Monday, 19 September 2011

INFORMATION AND INSPIRATION: everything a writer needs- The SOAiS Conference. - Linda Strachan

On Saturday  17th September 2011 at The Surgeon's Hall in Edinburgh the
Society of Authors in Scotland (SOAiS)  held their annual conference with a theme of understanding and making the most of the digital revolution in books and looking for new opportunities.  
The conference was also followed on twitter and you can follow the tweets on  #soaconf

Sara Sheridan and Marion Sinclair
networking- 'Let me give you my card'

There were over 100 delegates attending the conference which was open to all, not just members of the Society.

It was a fascinating day with lots of great speakers who were generous with their advice and happy to answer questions.  We started off with author Sara Sheridan who as always was energetic and enthusiastic in her approach. 

She spoke about harnessing traditional media to promote yourself and your books. She suggested making a plan and if possible taking one day a week for publicity and that every event you do should lead to at least 2 or 3 other kinds of publicity (blog, Twitter, radio, newspaper).
'Look at your book from the outside.
What do people say about it when you leave the room?'
This bears thinking about.  Sara suggested looking to see if there are themes within your book that you can use to attract a slightly different audience than the obvious one.

Although I am sure most of us will struggle to be quite as proactive as Sara, there were lots of ideas which I will be mulling over in the next few weeks.

Allan Guthrie

Next Allan Guthrie  who is an author and an agent, spoke about embracing ebooks, and the opportunities in the digital revolution for authors. Following the route one of one author who decided to self publish his book as an ebook with tremendous success, Allan also regaled us with the progress of one of his own books in this direction, as an example of how crucial it is to work at promoting an ebook, and how important forums, discussion boards and online reading groups are, and also connecting with your readers online. He encouraged us to think about eBooks as an additional revenue stream for authors, a platform, a way of exploiting backlists; of getting paid regularly!
 'The writer now has control over what they do with their books, But also have responsibility too- including their own sales.'

Nicola Morgan

After a coffee break we returned to listen to Nicola Morgan who told us
'I am the one and only Crabbit Old Bat', referring of course to her online persona and her listing on google (she wasn't the least bit crabbit)!
As ABBA readers will know Nicola is a frequent contributor to this blog and mentioned ABBA in her talk about Building an Online Platform, something that she knows a lot about.
'Do not be panicked by what other people are doing online. But do try and see if it works for you.'
Great advice.

She continued to explain how to build an online presence - to blog, tweet - with reference to her latest eBook Tweetright - and how important it is to be human and not just someone who is endlessly promoting themselves.
You can find out much more about what she had to say on Nicola's blog about building an online platform 

A panel discussion came next about overcoming an author's reticence when it comes to self promotion.  One the panel were Vanessa Robertson -The Edinburgh Bookshop, Colin Fraser - Anon Poetry and Claire Stewart - Scottish Book Trust, chaired by Catrin Armstrong (Scottish Book Trust)

Panel with advice on Self Promotion for Authors

Vanessa Robertson told us how to make a bookshop love you, how their books are handpicked because they know what sells in their shop and what works for their customers. That authors need to work with booksellers. Also how important it is for an independent bookshop to stock books that will not only be what their customers know they want, but sometimes quirky and interesting books that will lead to an impulse buy, that the bookseller can hand-sell. She told us to 'befriend your local bookshop.'

There was mention of unusual combinations such as a 'poetry and perfume' event recently held in the Edinburgh Poetry Library, about tweeting a fragment of poetry, or your book, to encourage people to follow you, or to go to a link to your website or blog.  
Using podcasts, and having an interesting twitter or blog persona, something that might be a hobby that you tweet or blog about.  Once again the idea of attracting people to being interested in you as a person, who might then be interested in what you have to say in your writing or on your blog/website. This can then lead to interest in your books.   This is a theme that came up several times during the day.

With a break for lunch and an opportunity to chat about the morning, it was very soon time to re-convene for the afternoon session which started with a choice of breakout sessions; covering aspects such as Author appearances (author,Alison Baverstock), eDistribution and selling your eBook (author and publisher, Keith Charters), Diversification- a key to the future?(author Caroline Dunford) and Claiming eBooks for ourselves (author Lin Anderson).

