The IBPA held its 26th Publishing University March 21-22 in San Francisco with about 30 sessions created to appeal to the association's traditional independent publishers as well as the increasing numbers of members from the hybrid and self-publishing ranks. The growing influence of self-publishers on the IBPA and in the industry in general was reflected in a Saturday morning panel organized by the Copyright Clearance Center's Chris Kenneally that tackled the question, Taking Sides--Self-Published Authors: Amateurs or Professionals?
Dana Beth Weinberg, professor of sociology at Queens College, led off the discussion by reprising some of the highlights of the Writers Digest/DBW survey on self-published authors. Among the highlights she mentioned were that most self-published author made little, if any money, and that most books sell only a a few copies. Weinberg called the findings a "dose of reality" and emphasized that even if a self-published author did everything right his or her book has no guarantee of success given the "flood" of books that have hit the market in the last few years. Weinberg emphasized that she wasn't trying to discourage people from entering publishing either as a self-publisher or by establishing a press, but only looking to point out the challenges ahead. She noted that consumer spending on all books is a "limited pie" and that not every author or publisher can be a winner. Finding success, she explained, can depend as much on luck and good timing as a book's quality. Still, Weinberg said the spread of self-publishing has opened a "new frontier" in publishing that allows authors who had been turned down by traditional houses a way to tell their stories. She said that both traditional and self-published share some common things--most aren't satisfied with their publishing experience and that the "biggest mountain to climb" for authors in both camps is discoverability.
The three other members of the panel--Brooke Warner of She Writes Press, Kobo Writing Life's Christine Munroe, and agent Ted Weinstein--also took that tack of pointing out the challenges that getting involved with publishing brings while being careful not to discourage anyone who has a passion for books to give the business a try. Munroe, as did several other panelists, pointed out that it is unrealistic for self-published authors to try to publish a book by themselves. Authors should seek out professionals for a host of needs, including editing, marketing and publicity, Munroe advised. She added that Kobo has seen an increase in the number of professionally published books from self-publishers, noting that it appears that many authors are focusing on delivering finished books rather than experimenting with their writing as they go along. Another trend Munroe highlighted was that more authors and publishers are raising the prices for their e-books from $1.99 and under to $5.99 and 6.99 and finding success.
As part of her remarks, Warner said many of the authors that she signs for She Writes Press are more interested in getting their stories told well than in making money. Authors who use She Writes pay for various She Writes services. In working with new authors, Warner said many "don't know, what the don't know."
For authors hoping that going the self-published route will lead to a deal with a traditional house, Weinstein had some sobering information-- most publishers or agents will only consider taking on authors who have sold 5,000 to 10,000 copies.
Part of the discussion dealt with the claims of author Hugh Howey about how well some self-published authors are doing countered by other stories of authors who have been ripped off by publishing services. A woman who asked the last question of the session made perhaps the best point of all: putting the extremes aside, how can an independent publisher create a sustainable business. In the brief time that was left, panelists advised her to publish titles that she believes in and to get her volume up as fast as is practically possible.
Libraries as Publishers
While most of the IBPA programming featured notes-and-bolts sessions on such things as what to look for in a distributor or what is new in contracts, a session with several well-known names in the library world tackled a more theoretical subject-the beginning of the "library as publisher" movement and what opportunities that could provide independent publishers. The argument, as put forth by Peter Brantley of hypothes.is and Natalie Rich of Cal Tech, is that libraries, especially academic libraries, have a wealth of research and content that could be made commercially viable through a partnership between libraries and publishers."Academic libraries have a rich vein of stories that could be tapped into and taken to a broader audience," said Brantley. He acknowledged, however, that even within the recently launched retain Library Publishing Coalition of about 50 libraries interested in such ventures, much needs to be done. For starters, a mechanism needs to be created that will alert publishers to the types of content libraries have on hand. Two of the publishers at the lightly-attended panel were intrigued by the idea, but felt a lot needs to be worked out before any joint ventures between publishers and libraries become a reality.
The Publishing University was the first one since Angela Bole took over as executive director. In brief remarks during the member lunch, she said the overall goal of the association is to continue to provide its members with information and education they need to compete in a publishing market that is changing rapidly but one that is also filled with opportunity.