A Daydream of RWA in the Future

Unicorn And Rainbow

Romance Writers of America had their annual national conference last week in New York City. In the middle of Manhattan, in the moment of a massive change in publishing that will disenfranchise many and enrich many others, no official workshop or spotlight addressed what was buzzing in so many minds.

This wasn’t a surprise; the conference content is designed the year before, and the tsunami of digital self-publishing happened in the past six months.

Nevertheless, as a member of RWA, I was personally disappointed.

Many great conversations were probably had at the bar, and over meals outside of the hotel; in the elevator; in quiet corners; in the hallways. Not openly. Not where it could be discussed as a business topic instead of as the dreadful family secret that everyone was really thinking about but was too afraid to discuss openly.

I expected debate. Those who had put their work on Kindle and Nook and Smashwords talking about their experience with those who were still adamantly pursuing print contracts with trade publishers.

Instead, mentioning self-publishing was like mentioning a parent’s alcoholism at your grandma’s Christmas Eve party. Bad form. This was a time of celebration, of connecting with old friends, meeting loving fans, taking a break from all the hard, isolating work of being a writer. No time to talk about how scared shitless everyone was.

No, not everyone; that was the thing. Some of us are thrilled. I am. Madeline Hunter, in a keynote address, mentioned the viability of self-publishing as a market, how it was a path out of fear. Some clapped, many were silent.

RWA is a fantastic group of people, and I’m optimistic that they (we) will come around. Not as optimistic as I was last week before the conference, but it’s hard to redirect an enormous ship in the open sea.

So here’s a daydream of what could be. Maybe not next year, maybe not ever, but I’ve always been afflicted with a vivid imagination.

RWA National Conference of the Future!

1. Self-publishing as a market, not a religion. Just like some write category romance for Harlequin, others write ebooks directly for their readers, bypassing trade publishers. And many write both. (Note: Amazon and Barnes & Noble are not necessary for this.) A workshop would discuss formatting, social networking (not just Facebook), royalty rates, freelance editors, cover artists – everything. Because it would be a career-focused group of writers intent on making a living.

2. Free books in digital format. No more piles of mass-market paperbacks to lug up to your hotel room and pay to get home. Samhain gave out plastic freebie cards – why not everyone? Getting an author’s signature could be a matter of adding a signature strip, like on a credit card. Or on a postcard. Or digitally on a touch screen. The technology is already here; habits will follow.

3. No more How To Write a Query Letter workshops.  As self-publishing becomes the norm, for new and established writers alike, the cold-call query will be a thing of the past. Why not sell a few copies while you’re trying to break in (if you still want to)? And if you’re an editor or agent, why would you want to buy a new author that didn’t even try selling it for Kindle first? This is controversial, and I’m relying on my own crystal ball for this one, but that’s what I see in it.

4. Less fear.  I owe this one to Madeline Hunter (who has an awesome series out right now, by the way. I especially loved Sinful in Satin.) If writers can get their books directly to readers on their own, much of the Culture of Suck-up falls apart. Granted, you’re sucking up to the reader instead of the panels of experts (agents and publishers), but that’s cool with me. I love readers. Less fear means better, more original books. Less fear means happier writers. Less fear means strength, power, unicorns dancing through rainbows . . . Okay, maybe just happier writers.

I would go on, but it’s the Fourth of July and my household doesn’t care about any of this, so I’m wanted elsewhere. Imagine – what is such a taboo topic to people deeply vulnerable to the matter is totally boring to everyone else.

If you have any visions of RWA in the future, please leave a comment or email me privately at gretchengalway@gmail.com. I’m extremely curious to know if I’m the only one having these thoughts.

E-book news summary: Sunday morning, June 2011

This week is the highlight for many romance writers: the annual national conference of Romance Writers of America. This year the conference is in midtown Manhattan, which has everyone especially buzzed about what’s going to happen.

Ebooks have changed everything. Most of the world doesn’t care about this, or hasn’t noticed; just ask the woman who waxed my eyebrows in Silicon Valley the other day. What is a huge deal to writers, agents, editors, publishers, and many readers is just a minor point of interest in the background hum of normal people’s lives. Like gay marriage, streaming Netflix videos, hybrid SUVs, intrusive airport security – it’s just one of the many changes in our world.

To most people. To writers like me, it’s huge. It means publishing yourself, or finding partners to go digital without being screwed in the process. That’s why we watch the news so closely, follow blogs, and polish our crystal balls: trying to ride this wave where we want to go, and not out to sea.

Here’s a summary of a few stories from this week:

HERE, SIGN THIS. OR DON’T. SAME DIFF. WE WIN: Harlequin’s emailed contract amendment.
The last couple days this story about Harlequin changing the royalty rates for current, past, and future contracts hit the blogwaves, in particular at Dear Author and Passive Guy. Though Passive Guy missed the point about what “series” and “single title” means in category romance (it isn’t the quantity of books that affects the writer’s royalty, but the line she or he writes for), he’s got some fun ex-lawyer passion flying about the dangers of this kind of “net receipt” deal that leaves the accounting hidden in a black box. Plus the joy in having a time-sensitive financial legal document sent in an email. I have no contract with Harlequin but I would hate to be caught up in this uncertainty. Best of luck to the writers who love writing for these lines but fear for their financial futures.

SPAM SPAM SPAM etc. on Kindle.
This story got picked up by many major news outlets around the world. (Here, here, and here, for instance.) Content farms, crooks, and spam kings are flooding Kindle with “books” in large quantities to rake in revenue from unsuspecting “readers.” This is a big story today, but I’m optimistic it is a short-lived one. Amazon is too smart to allow this for long. In the short-term, though, it means the smallfry independent books are buried under the quivering, heaping piles of spam, which makes it even harder to stand out.

This past month, Amazon has been flexing its muscles and making stars through their homepage placement and email marketing. First was the Sunshine Deals (which meant gloomy doom for the rest of us) which rewarded non-Agency trade publishers who had books under $3. And today, they’ve managed to push a large number of under-$3 self-published romances onto the top-ten Kindle list. Courtney Milan’s novella Unlocked flew to the tippy top. It bumped up against Stephanie Plum but is still in the top ten of all paid Kindle books. It was already strong (not sure about the rank, but it was up there) but Amazon’s touch was magic. They are a force, no doubt about it. Gatekeeper, perhaps?

Barnes & Noble has captured over 20% of the ebook market. People were calling the iPad the Kindle-killer when it came out, but legions of readers are quietly purchasing Nooks and loading it up with NookBooks (and the Yink likes to wink and drink pink ink). My own book, Love Handles sells as well on Barnes and Noble as it does on Amazon. I’m optimistic about future books, especially with all the great romance readers and writers over there. And the new Nook is getting great reviews.

This is just a sampling of the buzz this week with ebooks. There’s a lot of advice to keep your head down and just write, but it’s very hard with so much going on.

Can’t wait to go to New York.