A recent analysis by Bowker, whose Identifier Services is the official U.S. ISBN agency, found that the number of ISBNs associated with self-published books climbed 437% between 2008 and 2013. For the organizers of the Self-Publishing Book Expo (SBPE), which held its first gathering in 2009, that growth indicates how quickly the segment that the expo is serving has grown and changed—and how important it is for this self-publishing conference to stay a step ahead in a fast-changing market.
As it enters its sixth year, the expo is hitting its stride. Diane Mancher, cofounder of SPBE and president of One Potata Productions, an author marketing firm, says that “the show’s kinks have been worked out,” while deepening the more in-demand aspects of the program and cutting back on those today’s self-publishers have lost interest in. She adds that overall, this year’s SPBE will offer plenty for writers dipping their toe into the self-publishing pool for the first time, as well as those who have been putting out and marketing their own work for years.
This year’s show, held Saturday, November 15, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, features an expansive program of education panels, events, and exhibitors.
A More Fluid Show
Fitting for an industry where its members wear many hats—author, publisher, marketer, editor—this year’s SPBE is much more fluid in its organization and the roles played by participants. While in past years self-published authors generally stayed in the audience, listening to publishers, representatives of self-publishing services, and others experts speak in the panels, this year several authors will be on stage themselves. “From feedback we’ve gotten in previous years, we realized that authors appreciate hearing from the pros, but also like hearing from other authors about what worked and what didn’t,” says Mancher.
Among the authors joining in the panels is Laura Shabott, author of Confessions of an eBook Virgin: What Everyone Should Know Before They Publish on the Internet. Taking part in the “Formatting” panel, she will be joined by representatives from Lulu and King Printing Company to discuss the respective advantages of e-books, as well as hardcover, paperback, and audiobook formats.
“Having [Shabott] on the panel is a perfect fit,” says Mancher. “She’s an author who has done this herself, talking about how her first book was a disaster, what she learned from that experience, and lessons others can take from that.”
Dan Dillon, director of product marketing for Lulu (which will be represented by author community manager Glenn Hunt on the panel), says that the variety of formatting solutions now available—via Lulu and other services—is a major attraction for self-publishers today. “The authors who see the greatest success will always publish multiple formats of their book to ensure readers have the power to choose how to consume the content,” he says.
Another author who will be joining in the education is Lindsey Smith, nutrition coach and author of Junk Foods & Junk Moods. She has found success in branding herself as the “Food Mood Girl,” speaking on nutrition topics for a number of publications and television programs. Smith will discuss her experiences and offer advice at the “Advanced Publicity” panel.
In adding authors to the panels, Mancher’s focus has been not on who has the biggest name or book sales but who will be able to offer a clear guide for attendees attempting to get their arms around the self-publishing process.
Authors are also being encouraged to elevate their status from “attendee” to “author-exhibitor,” getting space on the exhibitor floor to promote their books and discuss them with others at the conference. Prices for author-exhibitors have been decreased this year in an effort to increase these types of exchanges. (The price for a basic attendee ticket has also been lowered, to just $100.)
The layout of the SPBE is also more integrated than past expos. The luxurious and historic Roosevelt Hotel has a centralized design, allowing the exhibit area, breakout rooms, and larger meeting spaces to all be on the same level. The conference’s first four years were at the Sheraton New York Times Square. While that was “a great venue,” according to Mancher, some of the meeting rooms had to be on different floors, which could feel disconnected. Now the layout allows for easier flow between the expo’s numerous elements.
Another major change to the program this year is for a few sessions to be divided into separate panels, one for basic and the other for more advanced discussion of topics in self-publishing. The marketing session is now “Marketing 101” and “Advanced Marketing.” The former emphasizes the nuts and bolts of promoting a book, such as raising funds, using the web and social media, and printing bookmarks and business cards. Representatives from Bowker, Author Connections, crowdfunding platform Pubslush, and Bookhive (which conducts focus groups on finding target audiences for finished manuscripts) will be speaking on this panel. Laura Dawson, product manager for identifiers at Bowker, who will be taking part in the “Marketing 101” panel, expects that these expanded education offerings at SPBE are essential to an increasingly sophisticated market. “I think it’s gotten savvier,” she says of the self-publishing industry. “As a community, it evolves quickly, and with great energy. As the barriers to entry for publishing continue to drop, we’re only going to see more of it, and we’d like to be able to serve in whatever capacity they need.”
“Advanced Marketing” focuses on higher-level efforts, such as online advertising, bookstore promotions, book trailers, and other advertising strategies, and will include speakers from Riffle, AuthorBuzz, Red 14 Films, and Lulu. “Advanced marketing is of particular importance to Self-Publishing Book Expo’s attendees,” says Lulu’s Dillon, who will be speaking on the panel, pointing to research that finds 61% of authors spend less than five hours per week marketing their books. “While you can be successful with this amount of time, it is essential that you are putting the time to the best use and marketing effectively to ensure success.”
The expo will take a similar bifurcated approach to publicity education. “Publicity 101” aims to give first-time authors an overview of pitching story ideas to publications, writing and sending out press releases, the value of trade reviews in helping raise awareness, and the importance of social media. “Advanced Publicity” provides more experienced authors with strategies on how to get more from their publicity efforts, with the founders of Smith Publicity and Blue Ink Review, as well as Lindsey Smith offering higher-level insights into publicity. “A lot of authors who have done some amount of publicity don’t necessarily need to sit in a room and talk about how to write a press release,” says Mancher. “They want to talk about how to move to the next level.”
