When They Talk About You at #DBW14: You’re Branded

Image - iStockphoto: Mysh Kovsky
Image – iStockphoto: Mysh Kovsky


NEW YORK—The Digital Book World Conference & Expo (DBW) isn’t designed for authors.

And that’s fine. Various sectors of the industry! the industry! have every right to get together by and among themselves to consider things from their own viewpoints and on behalf of their own interests.

At Digital Book World Conference & Expo 2014 - Photo: Porter Anderson
At Digital Book World Conference & Expo 2014 – Photo: Porter Anderson

As good as our authors are at contorting themselves, day by day, in the search for how to exercise their craft and genius in a world that keeps changing, I’ve wished many times that our writers could be along on these occasions to see and hear how the establishment talks to itself.

Then again, at other times, I’ve been worried at how many authors don’t seem to think it’s important to listen to publishing’s internal dialectic. So much to learn there. But our entrepreneurial author movement may at times be just as guilty of dissing the suits as the suits can be of denying the rising force of authorial careerists.

DBW14 bannerIn its fifth anniversary stomping of the hotel carpet — held this week in New York — #DBW14 was again led by longtime publishing wonk Mike Shatzkin as a show the business built. Shatzkin’s elevator pitch was ready at the outset of his comments: “The purpose of this event is to provide the information and insight publishers need.”

At times, the 1,500-person, three-day conclave was gently rocked with corporate consolation, as in Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah’s talk on reframing failure as opportunity and even inspiration.

At other times, #DBW14, as we hashed it, crackled with inquiry: consultant Joseph Esposito revealed that some library book suppliers will ship faster—indeed with Amazonian efficiency—if librarians place their orders through “our friends in Seattle”; and so, he told us, many librarians are doing exactly that. Prime stuff, baby.

If authors were able to sit in on some of these great hotel-ballroom colloquies, one thing they’d hear these days is a new emphasis on mentioning “value for the author.” Even old dogs can learn new talking points.

This was the first time I’ve seen an entire plenary-session sequence devoted entirely to Amazon. The only thing missing in that keen debate? Amazon. I’d like to have seen a representative of the company join Esposito and author Brad Stone of The Everything Store. The horse’s mouth was missing. Shatzkin tells me, however, that Amazon was invited to provide a representative for the program and declined. (Side note: He tells me that Apple and Barnes & Noble were similarly invited to participate in the conference program; like Amazon, they declined.)

In the first-ever DBW workshop laid on expressly for literary agents facing digital upheaval, there was an intriguing, lively conversation headed by Jason Ashlock about how mutually supportive agents usually are, despite obvious competitive elements in their work.

At other times, that very digital reality seemed to gas the room like an ether and leave the huge crowd brooding. One of the most-tweeted comments came from HarperCollins’ Susan Katz: the rate of change in technology today “is the slowest it will ever be for the rest of your life.”

Mike Shatzkin
Mike Shatzkin

As Shatzkin put it, between DBW 2010 and DBW 2014, we have found ourselves faced with “a single dominant retailer, a single dominant book chain, a single dominant publishing house.”

That most dominant dominance, the digital dynamic, is “working us over completely,” as Marshall McLuhan told us it would.

If authors could sit in on some of these great hotel-ballroom colloquies, one thing they’d hear these days is a new emphasis on mentioning “value for the author.” From executives of the biggest warehouse-to-website publishing houses to the “chief evangelists” of those garage-and-duct-tape start-ups, you hear such phrases as “our work must benefit the author”; “our initiatives need to support our writers”; “we’re committed to creating more value for the author.”

Call me unfair, but I believe these invocations of “our authors” are coming far more frequently than they used to from our conference podiums. Even old dogs can learn new talking points.

And because these hills were so alive with the sounds of “value for the author,” I was especially glad for an unscheduled session on how to author that value.

Shatzkin and the show’s producer, F+W Media, added a quick presentation from Codex Group’s Peter Hildick-Smith, always among the most concise and instructive on a confab stage.

One of the most-tweeted comments at Digital Book World came from HarperCollins’ Susan Katz: the rate of change in technology today “is the slowest it will ever be for the rest of your life.”

“The Author Brand Opportunity” might hardly be what some authors feel they want to hear. There’s push-back, of course, from some in the author corps who enjoy the “branding” terminology of the corporati.

But Hildick-Smith’s interpretation of Codex’s research speaks not only to the faithful of the mainstream publishing church at DBW but also to those lilies of the field, our self-publishing authors (did I almost type “self-punishing?”), some of whom are achieving newsmaking clout as big sellers and insightful industry commentators.

