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April 22, 2013
By Alex Palmer
This year’s uPublishU is a snapshot of how far self-publishing has come and expects it only to grow further.

Authors attending this year’s uPublishU, the self-publishing section of the BookExpo America tradeshow, should not expect to hear much about how to write a book. As new technology and a rising reputation has attracted a growing mix of both new and experienced authors to self-publishing, uPublishU has shifted its programming to speak to self-publishers not as writers but as entrepreneurs.

Held on Saturday, June 1, at the Javits Center in New York City, uPublishU will run a packed schedule of programming from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This includes a wide variety of education panels, an exhibitor area featuring dozens of author services companies and industry experts, as well as a lunchtime keynote from self-publishing entrepreneurial guru Guy Kawasaki.

Overseeing all of it is Sally Dedecker, publishing consultant and education director of BEA, who is responsible for organizing the content as well as selecting the speakers and working with exhibitors for uPublishU. Her priority this year has been to evolve the programming to appeal to the cross-section of authors and aspiring publishers jumping into self-publishing. These include writers working on their first book, veterans of self-publishing out to expand their audience, and authors like Kawasaki who have worked with traditional publishers for years but are now going the self-publishing route.

“It’s not just for newbie kinds of writers. There are many authors who have been traditionally published who are saying, ‘I left everything up to my publisher in the past, how do I do this on my own?’ ” says Dedecker.

The programming this year has been organized so that every hour will have three sessions running simultaneously, each speaking to a different segment of participants, whether green or deeply experienced.

Authors looking to understand the self-publishing landscape can attend “Tools of the Trade,” run by Author Connections’ president Beth Kallman Werner, to learn about author services like, Authoright, and Ganxy. At the same time, more advanced attendees can drop in on “Building Your Author Brand: Seven Initiatives for the Experienced Author,” in which writers will learn how to develop their existing platform.

“This session is designed to help serious authors think of themselves and their work as a brand in order to open doors for book sales, continue to build their name as an author in their genre, and raise their profile as an expert in their field,” says Sandra Poirier-Diaz, president of Smith Publicity, who will be moderating the discussion.

Another more advanced session is what Dedecker is calling “E-books 2.0,” which will look at some of the more high-level options authors have when putting an e-book together, including embedding videos and other interactive elements.

Each event aims to give attendees both general best practices to consider and specific case studies they can use as real-world models. At the session “An Author’s Guide to Goodreads,” the social network’s director of community, Patrick Brown, will be discussing how authors can promote their books through Goodreads giveaways and other types of outreach.

At the same session, author Bella Andre, who has used Goodreads to help fuel several bestselling romance novels, will speak specifically about how she used the site to reach new readers and create momentum for her books.

Until last year, the self-publishing part of BEA was called “DIY Authors Conference and Marketplace.” Dedecker says that its name was changed partly because of the increasingly established position of self-publishing, making “DIY” sound a bit amateur for authors running marketing operations that could compete with major publishing houses.

Beyond the name, the programming has taken a more holistic approach to the publishing process, rather than focusing heavily on writing. “Writing a book is a fairly large subject and we are more into the publishing and business aspect of it,” says Dedecker. This makes the selection of Guy Kawasaki as the luncheon keynote speaker particularly appropriate. The author of 12 books, including the bestselling Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, his latest is the self-published APE: Author Publisher Entrepreneur, which covers all aspects of the self-publishing process, from the logistics of selecting a publishing platform to marketing the book in the months after publication.

Dedecker believes Kawasaki can encourage attendees to view the work of a self-published author as that of an entrepreneur. “He is so tuned in to the entrepreneurial spirit, and if you’re going to be an independent author, you really need to take on that role,” says Dedecker. “You have to have the understanding that ‘I’ve got not just the words on the page, but the cover art to think about, the interior design, format, and my platform.’ ”

Dedecker urges attendees to come with a clear idea of the project they are working on, but with an open mind about how exactly they will publish and market it, and even the format of the book itself.

“You should be open to understanding all the possibilities—whether it’s e-book only, or electronic and print, or do you start in a niche area so that you’re building your platform, then target a few social platforms from there?” says Dedecker. “You should be prepared to see that there are so many opportunities out there in publishing.” She adds that the top question she had in mind when devising the programming for this year, was “I’ve written my book—how do I market it?” With the barriers to publishing now virtually nonexistent, the biggest challenge authors are finding is how to stand out from the mass of titles and actually reach readers.

To help answer these questions, in addition to the speaker sessions, uPublishU also features a trade show of several dozen exhibitors, representing a wide range of publishers and author-service providers. To entice attendees to visit their booth and spend more time at the show, many exhibitors are planning promotions and special giveaways to help introduce their services. The bibliographic data management company Bowker will be exhibiting and plans to offer a couple of “prize packages” at and end of the day drawing.

