I had a great time at the conference. I ended up doing just as much networking for RainTown as I did for Whirlabout (and even some for Ooligan), but that’s ok. It’s all part of what I do, after all. And we made a lot of good contacts anyway. One thing I was struck by, however, was how weird it can be to be the only publisher in a room full of authors and bloggers.
There is a certain stigma against publishers, and a certain tendency to bad-mouth them when they’re not there. To a certain degree, I think this is healthy, at least for authors. It’s good to have a safe space where you can just complain to your peers. And there are things that publisher’s do that can drive authors crazy, just like there are things authors do that can drive publisher’s crazy. It’s part of co-existing. Hopefully we’re doing this because we love books, but we’re also all in this game to make money, and sometimes our interests don’t actually overlap. Sometimes what’s good for a publisher isn’t good for an author, which is why it’s so important for authors to understand how to read their contracts (even if they have an agent–sometimes what’s good for an agent isn’t always what’s good for an author, either) and for publisher’s to respect the authors they’re working with. That’s why communication is important. It’s also why a little venting is healthy.
However, it’s frustrating to see bloggers and authors blame publishers for things that simply aren’t their fault, or at least not within their control. There wasn’t a whole lot of mud-slinging at this conference, fortunately. Most people were pretty respective of publishing. What I did encountered occasionally was ignorance about the industry, which is no ones fault really, it’s just interesting to see. There are loads of things I take for granted now, that I didn’t have any clue about just two years ago. It’s mainly good to be reminded as a publisher that there are a lot of things about the industry that aren’t clear to people on the outside.
Take book covers, for instance. At almost every signing I go to, the author always get asked one thing: how did you pick your cover? It’s a funny question to hear, because the truth is that authors get almost no say in what the covers of their books look like. It’s not part of their job, it’s part of the marketing and design team’s job. That doesn’t mean publisher’s don’t want authors to be happy with their covers; an unhappy author is not likely to work as hard to promote their book. However, the big decisions about the cover aren’t related so much to the book itself as they are to the audience. A book’s cover is one of its first and most powerful marketing tools, so publishers have to take it seriously. It’s not thar authors don’t know their own books (they do, better than anyone), but they don’t always have the market awareness that their publisher does. So, cover choices come down to the marketing team, not the author. Like it or not, this is just how the industry works.
One things that did come up at the conference was the notion that publisher’s don’t really know how to deal with bloggers yet. I think there’s some truth to this idea, but I think it’s less that publisher’s are ignorant or oblivious, and more that we, as an industry, haven’t finished shifting. Blogs are important, yes, but only time will tell how the relationship will develop and continue. It’s a bit hard for publisher’s to work with bloggers because bloggers aren’t trained members of the industry. That’s not to say anything against bloggers–many of them are amazingly professional and knowledgeable about the industry–but publisher’s can’t always rely on them to act in the same way, or to know the same things. It’s best for publishers to try and build relationships with specific bloggers, but it’s also good to seek out new bloggers for specific books, and that can lead to a lot of leg work. Even the big guys don’t have an unending supply of manpower. And each blogger as their own preferences, desires, and needs. Like with the relationship between publishers and authors, there’s a certain line to walk, because we’re both getting different things out. As we charter this new territory, we need to focus on working together, on learning from each other and being patient with the process. And I think KidLitCon proved that we’re headed in the right direction.