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You Are So On (Because They Are, Too)

Porter Anderson and Barbara O'Neal arrive at Los Angeles' Hyatt Regency Century Plaza for the opening of Writer's Digest's Novel Writing Conference. [1]

My address is 2025 Avenue of the Stars. 

This is as it should be, of course. 90067.

With my sunglasses so firmly in place that I can barely read anything on the screen, I’m writing to you on the eve of Phil Sexton’s [2] Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference [3] in Los Angeles. It’s at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza again this year, the kind of hotel that’s designed to look good on you.

Bird Box cover [4]My Unboxed co-star Barbara O’Neal [5] will be here at #WDNWC [6] this weekend, too, teaching both a three-hour boot camp on writing romance and a 50-minute session on revisions.

And I’ll be doing an onstage interview with Josh Malerman [7], weird-wunderkind author of the Ecco Books debut that Hollywood has snapped up, Bird Box [8].

All wearing our shades. (Josh may wear his blindfold.) We are so on.

Cam to the left, smile, Barbara!

And just in case anyone in the novel-writing congregation forgets that our conga line is snaking across the former 260-acre Twentieth Century Fox Studios backlot, we’re also dancing parallel to our sister F+W Media conference here, Screenwriters  World [9], #SWC14 Those guys eat squares of red carpet for lunch. And like it.

There are certain dangers here, naturally. If the paparazzi are spotted, you can be trampled by starlets running toward them. And parts of LAX still seem to be undergoing the same renovation project that put Hangar No. 1 into place in 1929.

But one of the side benefits of being in Tinsel Town from time to time is a reminder that being on is no longer just something stars and motivational speakers worry about.

The more we talk about authors needing to market themselves, their brands, their work, the more we’re really saying that they need to be aware, be alert, stay on top of issues, to position themselves in and around the going media story about publishing and books and writing.

In short? Like a Hollywood hopeful, you want to be…on.

Data on readers? Is data on you.

In today’s edition of The Bookseller, my fine London colleagues Tom Tivnan and Felicity Wood are writing with special timeliness about what publishers’ growing understanding of consumer data [10] might mean to how those publishers work with their authors.

[pullquote]We’re seeing authors becoming more data-savvy, and I think we will see a further recognition that data is part of the business process. — Rufus Weston, HarperCollinsUK, The Bookseller[/pullquote]

“Publishing’s increased focus on consumer insight and customer data,” they write, “is set to drastically change relationships with authors, informing decisions around acquisitions, contracts and publication itself.”

And if that line didn’t fully get your attention, go back and read it again. You may not be quite on, baby. Grab the sunglasses for better viewing and I’ll give you more:

Rufus Weston, insight director at HarperCollins [UK], explained: “Publishers are realising what Amazon realised much earlier: that our own data is a business asset. As physical sales become less important, it is more difficult to use the TCM to calibrate what a successful book or author is.
“We can now look at the social trajectory of a potential acquisition and use that to our advantage to set the advance. We’re seeing authors becoming more data-savvy, and I think we will see a further recognition that data is part of the business process. I can see us asking for a regular amount of tweets from a celebrity as part of their contract, for example.”

Note that this all is being phrased in a positive light. I mean, eureka!, right? Well, of course right. More data on how readers are reacting to authors’ interactions on this or that social medium? — means more info on how to enhance those authors’ readership with such knowledge. Big smile, darling, they’re all watching. Right now.

Author care will also be further improved by the rise of consumer insight, Weston said, with publishers better equipped to expand author brands through feedback. He added: “We can monitor an author’s interactions on Twitter and then say when is the best time for them to tweet, and who they should be interacting with. It will increasingly become part of the service we offer and [it] will also help to emphasise authors’ obligations for social media.”

Catch that last line? About emphasizing “authors’ obligations for social media?”

Media is still, actually, a plural word. One medium. Two media.

You can bet those obligations are plural, too. And — as long as an author is on, so are the “shared benefits.”

Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh [11]
Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh

Never does one hear, “It also can show us which authors to cut off at the knees if they’re not toeing the line and workin’ it the way our data says they should.” Heaven forbid. It’s all as bright as an ingenue’s grin on premiere night. Just before she tweets that selfie to her fans.

Newsguys like me can tell you that “the advantages of data” mean the suits now can tell whether your stuff is floating the right boats, getting the right number of eyeballs, churning the right readership, the viewership, the listenership, the tweeterie.

And in case you haven’t felt personally digitally disrupted so far as an author? Let me suggest you feel harder.

When your publisher — or your self-publishing platform which may or may not be your friend — learns to gauge how well you’re getting out there to the folks, then you will begin hearing…things. About about your “profile,” your “visibility,” your “presence,” your  “reach,” your “connection,” your  “commuuuuuuuuuunity,” and your….on-ness.

Don’t be off, sweetcheeks. Be on.

More from Tivnan and Wood:

Claire Evans, acting marketing director at Transworld…said: “We’ve done some really in-depth insight projects for some of our key brand authors to ensure that we are reaching the widest possible pool of readers. We feed the findings back to the authors and discuss what they mean. We have found that some subtle tweaks to some of the communications we have been doing around those authors can pay real dividends in terms of broadening their readership.”

Though your heart is aching

[pullquote]We can monitor an author’s interactions on Twitter and then say when is the best time for them to tweet, and who they should be interacting with. It will increasingly become part of the service we offer and [it] will also help to emphasise authors’ obligations for social media. — Rufus Weston, HarperCollinsUK, The Bookseller[/pullquote]

The only thing left, in fact, that doesn’t need a good edit is your grocery list.

And, oh, gosh, well, you know, if the Wilshire Boulevard bus hit you today and your grocery list didn’t spell broccoli correctly…one broccoli, two broccolis…I don’t know, but I mean, like, what would your agent think?

I’m saying the world has changed. And is about to change more. You don’t  have to “worry about all that,” no. But somewhere, somebody is going to be worrying about all that for you, if you do want to have a bit of a career, a salable, going little thing here in the marketplace. They have to worry. So you may want to worry first, worry faster, worry better.

It’s called digital. And they’re figuring it out.

What it means is that  the casual, the downtime, the off-the-cuff, the by-the-way — like an A-lister’s quick run to the supermarket in bad gym shorts — is getting tougher to tuck away in that safe spot called your “private life.”

Smile for me.

Because if you seriously want a piece of this action? You’d better be on.

What about it, good-looking? Have you noticed it not being quite so cool to schlepp out a silly Facebook thing or a sloppy note  you then end up having to explain? Have you felt it yet? Is it okay with you? Or do you resent it? Are you on? Or still holding out and trying to be…off?

Note to #WDNWC attendees: See Lisa Cron’s yesterday piece here at Writer Unfazed [12] about listening to famous authors at a conference. Met Cron at the Writer’s Digest Cha-Cha in New York City earlier this month. She’s one of us.

Main image – iStockphoto: IPGGutenbergUKLtd 


About Porter Anderson [13]

@Porter_Anderson [14] is a recipient of London Book Fair's International Excellence Award for Trade Press Journalist of the Year. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives [15], the international news medium of Frankfurt Book Fair New York. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. Priors: The Bookseller's The FutureBook [16] in London, CNN, CNN.com and CNN International–as well as the Village Voice, Dallas Times Herald, and the United Nations' WFP in Rome. PorterAndersonMedia.com [17]