Of all the panels I attended at Fantasy Con, the one that most sticks in the memory was ‘Turn Up the Volumes: Marketing and Selling Books’. Not because of how much I learned from it, but because of how different the tone was to last year’s equivalent.
Same Panel, Different Industry
Graeme Reynolds is a small press publisher, with an indie outlook and approach. Last year, he sat on a similar panel in a position of isolation. The conversation was oriented toward big publishers and big book shops, the mainstays of traditional publishing. A lone voice toward the self-publishing end of the spectrum, Graeme struggled to be heard, looking increasingly uncomfortable as the assumption behind the panel became clear – this was about how people published by big businesses could get themselves noticed.
This year was completely different. Graeme was in the mainstream of the conversation, alongside other small press and indie writers. Big publishing was represented on the panel, but it didn’t dominate. The result was advice that anybody could use, and a far more relaxed Graeme Reynolds. He was actually smiling when he came out of the panel.
The Difference Twelve Months Makes
Why am I talking about this?
Because I think it’s very telling. Publishing is changing at a huge speed. Self-publishers and indie publishers are finding more success due to the internet and particularly Amazon. Big publishers are ditching their marketing budgets for all but the biggest names. To be relevant, a panel on marketing books has to be providing advice you can follow even if you’ll never get on the shelves of Waterstones.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into a single panel, but it seems to me that attitudes are shifting. Fantasy Con is quite oriented toward traditional publishing, but this year its marketing panel was built around where the industry is going, not where it used to be. Everyone is adjusting to a new reality that makes big publishers less central, but also makes the hardline indie voices, who believe the big publishers are dead weight giants, look less realistic and more fanatical.
A more diverse, do-it-yourself industry is emerging, and it’s one where hard working, determined small publishers like Graeme can comfortably be heard.
Where’s Our Advice?
So having sat through such a practical panel, what advice can I offer you? What nuggets of wisdom did the panel offer?
Honestly, very little I hadn’t heard before. Be positive; interact with people on social media instead of spamming them with sales; do what you’re comfortable worth; identify and focus on your ideal readers.
Half the reason old and new publishing have found this middle ground is that there’s a growing consensus on how to sell books in the early 21st century. If you want to learn about it then don’t listen to me, go direct to experts like Joanna Penn, the Sell More Books Show, or Graeme Reynolds himself.