‘I have seen the future and it is digital,' was the conclusion at this year's Women's Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy.
Set in the astonishing cave city in Southern Italy, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the theme of this year's festival was “The Future is an Open Book”. I was one of two writers from the UK present at what is the only festival in the world devoted to women's writing. Delegates came from the US, Italy and various EU countries for a four day event featuring some of the leading lights in publishing.
Andrew Lownie and Penelope Holroyde were among the agents represented, as well as Kate Stephenson, editor of Thriller Killer Reads at Harper Collins. Aspects of traditional and indie publishing were explored and we were given an entertaining and sometimes frightening lecture on cyber security from Adam Firestone, a leading US expert in the field.
He summed up his message by warning writers to encrypt their emails when sending work out. “Someone out there wants to steal your stuff!” He advised us to be careful on social media, don't hangout in google hangouts, don't use google accounts and if you are really paranoid always use an android phone.
Present and Future Fiction Trends
Andrew and Kate talked about the ever-popular thriller genre, up there with romance as the biggest seller. A killer thriller needs a killer title. We were advised to look at Amazon's top ten titles to get some ideas. Cosy (cozy) crime is making a comeback in the US, while the hard-boiled variety remains very popular in the UK.
The psychological thriller is having a big moment. Aimed mainly at female readers, some of the leading titles are Gone Girl, Girl on a Train, The Ice Twins. It seems that the woman in jeopardy plot never goes away. Take heed of trends on TV for an idea of what is popular. The recent success of Broadchurch is an example. Toxic marriages are always popular plot lines. Kate Stephenson suggested subscribing to the Harper Collins thriller newsletter to keep abreast of trends.
YA has been massively popular recently and YA agent Penelope Holroyde said that the lists are temporarily oversubscribed, although agents are still looking for the stand-out novelist who could challenge the top American writers. There is room, however, for middle-grade writers (8-12 years). Plot lines are wide open, and humour is always welcome. Plots must be carefully constructed and emotional. Think of the enduring popularity of children's stories featuring orphans, dead parents, lost pets and fantasy. For anyone wanting to write for the very young – there is currently a shortage of picture book authors. Artists are waiting for your words.
The Future in Publishing
The big talking point was the digital future which is wide open. Andrew Lownie startled everyone by predicting the end of traditional publishing and agents within five years. In fact, they will probably have morphed into new forms to meet the digital challenge.
Reports that ebook sales were declining was untrue, he added. It depends how the statistics are analysed.
Digital is a shadow industry and it is impossible to get exact figures. The digital future is huge, but there are issues for writers especially in the indie sphere. Don't get held hostage. Never give away your ebook rights. How good is your metadata? How good is your publishers' metadata? It is vital to check these and change them if necessary.
On this note we heard from an Indian author, Manjiri Prabhu, about selling your books in the huge and ever-growing English speaking market in India. She founded the Pune Literary Festival near Mumbai. One suggestion – put your books on flipkart, India's Amazon-style website.
Kobo Writing Life was one of the sponsors of the festival. Indie authors should read their blog.
The bottom line – get it out there!
Matera will be European city of culture in 2019. If you can't wait that long the festival is held every year in September.
OVER TO YOU If you've been to a great writers' conference or festival and would like to report back on it for ALLi, please contact blog editor Debbie Young.Lessons learned from #Matera women's writers' festival by @Jean_Burnett Click To Tweet