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DBW's Writers' Conference: A New Format for the New Professional Author


No parade of panels here. Instead, we’ve devised a tightly targeted format for DBW Indie Author, to send you back to your career grounded, focused, smarter.

Speakers at DBW’s Indie Author program on January 19 have been chosen for their concise, specialized knowledge and track record on the sophistication of the independent market. Hurry to book a seat.

Who is the “new professional author”? How does he or she direct a successful independent publishing career?

For the first time, Digital Book World, the annual event for the publishing industry in New York City, will devote a daylong conference to writers—it’s called DBW Indie Author—and it’s devised to take on the question of who and what this “new professional author” is and to focus on how that new pro is operating successfully in today’s market. We’re hashtagging the day #DBWIndie, and we’ll be at the Manhattan Hilton in New York City at Sixth Avenue and West 53rd on January 19. We start at 9 a.m.

What makes the answers to these and other questions both exhilarating and unnerving, of course, is that rigid outlines that might once have helped us define a book author have been disrupted right along with the industry itself. The most intelligent traditionally publishing and indie authors today have learned and re-learned the “never say never” rule:

  • “I have to get an agent and a publisher” is a line that simply doesn’t hold true anymore. The self-publishing options are real, viable, proven, growing.
  • But “I’ll never work with a traditional publisher” is just as outmoded a declaration. That’s the kind of indie-or-bust war cry you might have heard several years ago as the independent author sector was being put into motion by the arrival of Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem.

We believe that today’s “new professional author” is moving right across pathways to publication as needed, driven by the project and by his or her personal preferences and capabilities for the rigors of high-quality independent publishing.

Jane Friedman and I — as the producers of The Hot Sheet, our exclusive private newsletter for traditionally publishing and indie authors — have devised DBW Indie Author as something different. It’s a conference in which you’re not being pitched from the stage by author services, but instead being handed the conceptual and practical tools you need to make your best decisions as an independent author: one who thinks for him- or herself.

One of the key differences you’ll notice as you look at our agenda, for example, is that this isn’t a “parade of panels” conference. There are four nuts-and-bolts workshops in which we have experts guiding you on critically important skills authors simply must apply right now in two key areas: author branding and attracting readers. And there’s one panel—of authors, rightfully enough. These are newly successful authors whose experiences represent a wide variety of how authors are gaining traction today.

The structure of the conference is carefully crafted to create a day that really means something to your career. And that means context.

This is why each speaker has been selected to provide a sharply targeted part of the day’s logic. We want this to make sense, to be something that helps you understand what this market has become and where you might best fit into it. The typical “parade of panels” conference format can surely expose you to a lot of voices and viewpoints, but normally sets your head spinning. We’d like you, instead, to leave DBW Indie Author more grounded, more focused, more selective about what you’re doing with your publishing career.

What Makes Your Work Unmistakable?

As I tell you about what we have planned, I recommend you put one question into your mind, and it comes from something Seth Godin teaches in one of his courses. He asks students to consider whether there’s anything about their work that makes it so distinctive that if someone came across that work, they’d know who’d created it? What about your writing, about your work as an author, might have that kind of specialness, the sheer distinction, the singularity that can communicate to the world that this is your work?

What makes your work unmistakable?—just put that question into the back of your mind as you think your way through the points of this agenda.

After a quick intro, we’re opening the program on January 19 with something we all need when it comes to self-publishing and the indie-author movement: a reset. And we have the perfect people for this.

  1. Jon Fine was the face of Kindle Direct Publishing as part of his portfolio for years as Amazon’s director of author and publisher relations. Today working with both publishers and authors, he’s able to discern, he tells us, a “new sophistication” not only in indie authors themselves but also in services arriving to support them. Fine is going to give us a highly focused intensive look back at how we got to this point.
  2. And Orna Ross, who founded and directs the international Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), is flying in from London to take the baton from Fine. She agrees with him that a certain corner has been turned in the indie market and community. Her own term for this is “indie 2.0.” And she’s going to bring us swiftly up to the minute on the precise issues that today characterize the indie way of working, its opportunities, its challenges: its reality.

Immediately following this, we want to show you something else: bridges. One of the most telling elements of the indie way of working today is that it’s no longer that all-or-nothing pathway to publication that many once thought it was. There are what we call bridges, points at which indie and traditional are intersecting. Judith Curr is a leader in this, as the publisher of Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books division. This is a traditional publisher who actively seeks out indies. And she’s going to help us sort out what that means.

