by Nicole Melanson ~
Yesterday I had the great pleasure of attending the inaugural Writers in the Park, beautifully organized by Susanne Gervay. The festival didn’t get to make the most of its lovely location at The Residences, Centennial Park, on account of rather crummy weather, but neither the participants nor the attendees let the rain dampen their spirits.
The first event on the adult stage was Publishing: What’s on your mind? – a panel discussion with Shona Martyn from Harper Collins, Jane Curry of Ventura Press, Helen O’Dare representing Hinkler Books, and literary agent Rick Raftos, moderated by Bem Le Hunte.
Shona spoke to the current popularity of coloring books saying that they do a great job of drawing people into bookstores, where hopefully books with actual words will catch their eye. She is currently seeking strong commercial women’s fiction; erotica, not so much. One of the biggest challenges for publishers right now is looking at the way readers dip in and out of other forms of media and finding a way to extend the sales period for various titles beyond their initial release. Shona feels that readers are looking for work that shows some substance from the past, and advises people to read what they enjoy and not feel compelled to finish a book if it hasn’t grabbed them.
Jane highlighted the advantages of working with a boutique publisher, explaining how Ventura Press is able to really get behind its authors (most recently, Honey Brown, who just featured on WordMothers here) and offer them unique opportunities. She believes the time has come for authors to really “sing for their supper” and thinks it’s important to recognize that we’re in the technology age now, with books only one slice of the communications industry. She underscored the importance of engagement, and said she will often encourage an author to write a 1000-word piece somewhere just for extra exposure; authors also need to get comfortable branding and marketing themselves, regardless of how shy or introverted they may be. However, Jane also feels that for all the “bells and whistles” accompanying manuscripts, ultimately the decision to publish—and read—a book comes down to the quality of the writing.
Helen believes that customers are after truly beautiful books—not just something cute and fluffy. People are tactile and really appreciate the whole “experience” of a book. She explained that it is incredibly difficult to “break” new authors now, particularly in picture books. She also discussed the challenge of creating new classics while continuing to take risks and push for increased diversity.
Rick talked about it being both the best and worst of times to be an author in that it’s easier than ever to publish a book, but harder than ever to get noticed. He agreed with Helen that it’s tough to break new authors in any way that equates to them earning a living by writing, but he did say all trends are subject to change. He talked about the rise of YA and the healthy sales enjoyed by the children’s market, and said that the future of publishing depends on building and engaging that market in an increasingly digital world.
That’s a fairly long recap, so here’s the rest of the day in photos!
[Joanne previously appeared on WordMothers, and you can read all about her here.]
[Stay tuned for an upcoming feature with Susan as part of a special Picture Book Week!]
[Read Sarah’s WordMothers interview here.]
I should add that it was Mr. 7’s turn to accompany me to a literary festival. (He has been to SWF several times before but was too young to remember.) We were at WITP for 4.5 hours and he found plenty to entertain him, but his top pick of the day was hanging out with illustrator Gwynneth Jones! Here is one of the drawings he did with her:
Last but not least, one of my favorite parts of the day was meeting fellow blogger Cassie Hamer of the wonderful Book Birdy blog! Cassie and I have been chatting all things literary online for the past year, so it was great to finally meet her and carry on our conversation in person. Cassie usually bounces between book reviews and interviews but if you visit her now, you should be able to catch her latest short story!