When They Talk About You at #DBW14: You're Branded

Image - iStockphoto: Mysh Kovsky
Image – iStockphoto: Mysh Kovsky

By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson

Writer Unboxed: When They Talk About You at #DBW14: You’re Branded

[su_dropcap size=”4″]N[/su_dropcap]EW YORK—The Digital Book World Conference & Expo (DBW) isn’t designed for authors.

And that’s fine. Various sectors of the industry! the industry! have every right to get together by and among themselves to consider things from their own viewpoints and on behalf of their own interests.

At Digital Book World Conference & Expo 2014 - Photo: Porter Anderson

At Digital Book World Conference & Expo 2014 – Photo: Porter Anderson

As good as our authors are at contorting themselves, day by day, in the search for how to exercise their craft and genius in a world that keeps changing, I’ve wished many times that our writers could be along on these occasions to see and hear how the establishment talks to itself.

Then again, at other times, I’ve been worried at how many authors don’t seem to think it’s important to listen to publishing’s internal dialectic. So much to learn there. But our entrepreneurial author movement may at times be just as guilty of dissing the suits as the suits can be of denying the rising force of authorial careerists.

DBW14 bannerIn its fifth anniversary stomping of the hotel carpet — held this week in New York — #DBW14 was again led by longtime publishing wonk Mike Shatzkin as a show the business built. Shatzkin’s elevator pitch was ready at the outset of his comments: “The purpose of this event is to provide the information and insight publishers need.”

At times, the 1,500-person, three-day conclave was gently rocked with corporate consolation, as in Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah’s talk on reframing failure as opportunity and even inspiration.

At other times, #DBW14, as we hashed it, crackled with inquiry: consultant Joseph Esposito revealed that some library book suppliers will ship faster—indeed with Amazonian efficiency—if librarians place their orders through “our friends in Seattle”; and so, he told us, many librarians are doing exactly that. Prime stuff, baby.

If authors were able to sit in on some of these great hotel-ballroom colloquies, one thing they’d hear these days is a new emphasis on mentioning “value for the author.” Even old dogs can learn new talking points.

This was the first time I’ve seen an entire plenary-session sequence devoted entirely to Amazon. The only thing missing in that keen debate? Amazon. I’d like to have seen a representative of the company join Esposito and author Brad Stone of The Everything Store. The horse’s mouth was missing. Shatzkin tells me, however, that Amazon was invited to provide a representative for the program and declined. (Side note: He tells me that Apple and Barnes & Noble were similarly invited to participate in the conference program; like Amazon, they declined.)

In the first-ever DBW workshop laid on expressly for literary agents facing digital upheaval, there was an intriguing, lively conversation headed by Jason Ashlock about how mutually supportive agents usually are, despite obvious competitive elements in their work.

At other times, that very digital reality seemed to gas the room like an ether and leave the huge crowd brooding. One of the most-tweeted comments came from HarperCollins’ Susan Katz: the rate of change in technology today “is the slowest it will ever be for the rest of your life.”

Mike Shatzkin

As Shatzkin put it, between DBW 2010 and DBW 2014, we have found ourselves faced with “a single dominant retailer, a single dominant book chain, a single dominant publishing house.”

That most dominant dominance, the digital dynamic, is “working us over completely,” as Marshall McLuhan told us it would.

If authors could sit in on some of these great hotel-ballroom colloquies, one thing they’d hear these days is a new emphasis on mentioning “value for the author.” From executives of the biggest warehouse-to-website publishing houses to the “chief evangelists” of those garage-and-duct-tape start-ups, you hear such phrases as “our work must benefit the author”; “our initiatives need to support our writers”; “we’re committed to creating more value for the author.”

Call me unfair, but I believe these invocations of “our authors” are coming far more frequently than they used to from our conference podiums. Even old dogs can learn new talking points.

Read the rest of this post at : WriterUnboxed.com


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