Planning a conference like the upcoming NINC conference in White Plains is cause for reflection. Reflection, for instance, on why I agreed to become NINC president in the first place, since putting on a conference is a huge amount of work—and I’m not doing most of it (that, thankfully, is in the able hands of Meredith Efken and Kelly McClymer). More constructive reflection has come in the form of thinking about what’s happening in our industry, how much of this is a real trend as opposed to a bit of ephemera, and how much of that truly affects our membership.
When Meredith, Kelly, and I started planning the theme for this year’s conference, a meaningful shift was beginning. The e-book honeymoon was giving way to the e-book strong marriage that, like all strong marriages, requires hard work and compromise. The romance was still there, but it was clear that we were all beginning to notice the uncapped toothpaste tubes. Meanwhile, print books were hanging in there, but more and more of those sales were happening online, which meant that they increasingly mirrored the marketing properties of their digital siblings. This was true whether the books came from traditional publishers, a growing group of vibrant independent houses, or from the authors themselves.
What this indicated to the three of us was that the notion that writers could handle everything on their own was a flawed and potentially dangerous one. What writers needed to be able to do was forge strong partnerships. They needed to put themselves in the center of the process, but it was unwise to think they could be the only participants in the process. No, this wasn’t true if Viking had just given you a seven-figure advance, and it wasn’t entirely true if you had 18 hours a day to devote to publishing and promoting yourself, but it was decidedly true for everyone else, whether traditionally published or self-published.
Therefore, we set out to identify where those partnership points were most important. Certainly, one of them was quality, where outside assistance has always been necessary to get the most out of your work. Another was promotion, since there’s only so much you can do on your own, regardless of how savvy you are with social media. A third was sales, as even at the beginning of the year it was obvious that bookseller dynamics were changing—and it’s much truer now. And yet another was extending out to other markets, as there’s so much potential income available from subsidiary rights sales, as long as you have the right partners.
We’ll explore these partnership points in a variety of ways during the conference: during our First Word panels, in our Roundtables, our Workshops, and our Night Owls. What’s the role—right now and in the predictable future—of the publisher, the editor, the agent, the salesperson, the bookseller, and the various marketing professionals? How do those roles match up with your needs? How much expertise must you yourself bring beyond your writing expertise? What makes them and, more importantly, you a good partner?
I’m not sure anyone else is having this conversation this way. I think it’s a critical one to have, and I think we’ve invited the right people with whom to have it. I’ve been involved to various degrees in the programming of the past two conferences and, while I knew those were going to be hugely informative and entertaining, I also felt that, before those conferences began, I knew what people were going to say, what questions were going to be asked, and how they were going to be answered. I can’t say that about this one. Because of what’s happening in the business, I think we’re all going to be surprised in a positive way by what this combination of voices generates. I hope you’re one of them.