This page contains the text and power point slides comprising the
Romance Writers of America 2012 Keynote Address, delivered by Stephanie
on July 26 at the Romance Writers of America National Conference
at Anaheim, CA.
THE TRANSITION...KEEPING THE FAITH
Linda Winstead-Jones approached me to give this address, I asked
if there was anything specific the board wanted me to speak about,
and she replied: well, it's usually inspirational, and sometimes
funny, but it should really be a reflection of the individual author.
thought: Oh, good - then no one who knows me is going to be surprised
if I talk about the business - our business - and perhaps, given
where we stand now, in the middle of 2012, that might be rather
my title today is: Weathering the Transition - Keeping the Faith.
And I hope that, as all good titles should, it will raise questions
in your minds - such as: Which transition? Why use the term weathering?
And keeping the faith with what?
I get to answering those questions, I have 2 caveats to make - first,
everything I say applies to all genre fiction but not necessarily
to other forms of fiction. Genre fiction - the work of storytellers
who tell tales to entertain - is entertainment, and so subject to
the rules governing entertainment, unlike general and literary fiction,
which are bought and read for other reasons. What I say might or
might not apply to those other forms of fiction.
what I'm about to present is my personal view of our business -
my interpretation of my observations and it's not intended to advocate
any particular path. Every author is an individual - we have our
own paths to forge, our own challenges to meet. Each author's individuality
is what makes our voices unique. If something I say resonates with
you, by all means share it, discuss and promulgate in whatever way
you wish. Conversely, if what I say rings no bells, just chalk it
up to another person's pov and move on.
- to my first question. Which transition? You might think I mean
the transition from print to digital, but no - while the shift from
print to digital consumption is a major driver contributing to the
critical transition that's causing the upheaval in our business,
it's not the critical transition itself - which is the migration
of readers from buying offline to buying online. Whether they buy
print or digital doesn't matter - it's the fact that readers access
our works online that's key, because once a reader is buying online,
the author can reach that reader directly, and that alters one critical
segment of our business irrreversibly.
examine this change, I want to share with you three simple pictures
that help me understand our business, and what's happening to it
through these turbulent times. For those who buy this address in
audio, these pictures are available on my website, stephanielaurens.com,
the link is on the home page, and you can see, copy, share, and
disseminate as you please.
to my first picture: The Business of Being a Storyteller.
me, this simple cartoon encapsulates everything about our business.
We create the story told, the publishing industry transmits the
story to the reader, and the reader derives enjoyment from the story.
Of course, our Reader shown here is a placeholder for readers en
masse - we're entertainers, so we're always wanting to reach as
large an audience as possible.
mentioned I use these pictures to help me understand aspects of
our business - for instance, pricing. What does the reader pay for?
Answer: the emotional experience she derives from the story. Most
of our readers don't truly care how they access our stories, only
that they get to experience them. So while different formats of
a book might have different prices, there needs to be a consistent
story value included in each price. And remember the old adage:
if you don't respect and value your work, don't expect anyone else
point: what is the definition of success in our business? Recently
I've heard some contend that success for an author is getting published.
Really? Getting published is you handing your manuscript over for
transmittal - how can that be success? No - we're entertainers,
and as an entertainer's success is measured by their box office
draw, our success is measured by the number of readers lining up
to buy our next book. Not the book that just went out, but our next
book. Our success is measured by the size of our already captured
today, the one point I want you to take from this picture is that
the publishing industry is not our business. It's a segment of our
business, it's the necessary bit that takes our story from us to
our readers, but publishing is merely a transmittal process - think
of it as the mechanics of passing the story parcel from the author
to the readers en masse.
- moving on to my 2nd picture, this depicts the Offline Publishing
Industry - where the reader buys a physical book in a physical store.
This is the industry that's been around for over 200 years, and
with which we're all very familiar.
the offline publishing industry, there are three intermediaries
between author and reader, and all are essential - the story parcel
gets passed from one to the other to the other, down a straight
line - it's straight because there is no getting around any of the
intermediaries in offline publishing, at least not if you want to
reach readers en masse. Essential means cannot be done without.
in offline publishing, there is only one route between author and
reader, and in order to get her book to readers en masse, the author
has to sell her work to the publisher, who packages and on-sells
the book to the distributors and key retail accounts.
that, please: in offline publishing, the author sells to the publisher,
and publishers are the sole direct customer, or gatekeeper, for
to that, see those two rectangles? Those are the priority lists
of the commercial relationships for Retailer and Publisher. Retailer,
of course, has readers, their customers, as their top priority,
followed by distributors, their suppliers, followed by the publishers,
who give help to sell specific books.
