O’Reilly’s Tools of Change 2013 kicked off February 12 with the first-ever Author (R)evolution Day, cosponsored by Publishers Weekly, designed to give authors, content creators, agents, and indie author service providers a full day of panels and breakout sessions. Cory Doctorow, who started the day with an opening keynote, brought up the notion of the “hybrid author”—the author who does more than just write a story—and much of the rest of the day outlined how an author becomes a hybrid author.
One of the most talked about points of the day was discovery. During an afternoon panel, Kobo’s Mark Lefebvre started by saying to authors: “Don’t wonder how you will get discovered—think about what you're going to do to deserve being discovered.” Amanda Havard, author of The Survivors series and creative director at Immersedition, another panelist with Lefebvre, answered his question in her own right by fully inhabiting her characters lives and the world they live in: many of The Survivors characters have Twitter pages and they interact heavily with fans. Havard views author discovery in the digital age as a two-fold proposition: you have to be able to plan and commit to different methods of discovery, but (somewhat contradictorily) you also have to be able to abandon those methods and move on if you find something better. The takeaway: the digital world both allows and forces you to adapt.
The panelists also agreed that author investment is very often tied to author discovery. In relation to social media, Elizabeth Keenan of Penguin’s publicity department said, “It’s a full-time job to make it work.” Keenan cited one of her commercial fiction authors who, after four books and roughly three hours a day of social media engagement, is finally beginning to see a translation in sales. And while heavy social media engagement has worked for authors like Havard, other panelists stated that authors shouldn’t lose sight of the more traditional aspects of publishing: Lefebvre said the most important thing in getting someone to buy a book is still the opinion of someone the reader trusts, and all panelists agreed that—especially in the digital age when curation becomes more and more important—getting reviews for your book is essential.
But there are new tricks for authors to get readers to notice their books, too. Rob Eagar of WildFire Marketing championed “the power of free”: attracting your audience by offering them something, whether it be an excerpt or author expertise on a subject, and giving that audience an answer to the question every reader asks when picking up a book: “What’s in it for me?” One of Eagar’s clients, Lysa TerKeurst, used an excerpt from her 2010 book Made to Crave in the form of the Made to Crave 21-Day Challenge—30% of the book excerpted and sent out to everyone TerKeurst knew. The excerpt was picked up by a national radio syndication company, featured on stations all over the country, and Made to Crave became a New York Times bestseller for 30 weeks. Eagar said authors can get creative when providing something free to promote a title—lost chapters, alternate endings, spin-off novellas. The point is to give a reader an answer to why they should buy the entire book by giving them a free teaser that indicates the entire book’s value.
And though the new opportunities opened up by digital are certainly exciting for authors, they can also be overwhelming. Eve Bridburg of Grub Street said that she’s heard many authors say they feel as if they have to respond to every new opportunity. That feeling of having too many options, Bridburg said, can cloud things like intent and mission, which is why Grub Street implemented Launch Lab, a program to help define success and then to figure out the best way to achieve it. In this way, all the new opportunities for an author stop becoming a force that overwhelms and instead become a force that can be harnessed.
Jason Allen Ashlock, president of Movable Type Management, spoke about how authors aren’t the only ones who are forced to adapt in the digital world: agents also need to become “radical mediators”—adaptable middlemen who help authors make sense and maximize the growing number of outlets and opportunities for his or her work. And, looking into the future, Kate Pullinger, author of the digital novel Inanimate Alice and proponent of the interactive, breathing relationship between authors and readers, stated that e-books, though they are produced with technology, they don’t have any of the “webby” benefits of the Internet and don’t connect readers. To this end, Pullinger predicted that in a few years e-books as we know them will be less fixed and solitary and have more “webby” properties that encompass the interconnectivity of the Internet.