Looking for trust: Author Day to FutureBook 2015

Looking for trust: Author Day to FutureBook 2015

#FutureBook15 update: Join us at 12:10 p.m. Friday at The FutureBook 2015 Conference for a panel on Author-Centric Publishing for commentary on messages from our #AuthorDay event that opened FutureBook Week on Monday. 

Sending messages from one conference to another

On Friday at FutureBook 2015, I'll present a distillation of the concerns we encountered when our Author Day delegates—both authors and publishers—took us up on the offer to put rancor and blame aside and simply to speak truthfully about what they're encountering, both from the writerly side of the industry and from the business centers.

As FutureBook approaches, there's news that Simon & Schuster's Atria Publishing Group expects to launch its all-new Crave app for what publisher Judith Curr calls "the new reader" on Wednesday. That means this author-centered, mobile serial-subscription innovation developed with New York City's Paragraph studios will be going live just in time for Curr's appearance Friday on the 12:10 p.m. panel I'll chair, "Writing the Future: Author-Centric Publishing." 

Our profile of Curr and her Crave-ing, if you will, is here. In it, you can read her saying something I'd love for our Author Day attendees on Monday to have heard: she and her colleagues for years now have been actively seeking out self-publishing authors they wanted to work with in the trade-publishing environment, most particularly for the company's digital developments.

Notice Curr's use of the word "trust":

Unless your authors trust you and understand that you're doing everything to get them more readers, it won't matter how many ideas you have. Because self-published authors are aware that they're self-sufficient...they're more open. They haven't been in the traditional system and there aren't obstacles in the way. These authors are pioneers and have grown up in the digital space. We can use those tools quickly.

Trust. This may be the core term of Author Day, once we've all looked back at Monday's inaugural staging of that issues-driven event. Unlike many standard author-based conference events, Author Day, by design, was configured as:

  • A discussion of conditions and challenges in which our authors find themselves, not a how-to or an inspirational conference, and
  • An inclusive event deliberately bringing publishing professionals into the mix along with both independent authors and trade-publishing authors: a chance to speak and listen together.

Thanks to my colleagues at The Bookseller—a team that was unfailingly supportive of this unusual effort (and they brought off the day at 30 Euston Square with style and efficiency)—we were able to arrange for many authors to speak with agents and publishing house editors during the course of the day. And with the help of Jo Ellis and Eloise Wales of The Writing Platform, we captured a range of comments.

Our newsroom has produced a fine round of coverage with which you can review the day, including:

And a part of our creation of Author Day as the opening event of FutureBook Week has been the plan to deliver a kind of message to FutureBook 2015 when it sits on Friday. At our "Author-Centric Publishing" panel, I'll present some of the concerns we encountered,.

A quick smattering of phrases gives you a good clue to some of the observations of the day:

  • “Fantastic to keep the debates going and the two worlds talking - this is *essential* for progress.” 
  • “Writers are leaving industry in droves - aren't there loads ready to take their place?” 
  • “Here's an idea: want to promote diversity? Employ diverse, publish diverse, get authors to talk about their work, not diversity” 
  • “Worth noting that when Amazon drops prices to consumers author still gets royalty based on full retail price - on that basis they are on the side of both authors and consumers."
  •  “It's up to the individual author per book project which way they want to go IMHO ‪‪#authorempowerment.” 
  • “It's not a myth that many writers w big pub houses do not get edited"
  • “Assisted publishing" between self and trad publishing... Yes yes yes great route to getting on shelves and on smartphones” 
  • “There’s a difference between having a marketing plan and having an effective marketing plan.” 
  • “Gender bias can be combatted only if those at decision-making level are better attuned & conscious. Redress the balance” 
  • “The final panel does seem to be saying that writing itself needs to change in the digital age” 
  • "I've had experience of publishers at the top wanting to work in new ways, whereas staff lower down haven't been enabled to do it. They do not have the training, they are working outside of their comfort zones and under time and deadline constraints."