Indeed, even as DBW sat down in New York, Julie Bosman went into the New York Times with, Romance Novelist Wins Big Valentine, the news that St. Martin’s will pay “an eye-popping eight-figure advance to Sylvia Day” for two books of a series called “Blacklist.”

Day is a so-called “hybrid” author, both traditionally publishing and self-publishing. Here’s an interesting Q&A with Day from DBW’s Jeremy Greenfield from BEA time last May here, if you’d like to know more about her.

If the busy stage at DBW didn’t come to a standstill at the Day news, the rationale, thanks to Hildick-Smith, was richly on display.

Graphic by Codex BookIntelligence - Peter Hildick-Smith / provided by Digital Book World
Graphic by Codex BookIntelligence – Peter Hildick-Smith / provided by Digital Book World

In a couple of lines, Hildick-Smith was there to say that author name recognition isn’t enough to really move the needle as someone like Day can do. Developing fan fidelity through giving readers what they want is the trick.

That “discoverability” question we wring our hands about?—author brand and topic, says Hildick-Smith. “Fan loyalty drives sales,” he told the crowd. And that sounded a lot like what the self-publishing elite tell us (Hugh Howey, Barbara Freethy, CJ Lyons, Bella Andre, Tina Folsom, Stephanie Bond, and others). Building inventory that bonds readers to you, they say, is the key.

Hildick-Smith sees “author equity brand impact” as a 15-times multiplier of the likelihood of a purchase. Put another way, the “purchase propensity” goes from 3 percent to 45 percent if an author has strong “brand equity.”

Graphic by Codex BookIntelligence - Peter Hildick-Smith / provided by Digital Book World
Graphic by Codex BookIntelligence – Peter Hildick-Smith / provided by Digital Book World

Fiction is particularly vulnerable to these trends and effects, he says, focusing on book buyers’ opinions of authors before discovering a new book. Some 62 percent of genre fiction buying, Hildick-Smith says, may be driven fondness for a known author. In literary fiction, the effect is a bit less, at 53 percent. In narrative nonfiction, the effect is lower, at 41 percent. And in utility nonfiction, author brand/familiarity is the least effective, at about 31 percent.

The most influential purchase decision factor? Hildick-Smith says it’s the last book bought.

His Codex BookIntelligence studies indicate that a buyer of genre fiction is likeliest to be swayed first by favorite-author considerations (43 percent), then topic or message (19 percent) and finally by recommendation (11 percent). In literary fiction, the favorite-author factor accounts for 32 percent, topic or message for 18 percent, and recommendation for 14 percent—an interesting if not major increase in the importance of recommendation in literary.

Graphic by Codex BookIntelligence - Peter Hildick-Smith / provided by Digital Book World
Graphic by Codex BookIntelligence – Peter Hildick-Smith / provided by Digital Book World

Not surprisingly, Hildick-Smith turns to La Rowling’s revelation in The Cuckoo’s Calling to illustrate his point. Sales of that book between April 30 and July 14 of that year, he says, were multiplied some 500 times as it was revealed that “Robert Galbraith” was actually Our Lady of the Hogwarts.

And as Hildick-Smith went on at DBW to describe Codex’s proprietary “author fan fulfillment” index—measuring just how well an author might seem to be handling the interests and appetites of reader-fans—it became clear that another of Shatzkin’s “a single dominant” factors in successful market reach for authors is coming into focus more sharply than ever: readership cultivation.

This is why Hugh Howey talks of self-publishing authors being “maniacally focused” on their readers. Those writers are doing it without even the apparatus and muscle of publishing houses. They’re conquering that fan-fulfillment challenge one reader at a time—a reader earned must be a reader retained.

To be thorough, I need to call to your attention what seems to be a countervailing view to Codex’s emphasis on the author-brand primacy.

The BooksellerThe Bookseller in London (for which I do my weekly #PorterMeets newsmaker interview) is reporting today a new assessment in the UK market that indicates a different direction. The story is behind a paywall, but its text by Tom Tivnan and Sarah Shaffi reads, in part:

Big-brand authors have grabbed their smallest share of the [UK] print books market in five years, as digital migration continues to reshape publishing. The Bookseller’s look at 2013 author performance based on Nielsen BookScan data, also shows that backlist titles have outperformed frontlist in terms of their relative declines. The conclusions challenge the received wisdom that sales will become more and more focused on frontlist titles and big-brand authors…More surprising is that the share of the overall market claimed by authors in this £1m club has declined sharply—down to 20.4% (£288.4m) from 24.7% in 2012.

