Plenary session: The Next 20 Years

Panel discussion with authors Kelley Armstrong, Stephanie Laurens, and Bob Mayer, and also Angela James (Executive editor, Carina Press) and Kristin Nelson (Nelson Literary Agency).

This was really interesting, particularly in terms of where ebooks are going.  The consensus seemed to be that more and more technology would come into the publishing process, and as the price point of e-readers comes down, there will be more take up within younger demographics.  One surprise so far has been that more older people have purchased them than originally anticipated, but they are often the people with more money to spare than those in the 25 – 45 age group.

Stephanie Laurens made a really good point, that in 20 years a lot of the currently front list writers that are underpinning the traditional publishers will no longer be writing, for whatever reason (retirement, no longer living etc).  While back lists will still sell, there is currently no concept of succession planning from publishers to replace these writers.  Stephanie also raised issues with the way author’s rights are traditionally handled by publishers, and how they should be staying with the author rather than the publisher in perpetuity.

At the moment, ebooks are massively restricted in Australia due to regional licencing (not available here even though they are available elsewhere – even if the author is Australian), and due to the complexity of the way authors have licenced their work in the past.  Kristin said that at the moment agents are trying to get better royalties from publishers for ebooks.  Also her company has set up an electronic publishing platform for her existing clients to self publish if they wish – her staff will edit and format the work and help promote the work, for 15% of the sales.  However the author retains full rights to their work, which makes it an attractive  prospect for them if they don’t wish to go with a traditional publisher.  And Kristin said that no author should EVER grant their writes to a publisher in perpetuity.  She also said that some of the contracts for the new boilerplate editions are so bad that agents have to spend months fighting to get a fair deal for their clients (but what about those agents who don’t fight?).

Bob Mayer said that publishers are dictated by fear right now, but he doesn’t know why authors are feeling that too.  It is an amazing time for writers with an unprecedented range of options and opportunities now available.  Writers can write about whatever they want, they can publish on a variety of platforms.  They can go with traditional publishers or self publish (as he does now).  Stephanie said that the audience is out there – even if you have never published before – so there is no need to feel fear as a writer.

(Everyone) For published authors:  There is a market out there for back catalogue, but you may not want to publish all of it.  It may not fit your current brand.  If you decided to go on that route, make sure you invest in an editor and good cover art (even for an ebook version).

Bob Mayer mentioned that he had an idea of independent authors banding together online to cross promote each other.

All in all, it was a really interesting, informative session.  It was not patronising like the publishers session was yesterday, and even though Angela said she felt it was a bit like being someone who pulls wings of butterflies to be the only publisher on the panel, she was informative and gracious in her information and her replies.  And she said to look out for hologram books in the next 20 years (or so her boss thinks)!

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