Future of the Book Business, our most recently published #FutureBook15 manifestos are:

Main image - iStockphoto: josiephos