Friday, September 12, 2014

Author Conference of the Future

If it ever does happen, this is how I'd picture it:

One giant room, similar to ComiCon, with a stage and microphones.

Authors sit at tables, which are set up everywhere. For table space at the 3 day conference, authors pay $25 a day.

Attendees get in for free.

Authors bring their own paper books to sell. They can accept cash, or credit cards via PayPal Here.

Authors can bring cardboards stands, giveaways, whatever they'd like to make people come to their tables. I suggest having QR codes on promo material, so attendees can instantly buy ebooks.

Conference fees pay for the room space, advertising, and maps that show where the authors are on a numbered seating chart (also name plates and name tags for authors) and the schedule for the author talks.

Use Autography as the ebook vendor. Each author can autograph and personalize ebooks for anyone who stops by their table and buys one, and the ebook will be sent directly to the buyer's email address. Autography will collect payment then pay writers 70% of the ebook price after the conference.

Any author who wants to appear on the main stage in book room to talk for 15 minutes can, for an additional $50. Authors who want to appear on panels can book a block of time together (for example, 3 authors on stage at the same time would get 45 minutes and it would cost a total of $150).

In addition to the main room, there will be additional side rooms available as needed. If an author (or group of authors) want to appear in a side room to speak, it is $25 for 15 minutes per author.

Author speaking fees include a "we'll be back by" sign for when they are speaking or taking a break.

Joe sez: There are a lot of benefits to a conference as I've described it.

All authors are welcome. You are guaranteed signing time and speaking time as long as you sign up for it.

Fans get in for free, which will allow them to spend more money on books.

All authors can sign for as long as they want to.

All authors can speak for as long as they want to, on whatever topic they choose.

Even if an author has a table every day, and talks every day, the max they'll spend is $175. This is cheaper than most conferences, with a lot more visibility.

These fees pay for the hotel space, advertising, and paper programs for the con (these programs will also be available online, since many people will have tablets). If there is extra money left over, food for the green room.

With no booksellers, authors make 100% of the price they sell their paper books for, and 70% of the signed ebooks they sell through Autography. Authors can also sell whatever they want on their tables, like Cafe Press swag.

Free attendance would encourage walk-ins.

I can envision some sort of self-pub awards going on after hours. Sort of like an Indie Oscars. With a bar, of course.

Legacy authors would be welcome, but would probably need permission from their publishers to sell their legacy titles. I know Autography has deals in place with many big publishers already.

It seems to be doable. And if it got enough buzz and attracted some big authors, I could see it being successful. Money would need to be spent on advertising, and every author who attended would really need to get the message out to their fans.

Also, I want to be clear that I am NOT organizing, running, or will in any way be involved in an event like this. I'm simply musing about what such an event would entail, and maybe someone will run with the idea.

Am I missing anything? What would make you want to attend, both as a writer and as a reader?

61 comments:

John Erwin said...

I could see something like this being more effective than single-author-at-tiny-bookstore signings. Imagine an annual tour of a few dozen cities -- Author-Fest 2015 -- that readers could come to rely on for the newest and best indie offerings. Throw in dancing girls (and dancing guys) and free cookies and you might draw crowds.

Gary Ponzo said...

I'm in, but I think the bar needs to play a much bigger role.

Alfred Poor said...

I'm almost tempted to put one of these together just to see if it would work. Fascinating concept! And once someone/some entity works out the bugs, it could lead to a year-round circuit in major cities across the country. Endless Summer and all that!

Alfred Poor
www.alfredpoorspeaker.com
www.thecenterforsmallbusiness.com

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Sign me up.

P.D. Singer said...

It would have to be a venue where they aren't crazed about collecting sales taxes.

Joe Konrath said...

Sales tax. Good point.

There are five states without sales tax. Just have it in Delaware or new Hampshire.

NicholeRobertson said...

Someone please organize this.

billie said...

Sign me up too!! If it's held in NC so I don't have to travel far I'll help organize! :)

Robert L. Slater said...