Publishers in the offline industry, their principal focus is on
Distributors and their key retail accounts - because just as publishers
are gatekeepers for authors, distributors and key accounts are gatekeepers
for publishers. Authors often feel neglected when, once we've signed
with a publisher, the publisher turns away and concentrates on the
distributors and retailers, but in that publishers are only doing
what they commercially must. A publisher isn't of much use to the
author if the publisher can't get the author's book into a large
number of retailers. And of course, with that focus, publishers
never even see readers, at the far end of the chain. And there's
no real reason they need to, because that's not how offline publishing
brings us to my 3rd picture - what we're transitioning into: The
Online Publishing Industry.
is a simplified diagram - I've left out a spectrum of emerging players
in order to better focus on the principal relationships. Of all
romance works sold via all channels, I believe we've now passed
the point where more than 50% of units sold per month are sold online.
For romance, the Online Industry already dominates and will increasely
dominate over time. And online, while the major players are the
same, the structure is different, which means the Online Industry
operates in critically different ways.
instance, in passing the story parcel from author to reader, instead
of there being only one way, there are now four - Author to Reader,
Author to Publisher to Reader, Author to Retailer to Reader, and
Author to Publisher to Retailer to Reader. All four routes are viable
and being effectively used by authors to transmit their stories
to readers, so authors as of now have multiple online routes by
which they can reach readers en masse.
- multiple routes instead of one - is one critical difference between
the Online Industry and the Offline Industry.
another - in the Online industry, only Author and Reader are essential
- meaning cannot be done without. Publishers and Retailers, no matter
who they are, can never be or make themselves essential - not unless
they can take control of the internet. Not just a part of it, all
of it. Which is why I waste no time worrying about anyone controlling
my business again - that's not going to happen while I can reach
my readers direct. And thanks to JK Rowling and Pottermore for establishing
that beyond question. One way or another, if authors are forced
to it, it can and will be done.
for many of us, for many reasons, we'd rather not go the direct
route if we don't have to. And we don't have to. But I've just said
that neither publishers nor retailers are essential online, so how
does a given publisher or retailer secure a place in our new online
industry? The answer is through commercial desirability, and the
standout exponent of that art is Amazon.
desirability is a dynamic equation, meaning it changes with time,
but it's a simple sum of likes and dislikes. Any Amazon customer
will have things they don't like about Amazon, but the things they
like far outweigh the dislikes, and the customer always returns
to buy from Amazon. Amazon understands that online retail success
is all about maximizing profit while simultaneously remaining commercially
desirable, so when it introduced the Kindle and realized it needed
to ensure supply - to keep its customers happy - Amazon started
building commercial desirability relationships with
Not publishers, because Amazon can't be sure which publishers will
survive in the online era, and it doesn't need to worry about publishers
anyway, because if Amazon has authors, the essential suppliers,
on side, then authors will ensure Amazon gets their content even
if authors transmit via publishers.
for a retailer to be successful in our online industry, they need
to make themselves commercially desirable first and foremost to
their customers, the readers, then to their essential suppliers,
the authors, with publishers running a distant third.
what about publishers? How does a publisher suceed in our online
world? Like retailers, publishers are non-essential, so, like retailers,
to secure a place in our online industry publishers need to make
themselves commercially desirable
to whom? Their customers.
But in the online world, who are a publisher's customers? Who will
pay for what a publisher offers - editing, production, distribution
and management of sales channels, publicity and promotion? Authors.
Only authors. Unless engaged by authors to act as publishing facilitators,
publishers have nothing to offer readers or retailers. Readers are
only interested in authors' works, and the retailers are only interested
in supplying readers.
online-era publishers are flexible, responsive, author-oriented
providers of publishing services, cost-effectively value-adding
to authors' releases. They are acutely focused on what authors want
and provide those services for a competitive fee. I say "are"
because new online-era publishers adhering to these principles already
addition, offline publishers are, unsurprisingly, seeking to transition
into the online industry. To successfully transition, a previously
offline publisher needs to accomplish two feats - first, refashion
their old business into an author-oriented publishing services business,
and second, convince authors of their worth in what is emerging
as a fiercely competitive field. Those two feats form the challenge
that lies squarely before offline publishers wishing to transition
into the online sphere.
aspects of that challenge deserve special mention. First, remember
how things were in the offline industry - author sells her work
to publisher. In the online industry, publisher sells its services
to author. That is a 180-degree turn around in relationship.