Tivnan and Shaffi note, “This is, of course, a print phenomenon. There are, at the moment, no figures available for overall performance of the digital market.” As in the US, the UK is all but blind when trying to assess the ebook market because our data is so inadequate. But the point from The Bookseller is intriguing: at least in print, the “big brands are getting smaller.”

Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh
Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh

But as Hildick-Smith and Codex (and many others in the business) present it, this is a tough call, a high bar for authors to contemplate, regardless of a potential erosion at the top of the print market.

And it leaves us with interesting questions about where the “writer unboxed” should spend his and her time. As voices in the writerly community are heard more and more loudly insisting that we’re putting too much emphasis on business instead of the art, is this our new rift?

Must an author decide whether to write or connect? Can fan fulfillment be a viable goal and achievement for a writer seriously invested in her or his craft?

Remember the old “can we have it all?” question women have had to ask about careers and families? What if authors now must decide “can we have it all?”—both as creative workers and as fan-fulfillment aces?

And just how D is this BW going to get, huh?


About Porter Anderson

@Porter_Anderson, BA, MA, MFA, is a journalist, speaker, and consultant specializing in publishing. Anderson is The Bookseller's Associate Editor for The FutureBook in London, a sister site focused on developments in digital publishing. He is also a featured writer with Thought Catalog in New York, writing on publishing and on #MusicForWriters in association with Q2 Music. In 2015, Anderson has programmed the IDPF Digital Book Conference that opened BookExpo America (BEA) and is programming the First Word event at the Novelists Inc. (NINC) conference later in the year. And he is working with the Frankfurt Book Fair on special programming for its new Business Club suite of events and facilities, now in its second year, 13-16 October, in the 2015 Buchmesse. More on his consultancy, which includes Library Journal's and BiblioBoard's SELF-e among its clients in 2015: PorterAndersonMedia.com | Google+


  1. says

    This is a FANTASTIC round-up, Porter. Fascinating and thorough. As for your question: Must an author decide whether to write or connect? I think the answer is yes. Both are super-important for the success of that novel — writing the best book you can and engaging/connecting with readers to buy that book. For some, that might mean writing for a month and connecting for a month. For other authors, that might mean writing in the morning and connecting in the afternoon. As with your women’s family and career question, it’s all about focus. We can have it all. We can do both. But it takes a lot of commitment, hard work, and often shifting prioritization. On a side note, it was nice to hear on Twitter that they talked about BABY GRAND at #DBW14. Looks like I may be branded, after all. :)

    • says

      Hi, Dina!

      Yes, indeed, it was terrific to hear Ellen Scordato in New York this week using your BABY GRAND as a fine case study in the development of new models for literary agencies and author-agent partnerships. (This was Jason Ashlock’s fine lead workshop on the Monday, such a great session with a whole room of agents really working through the issues.)

      It IS about focus, you’re so right. I think trying to get that focus right for each of us is the real key and challenge. I love how you parse out the concept of doing the writing part of the time, then doing the communication/audience-building part of the time. The answer for each writer will be something just that carefully worked out, I feel sure, in the long run.

      Thanks again for the good comment and the fine tweeterie, too, Dina, much appreciated!


  2. says

    You have charmed my pantser off yet again, Porter. The report on DBW was a revelation to me and relevant to me as a digital-only writer. I didn’t know DBW existed and found their issues meaningful to our craft and time.

    And, your writing is cogent and refreshing, as always. My high points:

    * You sneak in some juicy vocabulary (dialectic, colloquies)
    * You provide snarky and delightful ‘nuggets’.
    * The horse’s mouth was missing.
    * …gas the room with an eerie ether.
    * Even old dogs can learn new talking points.
    * The ‘church/lilies of the field’ reference.

    The illumination with numbers and graphs of the ‘author brand equity’ shows plainly why publishers do and must favor the known over the new and unknown. It is clearly survival.

    Wonderful work yet again, Porter.

    • says

      Ha! Alex,

      You are the soul of gracious comment, I must say. You always take time to point up specific moments of my palaver you liked — as you know, nothing is more like music to a journalist’s ears than having his text reported back to him in generously glowing terms.

      It’s particularly kind of you to pick up on the lilies of the field reference. Someone has to keep Sidney Poitier alive in our hearts, right?

