Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Last week we were in Oahu to attend the Hawaii Writers conference and found Waikiki in a strange state. There were lots of tourists, lots of closed restaurants, and lots of retail store fronts with paper covering the glass. In one major hotel on the beach 75% of the retail shops were closed and the few stores that remained open were having discount sales. At night the restaurants a few blocks from the ocean front hotels had huge lines with waits of over 45 minutes. We met visitors staying in ocean front resorts for $99 a night, 25% of the normal hotel rate. We were able to get a kama'aina rate of $200 a night for a 2 bedroom with a kitchen, living and dining room on Beachwalk Road.

The keynote address at the Writers Conference given by the bestselling author of “The Deep End of The Ocean” was memorable. She disclosed her personal difficulties of being injured from a fall and recently losing of all her savings earned from her book sales. She described herself as the most famous broke person she knew. It was moving to hear her talk of dealing with the grief of being suddenly poor after achieving wealth from her writing.

Many of the sessions at the Writers conference discussed the transition the book publishing industry is in today. In the past, publishers have relied on newspapers to channel their books to market. Editors got reviews of their new titles from the big newspapers and lobbied to get them on one or more of the best seller lists to drive sales. But newspapers are quickly disappearing and the traditional book reviewers, best seller lists, and the publicity routes to book buyers are disappearing with them.

In response, publishing editors are starting to require that their authors have a “platform”, a term used repeatedly at the conference without definitive definition. The common thread of the term “platform” was a mechanism to reach potential book buyers. A platform could be regular seminars given by the author that reaches student buyers or a lecture circuit to reach attendee buyers. But recently, it is more often a social media presence to reach potential buyers.

The internet is the becoming a new avenue for publishers and authors to gain access to readers and let them know about newly published books. The result is that an author’s blog readership, web site hits and even twitter followers are becoming new metrics for the publishing world to define the potential audience size for a book that could translate into sales. If an author has a platform or potential audience of book buyers that is big enough, a publisher is more likely to sign book deal.

Many of the conference attendees were fiction writers or retirees working on their memoir and struggled to understand how to use the internet to promote their book. We heard a few stories about how fiction writers have been building social media platforms – one writer started a blog by one of her characters. We wonder how readers will react when they discover the personal blog they are reading is a fictional character used to promote a book. Publishers now expect a web page for each book title and are urging writers to do speaking engagements, twitter their whereabouts, and use social media to promote book sales.

We had a couple of takeaways from the Writers conference. First we are convinced that social media is gaining momentum as the numbers of twitter followers and blog readers of some prominent authors are beginning to exceed the entire subscription rate of some major newspapers. As frustrating as it must be to newspaper writers and columnists, we believe that the demise of the newspaper is not because there are fewer readers, but because readers want control over what they read. Secondly, we were confronted with the impact of the slower economy in Waikiki by observing the empty store fronts and knowing that the attendees to the Writers conference, themselves struggling financially, were not going to be a big help with Hawaii's sales tax shortfall.


Keahi Pelayo said...

My wife attended the conference and loved it.

Tory said...

I've been to seven Maui Writers/Hawaii Writers Workshops and Conferences. Last year I saw the beginning of the slump. Terrible to know the economy there's so much fallout in Hawaii this year. How was the attendance?
Tory Hartmann

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