Growing Pains in a Digital Age

So in my last post on the Edge of Print Conference that took place in Edmonton May 6-7th, I mentioned the keynote set the stage for a day of debating the pros and cons of e-publishing, social media, and other 21st century writerly dilemmas.

The first panel discussion I attended only fueled the fire. Made up of Jerome Martin (Spotted Cow Press), Sarah Ivany (Freehand Books), and Todd Anderson (U of Alberta Bookstore), this was a panel with a lot of collective experience in the relatively new field of e-books, on-demand publishing, and online marketing.

Jerome Martin, Spotted Cow Press

Sarah Ivany, Freehand Books

Todd Anderson, U of A Bookstore

My main take-aways about e-publishing:

    • One of the biggest challenges in e-books at the moment is figuring out a way to get your book (whether you’re a publisher or a self-publishing author) into the right format (EPUB, App) for the right eReader (Ipad, Kobo, Kindle, etc).
  • Image-heavy works and poetry are especially tricky to get into e-book form. Some publishers are simply creating PDFs on their website for these works, or using PDF versions to send to academics and reviewers to save on postage and the cost of review copies.


  • There is an idea that e-books are for the young and tech-savvy, but several 40+ folks suggested it’s actually most useful for those with aging eyes who can easily increase font-size.


  • E-books are great for impulse buys. If someone hears about your book on the radio while driving around town, they can go online and buy an e-copy at the next red light or while stuck in traffic.


  • Electronic versions of chapters/excerpts in PDF form on your website are a great way to stimulate interest in the print copy, or in your other skills. Martin, for example, says that his online book, Capuccino U, is like an electronic business card that has led to many opportunties for paid speaking engagements, and so on.


  • There are so many more options for multi-media book creations online: audio, photographs, interactive maps, keyword searches (no more indexing!), videos, etc.


  • Apparently it takes about 2 months to convert a book into an electronic format through major companies.


  • Can you provide electronic support to customers if they have trouble with your e-books? If you can’t, be prepared to give it away for free or to offer a money-back guarantee.


Promotion in a Digital Age:

  • There is unlimited bookshelf space in the online world, and no friendly neighbourhood bookstore owner to guide readers to your amazing book. So discoverability and visibility are key. Are you and your titles easily found through Google searches, Amazon, Chapters, Abebooks, etc?


  • Google yourself and your works. That first page of results is a digital collage of your online brand. Is it what you want it to be? If not, it’s time to look into search engine optimization and making sure your online persona is in keeping with your brand.


  • Find and create the online communities that will talk about your book in the blogosphere (like me!), Twitterverse, and on Facebook. Get people to write reviews of your book on Amazon and other major online booksellers, if you can.


From what I heard during the conference, 90% of books sold are still in hard copy format, but a recent stat suggests there are 5-8 million Kindles being used, not to mention the Kobos, Ipads, and Tabs that are flooding the market.

I don’t think paper books are going out of fashion anytime soon, but the ability to transmit books around the world and create multi-media experiences is pretty exciting. So while we might be feeling twinges of what Anderson calls “paradigm collapse trauma,” how about we accept them as growing pains?

Writing and Publishing on the Edge

Another weekend, another writing conference! This last one was Get Publishing’s Edge of Print event, and it was a heavy-hitter of sessions, panels, and pitch camps, plus lots of time to network.

The day opened with a keynote from Minister Faust (aka Malcolm Azania, aka Captain E-Town) called “Honing Your Edge.” As his bio says:

“Internationally-acclaimed, award-winning Edmonton author Minister Faust is a risk-taker. Through his trademarked mix of the comic and profound, he will reveal how he’s built and advanced his edge in style, in content, in research, in social networking, in multimedia, and in recognising the Next Big Thing, including his just-announced decision to leave Big-6 publishing, and, like J.A. Konrath …. go indie.”

Here are some of the nuggets from his talk (or at least what I wrote down between gulping coffee at 9 a.m. on a Saturday!):

  • Audacity. Writers must stop worrying what people will think of them or their work. Just go for it and remember that there’s really no such thing as good and bad art, just what you like and don’t like (despite what awards juries and literary canon-makers might tell you).
  • Accountability. Take on no more than you can handle, and identify distractions. Then remove them however you can. This includes Facebook, Twitter, and other ‘necessary’ tools.
  • Rethink everything: your attitudes, assumptions, and expectations. Also, go where the fear is and you will unveil your most remarkable work.
  • On crafting voice: eavesdrop and immitate people in your writing – immitation eventually (hopefully) leads to appreciation of distinct ways of speaking, accents, etc.
  • Leverage your skills. Do skill swaps with friends and colleagues!
  • Go Indie by avoiding publishers completely and publishing your own e-books. You’ll retain editorial control, can choose (and change) your own cover art and blurb length, and revise your book umpteen times. You’ve got to make sure you reduce barriers for readers to access and purchase your books; price them competitively; and deliver them instantaneously. You could also consider print-on-demand for those who want a hard copy.
  • Be on the technological edge of promotion. Do book trailers, 3-D book covers, and create downloadable wallpapers of your book.

Minister Faust certainly gave some good food for thought to go alongside the croissants and fruit, but it sparked the beginning of an interesting debate that permeated the other sessions. Is social media an exciting part of the author’s toolkit or a time suck? Are publishers important players or increasingly unnecessary? Are e-books and self-publishing the way to go, or a way to pump a whole lot of literary crap out into the world?

Over the next few days I’ll write up the rest of my notes and ponder these questions…

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.