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At the PNWA Writer's Conference - Elf M. Sternberg
At the PNWA Writer's Conference
I'm at the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association (PNWA) annual Conference, and I'm having the worst feelings of conflict and anxiety I've felt in a very long time.

I have often felt that the first duty of a writer was to write, and nothing else. And while I've seen a few people here writing, it feels like there's an awful lot more hustling going on than actual writing. And my general impression of the whole thing is that it's vaguely seedy and flimflam.

I've been to a lot of SFnal conventions where "how to write a scene," "how to market your book," and "how to manage self-publishing in both book and ebook formats" have been the subject of highly professional panels. The average convention runs me about $120 or so, for three or four days of that sort of advice with room parties, drinking, hobnobbing and the always-potential for canoodling in the evenings.

This "professional" convention is almost $600. (I didn't pay that amount, though; my membership was won at a school auction, where one of the parents put it forward, and Omaha got it for me as a gift. We paid much, much less for it.) For five times the price of (what I think of as) a "regular convention," you get the same advice, in an overpriced hotel, without the colorful evening festivities. What you do get in the evenings is a chance to pitch your WIP to agents and editors, and to meet the people who have "made it." The evening meet-up has a strange air of desperation.

The table in the temporary bookstore really tells the whole story with terrible clarity. There is the centerpiece table: thread-bound hardcover novels from Hatchette, HarperCollins, Penguin, with one strange and tiny cover given over to Ellora's Cave. These are the authors who have "made it," and who are here as guest speakers and presenters. These are the authors who attendees have spent $600 to meet.

The tables around the perimeter tells the rest of the story: the lackluster bindings of Smashwords and Lulu, the squarebound feel and poorly-chosen cover typography, the shoddy feel much of self-publishing goes through as authors try to find their footing. I genuinely hope most of the people here are satisfied with seeing their own work in the totem form of the printed page, and nothing else, because there's not much else here on offer to them.

The remaineder of the conference is author services: freelance editors and proofreaders, or companies that will build websites for the author, or handle the epub or print formatting, or do cover art, or make peripheral materials (bookmarks, pens, even video trailers for "less than a thousand dollars").

I have been published, and I have self-published, and I don't work that hard at self-marketing. $600 represents three years of the income my own efforts have made. (In contrast: my freelance web development rate makes that much in four hours.) For most of the people here, the income they see from their writing probably amounts to much, much less: some of the conversations I've had here indicate the amount so far is zero. $600 seems an awful lot of money to pay for the hope that lightning may strike.

Current Mood: cynical cynical

5 comments or Leave a comment
jeriendhal From: jeriendhal Date: July 18th, 2014 06:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, $600 seems awfully silly for what the conference was offering.

Though I'm wondering what I'm doing right. My ebooks pulled in a hair under $700 last year, though I'm not sure I'll be that lucky this year, and that's without really marketing myself.

I do at least try to have nice cover art. Fortunately I have a couple of artist friends who are quite good and have reasonable rates.
tagryn From: tagryn Date: July 18th, 2014 07:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Just from my own perspective, I had a recent revelation that's leading me back to starting writing again, so I looked around casually to see what local writers' clubs had available. Most of the stuff on the websites and meetings were about marketing, not things like collaborative writing or the actual writing process, which was disappointing...but I guess shouldn't be surprising. The zero-point starting point for a lot of this seems to be that you're writing professionally from the get-go, not as a hobby or as a creative outlet.

I'm fortunate that I don't have to make my living from writing, because having to huck my wares to meet the bills would be a great way to kill the creative juices, at least for me.
sirfox From: sirfox Date: July 18th, 2014 07:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
I guess you learned a lot more about this side of the industry than you did about writing itself at this shindig. Considering the pricetag for that lesson normally, you still got a deal, in a sense. @___@

valarltd From: valarltd Date: July 19th, 2014 03:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
$600 sounds about right for "an industry conference"

Surprised Ellora is still in the game as A Major Player. The sales are 1/10 of what they were in 2009, and they're not carried in any chain bookstores (when they dominated the romance trade shelves in 2005) because they tried to rewrite the distributing rules. And their binding is all done through CreateSpace these days, same as my own publishing house.
elfs From: elfs Date: July 19th, 2014 04:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think Ellora is here because they still have one great-selling author who's got a stack of books on the table. The table is author-centric, not publisher-centric, and she's being touted as a major success story.
5 comments or Leave a comment