On Saturday I participated in a panel discussion on publishing with several other Pennwriters members at the Penguin Bookstore in Sewickley. The event gave us an opportunity to share our stories about how we were able to get our books published and proved, if nothing else, that our approaches were as varied as our personalities and genres.
Despite our differences, there were a few consistencies in our presentations. One was the incredible amount of time we put into our work, and the feeling that we would somehow be less of a person if we didn’t write. One panelist commented that when she didn’t write, she didn’t like the person she became. For her, writing seemed to provide an essential outlet. All of us seemed to agree that financial reward wasn’t the primary consideration, especially since in the present market, that sort of reward is virtually non-existent.
All of us also agreed on the changing market place, that the one approach that existed for so many years of finding an agent who would then sell a book to a publisher has evolved into many different approaches. As one member of the discussion noted, what works often is determined by the genre of the book. For me, a literary writer who teaches at a university and who uses publication as a validation of her work, self-publication is not a viable option, but it may be for an individual with a regional or other niche book that won’t appeal to a mainstream publisher or someone who has already established an audience through a blog or other outlet.
The discussion was also insightful in that it not only gave authors an opportunity to share their concerns, but also provided us with information about the marketing of books from a store owner’s perspective. The small independent book store, or at least the slim number still in existence, has traditionally been one of the best sources of support for the lesser-known writer, and still provides the best opportunity for book signings and promotion of local authors. But book stores, more than ever, have to focus on the bottom line–look at the number that have closed–and have only so much space on their shelves for local authors and so much time for events.