Muse and the Marketplace – by Jen Smith

Richard Nash

I recently attended the Muse and the Marketplace literary conference in Boston. My hope was to learn more about the publishing industry, rub shoulders with some agents, and meet more fellow authors. The event was beyond my expectations and I learned a ton. The agents however, were a bit beyond reach. People actually paid $140 for an agent to read the first 40 pages of their manuscript and give them feedback. That blew my mind along with the agents’ attitude that they were still the gatekeepers of publishing. We Indie authors know different. But this article isn’t about agents; it’s about Richard Nash, the main speaker at the conference.

Richard Nash is a leader and forward thinker in the fast changing world of publishing. He ran Soft Skull Publishing for several years than sold it to start Red Lemonade and is currently working on a new project called Small Demons. Despite his business suit and professional demeanor he was still quite quirky, which I liked. I just don’t relate to anything that resembles normalcy.

First he started with a look back in history at a time when there were no publishers and anyone who could write was guaranteed a good living as a scribe. A contrast to today’s world where there are so many struggling authors. The number of books has increased significantly over the last few years due to self publishing but the number of readers has not. Simple economics will tell you that when the supply goes up and the demand remains the same the price will come down, hence the free and 99 cent eBook.

The New Culture of Algorithms

Today there are those who would lead you to believe that when it comes to books it’s not about content, it’s about culture. An example of culture today is the overemphasis on the highly desired Facebook ‘Like’. Nash compared the overuse of the ‘Like’ to a debased currency. Another example of culture today in the book world is the ‘people who bought that book also bought this book’, the unemotional unfeeling algorithm, the mathematical masterpiece that is devoid of a reader author relationship and exists only in a world of product consumer. Netflix built its longevity plan around the algorithm; realizing people would buy their product because there were a number of movies they would like to see but missed at the movie theatre. Eventually people would see all of the movies they planned to see so Netflix created ‘people who liked this movie also liked that movie’.

Will novels break the algorithm? Nash is looking at what’s in the books being written today not what the people reading books are talking about. He created a data base that logs and references the content of books- the places, food, clothing, people, music and so forth that is talked about in books. To Nash all books are connected. What does this all mean for publishing?

Publishing in the New Era

Publishing is morphing and the slush pile is ripe for reinvention. The slush pile is the ever increasing pile of query letters from hopeful authors pitching their books. Due to email and agent query data bases, agents can get hundreds of query letters a day. Regarding the slush pile Nash said, “…and what did we do? We sent you back your heart with a rejection letter attached to it with a dagger.” This hit home with me as I am a recipient of 39 rejection letters.

To explore a possible solution Nash created Red Lemonade which is a forum where authors download their work and other authors comment on it. Nash then pokes around to see what the authors are commenting on and occasionally has found work he’s wanted to publish.

Many an author dreams of the ever elusive publishing contract and for that moment when they can finally walk into a book store and see their book sitting there on the shelf. But then the author looks around to see the other twenty-five thousand other books on the shelves and the harsh reality that there are only eight people in the store. Nash believes what authors really want is love. My first thought was yeah love is cool but I really want to sell a million books. But I understood where Nash was going and next he posed a question. “How is one to be an author in a world where everyone is a writer?”

Authors in a World of Writers

I’ve pondered the question, when is an author an author and wrote about it in my blog. During a session at the Muse and the Marketplace, literary agent Katherine Sand from the Freyman Literary Agency said that an author is a name on a publishing contract and otherwise you are just a writer. I thought that was harsh. So, how do you become an author in a world where everyone is a writer? Nash answered his question with the following statement, “by being a reader in a world where everyone is a writer.” Nash expanded on this by saying, network, get involved in author forums, comment on the blogs you read, write reviews for the books you read. Give love. Be a part of the world of writing and by freely giving the love you will receive the love. I can dig it Richard Nash. I can dig it.

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18 thoughts on “Muse and the Marketplace – by Jen Smith”

  1. Excellent! Thank you Jen. I Tweeted this link, shared it on FB and Google+ hoping more writers and readers will find their way to Indies Unlimited, where we know how to share the love.

  2. I like that analogy very much: walking into a bookstore to see your book, one among 25,000 with only 8 people in the store. Very good, that. Thanks.

  3. Fascinating, so much to ponder. Agents seem to be behaving like cornered animals at the moment, aware they're in danger and spitting and hissing about it. An interesting time to be in this business. 🙂

  4. Jen: Agents are a dying breed, and they’re desperate. In their desperation they will make their demise sooner rather than later.

    Boyd Lemon-Author of “Eat, Walk, Write: An American Senior’s Year of Adventure in Paris and Tuscany,” “Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages,” the author’s journey to understand his role in the destruction of his three marriages and “Unexpected Love and Other Stories. Information, reviews and excerpts:
    Travel blog:
    Retirement blog:

  5. In response to the comment Sand made…

    I don't aspire to be an author. I don't want to be an author. It's nowhere on my list of goals.

    Authors wrote something. Lots of people wrote something.

    Far more noble is the title of Writer, someone who writes. Not someone who wrote – that's an author – but someone who is still currently, actively continuing to write.

    I'd take being a professional writer and storyteller over Ms. Sands' "author" any day.

  6. I'm new to this "business" and I've never physically strayed outside my four walls with my writing (i.e. I have only interacted via cyberspace, not gone to any functions.) I recently joined a writer' group locally where we meet 1x/month and gab about our stuff but the truth of the matter is I live in the middle of nowhere, gas is expensive, and my schedule is so tight with work/family that I can't afford to attend conventions/conferences, etc. My very grateful point is that I appreciate the insight into the outside world from these posts! Someone asked me the other day if I consider myself a writer, author, or novelist. Curious as to what y'all say when asked? Thanks for the great commentary!

  7. I want to write because writing is fun for me. I don't want it to be my day job because it would lose its special-ness. I equate 'author' with day job because that's how I understood it as a kid. I don't think the mindset ever faded.

    I imagine getting published and walking into a bookstore only to find your book is one of a million is similar to being a pretty girl who wins a small town beauty pageant. When she goes to the big leagues she's a pretty girl in a sea of pretties. Either way, you have to fight to get noticed. As an indie it's not easier, but there's more of an outlet-you're not bound to a stifling contract.

    It's good that the publishing world is changing, and very right that love is more important to an author than a sea of money. All right, the money is important, too but what's money without the love of your readers?

    1. If you're not writing fiction that readers love, the money isn't going to happen anyway. 😉

      It's not an "either/or" sort of thing. You need to be writing good stories that people will like to read. You need to continue writing more of them so that more readers will find and enjoy your work. Over enough time, and enough good stories, you can build up enough readers who love your work that you can make decent money from the profession.

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