I had the privilege of attending the inaugural Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal Chapter’s Fantasy on the Bayou Conference March 2-4, 2012 in New Orleans, La.  The editor/agent panel gave me a window into the thoughts of industry professionals on the current state of publishing. I gathered that it’s in flux. No one really knows what’s going to happen, but digital publishing is definitely front and center on everyone’s minds. One thing they all made clear is you must have a social media presence if you want to sell books in the current environment.

Throughout the conference, series and branding were the buzz words. Trilogies are hot sellers and many authors are able to build a career on a series of books. Think Twilight and Harry Potter. Melissa Singer of Tor gave a workshop on how characters evolve and change through a series of books. Angela James of Carina Press preferred her authors focus on one genre to build a readership and create a brand. This way she knows where to focus her marketing dollars.

The biggest treat of the con for me was Maggie Shayne. She gave me my ‘Aha Moment’ of the conference. In her keynote speech, she talked about how she had a deadline of when her youngest child entered kindergarten for when she would be published. She sold in August, right before her daughter started school. I’ve always had a sort of deadline in the back of my own mind. I planned to be published by the time my children were grown and out of school. I was lucky enough to have some face time with Maggie and shared this with her and how it hadn’t happened yet. She suggested that since my children are still living at home, I am subconsciously holding myself back from my goal because I feel they still need me. She is so right! Now I have to work on changing that. Maggie is incredibly generous with her wealth of knowledge spanning over twenty years in the industry. And her personal story is beyond inspiring.

One of my favorite workshops was Kerri Nelson’s pitch workshop. She is a true master at creating a two to three line pitch that guarantees requests. She also does her workshop online. I highly recommend it as you will use this pitch in everything from query letters to back cover blurbs.

Then we come to Bob Mayer and his workshop on Digital Publishing. I have to admit to being ambivalent about this topic. I am one of those people who still likes to hold a book in her hand and turn the pages rather than look at an electronic screen. I am being dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age. Yes, I do have a Kindle and have read books on it, but my heart is torn. I can’t imagine a world without bookstores and I do not want to hold a kindle in the bathtub or while relaxing on the beach. You don’t have to charge a paperback!

I also look at the music industry and all the changes mp3 technology and iTunes has brought. Rarely does anyone buy an entire album anymore. It’s only the hit songs. And like the music industry, the publishing industry is dealing with pirates. That said, there are positive aspects: unlimited shelf life (your book will always be available online) and e-pubs are more willing to take a chance on ‘out of the box’ books.

Then there is self publishing, which is what Bob Mayer advocates. He doesn’t believe you need editors or agents anymore. All you need to do is write a good book and spend some money to set it up online for sale. I believe he estimated around $1600, but I’m sure that number varies. I can see how this could be a good route for someone who already has a readership and maybe has the rights to their books back, or has a book of their heart that traditional publishers have passed on. But for an unpublished author trying to sell a first book, I can’t see this as a good option.

Sure, in rare cases, your book might go viral and sell thousands of copies, but it’s more likely, you’d be lucky to sell enough to earn the money you spent back. This is just my opinion. Bob Mayer is a former Green Beret, multi-published in traditional publishing, and has now turned to self publishing as well as selling books on how to do it. If you’re interested in self publishing, he can definitely educate you. But, I don’t think it’s for me.

While many believe the digital age is empowering authors and eliminating the need for editors and agents, I think there needs to be a balance. We need to work together to put out a quality product and the sales will follow. One thing everyone I spoke to at the conference agreed upon is that no one knows exactly what the future of publishing will hold, so educate yourself, and choose the best option(s) for you.

This con report would not be complete without a little of the flavor of New Orleans. What happens when you turn a red light district into a tourist trap? Uh, that would be the French Quarter of New Orleans. Steeped in a rich history, rampant with bars, jazz clubs, some of the best food in the world, and of course, ghosts.

The hub of the French Quarter is Jackson Square, anchored on one end by the St. Louis Cathedral, and on the other, by the Cafe Du Monde. Here, you can find everything from souvenirs to tarot readings. Street people, artists, and vendors decorate the square and the line at the Cafe Du Monde is never-ending.

I partook of the famous French donuts called beignets, fried to perfection and covered with a mountain of powdered sugar. Then toured the city and walked the streets with a Hurricane in hand while listening to spine chilling tales. The city so inspired me, that I plan to set my new book there.

I returned from the conference with multiple requests, new found friends, knowledge, and most of all, the desire to write. Thanks FF&P Board and Volunteers, your first con rocked and I look forward to more in the future.