All the Voices in the Room: Thoughts on The Bookseller’s First Author Day

YOUAREHERE2 Last spring I asked self- and traditionally published authors, Couldn’t you at least talk to each other? Because in spite of the fact that they have more in common than not, and that they stand to learn a great deal from each other, they seem to be camped in two solitudes, sometimes wearing their route to publication like a badge.

What if there were a space where a conversation between them could take place?

Well, now there is. And in introducing The Bookseller’s inaugural Author Day, Porter Anderson put it this way: “The time has come for the people of publishing to stop, sit together, and begin to understand what’s happening to the creative corps.”

Indeed. I was privileged to attend this event on November 30 in London. It was an intense and fascinating program—a full day of speakers and panels, brilliantly choreographed by Porter Anderson, who seemed to be everywhere at once. So there was much to take in. Here’s the Author Day program, and here’s some coverage.

First off, it was wonderful to be in a roomful of book people—publishing industry people and authors of both persuasions. They do have a common goal, after all—to keep books in our field of vision, both as cultural artifacts and as sources of immense pleasure. More than once it was pointed out that as entertainment, books have lots of competition these days. So way to go, Team Reading!

This collection of players from different parts of the business, though, reinforced the understanding many have that the industry is fractured. We already know this. But it was hearing the different voices in one room that deepened my impression of the various parties as silos, or unconnected pieces, some seeming to be discovering each other for the first time.

Here are just a few examples of what stood out in the rapid exchange of often disparate ideas:

  • Literary agent Andrew Lownie foresees traditional publishing producing just 10 percent of books in the future.
  • Harry Bingham’s author survey found that authors value the editorial input they get from their publishers and despite complaints, wouldn’t leave their publisher. And that even though we might assume that book people are also word people, publishers apparently cannot communicate well with their authors.
  • For technologist Emma Barnes, it’s the tools, the tools, the tools, that will make both authors and publishers more productive, efficient and accountable. The tools will also help them communicate better. But who will take the time to learn them? (And I’m sure some were wondering, “what do you mean by tools?”)
  • And after hearing all of this, we heard from a longtime traditionally published author who can’t decipher her (semi-annual) royalty statement. I hope she (and her publisher) heard the part about trade accounting for only 10 percent in the future, and the importance of learning the tools.

The point isn’t that these voices contradict each other, or that anyone is wrong. I believe that everything we heard at Author Day is true, and that each voice is a piece of the picture we’re all trying to focus on. But these bits are flying past us at a pace that has us gasping—you reach to snag an idea before it gets away and miss three more in the process.

Technology is driving change in every industry on the planet. We’re exhausted by trying to keep up, and I heard this in the room too. Decision fatigue, the learning curve, frustrations with the process—these are issues both authors and publishers are facing. We’re in transition, and everyone’s at a different place on the trajectory. Would it help to affix on it a You Are Here label as a kind of progress report?

Author Day provided a place to begin connecting the dots, to turn the silos into networks. I was so pleased to be part of it.

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