Mancher says that as this is the first year the expo has broken up these sessions into two, it remains something of an experiment and “whether the sessions go over will depend on how the audience breaks up” between the two. But she expects the changes to the program to be well received, since they are based on responses from attendees and exhibitors at last year’s event.
Among the other panels at the SPBE are “Distribution 101,” where authors will learn how to ensure their books are widely available in e-book form, as well as how to break into the retail and library markets. “Team Building” will help attendees to understand the importance of seeing their book as a group project requiring the collaboration of several players, including editorial, design, and publicity professionals.
Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords, will be delivering the event’s keynote, spotlighting 10 trends and events shaping the future of publishing. “Some of the topics I’ll cover include the rise of e-books (and where do things go from here), why the stigma of self-publishing is disappearing while the stigma of traditional publishing increases, and the coming e-book glut and what this means for authors,” says Coker. “I’ll close by sharing about a dozen tips that will help authors navigate the exciting changes to come.”
Among the new offerings at the expo is “Ask the Experts,” expected to be a free-for-all at the end of the day in which attendees submit questions that have occurred to them after attending the sessions throughout the day. A number of the event’s sponsors, exhibitors, and speakers will take the stage to provide answers and bounce advice off one another. “We’re doing it with a freewheeling, kind of round-robin approach,” says Mancher. “What I hear from attendees is ‘I didn’t spend enough time talking to the Lulu person’ or ‘the Bowker person,’ so this is meant to give them a chance to ask questions informed by info they have gathered during the day or particular follow-up questions.”
Returning attendees will find a number of new booths in the exhibitor area. Reflecting self-published authors’ growing awareness of the importance of their books’ appearance and design, SelfPubBookCovers.com will be taking part in the show. Additionally, BeauteBook, a book-cover design firm from Spain, will be taking part in an effort to tap into the growing U.S. self-publishing market. “We went back and forth on whether [BeauteBook] would attend,” says Mancher. “At first, they said, ‘That’s a long way for us,’ and asked to just send info, but after they gave it some thought they called and said, ‘we think it will be worth our while to be there in person.’”
Beth Kallman Werner, founder of Author Connections, a 2014 SPBE partner that has exhibited in previous years, emphasizes that the show’s attendees understand that quality books generally require outside help. “Rather than try to wear every hat in the publishing supply chain alone, the authors I’ve spoken with at SPBE over the last five years have been actively seeking professional direction and support,” she says. “The program caters to writers who want to get it right, giving practical information they can use immediately after the conference.” The biggest change taking place in the industry, Werner adds, is the fast-evolving technology and growing number of options available to writers at every stage of the editing, publishing, and marketing process.
“With new partners and vendors entering the marketplace almost daily, the SPBE conference helps to filter information and necessary steps, so authors walk away with a clear sense of what they need to do, how they can get it done within their budget, and who they can turn to for help,” she says. “The authors who pay attention to details and quality are the self-published authors who are turning the tide and commanding respect for their work.” In addition to serving as an exhibitor and sponsor, Werner will be speaking at the “Marketing 101” panel.
Of course, in addition to the newcomers, the industry’s major players will again have booths this year. These include gold sponsor Lulu, silver sponsor Bowker, and additional 2014 partners, Author Connections, BiblioCrunch, and Smashwords.
In addition to information and advice, attendees can also look forward to receiving special promotions and discounts by speaking with exhibitors. For example, Author Connections will be offering a 10% discount off a Custom Book Marketing Plan, or 10 pages off an A2Z Edit for SPBE attendees (on projects booked between November 15 and December 10). Lulu will have coupons for 20% off all print books (whether theirs or others’) in an effort to encourage attendees to publish and for them to encourage other self-publishers.
“Self-publishing has hit the mainstream, and it is a growing force to be reckoned with. Even the big five publishing houses are paying attention and trying to compete,” says Lulu’s Dillon, pointing to HarperCollins’s recent announcement that authors who choose to sell direct will receive a 10% increase in royalties. “As these authors realize they do not need to be beholden to any single publisher or distribution route, this expo can help them learn the specifics of the available options and provide them with the ability to publish and sell more books, faster.”
The exhibitor interaction also gives self-published authors an opportunity to do what they often do not have the opportunity to do: meet the folks who are helping get their book on the market. While a writer working with a traditional publisher is likely to meet the editor, marketers, and publicity team involved with her book, whether in face-to-face meetings or phone conversations, the same is not the case for a self-publisher. “If you do your book through Lulu, you don’t really meet anyone from Lulu during the publishing process,” says Mancher. “The show gives [authors] the opportunity to meet those people and talk about their experience or ask them questions.”
Bowker’s Laura Dawson agrees. “As we do sell a lot of services to self-published authors, in addition to ISBNs and bar codes, it’s good to meet the attendees, hear their needs, answer their questions, and educate those who want to know more,” says Dawson. “It’s one of the few shows that’s solely focused on self-publishing, so to have so many independent authors in one place is wonderful.”
This is doubly true for author-exhibitors. Mancher says the benefits for author-exhibitors are less about selling books and more about making valuable connections for building their author profile and meeting fellow writers: “They can put their work out on the table and talk to everyone who is in the room, taking part in the networking and meeting with fellow exhibitors and authors.”
This year’s Self-Publishing Book Expo features many new exhibitors and vendors offering services, advice, and assistance to self-publishers. The list below includes confirmed exhibitors at the time of this writing.
Dick Margulis Creative Services
Alex Palmer is a freelance journalist and the author of Weird-o-Pedia.