Where Are All the Writers?

photo courtesy of shutterhacks
Recently, I did a book review at my local SCBWI chapter's monthly meeting. I'm always inspired and informed at our meetings, but this time I walked away with two significant inspirations:

1. I was encouraged to polish an old manuscript and submit it for a manuscript critique at the SCBWI OK spring conference (and I did!). I'll blog about it after I get the critique back. I actually surprised myself at how excited I was to write something I was proud of.

2. I was inspired with a new blog topic (read: today's blog).

The big discussion topic for the meeting was the upcoming spring conference and why the registration numbers are so low (and why they were low back in the fall too). We began by brainstorming ways to get the word out. It became clear to me that the target age of the conference attendee audience is a large factor. For the most part, I believe the conference is targeting teachers and older adults who have always considered writing a book but never done anything about it. Therefore, most of the discussion at the meeting concentrated on print and television advertisements. Personally, I think social networking should be the focus of their advertising, and I think it would bring in a fresh wave of younger writers.

The frustration with the low numbers was palpable, but no one really could put their finger on why the numbers have shifted so much in the last year. Drawing from my recent clients, I suggested that maybe the surge in self-publishing was the reason people didn't feel the need to come to conferences anymore. It was like a light went on in the room, and soon everyone was buzzing about print on demand and people they knew who published a book (but probably didn't make any money off of it).

As an editor, most of my business comes from people wanting to self-pub. And, to be honest, I've turned away a lot of business for people who wanted to self-pub. I believe self-publishing has its place--primarily with people who have a significant market they know they can sell their product to (e.g., itinerant ministers who have a merch table with them wherever they speak). But there are a lot of people out there who want to see their names on the cover of a book, so they think they can be the exception and self-pub to make some money and break into the world of published authors.

I understand how hard it is to trek down the "traditional publishing" road. I know there's a lot of time, rejection, time, disappointment, and, of course, the time factor lurking on both sides of the road; and I realize that the obstacles appear insurmountable. But I also know something else that trumps all of that--when you get your first book contract, you get a big check (I realize big is relevant, but no matter how small you think your advance is, it will, more than likely, make a self-pub's profits look minuscule).

The benefits of self-publishing are short and sweet--you can see your name printed on a book in a relatively short amount of time. It will probably cost you a lot of money (probably more than you'll make back, unless you have an established market); and it will be more trouble than you are expecting. But, yes, your name will be on the cover of a book that you can show off to your friends and grandchildren.

Let me be frank:
1. The quality of your book will be significantly better if you publish through the traditional route (unless you're willing to spend thousands of dollars to get a professional editor and graphic designer to work with you--thousands is not an exaggeration. You get what you pay for in editing and design).
2. The world is a much smaller place, so finding the information you need to get an agent or publishing house to pick you up is easier than it's ever been. If you don't find the information you need, it's either because you don't know how to surf the Internet, or you're lazy.
3. A publisher should pay you for your book, not the other way around.
4. You need help. Just because you write a book doesn't mean it's publishable.
5. If you plan to self-publish, contrary to popular belief, you definitely should be investing in writing conferences and getting involved with local writers in your area. Getting your name on the cover of a book is only a small step in the publishing world. There's so much more you need to learn to be successful (i.e., to make money), and these conferences are your shortcut to getting a leg up on your competition.

Enter my not-so-subtle plug for the upcoming SCBWI OK conference. For the small amount of money you pay to attend the conference, you get to skip weeks of surfing the web to find all the information you need to get published neatly packaged in a day's worth of conference sessions; and you get an opportunity to submit to all of the publishing houses represented at the conference, which are normally closed to un-agented submissions (that's worth the price of admission right there). For a few dollars more, you can have a professional critique your WIP, again, skipping weeks of research and study you would've had to have done perusing blogs, Twitter accounts, and more figuring out what's popular right now, where your manuscript fits into the current market, and how you can make it better (please note, the deadline for submitting a manuscript critique is tomorrow--February 14).

I realize SCBWI focuses on writing for children, and there are many who read my blog who aren't interested in writing for children. The rules are the same. Just find a conference for writers in your area, get plugged in with other writers, and start doing your research online. With today's social media, there is no excuse for wasting your time submitting an inappropriate manuscript to an agent or publishing house.

Okay, lots of soap boxes in this post. I think I need to do more blogging about the research I've done on the publishing world. There's just too much good information not to share.

Two questions I leave you with:

1. Why do you think conference registration numbers are low (e.g., marketing, self-publishing, the economy, etc.)?
2. What are you favorite online sources for current publishing information?