I’ve been attending the annual World Fantasy Convention for several years now, and it’s been interesting to watch the evolution of attitudes about indie publishing there. In 2011, traditionally-published authors were quick to dismiss indies as vanity-published hacks. (I won’t quote chapter and verse; we’ve all heard it before.) In 2012, as I reported back then, the convention organizers put together a panel discussion on indie publishing. That panel was less dismissive of indies – although there were still a couple of “slush pile” comments – and even featured one of the honchos from Kobo Writing Life, which had just launched that summer.
I couldn’t afford the trip to Merrie Olde England for last year’s convention. But this year, the big event was practically in my backyard. So I went with my ears perked up to see what, if anything, had changed over the past two years.
What I heard was…not much of anything. When it came to the topic of indie publishing, it was pretty darned quiet in Crystal City.
I attended several panels during the convention last weekend. In only one did I hear any snark about crappy self-published work, and that lone comment didn’t get much of a response – a far cry from the knowing laughter and piling on that I witnessed in 2011.
Also this year, I heard that an author on a YA panel actually recommended that some authors self-publish, especially if their stories involved a non-traditional family structure. Apparently, publishers are still shying away from these types of stories because they’re hard to sell to libraries, which buy a lot of YA books.
And unlike in 2012, there was no panel specifically devoted to indie publishing (although I lobbied for one, and even volunteered to be on it). An inside source told me after the conference was over that the program committee didn’t want to do a how-to panel, but couldn’t figure out another way to tackle the subject without opening the door to the possibility of a metaphorical brawl.
But that was later. While I was at the conference, I happened to mention the radio silence to another attendee. She suggested it might be because traditionally-published authors are starting to self-publish their backlists – and make a living at it.
And yet, traditional publishing still holds sway. This year is the 40th anniversary of the World Fantasy Convention. It has always been an event for people who either are involved in trad publishing or want to be involved: editors, agents, and authors. Agents still prowl the bar, looking for new clients; publishers still send cases of free books for placement in the book bags each attendee receives. I’m sure that had a fair amount to do with why indie publishing didn’t have a stronger showing this year. But the business is undergoing profound changes, as we all know, and this convention had a strong sense of nostalgia about it. I had to wonder whether that wasn’t just because the convention’s theme was the state of speculative fiction in World War I. Maybe publishing’s dirty little secret is that indies are worthy of respect, after all.