Tuesday, April 19, 2016

RT 2016: Winning an RT Award and What We Learned from the Inside of Publishing!

On the extremely off chance you missed the twitter spam/squeeing that could be heard from space, I spent the last week in Las Vegas for the 2016 Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention! I went last year, too, and had an absolute ball, but this year was a bit more special...

Yes, that is my name on a major industry award. For a self-published book!

It's hard for me to articulate how much this means to me. When I first decided to self-publish, a chance at an industry award was one of the things I thought I was giving up. In my experience, self-published authors just didn't win major awards, and I didn't see that changing any time soon.

But change is the only constant in publishing, and the Romance community (which is what the RT awards honors) has always been ahead of the curve. I was one of many self-published authors receiving an award that night on the same stage as huge best-sellers like Eloisa James and Julia Quinn as well as big Fantasy names like Kate Elliot. It was a celebration of good fiction, regardless of source, and I was absolutely over the moon to be a part of it!

But amazing as getting my award was (preciousssssss), RT was so so SO much more than just the awards. I blogged about this before after last year's con, but I'll say it again: no matter what genre you write, Romantic Times is one of the best writing industry cons around. The entire week was jam packed with panels of the best authors, editors, and book industry people in the world from both trad and self publishing talking about writing, publishing, distribution, marketing, and what's coming next for our industry. It was utterly amazing!! 

There was so much good stuff, I took Travis with me this year just so we could split up and hit more panels. Good thing, too. Even with two of us, there was almost more to see than we could handle! And that's not even counting all the meeting up, drinking, and general hanging out with amazingly awesome authors and book industry people we squeezed in around the edges. 

So what's our take away from all of this? Well, here is a very brief taste of our take aways from RT 2016:

(Note: Any of these could be a blog post in itself. I'm not kidding when I said we learned a lot! Travis and I have pages of notes from every panel we went to, so if you see anything in the list below that you want more on, just let us know in the comments and we'll write an expanded post on the topic with more details.)

1) Publishing is changing again, and it's getting more awesome

The wave of indie publishing change continues to sweep through publishing. In Romance at least, indie authors are no longer the outliers, but a large, healthy, and respected force of the publishing landscape. 

That respect was really evident this year not just in the number of extremely successful indie authors who were heading panels, but in the massive amount of refined services that have sprung up to help indies get the word out about their books. We got to talk to the folks from Book Bub, KDP, Inscribe Digital, and Smashwords just to name the big ones, but the real stand out was Kobo. 

When I used Kobo before, it was just a scrappy little Amazon competitor. Now, though, it's grown enormously, especially in the international market. Also, publishing through Kobo gets your books into Overdrive, which makes them available to libraries. 

This is a huge deal! The library customer is one that indie authors have never been able to reach. Now, Kobo, Ingram, and other distributors are all rolling out programs to let self-published authors reach not only libraries, but bookstores and other historically closed off markets as well. We actually have a ton of information on this both from the companies themselves and from the amazing Librarians and Booksellers panel where we got specific details on how to get indie books into bookstores and libraries, so look for more on this in the future.

But it wasn't just all indie books! Publishing is also changing for the traditional author in a very good way. There were several editors from major houses at the convention, and all of them were actively looking to acquire books. One even mentioned that the quality of author pitches overall has gone way up since so many authors now self-publish first, meaning the books they receive are often second or third books, and therefore more polished. Which brings us to our next point:

2) The line between Trad and Indie is blurring

What interested me most about this is that there seems to be an ecosystem emerging where authors move freely back and forth between trad and self publishing depending on their individual goals. The usual stigma of self publishing was almost completely non-existent at this convention. Many big name, trad published authors were there to promo their new indie titles, and NYT best sellers Nalini Singh and Cherry Adair both won RT awards for their self-published work. 

At the same time, editors and publishers seemed to be actively looking to acquire indies. The days of the "don't self publish your first novel! You'll use up your first publication rights and no one will want you!" advice that used to be on every agent website are long gone. These days, at least in Romance, self pub first seems to be, if not the norm, definitely not a mark against you. 

I'm not sure if other genres are quite this welcoming yet, but change is definitely coming. With its high volume and loyal readers, Romance has always been at the cutting edge of publishing. What we see here is what will be everywhere in 5 years, and that gives me a lot of hope. 

