So I started yesterday off with a 9:00 a.m. writers' conference on the upper eastside, which is the most difficult part of Manhattan for me to get to by pubic transportation (so I was up at 6:30).
Three of the scheduled agents didn't show, but there will still three of us.
I think there were about 75 people in the audience asking the usual questions - what are you looking for, how do I query, do I really have to finish my novel before I send you a query and why don't I hear form you in 24 hours?
This conference made me realize again that many of the established NY agents (who do very few writers' conferences) are still so paper oriented that they actually prefer snail mail queries. They feel it shows that the author took extra care to single them out, write a letter, print and sign it and add an SASE.
I think it shows that someone is working with an out-dated communication method. Email is faster, therefore email is better as far as I'm concerned.
Anyway, after the agent panel, I sat in on Sara Nelson's talk. She explained that when her book SO MANY BOOKS, SO LITTLE TIME was finally published, she worked really hard to promote it, paying out of pocket or piggy-backing promotion on business travel (she is the editor of Publisher's Weekly responsible for dragging it kicking and screaming into the 21st century) for book signings and readings that she set up herself. And still the book did not change the world or her economic bracket.
She said that writing is the only thing that everyone thinks they can do well enough to earn a comfortable living at, when we all know that you can't be a successful painter or a musician without years and years of study.
In reality, being a successful writer means a) getting published by a house that pays you and b) selling a few thousand copies which does not translate into enough extra income to quit your day job. Only a fraction of books (she thought 10%, but I actually think it's more like 1%) make enough to bring in a livable income (because you can live on a writing income in a trailer park in Arkansas, but that's not the fantasy most wanna-be writers have in mind). She also mentioned that at last count something like 200,000 books are published each year, and about a third of them are by the self and on-demand publishers. [FYI about another third are textbooks, so that leaves about 66,600 for what we call trade publishing, which is only 10,000 more than what was being published 20 years ago when I started in the business - and I would bet that that extra 10,000 is composed largely of YA and children's books, which is the one part of the trade publishing industry that does seem to be growing].
It was both an upbeat and reality-based talk, so I was glad to have caught it.
Then I went back to the office for five hours before I taught my class how to write query letters.