I’m back from my yearly pilgrimage to the Matera Women’s Fiction Festival.
For the past couple of years, the end of September finds me in Matera, the ridiculously picturesque cave town of southern Italy’s Basilicata region. Each year, the festival brings together women (and a few men) who write in many genres – women’s fiction, romance, thrillers, YA, mysteries, and science fiction.
Together, we learn more about our craft and the business of the rapidly changing publishing industry. We have the chance to meet with editors and publishers, to attend talks about books, to meet with industry experts, and to take part in brainstorming sessions.
Here are some of the highlights of the 2014 edition:
Indie publishing is changing all the rules: We had some inpiring examples of authors who took control of their publishing careers. American romance author Bella Andre recounted how she hit a roadblock in her career and decided to ride the (relatively new) indie publishing wave, launching her series of ‘Sullivan brothers’ books.
Her self-published series sold over a million copies, and publishers were soon knocking down her door. A savvy businesswoman, Andre sold only the print rights to publishing houses, keeping digital rights, translation rights, and audio rights for herself. She spoke alongside other successful indie authors, Tina Folsom and Debra Holland, who shared their secrets to success, and important lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Marketing and promoting are important for self and traditional published authors: Gone are the days of handing over your manuscript to a publishing house and sitting back while a team of publicists and marketing experts handle the rest. Even authors published with traditional publishing houses must be savvy about promoting their books, being active on social media, joining forces with other authors, guest blogging, etc. There’s lots to learn, but luckily there’s never been more information out there to demystify the process.
One world, many book markets: Agents, publishers and authors were on hand from the US, the UK, Germany, Italy and France. If you’re interested in breaking into foreign markets, it’s important to understand the similarities and differences, and how to promote via social media in these different markets.
Brainstorming: I always enjoy the brainstorming class offered by UK author Jane Corry. It’s a fun way to exchange information about work and to throw out sticking points in our plots, and to receive lots of helpful suggestions and advice from fellow authors. I always learn so much attending these sessions.
Agent/editor meetings: This is always an advantage of writing conferences – having the chance to pitch your writing to literary agents and editors. I was nervous the first time I gave this a try, but now I’ve grown to enjoy it. It’s a great chance to talk about your work with industry experts, and to start making contacts among agents and editors who want to see your work.
Book talks: I went to many of these during my days in Matera. My favorites were by two Italian authors. One was Sandra Petrignani who wrote Marguerite, a fictional novel about the life of the French author Marguerite Duras, probably most famous for her book L’amant, her coming-of-age story about her love story with an older Chinese man when she was a girl living in the Far East. But Duras wrote much more, and had a larger-than-life personality. I look forward to reading this novel.
Another favorite was the presentation of Alice DiStefano on her Italian novel, The Publisher. This was unusual because DiStefano, an editor at Fazi Editore, just also happens to be the wife of her boss, the publisher Elidio Fazi. How do you write a fictional novel based on your imperious, sexist, arrogant husband – and present the book with him sitting right beside you? Well, DiStefano managed to pull it off, and I’m reading and enjoying her novel right now.
As always, the best part of the conference were all the amazing authors and participants I got to meet during my stay, the long talks we had about books and writing, and the aimless rambles through beautiful Matera.
I look forward to keeping in touch with all my new (and old) writer friends, and already look forward to returning next year for my annual dose of literary Matera!