Jane and I will then provide the first pivot-point of the day: a “state of the sector” look at what we’re calling the “pressures and promise of professionalism” for independent authors. If you know our slogan for The Hot Sheet — “No Drama. No Hype.” — you know that what we do is clean, incisive analysis of the industry’s development, translated expressly for authors and their needs. We want you to have a clear shot at the best information available.

After a coffee break, we then turn to Richard Nash, one of the industry’s most forward-looking thinkers, to give us a telling overview of “the rise of the platforms, as we call it: the fundamental importance of the development of today’s publishing platforms. Remember: a few years ago, those things were still newfangled; now they’re essential.

And we follow Nash with a special session in which four or five major platforms, in fact, are going to distinguish for you exactly why you’d choose one or the other. They’re not pitching you. They’re telling you, “Here’s what makes our services distinctive”—so that you can at last get a good sense of which platform best answers your needs. We’ll have Kelly Gallagher of IngramSpark; Mark Lefebvre of Kobo; Steven Spatz of BookBaby; Ashleigh Gardner of the powerhouse Wattpad; and perhaps one more, as well.

Our working lunch, then turns into a chance for you to sit and chat with the representatives of these platforms. Bring along your questions, your needs, your specific issues and choose who to talk to at your own pace. You’re also welcome to relax and just eat, of course, but we think you’ll want to take advantage of being in the room with these specialists and this is a perfect, friendly, convivial chance to compare notes on what you need from a platform in your work.

Immediately after lunch, another two of our marquis moments:

  1. Data Guy of Author Earnings is going to outline a tightly focused look at where his research shows the industry stands today, right now. What market share are indies capturing? In what part of the marketplace? Where are the strengths? What are the vulnerabilities? Crucially important information in a crisp, clear delivery.
  2. Mary Rasenberger of the Authors Guild. Has there ever been a moment when authors’ freedom of expression was more important in the States? Perhaps not, and the Authors Guild is ready to work with you. We want you to know the kind of career advocacy available to you.

Our first two workshops then look at “branding your future,” as we call it. One, for intermediate-level authors, is on the indispensable elements of author marketing, and Jane’s taking this one, herself, being one of the country’s leading experts in the field.

  1. One, for intermediate-level authors, is on the indispensable elements of author marketing, and Jane’s taking this one, herself, being one of the country’s leading experts in the field.
  2. The parallel workshop, for more experienced authors, is marketing consultant Dana Kaye’s look at how accomplished authors are finding and managing the assistance they need, staffing up.

After a coffee break, we have our second set of two workshops, these aimed at attracting readers.

  1. One, for intermediate-level authors, is a metadata intensive with Ingram’s Margaret Harrison (she’s @metadatable on Twitter): because “they can’t read you if they can’t find you.”
  2. The parallel workshop, for more experienced authors, is on “how SEO lets you play them where they lie” with OptiQly’s Peter McCarthy, recognized as being among the best in the business.

Our one true panel of the day, then, is—appropriately—presenting great authors: Leslye Penelope, Jay Swanson, Katerina Tonks, and Heidi Joy Tretheway are each distinctive examples of the “new professional author” at work. Not the flashy skyrocket successes you may once have heard about, but solid, thoughtful, savvy, experienced writers, each of whose career gives you a different insight into how success is possible, what it means, why things are working for them, and where they see the challenges ahead. We want you to hear from genuine success stories, and that’s why we call this session “Yes, It’s Working.” Because it is.

Finally, Jane and I will wrap the day every quickly. You’ll be out before 6 p.m., newly charged up and reoriented to precisely what you’re doing in your author career.

Now, there’s more information for you at the DBW site, of course. Here’s the agenda for the day. Here’s our speakers’ page. Here’s where we’ll be. And here’s the registration page—I think you’ll find it reasonably priced. When you check out, use the code PORTERDBW17 and save an extra $25, too.

Thanks for considering coming along, and don’t delay: seats are getting tight as the 19th nears. Yes, you can walk up and pay that day if you want to, but your best price and surest route to a seat is to book now.

See you there!

Porter Anderson
Porter Anderson is Co-Owner The Hot Sheet, Editor-in-Chief Publishing Perspectives. He holds BA, MA, MFA, is a journalist, speaker, and consultant specializing in book publishing. Formerly with CNN, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media, he is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives, founded by the German Book Office New York, the magazine for the international publishing industry.

With Jane Friedman, he produces The Hot Sheet publishing-industry newsletter, providing business news expressly for authors in a biweekly subscription email newsletter. Anderson also writes the #MusicForWriters series on contemporary composers for Thought Catalog, and is the former Associate Editor of The FutureBook for London’s The Bookseller.

Porter Anderson

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