I went to NinC’s (Novellists Incorporated) 2023 conference again this year. For those that don’t know, Ninc was created by a breakaway group from the RWA and thus, for the first part, the majority of their members are romance authors. That’s a good thing, because romance authors are generally at the forefront of marketing and improvements. If you want to know what’s working, talk to them – because they’ve likely tried it.

The NinC concerence is held in St. Pete’s, Florida in a very beautiful resort. Probably the nicest resort I’ve ever been to (I don’t really do resorts, so take that for what it’s worth). Gorgeous beach, warm waters. Tons of fun, and you can just head out early in the morning or after sessions (or between sessions….) and just chill out on the beach. Quite nice, really.

It’s also sponsored by a large number of organisations and you actually see people like Amazon, Kobo, Google Play, Draft2Digital, Audible, etc. One of the nice things about the sponsorships? They provide a lot of the meals which are pretty decent. Can’t really complain about the food. Or at least, I can’t.

So, let’s talk about the event this year.

Sessions

Sessions at NinC are a mix of craft and business sessions. I heard some of the craft sessions were pretty good this year, however, I actually didn’t go to them. In fact, I went to a total of 4 sessions (out of… 30+?). There’s a number of reasons for that, including the fact that a lot of the sessions seemed pretty ‘basic’ to me, and few covered the areas I wanted, annoyingly.

In the busines sessions, a lot of discussion about going wide, direct sales and Kickstarters and subscriptions. The focus in many of those were ways to move away from the Amazon behemoth and to make better use of the promotional technique that we can control (newsletters).

I’ll admit, some of the sessions just weren’t that interesting to me, mostly because they covered areas we already knew or didn’t care to try. One of the biggest issues coming to things like this is the sheer volume of things you want to do and realising, you have to learn and choose what is best.

And, of course, most of the time I was just talking to others which is where I often find the greatest value.

Service Providers & Sponsor Meetings

One of the biggest time sinks for me here was talking to suppliers and sponsors. The various sponsors and service providers send a lot of representatitves over to speak with the authors, and rather importantly, because NinC has a membership minimum ($5k for 2 books for self-pub and $2k for 2 books for trad); they know to take you a little more seriously (in comparison to 20books where it’s hard to know who you are speaking with as a supplier / service provider).

I actually had a chance to talk to ACX, Podium, KDP and Kobo direct and had a few minor conversations with people like Draft2Digital, Bookfunnel and PublishDrive. All great people to chat with, sometimes just to get to know them better or their services, sometimes to discuss issues we have their services or getting firsthand knowledge about things coming down the pipeline.

Not a lot I can talk about here, though I get the feeling that many are working hard to improve their services for independent authors and publishers. More and more, they’re realising we have options and are someone they should court, rather than just ignoring us, which is kind of nice.

Overall Thoughts

So, what did we come out of this session with? A lot, actually. When I sat down to pull together our action plan, I realised we had a huge list of things that we needed to do. I’ll cover them quickly and some overall thoughts / impressions about the state of the industry below:

– Promotional crunch. We’ve talked about this, with Facebook being the biggest one. Currently, a LOT of people are trying the broad targeting options with dynamic ads and letting Facebook’s algorithims choose winners, rather than the old ‘test everything yourself’ method. We’re testing this ourselves.

– Direct sales are becoming more and more important. Subscriptions and E-commerce (Shopify) sales, with direct advertising to their websites for e-commerce sales have done really well for some. We’re testing it out ourselves, though I’m wondering if it’s not something that will work well in LitRPG (too narrow).

– Audiobooks continue to increase in importance. Sales are going up, ACX is taking steps to be more relevant and FindAway / Spotify’s presence is increasingly a concern.

– Lots of talk about using ‘AI’ (hate that term, let’s call it machine learning) for various parts of the business. Everything from fixing up photos to writing blurbs or creating summaries of books. I’m still VERY leery about the use of stuff like this myself, but a lot of people are jumping into it.

– Burnout and the rise of small independent publishers going hand-in-hand it feels like.

– Newsletters are the major focus, along with their use to keep readers and drive them through the promotional funnel. Not just increasing the number of people in your newsletter but also, making better use of them through automation and funnels and, yes, personalisation of your newsletter.

– Utilisation of additional methods to increase your fan base and loyalty. Everything from bonus content, driving customers to your website and your newsletter and the like is the way to go for many.

So that’s about it for my takeaways from the conference and chats. Lots of stuff on the backend that we’re going to be doing, but we’ll see how it all plays out in the end. Major changes in our newsletters and bonus content is what we’ve got going, and some new testing with Facebook ads.


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