This past weekend I was on a panel at the Twin Cities Book Festival. Our topic was The Changing World of Publishing: Getting Books To Readers.
Our problem is not too few good books, but too many. How does a reader decide what to read next despite the growing stack of options on their night table? How does a new author break into a dedicated reader’s “To Be Read” queue when traditional media outlets are disappearing fast? What role will new technologies like social media play now that authors are largely responsible for promoting their books themselves?”
Here is who was on the panel with me:
Tim W. Brown has worked behind the scenes at the Printer’s Row Book Festival in Chicago and at the Independent Press Center in New York City. He has also published three novels and his poetry and nonfiction have appeared in hundred of publications.
Andrew Ervin is the author of Extraordinary Renditions, just out from Coffee House Press. He is also a noted reviewer of books for The Believer, New York Times Book Review, Rain Taxi Review of Books, and other fabulous periodicals.
Jeff Kamin moderates the “Books & Bars” reading series in Minneapolis, which won a City Pages Best of in 2009. He’s also a freelance writer, publicist, and event coordinator at the blog “Mustache Robots,” but only after being El Jefe to his two young boys.
Steph Opitz is the membership director of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses in New York, and the former publicist at Red Hen Press in Los Angeles.
Our first questions was:
What do you see as the biggest change to reading and books of the last 5 years?
Several of the panelists agreed that the ways to read books have really been huge over the past five years. It was also mentioned that the reader’s attention span to get into a book has changed as there are so many options for someone to do now in their free time. You can order up a movie on your TV, play a video game, work or play on your laptop…
I responded with the amazing growth of the book blogger/reviewers. While a few years back there may have been a few hundred book blogs – now there were thousands. I feel, as many of you do too, that the book blogging community carries a strong voice and put many books out there for others to learn about and want to read. I mentioned that most of my book selections come from a review I read on a book blog.
Our second questions was, what is the biggest challenge to what you do each day as a books professional/avid hobbyist?
The panelists spoke of how hard it is trying to get books into the readers hands. How does a reader choose a book, with the costs of books when they first come out. Panelist Tim Brown mentioned that when his first book came out years ago about 200 people would show up for a book signing and he would sell maybe 50 books. Now, with his latest book out in print, a book signing draws maybe 20 people, and he may sell 3 or 4 books. While Tim jokingly mentions, he believes he is not getting worse as a writer.
When the question was directed my way, moderator Kevin Smokler asked how I as an avid reader keeps up, he said obviously I can not be purchasing every book I want to review or I would be broke and penniless on the streets. He is right. 🙂 I spoke on the challenges I see are choosing what to read. I explained that receive 5 – 8 book review requests a day. While I want to read some of the big name books, I also am always hopeful I will find that treasured book in a smaller names publishing company and author. The weeding through the reviews is tricky because obviously I can, nor do I want to, read every book that comes up as a review request.
Our final question was, what needs to change for the book business to be all it can be?
This one I felt was best answered by panelist Jeff Kamin, from Books and Bars (which if you have not checked out this website – I urge you to do so!). Jeff said that maybe publishers should release the paper back versions of books at the same time as the hard cover. He brought up the points of how a select few are going to pay the average $24 asking price for a new hard cover. Book Clubs and other book enthusiasts are going to wait for the paperback version before purchasing.
Tim Brown mentioned that reviewers needed to reach out beyond the popular authors and anticipated books. He mentioned how when a big named book comes out that every where you look that book is being talked about in the newspapers by reviewers and critics and the market online and off is saturated in the same information.
I in turn brought that while Tim mentions that the reviews need to broaden their horizons, that authors need to do so as well. I said no longer can a person publish a book and hope for the best. Building a community around your book and yourself is huge. Having a blog, a website, Facebook in some cases, as well as Twitter. I like to relate to the authors. I enjoy talking with them and I am more apt to read a book from an author I have talked with on Twitter on had the opportunity to look at a website or a blog. Authors as well have to be pro active.
I mentioned that even on my way into the panel I spoke with an author whose book I reviewed earlier this year. He was saying how once the book is out, the publisher can not continue to carry you. The author needs to make things happen, being involved in book events, being seen on-line.
At this point the discussion was opened up to the room, which was packed (including my bloggy friends that I was hanging out with). Questions were asked about book trailers – yay or nay? One lady asked about how do you find good books to read when you don’t want to go with an online book email or trust what the papers or the book stores are saying. You can bet that she and I talked after the panel.
One lady, asked me how I choose from the requests I receive and I mentioned that in my review policy I ask that when people are offering me a book for review that they give as much information as possible about the book as well as a picture if possible and links to websites, etc, about the book or author. I explained that most requests do not do this. They give a brief, “would you review my book” with a title and a little paragraph about it. I said at that point I take the title into Amazon and drop it in there so I can have a look at the book. I said honestly, I am a bit of a cover snob and believe that a cover will tell me a bit about the book. (After the panel was over a few people approached me to say they were cover snobs too).
Over all, this was an amazing experience. It was interesting to hear the concerns of the future of publishing from these different voices. As a “beginning writer/author” it really reminded me that the getting your book out there and published is really only the beginning.