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May 18, 2015
By Alex Palmer
This year’s uPublishU encourages self-published authors to gain insight from both self-publishing and traditional publishing.

The line between traditional and self-publishing is blurring, and this is good news for authors willing to seize a new opportunity. That is one of the major themes of this year’s uPublishU at BookExpo America, the self-publishing show held at New York City’s Javits Center on Saturday, May 30.

Given the success of last year’s structure, this year’s show will follow the same mulitrack approach. It offers a schedule of workshops for three distinct self-publishing audiences: newbies publishing their first book, those focused on marketing and attracting readers, and more experienced authors working on their third or fourth (or 15th) book.

“We have some attendees who are basically on book one, or about to start, and on the other end of the spectrum, we have authors who are on book seven, eight, nine,” says Sally Dedecker, who is education director for BEA and is organizing uPublishU. “Then there are authors who we could put the label ‘hybrid’ on—they’ve been traditional, and they’re starting to look at self-publishing.”

These hybrid authors are a particular focus for this year’s show. As self-publishing has become more sophisticated and traditional publishers have moved to embrace indie authors, the distinction between these two worlds has become less distinct—making it easier for authors to move between the two models. With that in mind, this year’s opening session is titled “The Rise of the Hybrid Author,” which delves into the opportunities on either side of the publishing equation, and why it can benefit an author to move between the two.

Chris Kenneally, director of business development for the Copyright Clearance Center, who will be moderating the opening panel, describes this as a change in perspective for authors. Rather than viewing traditional and self-publishing as mutually exclusive options, authors are seeking out revenue from both sides, signing with major publishers for some projects, and going indie for others, depending on their goals for each project and their longer-term career aims.

Kenneally sees this as a marked shift from the sense of “triumphalism” that the success of the self-publishing industry has fostered—the view that “authors, at long last, were set to roll over traditional publishers” and help self-publishing dominate, and perhaps replace, the traditional system. Instead, publishers have moved to embrace self-publishing, with their own indie imprints and more flexible terms for authors who have established themselves outside the traditional model.

Market Smarts

Attendees at uPublishU will also learn how to apply the marketing strategies and data analysis used by larger publishing houses to their own self-publishing efforts. Workshops such as “Book Marketing Best Practices” and “Sell More E-Books: Tips & Tricks Based on Actual Data” will help authors consider how they promote and sell their books.

“Looking at purchasing information has always been part of what traditional publishers do, and indie authors have to start doing the same thing,” Dedecker says. Her examples include tracking data about what genre is trending up or down, or what styles of cover art are selling well. “This is all part of what indie authors have to consider.”

In another session, titled “The New Publishing Timeline,” authors discuss how to make the biggest impact ahead of the release of a book and e-book. This panel will walk attendees through creating early buzz, generating preorders, and being proactive long before the book is actually released.

To this end, Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, will be leading a workshop on how authors can hit the e-book bestseller list by making preorders more central to a book’s promotional strategy.

“Preorders are one of the most powerful tools available to indie authors, but despite the great benefits, most authors aren’t yet doing them, and don’t yet know how to use them,” Coker says. “I share simple step-by-step instructions for how to make the next book release more successful.”

Coker will also be running the related workshop “How to Reach More Readers in the E-book Market,” in which he explains how an author can navigate the increasingly crowded e-book landscape. This will consist of “20 tricks, tips, and tactics for how indies can publish with greater pride, satisfaction, and long-term success,” according to Coker.

Coker emphasizes that the self-publishing market has matured—and this maturation will be a central theme to this year’s show. After exponential growth from 2008 to 2012, self-publishing has begun to slow down, something Coker sees as an inevitable stage in its development.

“The easy days are behind us,” Coker says. But he adds that this should not discourage authors. “The readers are out there, and they’re buying books. All a writer has to do is publish like a professional. That means honoring the reader by writing a great book that takes the reader to an emotionally satisfying extreme.”

Maturing Industry

Coker’s assessment of the industry was echoed by other speakers and panelists taking part in this year’s uPublishU: while self-publishing is maturing, with more opportunities than ever, it is also more competitive than ever.

“It’s easier than ever before to publish, but it’s harder than ever before to sell,” says Cindy Ratzlaff, brand marketing specialist for Brand New Brand You and longtime publishing veteran, who will be hosting the session “Advanced Social Media Strategies.” She adds, “A handful of authors are selling tens of thousands of books, and tens of thousands of authors are selling a handful of books.”

Ratzlaff says that successful authors now “don’t just upload their book to one sales site and tweet about it. They have a sales funnel, a series of next books in the works, a remarketing plan, and they’re building platforms from which to promote that go beyond Facebook and a blog.”

Though most authors have a basic grasp of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, they are now at a point where a deeper dive is valuable. During her workshop, Ratzlaff will help authors learn how to share links and see what drives sales on social media, and she will offer case studies about the successful use of social media.

Among the points Ratzlaff will be discussing is the new online tool Heyo, which allows authors to offer a PDF of their books to Facebook fans who type buy in the comments section—sending a link directly to them through their Facebook account. She will also discuss the new point-of-sale strategies and setting up sales directly from an author’s Facebook or LinkedIn landing page.

Ratzlaff explains that even though the first phase of social media marketing for authors was connecting to readers, authors must consider what’s next: playing publicist, advertising director, and sales team (or delegating these tasks to the right people).

“The reality is you need help,” agrees Dedecker, pointing to the “Building Your Team” session, which will look more deeply at why and how an author can expand her effort beyond a one-person program. “If you’re going to get discovered, you really need to pick your team.”

Attendees can build their team right at the conference by visiting uPublishU’s Author Marketplace. Organizations such as Lulu, Indie Reader, Book Grabbr, the Editorial Freelance Association, and BookBaby will be on hand to describe how they can help writers take their game to the next level. Each will have a table, offering information as well as specials and discounts for attendees.

Authors will also have a chance to network with panelists and service providers during the show’s lunch break. Since the schedule only allows for an hour at lunch, Dedecker has eschewed the usual lunchtime speaker for a more active, and casual, period for networking. “It’s going to be a networking lunch, where everyone can share and talk and where a lot of authors will pick up little tidbits of information not only from fellow authors, but from the speakers and some of the exhibitors.”

Opportunities Further Afield

The growth of international sales will also be discussed at this year’s uPublishU, with a session dedicated to this very topic. After authors work to get their books into industry databases and the major e-book retailers, libraries, and book stores, the next step is to consider foreign rights, translations, and other options outside the U.S.

“There is a global e-book market that is just on the cusp of exciting new growth,” says Mark Lefebvre, director of self-publishing and author relations for Kobo, who will be hosting the panel “International Markets and Indies.”

He compares the state of international publishing to what the U.S. market looked like three or four years ago. He points out that Kobo is seeing huge growth not only in English-language markets outside the U.S.—Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K.—but also in non-English-language territories such as France, Italy, and the Netherlands.

Lefebvre adds that this focus on opportunities beyond the U.S. comes at a time when the self-publishing market appears to be stabilizing.

“Indie authors are recognizing two key factors for success: going wide with their titles—ensuring their work is available at all retailers globally and not just a single U.S.-based company—and thinking about the long term rather than just focusing on what their sales are today,” Lefebvre says. He adds that this year’s show will highlight this long-term perspective.

Alex Palmer is a freelance journalist and the author of Weird-o-pedia (Skyhorse).