This, though, is an industry engaged in looking at the future, with a rabbit-caught-in-headlights expression. It's trying to adjust to the speed of change: digital proliferation, digital rights management, the power of Amazon, the influence of Google ...
For writers, there has been change too. In some ways, disastrous change, in that we've seen publishers become more and more risk-averse, more and more governed by sales figures, more and more in thrall to the power of the supermarkets. Writers have been dropped because sales figures are not good enough. Writers are not taken on because the publishing house can't afford to take a punt on them. Writers are dashing their skulls against the barriers of the industry or sitting at home counting their proliferating grey hairs.
In the question and answer session afterwards, the panel members were asked about reviews. Linda feels book reviews don't really sell books anyway. Alison Baverstock, course leader for the Master's in Publishing at Kingston University, highlighted that respected book-bloggers can have a huge influence and Amazon's Tom Kephart stressed the importance of good customer reviews. It was agreed that writers have always had to do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of promotion, whether traditionally published or not. The tricky thing, as Joni reminded us, is protecting writing time and resisting the temptation to 'pull the trigger' prematurely when putting work out there.
Some writers have of course made the news by generating enormous income as indie writers and then doing deals with traditional publishers. (You may remember my interviews with Mark Edwards and Louise Voss last year - they e-published their thrillers Catch your Death and Killing Cupid before landing a contract with HarperCollins.) Linda and Joni both want nothing further to do with traditional publishing, and you often hear the question these days - what can publishers offer us that we can't do for ourselves? However, I do think that writers and publishers don't need to hide behind opposing ramparts, firing off pot-shots at one another. We should all be working together to advocate reading and bookselling. Orna says that the Alliance is all about 'collaboration, connection, contact' and that writing books is 'like football. You've got the Premier League - that doesn't stop you kicking a ball about the garden.' Historically, there's been a lot of snootiness with regard to self-publishing and God knows, there's a lot of dross out there and a lot of dross being encouraged by ease of access to publishing services. But there's a lot of great material out there too, material denied a platform because of market/industry dictats and limitations. I have had the experience of traditional publishing with a highly-respected publisher (Bloomsbury) with whom I was proud to be associated. The harsh reality is that any writer's time in the sun is limited because publishers and booksellers produce and display work briefly and then move on. Self-publishing allows you to take advantage of the 'long tail' of possible sales. It gives you freedom, it does away with the agony of waiting for responses, it gives you control over your income. Traditional publishing still gives you validation and kudos and it gives you access to bookshops, and foreign rights deals you might not be able to garner for yourself. Linda finds self-publishing is 'a way of making friends', Dan sees it as a way of being 'true', Joni talks of 'artistic freedom'. But it doesn't have to be a case of either/or. Orna wants writers to be seen as 'partners' in publishing, not as 'a resource to be mined'. If you buy a hybrid car, you can choose to power it with electricity or petrol. What's truly truly exciting for writers now is that we can choose a hybrid career, publishing independently or traditionally as it suits us. As it suits us. Suits me!
Here is the link to a fascinating and lively interview she and Orna took part in on Radio Litopia - and if you want to find out more about the Alliance and how to join, just click on the button in the sidebar of this blog.
Remember, if you're a writer just starting out, you've finished your book and want to edit it or you're ready to take your book to the market, my upcoming Fictionfire courses, two of which I'm running with Joanna Penn, will offer you practical advice and inspiration.
will cover all the elements of composing your story, from finding ideas to finishing your first draft.
Edit It! will teach you crucial techniques for polishing and presenting your work effectively.