      And yeah, it is pretty sobering to watch Peter Hildick-Smith work his way through a presentation. When his indexes make it possible for publishers decide whether an author is hitting the right level of fan fulfillment, that level of calculation becomes just the kind of metric calculation they love. He uses tracking results for Lee Child, John Grisham, Jodi Piccoult, and Patricia Cornwell as examples.

      Thanks again, sir, always a pleasure to find your comment waiting!

  3. Jeanne Kisacky says

    Does this mean there is no way out of the box? If author loyalty comes from branding and reader retention, then the box is as important as what’s in it. Like buying something small at a prestigious store not because of the particular item, but because it came in a lusciously branded shopping bag.
    This leaves me pondering the dilemma of remaining ‘un’boxed and likely unsold, choosing the shape of my box (self-publishing self-branding), or choosing one of the more standard boxes that might be offered by publishing houses.
    I’m all for author value, but does that value include room for personal growth as well as sales growth? Or is it a choice? Write what you love, or love to write what you already have.
    Thanks for another thought-provoking post!

    • says

      Hi, Jeanne,

      Thanks for the thoughtful post. I agree the impact of some of the Codex material is pretty daunting, at least at first glance. Some have laughed (Mr. Maass among them below, I see, lol) that it’s hardly news that people like to buy new books by authors they like. That’s certainly true. But I do think Hildick-Smith is casting a wider net, and I think the implications can be worrisome, as you do.

      In corporate hands, of course, much of this becomes the rationale for “sticking to your genre,” so your fans are “fulfilled” with whatever it is they have liked about you in the past — over and over and over. Much of the corporate world is just that: an aggressive effort to stay the same. They say they want creativity, but it’s far too disruptive and, in truth, they don’t want it at all. And this is not just publishing — every major corporate environment I’ve experienced had this terrible problem of lying about creativity. They know they need it. And they will kill you for being creative as soon as they spot it.

      The dilemma presented here for the writer is serious and deep.

      In my current thinking, my own answer to the boxed-ness question you’re asking is that a certain meld of material and fan fulfillment has to occur. By that, I mean that what you write must be what fulfills the fans — and you. So you begin by writing what you need to write. You then may have to concentrate on finding the initial audience that also wants to spend time, as you do, with what you write. But once you’ve found that audience, if you’ve done it well (and if some luck comes your way), then it’s your writing that serves as “fan fulfillment” and your material that bonds you, brings you back to those readers and continues to lead them along wherever your creativity needs to go. In the best scenario, you don’t have to write courtroom mysteries for the rest of your life. Your crowd will have bonded enough to you as a complete thinker that they’ll come along with you when you veer off into that space opera you’ve wanted to do.

      Hildick-Smith uses Grisham as an example of an author-brand with extremely good, dependable fan fulfillment. And, of course, he’s stuck in something of a groove. A damned good groove, but somewhat stuck in that success. Stephen King, as well, though King has worked well to widen his playpen every chance he got. The secret for them both is not just the famous name each carries but a sky-high rating for fan loyalty, says Hildick-Smith. And he comes up with some interesting conclusions:

      – Fan loyalty drives sales — this is the primary sales source, he believes.

      – There is a price premium in loyal fandom — they will pay more for the author whose work they value. (This tells me that you do NOT sell out, you do NOT write below your audience, you do NOT take lightly their expectation of the quality that brought them to you in the first place. You earn the higher prices you’d like them to pay because they really appreciate your standards.)

      – Consistent book to book growth is what generates fan fulfillment — here he’s supporting this idea of the inventory, the canon, the build up of your list. In that, there’s a lot of agreement with the core drivers in the self-pub community, they insist on this, too — “your best marketing ploy is your next book,” as they say.

      Remember we’re seeing instances of strong loyal-fan development in some self-published writers. We worry that these are exceptions, not rules, and the 150 or so such writers that Amazon tells us can make $100,000 or more in a year, are a small number compared to the widest field. But if we listen to Hugh Howey and others who point to a developing e-midlist (something between selling only 50 copies of Aunt Sally’s memoir and Barbara Freethy selling 4 milllon of her books), then there’s a proving ground and a field of growth there.

      And eventually something of that kind must arrive. However avid everyone may be right now in this mighty flush of Internet-fueled enthusiasm, the thrill will fade for the ones who have no success, the distribution systems and structures will rebalance, and reading and writing will be whatever things they’re becoming. Not yet and not even soon. But it will happen.

      As I keep telling authors, what’s your hurry? Every day we’re closer to the coherence we’ve struggled without. Our day is coming. And at a very good time.

