Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She’s the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, an essential publishing industry newsletter for authors, and is the former publisher of Writer’s Digest. She has been interviewed and featured by NPR, PBS, The Washington Post, the National Press Club and many other outlets.
In addition to being a columnist with Publishers Weekly and a professor with The Great Courses, Jane maintains an award-winning blog for writers at JaneFriedman.com, and she’s delivered keynotes on the digital era of authorship at the San Francisco Writers Conference, The Muse & The Marketplace, and Willamette Writers Conference, among many others.
We spoke to Jane about what issues indie authors are currently facing and what she’ll be speaking on at DBW 2017.
The world of indie authors and self-publishing has changed a lot in just the last couple years. What do you think are the biggest issues facing this new crop of authors?
There’s a widespread feeling among indie authors that it’s harder than ever before to break through the noise. The period around 2010-2012 is being referred to rather nostalgically as a golden era when it was easier to establish a readership, earn money and rank well on Amazon.
That’s the feeling, but is it a fact? Well, the number of self-published titles continues to grow, and authors have to compete for reader dollars when their books are included in Kindle Unlimited, which pays on a per-page basis, drawing from a finite pool of funds that’s distributed among all authors. Amazon has had to continually fight gaming of the system—even outright scamming—to avoid authors walking away with unfair payouts.
Add to that the mistake that Amazon recently made in accounting for page reads in Kindle Unlimited, and you’ve got more anxiety than usual around indie authorship. Even Author Earnings, normally bullish in its assessment of indie earnings, reported a 10-percent decline in self-pub market share last quarter. Some blame that on it being an election year, but it could also be Amazon Publishing or larger publishers stealing back market share.
It’s a bit like returning home, since I was involved in the programming of the very first Digital Book World event in 2010, while still employed by F+W. I’ve always wanted the opportunity to be involved in organizing a conference that focuses on the business aspects of authorship and tackles it at a professional level, rather than the beginner level. Arranging a conference like this helps you stay on top of what’s going on in the field and hear firsthand what the pain points are for people—both speaker and attendee.
You have a workshop on branding aimed at intermediate-level authors. Can you give us a preview of what you’ll be discussing?
Beginning to establish a cohesive author brand begins by laying a strong foundation, which includes a professional website, an email newsletter, and usually some type of social media activity. What helps thread these elements together is the vision you have for your career or brand, and how you express that vision through your visuals and your voice. Who you build relationships with, and how you try to influence up, also affects your author brand, so we’ll explore the more squishy sides of the issue, in addition to how your brand changes based on what your readers say about you and how they talk about you and your work.
You’re also doing a state-of-the-industry presentation. What sort of issues will you be discussing there?
Porter Anderson and I are delivering this one together, and I feel like the substance of it could change up until the day we give it—you never know what new service or retailer terms are going to be announced! But right now, we plan to discuss the ongoing fight for “discoverability” (almost a cliche at this point), how authors are deciding whether to be exclusive to a specific retailer, and what services or companies might help authors find or grow their readership.
Finally, why do you think authors should attend the DBW Indie Author Conference? What can they get at DBW that they’ll have difficulty finding elsewhere?
Most conferences for authors serve the beginning end of the market, and may also be craft focused, with very little in the way of business strategy or professional development. Usually the business conversation at your typical writing conference is “How do I get a publisher?” But we’re focused on the concerns of authors who’ve been in the market for a while, and know all the usual business advice that’s out there. DBW Indie Author is bringing together the authors who have charted new territory, publishing professionals who have insight into future trends and developments, and representatives from the service companies and retailers that play an ever more significant role in authors’ success. We’re hoping to develop a level of dialogue that challenges authors and helps them level up.
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