By S. J. Rozan
Session Nine: Sales Department in Transition
Here again, a lot of talk about how publishers are now running two businesses, the traditional one and the e-one, and the rules for each are different and still shaking out.
There was discussion about publishing becoming more nimble and able to produce "drop-in titles," about catalogs and seasons disappearing. It was widely agreed the hard-copy catalog was soon to vanish, and a central online system would replace it. Although the indie booksellers' panel agreed unanimously that sending sales reps is the single most important thing a publisher can do for a bookstore, sales forces are being cut and salespeople who remain are working more by phone and email. On the good news side, technology is helping publishers be more efficient, so stores don't have to carry as much inventory.
(SJR note: Also mentioned in passing on this panel, though it would have been of interest to hear about it in depth on the indie panel, too, is the group of stores which are not bookstores and not affected by the e-market. These are places like Urban Outfitters, where books are sold along with other impulse-purchase items. There's an interesting echo here of the "mission-driven organization" partnering discussed above.)
Session Ten: Author branding
(SJR note: in the interests of full disclosure, the agent on this panel was my agent, Steve Axelrod.)
• "Branding," as used here, refers to a commitment from a company to a customer about the nature of the company's product. Authors are the company and our books are the product.
Readers like to feel included in the author's world, like to feel there's a real communication. An author's "brand" can be said to be the nature of the emotional connection between author and reader. To be successful with social media (Facebook, Twitter, one's own website, posts written for other people's websites, etc.) an author's voice must be consistent and her presence can't feel forced. Unless an author invents a genre, what sets one author apart from another is voice. One panelist said voice is like a regional accent: you don't know you have it but everyone else can hear it.
(SJR note: This doesn't mean you can't change your voice from book to book, as the book requires -- think Margaret Atwood -- but the author's online voice must be consistent.)
• All panelists agreed that the days of an author creating a work and handing it off to the publisher are gone. It's now at least as much, and often more, the author who's responsible for publicizing her book. The good news is, social media makes use of strengths writers already have -- the ability to use words well -- to reach readers. One of the panelists called social media "a gift to the shy."
• To the question of whether publishers are/should be focusing resources on creating an online presence for a writer, the panelists agreed the answer was no. This is at least in part because an online presence is author-specific, not book-specific. Because an author can leave a publisher after any given book, it's not cost-effective for a publisher to build an author brand. Publishers will build their own brands. One question from the audience called this new time commitment from authors "indentured servitude." The response was call it what you will, it's necessary, and authors who don't work this system will fail.
• There was a warning sounded about the wide reach and permanent nature of online activity. Talking back to reviewers, etc., is as wrong-headed on line as it would be in a traditional venue, but the informality of the Web makes it an easy trap to fall into.
• In the end, it was agreed, authors who are successful with social media are the ones who
-- understand the available tools;
-- define themselves clearly and consistently; and
-- understand their audience.
How to do the first two is largely up to the writer. About the third, it was suggested that writers communicate with their audiences and see what seems to strike a note with them. Questions, quizzes, conversations; looking at where readers come to your books/blogs/Facebook posts from; seeing which of your blog/Twitter/Facebook posts get the most responses and what the responses are; all these things should help a writer create a "brand" and a loyal readership.
(SJR final notes on Day One: A lot of confusion and scrambling in the industry. Author branding is essential. Know your readers, be real and, at whatever level makes you comfortable, be accessible. It may also be useful to look for a way to use/help out your local indie, if you have one. Self-pubbing is something to keep an eye on. New technologies not developed yet could change the game.)
S.J. Rozan is the award-winning author of 12 novels, including the mystery series featuring private investigators Lydia Chin and Bill Smith. Her most recent work, On the Line, finds Bill in a high-stakes chase to locate the kidnapped Lydia. For more information about S.J., go to www.sjrozan.com.
Photo of S. J. Rozan with the God of Wealth by S.J. Rozan.