Overall, trust was the key element of what was being said, debated, discussed, sometimes challenged with real verve—the day was punctuated at times with rounds of applause. An express understanding was put into place that, inasmuch as possible, we'd like to avoid the us-vs.-them argument axis so familiar in recent years. Sometimes we achieved this. At other times, the depths of what author Jane Steen called "a profession divided" simply seemed too deep.

Professionals in the industry say that they feel that they're working with authors' welfare in mind.

Many, many writers—those professionals' trade authors among them—say they don't see enough to persuade them that this is true. 

Many independent authors, for their part, seem to mistrust the industry's interest in evaluating how they work with their own authors. (Curr might stand as an intriguing exception.) 

Many trade people, on the other hand, seem to mistrust independents' interest in the business at all.

We encountered myriad variations on this theme, of course, some of which we'd deliberately programmed into the day:

  • The failures of metadata and sheer collegial interest when it comes to properly crediting illustrators and translators;
  • Obvious issues of diversity—as in the lack of it—in the staffing configurations of so many sectors of the business;
  • Gender issues that reach into so many parts of the business, from awards to children's literature;
  • The changing relationships authors may find they have with agents and with agents-who-become-publishers; and
  • A near-universal scramble to find that "cut-through" to the readership both for authors and for publishers.

Feedback: Giving it, getting it

One of the most frequently repeated comments of the day came from author Harry Bingham's survey statistic—based on the springtime "Do You Love Your Publisher?" survey that he and my colleague Jane Friedman mounted this year. Bingham and Friedman's voluntary survey responses indicated that more than 80 percent of authors had never been asked by their publishers for feedback. And throughout the day, there were similarly puzzling and frustrating examples of ways in which we don't talk to each other, especially in terms of asking, as New York Mayor Ed Koch was famous for putting it to voters, "How am I doing?"

Trust comes from a willingness to ask. And not just in the trade-publishing arena but also in independent circles. If we don't inquire about perceptions and satisfaction and potential improvement and needs for change at all points of contact, how are we to know what might be done to come together in success? 

This, by the way, runs both ways. The overwhelming majority of our delegates agreed when asked Monday that they'd like to send a message to the industry via FutureBook 2015 requesting ways and means to provide feedback to publishers. 

I'd also like to propose that authors, too, start asking for feedback: "How am I doing in delivering my material? Am I supportive of a marketing campaign my publisher is mounting? Am I looking to the needs of fellow writers, of editors, of publishers, of author-service providers?" There is room everywhere for good feedback and for open minds when it arrives. 

What we heard Monday at Author Day was an avid interest in communication, clear and earnest and supportive dialogue. To avoid being an industry pulled apart from each other in the common bid for traction in a digital marketplace, that kind of interaction may be just the ticket. But it's going to have to go both ways.

The Author Day delegates made it clear that this is within bookish people's grasp: it looks a lot like a handshake.


A word about our hashtag #AuthorDay

We had a big success Monday with the use of our hashtag #AuthorDay. Many authors and their fans—some of the writers completing their NaNoWriMo month-long efforts at novel-writing—took to Twitter with us, turning it into an international shout-out, not only to follow the event's commentary but also to cheer on their colleagues and writer-friends. Some heartfelt, some just plain giddy, the tweets that crowded into our stream show a remarkable outpouring of enthusiasm for writers and storytelling that should warm the heart of anyone who loves books and is interested in the future of reading and of the industry.

The positivism you read in those tweets echoed the determinedly upbeat effort of our Author Day delegates, themselves. Those who spin snark around the industry's challenges probably would have found Author Day infuriating, I'm glad to say. Inasmuch as we came to speak frankly and constructively, the trust was palpable.

And so you'll see us hoist the #AuthorDay hashtag again as we generate more events and context for our discussions in the future. Our thanks to all who followed us, some at very great distances, as well as to the sponsors, speakers, delegates and staffers who make this first outing such a success. Cheers to you all.