Transcript: Publishing University 2014 Preview

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  • Angela Bole, Executive Director, Independent Book Publishers Association
  • Shannon Bodie, Art Director and Partner, Lightbourne, Inc.
  • Ivory Madison, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, Red Room
  • Jim Milliot, Co-editorial Director, Publishers Weekly

For podcast release Monday, February 17, 2014

KENNEALLY: San Francisco, at least so said a member of the 1960s psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane, is 49 square miles surrounded by reality. Well, in March, the famed city by the bay welcomes authors, publishers, artists, and technologists for a hard look at the reality of independent publishing in 2014. Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. My name is Christopher Kenneally for Beyond the Book.

The Independent Book Publishers Association is gearing up once more for Publishing University. The annual weekend-long conference comes to Fisherman’s Wharf March 21st and 22nd. Joining me with details of what’s become the country’s premier educational event for independent publishers and self-published authors is Angela Bole, IBPA executive director. And Angela, Welcome to Beyond the Book.

BOLE: Thanks, Chris, it’s good to be here.

KENNEALLY: We’re happy you could join us, and we look forward to chatting with you about Publishing University, which we try to do every year with the folks at IBPA, talk about what the program is all about. And this year you’re back in San Francisco, and this year is your first year as executive director and ringmaster for this whole thing. So tell us about the program, generally, Angela, and maybe tell us about how you’re trying to make a special impression this time.

BOLE: Sure. Yeah, I’m really excited about being able to take on this program. It’s in its 30th year, so it actually has a really strong history and a lot of support in the community. So that’s actually a really important thing to jump into right away. For me, it’s a soft landing, if you will. But we did spend a lot of time looking back at past attendee feedback and trying to figure out, how could we make a conference that’s been around for 30 years feel new and fresh to the attendees.

One thing that we really focused on this year is making it about the attendees themselves, so making a conference where we can appreciate that although it’s possible for you to go it alone, that all you really need to do is basically have a laptop, you can be an independent publisher or self-published author. This community really does prefer the strength of the community and the peer relationships and the networking and the potential that’s afforded by continuing education to take your business to the next level.

So we’ve built a program that’s going to center around the attendee, him or herself. We’ll have some experiential workshops which I’m excited to talk to you guys a little bit about, targeting content for specific verticals like children’s publishing and digital first, and more networking and organized brainstorming sessions, so attendees can really get to know each other, learn from each other, and speak to the motto that IBPA has had forever, which is, helping each other achieve and succeed.

KENNEALLY: Tell us a bit about the IBPA community, Angela. Who is in that community today, several thousand members from across the country, and with the revolution in digital publishing, I’m sure, a changing community.

BOLE: Yeah, absolutely, and that’s one of our major challenges this year, in my first year at IBPA is to really understand this community, again, because it does morph, and it does change, and it will. But currently we’re 3,000 members. We’re just tipping over 3,000, and that’s been a growth in the past six months, which is really exciting to see. Lots of self-published authors, lots of people coming into this industry in that way. And then through IBPA, learning how to grow their businesses so that they can take on the work of others and become, in essence, an independent publisher of other people’s work, as well.

KENNEALLY: Tell us about the venue. San Francisco is a terrific city, a wonderful place to be, whether you’re on business or for pleasure, and certainly a city that’s been a warm community for writers and artists and people from all manners of creative professions for a number of years, going back over a century. So it’s a particularly welcoming place, I think.

BOLE: It is, and I’m really excited about it. We’ve got some people on this podcast that can talk a little bit more about the location, but we had this conference at the Fisherman’s Wharf a couple of years ago, and I was a speaker at that time, so I was able to really experience this area of San Francisco, go out to the pier. It was great. It’s a perfect place to come for the conference, but then also maybe spend an extra day and see the community. It’s in a really great location.

KENNEALLY: As you say, we do have a couple of special guests to bring onto the podcast, and we’ll start with someone who knows San Francisco well, and who is your keynote speaker. Ivory Madison is CEO and editor in chief for Red Room, and Ivory Madison in San Francisco, welcome to Beyond the Book.

