SEATTLE -- Catherine Zobal Dent faces a question now familiar to many writers: How do I market my book to attract readers?
Ms. Zobal Dent joined more than 10,000 writers, readers and publishers here last week at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs 2014 Conference -- the largest gathering in literary publishing. More than 500 readings, panel discussions and book signings took place over four days, Wednesday through Saturday, while the conference book fair featured more than 650 exhibitors.
The introduction of e-readers coupled with dwindling publishing budgets have created a familiar doomsday narrative on the future of literature. But the emerging data says something else: Print isn't dead and electronic publishing isn't a fad. Today's readers consume content across many platforms-- e-readers, tablets, phones -- and yes, even in print.
"There's not one way to distribute books, and most publishers are using multiple methods," Jeffrey Lependorf told a roomful of writers in a discussion on alternative forms of book distribution. Mr. Lependorf is the executive director of both the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses and Small Press Distribution.
While readers may have more choices, fewer writers have the marketing budgets needed to reach millions of readers. Ms. Zobal Dent's forthcoming book, "Unfinished Stories of Girl," faces this challenge. The short story collection, which also features artwork by Ann Piper, will be published in May from Fomite Press. The Press sells books on its website and uses Create Space to sell books on Amazon.
Finding readers, however, falls to the author.
"Under the circumstances, I know that the marketing is part of my responsibility as a writer," said Ms. Zobal Dent, who is an assistant professor at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, about 50 miles north of Harrisburg. "I hope I'll do a decent job [of marketing the book], and then I'll be able to let go and move on to my next writing project."
While libraries remain much-loved resources, patrons often have to wait for a book, especially popular ones.
Subscription services such as Oyster and Scribd offer unlimited access to books for a monthly fee, but they still lack the catalog of some of the major publishing houses. And Amazon can become a costly habit for avid readers.
Publishers are working to meet the divide.
One company, BitLit, lets users bundle their books, giving readers access to their libraries across platforms. Users prove they own a book by taking its photo using BitLit's app. The digital version is then available at a discount or, in some cases, for free.
The digitization of books has led many in the opposite direction. The association's book fair included dozens of zine and letterpress publishers.
Matvei Yankelevich, co-founder of Ugly Duckling Presse in Brooklyn, also spoke about book distribution. Ugly Duckling Presse uses a subscription model that sends its readers all or most of the titles produced by the press, depending on the type desired. Each print run is small -- usually 200 copies -- and all books are handmade.
The possibilities can feel overwhelming for writers.
San Francisco Bay Area writer Joyce Kleiner is publishing her first book with Arcadia Publishing, a small press that publishes local history books. "I have no experience with the public side of being a writer," she said.
Instead, she has a tool shared with many writers: community.
Ms. Kleiner's book, "Legendary Locals of Mill Valley," tells the stories of a community through photographs and connected narratives. "The act of interviewing so many people for the book created a certain level of buzz about it. Many people in Mill Valley already know the book is coming out."
Conference panelist Rachel Fershleiser, the head of publishing outreach at Tumblr, agrees: "I don't have or want a megaphone; I have a community."
She, along with other conference panelists, noted that while the Internet has changed how publishers reach readers, the techniques often remain the same. Word of mouth is alive and well on sites such as Good Reads and via Twitter.