Lin Anderson

I chose to go to Lin Anderson's session and it was a very practical and useful discussion of how to go about putting a book up as an eBook. Too much to go into on a blog but it is not as complicated or as difficult as it might seem.  Something any author with out of print books would do well to consider.
'Don't give away your work. 
Don't let your publisher bully you into handing over your ebook rights.'

She also said  'There was never a better time to be a writer.'

Andrew Dixon
 Andrew Dixon who heads up the newly formed Creative Scotland (previously The Scottish Arts Council) told the conference about the new structure of Creative Scotland, their commitment to funding writers and encouraging professional development, artists residencies, and of their plans to promote all things creative in Scotland over the coming years.  He spoke about how their budgets were less pigeon-holed now, allowing for more opportunity to allocate funding more 'creatively'  than in the past, especially with 2012 being designated 'The year of Creative Scotland'

 The final panel discussion was with agent Jenny Brown (ASLA),  Publisher, Bob McDevitt (Hachette Scotland) and Marion Sinclair of Publishing Scotland who were all talking about The Road Ahead. It was chaired by Keith Charters (Strident Publishing).

Jenny Brown, Marion Sinclair, Bob McDevitt and Keith Charters
Jenny Brown told us of reasons to be cheerful and optimistic despite the changes in the publishing industry there were lots of opportunities for writers and interest in books and writing.

Marion Sinclair spoke about how the number of Scottish publishers, members of her organisation, had increased and her message to publishers was to continue to 'care about books'. Also that niche publishing might be on the increase and one way forward for smaller publishers.

Bob McDevitt said there was still an important role for publishers and that it was easy to confuse books and publishing with what has happened in the games or music industries but that books were a different industry and would react differently because people saw and used books differently.  He also mentioned that some authors, who have made a name for themselves by self publishing eBooks very successfully, have still returned to traditional publishers and negotiated contracts for print books - as it is seen as a kind of validation.

The day was rounded off by an evening reception in the Playfair Hall providing an opportunity to chat about the day and meet the other writers, publishers and guests.

There is no doubt the publishing world is changing and at the moment no one seems quite sure where it is all going.  There are opportunities for authors to take more control of their books and their livelihood, but alongside that comes the commitment to spending more time and energy on self-promotion and publicity.
 This will inevitably impinge on writing time so it is a decision each writer has to make for themselves.  The possibilities with social media are varied and exciting, but it is not for everyone and can be distracting and time consuming. 

The conference was excellent.  Well done to the SOAiS Committee for organising it and to Anna Ganley and Rachel O'Malley from the London Staff who worked so hard to make it a success, and tweeted from the conference on #SoAconf 

The Society of Authors is also running the SoA short story Tweetathon find out all about it  Here  and read the first one, started by Ian Rankin. Why not take part in the next one on wednesday or follow it on #SoAtale.

Linda Strachan  has written over 60 books for children from picture books to teenage novels, and a writing handbook for aspiring and newly published authors Writing for Children.
Blog Bookwords


Penny Dolan said...

Thanks for sharing this event, especially as I would have loved to have been there but other events made it impossible. Tt sounds as if it was a totally useful and positive kind of day as well as being a great success for all the speakers and organisers.

Michael Malone said...

Great summary, Linda. It was a hugely worthwhile day.

Linda Strachan said...

Thanks, Penny.

It was good to say hello (even if very briefly) to you on the day, Michael! I came away with lots from it, too.

adele said...

THANK YOU!! Marvellous account and do wish I'd been there. Will hear Crabbit old bat in Cambridge but the whole day sounds splendid.

Nicola Morgan said...

Thanks for that great run-through, Linda! It was a fantastic day and incredibly positive. Michael - I had no idea you were there. Really would have liked to speak to you.

Michael Malone said...

Likewise, Nicola. I tried to catch you a couple of times but you were surrounded, you popular person you.

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Emma Barnes said...

Just caught up with this - thanks so much Linda for sharing so much useful stuff with those who weren't there.

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