  4. says

    An excellent round up, Porter. Thank you for keeping us connected with what’s going on in DBW circles. It’s relevant and important information and thoughts. Thank you!

    • says

      A late thanks, Jennifer!

      My apologies for being so long getting back to you. Having just gotten back from #DBW14 overnight Thursday with deadlines on both Thursday and today, the week has ended with the feeling that I’m one of Hugh Howey’s sand divers in his new “Sand,” lol. (Intriguing read if you haven’t encountered it yet, btw, and what a beautiful cover by Jason Gurley, huh? http://ow.ly/suCAA

      Very much appreciate your interest in the industry — our industry — and your kind words.


  5. says

    Awe-inspiring digest following fast on your fleet-tweeting fingers tagging the hash out of #DBW14. You’re amazing, Porter Anderson.

    Must an author decide whether to write or connect? Can fan fulfillment be a viable goal and achievement for a writer seriously invested in her or his craft?

    I don’t think there is a stark either/or here. Fan connection comes, first and foremost, by the work itself. This is how it will be, in the immortal lyrics of Kip Dynamite, “Always and forever.”

    Connecting beyond that, via social media, is something that can be rolled out according to a writer’s own preference. But never should it be stressed about or indulged in if it keeps the scribe from job #1, which is quality production over time.

    • Terry White says

      “Fan connection comes, first and foremost, by the work itself”.
      Well said.
      It’s tough connecting if what you’ve got is crap.

      • says

        This is well said, Terry:

        “It’s tough connecting if what you’ve got is crap.”

        We could do worse than get it carved into a few cornices at the Louvre. :)

        Agree with you completely.

    • says

      Well, Jim,

      Those digits of yours can dance pretty fast on the keys of your several Writing Machines, too, so your compliments on my speed are much appreciated. Of course, I owe it all to @Starbucks, @Campari, and to keeping my eyes closed.

      This is great:

      “Fan connection comes, first and foremost, by the work itself. This is how it will be, in the immortal lyrics of Kip Dynamite, ‘Always and forever.'”

      I was just saying (as usual, in a far lengthier way than you, lol) the same thing to Jeanne, who had written with some natural concern. I agree that it’s the work that must bond your crowd (if not your courage) to the sticking point. And I think my wish for every author of talent – even for the ones without talent — is that the fan base is willing to follow a good writer beyond lines of genre and temperament and silly bargain-basement prices and unhelpful imprint names and badly conceived marketing programs and just keep trundling along for the words.

      The words. What if in 2014, we all just decided to freaking get the words right?

      Forget all the rest. Just get the words right.

      Exhilarating concept, isn’t it? :)

    • says

      Hey, Michael,

      Thanks much for the comment — you’re right, and boy, is it hard for so many of us to remember that this still really is one industry, publishing, to everybody but us in it! :) Good thought, thanks for it!

  6. says

    Great post as always, Porter. Your summary of DBW14 really touches on the high (some might say low) points of the industry upheaval we are all observing with such fascination, fear, or glee, depending on one’s perspective. Having attended conferences for some years now, I find the following to be of particular interest because it has been my observation as well:

    “Call me unfair, but I believe these invocations of “our authors” are coming far more frequently than they used to from our conference podiums.”

    How refreshing for those of us who remember other times when the author seemed to be the least important person in the room. This feels like a very welcome 180.

    As for your final questions, I think each author must find his or her own answers.

    “Must an author decide whether to write or connect? Can fan fulfillment be a viable goal and achievement for a writer seriously invested in her or his craft?”

    In answer to the first, if “connecting” with readers sucks up too much time, then it becomes self-defeating for the author. Cue the writer’s assistant. As for the latter, authors of my acquaintance come down on all sides of this question. Some sacrifice quality for rapid publication, some do the opposite, while others look for the magic balance between entertainment value and quality of craft. I vote for balance!

    • says

      Hey, Linda,

      Late response here (that kind of week) but thanks so much for your comment, and I couldn’t agree more that it’s a good, good thing to be hearing so many in the industry speak of value for authors and service to authors. In many cases, of course, this is lip service at this point. But many good changes in the world have started as no more than that. And even if this is a case of some folks in the business realizing that it’s now politically correct to speak of corporate affection for authors, that’s a step forward.

      And yes, balance is surely the holy grail in this case. He or she who can figure out a way to achieve and teach others how to achieve it is my friend for life. :)

      Thanks again,

  7. says

    A phenomenal book needs little social online interaction- a good book could benefit from it and a so so or bad book can get a lot of interest from a savy and busy author interacting online.