Doing something headed in this direction next weekend. Sort of a publishing conference [author2author], interspersed with an awards ceremony and opportunities to mix, local bookseller and a book festival to end it all.

T. M. Bilderback said...

Any author who wants to appear on the main stage in book room to talk for 15 minutes can, for an additional $50.

Legacy author James Patterson could use up that much time with one sentence. ;)

Michael

Jim Self said...

I think the important question relevant to the literary aspect of the convention is, would there be booth babes?

Maybe have a stand-up comic who specializes in legacy publishing humor? That'll be relevant for at least another year to two.

David Darracott said...

Heavens, Joe. You are a fountain of great ideas. Yet another way to get us off the treadmill of being beholden to people who want to make money off us. Please, someone do this, and count me in.

Steve Peterson said...

Organizing things by genre would probably boost attendance and sales.

An easier way to try this than starting from scratch might be to work with an existing genre convention to see if something like this could be added on. If the con has a facility with enough extra space available, it would be relatively painless to get this organized and running. Plus you'd have an existing audience already there for the genre con who would certainly check out the author room...

Ava Morgan said...

Great idea, Steve. It opens up more options to attendees, even though the price they pay for the con would stay the same. They're not out of extra money and the con organizers may even see an increase in registration.


And Joe...Texas has no sales tax :-)

Jude Hardin said...

I could put a band together for the event. :)

Anonymous said...

Actually, Texas does have sales tax. We just don't have personal income tax.

Paul

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

I've been thinking about organizing an IndieCon for a couple years. Figured if I could get you and Hugh Howey, it would fly. But to attract big indie names (who don't need cons) the organizer would have to pay them... and you might want to charge a LITTLE bit for reader/buyers, since folks tend to place more value on something they pay for.

Inkstain said...

That sounds just like the book fair that was held in Morges last weekend, le Quai de Livres.

https://www.actualitte.com/international/le-livre-sur-les-quais-de-morges-salon-d-auteurs-tres-prise-par-le-public-52220.htm

http://www.24heures.ch/vaud-regions/la-cote/Le-5e-Livre-sur-les-quais-attire-40-000-lecteurs/story/24475516

http://www.rts.ch/info/culture/6125407-beau-succes-pour-la-cinquieme-edition-de-livre-sur-les-quais.html

Joseph said...

Do it in Portland, OR. Lots of writers around there, no sales tax, lots of hippies running about who love indie anything. Has a major airport. Yep.

adan said...

"Legacy authors would be welcome, but would probably need permission from their publishers to sell their legacy titles." -

Joe, I think that would also apply to any self-published work authors have exclusive with Amazon via Select and Kindle Unlimited.

Caelia said...

This. Is. Awesome. I would totally help you organize! And I LOVED the idea of sorta having a circuit in major cities.

IndieCon 2015!

Caelia said...

This. Is. Awesome. I would totally help you organize! And I LOVED the idea of sorta having a circuit in major cities.

IndieCon 2015!

Vincent Zandri, Noir Author said...

Love this, Joe...Thrillerfest now runs an author about $2500 if you include the cost of the hotel, flights, etc.

w.adam mandelbaum said...

Is there a legacy dunking stool?

Terri Reid said...

I LOVE this idea. I've been to a couple of conferences where I've been in a panel with authors who ONLY want to hawk their wares. It was really disheartening because the audience really wanted to learn about the art of writing - not "what is on page 39 of my amazing book." I'd pay!!!!

D. C. Chester said...

Adan,
Amazon would probably help fund a circuit of cons like this.

Dan

adan said...

D.C., that would be very cool :-)

Walter Knight said...

Self-pub awards are long overdue.

Alan Spade said...

I have been in an indie authors conference in France, and it was a total mess: 400 authors sticked to each other, no place for the public, more authors in this place than readers. A nightmare. My worst memory in my indie career. 0 book sold that day (and I have handsold something like 3,000 paper books since 2010).

