Independent Publishers Gather for IBPA’s Publishing University: Guest Post by Alia Neaton

On April 27-28th, independent publishers, writers, and students gathered at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago for the Independent Book Publishers Association’s Publishing University 2013. Luckily for us, MAWP student Alia Neaton was in attendance all weekend, and has graciously taken the time to write up what she saw and what she learned about independent book publishing for today’s guest post. Alia says she found the conference “informative, inspiring, and helpful,” and would recommend it to anyone interested in attending next year. Thanks, Alia! 

“There are two kinds of authors,” Guy Kawasaki’s eyes leveled the crowd, “The kind who want a big advance and liars.”

Laughter filled the Monroe Room of Chicago’s Palmer hotel as the keynote speaker continued his lecture on self-publishing and his experience in the industry. Kawasaki, the former Apple evangelist and author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish a Book, opened the Independent Book Publishers Association’s Publishing University 2013 on Friday, April 27th. With the theme of “Discoverability: How to Reach Your Readers and Sell More Books,” the not-for-profit trade association developed a two-day conference filled with leaders in the independent publishing industry, covering topics ranging from “Secrets of Successful Amazon Selling” to “Strategies for a Winning Social Media Campaign.”

Attendees bustled from session to session, learning tips from the experts and exploring the vendor tables in the Adams Room, where printers, designers, and publishers displayed their services.

Saturday’s Keynote Luncheon featured Dominique Raccah, the founder of the largest woman-owned trader publishing company, Sourcebooks. She described her humble beginnings in 1987 with one book, which, in her words, “sucked!”

In 2012, Sourcebooks sales had bloomed into nearly 8 million books sold. Raccah’s lecture distilled her experience growing the company into the success it is today. She spoke about how publishers needed to consider the experience of their readers, “Discoverability is easier if people want to talk about your book.”

According to Raccah’s formula, there are four “Fundamentals of Making a Book Publisher”:

  1. Create a really strong book
  2. Communicate
  3. Distribute
  4. Rinse and Repeat

While it sounds simple, the groundbreaking work stems from the creative aspect. With the number-one problem in publishing being the disproportionately high failure rate of books, Raccah encouraged the audience to devote attention to the book itself, listing four components to creating a stronger book:

  1. Positioning
  2. Title
  3. Content & Internal Design
  4. Cover & Packaging.

The importance of the book’s cover, title and design had also been emphasized by Guy Kawasaki the day before. In a metaphor pitting publishing against the dating industry, Kawasaki described the consideration with which readers buy e-books as less like eHarmony and more like HotOrNot.com. Readers judge books by their cover.

Raccah’s lecture proved this phenomenon when she provided examples of books that had sold only 5,000 copies until a makeover of the cover and title boosted that number to 85,000. The recurring suggestion of multiple panelists was to always involve professionals and experts in the design, copy editing, and cover art of the book. From self-publishing on Wattpad or Smashwords to distributing through BookBaby or Vook, books can increase their possibility for exposure and reception by tapping into such experts.

“Quit narrowing your possibilities, “Raccah urged, “Create books that inspire you.” Her lecture closed with the insistence that she wanted her presentation to be from heart, “It’s about, in the end, touching people.”

For more information about the Independent Book Publishers Association, visit ibpa-online.org

For a copy of the full 2013 program, visit ibpapublishinguniversity.com/sessions-2013.

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