On April 6–7 I joined 300 independent publishers and authors in Austin, Texas, to go “back to school” and advance our education at the Publishing University 2018. The annual conference, organized by the Independent Book Publishing Association, featured a mix of keynote speeches, panel discussions, and in-depth seminars run by industry experts, on topics ranging from author branding, distribution, and sales to editorial development. All the major publishing models were well represented at the event, with traditional publishers, self-publishing authors, and hybrid publishers in attendance.
NYU psychology professor Daniel Lerner gave the opening keynote on Friday, April 6, priming us for a stimulating and inspiring weekend with insights from his book, U Thrive: How to Succeed in College (and Life). In his speech, Daniel made an interesting distinction between two types of passion to explain how people can lead a passionately successful life. Harmonious passion fuels our success and brings joy and fulfilment, he said, while obsessive passion can throw our lives out of balance and consume us.
I had the honour of presenting two sessions at the Publishing University. On Friday, I gave a seminar on book concept development called “How to Develop a Nonfiction Book that Readers will Buy, Read, and Recommend.” In it, I shared some of the techniques that LifeTree uses to bring out the uniqueness in each and every book we publish. I talked about the importance of knowing your target reader inside-out—not only who they are, but also what they care about. By deeply understanding your reader’s needs and priorities, you can reverse-engineer your book to be the solution they are searching for. But how do you know who your ideal target reader is? I explained how we drill down into the author’s own goals and priorities to identify who that target reader ought to be. (If you’re interested in learning more, click here to download my slides.)
On Saturday, I sat on a panel discussion on hybrid publishing, along with Brooke Warner of She Writes Press and Gail Woodard of Dudley Court Press. During the panel, “Hybrid Publishing Comes of Age,” we talked about the newly released Hybrid Publisher Criteria (drafted by the IBPA Advocacy Committee, of which Brooke and I are members), and explained the various ways in which the three of us have built our businesses on the hybrid model. One of the things I appreciate most about the IBPA under CEO Angela Bole’s leadership is its willingness to embrace hybrid publishing as an emerging business trend in our industry. Equally importantly, the organization is dedicated to helping new hybrid publishers to hold themselves and their books to a high standard. It’s a mission I believe in deeply.
The conference wasn’t all work and no play. In the midst of the bustling weekend, the independent publishing community took some time to celebrate the excellent work of their peers with the handing out of the Benjamin Franklin Awards. All of us at LifeTree are immensely proud to have two of our titles chosen as silver winners: Growing Strong Girls by Lindsay Sealey for Interior Design: 1-2 Color and The Sacred Path of the Soulmate by Gerald Sze for Body, Mind & Spirit. The IBPA’s strong focus on excellence and their sustained commitment to helping publishers publish better books makes this distinction especially meaningful to us.
All in all, the conference (now in its 30th year) was a great opportunity for the independent publishing community to come together and learn from one another. Not only that, it gave LifeTree Editorial Director Sarah Brohman and me a chance to meet in person for the very first time! (We operate a completely virtual office, with team members in four cities. Sarah joined our team from Hamilton, Ontario in January.) The conference was so action-packed we barely left the hotel, but on the final night, Sarah and I did manage to escape to downtown Austin for some good old Texas barbecue.
Next year’s Publishing University will be at a yet-to-be-announced city on the east coast, and tickets are already on sale. If you’re an independent publisher or a self-publishing author, I urge you to join us. We go every year, and we always come away with valuable information and new contacts. Hope to see you there!
If you missed this year’s Publishing University, you can check out audio recordings and slides from many of the sessions on the IBPA website. Click here to hear my seminar on how to craft a strong book concept.
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