10 Thoughts on Thrillerfest 2016

I’ve attended numerous publishing and writing events. Thrillerfest is one of the more accurate gauges of where traditional publishing stands. For several reasons:

  1. The vast majority of the published authors who attend are traditionally published, or are seeking the traditionally published route. RWA events tend to be more of a mixed bag as Romance quickly embraced indie publishing. The thriller world, not so much.
  2. Thrillerfest is held in New York City. So there are plenty of industry people. While BEA is packed with industry folks, it’s not focused on writers. Thrillerfest is focused on both those who are already published and those who want to get published.
  3. The founders of ITW — International Thriller Writers — are heavy hitters in the world of traditional publishing and the conference always draws prestigious guests. This year, Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn was one of the guests of honor.

So here are my takeaways:

  1. The conference, ranging from Craftfest through Thrillerfest is extremely well run. Lots of people put in a lot of time. Kudos to Kimberly Howe, her staff, and all the volunteers.
  2. People in publishing tend to be nice people. Actually, one thing I’ve always loved about being a writer is I work in a world where the players tend to be honorable and friendly. But it is a business and . . .
  3. Once more, the refrain is that the dust has settled in the world of traditional publishing. Which, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth. Some people are grasping onto data that dedicated e-reader sales are slowing to be indicative that eBook sales are doing the same. There seems little recognition that millions of eBooks are sold that aren’t being tracked in the industry standards.
  4. Despite that refrain, many are aware that things are changing. However, I didn’t get a sense many people have a plan for change.
  5. On a panel, a senior editor talked about how they were chasing the technology and the changes. I’ve heard that many times in the last ten years. In most industries, if one is chasing the changes, one is losing. I know there are various efforts to try to utilize what is available and innovate, but overall, what I saw and heard indicated that much of publishing is still business as usual instead of forward thinking and more importantly, taking action to make the necessary changes so they don’t have to chase the technology.
  6. Traditionally published authors seemed focused on the cocoon of the NY Publishing world. For what I call “Airport Authors” that’s understandable. It’s a nice cocoon. These authors are so big, they’re racked in the airport. But there are only a handful of those. There are many high-end authors who are NYT bestsellers, move a lot of books, but are not cornerstones that are indispensable, and not racked at the airport. Mass market paperbacks are being hit the hardest. Simply put, there’s less rack space available. Also . . .
  7. The flood of eBook content has affected indie, traditional, and hybrid authors alike. Publishing is a business that relied on distribution for many, many years. The reality for authors is that discoverability is the key to success and is a term everyone in publishing needs to be intimately familiar with.
  8. I write my Time Patrol books with the premise of “what if . . .” something in history is changed. I run my business the opposite way: “What if . . .” something in the present changes? What is my plan? I look to the future and contingency plan, something my Special Forces background beat into me. I pose a “what if” that every author who relies on print sales must consider: What if Barnes and Nobles folds? I don’t want that to happen, but it is a possibility. Last I checked, roughly 30% of print sales are already via Amazon. What needs to be considered is that even if those who bought print from B&N shift to Amazon, the focus has shifted, again, from distribution, to discoverability.
  9. Further, the future of print is going to be Print-On-Demand, which will completely wipe out distribution as a chokepoint. I foresee Amazon kiosks everywhere with POD technology in it. But not many shelves. Well, maybe for the Airport Authors.
  10. Authors who have not gone hybrid, and who need to, are behind the power curve by two years are least. And it takes 3 years to learn how to do it. Any author who has been in the business for more than a handful of books has learned about reinventing themselves in order to survive (except, perhaps, some Airport Authors). That reinvention needs to be happening now. I didn’t get the sense of eagerness for adapting and innovating for the future that I’ve picked up at romance conferences for the past several years.

11. Because, we must always be able to turn it up to eleven: We’re living in an exciting and dynamic ecosystem in publishing. The distance between the author and the reader is the Internet. That’s a radical change that we can embrace and enjoy.

Nothing but good times ahead.

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Originally published at www.writeitforward.com on July 11, 2016.

West Point grad; Special Ops Vet; NY Times bestseller of over 80 books; for free books and over 200 free downloadable slideshows go to www.bobmayer.com

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