So, Steve Peterson's advice seems to be sound.

On a totally unrelated note, Barnes&Noble has announced its results for the first quarter of the fiscal year, and Nook Media has sold 24,2% less ebooks than last year. It would be interesting to see if its competitors (other big retailers) have more ebooks sales in the same period than last year or less.

William Ockham said...

Oddly enough, I just returned from being a 'booth babe' for 6 hours at a local one day tech conference. That is hard work.

Here are few suggestions:

Local organization is essential and given the pricing, it needs to be an existing active local group. In self-publishing, that probably means local RWA chapters.

Having a few corporate sponsors is important. Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Nook, and even BookBub are all possibilities. The Amazon Local Register team could probably help solve the sales tax issue.

I think holding this at a college or library that has an Espresso Book Machine makes sense. Even just renting an EBM would be cool.

Giveaways are a huge draw. (We gave away two Xbox Ones and we got email addresses from almost every person there.) These days every conference has one of those cards where you have to visit and get the card stamped at every vendor to enter the big prize drawing.

pcawdron said...

Perhaps you could hire a few Espresso book machines. I bet they'd be running white-hot by the end of the conf.

Lynne Cantwell said...

Brilliant idea. If it's near DC, I'd help organize. Not that I know anything about organizing something like this. But how hard could it be? :D

Aimless Writer said...

I'm there!

Richard Denning said...

I love the idea. I am not however convinced readers would attend. Why would you bother. What would draw in a reader?

I have been to a number of "book fairs" where authors sit at desks and try to talk to the visitors. Almost always the only visitors are other writers or folk wanting to find out about writing, publishing etc.

How would you get say 2000 or 10,000 readers along when they walk into Waterstones or Banes and Noble and choose from thousands of books?

It is so easy to get books online or in book stores why would you go to this event?

There has to a chance to see and do stuff you cant do at home, online or in book shops.

I am not trying to sound negative here. I run an annual HObby games event in the UK that has gone from 800 to 6000 attendees in 8 years.

What we had to do was create an event that allows folk to do stuff they cannot easily do at home and else where (in this case chhos eto attend the con when hey could just order online or visit a shop.)

It was the chance to play the latest games and see the games by the hundred, meet designers etc that worked.

Now how to translate that to books.


Rob Gregory Browne said...

Richard, have you never been to Bouchercon, which is attended by an army of readers? Or Left Coast Crime? Or any of the other reader-centric conferences?

Jason Cook said...

Tie it in with a music festival first. Ride some coattails.

JETaylor said...

I know a good event planner....

:)

Silas Payton said...

If I was there as an author, I'd want to go and see the other authors as well. I'd suggest a meet and greet in the evening open to authors only. This could be drinks and tables of food, Jude's band, charity casino, whatever, something to get people interacting and swapping stories.

It would also help if the name tags also had their online tag as well. There are many commentors I'd enjoy meeting someday.

Monica Pierce said...

I'll ride that bandwagon. An IndieCon for indie authors and the readers that love 'em sounds pretty damn awesome.

Jim Kukral said...

I don't see how you get the readers to come. Sure, you could try to count on all the authors to spread the word to their platforms. That might work, if you had enough authors with big platforms.

Or, you do it like these guys. http://tucsonfestivalofbooks.org/ They had 130,000 people at their last festival. But they have huge sponsorship. $100k for the large sponsor. So they probably spend a ton of money on marketing the event.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

There were only a few hundred people at the first Thrillerfest. You start small and build.

Jennifer Foehner Wells said...

I can't believe how many comments are here suggesting readers wouldn't want to come! I drove 5 hours to see John Scalzi do a reading/signing recently.

This is a fantastic idea. If we build it, they will come...or so an author once told me.

Alan Spade said...

What Richard Denning said.

Geraldine Evans said...

Great idea, Joe! I'd attend, even though I'd have to come all the way from the UK with all the extra expenses of flight, hotels, etc. Unless I could bag a place on someone's floor...