know many authors are having difficulty getting their heads around
that, and unsurprisingly offline publishers are having an even harder
time grappling with the change, but to claim a position in the online
industry, offline publishers must embrace and internalize this attitudinal
compounding difficulty for offline publishers lies in the conflicting
priorities of their commercial relationships - distributors, retailers,
with authors a poor third in the offline world, and authors, authors,
authors, and forget the rest online. Offline publishers wishing
to transition online have to drastically - and for romance now very
quickly - shift focus, even while simultaneously managing their
residual offline business.
transitioning into the online industry, of all the players in our
business it's offline publishers who have to change the most, and
who face the biggest challenge in doing so. Ultimately, an offline
publisher's success in our online world will depend on how well
they implement the necessary changes, and how willingly they accept
that their online future will be determined by their relationships
that's Publishers, and we're Authors. So what changes for us in
answer is: Not that much. Our relationship with publishers changes,
our opportunities increase, but other than that? Let's look at my
final picture, which is the first picture adjusted for where we
are today, showing the multiple channels an author now has to transmit
her work to her readers.
the publishing industry - the transmittal process - that's undergoing
change, but the only point at which that affects an author is when
she's ready to hit the transmittal button and she has to decide
which one to press - the send button on an email taking her manuscript
to a publisher? Or does she spend time and prepare the work so she
can hit the Publish button on KDP, PubIt, Kobo, Smashwords, etc,
or the upload button to her website? That's all that truly changes
for us - the interface where we connect with the transmittal process.
us, everything else remains the same. And our readers are in the
mirror position. The only thing that changes for them is the method
by which they access our stories. The way they read our words, the
way they interact with and respond to our stories, changes not at
that's why I used the verb "weathering." Weathering describes
the changes in a rock subjected to external forces such as wind,
sun, rain, snow, hail. The surface of the rock alters in response
to the external forces, but the core of the rock does not change
in either structure or composition.
us - we're the rock. When there's change happening around us, it's
human nature to focus on the change rather than on what stays the
same, but for us in this transition, it's only that transmittal
interface that's being reshaped, and nothing more.
principal message for you today is this: We are the storytellers.
Whether its offline or online, we are still the storytellers, the
spinners of tales, the weavers of emotional magic, the essential
creators. We tell stories - we create them, shape them, write them
down - and none of that changes.
successfully weather this transition, all we as authors need to
do is keep faith with our calling, and remember all the things about
it that do not change.
good story well told will always find its audience - that will never
great story excitingly, thrillingly, and intriguingly well told
will establish a career - that doesn't change either.
if you consistently tell stories that fall between the good and
the great, you will have a long and prosperous career in this business
- and that won't change.
else? Readers rule. Always. That's readers with an s. Readers en
masse. Not your agent, your editor, your critique partners, not
even reviewers actually matter. All that ever matters is how readers
en masse respond to your story - all else will follow. And that
doesn't change either.
is key - and even though that's the arrow end of the transmittal
process, the importance of that doesn't change. Whichever route
you choose, you want to reach the largest audience you can.
it's entirely natural to stare out of the window at the earthquake
that's rocking the property next door and worry that it's going
to crack the foundations of your house. This earthquake won't. It
will alter the landscape on the boundary between you and that publishing
house next door, and it will certainly reshape that publishing house
itself, but your house won't be materially affected as long as you
protect the bedrock on which your house's foundations rest - as
long as you keep telling your stories, and tell them well.
yes, lots of things are changing in the industry segment of our
business, but for us as authors, what we must do to succeed remains
hope that when you leave on Sunday after this fabulous conference,
you'll go home, plant your butt in your chair, and write your next
damn fine book. Then you'll look at your transmittal options, press
the button that's most appropriate for you at that time
then go right back to your chair, plonk yourself back down, and
start the next damn fine - and possibly even better - book. That's
what's important for us, and that won't ever change. Keep the faith
and you won't go wrong.
reminded of the end sequence in the movie, Flashdance, with the
song What a Feeling running over it, and the enormous upswell of
sheer exuberance, joy, and passion for the work conveyed in that.
When I look out at the gradually settling landscape of our new online
business, all I see is freedom and opportunity - the freedom to
create as we've never done before, and the opportunity to reach
readers beyond our wildest dreams.
my last words to you are these: Seize the day. Go forth with that
same exuberance, joy, and passion in your heart - and write your
stories. Seize the day - because for authors there is no danger
in this new era. Take your passion and make it happen. Seize the
freedom, embrace the opportunity, because one thing is absolutely
certain - in all the millennia, there has never been a better time
to be a storyteller.
wish you all the very best in moving forward into our new online
you - and good luck!