MADISON: Thank you, Chris. I’m also a San Francisco native, so I do know the city very well. So after my keynote, if anybody wants advice about where to eat, they’re welcome to (inaudible) that instead of their book.

KENNEALLY: I will certainly be to take you up on that because it certainly is the perfect place for all of that, and you’ll be down there at Fisherman’s Wharf, but we can obviously go farther afield than that.

We’ll tell people briefly, Ivory, that you are chief executive officer and editor in chief of Red Room, as I said, which is a social media community and blogging platform for many of the world’s great writers, including best selling and award-winning authors. Ivory Madison is a former management consultant to start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. What she’s trying to do these days is combine her business acumen with a dedication to a future in which authors and small publishers thrive.

You’re going to start off Publishing University, Ivory, by articulating the values and visions for your publishing venture. Why is that important? I suppose people get into publishing, into becoming self-published authors because, of course, they want to communicate, and so articulation is kind of communication. So it’s not just the book itself, but thinking about things in a professional way.

MADISON: Yeah. The main reason I want to kick everything off with getting back to your vision is nobody really goes into the publishing industry to make money. People go into the publishing industry because they have a book they’re dying to publish, they love books, or they’re a writer, and I think that all of our passion and our strength comes from that initial vision, that desire to make a difference to make a difference with books. So I like to try to get people back in touch with why they’re even in this industry, why they’re even trying to publish this book, because once the book gets packaged and it becomes a product, and you put on your business hat, sometimes you lose a little bit of that passion for the book in the first place. So I want to reinvigorate people’s passion for books and their vision of why they’re doing this, why it’s important, and have them feel very comfortable and confident having a vision that maybe isn’t the same vision as the person sitting next to them. There isn’t one way to succeed in publishing, and the goals are not always financial.

I taught a webinar not too long ago called Bestseller Bootcamp, and at some point, I thought, let’s do a little poll here, so we did one of those live polls. How many people, their number one goal is to write a best-seller, and how many people is to communicate and reach a wide audience with an idea? How many people’s to express themselves, etc.? A best-seller was actually the least important to people. And that’s when I started thinking about let’s go back to why we’re doing this. So I’m hoping to really encourage people to build community based on the idea that they can all have their own individual vision and they can achieve it.

KENNEALLY: So Ivory, you’ve given lectures on a whole host of subjects to organizations like the Stanford Publishing Course as well as at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Is talking to other writers different for you? We should tell people that your own graphic novel, which features a feminist superhero in a mafia noir environment, which is called Huntress: Year One was published by DC Comics back in February 2009. So you do know of what you speak here, but is it different for you to talk to other writers, other people in publishing, rather than just people who are trying to get their own business off their ground?

MADISON: It is. It’s very different. It’s the nexus of everything I’m interested in, because I do have that business side and the writing and creative side. I’m glad that you asked because one of the things I really like to talk about with writers and small publishers is something that I’m often brought in to talk about at Stanford, with different programs there, is editing. So some of the writing coaches at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford now use my editing method.

I’m also going to be doing a breakout session later that same day on the first day of Publishing University on editing – on efficient, effective editing because one of the biggest pain points is how laborious and difficult, really, editing a book to the highest mainstream traditional publishing standards. That’s very difficult for most people, so I’m looking forward to sharing some of my editing tools and tips, as well.

KENNEALLY: Why don’t we turn to an answer on that point? Jim Milliot is co-editorial director of Publishers Weekly, and he’ll be at IBPA’s Publishing University, as well. Jim, welcome back to Beyond the Book.

MILLIOT: Good to be back, Chris.

KENNEALLY: It’s to have you. Ivory Madison was talking about people not getting into the publishing business to make money. In fact, that reminds me of the old joke: How do you make a million dollars in publishing.

MILLIOT: You start with 2 million.

KENNEALLY: That’s exactly right, and you’re going to talk about some of the people who have done well, though, because your keynote address is going to be introducing PW’s fast growing independent publishers, and you’re going to ask the question and answer it, how did they do that? So tell us some more, because I guess the point here is that while Ivory is right, this isn’t about making money, this is about communication and creation, nevertheless, people can do well by it.