Also on this topic, the quality of indie offerings has gone up enormously. Readers have caught up even faster than publishing, and, as one panel said, they are the new gate keepers. Gone are the days when indies could put out crap and still sell on price alone. These days, indie books have to both look professional and be legitimately good to win audience. Fortunately, as I mentioned above, the tools and knowledge available to self published authors for covers, branding, and editing are better and cheaper than ever. I actually have a huge post on this planned, so stay tuned for more!

3) Craft is still king

Branching off what I mentioned above, novel quality is more important than ever. There are more books for sale than ever, which means our books have to be really solid contenders to stand out in the crowded marketplace. But this is good!! We should be focusing on writing better books. A crowded market place means everyone's bringing their A game, resulting in better books and a healthier publishing industry for everyone.

But this also means no author is safe to rest on their laurels. One of my big goals for RT was to hit as many craft panels as possible and learn everything I could about how to write better heroes and love stories, and I was not disappointed! I've got so much awesome from some of the best writers in Romance I can't even begin to share it all here, but rest assured that there will be LOTs of craft posts full of awesome coming up, starting with an amazing character creation trick I picked up from Linnea Sinclair for tomorrow's Writing Wednesday!

4) Upcoming trends in publishing

Finally, it would be impossible to talk about what we learned from RT without touching on trends. Seriously, there were more panels on trends and what was coming next than any other single subject. It was all anyone wanted to talk about! 

Personal disclaimer here: I don't believe in chasing trends. Trying to catch a trend is like trying to catch a falling knife, there's just no way to it safely. Either you end up with a rushed book you don't actually care about, or you're too late and the trend is already gone, leaving your previously on-trend novel struggling for air in a now overcrowded market. 

I actually just wrote an entire post about this exact topic, but my TL;DR opinion is that you should write the books you love and trust them to find a market. The best place to be in a trend is the book that starts it, and you only get there if you're writing original, creative stories YOU love, not ones you picked because that was what was hot. 

That said, just because I don't chase trends doesn't mean I want to be ignorant of them. It's always useful to know what's selling if only so you know how to position your not-trendy book in the market For example, when Grim Dark fantasy was in, I marketed my Eli books as a cheerful alternative. Tired of everything being depressing? Come read a charming thief by an author who won't kill every character you love!

So as you see, knowing what's popular is useful for a lot more than just trying to write on trend. And on that note, here's a list of what editors and marketers said was in and out at RT 2016.
  • We've hit peak dark and broody. Dark, sexy contemporary has been hot for a long time, but it's finally slacking off. Not to say it won't sell, just that the market has hit saturation and readers are looking for somewhere new to get their dark, aggressive, suffering alpha fix.
  • Paranormal/Urban Fantasy is falling off in publishing, but readers still want it. The number of Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy titles is falling both from trad and indie publishers, but going by the data from readers searches on RT magazine's website, readers are just as hungry for it as ever. This has led to a gap in book supply and reader demand that a savvy author with a brilliant and creative new take on the UF/Paranormal tropes could swing into and hit big. (Rachel rubs her hands together)
  • Dragons are about to be big! But we knew that, didn't we? Also, (speaking from strictly Romance) vampires still sell, but you have to be really creative. Shifters are still huge, but ghosts and physics don't sell, at least according to Harlequin, Carina Press, and Avon. Wizards and other magical peeps seem to be on the rise in the next year as well, so if you're writing about modern wizards, you should be in luck!
  • New Adult is having growing pains. Though it took off hot, book stores don't seem to know what to do with New Adult (books for readers between 19 and 25, too old for YA but not quite ready to hit adult fiction). This is especially true since most NA titles tend to be very sexy, but still feature main characters that are too young (read, 19-20) for many adult readers. Since the genre is so new, though, most bookstores don't have a place to shelve it, and even Amazon is having trouble categorizing it correctly. This means if you're an author with a New Adult book and you want to market it as such, you're going to have to straddle other genres to help readers find it. That said, NA is still very popular with readers (especially with YA readers who've grown up and want the same stories, but sexier), and is totally a market worth hitting.
  • Print books are still big. There is still a huge market for print books and no one should ignore it. More on this when we do our post about distribution and getting indie books into bookstores.
  • Finally, audio books are where it's at! This is less of a trend and more of a fact, but audio books have been growing explosively over the last few years. Audible has been doubling its readership pretty much every year, and audio books represent an enormous untapped market. I know that just for myself, audio has been an amazing market, but I didn't realize just how big it was. If you've got books out, and they're not in audio, you need to get them there pronto either through your publisher, an audio book production company, or on your own through ACX. This was such a big deal that we're going to do a whole post on it, but for now, if you're not already thinking audio, you definitely need to take a look. Also, if you're signing a trad contract, make sure you're getting a good rate on audio. It's not a niche market anymore!
Again, this con wrap up is just the barest ripple of the top of the iceberg of everything we learned!! We got so much good stuff, you're going to be hearing about it for months. I really can't stress how amazing it was to get to talk shop with so many people from so many areas of the writing world--writers, publishers, readers, bloggers, reviewers, editors, they were all here!!