Alan Spade said...

I would add another argument, there: readers don't care if we are indies or not. Readers go to romantic conferences to discover romantic books and authors and to thriller conferences to discover thrillers and thriller authors.

It would really be a mistake not to put ourselves in the shoes of readers, here.

IMO, it's the same difference as the Lulu.com website and Amazon.com. Lulu targets authors. Amazon targets consumers, and readers among them. KDP publishing targets authors.

Now, which is the most successful website for authors and readers, Amazon or Lulu?

In my field, fantasy, the largest European fair is the Trolls&Legends fair. People come there to do cosplay, to discover European comics books and books (and authors, of course), to roleplay, even to meet craftspersons, and to go to concerts. There are many different artists to animate the fair.

You have to bring a ton of value, and unique value people wouldn't find elsewhere, to make people move these days. And even when it's there, you have to get the word running.

Matthew Mather said...

Sign me up...I'm in...

Lorraine Reguly said...

Get Guy Kowasaki to attend for sure. Ask him to dress like an APE, too.

Maybe have a bunch of rooms with authors from different genres.

Maybe incorporate a Hallowe'en concept around this as well, if Guy's willing to dress like an APE.

(Love that book, btw, Guy!)

Alyx said...

My suggestion is to make the paying and checking out very efficient. (Authors taking their own payment might be pretty slow.) I've never seen this work well at mass signings, so I don't have any good ideas to make it better. But I know as a reader, I've given up and left the books on the table and walked away rather than wait 20 minutes to pay.

Alyx said...

Richard, good question. RWA holds a "literacy signing" at its annual conference every year, inviting local readers (with the proceeds going to a local literacy charity), and even with fairly minimal promotion, they get hundreds of readers. So it can be done. But RWA always has several really big names like Nora Roberts and cult writers like Sherilyn Kenyon to draw in readers. So an indie-con would benefit from inviting the biggest sellers in the indie-world.

Michael N. Marcus said...

NO THANKS. I do not want pay for large press runs, shlepp heavy cartons, travel to who-knows-where, file sales tax reports for multiple states, have books damaged by sloppy readers and answer stupid questions. I prefer online conversations. http://www.DoAsISay.xyz

lauralisscott.com said...

I think the proper term for this is not "conference" but trade show, yes?

And an all-authors-welcome trade show would be awesome. But it's not a "conference."

lauralisscott.com said...

To expand on my previous comment:

"Am I missing anything? What would make you want to attend, both as a writer and as a reader?"

I question the dollar figures. I wish those numbers added up, but my gut feeling, as someone with some experience with a non-profit that threw two big conferences a year, is that even with pay-to-sell, pay-to-speak, the fees would have to be much higher to be anywhere near realistic. It's a nice idea, but there's a reason even the cheapest conferences charge hundreds of dollars for a weekend event (and charge sponsors thousands to have promotional presence of any kind).

You'd need a major media market with a major airport hub. The venue would need to be convenient to the airport. (Having to take a bus an hour somewhere else is going to deter.) Most venues have exclusive deals for renting furniture, drayage fees for bringing anything in you can't carry on your back, fees for wifi (and mobile networks tend to get overloaded at conferences with thousands of people), fees for audio/video equipment, fees for setting that up, fees for the stage people would stand on to talk, fees for the chairs and tables, fees for cleanup.

And even if it's free for attendees, they'd have to want to spend the money to come—airfare and hotel add up. Even the locals will have to pay for driving and parking to attend.

Maybe this would work on a small scale, where you could avoid the big-conference operations and you don't depend upon out-of-town folks to participate and attend. On a larger scale, color me skeptical. You'd need a group of major sponsors to pony up over $100k to underwrite the endeavor to do this at scale. Are there sponsors like that who want to support indie publishing that much?

I don't know.

Dale T. Phillips said...

