Some interesting things that came up at the UK GLBT writers meet in Milton Keynes July 23rd 2011 and my thoughts about them.
Claire Sienaszkiewicz, CEO of Total-E-Bound publishers did a presentation about eBook publishing, and raised the very interesting point that Borders, the US book retailer which has just gone out of business, didn’t have its own eBook reader, unlike the other big players in book retailing, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. A sign that Borders missed the boat?
Publishers who are primarily or solely eBook based price differently than the big publishers, who may for example price an eBook as the same price as the hardback and only reduce the price when the paperback comes out. This is a very interesting point for me, because I don’t necessarily think that’s only about the big publishers being stuck in the past and afraid of eBooks – though they might well be! But is it down to the difference in the books they are selling. There’s a big difference between a mainstream book from a famous writer, which will fly off the shelves and be #1 in the chart for weeks and book from a small press which is only available on eBook and is maybe in a small niche genre – like m/m romance for one!
If you buy a hardback you pay a premium price for it over a paperback. But you’re not only paying for the extra cost of producing hardbacks – you’re paying to read that book NOW. That is on the release date, not in a year’s time when the paperback comes out. So it makes a kind of sense for the publisher to price the eBook at the same or close to the hardback, even though the costs are much smaller, because you’re still paying the premium to have the book now, not later. Not saying I like it, but I think that’s the logic behind it.
Another thing raised by Total-E-Bound was the faster turnaround time for eBooks, so a writer can more quickly build up a readership and a backlist. Backlist is key with eBooks, because they don’t have to go out of print like paper books. You find a new writer you like and their books are all available in eBook, you can go buy them all! Aside from the really big authors you can’t usually do that in a book shop. They just don’t have room. Even an author’s latest book, unless they’re a bestseller will probably only be on the shelves for six months. If you haven’t made your mark by then, forget it. But with eBooks they’re available anytime a new reader happens to find them.
In the panel on writing historical fiction Alex Beecroft talked about how the key to authentic portrayal of the past isn’t just in the detail of the settings, but in the characters, whose minds and behaviour has to fit the time period. Many of us know the feeling of reading a historical and wondering if the main character is actually a time traveller from the presnt, since they seem so out of place in their own world. I think this is a useful point for anyone writing something set outside of the time and place they are most familiar with, whether it’s modern, but in another culture, or writing an alien who needs to be different from the humans not just because he has pointy ears. Characters carry their culture with them, even if they’ve left it, even if they’ve rejected it.
Clare London talked about marketing and promo and advised not to expect things in this niche genre to be like the mainstream, but to make the most of the enthusiasm of the readership for the genre. This intrigues me as it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. Some writers fret about the genre being primarily centred around eBooks. Or they think if only readers would be more open minded then m/m could break through more into the mainstream, at least within the romance genre. I’m not sure that the first worry is useful or that the second one is true. Should writers who want to write m/m romance work with things the way they are? The genre is growing nicely, but let’s be realistic, we’re not worrying the likes of Dan Brown and Nora Roberts. If you want to be a mainstream bestseller, then you can’t write books only a relatively small (or not so relatively!) number of people want to read. There is no squaring that circle. Books with gay protagonists do sometimes do well, win prizes and sell thousands of copies – but they’re going to be serious literary works, never romance. Just the way it is, in my opinion. Accept it and enjoy our exclusive club!
Also mentioned – the fact that there is no known direct correlation between online author promo and sales. I guess like any form of advertising it’s hard to pin down if it’s working. There’s a saying to the effect of 95% of all advertising is wasted. Unfortunatley nobody knows which 95%.
An interesting point came up about the fact there’s such a tiny amount of f/f romance compared to m/m romance. It’s not submitted as much and it doesn’t sell as much when it is published. Is the market for that even more niche than m/m? Is there a way to expand it, or is it likely to stay that way? If the market for m/m romance is straight women and gay men then technically the market for f/f romance should be lesbian women and straight men – but straight men generally don’t read romance – of any kind! So it may be doomed to be forever a tiny genre. The point was also raised that lots of m/m writers come through from fandom, where m/m slash is huge, and f/f slash very much smaller. So fewer writers of f/f are emerging from the fandom apprenticeship.
Well, this is already way too long, so I’d better wrap it up! Can you tell I’m frustrated by the lack of Live Journal this week? The meet was great fun as well as informative. We talked about way more than the few points I’ve mentioned here, and then talked a lot more at the restaurant and in the bar afterwards. Roll on 2012!