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San Francisco eBooks for Everyone Else Conference Recap

Yesterday’s eBooks for Everyone Else conference was an amazing one-day event about all aspects of digital publishing, from formatting and uploading to pricing and marketing. The event, run by Publishers Launch, brought together approximately 100 publishers, agents, authors, and vendors for a quick and dirty slog through a very ambitious list of topics.

I could probably write a novella about this conference, but I’ll highlight a few of my key takeaways for you. If you want my raw notes, you can read my Twitter feed from yesterday (http://twitter.com/#!/Sara_Ramsey) since I wrote 100+ tweets about what I was hearing throughout the day.

One additional note: some of this is more focused, at least on the surface, around epublishing. However, I think that savvy authors should keep track of what’s happening in channels other than their own and implement approaches that work — whether that’s epubs borrowing from what traditional publishers do, or vice versa.

And finally, any errors in quotes/attribution are my own, and I’ll fix anything that is pointed out to me. Now that I’ve caveated this post to death, let’s move on!

1) Discoverability

Discoverability is all about how readers find your book. In the good old days, a reader might stumble across your book in a bookstore, love the cover, and pick it up. But people who shop for books online are less likely to impulse buy; one stat quoted was that impulse buying drops by 9% when people shop online. And if a reader doesn’t know they’re looking for you, how can they find you when search terms are usually so specific and targeted?

There are a couple of solutions for this. One is more the publisher’s responsibility (or the indie writer’s responsibility, if managing their own uploads): creating excellent “metadata” for the book. That covers everything from descriptions of the book with keywords relevant to that genre, to spelling the title and author name correctly. This information is vital to whether your book can be found — for example, if I accidentally enter my name as “Sarah Ramsey” someplace instead of “Sara Ramsey”, that book wouldn’t be found by anyone searching for me directly. So, get your data straight, and make sure you understand metadata before taking the DIY approach.

Another solution is not on the author side, but on the distributor side. I personally don’t browse much on Amazon, B&N, etc., but Book Country did a really cool presentation on how one can browse through content there. Because they’re targeting genre fiction, they’re working on making genre books more discoverable — including using a cool visualization of books, almost like a periodic table, to show you what books are clustered around a book that you already love.

Bottom line: if no one can find your book, you’re toast. Getting discoverability right is perhaps the single most important thing you can do (after you write a fabulous book, of course!).

2) Marketing

Ah, marketing. The very word gives a lot of authors hives. I suppose the good news is that no one has the perfect marketing formula, so no one can tell you you’ve screwed up πŸ™‚

Seriously, though, there are viable options in both traditional/digital marketing and in social media, if you’re willing to take the plunge. On the more traditional, direct to customer marketing side, Michael Tamblyn of Kobo pointed to Ruth Ann Nordin as an example of someone who does almost no social media, but has built a robust email newsletter mailing list and does most of her marketing direct to her established reader base. Bob Mayer has also had success running Google and Facebook ads in an effort to build brand awareness — he gets very few clicks, but by targeting his ads at the right places, he can get readers used to seeing his name and prime them to buy his book later.

On the social media side, it isn’t as simple as going on Facebook and playing Farmville all day. It’s important to remember that you are what you tweet. Iris Blasi said that “you are advertising the best version of yourself” — in other words, be yourself, but make sure ‘yourself’ is filtered through the awareness that you’re engaging with your audience, not your mom or your best friend.

Also, you need to know where your audience is. If you’re writing historical fiction, where do the history buffs hang out online? Is your story set during the Civil War and likely to attract older men? Or is it a Jane Austen or Tudor-era story that might appeal to women? Are you writing for teenagers? You need to identify your audience, then find them online and interact with them where they already are.

Surprisingly, one market research tidbit that came out was that teenagers may spend the most time on Facebook, but they don’t engage with marketing there. They buy primarily based on reviews from their peers, not on marketing-driven interaction. Even more surprisingly (to me), women in the 40+ age bracket were more likely to buy based on Facebook interaction and discussion, even if they spend less time there than teens. This doesn’t mean you have to be on Facebook (just because someone is likely to buy on Facebook doesn’t mean your audience is there — averages don’t necessarily apply to the specifics of your niche), but it’s worth considering where your audience can be reached. The market research came from Bowker, who is doing a ton of work on genre-specific audience identification.

Bottom line: know your audience and interact with them when and where you can.

3) The future of agents

I won’t spend a lot of time on this, but it’s no surprise that agents are being forced to rethink their business models. The agent panel at the end of the day included some powerhouses (Scott Waxman, Deidre Knight, Ted Weinstein, and Laura Rennert), and they’re all working in a variety of ways to provide new ebook services to their clients while attempting to build sustainable long-term businesses.

Ted Weinstein laid it out very clearly: he thinks that agents will either become a) Hollywood style agents who only work with the biggest, splashiest clients on the most surefire projects; b) small publishers themselves; or c) more like a CEO/career manager who works with a much smaller subset of clients but manages all aspects of their career (such as building a speaking career for an author who is already a successful nonfiction expert). Every agent will choose a different path that suits them, but eventually most agents will have to make hard choices about what their business will look like.

