IBPA's Publishing University 2015, held April 10-11 in Austin, attracted 280 independent publishers and self-published authors, a number that put the event at capacity. The event drew established indie houses looking to keep up with industry trends and newcomers hoping to learn the most effective ways to start a company or to self-publish their own book.

The finalists for the Benjamin Franklin Awards, IBPA's annual prizes awarded to the best books in 55 categories, reflected the diversity of the association's approximately 3,000 members as established indies like Berrett-Koehler and Insight Editions competed with newer companies with names like Blue Dream Books. The awards ceremony was reunited with the university for the first time in three years following the decision by the IBPA to separate the convention from BookExpo America while continuing to conduct the Franklins during BEA.

The sessions focused on actionable advice publishers can use in their own businesses. The first general session was conducted by Codex Group founder Peter Hildick-Smith who presented numerous charts outlining just how challenging it is for publishers to get a book discovered in today’s market. He pointed the audience to the three pillars publishers need to manage if they are to publish successfully--discoverability, conversion, and availability. While there has been lots of discussion about discoverability, Hildick-Smith noted that some publishers don’t pay enough attention to conversion--how to get people to buy the book once they have found it. Publishers shouldn’t be afraid to deliver “a bold message” in either a book’s cover design or marketing materials to get consumers to buy a book, he said.

One well received panel talked about how publishers can best take advantage of a hit book. Christopher Robbins, founder of Familius and a former executive with Gibbs Smith, said, when he first arrived at his former company he set a goal to publish at least 5 books that would sell a minimum of 100 000 copies. To prepare for that development, Robbins crreated a checklist of five things that he believed the house needed to be prepared for to maximize sales: know how much to print; how to distribute; how to maximize marketing and publicity; how to finance it; and how to leverage the opportunity.

Not too long after he joined the company, Gibbs Smith did publish a book that would become a 100,000 copy seller 101 Things to do with Cake Mix. Robbins said Gibbs Smith stuck closely to the guiidelines he laid out, in particular, “feeding the publicity beast” and expanding its distribution to a wider circle of accounts. The company also followed up the hit by developing a 101 series that generated other 100,000 copy sellers.

Lee Klancher, founder of Octane Press, said he had hit with his book, Red Tractors, in part by focusing on sales through speciality accounts and by selling through his own website, noting that he sold more copies of the title through his site than on Amazon. He added that he has not done an e- book edition of the $75 book yet, explaining that he did not want a $20 digital edition competing with the print edition.

Karla Olson, head of publishing for Patagonia Books explained how the company was able to a grow sales of a book, Training for the New Aplinism that the company initially felt would have only a niche market. When pre-orders hit 7,500, Patagonia “didn’t panic,” Olson said, and managed its inventory to meet the needs of accounts without blowing up its printing schedule. About a year after publication, the book has 25,000 copies in print with a companion title coming.