    • says

      I think all books, bad or otherwise, can use social engagement and marketing. But I agree with James Scott Bell — to really make the most of social media, you need a quality product. THAT is what sparks word of mouth.

      • says

        Right, Dina, and if anything, the better the book, the more chance I want to see it have to be found via social engagement and marketing. As I’m basically saying to Kelly, a “phenomenal” book is a terrible thing to waste with no interactive support.

    • says

      Hey, Kelly, thanks for the comment!

      I’m interested in the first part of what you’re saying. If there’s a phenomenal book on Amazon in front of us, but it’s never been seen by readers — let’s say it’s self-published, no bookstore carries it, no publisher is advertising it or pushing it to critics, nothing — then how is it to be found if there’s no online social interaction on its behalf? Is there some other outreach you have in mind?

      I believe that extremely good, important material can go completely unnoticed without the support, at the very least, of social media exposure. But you have something else in mind?


    • says

      Thanks so much, Barbara,

      And sorry for this late response — the week has been an extremely long one with a lot left to handle after DBW, of course. (I’m telling you, lol. You know what a hole these events punch in your Normal Running Mode.)

      Actually, I think you’re on to something. When you think of that “writer unboxed” angle, what do you find yourself coming up with? I surprise myself when I do this because the concept can pivot pretty unpredictably in my mind. On one day, I think I know it means thus-and-so, and on another day, I find the idea of it, the construct of “unboxed,” has changed so much I’m not sure I recognize it.

      I wonder if we couldn’t find a way to reveal some of the diversity of this extraordinary community, in fact, if we created a kind of exercise in which we asked each regular Writer Unboxed community member what he and she thinks “unboxed” means? (And allow enough room for the “pivoting people” like me to make several responses!)

      One of the most interesting events I find in writing usually turns up when I think that what someone is about to say or write about it is something I’ll recognize and nod my head about in agreement…and it doesn’t happen that way. Instead, I can find myself blinking in surprise because my own experience isn’t that of the other person. Isn’t even close.

      That’s not always, of course. Sometimes another writer or a speaker or a lecturer will be precisely on the wavelength I’m on and there’s no dissonance whatever. But at other times? I feel like an anomaly on legs, a walking exception to every rule.

      And, honestly, it’s in those moments of difference that I think I have my greatest chance at “writing myself,” at capturing the essential quality of me-ness in a way that not only can help me define my own nature but maybe even help someone else learn something by the contrast she or he sees in what I’m doing and what he or she is doing.

      Does that make any sense at all? Could it be that we work so hard at times to come together on ideas and practices and intentions and reflections that we’re missing the fact that the most important elements of all might be the ones on which we don’t come together, don’t see eye-to-eye, and can only say, “You sound pretty close to crazy when you say that, my dear, but how brilliant of you to be able to look at it and find something I’d never thought of in a thousand years”?

      Vive les mystères, Barbara. I think they live just around the corner, each time we stop to think about a “writer unboxed.”

      What do you think? Should we consider a Grand Polling of the Community? Perhaps a joint post is in the making here. “That all our world shall be asked: What IS a ‘writer unboxed?'”

      Might be interesting! Thanks again,

  8. says

    Thank you so much for sharing what we might not hear about otherwise. Interesting that the value to author is a new talking point since that’s a major factor in self-pub for a lot of people. Can’t wait to see where the winds of change go. :)

    • says

      Hey, Robyn,

      Sorry for the late thanks for your good comemnt and you’re right in sync with the Nielsen Books folks from London — including one of my favorites, Jo Henry — who presented new stats they have in a session called “The Winds of Change.”

      Lots blowing around, lol, keep an eye out.

  9. says


    I don’t bother with DBW, as diverting and entertaining as it may be with all its PowerPoint and charts. There’s a reason.

    Watch this space on Wednesday, February 5th, when I’ll post my view of the state of the industry and the so-called electronic “upheaval”.

    That said (or waiting to be said) I enjoyed your wry report of the doings at DBW. I was especially amused by the graph showing that authors’ sales go up when readers are already familiar with their work.

    NO!! Really? The digital world just figured that out?

    So amusing when the revolutionaries begin to sound like the regime they think they’ve overthrown.

    • says

      I see that some links were somehow inserted into my comment. Not by me, I assure you. I do believe in making money from home but have nothing to do with that pop-up.

    • says

      Hey, Don!