Bottom line: Agencies are in flux, but any agent worth his/her salt is thinking hard about what the future looks like for them. My own personal opinion (not endorsed by anyone) is that it’s still worth signing with an agent depending on your goals, and I would sign with mine all over again in a heartbeat. But if the agent isn’t willing to have a conversation with you about the agency’s future (or predicts something that feels totally crazy), that would be a major red flag for me.

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That’s the bulk of the recap. There was a lot more detail about technological solutions, pricing, conversions, more on metadata, etc., but this post is too long as it is.Β I’ll check in throughout the day on the comments here and answer any questions, or feel free to tweet or email me (dearsara AT sararamsey DOT com) directly!

29 responses to “San Francisco eBooks for Everyone Else Conference Recap”

  1. Great recap, Sara, thanks! I saw your tweets yesterday and read them with interest. Authors definitely owe it to themselves to keep up with where the industry is headed, and you did a great job boiling this down into major points! Made me wish I was at the conference.

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  2. Thanks for sharing what you learned at the conference, Sara! Being a YA author, it’s very interesting to hear teens don’t engage in FB marketing. I think it’s still useful to use FB as a promo tool because a lot of mums buy and read books for their kids.

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks Vanessa! The Facebook comment was really interesting, but I agree that it doesn’t mean Ya authors should abandon Facebook. After all, mothers do account for some YA sales, as you said, and there is still value in getting your name out there. It just made me wonder how you can get teens talking about your books – and unfortunately I don’t have an answer (don’t you love that? πŸ˜‰

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  3. Gillian says:

    Thanks for sharing! Publishing is changing so much, and there is so much information out there, it’s hard to keep it all straight. Exciting times for the romance industry.

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Gillian! The amount of change is overwhelming, but I was also excited about how much new stuff there is to explore. My biggest challenge is keeping myself focused on writing and forcing myself to ignore twitter/blogs at least a few hours a day πŸ™‚

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  4. liz talley says:

    As much as I’d like to stick my head in the sand and pretend everything is the same, I know I can’t. So thanks for this. I think so much is in flux, it’s hard to know what is the right move to make, but through preparation and knowledge, we can all be ready to make smart choices when it comes to our career.

    Right now, I’m thinking of diversifying. I’ve built my platform on writing sassy Southern small town romance, but I want to take that and spread it to some other areas. Dance with the one who brought me, but keep an eye on other dance partners, so to speak. I want to build a career and that means paying attention to the world around me as well as writing good books.

    Thanks for great info…lots here for trad pubbled as well as indie/epub.

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Diversification is an interesting challenge. On one hand, it’s a great longevity strategy; on the other, if your other genre isn’t closely related to your first, your original audience may not follow you. Jayne Ann Krentz came to speak in the bay area a few months ago, and she said that very few readers followed her between Jayne Castle and Amanda Quick. Maybe this would be a good blog topic from some of our rubies who write multiple genres/styles?

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  5. Rita Henuber says:

    Zowie! This is great. Thank you. I watched your tweets yesterday. It’s all very interesting.

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  6. Leslie says:

    I, too, was reading your tweets with interest and blessing your generous heart. Very pertinent and interesting information you’ve shared. Thank you.

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  7. Vivi Andrews says:

    I find all this stuff absolutely fascinating. Especially the idea of a periodic table for books! Must check out Book Country.

    Thank you for sharing what you picked up. So many interesting variables these days.

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    • Vivi Andrews says:

      Okay, so I went to Book Country and now I’m confused. Are they trying to be a Goodreads competitor or an indie author community? Seemed more like they were encouraging people to upload work… and when I entered in Kresley Cole I got nada, so it wasn’t like I could enter in her book and see which indies are like her on the periodic table o’ books. I’m a little puzzled. Do you know what their angle is?

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      • Sara Ramsey says:

        I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure what their angle is. I think they’re possibly more of a space for newer authors – more of a competitor with Scribd than Goodreads. Scribd and Book Country are (I think) places where you can upload samples/early chapters to build buzz, not where fans can build communities around books. But I really need to play around with them more before I fully understand their model.

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  8. Fabulous stuff, Sara. I was just having a conversation along similar lines last night, but admit I’m woefully ignorant of the particulars of epublishing. This is a great help

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  9. Thanks, Sara. Great stuff. I’ve never heard of Book Country. Going over there to check it out.

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  10. Amy Raby says:

    Wonderful information, thanks for sharing!

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  11. Fabulous information, Sara. Thanks for sharing. I imagine it would be invigorating to attend a conference on all of this – kind of like being on the cusp of a brand new world…

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      It was very invigorating. Also intimidating – there are more things one can do for publishing/marketing/promo of ebooks than there are hours in the day. But it was really cool to spend a day thinking about it.

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  12. Wow, what a fantastic post, Sara!!! Such great information. It sounds like you had a wonderful time, too, Sara. Yay!

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks Darynda!! I’m very honored that you came out of your writing cave long enough to read this post πŸ™‚ it was a really cool conference, though, and a good reminder that I need to be spending time on learning the business and not just mastering my craft.

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  13. Amanda Brice says:

    Fantastic post, Sara! Thanks so much for sharing!

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  14. Sara,
    I’m impressed how you were able to extract so much , so competently out of a day crammed with information and challenge. I’d looked at the program and was overwhelmed by the thought of digesting it all.Thank you for this great, eye-opening service.

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  15. In fact when someone doesn’t know after that its up to other people that they
    will help, so here it occurs.

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