Most of us have probably had the experience of watching kids grow up at a distance. When we see young neighbors, nieces or nephews, or friends’ kids only occasionally, we notice the changes since our last visit far more than their parents who see them every day.
The same applies to the publishing industry. Living and breathing with our full-time or side career of writing means that in addition to the big announcements like Kindle Unlimited, far more changes happen gradually, and we’re not always aware of them.
Whether you write romance or not, authors of all stripes recognize the Romance Writers of America as being one of the premier writing organizations in the world. The RWA is exceptionally well-run and offers advocacy, networking, local and specialty chapters, contests and awards, local and national conferences, pitching with industry professionals, and educational opportunities for over 10,000 members.
In other words, they’re a powerful gorilla among writing associations, and what happens within their ranks can be a harbinger for other writing communities. So I thought I’d share my impressions of how the publishing industry is changing by viewing it through the lens of RWA’s recent conference.
RWA: Comparing 2012 to 2014
My every-other-year schedule for attending the RWA Annual Conference allows me to see the changes in the organization like a distant relative. I hadn’t attended the National Conference since 2012 and the differences from then to now were profound.
In 2012, there was no Self-Publishing Track of workshops for those thinking of publishing themselves. There was no Trade Show of vendors eager to discuss their products with independent authors. And there were no self-published books entered in the prestigious RITA contest for published romance fiction, much less any of them up for winning the award.
Last week, I witnessed all of those changes:
- The Self-Publishing Track was jam-packed—enough workshops to fill every session time, plus some. (And that’s not even counting the many Career or Marketing workshops that often applied more to self-published authors who can take advantage of the flexibility their chosen path allows.) In addition to the workshops and traditional sessions “spotlighting” various publishers, this conference also included “focus” sessions on self-publishing platforms like Amazon’s KDP and CreateSpace, NOOK Press, Kobo’s Writing Life, and iBooks.
- The Trade Show wasn’t huge (this was its first year), but I can see it growing fast. Vendors from editors, cover artists, ebook and print formatters, promotional companies, and distributors (like Smashwords and Draft2Digital) were all eager to talk to writers. Mark Coker, the head of Smashwords himself, was at the SW table to answer any questions.
- Most tellingly, of the nine RITA Awards, two were awarded to self-published works. Jane Porter won in the Romance Novella category (her publisher/imprint is her own company), and Carolyn Crane won in the Romantic Suspense category. Several more self-published works made it to the finals out of 2000 entries.
So…What Does This Mean?
All that evidence leads me to one conclusion: One of the largest and most powerful writing organizations in the world is not only welcoming self-published authors to the elite level of their ranks, but they’re also willing to support other writers interested in exploring that path.
Over the years, I’ve heard self-published authors debate whether to drop their RWA membership or attend the Annual Conference, often because they felt like outsiders within the organization. After this conference, I would suggest they reassess their assumptions.
I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that RWA has perfectly integrated the self-publishing path into their structure. The highest membership level, PAN (the Published Authors Network), still requires a far higher proof of earnings from self-published authors ($5K on one book) than from traditionally published authors ($1K on one book), but there’s a rumor that difference might narrow. Also, some local chapters are more welcoming and supportive of self-published authors than others.
But in general, the sheer amount of changes I saw from 2012 to now add up to an embrace of the current publishing reality in bright, blinking lights. There was no sense of self-published authors being less or not being real authors.
Why Traditionally Published Authors Shouldn’t Snub Self-Published Authors
Most importantly, many of the workshops on the Self-Publishing Track would be valuable to many authors, no matter their publishing path. If traditionally published authors have any sense of selfishness at all, they’d want to gain this knowledge for themselves:
- Management of Multiauthor Indie Collaborations by Sarra Cannon and Marquita Valentine touched on co-writing and shared promotional efforts any author could do.
- Your Books Have Taken Off! Now What? by Marie Force gave business advice applicable to any author experiencing success.
- The Slow Writer’s Guide to Making a Living by Courtney Milan shared tips about how to take advantage of Amazon’s algorithms, even when we can’t release a book every 3 months (which applies to traditionally published authors just as well).
- Etc., etc.
And that was just in the first half of the first day. There were two-and-a-half more days just like that. *smile*
Don’t Think “Us vs. Them”—Learn from All
My point with all this is not to express a neener neener attitude about the success of self-publishing in infiltrating RWA. My point is that authors who don’t fall for the “us vs. them” trap—on either side—will be better off.
I’ve long taken the stance here at my blog that there is no “right” or “best” path. There’s only what works best for us.
For some authors, the best path for them will lead to traditional publishing. Even so, if they can resist seeing self-published authors as “the other side,” they’ll find much they can learn about career planning, marketing, or promotion from those who successfully self-publish.
I think any traditionally published author who attended a workshop on the Self-Publishing Track would have been pleasantly surprised by the tips on making author newsletters more effective or making the most of a release. Advice for developing relationships with readers applies to any published author. Heck, the RWA PAN organization itself brought in self-published uber-author Hugh Howey to speak to its membership.
Likewise, for those authors whose best path is self-publishing, they’ll still find value in learning from the traditional publishing side. Good storytelling craft, research approaches, and training for software like Scrivener is useful knowledge no matter the path of the teacher. Self-published authors can watch book cover trends from publishers or study what publisher promotions elicit the biggest response.
All authors, regardless of their publishing path, struggle with time-management, life balance, and social media and branding issues. We all encounter writer’s block, or question the need to blog, or wonder how to best structure our new series.
In short, as writers and storytellers, we have far more in common than not. Our chosen publishing path is just one aspect of our writing career, and it’s not even the biggest aspect. Traditionally published and self-published authors alike said the same thing over and over at the conference:
It’s all about our story—and the next story after that.
Our ability to deliver great stories again and again is the biggest, most important aspect of our career. We can make mistake after mistake, but if we keep learning and growing, expanding our reach to readers, we’re succeeding in at least some measure. And that’s the best lesson from the RWA Annual Conference, no matter what path we take. *smile*
If you went to the RWA Annual Conference, what impression did you come away with as far as self-publishing? In what ways have you seen writing organizations embrace or dismiss self-publishing or those authors? Do you agree that there’s value in studying the methods of the other path? If you self-publish, have you gained insights from traditional publishers or their authors? If you traditionally publish, have you learned tips from self-published authors?Pin It