Why wait? The future is here- at least in part. Here in New England, we have someone running events that look more like this- Pear Tree Publishing runs the Author Expo: http://peartreepublishing.net/events/authorsexpo2014.php

They're constantly upgrading it with sponsors and celebrities as crowd draws, and trying to work out the speaking/reading portion as Joe mentions (the current venue makes it difficult). They keep author costs low, so we get a huge roomful of authors, and some publishers, illustrators, editors, and hundreds of people coming to shop and talk. Works out great. Hope the idea spreads, as Joe presents.

The Nerdy Survialist said...

This is just about the best thing I've ever read. It would be wonderful to attend as an author OR as a reader.

Jeff Ezell said...

Attended a contemporary romance event in Houston for readers to meet authors and their "cover model" some of whom tour the country with authors under contract. These are the 6-pack hunks and babes with and without tats. (Big part of draw.) Plus a band in evening. Not my deal, but was curious how they did book signing. Quite an eyeopener since this is not my genre to read or write.

Held in a big VFW hall (cheap) on a weekend. Had full cash bar and barbeque smoked by VFW members for their income. This is done by same group in 6-8 US cities. About 50 authors present (who seemed almost like a traveling clique) w/300 readers/fans. Books sold and SWAG given away at most tables.

Other cheap venues are the many community colleges with rooms for speakers, etc. Need big stars and advertising/promotion to get readers there. Local Indie books stores could come and run a central checkout (for %) to speed up credit card purchases for all authors. Authors supply books. Could help Indies penetrate these small bookstores.

There's enough brainpower on this list to make it happen. Great ideas, Joe and commenters.

Ian Truman said...

Sounds a lot like "Expozine" here in Montreal.

kay said...

We're e-book authors. Let's have an e-conference. We wouldn't have to leave our office caves and just do online chats. If booth babes are required, we could send out a jpg of whoever rows your boat.

Scott Dyson said...

Jude, can I be in the band, too? I can handle some keyboards...:-)

Judy Nichols said...

As someone who's been on the other side of conference organizing, I can say from experience that getting authors to pay $25 so they can have signings would work, but the hard part is getting readers to come in, though it costs them nothing.

Authors don't draw large crowds, even the ones you may have heard of. Neither do cookies. We never tried dancing girls, but I'm pretty sure the New Hanover County Library administrators would have nixxed that idea.

The last year we held the Cape Fear Crime Festival with library sponsorship, I remember apologizing to authors for the low reader turnout, saying it was due to the construction on Military Cutoff Road.

However, while few people ventured into the library for the free author events we presented all day long, the shopping center across the street was packed, orange barrels not withstanding.

It takes a lot of work to put on a writers' conference. People will tell you they'd love to help out, but when it comes time to post flyers, or assemble program packets, or handle registration, they're nowhere to be found.

I'd love to take part in Author-Fest 2015, but my days as Conference Mastermind are over.

Rebecca Patrick said...

Aren't there already quite a few of these already? Author and Reader Con, Authors After Dark, The Novel Experience, etc. I belong to a FB group that lists author events and there's at least one author con with 100+ authors going on every single month next year.

I do think, though, they could be tweaked. For instance, many of them are slanted towards the Romance genre. I'd like to see something that encompasses all genres.

Alessandra Torre said...

The romance/erotica genre does this constantly. I attend about 6 a year as an author, but 30-40 are held each year around the country. The only difference being that ebook sales aren't really pushed -- the sales are 90% print, with each author selling their own books at their table. And the event is a 1-day event, and the table fees for authors are more in the $150 range.

And - from what I can tell - the organizers really need that kind of cash flow in order to properly organize the event, rent the room, promote the event, etc.

The events I've attended typically have 30-60 authors and the readers pay about $10 a ticket. Pre-selling the tickets helps to guarantee attendance and keep the event under control. The organizers normally limit the number of tickets sold -- 300-500 tickets -- any more readers than that and you need a bigger facility.

But bigger events are also done. Book Bash in Orlando sold 1400 reader tickets last year at $10 each. I was one of 55 authors and got huge exposure/book sales at the event.