One very big reason to go to the RWA National conference is the Published Author Network retreat and workshops. These workshops are not recorded and the only people who can attend are PAN members. The lists of the workshops are in your packet or in the PAN section of the RWA site. PRO members have their own track. The keynote speaker for PRO was Donald Maass so I was a bit miffed that I couldn't go.
For PAN, the keynote speaker was Lou Aronica who served as deputy publisher at Bantam before becoming the publisher at Berkley and Avon. He is now a NYT best seller in his own right and knows the industry.
He basically spoke about an industry in flux. There are real problems for bricks and mortar stores as people choose to buy books more and more online either from online bookstores such as Amazon or as ebooks. This has significantly reduced footfall in stores. It has also led to the large chains not ordering as many copies, but being quicker to reorder should the need arise.
The big problem for publishers is that there is currently no mechanism that allows the consumer to browse in the same way as they can in a bookstore. The consumer can not be caught by a random book on the shelf above the author they were looking for example. Publishers are having to learn to become business to consumer rather than business to business companies. (It was at this point I started to check off his prescriptions against what Harlequin already does and was pleasantly surprised at how much Harlequin was already doing.) Harlequin has been not only a b2b business but a b2c business for a long time. I had to smile when he mentioned that marketing people from P&G do not go to into publishing. Guy Hallowes, the former managing director of HMB was ex-P&G and made a point of hiring people with a small consumer goods background. For example, Mandy Ferguson, the current managing director of HMB has a marketing background in food and is credited with revitalising ryvita. Harlequin also saw the move to digital years ago and has worked hard to support all platforms as well building its own community.
He also pointed out that the move towards digital was accelerating driven by the falling price of e-readers. 8% of total trade is now digital. Romance for comparison is 13% of the total trade market.
Anyway, his big message was that the author must be prepared to do more and that Social Media could help replace some of the browsing experience of a bookstore. Social Media was a theme I heard again and again. Various agents I heard speak mentioned that you should put in your query letters about your Social Media expertise. However, several have cautioned that it is the BOOK that is important.
Aronica pointed out that the industry might be in flux but the romance genre was showing solid returns. I didn't stay for the Q&A as the Harlequin Historical tea was being held.
As with any change, you can either read the sky is falling or see opportunity.
Other PAN workshops I attend were things like what to expect from your agent in the New Age of Publishing with Robert Gottlieb. He really impressed me. And one thing he did say was that your agent (or yourself if unagented) must keep you informed about what is happening in the industry. Education about the business is vital.
However as the Death of the Midlist and Twilight of the Bestseller workshop pointed out -- too much emphasis on doom and gloom may be unwarranted. Both editors from SMP and Battantine/Bantam said that there was no golden age and that they are as eager as ever to grow authors. And they took issue with the title of the workshop. Many authors took several books before they became best sellers. Sometimes as in the case of Dan Brown, it did mean that authors had to be prepared to change publishing house. Ultimately what decided a bestseller was numbers.
Also listed in the PAN bit was the Harlequin Authors Forum which was for Harlequin authors only. Harlequin continued to impress, particularly after I had sat through all these things on social media and the need for authors to be proactive. Harlequin is a business to consumer business and they know their consumer. They are working hard at apps that will simulate more the browing experience in an online bookstore. They are also working hard with bricks and mortar stores to better utilise the power of the Harlequin series consumer. The research about her was very interesting. Basically women who read series read more of everything.
Anyway, I was very impressed with the quality of the workshops and really felt that they were worth attending as they gave me new insight. I had not expected to learn so much in such a short space of time.