by Vaughn Treude
Over the years I’ve attended many science fiction conventions, both as a fan meeting my favorite personalities and as a writer promoting my work. Last week (July 1-4, 2017) the regional science fiction convention Westercon was held at the Tempe Mission Palms. My wife Arlys and I participated in two panels about our favorite science fiction sub-genre: steampunk. It’s always an enjoyable experience to bond with other sci-fi aficionados. It can also be somewhat disheartening, as I meet so many talented writers, some of whom are struggling even after a taste of success in mainstream publishing. After the first day, Arlys remarked that I always get a bit discouraged when I attend a con. This time, I’ve vowed to stay positive.
Of the panels I attended as an audience member, my favorite was called “You Must Choose Wisely,” which referred to the writer’s choice of publishing method. The panel consisted of five different writers who compared their experiences with independent, small press, and mainstream publishing. My biggest takeaway from this was that a writer’s choice depends on their personality (how much of a control freak are you?).
As for one’s experience, it could be good or bad depending on who you’re dealing with. Good editors and agents are worth their proverbial weight in gold. Some of the indies had tried for decades to publish with the Big Five (or however many there are now) and turned to self-publishing in frustration. Others started out in the mainstream, only to be forced into independence when even the bigger houses dropped many mid-list authors during the publishing recession of the early 2000s. Still, others found small presses the best way to go, provided they were able to get a good contract that included a clause reverting all rights to the creator if the company were to fold, as small publishers often do.
After introductions and some basic questions from the moderator, discussion was opened up to the audience. My agenda is usually marketing, so of course, I asked what each author found to be their most effective promotional vehicle. One of the panelists was J. L. Doty, whose self-published book Child of the Sword went viral, which has led to traditional contracts with major publishers. He admitted that he’d been lucky, having done no promotion at all on his first book. The panelists then discussed how success in e-book publishing went from being a big draw for the corporate publishers to a bit of a stigma, as some of the earlier e-book smash successes had poisoned the well a bit by doing too much aggressive marketing via social media. Doty went on to say that social media is no longer a good tool for unknown authors, because “people don’t like to be spammed.” I agree, to a point, but this leaves us with almost no avenues that are cost effective, so I will continue using it. My theory is that if you provide free content that people value – for example, informative or humorous blog posts – your audience won’t mind a bit of incidental self-promotion.
Another thing they talked about was a private Facebook group called (if I remember correctly) “Club Indy.” You get in by invitation only, so perhaps I’ll start schmoozing with some of these folks. Club Indy does a lot of its own market research, which helps keep promotional sites such as BookBub honest. If the promoters’ claims weren’t true, Club Indy would catch them. BookBub is quite selective, the panelists said, accepting only 20 percent of submissions for their promotional list, though an author can keep submitting the same book once a month, and they may eventually accept it. If that site doesn’t work out, other promotional sites such as BookGorilla offer alternatives.
One of the most interesting statistics the authors cited was the factors that influence book buying. As you’d expect, the biggest consideration is whether a reader has purchased one of an author’s books before. Second after that is the recommendation of a friend. Before hearing that fact, I had the idea that personal appearances were a waste of time, because you can reach so many more people online. But if you get a handful of fans who really like your work and refer it to friends, live events could have a powerful multiplier effect. This also means that you need to ask friends and family for their support. Becoming a successful writer is not something one can do alone.
Now that Westercon is over, I’m trying to digest everything I learned. I have vowed to use the resources that the various panelists mentioned and to look for more opportunities for personal appearances. I also plan to submit some of my soon-to-be-finished works to small press publishers. Above all, I will stay positive.
Vaughn Treude grew up on a farm in North Dakota. The remoteness of his home, with few children nearby, made science fiction a welcome escape. After many years in software, he realized that the discipline of engineering could be applied to writing fiction. Check out Vaughn’s works at vaughntreude.com.