      Sorry to be so late getting back to you, it’s been a weekend “crowded with incident,” as we say. :)

      And actually, it would be fun to have you along at DBW some time. If you ever decide to come, let me know so I can try to get you a place at the Twitter High Command Center with us pressies, love to have your running commentary.

      And, actually, I think you’d have been pleased with the Monday morning workshop Jason Ashlock led — the first-ever specific agents’ event that DBW has undertaken. Brian DeFiore spoke, as did Lucinda Blumenfeld, Ellen Scordato, and others; very invigorating morning and the session would have been all the stronger with you along.

      And yes, more than one message on the #DBW14 Tweeterie was amused with the Codex “discovery” that authors’ names can affect sales, lol. The real point, of course, is much more involved in that Codex is using indices to determine how nearly an author-brand is actually producing fan-fulfillment. But the basic premise, yes, does seem like someone is announcing that there are coals in Newcastle. :)

      Thanks again, looking forward to your setting us all straight on February 5th!

  10. says

    Can we have it all–both as creative workers and as fan-fulfillment aces?

    I, as a reader, am attracted to writers who are passionate about what they write. What lights you on fire will ignite your reader.

    Thank you for taking me behind the curtain, Porter.

  11. says

    There is some really interesting stuff here. I love the stats on how important fans are depending on the type of book.

    I also love Katz’ point about technology. Sometimes I feel like the publishing industry is making the same mistake road builders sometimes make. There’s a lot of traffic, so they need to expand the road by a lane or two. They take a few years to do that, and then are surprised there’s still as much traffic, because they didn’t plan for the increased traffic that would be added on while they were scrambling to catch up.

    It’s not enough to catch up anymore. The publishing industry needs to have more visionaries that see the possibilities and implement them, instead of just reacting to and (sometimes) changing due to existing trends propelled by the readers. (IMHO)

    As for the craft versus marketing, that is so tricky! I actually just wrote a blog post yesterday about that balance. Basically, though, I think craft is key. The big authors don’t have tons of twitter followers because they spent so many hours marketing, they have tons of twitter followers because they write an amazing books that speak to people.

    (Here’s the blog if anyone is interested :) http://troublethewriteway.blogspot.com/2014/01/craftbusiness-balance.html.)

    • says


      This is an excellent analogy you’re making with inadequate highway work — exactly, it’s hard for anyone to get out ahead of fast-moving digital developments. Unfortunately, it’s asking too much of any “visionaries” to accurately predict what will be needed these days. The pace of things is actually quite furious and the odd lull that someone might have inferred is in place at DBW is an illusion.

      And you’re very right that major authors with strong followings are those who have spent great amounts of energy on their work. It’s the bedrock of any author’s reputation.

      Thanks for your comment and the link to your post,

  12. says

    I always feel funny commenting on posts of this nature, because I can only speak from my little corner of the writing/publishing world, and it is quite little. It doesn’t seem to stop me from commenting though! You always take the big publishing concepts and boil them down into a form I can understand, so thanks so much for that.

    After about eight months of stressing over finding book bloggers, developing social media site followings, and blogging like a maniac, I finally said “enough is enough.” I wasn’t having any kind of success like the people who said if I did those things I should. (I don’t know how to make that sentence read better. I’m sorry, but I’m trying to sandwich in this comment at work.) Anyway, I think what those eight months of stressing taught me was that what works for one author may not work for another, and I was making myself sick and a nervous wreck. I’ve dropped back from lots of social media and am focusing mostly on twitter, because I’ve found fun places to hang out, and the people there happen to be similar to my “ideal reader” – imagine that!

    So, I guess my thought is that no, you can’t have it all, but you can have some and then hopefully that some will develop and grow. The thing that I’ve noticed – over and over again – is that you have to get a book into someones hands, it has to be good enough they want to read it, and then they have to want to read more. Oh, and then you have to have something more to give them that makes them want to read more. The instant success is not normal. It sounds like publishers are kind of realizing the same thing?

    • says

      I’ve heard that trying to “do it all” in terms of marketing is a good way to burn out. Sounds like you experienced that! I think it makes sense to stick to what you enjoy (like Twitter), because, when it comes to social media, the more natural you are, the better it will work. So trying to force it actually hurts things? At least, that’s my impression. :)

    • says

      Hi, Lara,

      And thanks for this comment — believe me, no one sees any of this from anything but his or her “little corner.” It’s all any of us can do. You must inhabit your corner with the pride of place that belongs only to you: it’s your territory alone. :)

      And yes, the effort to do too many things relative to visibility, “discoverability,” marketing, outreach, and even what is to me the most insidious of concepts, “service to your readers” (such a church-y interpretation of things, I hate it) — all of this can absolutely wipe out a writer.