“We hope that will encourage people to stay there all day,” says Patricia Payton, senior manager of publisher relations and content development at Bowker, who will also be moderating a session on book distribution. “There are a few other sponsors putting out promotions as well, so it’s a suite of prizes rather than just one.”

The show’s connection to wider BEA events also presents opportunities for authors and publishers at all levels. “Self-published authors need to wear all the hats of a publisher from planning an overall strategy for a book, editing, designing covers and interior layout, to distribution and publicity initiatives,” says Smith Publicity’s Poirier-Diaz. “With industry leaders gathered at BookExpo America, and uPublishU as part of this event, these sessions offer attendees the collective knowledge from experts in each of these key publishing roles.”

Opening and Closing

Besides the exhibitors and education sessions, the show will be book-ended by opening and closing events in which all attendees will take part. The opening panel focuses on the growing role that of self-published authors in the industry.

“What many authors are coming to grips with is that with the great opportunities they have now, there are also great responsibilities,” says Christopher Kenneally, director of business development and author relations at the Copyright Clearance Center, who will be moderating the session.

The opening session will introduce a point that will come up frequently throughout the day’s programming: writing a great book is only a small part of succeeding at self-publishing. Kenneally encourages self-published authors to “celebrate” that they have more tools than ever to get their book into readers’ hands or on their Kindles, while making sure they don’t ignore the many nonwriting aspects of publishing.

The speakers on Kenneally’s panel include Jon Fine, director of author and publisher relations for Amazon; Cindy Ratzlaff, president of Brand New Brand You; and Robert Gottlieb, founder and CEO of Trident Media Group.

“[Gottlieb] has made his career as an authors’ representative, and he’s going to have some invigorating things for people,” says Kenneally. “The whole panel is going to be about understanding that this is not just about publishing your book, it’s about building your career.”

Ratzlaff will also be moderating a separate session on how to use social media to launch a book, laying out the top five social media platforms that can do the most to expand an author’s fan base.

“I’ll show authors where they can save both money and time and which platforms work best for reaching their ideal audience, which platforms are best for driving sales, and which platforms are essentially free advertising venues,” says Ratzlaff. “My goal is to help them make informed decisions about using social media to tell a specific, interested audience about their books.”

Ratzlaff’s wide-ranging background is indicative of the direction of the industry in general, as the lines between author, publisher, and marketer blur. She spent 10 years each at Simon & Schuster and Rodale, while publishing her book Queen of Your Own Life through Harlequin’s nonfiction division in 2010, and self-publishing the book Queenisms: 101 Jolts of Inspiration through CreateSpace and Kindle Direct.

“My coauthor and I do nearly all of our marketing for our books through social media,” Ratzlaff says. “I hope I’ll be able to save authors time, money, and frustration by sharing what works, what doesn’t, and what’s worthy of their budgets.”

The closing session, which will again bring all attendees together for a general discussion, focuses on “Getting Down to Business: Putting It All Together.” This session will feature a panel of industry experts and authors connecting the many points that have been discussed throughout the day, offering some takeaways for attendees to keep in mind as they wrap up.

Digging Deeper

The conference aims to help authors dig into the nitty-gritty of the self-publishing market. “A Crash Course in e-book Self-Publishing,” moderated by Smashwords marketing manager, Jim Azevedo, gets into such technology details as formatting an e-book, understanding copyright issues, and setting prices. Dedecker sees these as crucial points for authors to understand in today’s market, recalling an experience years ago as an illustration of how far self-publishing has come.

“I remember saying, ‘We could have a session on metadata,’ and someone from one of the larger publishing houses said, ‘That’s too much of an IT thing,’ ” she says. “But that covers press releases, book blurbs, and a lot of other elements these authors are having to think about.” These kind of deeper details are just what attendees are going to get at sessions like “Understanding How to Distribute Your Book.” Moderated by Bowker’s Patricia Payton, the discussion covers the value of an ISBN number; how wholesalers, retailers, and e-book conversion houses fit into the supply chain; and submitting title data to publishing outlets to help with a book’s distribution.

“Self-publishing should be treated as a business and not just a hobby,” says Payton. “I want to make sure authors have the tools to create a business plan, and know when they should hire someone or when they can do something themselves.”

Dedecker sees this year’s uPublishU as a snapshot of how far self-publishing has come and expects it only to grow further. “People just need to get a sense of where the opportunities are for them now,” she says. “We could probably make this a three-day event—this is a world that’s going to continue to change and evolve and grow.”