MILLIOT: Absolutely, Chris. We’ve been doing (inaudible) now for almost 20 years, and there are some truths you can take out of this. It also, will show, I think, on a panel, how things have changed over time. One of the things I think we’ll see is developing a niche is still probably one of the best ways to go. Typically, over the years, we’ve had people make the list that really have focused in one or two areas and really mined that to a great degree. They get really into the nitty-gritty of the subject, be it cookbooks or maybe even a little more smaller niche, and then really come to own that particular category.

KENNEALLY: I would think one area that is a really inviting niche these days is local history and all of that. I bet there’ll be people in the room who will have published guidebooks, history books on San Francisco and the bay area as well as possible everywhere from Montana to Minnesota to Massachusetts.

MILLIOT: Yeah, regional publishers certainly have hit the list from time to time, and it is a strong area, and one that obviously they can publish better than a company out of New York who’s really interested in reaching a broad, really, mainstream. Whereas you do find regional publishers targeting specific areas. And one thing that I think is interesting, picking up a little bit on what Angela said is that for the first time this year we’ve had a few self-published authors submit. These are actually self-publishers that have an ongoing business. It’s not a person who has done one or two titles and is submitting that. We do look at a three year period, so you have to show growth over that time span. So you can’t be a one-book wonder, even if your name is E.L. James, that’s the one. She wouldn’t the list year because I don’t think her sales went up.

So that’s going to be an interesting twist and we hope to actually have one of these people on the panel. We’re in contact, now, with them and hopefully we’ll have something wrapped up by the end of the week.

KENNEALLY: What I think really excites people today with independent publishing, Jim, is it brings the book and their love of the subject under their own control. In the past, they might have had to pass it off to a publisher to shepherd it into the world. Now they’re in charge. The must make a real difference.

MILLIOT: Right, it absolutely does. And it’s really encouraging to see how you can take something you really love and turn it into a real business. I know, again, some of the submissions we’ve seen, and even beyond the self-publisher, just one that we started with their own book and then they branched out into some other things. But most of the big publishers, in particular, who get into this, they do it because maybe they like cars or maybe they liked horseback riding or something. They take it and they run with it.

KENNEALLY: Indeed, if they’re going to run with it anywhere, they have to put a cover on it, and Shannon Bodie, who is our next speaker on the podcast today knows a great deal about all of that. Shannon Bodie, welcome to Beyond the Book.

BODIE: Thank you, Chris, I’m glad to be here, and I’m excited the course that we’re offering, this workshop. It leads in just from what you were talking about, most of the authors that we’re going to work with are experts in their own field, but they may not be experts in cover design, and they may be a little uncomfortable about what they’re presenting, so when I was speaking with Angela about the workshop she wants to present and how it can be more personalized, we start talking about immediately the things that I’ve been asked in publishers conversations before, to look at their covers and see if they’re going to work. So what we’d like to do is have these publishers submit their drafts, their proofs that are still in market testing, or even their finished book designs that they’re looking for an update on so that my co-speaker, Jeniffer Thompson of Monkey C Media, and I will have time ahead of the course to do a complete review on the designs they have – front, spine, and back cover, and then have a presentation where we actually interact with all the publishers in the group to develop a plan for them, whether they need to touch up something in their design or whether they just want to feel assured that what they’re moving forward with will help them be successful.

KENNEALLY: Well, Shannon Bodie, you’re an art director and partner, we should tell people with Lightbourne, which is online at light – L-I-G-H-T, bourne – based there in Portland, so the trip down the coast will be pleasant one for you, I’m sure.

BODIE: Yes, I’m looking forward to it.

KENNEALLY: Absolutely, and you come to cover design by way of fine arts, and a question I have is certainly in the print version, it really does matter. While you can’t judge a book by cover, certainly it’s why you’re going to pick it up. But online in the e-book world, is the cover as important as it is in a bookstore?

