BlogHer’10: What’s the “publishing ecosystem” evolving into?

I’ll warn you now – my BlogHer’10 experiences will, once again, be the subject of several posts. There are a couple of sessions I’d like to talk about in detail in addition to sharing my more general impressions.

It’s hard to process everything that goes on in a conference session when you’re one of its presenters, and the time goes by a lot faster. Fortunately, my BlogHer’10 panel, “The Evolving Publishing Ecosystem,” was liveblogged, so I won’t be making this into a blow-by-blow recap; there will be some of that, but it’ll also include my impressions upon reflection. The liveblog is a pretty accurate capture of what went on, and does reflect the fact that I spoke less than anyone else on the panel – although more than you might think from reading the account! However, the session was also recorded on audio and should be available for listening soon, and that will give the whole picture (so to speak).

My panel members never did get together ahead of time to map things out, but I made a trip down to Greenwich Villlage on Thursday night to attend a meet-up for members of She Writes and meet our panel moderator, Kamy Wicoff. She was very prepared, and from where I sat, things seemed to run well – no dead spots in the conversation, and no serious arguments either.

Part of the “evolution” of publishing is that self-publishing has become a much more viable, acceptable option for writers who aren’t making inroads with traditional publishers (for whatever reason). But along with self-publishing comes a lot of self-marketing, as discussed by panel member Penny Sansevieri of Author Marketing Experts, whose company provides both self- and traditionally-published authors with services to help them do that. Then again, due to shrinking publicity staffs and budgets, even authors whose books have been published traditionally – such as panel member Carleen Brice, whose debut novel Orange Mint and Honey was published by Random House, and Kamy herself, whose last book was published by Da Capo Press in 2006 – have to do nearly as much work on their own to promote their books. Attendee Ellen Gerstein, who blogs at Confessions of an ITGirl.com and works for a traditional publisher, perceived a bias against them from the panel and spoke out in their defense. As a non-industry person, I don’t really have a stake one way or the other, but as a book blogger and reader I admit to a general preference for books that aren’t self-published, and based on what I’ve seen in some review policies, it isn’t just me. Some of us have been burned by poor quality and/or overly-invested authors who took a less-than-rave review personally.

Regarding the challenges getting published the “old-fashioned” way these days, it was noted in the session that what primarily drives decisions in traditional publishing is anticipated sales to bookstores; they’re the publishers’ direct customers, not readers.  , As this is part of what’s fueled the boom in self-publishing, there was a pretty apt comparison made to major-studio movies vs. indie films. However, I’d suggest that readers – including book bloggers – can influence this way of doing business, and examples of major publishers picking up originally self-published titles like The Lace Reader and Still Alice is an indicator that we do. Good word of mouth, which is likely to include support from book blogs, will send readers to bookstores looking for the books that they’re hearing about…which can drive the bookstores to order and sell them. It was also mentioned that, while many book bloggers would prefer to see those sales happen at indie bookstores, publishers usually pay more attention to sales activity on Amazon, and will encourage (sometimes require) authors to link there to build their sales rank. Even so, most websites will include purchasing links to IndieBound or a major independent bookstore (usually Powell’s), as well as the major chain bookstores, in addition to the big A, so that they don’t miss a sales opportunity.

As for my part, all I really remember is the times I stumbled over my words, which is why I blog and don’t do public speaking! (if the audio of the session is posted on BlogHer.com, you’ll get to hear that for yourself. Sorry!) However, I hope I got something across about book bloggers’ role as a resource for readers and authors, which was my personal goal in participating. And in the spirit of the book-blog community, I really appreciated Melissa (of The Betty and Boo Chronicles, and my terrific BlogHer’10 roommate) and Gayle (from Everyday I Write the Book) speaking up during the panel and elaborating on that. Melissa mentioned BBAW as a resource for finding book blogs, and Gayle suggested finding blogs that focus on your literary niche of interest by searching for reviews of books you’ve read and liked within that niche or genre. By the way, it’s hard to answer the question “There are SO many book blogs – which ones should I start with?”…because there ARE so many book blogs, and it depends on what your emphasis is. Therefore, I really appreciated Gayle and Melissa’s input!

Author Gretchen Rubin stumped me a bit with that that question, to be honest, but it was indeed a good one. (And clearly I missed the opportunity to say, “Well, mine, of course!”) On that note, Beth Fish has compiled an excellent listing of review aggregators and databases, and Gayle’s Google suggestion can be refined via Fyrefly‘s Book Blogs Search Engine, which I use regularly to find “other bloggers’ reviews” links to add to my own posts. Look for reviews of books you’ve read, and then explore what else that blog has to offer; check out other blogs from its blogroll, and before long you’ll have a list of go-to book blogs – then, if you’re like me, you’ll keep finding more and more blogs to go to until that list is well into the hundreds!

Rebecca of The Book Lady’s Blog recently made me aware of a new source for connecting authors and bloggers, PressFinder. You can add your blog as a “Local Media Contact” at no charge (I’ve applied to be listed as one for Los Angeles), and authors traveling in support of their books – yes, they still do that sometimes! – can find you.

Speaking of authors finding book bloggers…after the panel, Melissa and I talked with Kamy about developing more of a book-blogger presence in the She Writes community, and we’re going to work on ways of doing that. After all, as most of us know already, one thing that the publishing ecosystem is evolving into is a place where the connections between readers and authors are more direct.

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