Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Writer Conference Workshop Notes: The Digital Landscape


With Scholastic launching the new Storia line of children’s ebooks and book-related apps, could e-readers for children become viable, even at the elementary school age? How insistent will I be on paper children’s books, then? Would it be such a bad thing if my seven-year-old asked for a kid-friendly e-reader, instead of the latest handheld gaming device?
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In August, I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators annual summer conference in Los Angeles, along with over 1200 attendees. This was not my first time going, and for good reason. I learn a LOT from the workshops and keynotes, and I have a great time socializing with other writers.
Today, in a refined and non-silly voice, I will share with you some of the knowledge I gleaned from one of the workshops I went to, initially called The Digital Landscape.

Me, Stacey Lee (@stacey_heather), and Evelyn Ehrlich (@EvelynEhrlich)
Sidenote: People, you will be so proud. At conference, I didn’t just gab with my neighbor—I took notes! Unfortunately, I left those notes in my new friend Evelyn Ehrlich’s hotel room (find her HERE ON HER WEBSITE and also on twitter @EvelynEhrlich because she is all kinds of awesome). But LUCKY ME! Evelyn turns out to be a superb human being on top of being funny and a total sweetheart, and she mailed me my notes! THANK YOU EVELYN!!

Now then, where was I? ~checks notes~ RIGHT. Today’s sharing will be from Big Time Literary Agent Rubin Pfeffer, from East West Literary Agency (here is a LINK to his literary agency), and his workshop called The Digital Landscape—though he promptly retitled it Digital You. 

Mr. Pfeffer is a cut-to-the-chase kind of speaker, and I liked his upfront tone. Here are the bullet points:

  • Readers now have the ability to buy books the moment they think about it. We carry around "bookstores in our pockets", Mr. Pfeffer states. Buying power has never mattered so much before. Impulse buys are no longer restricted to supermarket checkout lines, or even leaving the house. How can authors and publishers capitalize on this?
 
  • The digitalization of literature has happened; get used to it. The beautiful piece of art you look at on a screen is still beautiful. You can still appreciate it. Embrace technology, and embrace your readers in any way you can reach them. 

  • Self-publishing is happening, and agents are beginning to capitalize on this. Not just small agencies, but established, well-known agencies are assisting some of their clients in self-publishing their work. His power point listed agencies such as Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Dystel & Goderich Literary Managements, Liza Dawson Associates, among a long list of others.

    • There were a LOT of questions from attendees. Mr. Pfeffer was uncertain about how conflict-of-interest was handled in an agent-author partnership under such circumstances. He didn’t anticipate beginning down this road himself, as he mentioned feeling the idea was still too new for him to feel comfortable with it.

  • On self-publishing: because there is no gatekeeper, authors would do well to be even more careful of their work than traditionally published authors. Cover art and edits should be beyond reproof. If the product is on par with what New York publishing houses produce, will a reader think to check the front cover and see who published it? Will they read it and love it and tell others to do the same?

  • “Just because it’s a product, doesn’t mean it’s going to be found.” Whether you are self-published, small press published, Big Six published, be aware that you are in a sea of millions. How will readers find you? The potential to reach readers via digital and social media has never been more important.
Mr. Pfeffer’s candor felt like a breath of fresh air. Sometimes it seems like some editors and agents prefer to avoid discussing the digital elephant in the room. An editor on a panel at SCBWI jokingly said that she was glad that she would be gone from the industry before digital changes really took hold, and she was just fine letting her successor take on the digital issues that seemed overwhelming to her.

In the children’s book market, I can see how it’s not as vital to worry about how electronic media impacts sales. Speaking as a mom, picture books and chapter books are still in paper format in my house. That’s what I see at my friend’s and family’s houses too, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. 

But my daughter is already admiring my Nook. She’s nearly eleven. If she’s going to want to be plugged into something, I’d just as soon it be an ereader than anything else. And this makes me think…

With Scholastic launching the new Storia line of children’s ebooks and book-related apps, could e-readers for children become viable, even at the elementary school age? How insistent will I be on paper children’s books, then? Would it be such a bad thing if my seven-year-old asked for a kid-friendly e-reader, instead of the latest handheld gaming device?


I had that at the top of the blog post because, it really does boggle my mind to think about. Families will spend hundreds of dollars on portable gaming devices and the games that come with them. I’ve seen this at my son’s preschool. I love video games, and my kids love them too. But when Rubin Pfeffer mentioned the potential for handheld readers designed for kids, more than a few of the attendees mumbled things like, Oh who would give something as expensive as an ereader to a kid?

Hmm.

Now for some NUMBERS. These are sales percentages, which might be an indicator of whether kids are reading things electronically at all, and if so, how much. A Young Adult editor on the previously mentioned panel stated that more than half of all the YA sales at her imprint were in ebook format. And SCBWI’s market survey shows ebook sales up 374%. Hard cover sales are up 14.7%. Paperback sales are down a bit, by around three percent. 

The bottom line is, ebooks are a huge force. The numbers are kind of massive, and I don’t think anyone knows if the dust has settled, yet. 

What are your thoughts? How can writers harness the power of the "bookstore in our pockets" Mr. Pfeffer talked about? How can any of us stand out in a sea of millions? Is writing the best possible book we can, and leaving the rest to readers, enough?

2 comments:

  1. That was interesting! Great recap. I couldn't make it to SCBWI, since I did RWA Nationals, but I've heard it's an amazing conference. He's right, too - if a book looks like something a traditional publishing house puts out, and the blurb, sample pages, and reviews are good, most people aren't going to think to look. And, frankly, most people probably don't know the names of all the publishing houses anyway, especially since many of them have a ton of imprints. I bet that was a really exciting thought for anyone who was thinking of self-pubbing.

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    1. Thanks! I had wondered about this before. Before I became serious as a writer, how many times did I think to look at the publisher? I don't really think I ever did!

      I'm glad you liked my post! And so great to meet you on Twitter. :D

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