Thrillerfest is a highlight of the year for me. The world’s biggest thriller writer convention and in my own backyard (The Grand Hyatt adjacent to Grand Central or, as Claire would say, just a short jaunt upstate).
Jon Land very generously comp’d me in several years ago and I’ve paid my own way (!) twice since. It’s a brilliant collection of topics and a lot of fun. So I’m going to share my notes on this year’s gathering.
I found a much more welcoming atmosphere this year toward self-published authors. It’s an established part of the landscape now and routinely covered in panels, one more part of the universe.
Caveats: There are NO quotes in this report. I don’t promise even to be accurately paraphrasing. This is what I took away from the conference but I’m not swearing it’s what anyone said.
PROMOTION, SALES OR REVIEWS?
Meg Gardner, Panel Master
Bruce De Silva
Netgalley–useful tool to get reviews. Offer advanced readers copies to reviewers.
De Silva: When he won an Edgar, his ranking on Amazon jumped from the thousands into the Top 100. Other awards he won made very little difference.
Reviews in the trade press help traditionally-published books because the people who buy books for the stores read those reviews. With trad publishers, you have to realize you’re not Lee Child or James Patterson–anyone could get them publicity. For those of us who are less well-known (that is, everyone else), it’s crucial to make them be specific about what they are going to do–and then follow up to make sure they actually do it. One author said he had wildly divergent results on different books with the same publisher. The person assigned to your publicity is often someone with little to no experience.
No one seemed to feel that book signings did much for them; book trailers also didn’t seem to have much effect, though someone mentioned one author who had some success just talking to the camera sitting in his office in a t-shirt. They said it was evidence of passion.
Con Lehane said he’s had mostly small groups at book signings but frequently had people named Lehane showing up. He says he’s read somewhere that Denis Lehane had also had these visitors on the road; Meg Gardner cracked They’re going to get what they want eventually.
James Hayman: uses Facebook ads. You can specifically choose the people you want to target–age, region, interests. Link the ad direct to Amazon sale page. He’s had 65-1000 shares which cost nothing and are wonderful advertising. If someone goes from a Facebook link to your Amazon book page and then back to Facebook without buying, Facebook will place an ad for your book in their sidebar. Research shows reader needs to see the book two or three times before they will buy, so this is great.
De Silva: Your job is to get reposted. He has a character who loves the blues. He started posting blues playlists online so people could play the music. Then he got a call from a music magazine wanting to interview his character about blues music. He did the interview (in his character’s voice) and then ended up landing an article in the Wall Street Journal about innovative book promotion.
Locke seemed to feel that online presence was a distraction from writing (it is) so he had someone create an online persona for him that he said isn’t a total lie. Others felt it was important to create a presence for yourself online, that that relationship is crucial to promotion.
Tata: former General, Deputy Cmdr of the 86th and 101st Airborne, head of counter-terrorism in Europe, etc. You won’t get on media (TV, radio) because of your book. You might get there because of some expertise you may have, during which they will show the cover. But that works fine.
WHEN THE IRS COMES KNOCKING
Panel: Anita Katzen, Susan Lee, Craig Manzino
This was a bad idea. If you’re going to have a panel to start off your conference–at 8 am–don’t make it tax professionals. That stuff is hard to make sense of at noon or 3 in the afternoon, it’s mindnumbing at 8 in the morning. None of this is the fault of the panelists, who spoke real English and seemed very helpful and friendly.
Highlights: Keep careful records. Don’t count on 1099’s–you won’t always get them and you’re responsible to pay your taxes whether the payer files a 1099 or not.
The IRS adjusts slowly to fast-changing reality. There is no official decision as to whether Kickstarter is income or not. Writers can deduct expenses in the same year they are incurred but publishers cannot and, if you are an independent (self-published) author, the IRS may decide you are a publisher, not a writer, for tax purposes. So let the tax-payer beware.
Good news: The IRS is getting easier on the home-office deduction as more people are working from home. Bad news: They still expect the space you’re deducting off your rent to be exclusive to work so NY City apartment dwellers multitasking the kitchen table will have a hard time.
Be ready for self-employment. When you finally start making some real money and quit the day job (oh glorious dream!), you suddenly are paying both halves of the Social Security tax (in your day job, the employer paid the other half), so between that and regular income tax, you’re suddenly paying 50% tax.
And if you have good creative use of deductions and get yourself down to where you’re making almost no income, understand that that will leave you short of Social Security money and with almost no income to show when you go for a loan–not to mention the scrutiny that brings from the IRS.
More to come…