      One of the most important pivots we’ve seen, in fact, was wonderfully rendered by Jane Friedman when she pointed out that too much emphasis had been put on platforming for fiction writers. Much of the original and rather mad push for writers to platform for their lives actually made sense only for nonfiction writers. In fiction, genre authors have a far better chance of making a go of platforming (and, indeed, needing it), but this is because genres attract stable, concentrated audiences pre-formed and with lots of ready access points. For literary fiction writers, in particular, the idea of developing a platform — especially before publication — is almost moot.

      The best advice now indicates that choosing one or two mechanisms that seem most effective and palatable to you is the best route. And Twitter is an excellent choice of vehicle, in my opinion.

      So good for you on learning where your own tolerance and interests in this lie and making the choices you need to make. That’s what each author needs to do. And you’ve done it. Don’t look back. Move forward in your own way.


  13. says

    Thanks for the interesting article Porter. I’m with Lara in that I too have been writing/self-publishing seriously for around 8 months. I read as much as I can to keep up with developments in our ever changing world, and it seems that to do it all can be very stressful and overwhelming.

    I do agree however that it is becoming more and more necessary to do it all, but like Lara also said, I’ve found balance in more of the writing and some strategic social media.

    We still have to have a life after all!

  14. says

    Overall I’ve absented myself from industry discussions lately. I twitter followed DBW, and kept myself to only one comment and that was one too many. Overall it was interesting.

    But for 2014 here’s the deal: readers buy my books. Not industry wags. So spending my time focused on the industry is pretty much a waste of my time. I need to follow things to learn and adjust my business plan, but I don’t really need to talk about it any more. In fact, while I think Hugh Howey’s suggestions if he were CEO were on target, I wonder at the purpose? Frankly, I don’t see the point in educating the competition– and this is something we really need to be aware of. We are in competition. While distribution is no longer the big problem, discoverability is and there are only X number of slots for every promo, bestseller list etc. For years I blogged about the industry, beat my head against the group think, and then I woke up– it’s a waste of my time. Also, the way I do things works for me, but not necessarily for others. There is no one right way.

    So my blog has turned in True Lies on Tuesday where I talk about books and reading, and Survival Friday where I talk about– well, survival. The industry? I did my predictions for 2014 and once in a while might post something, but overall, my time is much better spent focusing on readers who could care less about the industry.

    Thanks for the tweets and observations from DBW– it’s very valuable for those of us who didn’t go.

    • says

      Hi, Bob,

      Thanks for your commentary here (and for the good words about the live coverage out of DBW).

      I think many writers can envy the certainty and clarity with which you’re able to see your best course. This is, of course, a hard-won understanding you’ve acquired (as you say, applicable for you, maybe not for everyone — this is always the case).

      You’ve put in many years of effort to get the understanding you have now of what you need and what you’re doing. And, in a way, I like that element of your experience: many writers seem to think (maybe are led to think) that their best course will pop up, ready to go, as soon as they start working on things. In truth, finding yourself in any industry, any art, any field at all, rarely happens quickly or easily.

      The dues you’ve paid to know what you need are well-spent because you now can move with assurance in the right directions.

      So congratulations, and all the best as you move forward. You’ll find your way more easily as you go, you know — there’s a wonderful accumulation of sheer horse sense that comes with long-term commitment like yours. This is a great reward, and you should enjoy it and your work.

      Thanks again, good to have at least one assured voice among so many (newer to the field) still searching. Sounds to me as if 2014 may be a very fine year for you!

  15. says

    Connecting takes time (meaning “connections develop over time” not that it sucks away all of your time from writing although that can happen too) so you might want to try to give away some of your best stuff in service to the readers as you go along. Because writing the actual novel takes time too so why not start connecting (through Facebook, twitter, YouTube, blogs) when you start the book? By the time it is finished, you’ve created a little empire of fans. Perhaps? It is interesting to note that non-fiction writers have been doing this for years in print publishing. For example, a personal development guru does seminars, retreats, articles and tapes and videos and etc etc. Then becomes the guru who needs to be read when that book comes out. This isn’t rocket science or anything new….Ask Donald Maas, who has been telling/preaching us about how authors need to develop a fan base with multiple books! It’s just that the technology is out there now so any person with a cell phone can do it. Won’t that make it harder to stand out? Won’t that make it harder to connect with so much competition? We shall see.