Women’s Fiction Festival and the Problem of Publishing

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I can’t imagine a more beautiful setting for a writer’s conference: the Italian town of Matera is stunning. Just stunning! Yet simultaneously, it’s quaint and traditional. The Women’s Fiction Festival is held here every year. I’m here because I kept hearing Christine Witthohn, one of the festival sponsors, talk about the ease with which agents, editors and publishers are so accessible.

Turns out Witthohn, the founder of Book Cents Literary Agency, was right. They are—as accessible as the reddish pomegranates that hang from bushes all around the tiny town. By now, I’ve met and mingled with many of them, as well as other authors: Anselm Aston of Attica Books (a digital publisher in England); Nina Bruhns, of Entangled Publishing (a U.S. press); Stephane Marsan of Bragelonne (a leading French publisher); and Jane Corry, a British journalist and author.

Nowadays, the publishing world is like playing an ever-changing game of chess, where the players and even the rules keep morphing into something else. That’s a problem you see, because in this game accessibility is a key factor. As is discoverability: it’s the ability with which an author’s work will be discovered by readers.
Readers want books, and authors want readers. The trick is finding the best fit for both. But in today’s market, there is a book glut. And when many are poorly-written, self-published books, it can be quite a task for authors and readers to connect.

Yes, some of the old rules still apply: write well, promote your work and make sure you have a killer cover and pay for editing. Beyond that, though, it’s tricky.
That’s because the digital side of the publishing world is decimating the print one. And it’s not just in the U.S. It’s happening around the world, especially as e-readers like Amazon’s Kindle become available in Europe and elsewhere.

France is having a crisis: “50-percent (of traditional presses) go bankrupt in the first year,” Marsan said during today’s panel session about the European publishing scene. “Eighty-percent go bankrupt the second year,” he added. (This from a man who’s been doing it successfully for 18 years.)
So is Italy: Maria Francesca Gagliardi, of Ghena Libri, a digital publisher, also spoke of it. Her firm is tasked with trying to gain market share that once belonged to big publishers, Gagliardi said.
Michele Rossi with Rizzoli, another Italian publisher, said Italy is four to five years behind America’s digital publishing scene.

But Rossi had a key piece of advice for writers who want to find a publisher: “Get us to fall in love with your books, because that’s truly the only way (we) can put your books out there.” In turn, a publisher’s excitement bleeds over, leading to reader excitement, Rossi added.
The question about whether today’s writer has a chance of becoming a published author is no longer necessary.

That’s because, at the push of a button, anyone can be published. Digital publishing these days comes in the form of a website, a blog or even a book.

However, while digital publishing is possible, making a published author a household name is not always probable. With the entire industry in a state of flux, it’s often a matter of chance.
“I believe in luck, in risk, in intuition,” Marsan said about taking chances on new authors, on new books, and on the future of publishing.

In a game where authors have been like chess pieces: confined to one small square while chained to a contract that forbids them to publish elsewhere, under any other name, taking risks seems like a vital way to do business now. Unlike traditional publishers, “small e-presses are not in a position, nor should they be, to tie up your rights for years to come,” Aston said.

My next post will contain more news from Matera’s Women’s Fiction Festival. Stay tuned!
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Daleen can be reached at daleen.berry@gmail.com.
Editor’s note: Daleen Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country.
Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.

If you want to read 100 reviews, go to Amazon. To view the Sister of Silence book trailer, go to her VintageBerryWine Youtube channel.


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