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Author stars at BookExpo

23 May 2016

This year's BookExpo in Chicago seems to have been rather a disappointment. The amount of exhibitor floor space was down by 20% to 25% and the Digital Zone was especially empty. As Publishers Lunch put it, "The ever-diminishing ‘digital discovery zone' is rather unpopulated and undiscovered, making it perhaps the saddest place on the floor."

Cutting it down to two and a half days still seemed too long and returning to Chicago after several years in New York didn't seem to work. Possibly the London Book Fair had scooped up some of the international spring rights fair business and BookExpo has gone back to being more of a domestic sales and marketing affair than it has been recently.

One interesting session Authorship in the Digital Age, sponsored by Copyright Clearance Center, featured authors Joe Konrath, Barbara Freethy and Scott Turow, all of whom had interesting things to say about the situation for authors now.

"Don't confuse goals with dreams," Konrath said. "Self-publishing is a goal. Becoming Joe Konrath or Scott Turow or Barbara Freethy is a dream."

Freethy said she estimates that she has made "about 100 times more" in self-publishing than she did with a strong round of trade-published novels, since going entirely independent several years ago. She warned that "Indie publishing is hard work, you have to wear every single hat," She now works without a literary agent, basically hiring only a foreign-rights agent.

Konrath made a telling comparison: "An agent is like a really good hunting dog. You can hunt without one but a good dog will bring you more game...An agent should bring in enough money for you to cover" the 15% that agency may cost, but is a valuable partner.

Turow, who talked of his high regard for his agent, Gail Hochman, noted that in the trade the agent plays a curatorial role for the industry now. He also said "Publishing will survive publishers. They're trying to do their best but they've been tone-deaf." More and more, he said, publishers "deliver less and less" of the very services and quality that make trade publishing attractive to authors, and publishers thus are killing themselves by retreating. He called for a universal license that would bundle all formats of a book into a sale: "If publishers had figured out how to do that, they'd have an enormous advantage."

These three authors seemed to have really nailed it as far as authors are concerned.