You would think that, as an aspiring novelist, I would have glommed onto all things publishing from the start. But only in the last year or so was I compelled by that experience televangelists call seeing the light. I realized that I should probably get on intimate terms with the industry to better equip myself for a successful future wooing.
And so I find myself reading books on agents, following publishers on Twitter, and attending a panel comprised of literary agent Betsy Amster, Liveright (Norton) editor in chief Robert Weil, Bloomsbury publishing director George Gibson, Byliner founder and CEO John Tayman, and Goodreads community manager Patrick Brown.
The panelists got right down to business, discussing the future of the industry and the role of new media in book publishing. Ebooks were brought up in three of four panels I attended that Saturday. Judy Blume said reading is reading is reading, but she doesn’t ever want to see the day where we can’t browse; Libba Bray similarly said anything that allows you to read is a good thing, and that she reads both e- and physical books; Gibson said any publisher that doesn’t embrace new media is leaving something major on the table.
Byliner offers e-stories by notable authors that can be read in a single sitting. Tayman said the company is approaching one million copies sold. Byliner is still in beta.
Although the publishers on the panel embrace new media, they added that the ebook and the pbook must coexist.
Weil brought up the endangered independent bookstore and Brown noted that physical bookstores are a major source of book discovery.
As a literary agent, Amster discussed changes in the publishing industry from a different angle. She said her work hasn’t changed, but that there is an increased emphasis on authors as a marketing force.
When Amy Tan was concerned her audience would wane during the wait for her next book, she used a 15,000-word Byliner story to maintain visibility, Tayman said. The story ended up a bestseller.
Writers have to build an audience even before they’re published. Weil said he gravitates to writers who know how to market themselves.
The competitive nature of the industry really hit me when Gibson mentioned that three million manuscripts are written every year.
And, even more important than a talent for self-marketing, the best way to stand out from the crowd is to be a great writer, of course.
“If I see a great writer,” Gibson said, “I don’t care if you have 2,500 tweeters.”
They provided a few quick key points to keep in mind when writing:
- Be in control of your material (pacing is a big part of that; avoid throat-clearing)
- Show, don’t tell
- Individuate your characters
They also stressed reading to improve as a writer. “The best writers are people who read all the time,” Weil said, adding that the books you love can be powerful research tools for finding your audience and a list of potential publishers and agents.
As for submitting your manuscript, they said it’s important to write a good cover letter that reflects knowledge of the agent or publisher and submit a manuscript that is as polished as possible.
So get to polishing that manuscript, or flying through that stack of books on your desk; sign up for a Twitter account if you don’t have one; keep writing that blog and improving your craft. Gift the world with your story.
I hope these panel recaps provided that little kick of inspiration we writers need every now and then. So much of our work requires isolation, but I like the idea that we’re all part of a great community; that we encourage each other and share insights. That feeling of community was what I took away from the L.A. Times Festival of Books.