Again, if you saw anything above you specifically want to know more about, let us know in the comments below! For now, I think Chelsie is standing behind me, which means I have to get back to writing. o_o 

Thank you all for reading, and I really hope you'll enjoy all the great stuff we've got coming your way! And as always, don't forget to follow me on Social Media to never miss a post! (Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Google+)

More to come starting tomorrow. For now, though, happy writing!!

Yours as always, 
Rachel Aaron


Sommerset said...

Dragons are about to be you say...

Kessie said...

Gosh, I want to know it all. What's new in marketing? What are the trends? What are the character creation tricks? I want it all!

Also tips about love stories. Jami Gold has been my go-to for that forever, but any new advice is always welcome!

Sofia said...

I'm sorry if I sound ignorant but, when it comes to genres, the difference between YA, New Adult and Adult is mainly about the age of the characters? Following that logic, One Good Dragon Deserves Another should be considered New Adult, right?

Elizabeth Poole said...

All of the "we're about to cover this" posts sound awesome! But I too want more info on writing a good romance arc. If I'm not writing romance directly, it's a strong subplot. Jami Gold and Michael Hauge have some good notes but i hunger for more!

Rachel Aaron said...

@Sommerset that's what they tell me <3

@Kessie all it shall be! And THANK YOU (and Elizabeth below) for the Jami Gold tip. Looking into that now!

@sofia yep! I marked my dragon books as New Adult, but apparently most traditionally published NA is sexy contemporary, which had me going o_O. But I'm still selling, so clearly there's room in this new genre for more than just one type/heat level.

@Elizabeth roger! I've got a pile of lovely notes on how to write better Romance. I'll put it in the queue!

Veronica Scott said...

Good wrap up, really enjoyed our panel together!

Marie Force said...

Indies have had access to libraries for years through Overdrive. And I'm thrilled that RT is recognizing indies but why differentiate between indie and trad pubbed with the awards? It seems like they are still treating indies as stepchildren by separating the awards. That's never made sense to me. I'm still waiting to hear something NEW from any conference these days. Not just this one.

Sheridan Jeane said...

Great overview!

Sheridan Jeane said...

Great overview!

MadScientist said...

Good to hear that Kobo are expanding. My wife and I both use their ereaders and are very pleased with them. Not that there's any strictly legal way to read Kindle books on them .

pity Kobo make it so tricky to buy books from them ...

Loredena said...

I used to subscribe to RT even though 1) I'm a reader and not a writer and 2) there's only a handful of true romance authors I actually read, the magazine is that good!

It's interesting to see the trends, I wonder how they break out by age. Even at 50 I'll still pick up YA books, and I've tried NA as well, but they are getting harder and harder to like for me. I still enjoy watching the teens and young adults develop, but the whiner teens and the too-much-sex 20 somethings are both a turnoff.

I continue to pick up urban fantasy/paranormal books, but I've been avoiding vampire and shifter for years now (in part because overdone plus really, vampire as romantic lead?!? and also because so-sick of alpha male) I can't say I'm keen on ghosts, but I do love psychics and witches.

For whatever it's worth - my preferred genres are fantasy (whether 'pure', urban, or paranormal), cozy mysteries, and fantasy-romance. Of your books, I love the Dragons, but I just couldn't get into the other two series, and I did try.