This week, I attended a symposium which was offered by the Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC). The topic was “Secure Footing in a Changing Literary Landscape”, and the presenters were Ross Laird, Betsy Warland, and Kelly Duffin, the Executive Director of TWUC.
In a nutshell, the symposium’s purpose was to let writers know that the way we read, publish, and market books is changing rapidly, and that writers have to make a decision: either jump on board or walk away because the old way of doing business just won’t cut it anymore.
When I started writing thirty years ago, there was a feeling, whether accurate or not, that once you were lucky enough to find a publisher, you’d be taken care of; meaning that you and your work would be developed and nurtured in a team environment to produce good books. Your breakout book—the one that garnered attention and generated decent sales—would occur at around book five.
About twenty years ago, all that changed. Publishing houses were either bought or merged into conglomerates driven by marketing teams who looked only at the bottom line, which was could this book make money? It was a huge change with a lot of casualties, including the beginning of the end for midlist authors.
Today, technology is driving an equally huge change, and the publishing world is in a state of both turmoil and growth. As Betsy Warland pointed out, it’s all a bit scary, especially for those used to doing things the old way; but as Ross Laird indicated, it’s never been a better time to be a writer. Publishing, promoting, and networking opportunities abound as never before, and plenty of writers are taking advantage of it, successfully. Laird pointed out that writers now need a bit of technological knowledge to navigate the new landscape, but this doesn’t mean one has to turn into a geek, unless you want to.
Kelly Duffin offered some worthwhile tips about what to watch out for in today’s contracts, particularly with regard to electronic rights. These days, it is virtually impossible to keep your electronic rights when signing a contract for a print book, however, there are things you can do, such as striving for a minimum of 30% royalties, and assigning a deadline for the publication of your book in electronic format. She also advised including a clause stipulating conditions under which electronic right would revert back to the author. There are many more contract tips for writers which I’d encourage all Canadian writers to familiarize yourselves with. TWUC offers a great booklet on the topic, at a reasonable price.