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Writers and Editors (RSS feed)

Nonfiction--the long and the short of it

The 2013 conference of the American Society of Journalists & Authors was discouraging in most ways, encouraging in some, and offered much to learn. Being a writer-entrepreneur is more important than ever. Some trends, in a nutshell:

• Nobody knows where things are going to shake out in book publishing, things are changing so fast and in so many ways, but self-publishing has definitely lost much of its former taint (is no longer considered mere vanity publishing). Even well-known authors are thinking twice about the traditional publishing route, as publishers are trying to stick authors with a mere 25% of net on ebooks, instead of the 50% share that makes sense when you've done away with most of the costs of production and distribution. Authors considering print-on-demand publication must do their homework: many amateurs and possibly fly-by-night firms are setting up shop. And everyone must do the math--as some firms are greedier about their share of income than others, and take advantage of new writers' eagerness to be published. See helpful entries at Self-Publishing and Print on Demand and at Publishing and E-Publishing (aka digital publishing).

• There was a noticeable dearth of editors for Pitch sessions and an excess of agents, and agents are hurting even more than authors, if possible. Many agents are also becoming publishers, a clear conflict of interest -- getting their cut without adding much value.

• Magazines are paying less and less -- are even cutting the amount they used to pay to their most favored authors. Why? Because they can and because advertising income is down, etc. What most newspapers are paying is pitiful. Their blogs are even worse.

• Tam Harbert led an enlightening and helpful panel on custom publishing. Advertisers have fewer places to sell products, etc., so many companies are using the money that would normally have gone to advertising to produce custom content. There's this whole new area that goes by various names: Content marketing, branded content, thought leadership, asset development, risk management (managing the risk of getting something done, presenting points of view to distinguish one product from all the others on the market). Providing this content uses many of the same skills as journalism but the purpose is very clearly generating business. Because you are writing for a business, you may have as many as 20 people reviewing your copy and asking you to revise, and then saying, Let's go back to draft 2. But the money is better by far than in journalism. Here's a prime example of what's going on in this area: Coca Cola hired 40 journalists (as inhouse staff) to produce Coca Cola Journey.

• Some say that Chinese wall between journalism and advertising is coming down; others disagree. This came up more than once during the conference.

• In one sense, we're being bitsied to death, with shorter and shorter copy everywhere, and (because of the nature of this online world) we are all developing ADHD and losing the ability to concentrate and focus. The most valued commodity is not those email addresses that are supposed to be such a valuable part of your platform; the most valued commodity is "attention." How do we get readers' and buyers' attention? That was the focus of several workshops.

• At the same time that newspaper and magazine copy is going short short short, long-form journalism and e-singles (Atavist, Byliner, Kindle Singles, etc.), particularly narrative nonfiction, are flourishing. When we moved from print to online, we lost the imperative to keep stories to a fixed word count. A very few writers have made a lot of money doing e-singles (5,000 to 30,000 word narrative nonfiction) but for the most part you don't get an advance and aren't guaranteed publication, so you must take the risk of researching and writing the story without knowing if it will get published, and at $2 a pop (split 50-50 with the publisher) you need a lot of attention and "click-and-buys" before you can make a lot doing these stories. Other new e-short venues (which some publishers are also pursuing) are also providing new venues for short fiction).

You may also find these sites of interest:
Narrative Nonfictionespecially e-singles, curators of long-form journalism, (and "read later" bookmarking systems)
(Writers & Editors website)

Members of ASJA can buy mp3 recordings of many (but not all) of the sessions. Go here if you want to buy ASJA conference recordings. Here's the conference schedule.

Stay tuned for more blog posts about the ASJA conference.
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