BODIE: I love that question because it’s amazing, I think it was about five years ago, they had many articles coming out. I think it even maybe started earlier than that, that cover design was going to be dead. There was going to be no need for it now that e-books were coming out, so I had people asking me what I was going to do with myself. And luckily, I’ve been very busy creating e-book covers because as visual people, whether we’re buying – the music industry have the same conversation. You still want to see to be able to judge whether a book is right for you and whether you’re going to be interested in that writing and that author. You judge it by the cover. That’s the first thing you see, whether you’re online or whether you’re in a used bookstore. So we’re going to be talking about that because every book I produce now, even if an author comes to me and they’re not certain that their target market is going to be ready for an e-book, I go ahead and prepare that entire design for e-book because I know they’re going to be contacting me even before we send files to print, saying a little bit sheepishly sometimes, you know, Shannon, I am going to want that e-book produced, I’ve got a lot of people asking for it, and that’s even before they finish getting the print version out.

KENNEALLY: Ivory Madison, I wonder whether, in some of the work you do, connecting publishers and authors with those who can help realize their dreams, the investors and others, whether or not you help develop a cover even before the book itself is written, just because you want to give people an impression of the promise of the project.

MADISON: Well, in my opinion, the hardest thing to do is get the writer to finish the book and get it edited to, really, the quality that it needs to be. So I would not go for a cover as part of solicitation package to get investors, if you’re doing that. But I would say that everything that Shannon is saying is absolutely correct, about how important the cover is. For e-books, you have so much less real estate to convince somebody. It’s almost like it’s a different art, and it’s really important you have a cover designer who understands how to do a design for both. A bad cover design, I agree, can kill sales.

KENNEALLY: And Jim Milliot, I’ve seen the offices of Publishers Weekly, to be frank about it, Jim, they’re a mess because there’s just so many books that come in through the mail to you, and I would imagine that the look and feel of a book, the professional quality of the publishing is important to reviewers and to critics. It sort of is the way you present yourself in any kind of environment. If you look neatly presented, people take you more seriously.

MILLIOT: Absolutely, Chris. Like you said, you’ve been here, and we get around 500 books a week for review, and we review almost 100 or so, which is a pretty good number, and we are the largest review medium in the country. But you’re right, there are some basic steps that you take in looking to select a book for review. Overall design of the book, including the cover, maybe some other press materials, that sort of thing, the quality – we know it’s galleys most of the time, but even how that’s presented, people have to know that we can be convinced that this person knows what they’re doing. Presentation is of great importance.

KENNEALLY: I think, yeah, it’s a matter of trust. And on that note, Angel Bole, we’ll close out our discussion about the upcoming Publishing University, which is, as we said before, returning to San Francisco the weekend of March 21st and 22nd to Fisherman’s Wharf. Angela, as a way to close it out, you’ve been hearing some pitches for the particular programs these presenters will be making. But give us your pitch then for somebody who might be on the bubble, thinking about joining you at the Publishing University conference. It’s a last minute decision for them, it’s just about a month away, but how would you urge them to decide to join?

BOLE: Sure. Well, you know, I think Jim said something that I wrote down because it was really the essence of what we were trying to do when we developed this program, and it’s, how do you take something you really love and turn it into a real business. And that’s why I think Ivory and Jim, as the two bookends to the top of the portion are so perfect – Ivory talking about just connecting into your passion, understanding that on the hard days, this is the thing you come back to, and then Jim showcasing all the different ways in which some of their peers have really been able to turn it into a real business. So publishing is so interesting, and I love working in it because it really connects people with other people and with passion. But you also want to send your kids to college and you need to pay your mortgage and you need to figure out how you’re going to bring your car bill up to current, so you have to make a real business, too. Being able to marry these two things is what I really hope Publishing University can do for attendees this year.

KENNEALLY: Angela Bole, executive director at the Independent Book Publishers Association, thank so much for joining us today on Beyond the Book.

BOLE: Thank you, it’s great.

KENNEALLY: And we also want to thank the other presenters who joined us today – Jim Milliot, co-editorial director of Publishers Weekly, Ivory Madison, CEO and editor in chief at Red Room –, and Shannon Bodie, who is the art director and partner of Lightbourne, Inc. in Portland. Want to thank all of them.

Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global rights broker for the world’s most sought-after materials, including millions of books and e-books, journals, newspapers, magazines, and blogs, as well as images, movies, and television shows. You can follow us on Twitter. Find Beyond the Book on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes, or at our Website, Our engineer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. My name is Christopher Kenneally. For all of us at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to Beyond the Book.

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