Over the weekend I attended Winnipeg’s  Central Canada Lit Fest, dedicated to all things speculative fiction. The festival catered to writers, with workshops on publishing, marketing, world-building, cover art, query letters, beta reading, and so forth.

Here are five of the most informative and surprising things I took note of:

1. The publishing world is not in shambles. The internet sent the press into bedlam, and the ebook boom did the same for the big six. Ebooks have leveled the playing field, though – there’s more independent presses and more self-publishing than ever. What does this mean for writers? In my mind, more opportunities, more competition, and a reader-base overwhelmed with sheer volume.

Maybe I’ll do a less superficial foray into this topic at a later date.

2. People actually write books for a living. There are actually people, people living in Winnipeg, who write books and make enough money to live doing so. Seriously, I’m not lying.

However, I’m told the minimum to maintain such a lifestyle is one book a year. Two is better. Two and several short stories and a handful of articles is great.

3. Every tier of publishing has advantages and disadvantages. Self-publishing, independent publishing, and traditional publishing work well for different writers for different reasons.

In self-publishing, writers maintain all their rights and full control over their product. However, they have to drop usually around $2000 on an outsourced editor, cover design, printing (unless you go ebook only), and an ISBN number. For those teeming with the entrepreneurial spirit, this tier has the potential to be the most profitable.

In independent publishing (this refers to middle grade, small publishing houses), writers rarely need agents, writers don’t have to pay anything, writers are supplied with an editor, and can offer input on their cover design. However, advances are small (starting at $1000) and promotion and marketing funds are severally limited. A lot of people use this tier as a stepping stone, so they have something to reference when they go after the big houses, or agents.

The traditional publishing houses offer advances between $8000 and $10,000. Despite popular belief, promotional budget is limited for newcomers, and there is no guarantee of success here. If your book doesn’t turn a profit in a month, it’s not uncommon to a halt printing. You also need an agent to get in, which brings us to the next point.

4. Canada doesn’t really have literary agents. They are few in number here, and the majority of publicists in the country don’t require them. This is good if query letters make you paranoid. Its bad if you regard industry experts as invaluable resources. Of course, you can always query someone outside of the country.

5. You are your brand. Your voice is your brand, but so is everything else. Successful contemporary writers should be very good at reading in public, taking part in Q&A sessions, giving speeches, and, frankly, communicating. Blogging and twitter are essential. If you don’t have them, your agent or your publicist will order you to get them.

Look at Neil Gaiman, he’s charming and a wonder to watch speak. This has played into his success. Winnipeg’s Chadwick Ginther noted that Guy Gavriel Kay started taking speech lessons after his first book tour. I doubt this is a unique occurrence.

3 thoughts on “C4 LIT FEST

  1. I find with writing conferences and conventions, there is an unending supply of information to absorb and understand. It’s often daunting and overwhelming. I like these five lessons of yours — they are strong points that sum up a weekend of infodumping.

    The other key message I got, and this is alluded to in your second point, is that anyone can be a successful writer. There is no magic formula and the barriers can be overcome with hard work, patience, dedication, and a willingness to learn.

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