The self-publishing industry has enjoyed explosive growth over the past few years. Bowker’s annual self-publishing statistics found that the number of self-published titles released in 2012 jumped more than 422% over the previous five years, bringing an ever-more diverse base of authors into the self-publishing industry.
This rapid growth has also meant a broader definition of what it means to be an indie author, with increasing diversity in self-publishing approaches, styles, and experience levels. This changing makeup of the self-publishing industry has led the organizers of uPublishU—the self-publishing arm of BookExpo America—to expand their offerings at this year’s conference, rolling out programming that will appeal to authors at all different spots along the publishing path.
Taking place at the Javits Center in New York City on Saturday, May 31, uPublishU’s program draws on extensive surveys taken from attendees at last year’s conference.
“We really dig deep into the surveys and are so glad people fill them out, since it helps enhance the program each year,” says Sally Dedecker, conference director of uPublishU. She directly credits these surveys with the creation of sessions like “Creative Content Opportunities,” which puts a special focus on spoken-word audio publishing as an extension of book promotions.
In many ways, the conference is a continuation of last year’s, which emphasized the identity of the author as “basically running your own business,” as Dedecker puts it. “You are out there buying services, you are engaging and hiring people to assist in developing your ‘product’—or book—and you are making marketing, pricing, and promotion decisions.”
While the self-publisher is, of course, still an author, that is now just one role of many, according to Dedecker. That interpretation of self-publishing is spotlighted right at the start of uPublishU’s program, with an opening session titled “Congratulations, Author: You’re Promoted to CEO.” Featuring Amazon’s director of author and publishing relations Jon Fine, Logical Marketing Agency cofounder Peter McCarthy, and Nelson Literary Agency’s Kristin Nelson, the discussion will center on how much authors’ responsibilities have expanded in recent years—no longer are authors simply toiling away on a manuscript; there is now more management of a substantial organization.
“Once upon a time, authors outsourced much of the work beyond pure authorship to their agents and their publishers—everything from copy editing and publicity to sales of foreign and other subsidiary rights,” says Chris Kenneally, director of business development and author relations for the Copyright Clearance Center, who is moderating the panel. “[Today] they have to do much more of the work in the publishing kitchen.”
The keynote luncheon, titled “Brand YOU: Creating a Rock Star Personal Brand for You and Your Books,” extends this theme as Brand New, Brand You president Cindy Ratzlaff focuses on high-level marketing strategies for self-published authors.
But while the overall theme may be entrepreneurship and how to approach publishing as a start-up organization instead of just a book that needs to be written and sent off, uPublishU also aims to appeal to authors with varying levels of experience. This year, the program is offering three specific tracks.
“There may be folks coming into the building who have their manuscript ready and are about to publish, but need guidance for their first book,” says Dedecker. “In some cases, the authors may have books five or eight that they are working on. They may have been working on e-books but want to branch out into print. We have a track for whatever level the author is working at.”
The first tier, “Bringing Your First Book to Market,” includes topics such as deciding whether self- or traditional publishing would be a better fit, how to build an author platform, and ways to improve discoverability as a relatively unknown author.
Matt Sutherland, managing editor at ForeWord Reviews, is joining this latter panel and says he will be urging writers and publishers to “knuckle down on the things they can control—producing timely, necessary, superbly written, designed, and packaged books—and then do everything possible to get their books in the hands of credible influencers, be they reviewers, all manner of the digital and print media, and general readers.”
For the “Publishing at the Next Level” track, the conference provides several sessions that do a deep dive into some specific element of the marketing or publishing process. For example, this year attendees can listen in on a panel dedicated specifically to marketing a series. It will address questions on how authors can build a franchise across titles, maintaining consistent branding while marketing multiple books simultaneously (panel members include the bestselling series authors H.M. Ward, Barbara Freethy, and Bella Andre).
Another session for more advanced indie publishers examines tactics for marketing to libraries. The panel of librarians and library suppliers will discuss how purchase decisions are made at lending libraries and consortiums, and how self-published authors can break into this market.
“[The session] will offer self-publishers specific examples of options available for marketing to libraries, including submitting books to library e-book platforms and a new service that packages self-published titles into collections by genre for libraries to purchase,” says Patricia Payton, senior manager of publisher relations and content development for Bowker, and the panel’s moderator. “It will also cover library events, and self-publishing programs so that attendees might learn how they can interact with local and regional libraries to build awareness for their book.”
