This past weekend, April 19-20, I was at the Independent Publishers of New England annual conference; I’d been invited to present on the two main panels in the morning. I presented last year, too, and had a grand time meeting other New England publishing professionals and talking digital books with many of the people there.
As the IPNE mission states, they “provide opportunities for education and networking for those engaged in independent book publishing and related activities in the six New England States. IPNE offers educational programs, networking, marketing opportunities, advocacy, and information about publishing.” And man, do they ever – the annual conference is an unbeatable opportunity to learn, network, and get vendor contacts. Best of all, IPNE is open to anyone with an interest in publishing – authors and illustrators, self-publishers, bloggers and reviewers, small press people, printers and services companies, and more. It makes for a great cross-section of people and some interesting perspectives.
You can check out the full conference program here (PDF), and I’ll give you a brief rundown of the conference and my thoughts on it to boot.
On Friday night, we were missing a lot of folks because of the Boston lockdown. The show must go on, though, so we dove right in. There were some good talks on the state of publishing today, and the health of the industry. General consensus among both presenters and audience was that there are a LOT of challenges facing us – the changing digital marketplace, Amazon’s increasing footprint in the industry, a lack of discoverability – but that there’s also a lot of opportunity for a determined publisher to create and dominate a niche.
Saturday was Sessions Day, with two panels for everyone in the morning and breakout sessions in the afternoon. There were many more people present – some came and went throughout the day, but I want to say we had about 40-50 people there at lunch, maybe more. This was also the big day for exhibitors; there were several print companies (and my GOD, I was ogling the hell out of the Cambric Weave Laminate at McNaughton & Gunn) as well as a cataloguing company (represented by someone who knows Editrix Sarah’s mom, a librarian…small world!), some digital conversion folks, and a few distributors. Good mix for a small-press-focused organization.
Oh, and there was a Conference Bookshop for showing off all our titles!
Panel 1 on Saturday was the marketing session. Between the talks by Steve Fischer of the New England Independent Booksellers Association (on working with your local independent bookstore) and Brian Jud of the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association (on selling into non-bookstore channels), plus my talk on using social media to reach readers directly, I think we covered a lot of bases. I know I got a lot out of my copresenters’ talks, and hopefully mine went over well, too!
Panel 2 was on the “digital landscape.” John Rodzvilla, the digital publisher in residence at Emerson College, gave a breakdown of the Three A’s (Apple, Amazon, Adobe) and an overview of what, exactly, eBooks are and how we can distribute them. My talk was on creating and implementing a digital strategy, with a few sample workflows and a concentration on useful tools for the beginner. Jenny Hudson of Merrimack Media spoke on “how to be a click magnet,” giving suggestions for how to leverage social media for sales. Again, this was a really informative session, and I hope we gave people a lot to think about when creating digital strategies for their publishing ventures! A lot of IPNE folks are just getting their feet wet with digital – but many are eBook professionals or otherwise tech-savvy. It’s an interesting mix, and one that can be hard to address appropriately. After all, you don’t want to bore the folks who have been there and done that, but you also don’t want to go completely over the heads of the beginners in the audience. Fortunately, I think we all hit the blend well.
The keynote speaker on Saturday was Archer Mayor, the highly talented, highly persnickety writer of the Joe Gunther series of Vermont-based mysteries. Mayor took back the rights to a number of his novels a few years ago, and began self-publishing them in print and digital. Today, he maintains a hybrid publishing program of his work – self-publishing and Big Six releases – and advocates for authors to be smart and to value their own work above everything. His big takeaway? Examine every angle of a deal and determine what’s in your best interests. If you can do it better yourself, you should. But if it makes more sense to have someone else help you so you have more time to write? Do that. There’s no right answer – there’s just what’s right for you and your current project. Wise words indeed!
One of the best quotes – of MANY – from Mayor was this, on vanity/subsidy presses:
Vanity press to author: “So, what are you putting on the table here? What do you have to offer us?”
Author: “I put the goddamn manuscript on the table!”
For the first afternoon session, I attended the Advanced Digital Workshop with Bruce Kulik of Media Entities, a firm specializing in XML development. They’ve just released the Rock Me Reader, which seems to have some really interesting rich content and multimedia capabilities for iPad. Bruce seems to think that the future of digital publishing is in apps and enhanced eBooks, and in multipurpose tablets as opposed to dedicated eReaders. I can see this being true for textbooks and nonfiction of many stripes, but I don’t think it’s as much the case for fiction. Some fiction will move to being more of a multimedia/enhanced experience, yes, but that’s going to become its own thing – not so much as novel as an experience, and a medium of its own, something between a game and a novel. Novels, I think, are largely going to stay as they have for centuries now, as a narrative form, and the best way to enjoy that will be in print or dedicated eReader where you don’t have email and notifications and the internet popping up to distract you. I’m guessing that a lot of dedicated readers will continue to use, you guessed it, dedicated readers, not tablets. Time will tell.
My next breakout session was Money Matters with Robin Haywood of Sellers Publishing. Sellers does a lot of crafting and lifestyle publications (I own some of their 500 Blah recipe books), as well as calendars and the like. Robin spoke on P&Ls when acquiring a title, working with copackagers, and a lot of things that were perhaps more suited to nonfiction, but that make basic business sense for publishers in general. I was a little bewildered by how many people in the room seemed not to know what a P&L was (FYI, it’s a “profit and loss” statement, a projection of how much a book costs to produce and when it might recoup those costs based on different factors). There seems to be a lot of focus on the passion that goes into publishing, and much less on the business matters behind it all – which, yeah, the nitty-gritty of accounting and management sucks, but it’s how you build and maintain a strong business, which is how you support putting out great books.
All in all, it was a great weekend, with a lot of really intelligent, passionate people. I was able to get a basic sense of what people are interested in and concerned about in New England publishing today:
- They’re confused by social media, and kind of skeptical of it – but after my talk, I got the sense that some felt more encouraged to try it
- They’re worried about eBooks, and confused about DRM, distribution, and formats…but they’re also willing to try to implement a digital strategy, since that’s where a lot of sales are headed, especially in fiction
- They’re passionate about all of this – everyone is nervous and wary right now, but they’re also energized by all the possibilities
- There’s a lot of change coming, and not everyone is sure how to navigate it, but we’ve got a lot of resources to hand in this region, and a lot of small publishers are carving out niches in local fiction, local history, and local interest that make them more likely to succeed than the Big Six in those areas. Niche is where it’s at.
If you want to check out more of the conference, you can watch videos of many of the keynotes and main panels courtesy of Charlotte Pierce, the Daytripper Diva and founder of Pierce Press. Forgive my baggy eyes and crazy hair; it was early!
If you’d like to get copies of my presentations, they’re available at Kallitechnes Media Design in PDF form.
So what do you think? What excites you about the future of independent publishing? What scares you? Where are we going from here?
Did I miss anything? Grill me in the comments!