Payton adds that she hopes attendees leave this session with a list of action items to tackle immediately so they can bring their content to a wider audience. Bowker has been involved with the conference for several years, both as event sponsor and presenter, and in that time, Payton says she has seen the self-publishing industry expand and attract increasingly diverse voices.
Other “Next Level” sessions include a panel on strategies for merchandising iBooks, and one on maximizing sales with multiple formats—extending an e-book into a print version and vice versa.
The final tier of the program is “Tools & Marketing Mania,” which delves into what Dedecker calls the “nuts and bolts” of self-publishing. These sessions include a discussion focused specifically on getting the most from metadata—which Dedecker jokes may be “as dull and boring as you can get, but it’s critical for authors”—as well as “Social Media 201.” In this session, Scratch Magazine publisher Jane Friedman leads a panel of publishers and editors in a discussion of how authors can make the most of their social media platform, going beyond basic Twitter and Facebook profiles.
“Authors often confuse long-term social media strategy with short-term campaign tactics,” says Friedman, describing one of the points she plans to cover at the conference. “For instance, when you launch a book, you’ll want to build a very special type of campaign that’s limited in duration and focuses on specific outcomes. With long-term strategy, however, you don’t typically measure results except on a very broad level, e.g., over the past year, was I getting more engagement on Facebook or Twitter?”
Friedman adds that she and the panelists will help authors to understand the varying strengths and weaknesses of each social media platform and how to measure and analyze social media activity to ensure effectiveness of promotional campaigns.
Another of the “Tools & Marketing” programs examines how to do more with preorders and book launches. Smashwords CEO Mark Coker, who is running this session, will touch on how authors should coordinate their launch to give them the best shot at landing on the bestseller list (something many authors have done by following Coker’s advice).
“Most indie authors are promoting their new releases to fans months in advance of an upcoming release, yet without a preorder, the author has no way to capture the order in the moment,” says Coker. “A prospective reader might be interested to purchase your book today, but without a preorder, will they remember to search for the book next week or next month or three months from now? In the future, they might not feel the same passion they feel today.”
He adds that another benefit of a strong preorder strategy is that accumulated orders are all credited to the book’s sales rank the day it goes on sale, helping spike its position on bestseller lists and garner better promotion from retailers like Kobo, Apple, and Amazon.
“Preorders give the author an immediate, measurable advantage over all the other authors and publishers that aren’t doing preorders,” says Coker.
Joining the Conversation
For authors ready to take action immediately, the exhibitor area will have almost 30 vendors promoting their services and offerings (and each attendee gets a welcome bag with goodies from a number of these exhibitors). Each table will provide information on how the vendor’s services can make the self-publishing process easier, and many include special promotions and discounts for interested authors.
Among the sponsors this year are ForeWord Reviews, IngramSpark, and Nook Press, as well as exhibitors like Archway Publishing, BiblioCrunch, and Booktrack. Dedecker points out that these trade show offerings were limited only by the size of the space—uPublishU sold all its available booths and sponsorships this year. She also emphasizes that uPublishU has “gotten more global” with international vendors like the London-based Alliance of Independent Authors.
“The technology of today allows for fewer barriers from one country to the next,” says Dedecker.
But while the program and offerings have been designed to ensure every attendee comes away with helpful, actionable information, Dedecker adds that attendees are going to get the most benefit from uPublishU if they approach it as an open conversation in which they are taking part.
“All day—at lunch, in the sessions, just walking the show floor— there are a lot of people around you who are in the same game,” says Dedecker.
She adds that the self-publishing community is remarkably supportive, and attendees will find others eager to share their experiences and offer insight or advice that they have learned. And it is not just fellow attendees who should be approached: exhibitors, speakers, and panelists can all provide valuable information for self-publishers willing to approach them.
“During the day, you are going to pick up some piece of information about someone who is a freelance editor or maybe someone who had a great experience with a cover designer and that will help you with your book,” says Dedecker. “Talk to people. Get their names, and exchange information so you can get your book to where it needs to be.”
Sponsors for uPubU
Adept Content Solutions
ALLiance of Independent Authors
Copyright Clearance Center
Editorial Freelancer Association
Independent Book Publishers Assn
National Novel Writing Month